“It is certainly very singular that we do not know where we are to go for the ceremonies of inauguration,” said Madame Desvanneaux, in her usual vinegary tones.
“I feel at liberty to tell you that the place is not far away, and the journey thence will not fatigue you,” said the president, with the air of one who has long known what she has not wished to reveal heretofore.
“The question of fatigue should not discourage us when it is a matter of doing good,” said M. Desvanneaux. “Only, in the opinion of the founders of the Orphan Asylum, it should be situated in the city of Paris itself.”
“The donor thought that open fields and fresh air would be better for the children.”
“Land outside of Paris costs very much less, of course; that is probably the real reason,” said M. Desvanneaux.
“Poor Zibeline! you are well hated!” Madame de Nointel could not help saying.
“We neither like nor dislike her, Madame. We regard her as indifferently as we do that,” the churchwarden replied, striking down a branch with the end of his stick, with the superb air of a Tarquin.
Still gesticulating, he continued:
“The dust that she throws in the eyes of others does not blind us, that is all!”
The metaphor was not exactly happy, for at that instant the unlucky man received full in his face a broadside of gravel thrown by the hoofs of a horse which had been frightened by the flourishing stick, and which had responded to the menace by a violent kick.
This steed was none other than Seaman, ridden by Mademoiselle de Vermont. She had recognized the Duchess and turned her horse back in order to offer her excuses for his misconduct, the effects of which Madame Desvanneaux tried to efface by brushing off the gravel with the corner of her handkerchief.
“What has happened?” asked General de Prerolles, who at that moment cantered up, mounted on Aida.
“Oh, nothing except that Mademoiselle has just missed killing my husband with that wicked animal of hers!” cried the Maegera, in a fury.
“Mademoiselle might turn the accusation against him,” Madame de Nointel said, with some malice. “It was he who frightened her horse.”
The fiery animal, with distended veins and quivering nostrils, snorted violently, cavorted sidewise, and tried to run. Zibeline needed all her firmness of grasp to force him, without allowing herself to be thrown, to stand still on the spot whence had come the movement that had alarmed him.
“Your horse needs exercise,” said Henri to the equestrienne. “You ought to give him an opportunity to do something besides the formal trot around this path.”
“I should be able to do so, if ever we could have our match,” said Zibeline. “Will you try it now?”
She nodded, gave him her hand an instant, and they set off, side by side, followed by Zibeline’s groom, no less well mounted than she, and wearing turned-over boots, bordered with a band of fawn-colored leather, according to the fashion.