At this thought his self-esteem suffered cruelly. He felt a natural impulse to spring into a carriage and drive to the dwelling of Eugenie Gontier, and there to seek forgetfulness. But he felt that his bitterness would make itself known even there, and that such a course would be another affront to the dignity of a woman of heart, whose loyalty to himself he never had questioned.
Try to disguise it as he would, his sombre mood made itself apparent, especially to his brother-in-law, who had no difficulty in guessing the cause, without allowing Henri to suspect that he divined it.
The date for the formal transfer of the Orphan Asylum to the committee had been fixed for the fifteenth day of May.
On the evening of the fourteenth, at the hour when the General was signing the usual military documents in his bureau, a domestic presented to him a letter which, he said, had just been brought in great haste by a messenger on horseback:
The superscription, “To Monsieur the General the Marquis de Prerolles,” was inscribed in a long, English hand, elegant and regular. The orderly gave the letter to his chief, who dismissed him with a gesture before breaking the seal. The seal represented, without escutcheon or crown, a small, wild animal, with a pointed muzzle, projecting teeth, and shaggy body, under which was a word Henri expected to find: Zibeline!
The letter ran thus:
“My dear general:
“An officer, like yourself, whose business it is to see that his orders are obeyed, will understand that I have not dared, even in your favor, to infringe on those imposed upon me by the doctor. But those orders have been withdrawn! If you have nothing better to do, come to-morrow, with your sister, to inspect our asylum, before Monsieur Desvanneaux takes possession of it!
“Your military eye will be
able to judge immediately whether
anything is lacking in the quarters. Yours affectionately,
is dead! I beg you to carry this sad news to his
friend Aida. V.”
If a woman’s real self is revealed in her epistolary style, finesse, good-humor, and sprightliness were characterised in this note. Zibeline’s finesse had divined Henri’s self-deception; her good-humor sought to dissipate it; and her sprightliness was evidenced by her allusions to M. Desvanneaux and the loss of her horse.
When they found themselves reunited at the dinner-hour, the Duchess said simply to her brother:
“You must have received an invitation to-day from Mademoiselle de Vermont. Will you accompany us tomorrow?”
“Yes, certainly. But where? How? At what hour?”
“We must leave here at one o’clock. Don’t disturb yourself about any other detail—we shall look after everything.”
“Good! I accept.”