At the top of the flight of steps Valentine stepped back to allow Henri to pass before her; then, changing her mind, she advanced again.
“No, you are at home,” she said. “It is I that must enter first!”
He followed her docilely, caring no longer to yield to any other will than hers.
Within the chateau, thanks to the complicity of the Duchess, the furnishings resembled as closely as possible those of former days. The good fairy had completed successfully two great works: the restoration of the chateau and the building of the asylum. The inhabitants of the one would be so much the better able to foresee the needs of the other.
Having explored one of the wings, they returned to the central hall. Mademoiselle de Vermont made a sign to the steward to remain there, and beckoned to Henri to accompany her to the historic gallery. After they had entered it, she closed the door. The family portraits had been rehung in their former places, in chronological order, and, in its proper place, figured that of the General of Division the Marquis de Prerolles, in full uniform, mounted on Aida, the portrait being the work of Edmond Delorme.
At this sight, touched to the depths of his heart, Henri knelt before Valentine, and carried her hand to his lips.
“I adore you!” he said, without attempting to hide the tears of gratitude that fell upon those generous hands.
“Do you, indeed?” Zibeline murmured.
“You shall see!” he replied, rising. “Come, in your turn.”
He led her before the portrait of the ancestral marshal of France, and said:
“Twenty-three years ago I vowed before that portrait either to vanquish the enemy or to regain with honor all that I had lost at play. I have kept my word. Will you be my wife?”
“Ah, you know my heart is yours!” Zibeline whispered, hiding her face upon his shoulder.
The door at the end of the gallery opened; the Duc and the Duchesse de Montgeron appeared. Henri took Zibeline’s hand and approached them.
“The Marquise de Prerolles!” he said, presenting her to his sister and her husband.
THE MARQUISE DE PREROLLES
The next day a special train landed the fair patronesses at the station of Presles, whence Zibeline’s carriages conducted them to Valpendant.
The deed of gift was signed before M. Durand and his colleague, a notary of Pontoise.
This formality fulfilled, M. Desvanneaux, whose own role, for a moment overshadowed, appeared to him to renew its importance, took the floor and said:
“It remains to us, Mesdames, to assure the support of the Orphan Asylum by means of an annual income.”
“The Marquis and the Marquise de Prerolles assume this responsibility,” said the ministerial officer, treasurer of the Asylum. “This mutual engagement will form the object of a special clause in the drawing up of their contract.”