Philippe Massa.

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ZIBELINE

By PHILIPPE DE MASSA


BOOK 2.


CHAPTER XIII

THE INDUSTRIAL ORPHAN ASYLUM

When the prefectoral axe of the Baron Haussmann hewed its way through the
Faubourg St. Germain in order to create the boulevard to which this
aristocratic centre has given its flame, the appropriation of private
property for public purposes caused to disappear numerous ancient
dwellings bearing armorial devices, torn down in the interest of the
public good, to the equalizing level of a line of tramways. In the midst
of this sacrilegious upheaval, the Hotel de Montgeron, one of the largest
in the Rue St. Dominique, had the good fortune to be hardly touched by
the surveyor's line; in exchange for a few yards sliced obliquely from
the garden, it received a generous addition of air and light on that side
of the mansion which formerly had been shut in.

The Duke lived there in considerable state. His electors, faithful in
all things, had made of their deputy a senator who sat in the Luxembourg,
in virtue of the Republican Constitution, as he would have sat as a peer
of France had the legitimate monarchy followed its course. He was a
great lord in the true meaning of the word: gracious to the humble,
affable among his equals, inclined, among the throng of new families, to
take the part of the disinherited against that of the usurpers.

In Mademoiselle de Prerolles he had found a companion animated with the
same sentiments, and the charitable organization, meeting again at the
Duchess's residence, on the day following the revival of 'Adrienne
Lecouvreuer', to appoint officers for the Industrial Orphan Asylum, could
not have chosen a president more worthy or more devoted.

Besides such austere patronesses as Madame Desvanneaux and her daughter,
the organization included several persons belonging to the world of
fashion, such as Madame de Lisieux and Madame de Nointel, whose influence
was the more effective because their circle of acquaintance was more
extensive. The gay world often fraternizes willingly with those who are
interested in philanthropic works.

The founders of the Industrial Orphan Asylum intended that the
institution should harbor, bring up, and instruct as great a number as
possible of the children of infirm or deceased laborers.

The secretary, M. Andre Desvanneaux, churchwarden of Ste.-Clotilde, as
was his father before him, and in addition a Roman count, had just
finished his address, concluding by making the following double
statement: First, the necessity for combining all available-funds for the
purchase of the land required, and for the building of the asylum itself;
second, to determine whether the institution could be maintained by the
annual resources of the organization.

"I should like to observe," said the Duchesse de Montgeron, "that the
first of these two questions is the only order of the day. Not counting
the purchase of the land, the architect's plan calls for an estimate of
five hundred thousand francs in round numbers."

"And we have on hand - " said the Comtesse de Lisieux.

"One hundred and sixty-odd thousand francs from the first subscriptions,"
said M. Desvanneaux. "It has been decided that the work shall not begin
until we have disposed of half of the sum total. Therefore, the
difference we have to make up at present is about one hundred and forty
thousand francs. In order to realize this sum, the committee of action
proposes to organize at the Palais de l'Industrie a grand kermess, with
the assistance of the principal artists from the theatres of Paris,
including that of Mademoiselle Gontier, of the Comedie Francaise," added
the secretary, with a sly smile on observing the expression of General de
Prerolles.

"Good!" Henri promptly rejoined. "That will permit Monsieur Desvanneaux
to combine very agreeably the discharge of his official duties with the
making of pleasant acquaintances!"

"The object of my action in this matter is above all suspicion," remarked
the churchwarden, with great dignity, while his wife darted toward him a
furious glance.

"You? Come, come!" continued the General, who took a mischievous
delight in making trouble for the worthy Desvanneaux. "Every one knows
quite well that you have by no means renounced Satan, his pomps - "

"And his good works!" added Madame de Nointel, with a burst of laughter
somewhat out of place in this formal gathering for the discussion of
charitable works.

"We are getting outside of the question," said the Duchess, striking her
bell. "Moreover, is not the assistance of these ladies necessary?"

"Indispensable," the secretary replied. "Their assistance will greatly
increase the receipts."

"What sum shall we decide upon as the price of admission?" asked Madame
de Lisieux.

"Twenty francs," said Desvanneaux. "We have a thousand tickets printed
already, and, if the ladies present wish to solicit subscriptions, each
has before her the wherewithal to inscribe appropriate notes of appeal."

"To be drawn upon at sight," said the Comtesse de Lisieux, taking a pen.
"A tax on vanity, I should call it."

She wrote rapidly, and then read aloud:

"MY DEAR BARON:

"Your proverbial generosity justifies my new appeal. You will
accept, I am sure, the ten tickets which I enclose, when you know
that your confreres, the Messieurs Axenstein, have taken double that
number."

"And here," said the Vicomtesse de Nointel, "is a tax on gallantry." And
she read aloud:

"MY DEAR PRINCE:

"You have done me the honor to write to me that you love me. I
suppose I ought to show your note to my husband, who is an expert
swordsman; but I prefer to return to you your autograph letter for
the price of these fifteen tickets. Go - and sin again, should your
heart prompt you!"

"But that is a species of blackmail, Madame!" cried Madame Desvanneaux.

"The end justifies the means," replied the Vicomtesse gayly. "Besides, I
am accountable only to the Duc de Montgeron. What is his opinion?"

"I call it a very clever stroke," said the Duke.

"You hear, Madame! Only, of course, not every lady has a collection of
similar little notes!" said the Vicomtesse de Nointel.

The entrance of M. Durand, treasurer of the society, interrupted the
progress of this correspondence.

"Do not trouble yourselves so much, Mesdames," said the notary. "The
practical solution of the matter I am about to lay before you, if Madame
the president will permit me to speak."

"I should think so!" said the Duchess. "Speak, by all means!"

"A charitable person has offered to assume all the expenses of the
affair," said the notary, "on condition that carte blanche is granted to
her in the matter of the site. In case her offer is accepted, she will
make over to the society, within three months, the title to the real
estate, in regular order."

"Do you guarantee the solvency of this person?" demanded M. Desvanneaux,
who saw the project of the kermess falling to the ground.

"It is one of my rich clients; but I have orders not to reveal her name
unless her offer is accepted."

The unanimity with which all hands were raised did not even give time to
put the question.

"Her name?" demanded the Duchess.

"Here it is," replied the notary, handing her a visiting card.

"'Valentine de Vermont,'" she read aloud.

"Zibeline?" cried Madame de Nointel. "Bravo! I offer her the assurance
of my esteem!"

"And I also," added Madame de Lisieux.

"I can not offer mine," said Madame Desvanneaux, dryly. "A young woman
who is received nowhere!"

"So generous an act should open all doors to her, beginning with mine,"
said the Duchesse de Montgeron. "I beg that you will tell her so from
me, Monsieur Durand."

"At once, Madame. She is waiting below in her carriage."

"Why did you not say so before? I must beg her myself to join us here,"
said the master of the house, leaving the room in haste.

"See how any one can purchase admission to our world in these days!"
whispered Madame Desvanneaux in her daughter's ear.

"Heavens! yes, dear mother! The only question is whether one is able to
pay the price."

We must render justice to the two titled patronesses by saying that the
immediate admission of Mademoiselle de Vermont to their circle seemed to
them the least they could do, and that they greeted her appearance, as
she entered on the arm of the Duke, with a sympathetic murmur which put
the final stroke to the exasperation of the two malicious dames.

"You are very welcome here, Mademoiselle," said the Duchess, advancing to
greet her guest. "I am delighted to express to you, in behalf of all
these ladies, the profound gratitude with which your generous aid
inspires them!"

"It is more than I deserve, Madame la Duchesse!" said Valentine. "The
important work in which they have taken the initiative is so interesting
that each of us should contribute to it according to his means. I am
alone in Paris, without relatives or friends, and these ladies have
furnished me the means to cure my idleness; so it is I, rather, who am
indebted to them."

Whether this speech were studied or not, it was pronounced to be in very
good taste, and the stranger's conquest of the assemblage was more and
more assured.

"Since you wish to join us," resumed the Duchess, "allow me to present to
you these gentlemen: Monsieur Desvanneaux, our zealous general
secretary - "

"I have already had the pleasure of seeing Monsieur at my house," said
Valentine, "also Madame Desvanneaux; and although I was unable to accede
to their wishes, I retain, nevertheless, the pleasantest recollections of
their visit."

"Good hit!" whispered Madame de Nointel to her neighbor.

"The Marquis de Prerolles, my brother," the Duchess continued.

"The smiles of Fortune must be sweet, Mademoiselle," said the General,
bowing low.

"Not so sweet as those of Glory, General," Zibeline replied, with a
pretty air of deference.

"She possesses a decidedly ready wit," said Madame de Lisieux in a
confidential aside.

"Now, ladies," added the president, "I believe that the best thing we can
do is to leave everything in the hands of Mademoiselle and our treasurer.
The examination of the annual resources will be the object of the next
meeting. For to-day, the meeting is adjourned."

Then, as Mademoiselle de Vermont was about to mingle with the other
ladies, the Duchess detained her an instant, inquiring:

"Have you any engagement for this evening, Mademoiselle?"

"None, Madame."

"Will you do us the honor to join us in my box at the opera?"

"But - I have no one to accompany me," said Zibeline. "I dismissed my
cousin De Sainte-Foy, thinking that I should have no further need of his
escort to-day."

"That does not matter at all," the Duchess replied. "We will stop for
you on our way."

"I should not like to trouble you so much, Madame. If you will allow me,
I will stop at your door at whatever hour will be agreeable to you, and
my carriage shall follow yours."

"Very well. At nine o'clock, if you please. They sing Le Prophete
tonight, and we shall arrive just in time for the ballet."

"The 'Skaters' Ballet,'" said the General.

This remark recalled to Mademoiselle her triumph of the evening before.
"Do you bear a grudge against me?" she said, with a smile.

"Less and less of one," the General replied.

"Then, let us make a compact of peace," said Zibeline, holding out her
hand in the English fashion.

With these words she left the room on the arm of the Duke, who claimed
the honor of escorting her to her carriage.

"Shall you go to the opera also?" asked the Duchess of her brother.

"Yes, but later. I shall dine in town."

"Then-au-revoir - this evening!"

"This evening!"


CHAPTER XIV

A WOMAN'S INSTINCT

The General had been more favorably impressed with Zibeline's appearance
than he cared to show. The generous action of this beautiful girl, her
frankness, her ease of manner, her cleverness in repartee, were likely to
attract the attention of a man of his character. He reproached himself
already for having allowed himself to be influenced by the rancorous
hostility of the Desvanneaux, and, as always happens with just natures,
the sudden change of his mind was the more favorable as his first opinion
had been unjust.

Such was the theme of his reflections on the route from the Hotel de
Montgeron to that of Eugenic Gontie's, with whom he was engaged to dine
with some of her friends, invited to celebrate her success of the evening
before.

On entering her dining-room Eugenie took the arm of Lenaieff, placed
Henri de Prerolles on her left and Samoreau opposite her - in his
character of senior member, so that no one could mistake his transitory
function with that of an accredited master of the house.

The four other guests were distinguished writers or artists, including
the painter Edmond Delorme, and, like him, all were intimate friends of
the mistress of the house.

Naturally the conversation turned upon the representation of Adrienne,
and on the applause of the fashionable audience, usually rather
undemonstrative.

"Never have I received so many flowers as were given to me last night,"
said Eugenic, displaying an enormous beribboned basket which ornamented
the table. "But that which particularly flattered me," she added, "was
the spontaneous tribute from that pretty foreigner who sought me in the
greenroom expressly to offer me her bouquet."

"The young lady in the proscenium box, I will wager," said Lenaieff.

"Precisely. I know that they call her Zibeline, but I did not catch her
real name."

"It is Mademoiselle de Vermont," said Edmond Delorme. "She is, in my
opinion, the most dashing of all the Amazons in the Bois de Boulogne.
The Chevalier de Sainte-Foy brought her to visit my studio last autumn,
and I am making a life-size portrait of her on her famous horse, Seaman,
the winner of the great steeplechase at Liverpool, in 1882."

"What were you pencilling on the back of your menu while you were
talking?" asked the actress, curiously.

"The profile of General de Prerolles," the painter replied. "I think
that his mare Aida would make a capital companion picture for Seaman, and
that he himself would be an appropriate figure to adorn a canvas hung on
the line opposite her at the next Salon!"

"Pardon me, dear master!" interrupted the General. "Spare me, I pray,
the honor of figuring in this equestrian contradance. I have not the
means to bequeath to posterity that your fair model possesses - "

"Is she, then, as rich as they say?" inquired one of the guests.

"I can answer for that," said the Baron de Samoreau. "She has a letter
of credit upon me from my correspondent in New York. Last night, during
an entr'acte, she gave me an order to hold a million francs at her
disposal before the end of the week."

"I know the reason why," added Henri.

"But," Lenaieff exclaimed, "you told me that you did not know her!"

"I have made her acquaintance since then."

"Ah! Where?" Eugenie inquired, with interest.

"At my sister's house, during the meeting of a charitable society."

"Had it anything to do with the society for which Monsieur Desvanneaux
asked me to appear in a kermess?"

"Well, yes. In fact, he has gone so far as to announce that he is
assured of your cooperation."

"I could not refuse him," said Eugenie. "Under the mantle of charity,
the holy man paid court to me!"

"I knew well enough that he had not yet laid down his arms forever," said
the General.

"Oh, he is not the only one. His son-in-law also honored me with an
attack."

"What, Monsieur de Thomery? Well, that is a good joke!"

"But what is funnier yet," continued the actress, "is the fact that the
first-named gentleman was on his knees, just about to make me a
declaration, apparently, when the second was announced! Immediately the
father-in-law jumped to his feet, entreating me not to allow them to
meet. I was compelled to open for him the door leading to the servants'
stairway - "

"And what did you do with the other man?" asked Lenaieff, laughing
loudly.

"I rid myself of him in the same way. At a sign from me, my maid
announced the name of the father-in-law, and the alarmed son-in-law
escaped by the same road! Oh, but I know them! They will come back!"

"Under some other pretext, however," said the General. "Because
Mademoiselle de Vermont's million francs have destroyed their amorous
designs."

"So now we see Zibeline fairly launched," remarked the banker. "Since
the Duchesse de Montgeron has taken her up, all the naughty tales that
have been fabricated about her will go to pieces like a house of cards."

"That is very probable," the General concluded, "for she has made a
complete conquest of my sister."

At these words a slight cloud passed over the actress's face. The
imagination of a jealous mistress sees rivals everywhere; especially that
of an actress.

After dinner, while her other guests went into the smoking-room, Eugenic
made a sign to her lover to remain with her, and seated herself beside
him.

"I wish to ask you a question, Henri," said she.

"What is it?"

"Do you still love me?"

"What reason have you to doubt it?"

"None that warrants me in reproaching you for anything. But so many
things separate us! Your career, to which you owe everything! Your
social standing, so different from mine! Oh, I know that you are
sincere, and that if you ever have a scruple regarding our liaison, you
will not be able to hide it from me. It is this possibility of which I
think."

"You are quite wrong, I assure you. Did I hide myself last night in
order to prove openly my admiration for you? Did I appear to disclaim
the allusions which you emphasized in seeming to address me in the course
of your role?"

"No, that is true. Shall I make a confession? When I am on the stage,
I fear nothing, because there the points of comparison are all in my
favor, since you can say to yourself: 'This woman on whom all eyes are
fixed, whose voice penetrates to the depths of the soul - this woman,
beautiful, applauded, courted, belongs to me - wholly to me,' and your
masculine vanity is pleasantly flattered. But later, Henri! When the
rouge is effaced from my lips, when the powder is removed from my cheeks
- perhaps revealing some premature line caused by study and late hours -
if, after that, you return to your own circle, and there encounter some
fresh young girl, graceful and blooming, the object, in her turn, of the
fickle admiration of the multitude, forgetful already of her who just now
charmed them - tell me, Henri! do you not, as do the others, covet that
beautiful exotic flower, and must not the poor comedienne weep for her
lost prestige?"

"It is Mademoiselle de Vermont, then, who inspires you with this
apprehension," said the General, smiling.

"Well, yes, it is she!"

"What childishness! Lenaieff will tell you that I have never even looked
at her."

"Last night, perhaps - but to-day?"

"We exchanged no more than a dozen words."

"But the more I think of her visit to the greenroom, the more
inexplicable it appears to me."

"You need not be surprised at that: she does nothing that any one else
does."

"These things are not done to displease you."

"I may agree as to that; but what conclusion do you draw?"

"That she is trying to turn your head."

"My head! You jest! I might be her father."

"That is not always a reason - "

Nevertheless, Henri's exclamation had been so frank that Eugenie felt
somewhat reassured.

"Are you going so soon?" she said, seeing him take his hat.

"I promised my sister to join her at the opera. Besides, this is your
reception night, and I leave you to your duties as hostess. To-morrow,
at the usual hour-and we will talk of something else, shall we not?"

"Ah, dearest, that is all I ask!" said Eugenie.

He attempted to kiss her hand, but she held up her lips. He pressed his
own upon them in a long kiss, and left her.


CHAPTER XV

DEFIANCE OF MRS. GRUNDY

For more than fifty years the first proscenium box on the ground floor,
to the left, at the Opera, had belonged exclusively to ten members of the
jockey Club, in the name of the oldest member of which the box is taken.
When a place becomes vacant through any cause, the nine remaining
subscribers vote on the admission of a new candidate for the vacant
chair; it is a sort of academy within the national Academy of Music.

When this plan was originated, that particular corner was called "the
infernal box," but the name has fallen into desuetude since the
dedication of the fine monument of M. Gamier. Nevertheless, as it is
counted a high privilege to be numbered among these select subscribers,
changes are rare among them; besides, the members are not, as a rule, men
in their first youth. They have seen, within those walls, the blooming
and the renewal of several generations of pretty women; and the number of
singers and dancers to whom they have paid court in the coulisses is
still greater.

From their post of observation nothing that occurs either before or
behind the curtain escapes their analysis - an analysis undoubtedly
benevolent on the part of men who have seen much of life, and who accord
willingly, to their younger fellow-members, a little of that indulgence
of which they stand in need themselves.

An event so unexpected as the enthronement of Zibeline in one of the two
large boxes between the columns, in company with the Duchesse de
Montgeron, Madame de Lisieux, and Madame de Nointel, did not escape their
observation and comment.

"The Duchess is never thoughtless in her choice of associates," said one
of the ten. "There must be some very powerful motive to induce her to
shield with her patronage a foreigner who sets so completely at defiance
anything that people may say about her."

"Nonsense! What is it, after all, that they say about this young woman?"
demanded the senior member of the party. "That she rides alone on
horseback. If she were to ride with a groom, some one would be sure to
say that he was her lover. They say that she drives out without any
female chaperon beside her in the carriage. Well, if she had one, they
would probably find some other malicious thing to say. Paris has become
like a little country town in its gossip."

"And all this," added a third member, "because she is as lovely as a
dream, and because she drives the handsomest turnout in the Bois. If she
were ugly, and contented herself with a hired carriage, she would be
absolved without confession!"

"Where the deuce does Christian charity come in, in all this gossip?"
said Henri de Prerolles to himself, who had just entered the box and
overheard the last remarks. "Will you grant me your hospitality until
the beginning of the next act, gentlemen?" he said aloud. "My sister's
box is full of guests and transient visitors; she can not admit even me!"

The General was a great favorite with the members of the club. One of
them rose to offer him his place.

"I shall stay only a moment, to escape a cloud of questioners in the
foyer. Every one that stops me asks - "

"About the new recruit in the Duchess's box, eh?" said a member. "We,
too, wish to inquire about her; we are all leagued together."

"Thank you, no," said the General.

"But if it is a secret - "

"There is no secret about it," the General replied; and in a few words he
explained the enigma.

"Why, then," exclaimed the senior member, "she is indeed the fowl that
lays the golden eggs! What a lucky bird will be the one that mates with
her!"

The rising curtain sent the spectators back to their places. The augurs
of the Duchess's box reinstalled themselves before it where they could
examine at their ease through their lorgnettes the fair stranger of whom
so much had been said; and, mounting to the next floor, the General was
at last able to find room among his sister's guests.

"You can see for yourself that our young friend is altogether charming,"
whispered Madame de Nointel, behind the shelter of her fan, and
indicating Zibeline.

"If you pronounce her so, Madame, she can receive no higher praise," said
Henri.

"Say at once that you think me exasperating," laughed the lady.

"Was it not you that first called her Zibeline?" Henri inquired.

"Yes, but she calls herself Valentine - which rhymes, after all. Not
richly enough for her, I know, but her means allow her to do without the
supporting consonant. See how beautiful she is to-night!"


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