Part 3 out of 3
To see and to be seen constitutes the principal raison d'etre of this
exercise, where the riders traverse the same path going and coming, a man
thus being able to meet more than once the fair one whom he seeks, or a
lady to encounter several times a cavalier who interests her.
On this more and more frequented road, the masculine element displayed
different costumes, according to the age and tastes of each rider. The
young men appeared in careless array: leggins, short coats, and small
caps. The older men, faithful to early traditions, wore long trousers,
buttoned-up redingotes, and tall hats, like those worn by their fathers,
as shown in the pictures by Alfred de Dreux.
For the feminine element the dress is uniform. It consists of a riding-
habit of black or dark blue, with bodice and skirt smoothly molded to the
form by one of the two celebrated habit-makers, Youss or Creed. The
personal presence alone varied, according to the degree of perfection of
A cylindrical hat, a little straight or turned-over collar, a cravat tied
in a sailor's knot, a gardenia in the buttonhole, long trousers and
varnished boots completed the dress of these modern Amazons, who, having
nothing in common with the female warriors of ancient times, are not
deprived, as were those unfortunates, of any of their feminine charms.
The military element is represented by officers of all grades from
generals to sub-lieutenants, in morning coats, with breeches and high
boots, forbidden under the Second Empire, but the rule at present.
At the top of the Pre-Catelan, the path is crossed by the Bagatelle road
to the lakes, a point of intersection situated near a glade where the
ladies were fond of stopping their carriages to chat with those passing
on horseback. A spectator might have fancied himself at the meet of a
hunting-party, lacking the whippers-in and the dogs.
A few days after the review at Vincennes, on a bright morning in May,
a file of victorias and pony-chaises were strung out along this sylvan
glade, and many persons had alighted from them. Announcing their arrival
by trumpet-blasts, two or three vehicles of the Coaching Club, headed by
that of the Duc de Mont had discharged a number of pretty passengers,
whose presence soon caused the halt of many gay cavaliers.
Several groups were formed, commenting on the news of the day, the
scandal of the day before, the fete announced for the next day.
More serious than the others, the group surrounding Madame de Montgeron
strolled along under the trees in the side paths which, in their
windings, often came alongside of the bridle-path.
"What has become of Mademoiselle de Vermont, Duchess?" inquired Madame
de Lisieux, who had been surprised not to find Zibeline riding with their
"She is in the country, surrounded by masons, occupied in the building of
our Orphan Asylum. The time she required before making over the property
to us expires in two weeks."
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"Your horse needs exercise," said Henri to the equestrienne. "You ought
to give him an opportunity to do something besides the formal trot around
"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.
THE AMAZON HAS A FALL
They were a well-matched pair: he, the perfect type of the elegant and
always youthful soldier; she, the most dashing of all the Amazons in the
Bois, to quote the words of Edmond Delorme.
Everyone was familiar with the personal appearance of both riders, and
recognized them, but until now Mademoiselle de Vermont had always ridden
alone, and now to see her accompanied by the gallant General, whose
embroidered kepi glittered in the sunlight, was a new spectacle for the
The people looked at them all the more because Seaman was still prancing,
but without unseating his mistress, who held him at any gait or any
degree of swiftness that pleased her.
"What a good seat you have!" said Henri.
"That is the first real compliment you ever have paid me. I shall
appropriate it immediately, before you have time to retract it," Zibeline
At the circle of Melezes, Henri proposed to turn to the right, in order
to reach Longchamp.
"A flat race! You are joking!" Zibeline cried, turning to the left,
toward the road of La Vierge,
"You don't intend that we shall run a steeplechase, I hope."
"On the contrary, that is exactly my intention! You are not afraid to
try it, are you?"
"Not on my own account, but on yours."
"You know very well that I never am daunted by any obstacle."
"Figuratively, yes; but in riding a horse it is another matter."
"All the more reason why I should not be daunted now," Zibeline insisted.
When they arrived at the public square of the Cascades, in front of the
Auteuil hippodrome, she paused a moment between the two lakes, uncertain
which course to take.
It was Thursday, the day of the races. The vast ground, enclosed on all
sides by a fence, had been cleared, since early morning, of the boards
covering the paths reserved for pedestrians on days when there was no
racing; but it was only eleven o'clock, and the place was not yet open to
the paying public. Several workmen, in white blouses, went along the
track, placing litters beside the obstacles where falls occurred most
"Do you think the gatekeeper will allow us to enter at this hour?"
"I hope not!" Henri replied.
"Well, then, I shall enter without his permission! You are free to
declare me the winner. I shall be left to make a walkover, I see!"
And setting off at a gallop along the bridle-path, which was obstructed a
little farther on by the fence itself, she struck her horse resolutely,
and with one audacious bound sprang over the entrance gate. She was now
on the steeplechase track.
"You are mad!" cried the General, who, as much concerned for her safety
as for his own pride, urged on his mare, and, clearing the fence, landed
beside Zibeline on the other side.
"All right!" she cried, in English, dropping her whip, as the starter
drops the flag at the beginning of a race.
The die was cast. Henri bent over Aida's neck, leaning his hands upon
her withers in an attitude with which experience had made him familiar,
and followed the Amazon, determined to win at all hazards.
Zibeline's groom, an Englishman, formerly a professional jockey, had
already jumped the fence, in spite of the cries of the guard, who ran to
prevent him, and coolly galloped after his mistress, keeping at his usual
The first two hedges, which were insignificant obstacles for such horses,
were crossed without effort.
"Not the brook, I beg of you!" cried Henri, seeing that, instead of
running past the grand-stand, Zibeline apparently intended to attempt
this dangerous feat.
"Come on! Seaman would never forgive me if I balk at it!" she cried,
riding fearlessly down the slope,
The good horse gathered up his four feet on the brink, took one vigorous
leap, appearing for a second to hover over the water; then he fell
lightly on the other side of the stream, with a seesaw movement, to which
the intrepid Amazon accommodated herself by leaning far back. The
rebound threw her forward a little, but she straightened herself quickly
and went on.
The General, who had slackened his pace that he might not interfere with
her leap, gave vent to a sigh of relief. He pressed Aida's flanks
firmly, and the big Irish mare jumped after her competitor, with the
majestic dignity of her race.
Reassured by the 'savoir-faire' of his companion, the former winner of
the military steeplechase felt revive within himself all his ardor for
the conflict, and he hastened to make up the distance he had lost.
The two horses, now on the west side of the racetrack, were almost neck-
and-neck, and it would have been difficult to prognosticate which had the
better chance of victory. Zibeline's light weight gave Seaman the
advantage, but Aida gained a little ground every time she leaped an
obstacle; so that, after passing the hurdles and the third hedge, the
champions arrived simultaneously at the summit of the hill, from which
point the track extends in a straight line, parallel with the Allee des
Feeling himself urged on still harder, the English horse began to lay
back his ears and pull so violently on the rein that his rider had all
she could do to hold him, and lacked sufficient strength to direct his
course. Seeing Zibeline's danger, Henri hastened to slacken his horse's
pace, but it was too late: the almost perpendicular declivity of the
other side of the hill added fresh impetus to the ungovernable rush of
Seaman, who suddenly became wild and reckless.
The situation was all the more critical for the reason that the next
obstacle was a brook, only two metres wide, but of which the passage was
obstructed on the farther side of the track by heavy beams, laid one on
top of another, solidly riveted and measuring one metre and ten
millimetres from the base to the summit. The excited horse charged
obliquely toward this obstruction with all his might. Paying no more
attention to the pressure upon his bit, he rose in the air, but as he had
not given himself sufficient time to take plenty of room for the leap,
his hoofs struck violently against the top beam, the force of resistance
of which threw him over on one side; his hindquarters turned in the air,
and he fell in a heap on the other side of the obstacle, sending up a
great splash of water as he went into the brook.
Had Zibeline been crushed by the weight of the horse in this terrible
fall, or, not having been able to free herself from him, had she been
drowned under him? Henri uttered a hoarse cry, struck his spurs into the
sides of his mare, crossed the brook breathlessly, stopping on the other
side as soon as he could control his horse's pace; then, rushing back, he
leaped to the ground to save the poor girl, if there was still time to do
Zibeline lay inanimate on the grass, her face lying against the earth.
By a lucky chance, the horse had fallen on his right side, so that his
rider's limbs and skirt had not been caught. Unhorsed by the violence of
the shock, Zibeline had gone over the animal's head and fallen on the
other side of the brook. Her Amazon hat, so glossy when she had set out,
was now crushed, and her gloves were torn and soiled with mud; which
indicated that she had fallen on her head and her hands.
Henri knelt beside her, passed his arm around her inert and charming
body, and drew her tenderly toward him. Her eyes were half-open and
dull, her lips pale; her nose, the nostrils of which were usually well
dilated, had a pinched look; and a deadly pallor covered that face which
only a moment before had been so rosy and smiling.
These signs were the forerunners of death, which the officer had
recognized so many times on the battlefield. But those stricken ones had
at least been men, devoting themselves to the risks of warfare; while in
the presence of this young girl lying before him, looking upon this
victim of a reckless audacity to which he felt he had lent himself too
readily, the whole responsibility for the accident seemed to him to rest
upon his own shoulders, and a poignant remorse tore his heart.
He removed her cravat, unhooked her bodice, laid his ear against her
breast, from which an oppressed breathing still arose.
Two laborers hurried to open the gate and soon arrived at the spot with a
litter, guided by the groom, whose horse had refused to jump the brook,
and who since then had followed the race on foot outside the track.
While the General placed Zibeline on the litter, the groom took Aida by
the bridle, and the sad procession made its way slowly toward the
enclosure surrounding the weighing-stand.
As for Seaman, half submerged in the stream, and with an incurable
fracture of the leg, nothing was left to do for the poor animal but to
AN UNCONSCIOUS AVOWAL
Walking slowly, step by step, beside her whose power had so quickly and
so wholly subjugated him, watching over her removal with more than
paternal solicitude, Henri de Prerolles, sustained by a ray of hope,
drew a memorandum-book from his pocket, wrote upon a slip of paper a name
and an address, and, giving it to the groom, ordered him to go ahead of
the litter and telephone to the most celebrated surgeon in Paris,
requesting him to go as quickly as possible to the domicile of
Mademoiselle de Vermont, and, meantime, to send with the greatest
despatch one of the eight-spring carriages from the stables.
It was noon by the dial on the grand-stand when the litter was finally
deposited in a safe place. The surgeon could hardly arrive in less than
two hours; therefore, the General realized that he must rely upon his own
experience in rendering the first necessary aid.
He lifted Valentine's hand, unbuttoned the glove, laid his finger on her
pulse, and counted the pulsations, which were weak, slow, and irregular.
While the wife of the gate-keeper kept a bottle of salts at the nostrils
of the injured girl, Henri soaked a handkerchief in tincture of arnica
and sponged her temples with it; then, pouring some drops of the liquid
into a glass of water, he tried in vain to make her swallow a mouthful.
Her teeth, clenched by the contraction of muscles, refused to allow it to
pass into her throat. At the end of half an hour, the inhalation of the
salts began to produce a little effect; the breath came more regularly,
but that was the only symptom which announced that the swoon might soon
terminate. The landau with the high springs arrived. The General ordered
the top laid back, and helped to lift and place upon the cushions on the
back seat the thin mattress on which Zibeline lay; then he took his place
on the front seat, made the men draw the carriage-top back into its
proper position, and the equipage rolled smoothly, and without a jar, to
its destination. On the way they met the first carriages that had arrived
at the Auteuil hippodrome, the occupants of which little suspected what
an exciting dramatic incident had occurred just before the races.
Zibeline's servants, by whom she was adored, awaited their mistress at
the threshold, and for her maids it was an affair of some minutes to
undress her and lay her in her own bed. During this delay, the surgeon,
who had hastened to answer the call, found Henri nervously walking about
from one drawing-room to the other; and, having received information as
to the details of the fall, he soon entered the bedchamber. While
awaiting the sentence of life or of death which must soon be pronounced,
he who considered himself the chief cause of this tragic event continued
to pace to and fro in the gallery--that gallery where, under the
intoxication of a waltz, the demon of temptation had so quickly
demolished all his resolutions of resistance. A half-hour--an age!--
elapsed before the skilled practitioner reappeared. "There is no
fracture," he said, "but the cerebral shock has been such that I can not
as yet answer for the consequences. If the powerful reactive medicine
which I have just given should bring her back to her senses soon, her
mental faculties will suffer no harm. If not, there is everything to
fear. I will return in three hours," he added. Without giving a thought
to the conventionalities, Henri entered the bedchamber, to the great
astonishment of the maids, and, installing himself at the head of the
bed, he decided not to leave that spot until Valentine had regained her
senses, should she ever regain them. An hour passed thus, while Henri
kept the same attitude, erect, attentive, motionless, with stray scraps
of his childhood's prayers running through his brain. Suddenly the heavy
eyelids of the wounded girl were lifted; the dulness of the eyes
disappeared; her body made an involuntary attempt to change its position;
the nostrils dilated; the lips quivered in an effort to speak. Youth and
life had triumphed over death. With painful slowness, she tried to raise
her hand to her head, the seat of her pain, where, though half paralyzed,
thought was beginning to return. Her eyes wandered to and fro in the
shadowy room, seeking to recognize the surroundings. A ray of light,
filtering through the window-curtains, showed her the anxious face
bending tenderly over her. "Henri!" she murmured, in a soft, plaintive
voice. That name, pronounced thus, the first word uttered after her long
swoon, revealed her secret. Never had a more complete yet modest avowal
been more simply expressed; was it not natural that he should be present
at her reentrance into life, since she loved him? With women, the
sentiment of love responds to the most diverse objects. The ordinary
young girl of Zibeline's age, either before or after her sojourn in a
convent, considers that a man of thirty has arrived at middle age, and
that a man of forty is absolutely old. Should she accept a man of either
of these ages, she does it because a fortune, a title, or high social
rank silences her other tastes, and her ambition does the rest. But, with
an exceptional woman, like Mademoiselle de Vermont, brought up in view of
wide horizons, in the midst of plains cleared by bold pioneers, among
whom the most valorous governed the others, a man like General de
Prerolles realized her ideal all the more, because both their natures
presented the same striking characteristics: carelessness of danger, and
frankness carried to its extremest limit. Therefore, this declaration--
to use the common expression--entirely free from artifice or affectation,
charmed Henri for one reason, yet, on the other hand, redoubled his
perplexity. How could he conciliate his scruples of conscience with the
aspirations of his heart? The problem seemed then as insoluble as when
it had been presented the first time. But Valentine was saved. For the
moment that was the essential point, the only one in question. The
involuntary revelation of her secret had brought the color to her cheeks,
the light to her eyes, a smile to her lips, in spite of the leaden band
that seemed still pressing upon her head. "How you have frightened me!"
said Henri, in a low voice, seating himself on the side of the bed and
taking her hand. "Is that true?" she asked, softly pressing his fingers.
"Hush!" he said, making a movement to enjoin silence. She obeyed, and
they remained a few moments thus. Nevertheless, he reflected that the
account of the accident would soon be spread everywhere, that Valentine's
new friends would hear about it as soon as they arrived at the race-track
that day, and that he could no longer prolong his stay beside her.
"Are you leaving me so soon?" Valentine murmured, when he said that he
"I am going to tell my sister and the Chevalier de Sainte-Foy of your
"Very well," she replied, as if already she had no other desire than to
follow his wishes.
He gave the necessary orders, and again took his place beside the bed,
awaiting the second visit of the doctor, whose arrival was simultaneous
with that of the Duchess.
This time the verdict was altogether favorable, with no mention of the
possibility of any aggravating circumstances. An inevitable
feverishness, and a great lassitude, which must be met with absolute
repose for several days, would be the only consequences of this dangerous
The proprieties resumed their normal sway, and it was no longer possible
for Henri to remain beside the charming invalid.
The Duchesse de Montgeron, who had passed the rest of the day with
Mademoiselle de Vermont, did not return to her own dwelling until eight
o'clock that evening, bearing the most reassuring news.
Longing for fresh air and exercise, Henri went out after dinner, walked
through the Champs-Elysees, and traversed the crossing at l'Etoile, in
order to approach the spot where Zibeline lay ill.
If one can imagine the feelings of a man of forty-five, who is loved for
himself, under the most flattering and unexpected conditions, one can
comprehend the object of this nocturnal walk and the long pause that
Henri made beneath the windows of Zibeline's apartment. A small garden,
protected by a light fence, was the only obstacle that separated them.
But how much more insuperable was the barrier which his own principles
had raised between this adorable girl and himself.
Had he not told his sister, confided to Eugenie Gontier, and reiterated
to any one that would listen to him, the scruples which forbade him ever
to think of marriage? To change this decision, in asking for the hand of
Mademoiselle de Vermont, would-in appearance, at least--sacrifice to the
allurement of wealth the proud poverty which he had long borne so nobly.
But the demon of temptation was then, as always, lurking in the shadow,
the sole witness of this duel to the death between prejudice and love.
When he returned to his rooms he found another note from his former
"You have just had a terrible experience, my dear friend. Nothing
that affects you can be indifferent to me. I beg you to believe,
notwithstanding the grief which our separation causes me, in all the
prayers that I offer for your happiness.
"My happiness? My torture, rather!" he said, the classic name of
Ariadne suggesting the idea that the pseudonym of Tantalus might well be
applied to himself.
But he had long kept a rule to write as little as possible, and was
guarded in making reply to any letter, especially to such a communication
When he left the house the next morning, on his way to attend to military
duties, he learned that his sister had gone away early on an excursion to
one of the suburbs, and that she would not return until evening. As the
Duchess was the only person who had been initiated into the mystery
surrounding Zibeline on the subject of the building of the Orphan Asylum,
it was evident that she had gone to take her place in the directing of
In the afternoon Henri called to inquire for the invalid, and was
received by the Chevalier de Sainte-Foy. She had had a quiet night;
a little fever had appeared toward morning, and, above all, an extreme
weakness, requiring absolute quiet and freedom from any excitement.
On an open register in the reception-room were inscribed the names of all
those persons who had called to express their interest in Mademoiselle de
Vermont: Constantin Lenaieff, the Lisieux, the Nointels, Edmond Delorme,
the Baron de Samoreau, and others. Only the Desvanneaux had shown no
sign of life. Their Christian charity did not extend so far as that.
Henri added his name to the list, and for several days he returned each
morning to inscribe it anew, feeling certain that, as soon as Valentine
was able to be placed half-reclining on a couch, she would give orders
that he should be admitted to her presence. But nothing of the kind
On the evening of the fifth day after the accident, the Duchess informed
her brother that their young friend had been taken to the country, where
it was thought a complete cure would sooner be effected.
This hasty departure, made without any preliminary message, caused Henri
to feel the liveliest disappointment.
Had he deceived himself, then? Was it, after all, only by chance that
she had so tenderly pronounced his name, and had that familiar
appellative only been drawn from her involuntarily because of her
surprise at beholding his unexpected presence at her bedside?
Regarding the matter from this point of view, the whole romance that he
had constructed on a fragile foundation had really never existed save in
his own imagination!
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,
"VALENTINE DE VERMONT.
"P.S.--Poor Seaman 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."
As he was not so curious as the Desvanneaux, it mattered little to him to
what place they took him, so long as he should find Zibeline at the end
of the journey.
At the appointed hour the brother and sister drove to the Gare du Nord.
The Duke, a director of the road, who had been obliged to attend a
convocation of the Council until noon, had preceded them. He was waiting
for them beside the turnstile at the station, having already procured
their tickets and reserved a carriage in one of the omnibus trains from
Paris to Treport which make stops at various suburban stations.
"Will it be a very long journey?" Henri asked, on taking his place in
"Barely three-quarters of an hour," said the Duke, as the train started
on its way.
THE VOW REDEEMED
The third road, constructed between the two lines which met at Creil,
passing, the one by way of Chantilly, the other, by Pontoise, was not in
existence in 1871, when, after the war, Jeanne and Henri de Prerolles
went to visit the spot, already unrecognizable, where they had passed
their childhood. L'Ile-d'Adam was at that time the nearest station; to
day it is Presles, on the intermediate line, which they now took.
"This is our station," said Madame de Montgeron, when the train stopped
at Montsoult. They descended from the carriage, and found on the
platform two footmen, who conducted them to a large char-a-banc, to which
were harnessed four dark bay Percherons, whose bridles were held by
postilions in Zibeline's livery, as correct in their appearance as those
belonging to the imperial stables, when the sojourn of the court was at
Compiegne or at Fontainebleau.
"Where are we going now, Jeanne?" asked Henri, whose heart seemed to him
to contract at the sight of Maffliers, which he knew so well.
"A short distance from here," his sister replied.
The horses set off, and, amid the sound of bells and the cracking of
whips, the carriage reached the national road from Paris to Beauvais,
which, from Montsoult, passes around the railway by a rapid descent, from
the summit of which is visible, on the right, the Chateau of
Franconville; on the left, the village of Nerville perched on its crest.
One of the footmen on the rear seat held the reins, and a quarter of an
hour later the carriage stopped just before arriving at the foot of
Valpendant had formerly been a feudal manor within the confines of Ile-
de-France, built midway upon a hill, as its name indicated. On the side
toward the plain was a moat, and the castle itself commanded the view of
a valley, through which ran the little stream called Le Roi, which flows
into the river Oise near the hamlet of Mours. Acquired in the fifteenth
century by the lords of Prerolles, it had become an agricultural
territory worked for their profit, first by forced labor, and later by
Even recently, the courtyard, filled with squawking fowls and domestic
animals of all kinds, and the sheds crowded with agricultural implements
piled up in disorder, presented a scene of confusion frequent among
cultivators, and significant of the alienation of old domains from their
"We have arrived!" said the Duchess, alighting first.
"What, is it here?" Henri exclaimed, his heart beating more quickly.
"Your old farm was for sale just at the time that Mademoiselle de Vermont
was seeking an appropriate site for the Orphan Asylum. This spot
appeared to her to combine all the desirable conditions, and she has
wrought the transformation you are about to behold. It might as well be
this place as another," the Duchess added. "In my opinion, it is a sort
of consolation offered to us by fate."
"Be it so!" said Henri, in a tone of less conviction.
He followed his sister along the footpath of a bluff, which as children
they had often climbed; while the carriage made a long detour in order to
reach the main entrance to the grounds.
The footpath, winding along near the railway embankment, ended at a
bridge, where Zibeline awaited the three visitors. A significant
pressure of her hand showed Henri how little cause he had had for his
They entered. Seen from the main entrance, the metamorphosis of the
place was complete.
The old tower that had served as a barn alone remained the same; it was
somewhat isolated from the other building, and had been repaired in the
style of its period, making a comfortable dwelling for the future
director of the Asylum. Mademoiselle de Vermont occupied it temporarily.
On each side of the grounds, standing parallel, rose two fine buildings:
on the ground floor of each were all the customary rooms and accessories
found on model farms; on the upper floors were dormitories arranged to
receive a large number of children of both sexes. There were
schoolrooms, sewing-rooms, a chapel-in short, nothing was lacking to
assist in the children's intellectual and manual education.
"You have done things royally," said the Duke to the happy donor, when,
having finished the inspection of the premises, they returned to the
directors' room, indicated by a plate upon its door.
As for Henri, silent and absorbed, he hesitated between the dread of
facing a new emotion and the desire to go once more to gaze upon the
tower of Prerolles, hardly more than two kilometres distant.
"What is the matter with you, General?" Zibeline asked, observing that
he did not appear to take pleasure in the surprise she had prepared.
"I lived here many years a long time ago," he replied. "I am thinking of
all that it recalls to me; and, if you would not consider it discourteous
on my part, I should like to leave you for a little time to make a
pilgrimage on foot around the neighborhood."
"Would you like to have me take you myself? I have a little English cart
which can run about anywhere," said Zibeline.
The proposition was tempting. The sweetness of a tete-a-tete might
diminish the bitterness of recollections. He accepted.
She ordered the cart brought around, and they climbed into the small
vehicle, which was drawn by a strong pony, driven by Zibeline herself.
"Which way?" she asked, when they had passed through the gates.
"To the right," he said, pointing to a rough, half-paved slope, an
abandoned part of what had been in former days the highway, which now
joins the new road at the Beaumont tunnel.
Passing this point, and leaving on their left the state road of l'Ile-
d'Adam, they drove through a narrow cross-cut, between embankments, by
which one mounts directly to the high, plateau that overlooks the town of
The hill was steep, and the pony was out of breath. They were compelled
to stop to allow him to rest.
"It is not necessary to go any farther," said Henri to his companion. "I
need only to take a few steps in order to see what interests me."
"I will wait for you here," she replied, alighting after him. "Don't be
afraid to leave me alone. The horse will not move; he is used to
He left her gathering daisies, and walked resolutely to the panoramic
point of view, where a strange and unexpected sight met his eyes!
All that had once been so dear to him had regained its former aspect.
The kitchen-gardens had given place to the rich pastures, where yearling
colts frisked gayly. The factory had disappeared, and the chateau had
been restored to its original appearance. The walls enclosing the park
had been rebuilt, and even several cleared places indicated the sites of
cottages that had been pulled down.
Henri de Prerolles could hardly believe his eyes! Was he the sport of a
dream or of one of those mirages which rise before men who travel across
the sandy African deserts? The latitude and the position of the sun
forbade this interpretation. But whence came it, then? What fairy had
turned a magic ring in order to work this miracle?
A crackling of dry twigs under a light tread made him turn, and he beheld
Zibeline, who had come up behind him.
The fairy was there, pale and trembling, like a criminal awaiting arrest.
"Is it you who have done this?" Henri exclaimed, with a sob which no
human strength could have controlled.
"It is I!" she murmured, lowering her eyes. "I did it in the hope that
some day you would take back that which rightfully belongs to you."
"Rightfully, you say? By what act?"
"An act of restitution."
"You never have done me any injury, and nothing authorizes me to accept
such a gift from Mademoiselle de Vermont."
"Vermont was the family name of my mother. When my father married her,
he obtained leave to add it to his own. I am the daughter of Paul
"Yes. The daughter of Paul Landry, whose fortune had no other origin
than the large sum of which he despoiled you."
Henri made a gesture of denial.
"Pardon me!" Zibeline continued. "He was doubly your debtor, since this
sum had been increased tenfold when you rescued him from the Mexicans who
were about to shoot him. 'This is my revenge!' you said to him, without
waiting to hear a word from him. Your ruin was the remorse of his whole
life. I knew it only when he lay upon his deathbed. Otherwise--"
She paused, then raised her head higher to finish her words.
"Never mind!" she went on. "That which he dared not do while living, I
set myself to do after his death. When I came to Paris to inquire what
had become of the Marquis de Prerolles, your glorious career answered for
you; but even before I knew you I had become the possessor of these
divided estates, which, reunited by me, must be restored to your hands.
You are proud, Henri," she added, with animation, "but I am none less
proud than you. Judge, then, what I have suffered in realizing our
situation: I, overwhelmed with riches, you, reduced to your officer's
pay. Is that a satisfaction to your pride? Very well! But to my own,
it is the original stain, which only a restitution, nobly accepted by
you, ever can efface!"
She paused, looking at him supplicatingly, her hands clasped. As he
remained silent, she understood that he still hesitated, and continued:
"To plead my cause, to vanquish your resistance, as I am trying now to
triumph over it, could be attempted with any chance of success only by a
dear and tender friend; that is the reason why I sought to establish
"With Eugenie Gontier?"
"But she would not consent to it--all the worse for her! For, since
then, you and I have come to know each other well. Your prejudices have
been overcome one by one. I have observed it well. I am a woman, and
even your harshness has not changed my feelings, nor prevented me from
believing that, in spite of yourself, you were beginning to love me.
Have I been deceiving myself?--tell me!"
"You know that you have not, since, as I look at you and listen to you,
I know not which I admire more-your beauty or the treasures of your
"To Prerolles, where all is ready to receive you."
"Well, since this is a tale from the Arabian Nights, let us follow it to
the end! I will go!" said Henri.
Browsing beside the road, the pony, left to himself, had advanced toward
them, step by step, whinnying to his mistress. Valentine and Henri
remounted the cart; which soon drew up before the gates of the chateau,
where, awaiting them, reinstated in his former office, stood the old
steward, bent and white with years.
The borders of the broad driveway were of a rich, deep green. Rose-
bushes in full bloom adorned the smooth lawns. The birds trilled a
welcome in jumping from branch to branch, and across the facade of the
chateau the open windows announced to the surrounding peasantry the
return of the prodigal master.
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
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
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
"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
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
This formality fulfilled, M. Desvanneaux, whose own role, for a moment
overshadowed, appeared to him to renew its importance, took the floor and
"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
In this way was the news of the approaching marriage between Valentine
and Henri announced to the Society.
"The little intriguer!" murmured the churchwarden, nudging the elbow of
The General, who noted the effect which this announcement had produced
upon the peevish pair, divined the malicious words upon the hypocritical
lips. He drew the husband aside, and put one hand upon his shoulder.
"Desvanneaux," he said, "you have known me twenty-five years, and you
know that I am a man of my word. If ever a malevolent word from you
regarding my wife should come to my ears, I shall elongate yours to such
a degree that those of King Midas will be entirely eclipsed! Remember
The ceremony took place six weeks later, in the church of St. Honore-
d'Eylau, which was not large enough to hold the numerous public and the
brilliant corps of officers that assisted.
The witnesses for the bridegroom were the military governor of Paris and
the Duc de Montgeron. Those of the bride were the aide-de-camp General
Lenaieff, in full uniform, wearing an astrachan cap and a white cloak
with the Russian eagle fastened in the fur; and the Chevalier de Sainte-
On the evening before, a last letter from his former mistress had come to
"I have heard all the details of your romance, my dear Henri. Its
conclusion is according to all dramatic rules, and I congratulate
you without reserve.
"If, on the eve of contracting this happy union, an examination of
your conscience should suggest to you some remorse for having
abandoned me so abruptly, let me say that no shadow, not even the
lightest, must cloud the serenity of this joyous day: I am about to
leave the stage forever, to become the wife of the Baron de
Always affectionately yours,
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
All that was illogical in our social code
Only a man, wavering and changeable
Their Christian charity did not extend so far as that
There are mountains that we never climb but once