Everyone looked at him, and he felt himself blushing.
Monsieur Walter asked:
"Do you know Algeria, sir?"
George replied: "Yes, sir; I was there nearly two years and a half, and I was quartered in all three provinces."
Suddenly unmindful of the Morel question, Norbert de Varenne interrogated him respecting a detail of manners and customs of which he had been informed by an officer.
It was with respect to the Mzab, that strange little Arab republic sprung up in the midst of the Sahara, in the driest part of that burning region.
Duroy had twice visited the Mzab, and he narrated some of the customs of this singular country, where drops of water are valued as gold; where every inhabitant is bound to discharge all public duties; and where commercial honesty is carried further than among civilized nations.
He spoke with a certain raciness excited by the wine and the desire to please, and told regimental yarns, incidents of Arab life and military adventure.
He even hit on some telling phrases to depict these bare and yellow lands, eternally laid waste by the devouring fire of the sun.
All the women had their eyes turned upon him, and Madame Walter said, in her deliberate tones:
"You could make a charming series of articles out of your recollections."
Then Walter looked at the young fellow over the glasses of his spectacles, as was his custom when he wanted to see anyone's face distinctly.
He looked at the dishes underneath them.
Forestier seized the opportunity.
"My dear sir, I had already spoken to you about Monsieur George Duroy, asking you to let me have him for my assistant in gleaning political topics.
Since Marambot left us, I have no one to send in quest of urgent and confidential information, and the paper suffers from it."
Daddy Walter became serious, and pushed his spectacles upon his forehead, in order to look Duroy well in the face.
Then he said: "It is true that Monsieur Duroy has evidently an original turn of thought.
If he will come and have a chat with us to-morrow at three o'clock, we will settle the matter."
Then, after a short silence, turning right round towards George, he added:
"But write us a little fancy series of articles on Algeria at once.
Relate your experiences, and mix up the colonization question with them as you did just now.
They are facts, genuine facts, and I am sure they will greatly please our readers.
But be quick.
I must have the first article to-morrow or the day after, while the subject is being discussed in the Chamber, in order to catch the public."
Madame Walter added, with that serious grace which characterized everything she did, and which lent an air of favor to her words: "And you have a charming title, 'Recollections of a Chasseur d'Afrique.' Is it not so, Monsieur Norbert?"
The old poet, who had worn renown late in life, feared and hated new-comers.
He replied dryly:
"Yes, excellent, provided that the keynote be followed, for that is the great difficulty; the exact note, what in music is called the pitch."
Madame Forestier cast on Duroy a smiling and protective glance, the glance of a connoisseur, which seemed to say:
"Yes, you will get on."
Madame de Marelle had turned towards him several times, and the diamond in her ear quivered incessantly as though the drop of water was about to fall.
The little girl remained quiet and serious, her head bent over her plate.
But the servant passed round the table, filling the blue glasses with Johannisberg, and Forestier proposed a toast, drinking with a bow to Monsieur Walter:
"Prosperity to the _Vie Francaise_."
Everyone bowed towards the proprietor, who smiled, and Duroy, intoxicated with success, emptied his glass at a draught.
He would have emptied a whole barrel after the same fashion; it seemed to him that he could have eaten a bullock or strangled a lion.
He felt a superhuman strength in his limbs, unconquerable resolution and unbounded hope in his mind.
He was now at home among these people; he had just taken his position, won his place.
His glance rested on their faces with a new-born assurance, and he ventured for the first time to address his neighbor.
"You have the prettiest earrings I have ever seen, Madame."
She turned towards him with a smile.
"It was an idea of my own to have the diamonds hung like that, just at the end of a thread.
They really look like dew-drops, do they not?"
He murmured, ashamed of his own daring, and afraid of making a fool of himself:
"It is charming; but the ear, too, helps to set it off."
She thanked him with a look, one of those woman's looks that go straight to the heart.
And as he turned his head he again met Madame Forestier's eye, always kindly, but now he thought sparkling with a livelier mirth, an archness, an encouragement.
All the men were now talking at once with gesticulations and raised voices. They were discussing the great project of the metropolitan railway.
The subject was not exhausted till dessert was finished, everyone having a deal to say about the slowness of the methods of communication in Paris, the inconvenience of the tramway, the delays of omnibus traveling, and the rudeness of cabmen.