What has become of him, I have not seen him for a week?"
"He is unwell," replied she, unmoved. "He wrote to me that he was even obliged to keep his bed from an attack of gout.
You ought to call and ask how he is.
You know he likes you very well, and it would please him."
George said: "Yes, certainly; I will go some time to-day."
He had finished his toilet, and, hat on head, glanced at himself in the glass to see if he had neglected anything.
Finding nothing, he came up to the bed and kissed his wife on the forehead, saying:
"Good-bye, dear, I shall not be in before seven o'clock at the earliest."
And he went out.
Monsieur Laroche-Mathieu was awaiting him, for he was lunching at ten o'clock that morning, the Council having to meet at noon, before the opening of Parliament.
As soon as they were seated at table alone with the minister's private secretary, for Madame Laroche-Mathieu had been unwilling to change her own meal times, Du Roy spoke of his article, sketched out the line he proposed to take, consulting notes scribbled on visiting cards, and when he had finished, said:
"Is there anything you think should be modified, my dear minister?"
"Very little, my dear fellow.
You are perhaps a trifle too strongly affirmative as regards the Morocco business.
Speak of the expedition as if it were going to take place; but, at the same time, letting it be understood that it will not take place, and that you do not believe in it in the least in the world.
Write in such a way that the public can easily read between the lines that we are not going to poke our noses into that adventure."
I understand, and I will make myself thoroughly understood.
My wife commissioned me to ask you, on this point, whether General Belloncle will be sent to Oran.
After what you have said, I conclude he will not."
The statesman answered, "No."
Then they spoke of the coming session.
Laroche-Mathieu began to spout, rehearsing the phrases that he was about to pour forth on his colleagues a few hours later.
He waved his right hand, raising now his knife, now his fork, now a bit of bread, and without looking at anyone, addressing himself to the invisible assembly, he poured out his dulcet eloquence, the eloquence of a good-looking, dandified fellow.
A tiny, twisted moustache curled up at its two ends above his lip like scorpion's tails, and his hair, anointed with brilliantine and parted in the middle, was puffed out like his temples, after the fashion of a provincial lady-killer.
He was a little too stout, puffy, though still young, and his stomach stretched his waistcoat.
The private secretary ate and drank quietly, no doubt accustomed to these floods of loquacity; but Du Roy, whom jealousy of achieved success cut to the quick, thought:
"Go on you proser.
What idiots these political jokers are."
And comparing his own worth to the frothy importance of the minister, he said to himself,
"By Jove! if I had only a clear hundred thousand francs to offer myself as a candidate at home, near Rouen, and dish my sunning dullards of Normandy folk in their own sauce, what a statesman I should make beside these short-sighted rascals!"
Monsieur Laroche-Mathieu went on spouting until coffee was served; then, seeing that he was behind hand, he rang for his brougham, and holding out his hand to the journalist, said:
"You quite understand, my dear fellow?"
"Perfectly, my dear minister; you may rely upon me."
And Du Roy strolled leisurely to the office to begin his article, for he had nothing to do till four o'clock.
At four o'clock he was to meet, at the Rue de Constantinople, Madame de Marelle, whom he met there regularly twice a week--on Mondays and Fridays.
But on reaching the office a telegram was handed to him.
It was from Madame Walter, and ran as follows:
"I must see you to-day. Most important.
Expect me at two o'clock, Rue de Constantinople.
Can render you a great service.
He began to swear: "Hang it all, what an infernal bore!"
And seized with a fit of ill-temper, he went out again at once too irritated to work.
For six weeks he had been trying to break off with her, without being able to wear out her eager attachment.
She had had, after her fall, a frightful fit of remorse, and in three successive rendezvous had overwhelmed her lover with reproaches and maledictions.
Bored by these scenes and already tired of this mature and melodramatic conquest, he had simply kept away, hoping to put an end to the adventure in that way.
But then she had distractedly clutched on to him, throwing herself into this amour as a man throws himself into a river with a stone about his neck.
He had allowed himself to be recaptured out of weakness and consideration for her, and she had enwrapt him in an unbridled and fatiguing passion, persecuting him with her affection.
She insisted on seeing him every day, summoning him at all hours to a hasty meeting at a street corner, at a shop, or in a public garden.