Then they left the dining-room to take coffee.
Duroy, in jest, offered his arm to the little girl.
She gravely thanked him, and rose on tiptoe in order to rest her hand on it.
On returning to the drawing-room he again experienced the sensation of entering a greenhouse.
In each of the four corners of the room tall palms unfolded their elegantly shaped leaves, rising to the ceiling, and there spreading fountain-wise.
On each side of the fireplace were india-rubber plants like round columns, with their dark green leaves tapering one above the other; and on the piano two unknown shrubs covered with flowers, those of one all crimson and those of the other all white, had the appearance of artificial plants, looking too beautiful to be real.
The air was cool, and laden with a soft, vague perfume that could scarcely be defined.
The young fellow, now more himself, considered the room more attentively.
It was not large; nothing attracted attention with the exception of the shrubs, no bright color struck one, but one felt at one's ease in it; one felt soothed and refreshed, and, as it were, caressed by one's surroundings.
The walls were covered with an old-fashioned stuff of faded violet, spotted with little flowers in yellow silk about the size of flies.
Hangings of grayish-blue cloth, embroidered here and there with crimson poppies, draped the doorways, and the chairs of all shapes and sizes, scattered about the room, lounging chairs, easy chairs, ottomans, and stools, were upholstered in Louise Seize silk or Utrecht velvet, with a crimson pattern on a cream-colored ground.
"Do you take coffee, Monsieur Duroy?" and Madame Forestier held out a cup towards him with that smile which never left her lips.
"Thank you, Madame."
He took the cup, and as he bent forward to take a lump of sugar from the sugar-basin carried by the little girl, Madame Forestier said to him in a low voice:
"Pay attention to Madame Walter."
Then she drew back before he had time to answer a word.
He first drank off his coffee, which he was afraid of dropping onto the carpet; then, his mind more at ease, he sought for some excuse to approach the wife of his new governor, and begin a conversation.
All at once he noticed that she was holding an empty cup in her hand, and as she was at some distance from a table, did not know where to put it.
He darted forward with,
"Allow me, Madame?"
"Thank you, sir."
He took away the cup and then returned.
"If you knew, Madame," he began, "the happy hours the _Vie Francaise_ helped me to pass when I was away in the desert.
It is really the only paper that is readable out of France, for it is more literary, wittier, and less monotonous than the others.
There is something of everything in it."
She smiled with amiable indifference, and answered, seriously:
"Monsieur Walter has had a great deal of trouble to create a type of newspaper supplying the want of the day."
And they began to chat.
He had an easy flow of commonplace conversation, a charm in his voice and look, and an irresistible seductiveness about his moustache.
It curled coquettishly about his lips, reddish brown, with a paler tint about the ends.
They chatted about Paris, its suburbs, the banks of the Seine, watering places, summer amusements, all the current topics on which one can prate to infinity without wearying oneself.
Then as Monsieur Norbert de Varenne approached with a liqueur glass in his hand, Duroy discreetly withdrew.
Madame de Marelle, who had been speaking with Madame Forestier, summoned him.
"Well, sir," she said, abruptly, "so you want to try your hand at journalism?"
He spoke vaguely of his prospects, and there recommenced with her the conversation he had just had with Madame Walter, but as he was now a better master of his subject, he showed his superiority in it, repeating as his own the things he had just heard.
And he continually looked his companion in the eyes, as though to give deep meaning to what he was saying.
She, in her turn, related anecdotes with the easy flow of spirits of a woman who knows she is witty, and is always seeking to appear so, and becoming familiar, she laid her hand from time to time on his arm, and lowered her voice to make trifling remarks which thus assumed a character of intimacy.
He was inwardly excited by her contact.
He would have liked to have shown his devotion for her on the spot, to have defended her, shown her what he was worth, and his delay in his replies to her showed the preoccupation of his mind.
But suddenly, without any reason, Madame de Marelle called,
"Laurine!" and the little girl came.
"Sit down here, child; you will catch cold near the window."
Duroy was seized with a wild longing to kiss the child. It was as though some part of the kiss would reach the mother.
He asked in a gallant, and at the same time fatherly, tone: "Will you allow me to kiss you, Mademoiselle?"
The child looked up at him in surprise.
"Answer, my dear," said Madame de Marelle, laughingly.
"Yes, sir, this time; but it will not do always."
Duroy, sitting down, lifted Laurine onto his knees and brushed the fine curly hair above her forehead with his lips.
Her mother was surprised.
"What! she has not run away; it is astounding.