Usually she will only let ladies kiss her.
You are irresistible, Monsieur Duroy."
He blushed without answering, and gently jogged the little girl on his knee.
Madame Forestier drew near, and exclaimed, with astonishment:
"What, Laurine tamed!
What a miracle!"
Jacques Rival also came up, cigar in mouth, and Duroy rose to take leave, afraid of spoiling, by some unlucky remark, the work done, his task of conquest begun.
He bowed, softly pressed the little outstretched hands of the women, and then heartily shook those of the men.
He noted that the hand of Jacques Rival, warm and dry, answered cordially to his grip; that of Norbert de Varenne, damp and cold, slipped through his fingers; that of Daddy Walter, cold and flabby, was without expression or energy; and that of Forestier was plump and moist.
His friend said to him in a low tone,
"To-morrow, at three o'clock; do not forget."
"Oh! no; don't be afraid of that."
When he found himself once more on the stairs he felt a longing to run down them, so great was his joy, and he darted forward, going down two steps at a time, but suddenly he caught sight in a large mirror on the second-floor landing of a gentleman in a hurry, who was advancing briskly to meet him, and he stopped short, ashamed, as if he had been caught tripping.
Then he looked at himself in the glass for some time, astonished at being really such a handsome fellow, smiled complacently, and taking leave of his reflection, bowed low to it as one bows to a personage of importance.
When George Duroy found himself in the street he hesitated as to what he should do.
He wanted to run, to dream, to walk about thinking of the future as he breathed the soft night air, but the thought of the series of articles asked for by Daddy Walter haunted him, and he decided to go home at once and set to work.
He walked along quickly, reached the outer boulevards, and followed their line as far as the Rue Boursault, where he dwelt.
The house, six stories high, was inhabited by a score of small households, trades-people or workmen, and he experienced a sickening sensation of disgust, a longing to leave the place and live like well-to-do people in a clean dwelling, as he ascended the stairs, lighting himself with wax matches on his way up the dirty steps, littered with bits of paper, cigarette ends, and scraps of kitchen refuse.
A stagnant stench of cooking, cesspools and humanity, a close smell of dirt and old walls, which no rush of air could have driven out of the building, filled it from top to bottom.
The young fellow's room, on the fifth floor, looked into a kind of abyss, the huge cutting of the Western Railway just above the outlet by the tunnel of the Batignolles station.
Duroy opened his window and leaned against the rusty iron cross-bar.
Below him, at the bottom of the dark hole, three motionless red lights resembled the eyes of huge wild animals, and further on a glimpse could be caught of others, and others again still further.
Every moment whistles, prolonged or brief, pierced the silence of the night, some near at hand, others scarcely discernible, coming from a distance from the direction of Asnieres.
Their modulations were akin to those of the human voice.
One of them came nearer and nearer, with its plaintive appeal growing louder and louder every moment, and soon a big yellow light appeared advancing with a loud noise, and Duroy watched the string of railway carriages swallowed up by the tunnel.
Then he said to himself: "Come, let's go to work." He placed his light upon the table, but at the moment of commencing he found that he had only a quire of letter paper in the place.
More the pity, but he would make use of it by opening out each sheet to its full extent.
He dipped his pen in ink, and wrote at the head of the page, in his best hand,
"Recollections of a Chasseur d'Afrique."
Then he tried to frame the opening sentence.
He remained with his head on his hands and his eyes fixed on the white sheet spread out before him.
What should he say?
He could no longer recall anything of what he had been relating a little while back; not an anecdote, not a fact, nothing.
All at once the thought struck him:
"I must begin with my departure."
And he wrote:
"It was in 1874, about the middle of May, when France, in her exhaustion, was reposing after the catastrophe of the terrible year."
He stopped short, not knowing how to lead up to what should follow--his embarkation, his voyage, his first impressions.
After ten minutes' reflection, he resolved to put off the introductory slip till to-morrow, and to set to work at once to describe Algiers. And he traced on his paper the words:
"Algiers is a white city," without being able to state anything further.
He recalled in his mind the pretty white city flowing down in a cascade of flat-roofed dwellings from the summit of its hills to the sea, but he could no longer find a word to express what he had seen and felt.
After a violent effort, he added:
"It is partly inhabited by Arabs." Then he threw down his pen and rose from his chair.
On his little iron bedstead, hollowed in the center by the pressure of his body, he saw his everyday garments cast down there, empty, worn, limp, ugly as the clothing at the morgue.
On a straw-bottomed chair his tall hat, his only one, brim uppermost, seemed to be awaiting an alms.
The wall paper, gray with blue bouquets, showed as many stains as flowers, old suspicious-looking stains, the origin of which could not be defined; crushed insects or drops of oil; finger tips smeared with pomatum or soapy water scattered while washing.
It smacked of shabby, genteel poverty, the poverty of a Paris lodging-house.
Anger rose within him at the wretchedness of his mode of living.
He said to himself that he must get out of it at once; that he must finish with this irksome existence the very next day.