Madame Forestier seemed troubled for a moment; then she said in natural tones, though a slight rosy flush had risen to her cheeks:
"Come in, my dear sir.
I must introduce one of Charles' old friends, Monsieur George Duroy, a future journalist."
Then in another tone, she added: "Our best and most intimate friend, the Count de Vaudrec."
The two men bowed, looking each other in the eyes, and Duroy at once took his leave.
There was no attempt to detain him.
He stammered a few thanks, grasped the outstretched hand of Madame Forestier, bowed again to the new-comer, who preserved the cold, grave air of a man of position, and went out quite disturbed, as if he had made a fool of himself.
On finding himself once more in the street, he felt sad and uneasy, haunted by the vague idea of some hidden vexation.
He walked on, asking himself whence came this sudden melancholy.
He could not tell, but the stern face of the Count de Vaudrec, already somewhat aged, with gray hair, and the calmly insolent look of a very wealthy man, constantly recurred to his recollection.
He noted that the arrival of this unknown, breaking off a charming _tete-a-tete_, had produced in him that chilly, despairing sensation that a word overheard, a trifle noticed, the least thing suffices sometimes to bring about.
It seemed to him, too, that this man, without his being able to guess why, had been displeased at finding him there.
He had nothing more to do till three o'clock, and it was not yet noon.
He had still six francs fifty centimes in his pocket, and he went and lunched at a Bouillon Duval.
Then he prowled about the boulevard, and as three o'clock struck, ascended the staircase, in itself an advertisement, of the _Vie Francaise_.
The messengers-in-waiting were seated with folded arms on a bench, while at a kind of desk a doorkeeper was sorting the correspondence that had just arrived.
The entire get-up of the place, intended to impress visitors, was perfect.
Everyone had the appearance, bearing, dignity, and smartness suitable to the ante-room of a large newspaper.
"Monsieur Walter, if you please?" inquired Duroy.
"The manager is engaged, sir," replied the doorkeeper.
"Will you take a seat, sir?" and he indicated the waiting-room, already full of people.
There were men grave, important-looking, and decorated; and men without visible linen, whose frock-coats, buttoned up to the chin, bore upon the breast stains recalling the outlines of continents and seas on geographical maps.
There were three women among them.
One of them was pretty, smiling, and decked out, and had the air of a gay woman; her neighbor, with a wrinkled, tragic countenance, decked out also, but in more severe fashion, had about her something worn and artificial which old actresses generally have; a kind of false youth, like a scent of stale love.
The third woman, in mourning, sat in a corner, with the air of a desolate widow.
Duroy thought that she had come to ask for charity.
However, no one was ushered into the room beyond, and more than twenty minutes had elapsed.
Duroy was seized with an idea, and going back to the doorkeeper, said:
"Monsieur Walter made an appointment for me to call on him here at three o'clock.
At all events, see whether my friend, Monsieur Forestier, is here."
He was at once ushered along a lengthy passage, which brought him to a large room where four gentlemen were writing at a large green-covered table.
Forestier standing before the fireplace was smoking a cigarette and playing at cup and ball.
He was very clever at this, and kept spiking the huge ball of yellow boxwood on the wooden point.
He was counting "Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five."
"Twenty-six," said Duroy.
His friend raised his eyes without interrupting the regular movement of his arm, saying:
"Oh! here you are, then.
Yesterday I landed the ball fifty-seven times right off.
There is only Saint-Potin who can beat me at it among those here.
Have you seen the governor?
There is nothing funnier than to see that old tubby Norbert playing at cup and ball.
He opens his mouth as if he was going to swallow the ball every time."
One of the others turned round towards him, saying:
"I say, Forestier, I know of one for sale, a beauty in West Indian wood; it is said to have belonged to the Queen of Spain.
They want sixty francs for it.
Forestier asked: "Where does it hang out?"
And as he had missed his thirty-seventh shot, he opened a cupboard in which Duroy saw a score of magnificent cups and balls, arranged and numbered like a collection of art objects.
Then having put back the one he had been using in its usual place, he repeated:
"Where does this gem hang out?"