"Yes, Madame is at home, but I don't know whether she is up."
And she pushed open the drawing-room door, which was ajar.
Duroy went in.
The room was fairly large, scantily furnished and neglected looking.
The chairs, worn and old, were arranged along the walls, as placed by the servant, for there was nothing to reveal the tasty care of the woman who loves her home.
Four indifferent pictures, representing a boat on a stream, a ship at sea, a mill on a plain, and a wood-cutter in a wood, hung in the center of the four walls by cords of unequal length, and all four on one side.
It could be divined that they had been dangling thus askew ever so long before indifferent eyes.
Duroy sat down immediately.
He waited a long time.
Then a door opened, and Madame de Marelle hastened in, wearing a Japanese morning gown of rose-colored silk embroidered with yellow landscapes, blue flowers, and white birds.
"Fancy! I was still in bed!" she exclaimed.
"How good of you to come and see me!
I had made up my mind that you had forgotten me."
She held out both her hands with a delighted air, and Duroy, whom the commonplace appearance of the room had put at his ease, kissed one, as he had seen Norbert de Varenne do.
She begged him to sit down, and then scanning him from head to foot, said: "How you have altered!
You have improved in looks.
Paris has done you good.
Come, tell me the news."
And they began to gossip at once, as if they had been old acquaintances, feeling an instantaneous familiarity spring up between them; feeling one of those mutual currents of confidence, intimacy, and affection, which, in five minutes, make two beings of the same breed and character good friends.
Suddenly, Madame de Marelle exclaimed in astonishment:
"It is funny how I get on with you.
It seems to me as though I had known you for ten years.
We shall become good friends, no doubt.
Would you like it?"
He answered: "Certainly," with a smile which said still more.
He thought her very tempting in her soft and bright-hued gown, less refined and delicate than the other in her white one, but more exciting and spicy.
When he was beside Madame Forestier, with her continual and gracious smile which attracted and checked at the same time; which seemed to say:
"You please me," and also
"Take care," and of which the real meaning was never clear, he felt above all the wish to lie down at her feet, or to kiss the lace bordering of her bodice, and slowly inhale the warm and perfumed atmosphere that must issue from it.
With Madame de Marelle he felt within him a more definite, a more brutal desire--a desire that made his fingers quiver in presence of the rounded outlines of the light silk.
She went on talking, scattering in each phrase that ready wit of which she had acquired the habit just as a workman acquires the knack needed to accomplish a task reputed difficult, and at which other folk are astonished.
He listened, thinking:
"All this is worth remembering.
A man could write charming articles of Paris gossip by getting her to chat over the events of the day."
Some one tapped softly, very softly, at the door by which she had entered, and she called out: "You can come in, pet."
Her little girl made her appearance, walked straight up to Duroy, and held out her hand to him.
The astonished mother murmured: "But this is a complete conquest.
I no longer recognize her."
The young fellow, having kissed the child, made her sit down beside him, and with a serious manner asked her pleasant questions as to what she had been doing since they last met.
She replied, in her little flute-like voice, with her grave and grown-up air.
The clock struck three, and the journalist arose.
"Come often," said Madame de Marelle, "and we will chat as we have done to-day; it will always give me pleasure.
But how is it one no longer sees you at the Forestiers?"
He replied: "Oh! for no reason.
I have been very busy.
I hope to meet you there again one of these days."
He went out, his heart full of hope, though without knowing why.
He did not speak to Forestier of this visit.
But he retained the recollection of it the following days, and more than the recollection--a sensation of the unreal yet persistent presence of this woman.
It seemed to him that he had carried away something of her, the reflection of her form in his eyes, and the smack of her moral self in his heart.