He remained under the haunted influence of her image, as it happens sometimes when we have passed pleasant hours with some one.
He paid a second visit a few days later.
The maid ushered him into the drawing-room, and Laurine at once appeared.
She held out no longer her hand, but her forehead, and said:
"Mamma has told me to request you to wait for her.
She will be a quarter-of-an-hour, because she is not dressed yet.
I will keep you company."
Duroy, who was amused by the ceremonious manners of the little girl, replied:
"Certainly, Mademoiselle. I shall be delighted to pass a quarter-of-an-hour with you, but I warn you that for my part I am not at all serious, and that I play all day long, so I suggest a game at touch."
The girl was astonished; then she smiled as a woman would have done at this idea, which shocked her a little as well as astonished her, and murmured:
"Rooms are not meant to be played in."
He said: "It is all the same to me.
I play everywhere.
Come, catch me."
And he began to go round the table, exciting her to pursue him, while she came after him, smiling with a species of polite condescension, and sometimes extending her hand to touch him, but without ever giving way so far as to run.
He stopped, stooped down, and when she drew near with her little hesitating steps, sprung up in the air like a jack-in-the-box, and then bounded with a single stride to the other end of the dining-room.
She thought it funny, ended by laughing, and becoming aroused, began to trot after him, giving little gleeful yet timid cries when she thought she had him.
He shifted the chairs and used them as obstacles, forcing her to go round and round one of them for a minute at a time, and then leaving that one to seize upon another. Laurine ran now, giving herself wholly up to the charm of this new game, and with flushed face, rushed forward with the bound of a delighted child at each of the flights, the tricks, the feints of her companion.
Suddenly, just as she thought she had got him, he seized her in his arms, and lifting her to the ceiling, exclaimed:
The delighted girl wriggled her legs to escape, and laughed with all her heart.
Madame de Marelle came in at that moment, and was amazed.
"What, Laurine, Laurine, playing! You are a sorcerer, sir."
He put down the little girl, kissed her mother's hand, and they sat down with the child between them.
They began to chat, but Laurine, usually so silent, kept talking all the while, and had to be sent to her room.
She obeyed without a word, but with tears in her eyes.
As soon as they were alone, Madame de Marelle lowered her voice.
"You do not know, but I have a grand scheme, and I have thought of you.
This is it. As I dine every week at the Forestiers, I return their hospitality from time to time at some restaurant.
I do not like to entertain company at home, my household is not arranged for that, and besides, I do not understand anything about domestic affairs, anything about the kitchen, anything at all.
I like to live anyhow.
So I entertain them now and then at a restaurant, but it is not very lively when there are only three, and my own acquaintances scarcely go well with them.
I tell you all this in order to explain a somewhat irregular invitation.
You understand, do you not, that I want you to make one of us on Saturday at the Cafe Riche, at half-past seven.
You know the place?"
He accepted with pleasure, and she went on:
"There will be only us four.
These little outings are very amusing to us women who are not accustomed to them."
She was wearing a dark brown dress, which showed off the lines of her waist, her hips, her bosom, and her arm in a coquettishly provocative way. Duroy felt confusedly astonished at the lack of harmony between this carefully refined elegance and her evident carelessness as regarded her dwelling.
All that clothed her body, all that closely and directly touched her flesh was fine and delicate, but that which surrounded her did not matter to her.
He left her, retaining, as before, the sense of her continued presence in species of hallucination of the senses.
And he awaited the day of the dinner with growing impatience.
Having hired, for the second time, a dress suit--his funds not yet allowing him to buy one--he arrived first at the rendezvous, a few minutes before the time.
He was ushered up to the second story, and into a small private dining-room hung with red and white, its single window opening into the boulevard.
A square table, laid for four, displaying its white cloth, so shining that it seemed to be varnished, and the glasses and the silver glittered brightly in the light of the twelve candles of two tall candelabra.
Without was a broad patch of light green, due to the leaves of a tree lit up by the bright light from the dining-rooms.
Duroy sat down in a low armchair, upholstered in red to match the hangings on the walls. The worn springs yielding beneath him caused him to feel as though sinking into a hole.
He heard throughout the huge house a confused murmur, the murmur of a large restaurant, made up of the clattering of glass and silver, the hurried steps of the waiters, deadened by the carpets in the passages, and the opening of doors letting out the sound of voices from the numerous private rooms in which people were dining.
Forestier came in and shook hands with him, with a cordial familiarity which he never displayed at the offices of the _Vie Francaise_.
"The ladies are coming together," said he; "these little dinners are very pleasant."