Forestier, stretched out in his seat on the divan, opened his arms, rested them on the cushions, and said in a serious tone:
"This frankness does you honor, and proves that you are a practical woman.
But may one ask you what is the opinion of Monsieur de Marelle?"
She shrugged her shoulders slightly, with infinite and prolonged disdain; and then in a decided tone remarked:
"Monsieur de Marelle has no opinions on this point.
He only has--abstentions."
And the conversation, descending from the elevated theories, concerning love, strayed into the flowery garden of polished blackguardism.
It was the moment of clever double meanings; veils raised by words, as petticoats are lifted by the wind; tricks of language; clever disguised audacities; sentences which reveal nude images in covered phrases; which cause the vision of all that may not be said to flit rapidly before the eye and the mind, and allow the well-bred people the enjoyment of a kind of subtle and mysterious love, a species of impure mental contact, due to the simultaneous evocation of secret, shameful, and longed-for pleasures.
The roast, consisting of partridges flanked by quails, had been served; then a dish of green peas, and then a terrine of foie gras, accompanied by a curly-leaved salad, filling a salad bowl as though with green foam.
They had partaken of all these things without tasting them, without knowing, solely taken up by what they were talking of, plunged as it were in a bath of love.
The two ladies were now going it strongly in their remarks. Madame de Marelle, with a native audacity which resembled a direct provocation, and Madame Forestier with a charming reserve, a modesty in her tone, voice, smile, and bearing that underlined while seeming to soften the bold remarks falling from her lips.
Forestier, leaning quite back on the cushions, laughed, drank and ate without leaving off, and sometimes threw in a word so risque or so crude that the ladies, somewhat shocked by its appearance, and for appearance sake, put on a little air of embarrassment that lasted two or three seconds.
When he had given vent to something a little too coarse, he added: "You are going ahead nicely, my children.
If you go on like that you will end by making fools of yourselves."
Dessert came, and then coffee; and the liquors poured a yet warmer dose of commotion into the excited minds.
As she had announced on sitting down to table, Madame de Marelle was intoxicated, and acknowledged it in the lively and graceful rabble of a woman emphasizing, in order to amuse her guests, a very real commencement of drunkenness.
Madame Forestier was silent now, perhaps out of prudence, and Duroy, feeling himself too much excited not to be in danger of compromising himself, maintained a prudent reserve.
Cigarettes were lit, and all at once Forestier began to cough.
It was a terrible fit, that seemed to tear his chest, and with red face and forehead damp with perspiration, he choked behind his napkin.
When the fit was over he growled angrily: "These feeds are very bad for me; they are ridiculous."
All his good humor had vanished before his terror of the illness that haunted his thoughts.
"Let us go home," said he.
Madame de Marelle rang for the waiter, and asked for the bill.
It was brought almost immediately.
She tried to read it, but the figures danced before her eyes, and she passed it to Duroy, saying:
"Here, pay for me; I can't see, I am too tipsy."
And at the same time she threw him her purse.
The bill amounted to one hundred and thirty francs.
Duroy checked it, and then handed over two notes and received back the change, saying in a low tone:
"What shall I give the waiter?"
"What you like; I do not know."
He put five francs on the salver, and handed back the purse, saying:
"Shall I see you to your door?"
I am incapable of finding my way home."
They shook hands with the Forestiers, and Duroy found himself alone with Madame de Marelle in a cab.
He felt her close to him, so close, in this dark box, suddenly lit up for a moment by the lamps on the sidewalk.
He felt through his sleeve the warmth of her shoulder, and he could find nothing to say to her, absolutely nothing, his mind being paralyzed by the imperative desire to seize her in his arms.
"If I dared to, what would she do?" he thought.
The recollection of all the things uttered during dinner emboldened him, but the fear of scandal restrained him at the same time.
Nor did she say anything either, but remained motionless in her corner.
He would have thought that she was asleep if he had not seen her eyes glitter every time that a ray of light entered the carriage.
"What was she thinking?"
He felt that he must not speak, that a word, a single word, breaking this silence would destroy his chance; yet courage failed him, the courage needed for abrupt and brutal action.
All at once he felt her foot move.
She had made a movement, a quick, nervous movement of impatience, perhaps of appeal. This almost imperceptible gesture caused a thrill to run through him from head to foot, and he threw himself upon her, seeking her mouth with his lips, her form with his hands.
But the cab having shortly stopped before the house in which she resided, Duroy, surprised, had no time to seek passionate phrases to thank her, and express his grateful love.
However, stunned by what had taken place, she did not rise, she did not stir.
Then he was afraid that the driver might suspect something, and got out first to help her to alight.
At length she got out of the cab, staggering and without saying a word.