"Will you show me to them, if you please."
The man, doubtless used to delicate situations in which prudence is necessary, looked him straight in the eyes, and then, selecting one of the long range of keys, said:
"You are Monsieur Duroy?"
The man opened the door of a small suite of rooms on the ground floor in front of the lodge.
The sitting-room, with a tolerably fresh wall-paper of floral design, and a carpet so thin that the boards of the floor could be felt through it, had mahogany furniture, upholstered in green rep with a yellow pattern.
The bedroom was so small that the bed three-parts filled it. It occupied the further end, stretching from one wall to the other--the large bed of a furnished lodging-house, shrouded in heavy blue curtains also of rep, and covered with an eider-down quilt of red silk stained with suspicious-looking spots.
Duroy, uneasy and displeased, thought:
"This place will cost, Lord knows how much.
I shall have to borrow again.
It is idiotic what she has done."
The door opened, and Clotilde came in like a whirlwind, with outstretched arms and rustling skirts.
She was delighted.
"Isn't it nice, eh, isn't it nice?
And on the ground floor, too; no stairs to go up.
One could get in and out of the windows without the doorkeeper seeing one.
How we will love one another here!"
He kissed her coldly, not daring to put the question that rose to his lips.
She had placed a large parcel on the little round table in the middle of the room.
She opened it, and took out a cake of soap, a bottle of scent, a sponge, a box of hairpins, a buttonhook, and a small pair of curling tongs to set right her fringe, which she got out of curl every time.
And she played at moving in, seeking a place for everything, and derived great amusement from it.
She kept on chattering as she opened the drawers.
"I must bring a little linen, so as to be able to make a change if necessary.
It will be very convenient.
If I get wet, for instance, while I am out, I can run in here to dry myself.
We shall each have one key, beside the one left with the doorkeeper in case we forget it.
I have taken the place for three months, in your name, of course, since I could not give my own."
Then he said: "You will let me know when the rent is to be paid."
She replied, simply: "But it is paid, dear."
"Then I owe it to you."
"No, no, my dear; it does not concern you at all; this is a little fancy of my own."
He seemed annoyed:
"Oh, no, indeed; I can't allow that."
She came to him in a supplicating way, and placing her hands on his shoulders, said:
"I beg of you, George; it will give me so much pleasure to feel that our little nest here is mine--all my own.
You cannot be annoyed at that.
How can you?
I wanted to contribute that much towards our loves.
Say you agree, Georgy; say you agree."
She implored him with looks, lips, the whole of her being.
He held out, refusing with an irritated air, and then he yielded, thinking that, after all, it was fair.
And when she had gone, he murmured, rubbing his hands, and without seeking in the depths of his heart whence the opinion came on that occasion:
"She is very nice."
He received, a few days later, another telegram running thus:
"My husband returns to-night, after six weeks' inspection, so we shall have a week off.
What a bore, darling.--Clo."
Duroy felt astounded.
He had really lost all idea of her being married.
But here was a man whose face he would have liked to see just once, in order to know him.