They spoke of one thing and another.
He stayed for some time, wishing to prove that he took pleasure in being with her, and on leaving, remarked:
"It is understood, then, that we are friends?"
As he had noted the effect of the compliment he had paid her shortly before, he seconded it by adding:
"And if ever you become a widow, I enter the lists."
Then he hurried away, so as not to give her time to get angry.
A visit to Madame Walter was rather awkward for Duroy, for he had not been authorized to call, and he did not want to commit a blunder.
The governor displayed some good will towards him, appreciated his services, and employed him by preference on difficult jobs, so why should he not profit by this favor to enter the house?
One day, then, having risen early, he went to the market while the morning sales were in progress, and for ten francs obtained a score of splendid pears.
Having carefully packed them in a hamper to make it appear that they had come from a distance, he left them with the doorkeeper at Madame Walter's with his card, on which he had written:
"George Duroy begs Madame Walter to accept a little fruit which he received this morning from Normandy."
He found the next morning, among his letters at the office, an envelope in reply, containing the card of Madame Walter, who "thanked Monsieur George Duroy, and was at home every Saturday."
On the following Saturday he called.
Monsieur Walter occupied, on the Boulevard Malesherbes, a double house, which belonged to him, and of which a part was let off, in the economical way of practical people.
A single doorkeeper, quartered between the two carriage entrances, opened the door for both landlord and tenant, and imparted to each of the entrances an air of wealth by his get-up like a beadle, his big calves in white stockings, and his coat with gilt buttons and scarlet facings.
The reception-rooms were on the first floor, preceded by an ante-room hung with tapestry, and shut in by curtains over the doorways.
Two footmen were dozing on benches.
One of them took Duroy's overcoat and the other relieved him of his cane, opened the door, advanced a few steps in front of the visitor, and then drawing aside, let him pass, calling out his name, into an empty room.
The young fellow, somewhat embarrassed, looked round on all sides when he perceived in a glass some people sitting down who seemed very far off.
He was at sea at first as to the direction in which they were, the mirror having deceived his eyes. Then he passed through two empty drawing-rooms and reached a small boudoir hung with blue silk, where four ladies were chatting round a table bearing cups of tea.
Despite the assurance he had acquired in course of his Parisian life, and above all in his career as a reporter, which constantly brought him into contact with important personages, Duroy felt somewhat intimidated by the get-up of the entrance and the passage through the deserted drawing-room.
He stammered: "Madame, I have ventured," as his eyes sought the mistress of the house.
She held out her hand, which he took with a bow, and having remarked:
"You are very kind sir, to call and see me," she pointed to a chair, in seeking to sit down in which he almost fell, having thought it much higher.
They had become silent.
One of the ladies began to talk again.
It was a question of the frost, which was becoming sharper, though not enough, however, to check the epidemic of typhoid fever, nor to allow skating.
Every one gave her opinion on this advent of frost in Paris, then they expressed their preference for the different seasons with all the trivial reasons that lie about in people's minds like dust in rooms.
The faint noise made by a door caused Duroy to turn his head, and he saw in a glass a stout lady approaching.
As soon as she made her appearance in the boudoir one of the other visitors rose, shook hands and left, and the young fellow followed her black back glittering with jet through the drawing-rooms with his eyes.
When the agitation due to this change had subsided they spoke without transition of the Morocco question and the war in the East and also of the difficulties of England in South Africa.
These ladies discussed these matters from memory, as if they had been reciting passages from a fashionable play, frequently rehearsed.
A fresh arrival took place, that of a little curly-headed blonde, which brought about the departure of a tall, thin lady of middle age.
They now spoke of the chance Monsieur Linet had of getting into the Academie-Francaise.
The new-comer formerly believed that he would be beaten by Monsieur Cabanon-Lebas, the author of the fine dramatic adaption of Don Quixote in verse.
"You know it is to be played at the Odeon next winter?"
"Really, I shall certainly go and see such a very excellent literary effort."
Madame Walter answered gracefully with calm indifference, without ever hesitating as to what she should say, her mind being always made up beforehand.
But she saw that night was coming on, and rang for the lamps, while listening to the conversation that trickled on like a stream of honey, and thinking that she had forgotten to call on the stationer about the invitation cards for her next dinner.
She was a little too stout, though still beautiful, at the dangerous age when the general break-up is at hand.
She preserved herself by dint of care, hygienic precautions, and salves for the skin.
She seemed discreet in all matters; moderate and reasonable; one of those women whose mind is correctly laid out like a French garden.
One walks through it with surprise, but experiencing a certain charm.
She had keen, discreet, and sound sense, that stood her instead of fancy, generosity, and affection, together with a calm kindness for everybody and everything.
She noted that Duroy had not said anything, that he had not been spoken to, and that he seemed slightly ill at ease; and as the ladies had not yet quitted the Academy, that favorite subject always occupying them some time, she said:
"And you who should be better informed than any one, Monsieur Duroy, who is your favorite?"
He replied unhesitatingly: "In this matter, madame, I should never consider the merit, always disputable, of the candidates, but their age and their state of health.
I should not ask about their credentials, but their disease.
I should not seek to learn whether they have made a metrical translation of Lope de Vega, but I should take care to obtain information as to the state of their liver, their heart, their lungs, and their spinal marrow.