He replied, as he pulled away his arm: "Go to the devil!" with a violent disdain, as though they had insulted him.
What did they take him for?
Could not these hussies tell what a man was?
The sensation of his dress coat, put on in order to go to dinner with such well-known and important people, inspired him with the sentiment of a new impersonality--the sense of having become another man, a man in society, genuine society.
He entered the ante-room, lit by tall bronze candelabra, with confidence, and handed in easy fashion his cane and overcoat to two valets who approached.
All the drawing-rooms were lit up.
Madame Walter received her guests in the second, the largest.
She welcomed him with a charming smile, and he shook hands with two gentlemen who had arrived before him--Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur Laroche-Mathieu, deputies, and anonymous editors of the _Vie Francaise_.
Monsieur Laroche-Mathieu had a special authority at the paper, due to a great influence he enjoyed in the Chamber.
No one doubted his being a minister some day.
Then came the Forestiers; the wife in pink, and looking charming.
Duroy was stupefied to see her on terms of intimacy with the two deputies.
She chatted in low tones beside the fireplace, for more than five minutes, with Monsieur Laroche-Mathieu.
Charles seemed worn out.
He had grown much thinner during the past month, and coughed incessantly as he repeated:
"I must make up my mind to finish the winter in the south."
Norbert de Varenne and Jacques Rival made their appearance together.
Then a door having opened at the further end of the room, Monsieur Walter came in with two tall young girls, of from sixteen to eighteen, one ugly and the other pretty.
Duroy knew that the governor was the father of a family; but he was struck with astonishment.
He had never thought of his daughters, save as one thinks of distant countries which one will never see.
And then he had fancied them quite young, and here they were grown-up women.
They held out their hands to him after being introduced, and then went and sat down at a little table, without doubt reserved to them, at which they began to turn over a number of reels of silk in a work-basket.
They were still awaiting someone, and all were silent with that sense of oppression, preceding dinners, between people who do not find themselves in the same mental atmosphere after the different occupations of the day.
Duroy having, for want of occupation, raised his eyes towards the wall, Monsieur Walter called to him from a distance, with an evident wish to show off his property:
"Are you looking at my pictures?
I will show them to you," and he took a lamp, so that the details might be distinguished.
"Here we have landscapes," said he.
In the center of the wall was a large canvas by Guillemet, a bit of the Normandy coast under a lowering sky.
Below it a wood, by Harpignies, and a plain in Algeria, by Guillemet, with a camel on the horizon, a tall camel with long legs, like some strange monument.
Monsieur Walter passed on to the next wall, and announced in a grave tone, like a master of the ceremonies:
There were four:
"A Hospital Visit," by Gervex;
"A Harvester," by Bastien-Lepage;
"A Widow," by Bouguereau; and
"An Execution," by Jean Paul Laurens.
The last work represented a Vendean priest shot against the wall of his church by a detachment of Blues.
A smile flitted across the governor's grave countenance as he indicated the next wall.
"Here the fanciful school."
First came a little canvas by Jean Beraud, entitled,
"Above and Below."
It was a pretty Parisian mounting to the roof of a tramcar in motion.
Her head appeared on a level with the top, and the gentlemen on the seats viewed with satisfaction the pretty face approaching them, while those standing on the platform below considered the young woman's legs with a different expression of envy and desire.
Monsieur Walter held the lamp at arm's length, and repeated, with a sly laugh: "It is funny, isn't it?"
Then he lit up
"A Rescue," by Lambert.
In the middle of a table a kitten, squatted on its haunches, was watching with astonishment and perplexity a fly drowning in a glass of water.
It had its paw raised ready to fish out the insect with a rapid sweep of it.
But it had not quite made up its mind.