What would it do?
Then the governor showed a Detaille, "The Lesson," which represented a soldier in a barrack-room teaching a poodle to play the drum, and said:
"That is very witty."
Duroy laughed a laugh of approbation, and exclaimed:
"It is charming, charm--" He stopped short on hearing behind him the voice of Madame de Marelle, who had just come in.
The governor continued to light up the pictures as he explained them.
He now showed a water-color by Maurice Leloir,
It was a sedan chair checked on its way, the street being blocked by a fight between two laborers, two fellows struggling like Hercules.
From out of the window of the chair peered the head of a charming woman, who watched without impatience, without alarm, and with a certain admiration, the combat of these two brutes.
Monsieur Walter continued: "I have others in the adjoining rooms, but they are by less known men.
I buy of the young artists now, the very young ones, and hang their works in the more private rooms until they become known."
He then went on in a low tone: "Now is the time to buy!
The painters are all dying of hunger!
They have not a sou, not a sou!"
But Duroy saw nothing, and heard without understanding.
Madame de Marelle was there behind him.
What ought he to do?
If he spoke to her, might she not turn her back on him, or treat him with insolence?
If he did not approach her, what would people think?
He said to himself: "I will gain time, at any rate."
He was so moved that for a moment he thought of feigning a sudden illness, which would allow him to withdraw.
The examination of the walls was over.
The governor went to put down his lamp and welcome the last comer, while Duroy began to re-examine the pictures as if he could not tire of admiring them.
He was quite upset.
What should he do?
Madame Forestier called to him: "Monsieur Duroy."
He went to her.
It was to speak to him of a friend of hers who was about to give a fete, and who would like to have a line to that effect in the _Vie Francaise_.
He gasped out: "Certainly, Madame, certainly."
Madame de Marelle was now quite close to him.
He dared not turn round to go away.
All at once he thought he was going mad; she had said aloud:
"Good evening, Pretty-boy.
So you no longer recognize me."
He rapidly turned on his heels.
She stood before him smiling, her eyes beaming with sprightliness and affection, and held out her hand.
He took it tremblingly, still fearing some trick, some perfidy.
She added, calmly: "What has become of you? One no longer sees anything of you."
He stammered, without being able to recover his coolness: "I have a great deal to do, Madame, a great deal to do.
Monsieur Walter has entrusted me with new duties which give me a great deal of occupation."
She replied, still looking him in the face, but without his being able to discover anything save good will in her glance:
"I know it.
But that is no reason for forgetting your friends."
They were separated by a lady who came in, with red arms and red face, a stout lady in a very low dress, got up with pretentiousness, and walking so heavily that one guessed by her motions the size and weight of her legs.
As she seemed to be treated with great attention, Duroy asked Madame Forestier:
"Who is that lady?"
"The Viscomtesse de Percemur, who signs her articles
He was astounded, and seized on by an inclination to laugh.