He added, after a pause:
"I have only verse."
They reached the Pont de la Concorde, crossed it in silence, and walked past the Palais Bourbon.
Norbert de Varenne began to speak again, saying: "Marry, my friend; you do not know what it is to live alone at my age.
Solitude now fills me with horrible agony--solitude at home by the fireside of a night.
It is so profound, so sad; the silence of the room in which one dwells alone.
It is not alone silence about the body, but silence about the soul; and when the furniture creaks I shudder to the heart, for no sound but is unexpected in my gloomy dwelling."
He was silent again for a moment, and then added:
"When one is old it is well, all the same, to have children."
They had got half way down the Rue de Bourgoyne.
The poet halted in front of a tall house, rang the bell, shook Duroy by the hand, and said:
"Forget all this old man's doddering, youngster, and live as befits your age.
Good-night." And he disappeared in the dark passage.
Duroy resumed his route with a pain at his heart.
It seemed to him as though he had been shown a hole filled with bones, an unavoidable gulf into which all must fall one day.
He muttered: "By Jove, it can't be very lively in his place.
I should not care for a front seat to see the procession of his thoughts go by. The deuce, no."
But having paused to allow a perfumed lady, alighting from her carriage and entering her house, to pass before him, he drew in with eager breath the scent of vervain and orris root floating in the air.
His lungs and heart throbbed suddenly with hope and joy, and the recollection of Madame de Marelle, whom he was to see the next day, assailed him from head to foot.
All smiled on him, life welcomed him with kindness.
How sweet was the realization of hopes!
He fell asleep, intoxicated with this idea, and rose early to take a stroll down the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne before keeping his appointment.
The wind having changed, the weather had grown milder during the night, and it was as warm and as sunny as in April.
All the frequenters of the Bois had sallied out that morning, yielding to the summons of a bright, clear day.
Duroy walked along slowly.
He passed the Arc de Triomphe, and went along the main avenue.
He watched the people on horseback, ladies and gentlemen, trotting and galloping, the rich folk of the world, and scarcely envied them now.
He knew them almost all by name--knew the amount of their fortune, and the secret history of their life, his duties having made him a kind of directory of the celebrities and the scandals of Paris.
Ladies rode past, slender, and sharply outlined in the dark cloth of their habits, with that proud and unassailable air many women have on horseback, and Duroy amused himself by murmuring the names, titles, and qualities of the lovers whom they had had, or who were attributed to them. Sometimes, instead of saying
"Baron de Tanquelot," "Prince de la Tour-Enguerrand," he murmured
"Lesbian fashion, Louise Michot of the Vaudeville, Rose Marquetin of the Opera."
The game greatly amused him, as if he had verified, beneath grave outward appearances, the deep, eternal infamy of mankind, and as if this had excited, rejoiced, and consoled him.
Then he said aloud: "Set of hypocrites!" and sought out with his eye the horsemen concerning whom the worst tales were current.
He saw many, suspected of cheating at play, for whom their clubs were, at all events, their chief, their sole source of livelihood, a suspicious one, at any rate.
Others, very celebrated, lived only, it was well known, on the income of their wives; others, again, it was affirmed, on that of their mistresses.
Many had paid their debts, an honorable action, without it ever being guessed whence the money had come--a very equivocal mystery.
He saw financiers whose immense fortune had had its origin in a theft, and who were received everywhere, even in the most noble houses; then men so respected that the lower middle-class took off their hats on their passage, but whose shameless speculations in connection with great national enterprises were a mystery for none of those really acquainted with the inner side of things.
All had a haughty look, a proud lip, an insolent eye.
Duroy still laughed, repeating:
"A fine lot; a lot of blackguards, of sharpers."
But a pretty little open carriage passed, drawn by two white ponies with flowing manes and tails, and driven by a pretty fair girl, a well-known courtesan, who had two grooms seated behind her.
Duroy halted with a desire to applaud this mushroom of love, who displayed so boldly at this place and time set apart for aristocratic hypocrites the dashing luxury earned between her sheets.
He felt, perhaps vaguely, that there was something in common between them--a tie of nature, that they were of the same race, the same spirit, and that his success would be achieved by daring steps of the same kind.
He walked back more slowly, his heart aglow with satisfaction, and arrived a little in advance of the time at the door of his former mistress.
She received him with proffered lips, as though no rupture had taken place, and she even forgot for a few moments the prudence that made her opposed to all caresses at her home.
Then she said, as she kissed the ends of his moustache: "You don't know what a vexation has happened to me, darling?
I was hoping for a nice honeymoon, and here is my husband home for six weeks. He has obtained leave.
But I won't remain six weeks without seeing you, especially after our little tiff, and this is how I have arranged matters. You are to come and dine with us on Monday. I have already spoken to him about you, and I will introduce you."
Duroy hesitated, somewhat perplexed, never yet having found himself face to face with a man whose wife he had enjoyed.
He was afraid lest something might betray him--a slight embarrassment, a look, no matter what.