He stammered out: "No, I would rather not make your husband's acquaintance."
She insisted, very much astonished, standing before him with wide open, wondering eyes.
What a funny thing.
It happens every day.
I should not have thought you such a goose."
He was hurt, and said:
"Very well, I will come to dinner on Monday."
She went on: "In order that it may seem more natural I will ask the Forestiers, though I really do not like entertaining people at home."
Until Monday Duroy scarcely thought any more about the interview, but on mounting the stairs at Madame de Marelle's he felt strangely uneasy, not that it was so repugnant to him to take her husband's hand, to drink his wine, and eat his bread, but because he felt afraid of something without knowing what.
He was shown into the drawing-room and waited as usual.
Soon the door of the inner room opened, and he saw a tall, white-bearded man, wearing the ribbon of the Legion of Honor, grave and correct, who advanced towards him with punctilious politeness, saying:
"My wife has often spoken to me of you, sir, and I am delighted to make your acquaintance."
Duroy stepped forward, seeking to impart to his face a look of expressive cordiality, and grasped his host's hand with exaggerated energy.
Then, having sat down, he could find nothing to say.
Monsieur de Marelle placed a log upon the fire, and inquired: "Have you been long engaged in journalism?"
"Only a few months."
"Ah! you have got on quickly?"
"Yes, fairly so," and he began to chat at random, without thinking very much about what he was saying, talking of all the trifles customary among men who do not know one another.
He was growing seasoned now, and thought the situation a very amusing one.
He looked at Monsieur de Marelle's serious and respectable face, with a temptation to laugh, as he thought:
"I have cuckolded you, old fellow, I have cuckolded you."
A vicious, inward satisfaction stole over him--the satisfaction of a thief who has been successful, and is not even suspected--a delicious, roguish joy.
He suddenly longed to be the friend of this man, to win his confidence, to get him to relate the secrets of his life.
Madame de Marelle came in suddenly, and having taken them in with a smiling and impenetrable glance, went toward Duroy, who dared not, in the presence of her husband, kiss her hand as he always did.
She was calm, and light-hearted as a person accustomed to everything, finding this meeting simple and natural in her frank and native trickery.
Laurine appeared, and went and held up her forehead to George more quietly than usual, her father's presence intimidating her.
Her mother said to her: "Well, you don't call him Pretty-boy to-day."
And the child blushed as if a serious indiscretion had been committed, a thing that ought not to have been mentioned, revealed, an intimate and, so to say, guilty secret of her heart laid bare.
When the Forestiers arrived, all were alarmed at the condition of Charles.
He had grown frightfully thin and pale within a week, and coughed incessantly.
He stated, besides, that he was leaving for Cannes on the following Thursday, by the doctor's imperative orders.
They left early, and Duroy said, shaking his head: "I think he is very bad.
He will never make old bones."
Madame de Marelle said, calmly: "Oh! he is done for.
There is a man who was lucky in finding the wife he did."
Duroy asked: "Does she help him much?"
"She does everything.
She is acquainted with everything that is going on; she knows everyone without seeming to go and see anybody; she obtains what she wants as she likes.
Oh! she is keen, clever, and intriguing as no one else is.
She is a treasure for anyone wanting to get on."
George said: "She will marry again very quickly, no doubt?"
Madame de Marelle replied: "Yes.
I should not be surprised if she had some one already in her eye--a deputy, unless, indeed, he objects--for--for--there may be serious--moral--obstacles. But then--I don't really know."
Monsieur de Marelle grumbled with slow impatience: "You are always suspecting a number of things that I do not like.
Do not let us meddle with the affairs of others.
Our conscience is enough to guide us.
That should be a rule with everyone."
Duroy withdrew, uneasy at heart, and with his mind full of vague plans.
The next day he paid a visit to the Forestiers, and found them finishing their packing up.