Charles, stretched on a sofa, exaggerated his difficulty of breathing, and repeated: "I ought to have been off a month ago."
Then he gave George a series of recommendations concerning the paper, although everything had been agreed upon and settled with Monsieur Walter.
As George left, he energetically squeezed his old comrade's hand, saying:
"Well, old fellow, we shall have you back soon."
But as Madame Forestier was showing him out, he said to her, quickly: "You have not forgotten our agreement?
We are friends and allies, are we not?
So if you have need of me, for no matter what, do not hesitate.
Send a letter or a telegram, and I will obey."
She murmured: "Thanks, I will not forget."
And her eye, too, said "Thanks," in a deeper and tenderer fashion.
As Duroy went downstairs, he met slowly coming up Monsieur de Vaudrec, whom he had met there once before.
The Count appeared sad, at this departure, perhaps.
Wishing to show his good breeding, the journalist eagerly bowed.
The other returned the salutation courteously, but in a somewhat dignified manner.
The Forestiers left on Thursday evening.
Charles's absence gave Duroy increased importance in the editorial department of the _Vie Francaise_.
He signed several leaders besides his "Echoes," for the governor insisted on everyone assuming the responsibility of his "copy."
He became engaged in several newspaper controversies, in which he acquitted himself creditably, and his constant relations with different statesmen were gradually preparing him to become in his turn a clever and perspicuous political editor.
There was only one cloud on his horizon.
It came from a little free-lance newspaper, which continually assailed him, or rather in him assailed the chief writer of
"Echoes" in the _Vie Francaise_, the chief of "Monsieur Walter's startlers," as it was put by the anonymous writer of the _Plume_. Day by day cutting paragraphs, insinuations of every kind, appeared in it.
One day Jacques Rival said to Duroy: "You are very patient."
Duroy replied: "What can I do, there is no direct attack?"
But one afternoon, as he entered the editor's room, Boisrenard held out the current number of the _Plume_, saying:
"Here's another spiteful dig at you."
"Ah! what about?"
"Oh! a mere nothing--the arrest of a Madame Aubert by the police."
George took the paper, and read, under the heading,
"The illustrious reporter of the _Vie Francaise_ to-day informs us that Madame Aubert, whose arrest by a police agent belonging to the odious _brigade des moeurs_ we announced, exists only in our imagination.
Now the person in question lives at 18 Rue de l'Ecureuil, Montmartre.
We understand only too well, however, the interest the agents of Walter's bank have in supporting those of the Prefect of Police, who tolerates their commerce.
As to the reporter of whom it is a question, he would do better to give us one of those good sensational bits of news of which he has the secret--news of deaths contradicted the following day, news of battles which have never taken place, announcements of important utterances by sovereigns who have not said anything--all the news, in short, which constitutes Walter's profits, or even one of those little indiscretions concerning entertainments given by would-be fashionable ladies, or the excellence of certain articles of consumption which are of such resource to some of our compeers."
The young fellow was more astonished than annoyed, only understanding that there was something very disagreeable for him in all this.
Boisrenard went on: "Who gave you this 'Echo'?"
Duroy thought for a moment, having forgotten.
Then all at once the recollection occurred to him,
He re-read the paragraph in the _Plume_ and reddened, roused by the accusation of venality.
He exclaimed: "What! do they mean to assert that I am paid--"
Boisrenard interrupted him: "They do, though.
It is very annoying for you.
The governor is very strict about that sort of thing.
It might happen so often in the 'Echoes.'"
Saint-Potin came in at that moment.
Duroy hastened to him.
"Have you seen the paragraph in the _Plume_?"
"Yes, and I have just come from Madame Aubert.
She does exist, but she was not arrested.