And he announced the name through a door with a looped-back draping leading into a drawing-room.
But Duroy, suddenly losing his assurance, felt himself breathless and paralyzed by terror.
He was about to take his first step in the world he had looked forward to and longed for.
He advanced, nevertheless.
A fair young woman, quite alone, was standing awaiting him in a large room, well lit up and full of plants as a greenhouse.
He stopped short, quite disconcerted.
Who was this lady who was smiling at him?
Then he remembered that Forestier was married, and the thought that this pretty and elegant blonde must be his friend's wife completed his alarm.
He stammered: "Madame, I am--"
She held out her hand, saying:
"I know, sir; Charles has told me of your meeting last evening, and I am very pleased that he had the idea of asking you to dine with us to-day."
He blushed up to his ears, not knowing what to say, and felt himself examined from head to foot, reckoned up, and judged.
He longed to excuse himself, to invent some pretext for explaining the deficiencies of his toilet, but he could not think of one, and did not dare touch on this difficult subject.
He sat down on an armchair she pointed out to him, and as he felt the soft and springy velvet-covered seat yield beneath his weight, as he felt himself, as it were, supported and clasped by the padded back and arms, it seemed to him that he was entering upon a new and enchanting life, that he was taking possession of something delightful, that he was becoming somebody, that he was saved, and he looked at Madame Forestier, whose eyes had not quitted him.
She was attired in a dress of pale blue cashmere, which set off the outline of her slender waist and full bust.
Her arms and neck issued from a cloud of white lace, with which the bodice and short sleeves were trimmed, and her fair hair, dressed high, left a fringe of tiny curls at the nape of her neck.
Duroy recovered his assurance beneath her glance, which reminded him, without his knowing why, of that of the girl met overnight at the Folies Bergere.
She had gray eyes, of a bluish gray, which imparted to them a strange expression; a thin nose, full lips, a rather fleshy chin, and irregular but inviting features, full of archness and charm.
It was one of those faces, every trait of which reveals a special grace, and seems to have its meaning--every movement to say or to hide something.
After a brief silence she asked:
"Have you been long in Paris?"
He replied slowly, recovering his self-possession: "A few months only, Madame.
I have a berth in one of the railway companies, but Forestier holds out the hope that I may, thanks to him, enter journalism."
She smiled more plainly and kindly, and murmured, lowering her voice:
"Yes, I know."
The bell had rung again.
The servant announced
"Madame de Marelle."
This was a little brunette, who entered briskly, and seemed to be outlined--modeled, as it were--from head to foot in a dark dress made quite plainly.
A red rose placed in her black hair caught the eye at once, and seemed to stamp her physiognomy, accentuate her character, and strike the sharp and lively note needed.
A little girl in short frocks followed her.
Madame Forestier darted forward, exclaiming:
"Good evening, Clotilde."
"Good evening, Madeleine."
They kissed one another, and then the child offered her forehead, with the assurance of a grown-up person, saying:
"Good evening, cousin."
Madame Forestier kissed her, and then introduced them, saying:
"Monsieur George Duroy, an old friend of Charles; Madame de Marelle, my friend, and in some degree my relation."
"You know we have no ceremonious affectation here.
You quite understand, eh?"
The young man bowed.
The door opened again, and a short, stout gentleman appeared, having on his arm a tall, handsome woman, much younger than himself, and of distinguished appearance and grave bearing.
They were Monsieur Walter, a Jew from the South of France, deputy, financier, capitalist, and manager of the _Vie Francaise_, and his wife, the daughter of Monsieur Basile-Ravalau, the banker.
Then came, one immediately after the other, Jacques Rival, very elegantly got up, and Norbert de Varenne, whose coat collar shone somewhat from the friction of the long locks falling on his shoulders and scattering over them a few specks of white scurf. His badly-tied cravat looked as if it had already done duty.
He advanced with the air and graces of an old beau, and taking Madame Forestier's hand, printed a kiss on her wrist.
As he bent forward his long hair spread like water over her bare arm.
Forestier entered in his turn, offering excuses for being late.
He had been detained at the office of the paper by the Morel affair.
Monsieur Morel, a Radical deputy, had just addressed a question to the Ministry respecting a vote of credit for the colonization of Algeria.