Du Roy at once offered his services.
She accepted, saying:
"My daughters and I will be very much obliged to you."
He looked at the younger daughter, and thought:
"She is not at all bad looking, this little Susan; not at all."
She resembled a fair, fragile doll, too short but slender, with a small waist and fairly developed hips and bust, a face like a miniature, grayish-blue, enamel-like eyes, which seemed shaded by a careful yet fanciful painter, a polished, colorless skin, too white and too smooth, and fluffy, curly hair, in a charming aureola, like, indeed the hair of the pretty and expensive dolls we see in the arms of children much smaller than their plaything.
The elder sister, Rose, was ugly, dull-looking, and insignificant; one of those girls whom you do not notice, do not speak to, and do not talk about.
The mother rose, and, turning to George, said: "Then I may reckon upon you for next Thursday, two o'clock?"
"You may reckon upon me, madame," he replied.
As soon as she had taken her departure, Madame de Marelle rose in turn, saying:
"Good afternoon, Pretty-boy."
It was she who then clasped his hand firmly and for some time, and he felt moved by this silent avowal, struck again with a sudden caprice for this good-natured little, respectable Bohemian of a woman, who really loved him, perhaps.
As soon as he was alone with his wife, Madeleine broke out into a laugh, a frank, gay laugh, and, looking him fair in the face, said,
"You know that Madame Walter is smitten with you."
"Nonsense," he answered, incredulously.
"It is so, I tell you; she spoke to me about you with wild enthusiasm.
It is strange on her part.
She would like to find two husbands such as you for her daughters.
Fortunately, as regards her such things are of no moment."
He did not understand what she meant, and inquired,
"How of no moment?"
She replied with the conviction of a woman certain of the soundness of her judgment, "Oh! Madame Walter is one of those who have never even had a whisper about them, never, you know, never.
She is unassailable in every respect.
Her husband you know as well as I do.
But with her it is quite another thing.
She has suffered enough through marrying a Jew, but she has remained faithful to him.
She is an honest woman."
Du Roy was surprised.
"I thought her a Jewess, too," said he.
"She, not at all.
She is a lady patroness of all the good works of the Church of Madeleine.
Her marriage, even, was celebrated religiously.
I do not know whether there was a dummy baptism as regards the governor, or whether the Church winked at it."
George murmured: "Ah! so she fancied me."
"Positively and thoroughly.
If you were not bespoken, I should advise you to ask for the hand of--Susan, eh? rather than that of Rose."
He replied, twisting his moustache: "Hum; their mother is not yet out of date."
Madeleine, somewhat out of patience, answered:
"Their mother! I wish you may get her, dear.
But I am not alarmed on that score.
It is not at her age that a woman is guilty of a first fault.
One must set about it earlier."
George was reflecting: "If it were true, though, that I could have married Susan."
Then he shrugged his shoulders.
"Bah! it is absurd.
As if her father would have ever have accepted me as a suitor."
He promised himself, though, to keep a more careful watch in the future over Madame Walter's bearing towards him, without asking whether he might ever derive any advantage from this.
All the evening he was haunted by the recollection of his love passages with Clotilde, recollections at once tender and sensual.
He recalled her drolleries, her pretty ways, and their adventures together.
He repeated to himself, "She is really very charming.