And the whole of the public, gasping, but good-humored all the same, repeated:
"The collection, the collection."
Six ladies began to pass along between the seats, and the sound of money falling into the collecting-bags could be heard.
Du Roy pointed out the celebrities to Madame Walter.
There were men of fashion and journalists, those attached to the great newspapers, the old-established newspapers, which looked down upon the _Vie Francaise_ with a certain reserve, the fruit of their experience.
They had witnessed the death of so many of these politico-financial sheets, offspring of a suspicious partnership, and crushed by the fall of a ministry.
There were also painters and sculptors, who are generally men with a taste for sport; a poet who was also a member of the Academy, and who was pointed out generally, and a number of distinguished foreigners.
Someone called out: "Good-day, my dear fellow."
It was the Count de Vaudrec.
Making his excuses to the ladies, Du Roy hastened to shake hands with him.
On returning, he remarked: "What a charming fellow Vaudrec is!
How thoroughly blood tells in him."
Madame Walter did not reply.
She was somewhat fatigued, and her bosom rose with an effort every time she drew breath, which caught the eye of Du Roy.
From time to time he caught her glance, a troubled, hesitating glance, which lighted upon him, and was at once averted, and he said to himself:
Have I caught her, too?"
The ladies who had been collecting passed to their seats, their bags full of gold and silver, and a fresh placard was hung in front of the platform, announcing a "surprising novelty."
The judges resumed their seats, and the public waited expectantly.
Two women appeared, foil in hand and in fencing costume; dark tights, a very short petticoat half-way to the knee, and a plastron so padded above the bosom that it obliged them to keep their heads well up.
They were both young and pretty.
They smiled as they saluted the spectators, and were loudly applauded.
They fell on guard, amidst murmured gallantries and whispered jokes.
An amiable smile graced the lips of the judges, who approved the hits with a low "bravo."
The public warmly appreciated this bout, and testified this much to the two combatants, who kindled desire among the men and awakened among the women the native taste of the Parisian for graceful indecency, naughty elegance, music hall singers, and couplets from operettas.
Every time that one of the fencers lunged a thrill of pleasure ran through the public.
The one who turned her back to the seats, a plump back, caused eyes and mouths to open, and it was not the play of her wrist that was most closely scanned.
They were frantically applauded.
A bout with swords followed, but no one looked at it, for the attention of all was occupied by what was going on overhead.
For some minutes they had heard the noise of furniture being dragged across the floor, as though moving was in progress.
Then all at once the notes of a piano were heard, and the rhythmic beat of feet moving in cadence was distinctly audible.
The people above had treated themselves to a dance to make up for not being able to see anything.
A loud laugh broke out at first among the public in the fencing saloon, and then a wish for a dance being aroused among the ladies, they ceased to pay attention to what was taking place on the platform, and began to chatter out loud.
This notion of a ball got up by the late-comers struck them as comical. They must be amusing themselves nicely, and it must be much better up there.
But two new combatants had saluted each other and fell on guard in such masterly style that all eyes followed their movements.
They lunged and recovered themselves with such easy grace, such measured strength, such certainty, such sobriety in action, such correctness in attitude, such measure in their play, that even the ignorant were surprised and charmed.
Their calm promptness, their skilled suppleness, their rapid motions, so nicely timed that they appeared slow, attracted and captivated the eye by their power of perfection.
The public felt that they were looking at something good and rare; that two great artists in their own profession were showing them their best, all of skill, cunning, thought-out science and physical ability that it was possible for two masters to put forth.
No one spoke now, so closely were they watched.
Then, when they shook hands after the last hit, shouts of bravoes broke out.
People stamped and yelled.
Everyone knew their names--they were Sergent and Ravignac.
The excitable grew quarrelsome.
Men looked at their neighbors with longings for a row.
They would have challenged one another on account of a smile.
Those who had never held a foil in their hand sketched attacks and parries with their canes.
But by degrees the crowd worked up the little staircase.
At last they would be able to get something to drink.
There was an outburst of indignation when they found that those who had got up the ball had stripped the refreshment buffet, and had then gone away declaring that it was very impolite to bring together two hundred people and not show them anything.
There was not a cake, not a drop of champagne, syrup, or beer left; not a sweetmeat, not a fruit--nothing.