The Seguins’ landau was waiting at the door. When they had got into it with their friend, it occurred to Mathieu to raise his eyes; and at one of the windows he perceived Celeste standing between the two children, intent, no doubt, on assuring herself that Monsieur and Madame were really going. The young man recalled Reine’s departure from her parents; but here both Lucie and Gaston remained motionless, gravely mournful, and neither their father nor their mother once thought of looking up at them.
At half-past seven o’clock, when Mathieu arrived at the restaurant on the Place de la Madeleine where he was to meet his employer, he found him already there, drinking a glass of madeira with his customer, M. Firon-Badinier. The dinner was a remarkable one; choice viands and the best wines were served in abundance. But Mathieu was struck less by the appetite which the others displayed than by Beauchene’s activity and skill. Glass in hand, never losing a bite, he had already persuaded his customer, by the time the roast arrived, to order not only the new thresher but also a mowing machine. M. Firon-Badinier was to take the train for Evreux at nine-twenty, and when nine o’clock struck, the other, now eager to be rid of him, contrived to pack him off in a cab to the St.-Lazare railway station.
For a moment Beauchene remained standing on the pavement with Mathieu, and took off his hat in order that the mild breezes of that delightful May evening might cool his burning head.
“Well, that’s settled,” he said with a laugh. “But it wasn’t so easily managed. It was the Pommard which induced the beggar to make up his mind. All the same, I was dreadfully afraid he would make me miss my appointment.”
These remarks, which escaped him amid his semi-intoxication, led him to more confidential talk. He put on his hat again, lighted a fresh cigar, and took Mathieu’s arm. Then they walked on slowly through the passion-stirred throng and the nightly blaze of the Boulevards.
“There’s plenty of time,” said Beauchene. “I’m not expected till half-past nine, and it’s close by. Will you have a cigar? No? You never smoke?”
“Well, my dear fellow, it would be ridiculous to feign with you, since you happened to see me this morning. Oh, it’s a stupid affair! I’m quite of that opinion; but, then, what would you have?”
Thereupon he launched out into long explanations concerning his marital life and the intrigue which had suddenly sprung up between him and that girl Norine, old Moineaud’s daughter. He professed the greatest respect for his wife, but he was nevertheless a loose liver; and Constance was now beginning to resign herself to the inevitable. She closed her eyes when it would have been unpleasant for her to keep them open. She knew very well that it was essential that the business should be kept together and pass intact into the hands of their son Maurice. A tribe of children would have meant the ruin of all their plans.