On reaching the street, Helene hastened her steps. The rain had ceased, but great drops fell from the housetops on to her shoulders. She had resolved that she would reflect outside and fix on some plan. But now she was only inflamed with a desire to reach the house. When she reached the Passage des Eaux, she hesitated for just one moment. The descent had become a torrent; the water of the gutters of the Rue Raynouard was rushing down it. And as the stream bounded over the steps, between the close-set walls, it broke here and there into foam, whilst the edges of the stones, washed clear by the downpour, shone out like glass. A gleam of pale light, falling from the grey sky, made the Passage look whiter between the dusky branches of the trees. Helene went down it, scarcely raising her skirts. The water came up to her ankles. She almost lost her flimsy slippers in the puddles; around her, down the whole way, she heard a gurgling sound, like the murmuring of brooklets coursing through the grass in the depths of the woods.
All at once she found herself on the stairs in front of the door. She stood there, panting in a state of torture. Then her memory came back, and she decided to knock at the kitchen.
“What! is it you?” exclaimed Mother Fetu.
There was none of the old whimper in her voice. Her little eyes were sparkling, and a complacent grin had spread over the myriad wrinkles of her face. All the old deference vanished, and she patted Helene’s hands as she listened to her broken words. The young woman gave her twenty francs.
“May God requite you!” prayed Mother Fetu in her wonted style. “Whatever you please, my dear!”
Leaning back in an easy-chair, with his legs stretched out before the huge, blazing fire, Malignon sat waiting. He had considered it a good idea to draw the window-curtains and light the wax candles. The outer room, in which he had seated himself, was brilliantly illuminated by a small chandelier and a pair of candelabra; whilst the other apartment was plunged in shadow, the swinging crystal lamp alone casting on the floor a twilight gleam. Malignon drew out his watch.
“The deuce!” he muttered. “Is she going to keep me waiting again?”
He gave vent to a slight yawn. He had been waiting for an hour already, and it was small amusement to him. However, he rose and cast a glance over his preparations.
The arrangement of the chairs did not please him, and he rolled a couch in front of the fireplace. The cretonne hangings had a ruddy glow, as they reflected the light of the candles; the room was warm, silent, and cozy, while outside the wind came and went in sudden gusts. All at once the young man heard three hurried knocks at the door. It was the signal.
“At last!” he exclaimed aloud, his face beaming jubilantly.
He ran to open the door, and Juliette entered, her face veiled, her figure wrapped in a fur mantle. While Malignon was gently closing the door, she stood still for a moment, with the emotion that checked the words on her lips undetected.