He paused on the stoop of the building in which Chantelouve lived. At each side and over the door were these antique lamps with reflectors, surmounted by a sort of casque of sheet iron painted green. There was an old iron balustrade, very wide, and the steps, with wooden sides, were paved with red tile. About this house there was a sepulchral and also clerical odour, yet there was also something homelike—though a little too imposing—about it such as is not to be found in the cardboard houses they build nowadays. You could see at a glance that it did not harbour the apartment house promiscuities: decent, respectable couples with kept women for neighbours. The house pleased him, and he considered Hyacinthe the more desirable for her substantial environment.
He rang at a first-floor apartment. A maid led him through a long hall into a sitting-room. He noticed, at a glance, that nothing had changed since his last visit. It was the same vast, high-ceilinged room with windows reaching to heaven. There was the huge fireplace; on the mantelpiece the same reproduction, reduced, in bronze, of Fremiet’s Jeanne d’Arc, between the two globe lamps of Japanese porcelain. He recognized the grand piano, the table loaded with albums, the divan, the chairs in the style of Louis XV with tapestried covers. In front of every window there were imitation Chinese vases, mounted on tripods of imitation ebony and containing sickly palms. On the walls were religious pictures, without expression, and a portrait of Chantelouve in his youth, three-quarter length, his hand resting on a pile of his works. An ancient Russian icon in nielloed silver and one of these Christs in carved wood, executed in the seventeenth century by Bogard de Nancy, in an antique frame of gilded wood backed with velvet, were the only things that slightly relieved the banality of the decoration. The rest of the furniture looked like that of a bourgeois household fixed up for Lent, or for a charity dance or for a visit from the priest. A great fire blazed on the hearth. The room was lighted by a very high lamp with a wide shade of pink lace—
“Stinks of the sacristy!” Durtal was saying to himself at the moment the door opened.
Mme. Chantelouve entered, the lines of her figure advantageously displayed by a wrapper of white swanskin, which gave off a fragrance of frangipane. She pressed Durtal’s hand and sat down facing him, and he perceived under the wrap her indigo silk stockings in little patent leather bootines with straps across the insteps.
They talked about the weather. She complained of the way the winter hung on, and declared that although the furnace seemed to be working all right she was always shivering, was always frozen to death. She told him to feel her hands, which indeed were cold, then she seemed worried about his health.
“You look pale,” she said.
“You might at least say that I am pale,” he replied.