“That’s all nonsense,” shrieked the worthy landlady; “and I mean to be paid.”
Mlle. Lucienne was quite calm.
“Well,” she replied: “don’t I pay you? Here are forty francs, —thirty in advance for my room, and ten on the old account.”
“I don’t want your ten francs!”
“What do you want, then?”
“Ah,—the hundred and fifty francs which you owe me still.”
The girl shrugged her shoulders.
“You forget our agreement,” she uttered.
“Yes. After the Commune, it was understood that I would give you ten francs a month on the old account; as long as I give them to you, you have nothing to ask.”
Crimson with rage, Mme. Fortin had risen from her seat.
“Formerly,” she interrupted, “I presumed I had to deal with a poor working-girl, an honest girl.”
Mlle. Lucienne took no notice of the insult.
“I have not the amount you ask,” she said coldly.
“Well, then,” vociferated the other, “you must go and ask it of those who pay for your carriages and your dresses.”
Still impassible, the girl, instead of answering, stretched her hand towards her key; but M. Fortin stopped her arm.
“No, no!” he said with a giggle. “People who don’t pay their hotel-bill sleep out, my darling.”
Maxence, that very morning, had received his month’s pay, and he felt, as it were, his two hundred francs trembling in his pockets.
Yielding to a sudden inspiration, he threw open the office-door, and, throwing down one hundred and fifty francs upon the table,
“Here is your money, wretch!” he exclaimed. And he withdrew at once.
Maxence had not spoken to Mlle. Lucienne for nearly a month. He tried to persuade himself that she despised him because he was poor. He kept watching for her, for he could not help it; but as much as possible he avoided her.
“I shall be miserable,” he thought, “the day when she does not come home; and yet it would be the very best thing that could happen for me.”
Nevertheless, he spent all his time trying to find some explanations for the conduct of this strange girl, who, beneath her woolen dress, had the haughty manners of a great lady. Then he delighted to imagine between her and himself some of those subjects of confidence, some of those facilities which chance never fails to supply to attentive passion, or some event which would enable him to emerge from his obscurity, and to acquire some rights by virtue of some great service rendered.
But never had he dared to hope for an occasion as propitious as the one he had just seized. And yet, after he had returned to his room, he hardly dared to congratulate himself upon the promptitude of his decision. He knew too well Mlle. Lucienne’s excessive pride and sensitive nature.