“You whet my curiosity, monsieur; and, of course, I am a dutiful niece. It follows that I shall be honoured to receive you.”
“Not honoured, mademoiselle; you will confer the honour. To-morrow at this hour, then, I shall have the felicity to wait upon you.”
He bowed again; and again he bore her fingers to his lips, what time she curtsied. Thereupon, with no more than this formal breaking of the ice, they parted.
She was a little breathless now, a little dazzled by the beauty of the man, his princely air, and the confidence of power he seemed to radiate. Involuntarily almost, she contrasted him with his critic — the lean and impudent Andre-Louis in his plain brown coat and steel-buckled shoes — and she felt guilty of an unpardonable offence in having permitted even one word of that presumptuous criticism. To-morrow M. le Marquis would come to offer her a great position, a great rank. And already she had derogated from the increase of dignity accruing to her from his very intention to translate her to so great an eminence. Not again would she suffer it; not again would she be so weak and childish as to permit Andre-Louis to utter his ribald comments upon a man by comparison with whom he was no better than a lackey.
Thus argued vanity and ambition with her better self and to her vast annoyance her better self would not admit entire conviction.
Meanwhile, M. de La Tour d’Azyr was climbing into his carriage. He had spoken a word of farewell to M. de Kercadiou, and he had also had a word for M. de Vilmorin in reply to which M. de Vilmorin had bowed in assenting silence. The carriage rolled away, the powdered footman in blue-and-gold very stiff behind it, M. de La Tour d’Azyr bowing to mademoiselle, who waved to him in answer.
Then M. de Vilmorin put his arm through that of Andre Louis, and said to him, “Come, Andre.”
“But you’ll stay to dine, both of you!” cried the hospitable Lord of Gavrillac. “We’ll drink a certain toast,” he added, winking an eye that strayed towards mademoiselle, who was approaching. He had no subtleties, good soul that he was.
M. de Vilmorin deplored an appointment that prevented him doing himself the honour. He was very stiff and formal.
“And you, Andre?”
“I? Oh, I share the appointment, godfather,” he lied, “and I have a superstition against toasts.” He had no wish to remain. He was angry with Aline for her smiling reception of M. de La Tour d’Azyr and the sordid bargain he saw her set on making. He was suffering from the loss of an illusion.
THE ELOQUENCE OF M. DE VILMORIN