“Oh,” said the other modestly, “just a few canvases. Painting is so dear now, it is a taste so difficult to satisfy, a true passion de luxe—a passion for a Nabob,” said he, smiling, with a furtive look over his glasses.
They were two prudent players, face to face; but Jansoulet was a little astray in this new situation, where he who only knew how to be bold, had to be on his guard.
“When I think,” murmured the lawyer, “that I have been ten years covering these walls, and that I have still this panel to fill.”
In fact, at the most conspicuous place on the wall there was an empty place, emptied rather, for a great gold-headed nail near the ceiling showed the visible, almost clumsy, trace of a snare laid for the poor simpleton, who let himself be taken in it so foolishly.
“My dear M. Le Merquier,” said he with his engaging, good-natured voice, “I have a Virgin of Tintoretto’s just the size of your panel.”
Impossible to read anything in the eyes of the lawyer, this time hidden under their overhanging brows.
“Permit me to hang it there, opposite your table. That will help you to think sometimes of me.”
“And to soften the severities of my report, too, sir?” cried Le Merquier, formidable and upright, his hand on the bell. “I have seen many shameless things in my life, but never anything like this. Such offers to me, in my own house!”
“But, my dear colleague, I swear to you——”
“Show him out,” said the lawyer to the hang-dog servant who had just entered; and from the middle of his office, whose door remained open, before all the waiting-room, where the paternosters were silent, he pursued Jansoulet—who slunk off murmuring excuses to the door—with these terrible words:
“You have outraged the honour of the Chamber in my person, sir. Our colleagues shall be informed of it this very day; and, this crime coming after your others, you will learn to your cost that Paris is not the East, and that here we do not make shameless traffic of the human conscience.”
Then, after having chased the seller from the temple, the just man closed his door, and approaching the mysterious green curtain, said in a tone that sounded soft amidst his pretended anger:
“Is that what you wanted, Baroness Marie?”
That morning there were no guests to lunch at 32 Place Vendome, so that towards one o’clock might have been seen the majestic form of M. Barreau, gleaming white at the gate, among four or five of his scullions in their cook’s caps, and as many stable-boys in Scotch caps—an imposing group, which gave to the house the aspect of an hotel where the staff was taking the air between the arrivals of the trains. To complete the resemblance, a cab drew up before the door and the driver took down an old leather trunk, while a tall old woman, her upright figure wrapped in a little green shawl, jumped lightly to the footpath, a basket on her arm, looked at the number with great attention, then approached the servants to ask if it was there that M. Bernard Jansoulet lived.