THE VANISHING BILLS.
Had Andre known a little more of the man he had to deal with, he would have learned that no one could fall like an earthquake upon Van Klopen. Shut up in the sanctum where he composed the numberless costumes that were the wonder and delight of Paris, Van Klopen made as careful arrangements to secure himself from the interview as the Turk does to guard the approaches to his seraglio; and so Andre and Gandelu were accosted in the entrance hall by his stately footmen, clad in gorgeous liveries, glittering with gold.
“M. van Klopen is of the utmost importance,” asserted Andre.
“Our master is composing.”
Entreaties, threats, and even a bribe of one hundred francs were alike useless; and Andre, seeing that he was about to be checkmated, was half tempted to take the men by the collar and hurl them on one side, but he calmed himself, and, already repenting of his violence at Verminet’s, he determined on a course of submission, and so meekly followed the footmen into the famous waiting-room, styled by Van Klopen his purgatory. The footmen, however, had spoken the truth, for several ladies of the highest rank and standing were awaiting the return of this arbiter elegantiarum. All of them turned as the young men entered—all save one, who was gazing out of the window, drawing with her pretty fingers on the window panes. Andre recognized her in an instant as Madame de Bois Arden.
“Is it possible?” thought he. “Can the Countess have returned here after what has occurred?”
Gaston felt that five charming pairs of eyes were fixed upon him, and studied to assume his most graceful posture.
After a brief time given to arrangement, Andre grew disgusted.
“I wish that she would look round,” said he to himself. “I think she would feel rather ashamed. I will say a word to her.”
He rose from his chair, and, without thinking how terribly he might compromise the lady, he took up a position at her side. She was, however, intently watching something that was going on in the street, and did not turn her head.
“Madame,” said he.
She started, and, as she turned and recognized Andre, she uttered a little cry of surprise.
“Great heavens! is that you?”
“Yes, it is I.”
“And here? I dare say that my presence in this place surprises you,” she went on, “and that I have a short memory, and no feelings of pride.”
Andre made no reply, and his silence was a sufficient rejoinder to the question.
“You do me a great injustice,” muttered the Countess. “I am here because De Breulh told me that in your interests I ought to pardon Van Klopen, and go to him again as I used to do; so you see, M. Andre, that it is never safe to judge by appearance, and a woman more than anything else.”
“Will you forgive me?” asked Andre earnestly.