“It is quite natural,” said the doctor, gallantly; “the most charming flowers require the most light and heat.”
Whilst the doctor and Mdlle. de Cardoville exchanged these few words, a heavy gate had turned creaking upon its hinges, and the carriage had entered a court-yard. The physician got down first, to offer his arm to Adrienne.
The minister’s cabinet.
The carriage had stopped before some steps covered with snow, which led to a vestibule lighted by a lamp. The better to ascend the steps, which were somewhat slippery, Adrienne leaned upon the doctor’s arm.
“Dear me! how you tremble,” said he.
“Yes,” replied she, shuddering, “I feel deadly cold. In my haste, I came out without a shawl. But how gloomy this house appears,” she added, pointing to the entrance.
“It is what you call the minister’s private house, the sanctum sanctorum, whither our statesman retires far from the sound of the profane,” said Dr. Baleinier, with a smile. “Pray come in!” and he pushed open the door of a large hall, completely empty.
“They are right in saying,” resumed Dr. Baleinier, who covered his secret agitation with an appearance of gayety, “that a minister’s house is like nobody else’s. Not a footman—not a page, I should say—to be found in the antechamber. Luckily,” added he, opening the door of a room which communicated with the vestibule,
“‘In this seraglio reared, I know the secret ways.’”
Mdlle. de Cardoville was now introduced into an apartment hung with green embossed paper, and very simply furnished with mahogany chairs, covered with yellow velvet; the floor was carefully polished, and a globe lamp, which gave at most a third of its proper light, was suspended (at a much greater height than usual) from the ceiling. Finding the appearance of this habitation singularly plain for the dwelling of a minister, Adrienne, though she had no suspicion, could not suppress a movement of surprise and paused a moment on the threshold of the door. M. Baleinier, by whose arm she held, guessed the cause of her astonishment, and said to her with a smile:
“This place appears to you very paltry for ‘his excellency,’ does it not? If you knew what a thing constitutional economy is!—Moreover, you will see a ‘my lord,’ who has almost as little pretension as his furniture. But please to wait for me an instant. I will go and inform the minister you are here, and return immediately.”
Gently disengaging himself from the grasp of Adrienne, who had involuntarily pressed close to him, the physician opened a small side door, by which he instantly disappeared. Adrienne de Cardoville was left alone.
Though she could not have explained the cause of her impression, there was something awe-inspiring to the young lady in this large, cold, naked, curtainless room; and as, by degrees, she noticed certain peculiarities in the furniture, which she had not at first perceived, she was seized with an indefinable feeling of uneasiness.