But he was not at all charmed with his house. It was small, unimproved, infested with rats.
She acknowledged that one seldom felt at home anywhere, and that rats were found everywhere, either real or symbolical, legions of pests that torment us. Yet she liked the Botanical Gardens; she had always wished to go there, yet never had gone. There was also the museum, which she was curious to visit.
Smiling, happy, he offered to escort her there. He considered it his house. He would show her rare specimens, some of which were superb.
She did not know what a bolide was. She recalled that some one had said to her that at the museum were bones carved by primitive men, and plaques of ivory on which were engraved pictures of animals, which were long ago extinct. She asked whether that were true. Lagrange ceased to smile. He replied indifferently that such objects concerned one of his colleagues.
“Ah!” said Madame Martin, “then they are not in your showcase.”
She observed that learned men were not curious, and that it is indiscreet to question them on things that are not in their own showcases. It is true that Lagrange had made a scientific fortune in studying meteors. This had led him to study comets. But he was wise. For twenty years he had been preoccupied by nothing except dining out.
When he had left, Countess Martin told Madame Marmet what she expected of her.
“I am going next week to Fiesole, to visit Miss Bell, and you are coming with me.”
The good Madame Marmet, with placid brow yet searching eyes, was silent for a moment; then she refused gently, but finally consented.
MADAME HAS HER WAY
The Marseilles express was ready on the quay, where the postmen ran, and the carriages rolled amid smoke and noise, under the light that fell from the windows. Through the open doors travellers in long cloaks came and went. At the end of the station, blinding with soot and dust, a small rainbow could be discerned, not larger than one’s hand. Countess Martin and the good Madame Marniet were already in their carriage, under the rack loaded with bags, among newspapers thrown on the cushions. Choulette had not appeared, and Madame Martin expected him no longer. Yet he had promised to be at the station. He had made his arrangements to go, and had received from his publisher the price of Les Blandices. Paul Vence had brought him one evening to Madame Martin’s house. He had been sweet, polished, full of witty gayety and naive joy. She had promised herself much pleasure in travelling with a man of genius, original, picturesquely ugly, with an amusing simplicity; like a child prematurely old and abandoned, full of vices, yet with a certain degree of innocence. The doors closed. She expected him no longer. She should not have counted on his impulsive and vagabondish mind. At the moment when the engine began to breathe hoarsely, Madame Marmet, who was looking out of the window, said, quietly: