Instantly the guests were on their feet, and Heloise, who had been served first, proposed that they should drink the health of the Marquis, but, prompted by one of her facetious impulses, instead of lifting the glass to her own lips, she presented it to those of the waiter, and, raising her arm, compelled him to swallow the contents. Encouraged by laughter and applause, she presented to him a second glass, then a third; and the unhappy man drank obediently, not being able to push away the glasses without endangering the safety of the tray he carried.
Fanny Dorville interceded in vain for the victim; the inexorable duenna had already seized a fourth glass, and the final catastrophe would have been infallibly brought about, had not providence intervened in the person of the call-boy, who, thrusting his head through the half-open doorway, cried, shrilly:
“Ladies, they are about to begin!”
The two actresses hastened away, escorted by Andre Desvanneaux, a modern Tartufe, who, though married, was seen everywhere, as much at home behind the scenes as in church.
Coffee and liqueurs were then served in a salon adjoining the large dining-room, which gave the effect of a private club-room to this part of the restaurant.
Cigars were lighted, and conversation soon turned on feminine charms and the performances of various horses, particularly those of Franc-Comtois, the winner of the military steeplechase. This animal was one of the products of the Prerolles stud, and was ordinary enough on flat ground, but a jumper of the first rank.
At last the clock struck the half hour after eleven, and some of the guests had already manifested their intention to depart, when Paul Landry, who had been rather silent until then, said, carelessly:
“You expect to sleep to-night in Paris, no doubt, Monsieur de Prerolles?”
“Oh, no,” Henri replied, “I am on duty this week, and am obliged to return to Vincennes early in the morning. So I shall stay here until it is time for me to go.”
“In that case, might we not have a game of cards?” proposed Captain Constantin Lenaieff, military attache to the suite of the Russian ambassador.
“As you please,” said Henri.
This proposal decided every one to remain. The company returned to the large dining-room, which, in the mean time, had been again transformed into a gaming-hall, with the usual accessories: a frame for the tally-sheet, a metal bowl to hold rejected playing-cards set in one end of the table, and, placed at intervals around it, were tablets on which the punter registered the amount of the stakes.
On reentering this apartment, Henri de Prerolles approached a sort of counter, and, drawing from his pocket thirty thousand francs in bank-notes, he exchanged them for their value in mother-of-pearl “chips” of different sizes, representing sums from one to five, ten, twenty-five, or a hundred louis. Paul Landry took twenty-five thousand francs’ worth; Constantin Unaieff, fifteen thousand; the others, less fortunate or more prudent, took smaller sums; and about midnight the game began.