She was talking with animation. Frantz, deeply moved, drew near to listen.
“No, no cream. The ‘cafe parfait’ will be enough. Be sure that it’s well frozen and ready at seven o’clock. Oh! about an entree—let us see—”
She was holding council with her cook concerning the famous dinner-party for the next day. Her brother-in-law’s sudden appearance did not disconcert her.
“Ah! good-morning, Frantz,” she said very coolly. “I am at your service directly. We’re to have some people to dinner to-morrow, customers of the firm, a grand business dinner. You’ll excuse me, won’t you?”
Fresh and smiling, in the white ruffles of her trailing morning-gown and her little lace cap, she continued to discuss her menu, inhaling the cool air that rose from the fields and the river. There was not the slightest trace of chagrin or anxiety upon that tranquil face, which was a striking contrast to the lover’s features, distorted by a night of agony and fatigue.
For a long quarter of an hour Frantz, sitting in a corner of the salon, saw all the conventional dishes of a bourgeois dinner pass before him in their regular order, from the little hot pates, the sole Normande and the innumerable ingredients of which that dish is composed, to the Montreuil peaches and Fontainebleau grapes.
At last, when they were alone and he was able to speak, he asked in a hollow voice:
“Didn’t you receive my letter?”
“Why, yes, of course.”
She had risen to go to the mirror and adjust a little curl or two entangled with her floating ribbons, and continued, looking at herself all the while:
“Yes, I received your letter. Indeed, I was charmed to receive it. Now, should you ever feel inclined to tell your brother any of the vile stories about me that you have threatened me with, I could easily satisfy him that the only source of your lying tale-bearing was anger with me for repulsing a criminal passion as it deserved. Consider yourself warned, my dear boy—and au revoir.”
As pleased as an actress who has just delivered a telling speech with fine effect, she passed him and left the room smiling, with a little curl at the corners of her mouth, triumphant and without anger. And he did not kill her!
AN ITEM OF NEWS
In the evening preceding that ill-omened day, a few moments after Frantz had stealthily left his room on Rue de Braque, the illustrious Delobelle returned home, with downcast face and that air of lassitude and disillusionment with which he always met untoward events.
“Oh! mon Dieu, my poor man, what has happened?” instantly inquired Madame Delobelle, whom twenty years of exaggerated dramatic pantomime had not yet surfeited.
Before replying, the ex-actor, who never failed to precede his most trivial words with some facial play, learned long before for stage purposes, dropped his lower lip, in token of disgust and loathing, as if he had just swallowed something very bitter.