A couple of hours later, Pariset, after struggling with a fire that refused to be lit, and breakfasting without any coffee, and dressing his twins with some of their underlinen back in front, gave the concierge a tip to let him leave them in her loge, and went forth to the Echo building, anathematising his ex-domestic with continuous fervour on the way. Arrived there, he found two young women strenuously inquiring for the address of 44 monsieur Valentin Vance".
44 You behold him, mesdemoiselles," said Pariset. 44 What can I have the honour of doing for you ? "
The young women looked embarrassed.
"It is you who are the author of this article, monsieur—this infamous calumny? " queried the plumper of the two.
" Oh ! " exclaimed Pariset, taken aback. " Oh ... I am speaking to mademoiselle Suzanne Duvivier? "
" No, monsieur, I am not mademoiselle Duvivier. Neither of us is mademoiselle Duvivier. But we inquire if you are the monsieur Vance who is the author of this article? "
" Well—er—yes, certainly, I am the author of it".
The pair conferred a moment in undertones. The one in the toque gave the one with the bird of paradise a slight push.
" Then, monsieur, I have the honour to inform you that we are the bearers of a challenge from the lady you have slandered".
" A challenge ? " stammered Pariset. " What do you say ? Is this a joke ? "
" You will find it very far from a joke," put in mademoiselle Lagarde, strategically; " our principal is a crack shot".
" In that case you may be sure I shall not choose pistols," said Pariset with a smile.
" Ah ! " breathed the girl, dissembling her elation. " You choose swords. No matter".
" No," demurred Pariset. " I do not choose swords, either".
" But—not swords, either? What, then? "
" I choose roses. I am a champion with roses, and I have the right to avail myself of my skill".
" Monsieur," cried her companion, peremptorily, " we shall not be patient with pleasantries ! "
" Nor I with hysteria, mademoiselle. Comment ? Do you figure yourself I am going to fight a woman ? You must be demented".
" You refuse to meet her? "
" On the pretext of convention? "
" On the score of manhood".
" Your manhood did not restrain you from attacking her".
" Was it so bad, the attack? " faltered Pariset, who had not done much more than glance at Jobic's masterpiece.
" Pshaw ! " sneered both the girls, as nearly as their ejaculation can be spelt. " Shame ! How perfectly disgusting ! You insult a lady, and then refuse her satisfaction. It is the act of a coward. Ah! Oh!"
" Listen ! " volleyed Pariset. " I will not meet her if you go on saying 4 Ah ! ' and ' Oh ! ' till you are black in the face. But, to cut it short, she shall have her satisfaction. I will cross swords with any man that she appoints as her deputy. All is said. I await the gentleman's representatives. Mesdemoiselles, bonjour".
" And now I have got a duel on my hands, as well as two babies in my arms !" he reflected. " Jobic is an imbecile. Why did I trust him ? That sacrée bonne ! her desertion is giving me a fine time. I should like to wring her neck." He spent a feverish afternoon at registry offices.
Suzanne was exasperated too. The news of the demand for a deputy was a heavy blow, for she couldn't think of anybody likely to oblige her. Vainly she reviewed the list of her male acquaintances; none seemed to possess all the necessary qualities. Ineligible herself, and unable to find a substitute—what a dilemma ! The more provoking because scattered throughout France must breathe several heroic spirits who would have been willing to fight for a nice girl and the guerdon of her gratitude. But she was reluctant to advertise " Duellist wanted," with a portrait of her attractions.
She was removing on the morrow to a furnished flat, and it had been her intention to supervise the removal of some of its dust this morning. Late in the afternoon she ran round to see how matters had progressed without her. A damsel from a registry office in the quarter had undertaken to commence the work punctually at 8 a.m. The flat was in the Maison Severin. All unconscious that she was to dwell beneath the same roof as the villain she had challenged, Suzanne ascended, sanguine of seeing the clean curtains up.
The damsel hadn't put in an appearance. Either she had received an offer more to her taste, or she had decided to prolong her vacation; there had been no message to explain her caprice.
Suzanne sped to the registry office tumultuously.
The Bureau de Placement des Deux Sexes was presided over by a very large woman at a very small table. Three of the four employers present were excited ladies, complaining of bonnes who had arranged to take service with them, but who had neither arrived nor written. The fourth was a personable gentleman, awaiting his turn in an attitude of the deepest despondence. Suzanne sat on the bench, by the gentleman's side, while the fat woman strove to appease the three ladies.
" Next, please," she said, eventually. " Monsieur desires? "
Suzanne heard that monsieur desired a capable bonne a tout faire at once, and that by "at once " he did not mean a fortnight hence, or even the following day—he meant " now".
The proprietress said mechanically that she would see what could be done, and asked for five francs.
" Don't you believe it! " said the gentleman. " I am a widower and know the ropes—I might part with five francs and remain servantless for a month. Produce a servant. Trot one of your treasures out. Let me get a grip of it and take it away with me, and I will pay you ten—fifteen francs".
" But it happens that there is no servant on the premises this afternoon. Monsieur is not reasonable. He should comprehend that I cannot show him what I have not got".
"It is equally comprehensible, madame, that I cannot pay for what I do not see".