" Monsieur," returned Suzanne, " you dizzy me with your neighbourly kindness. If you can turn round without risking your neck, however, you will note that Marceline is absent. She is engaged in improvising a meal for us, and I beg you to accept my invitation".
" Enchanted. Only, as you are still somewhat at sixes and sevens here, may I propose that you invite me to my own flat, instead of yours ? "
So it befell that the bouillon, brought hot in a can from the little greengrocer's across the road, was served at Pariset's table. And Marceline's omelette, created while the cutlets were frizzling on the grille, proved to be delicious.
" Our bonne," remarked the widower, complacently, " might be worse, hein ? "
" I was thinking the same thing," assented Suzanne. " It seems to me that we have done very well for ourselves".
" You smoke a cigarette ? "
" It is one of my consolations".
" I hope that I may be privileged to see you console yourself here often".
" And if you ever have leisure to call upon me for le feeve o'clock, monsieur, I shall be charmed. You can hardly excuse yourself on the plea that my address is too remote".
" Believe me," said Pariset, " I warmly felicitate myself on the address; if I may say so, I am daring to foresee a friendship. And it would be very welcome, for I lead a lonely life".
" I, too," she sighed. " I am a painter, I am a communist, but all the same, I am alone".
" Ah, you are a painter, and communist, hein ? We shall have subjects to talk about".
" You are surprised? "
" I am, above all, surprised to hear that you are alone. It is difficult to realise how that can be".
" It is true, I assure you. Only to-day I had the strongest need of a man's arm to render me a service, and I could think of no one to ask".
" There are a couple of arms here," announced Pariset, displaying them in an heroic gesture.
" And doughty deeds they have just accomplished for me ! " she laughed.
" No, but seriously-" he urged.
" Oh, seriously, the service that I speak of is far too big for even the best of new friends".
" You are wrong. Without having heard it, I venture to pronounce it just the right size".
" How sincere you are ! And how I appreciate your earnestness ! " she exclaimed. " But it is out of the question".
" I have not yet proved myself worthy of your confidence," he regretted sentimentally. " I understand".
" If you imagine it is that "—deep reproach was in her gaze—" I must explain. Have you heard of a journalist called ' Valentin Vance ' ? "
" Well, I sent him a challenge to-day, and he answered that I must find a deputy".
Pariset sat dumfounded. Twice he essayed to articulate, without producing so much as a monosyllable.
At last he stuttered :
" You are mademoiselle Suzanne Duvivier ? I had no idea".
" How stupid of me. You have read his article ? "
" Well—er—I have still not had time to read it very attentively. But I have heard a good deal about it".
" Ah ! Then you do not wonder at my resentment? " she cried. And, though the twins forbade her to jeopardise his life, she hoped to hear him gallantly offer to fight monsieur Vance.
This was just what Pariset could not do. After his boasted avidity to execute the service, he must wear an air of funking it. His embarrassment was intense; constraint fell upon them both. Disillusion clouded her eyes. She had begun to like him so much, it grieved her to see him turn tail.
After some very painful seconds he faltered :
" You are disappointed in me ? "
" Disappointed ? "
" Oh, yes. I seem to you a braggart who has backed out of his boast. Yet I assure you I am not to blame. You seek the one service in the world that I am utterly unable to perform".
" Monsieur," replied the girl coldly, " your parental duties are so obviously paramount that it is unnecessary to remind me of them".
" Oh, as to that, one does not expect more than a scratch in a duel, so it is not from parental reasons that I say it can't be done. The reasons are physical. I cannot meet monsieur Vance because . . . I shall sink lower in your esteem with every word ... I cannot meet him because . . . enfin, Valentin Vance is I ! "
" You ? " She had started to her feet.
" My pen name".
The silence was awful. She leant on the back of the chair for support. Then, with a dignity that he felt to be superb, she said :
" Monsieur, as a tenant I thank you for your co-operation; as a communist, I ask permission to retire".
"Ah, I implore you to listen ! " raved Pariset.
" It is strange," she added, more spontaneously, " that, since you found me so hideous on the lecture platform, you put yourself out to be so agreeable to me at the registry office".
" I ? I find you hideous ? " vociferated Pariset. " It was not I who wrote it; not a single word was mine, believe me ! My bonne flounced off last night, and the twins kept me at home. I entrusted the job to a dunderheaded confrere. Ah, mon Dieu, ' since I found you hideous ' ! The spirituality of your face is an inspiration. I admire you with all my heart. Yes, I shall confess it, with all my heart! I love you ! Do not condemn me for a column that I did not perpetrate—be merciful, be tender! I will write others that you shall approve. You shall instruct me—I will gather wisdom from your lips. Yes, at your feet, on our hearth, I will learn from you. I will become a disciple of communism—the mouthpiece of your Cause; I will consecrate my pen to your service. My pen shall annihilate your opponents, though my sword could not chasten monsieur Vance." His arms entreated her. " Suzanne-"
" The appartement of mademoiselle is completely ready! " proclaimed Marceline. She rushed in, and out again, triumphant.
" It appears to me I shall not need it long," smiled Suzanne, surrendering to his embrace.