Greatly disconcerted, M. Wilkie could only bow and stammer out an almost unintelligible answer. "Excuse me! I am much grieved, upon my word! I disturb you, perhaps----"
"You are Monsieur Wilkie!" interrupted Madame d'Argeles, in a tone of mingled irony and disdain.
"Yes," he replied, drawling out the name affectedly, "I am M. Wilkie."
"Did you desire to speak with me?" inquired Madame d'Argeles, dryly.
"In fact--yes. I should like----"
"Very well. I will listen to you, although your visit is most inopportune, for I have eighty guests or more in my drawing-room. Still, speak!"
It was very easy to say "speak," but unfortunately for M. Wilkie he could not articulate a syllable. His tongue was as stiff, and as dry, as if it had been paralyzed. He nervously passed and repassed his fingers between his neck and his collar, but although this gave full play to his cravat, his words did not leave his throat any more readily. For he had imagined that Madame d'Argeles would be like other women he had known, but not at all. He found her to be an extremely proud and awe-inspiring creature, who, to use his own vocabulary, SQUELCHED him completely. "I wished to say to you," he repeated, "I wished to say to you----" But the words he was seeking would not come; and, so at last, angry with himself, he exclaimed: "Ah! you know as well as I, why I have come. Do you dare to pretend that you don't know?"
She looked at him with admirably feigned astonishment, glanced despairingly at the ceiling, shrugged her shoulders, and replied: "Most certainly I don't know--unless indeed it be a wager."