"Pooh!" cried Malaga. "I will wager my cabinet-maker's invoice (the fellow is dunning me) that the little toad was too many for Maxime."
"I bet on Maxime," said Cardot. "Nobody ever caught him napping."
Desroches drank off a glass that Malaga handed to him.
"Mlle. Chocardelle's reading-room," he continued, after a pause, "was in the Rue Coquenard, just a step or two from the Rue Pigalle where Maxime was living. The said Mlle. Chocardelle lived at the back on the garden side of the house, beyond a big dark place where the books were kept. Antonia left her aunt to look after the business--"
"Had she an aunt even then?" exclaimed Malaga. "Hang it all, Maxime did things handsomely."
"Alas! it was a real aunt," said Desroches; "her name was--let me see----"
"So as Antonia's aunt took a good deal of the work off her hands, she went to bed late and lay late of a morning, never showing her face at the desk until the afternoon, some time between two and four. From the very first her appearance was enough to draw custom. Several elderly men in the quarter used to come, among them a retired coach-builder, one Croizeau. Beholding this miracle of female loveliness through the window-panes, he took it into his head to read the newspapers in the beauty's reading-room; and a sometime custom-house officer, named Denisart, with a ribbon in his button-hole, followed the example. Croizeau chose to look upon Denisart as a rival. '/Monsieur/,' he said afterwards, 'I did not know what to buy for you!'
"That speech should give you an idea of the man. The Sieur Croizeau happens to belong to a particular class of old man which should be known as 'Coquerels' since Henri Monnier's time; so well did Monnier render the piping voice, the little mannerisms, little queue, little sprinkling of powder, little movements of the head, prim little manner, and tripping gait in the part of Coquerel in /La Famille Improvisee/. This Croizeau used to hand over his halfpence with a flourish and a 'There, fair lady!'