Gardefeu had a well-polished selection of stories for how he and Bobinet had met, ranging from the prosaic, provided to relatives, clergymen, &c., to the outrageous, for the purpose of amusing dance hall girls.
At his wedding, a distant auntie asked how he met the best man—"Such a neurotic creature, not like you at all, Raoul."
"At school." He patted her wrinkled hand and hoping she wouldn't remember to ask when he planned to start his law practice. Of course Bobinet was several years younger than him, but Gardefeu's foray into university had lasted precisely as long as it took to come into his inheritance, and had thus been somewhat elongated. It was entirely plausible, and thus satisfied, the auntie told him Métella looked like "a very nice girl" and tottered away to the dessert table, leaving Gardefeu to muffle laughter at Métella's imagined reaction.
To Métella's friends at the Moulin Rouge a few nights later, he told the story about a masquerade ball and a baby giraffe temporarily liberated from the Jardin des Plantes. Bobinet, he informed them, had no future in the circus—he had seen that right away and decided to take the poor lad under his wing, so to speak.
The subject of the story himself had appeared towards the end, giving Gardefeu a moment of worry, but he'd said nothing, only sipped his champagne and watched Gardefeu with an expression half-impressed and half undefinable.
Métella herself, for some unholy reason, asked while they were in bed, and he told her in low tones of the time Marie de Rossignol had agreed to see them both at the same hour, and neither had wanted to leave. "...and Bobinet—he's very good with his hands, you know, did this," he said, feeling a bit breathless himself as he suited action to words and Métella stopped asking questions for a delightful period.
"I don't believe you one bit," she said afterwards, squinting at him in suspicion. "And it isn't nice to tease a lady with such possibilities."
"Oh, you're a lady now, are you?"
"Madame la Vicomtesse de Gardefeu," she replied, one hand creeping slowly down his chest, "and don't you forget it."
The topic of meeting Bobinet was soon forgotten.
At the club, it was the time he'd agreed to be Bobinet's second in a duel, thinking the high-strung lad likely to fret himself into a nervous collapse before ever steel was drawn. This story had the advantage of being true, albeit taking place years after their first acquaintance.
Bobinet, it turned out, had an uncommon knack for fencing, all that tense energy transmuted to calm focus, and those lanky limbs for once in coordination giving him an unparalleled reach. Gardefeu's own sword had remained safely sheathed, and Bobinet's opponent had slunk away with a wound well on its way to becoming a dramatic new scar.
It was one evening after the opera, lingering over champagne and cheese in the newly redecorated townhouse on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, that Métella asked again. She'd arranged herself on the sofa between them, her head propped on Gardefeu's shoulder and her feet on Bobinet's lap.
"Truthfully," she said, "how did you meet each other?"
Bobinet opened his mouth, and then shut it, giving Gardefeu a hard stare. "Go on, then," he said, and Gardefeu could hear, Which story will it be this time? as clearly as if he'd said it aloud.
Métella's fair brows had gone up and she'd tilted her head back to see Gardefeu's face, a pose which had the pleasant side effect of showing her décolletage to best advantage.
"Ah." Gardefeu licked his lips, wishing his glass weren't so empty, although at this point in their little ménage à trois, he supposed the story was no worse than mildly embarrassing. "To tell the truth...I don't remember. That is, I remember waking up in the bathtub, but when a chap finds himself in a bathtub with a fellow he doesn't know from Adam, both of us covered with ostrich feathers and not much else, he doesn't ask many questions about the night before. I bought him a coffee. And a pair of trousers."
"Not in that order, I hope," said Métella, who was clearly imagining the bathtub scene and enjoying it. "There would have been a riot."
"How interesting," said Bobinet, and then he grinned at Gardefeu, a very toothy smile that didn't look like harmless little Bobinet at all. "I remember the night before perfectly."