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- CONSCIENCE - 3/13 -
I lost my money. I then took an oath to refuse every one. It is an oath that I cannot break. What would my old friends say if they learned that I did for a young man what I have refused to do for them?"
"Who would know it?"
They had reached the Quai Voltaire, where fiacres were stationed.
"At last here are some cabs," Glady said. "Pardon me for leaving you, but I am in a hurry."
A LAST RESORT
Gady entered the cab so quickly that Saniel remained staring at the sidewalk, slightly dazed. It was only when the door closed that he understood.
"His conscience!" he murmured. "Behold them! Tartufes!"
After a moment of hesitation, he continued his way and reached the bridge of Saints-Peres, but he walked with doubtful steps, like a man who does not know where he is going. Presently he stopped, and, leaning his arms on the parapet, watched the sombre, rapidly flowing Seine, its small waves fringed with white foam. The rain had ceased, but the wind blew in squalls, roughening the surface of the river and making the red and green lights of the omnibus boats sway in the darkness. The passers-by came and went, and more than one examined him from the corner of the eye, wondering what this tall man was doing there, and if he intended to throw himself into the water.
And why not? What better could he do?
And this was what Saniel said to himself while watching the flowing water. One plunge, and he would end the fierce battle in which he had so madly engaged for four years, and which would in the end drive him mad.
It was not the first time that this idea of ending everything had tempted him, and he only warded it off by constantly inventing combinations which it seemed to him at the moment might save him. Why yield to such a temptation before trying everything? And this was how he happened to appeal to Glady. But he knew him, and knew that his avarice, about which every one joked, had a certain reason for its existence. However, he said to himself that if the landed proprietor obstinately refused a friendly loan, which would only pay the debts of youth, the poet would willingly fill the role of Providence and save from shipwreck, without risking anything, a man with a future, who, later, would pay him back. It was with this hope that he risked a refusal. The landed proprietor replied; the poet was silent. And now there was nothing to expect from any one. Glady was his last resort.
In explaining his situation to Glady he lightened the misery instead of exaggerating it. For it was not only his upholsterer that he owed, but also his tailor, his bootmaker, his coal-dealer, his concierge, and all those with whom he had dealings. In reality, his creditors had not harassed him very much until lately, but this state of affairs would not last when they saw him prosecuted; they also would sue him, and how could he defend himself? How should he live? His only resource would be to return to the Hotel du Senat, where even they would not leave him in peace, or to his native town and become a country doctor. In either case it was renouncing all his ambitions. Would it not be better to die?
What good was life if his dreams were not realized--if he had nothing that he wanted?
Like many who frequently come in contact with death, life in itself was a small thing to him--his own life as well as that of others; with Hamlet he said: "To die, to sleep, no more," but without adding: "To die, to sleep, perchance to dream," feeling certain that the dead do not dream; and what is better than sleep to those who have had a hard life?
He was absorbed in thought when something came between him and the flaring gaslight, and threw a shadow over him that made him straighten himself up. What was it? Only a policeman, who came and leaned against the parapet near him.
He understood. His attitude was that of a man who contemplates throwing himself into the river, and the policeman had placed himself there in order to prevent it.
"Thanks!" he said to the astonished man.
He continued his way, walking quickly, but hearing distinctly the steps of the policeman following him, who evidently took him for a madman who must be watched.
When he left the bridge of Saints-Peres for the Place du Carrousel this surveillance ceased, and he could then indulge freely in reflection--at least as freely as his trouble and discouragement permitted.
"The weak kill themselves; the strong fight to their last breath."
And, low as he was, he was not yet at his last breath.
When he decided to appeal to Glady he had hesitated between him and a usurer named Caffie, whom he did not know personally, but whom he had heard spoken of as a rascal who was interested in all sorts of affairs, preferring the bad to the good--of successions, marriages, interdictions, extortions; and if he had not been to him it was for fear of being refused, as much as from the dread of putting himself in such hands in case of meeting with compliance. But these scruples and these fears were useless now; since Glady failed him, cost what it might and happen what would, he must go to this scamp for assistance.
He knew that Caffie lived in the Rue Sainte-Anne, but he did not know the number. He had only to go to one of his patients, a wine-merchant in the Rue Therese, to find his address in the directory. It was but a step, and he decided to run the risk; there was need of haste. Discouraged by all the applications that he had made up to this time, disheartened by betrayed hopes, irritated by rebuffs, he did not deceive himself as to the chances of this last attempt, but at least he would try it, slight though the hope of success might be.
It was an old house where Caffie lived, and had been formerly a private hotel; it was composed of two wings, one on the street, the other on an inside court. A porte cochere gave access to this court, and under its roof, near the staircase, was the concierge's lodge. Saniel knocked at the door in vain; it was locked and would not open. He waited several minutes, and in his nervous impatience walked restlessly up and down the court. At last an old woman appeared carrying a small wax taper. She was feeble and bent, and began to excuse herself; she was alone and could not be everywhere at the same time, in her lodge and lighting the lamps on the stairways. Caffie lived on the first floor, in the wing on the street.
Saniel mounted the stairs and rang the bell. A long time passed, or at least it seemed long to him, before there was an answer. At last he heard a slow and heavy step on the tiled floor and the door was opened, but held by a hand and a foot.
"What do you wish?"
"I am he. Who are you?"
"I have not sent for a doctor."
"It is not as doctor that I am here, but as client."
"This is not the hour when I receive clients."
"But you are at home."
"That is a fact!"
And Caffie, concluding to open the door, asked Saniel to enter, and then closed it.
"Come into my office."
They were in a small room filled with papers that had only an old desk and three chairs for furniture; it communicated with the office of the business man, which was larger, but furnished with the same simplicity and strewn with scraps of paper that had a mouldy smell.
"My clerk is ill just now," Caffie said, "and when I am alone I do not like to open the door."
After giving this excuse he offered Saniel a chair, and, seating himself before his desk, lighted by a lamp from which he had taken the shade, he said:
"Doctor, I am ready to listen to you."
He replaced the shade on the lamp.
Saniel made his request concisely, without the details that he had entered into with Glady. He owed three thousand francs to the upholsterer who had furnished his apartment, and as he could not pay immediately he was in danger of being prosecuted.
"Who is the upholsterer?" Caffie asked, while holding his left jaw with his right hand.
"Jardine, Boulevard Haussmann."
"I know him. It is his trade to take back his furniture in this way, after three quarters of the sum has been paid, and he has become rich at it. How much money have you already paid of this ten thousand francs?"
"Including the interest and what I have paid in instalments, nearly twelve thousand francs."
"And you still owe three thousand?"
"That is nice."
Caffie seemed full of admiration for this manner of proceeding.
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