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- CONSCIENCE - 4/13 -
"What guarantee have you to offer for this loan of three thousand francs?"
"No other than my present position, I confess, and above all, my future."
At Caffie's request he explained his plans and prospects for the future, while the business man, with his cheek resting on his hand, listened, and from time to time breathed a stifled sigh, a sort of groan.
"Hum! hum!" he said when Saniel finished his explanation. "You know, my dear friend, you know:
To fools alone the future's smile unchangeable appears, For Friday's laughter Sunday's sun may change to bitter tears."
"It is Sunday with you, my dear sir."
"But I am not at the end of my life nor at the end of my energy, and I assure you that my energy makes me capable of many things."
"I do not doubt it; I know what energy can do. Tell a Greek who is dying of hunger to go to heaven and he will go
Graeculus esuriens in coelum, jusseris, ibit."
"But I do not see that you have started for heaven."
A smile of derision, accompanied by a grimace, crossed Caffies face. Before becoming the usurer of the Rue Sainte-Anne, whom every one called a rascal, he had been attorney in the country, deputy judge, and if unmerited evils had obliged him to resign and to hide the unpleasant circumstances in Paris, he never lost an opportunity to prove that by education he was far above his present position. Finding this new client a man of learning, he was glad to make quotations that he thought would make him worthy of consideration.
"It is, perhaps, because I am not Greek," Saniel replied; "but I am an Auvergnat, and the men of my country have great physical strength."
Caffie shook his head.
"My dear sir," he said, "I might as well tell you frankly that I do not believe the thing can be done. I would do it myself willingly, because I read intelligence in your face, and resolution in your whole person, which inspire me with confidence in you; but I have no money to put into such speculations. I can only be, as usual, a go-between--that is to say, I can propose the loan to one of my clients, but I do not know one who would be contented with the guarantee of a future that is more or less uncertain. There are so many doctors in Paris who are in your position."
"Are you going?" cried Caffie.
"Sit down, my dear sir! It is no use to throw the handle after the axe. You make me a proposition, and I show you the difficulties in the way, but I do not say there is no way to extricate you from embarrassment. I must look around. I have known you only a few minutes; but it does not take long to appreciate a man like you, and, frankly, you inspire me with great interest."
What did he wish? Saniel was not simple enough to be caught by words, nor was he a fop who accepts with gaping mouth all the compliments addressed to him. Why did he inspire a sudden interest in this man who had the reputation of pushing business matters to extremes? He would find out. In the mean time he would be on his guard.
"I thank you for your sympathy," he said.
"I shall prove to you that it is real, and that it may become useful. You come to me because you want three thousand francs. I hope I may find them for you, and I promise to try, though it will be difficult, very difficult. They will make you secure for the present. But will they assure your future? that is, will they permit you to continue the important works of which you have spoken to me, and on which your future depends? No. Your struggles will soon begin again. And you must shake yourself clear from such cares in order to secure for yourself the liberty that is indispensable if you wish to advance rapidly. And to obtain this freedom from cares and this liberty, I see only one way-- you must marry."
'TWIXT THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP SEA
Saniel, who was on his guard and expected some sort of roguery from this man, had not foreseen that these expressions of interest were leading up to a proposal of marriage, and an exclamation of surprise escaped him. But it was lost in the sound of the door-bell, which rang at that moment.
Caffie rose. "How disagreeable it is not to have a clerk!" he said.
He went to open the door with an eagerness that he had not shown to Saniel, which proved that he had no fear of admitting people when he was not alone.
It was a clerk from the bank.
"You will permit me," Caffie said, on returning to his office. "It will take but an instant."
The clerk took a paper from his portfolio and handed it to Caffie.
Caffie drew a key from the pocket of his vest, with which he opened the iron safe placed behind his desk, and turning his back to Saniel and the clerk counted the bills which they heard rustle in his hands. Presently he rose, and closing the door of the safe he placed under the lamp the package of bills that he had counted. The clerk then counted them, and placing them in his portfolio took his leave.
"Close the door when you go out," Caffie said, who was already seated in his arm-chair.
"Do not be afraid."
When the clerk was gone Caffie apologized for the interruption.
"Let us continue our conversation, my dear sir. I told you that there is only one way to relieve you permanently from embarrassment, and that way you will find is in a good marriage, that will place 'hic et nunc' a reasonable sum at your disposal."
"But it would be folly for me to marry now, when I have no position to offer a wife."
"And your future, of which you have just spoken with so much assurance, have you no faith in that?"
"An absolute faith--as firm to-day as when I first began the battle of life, only brighter. However, as others have not the same reasons that I have to hope and believe what I hope and believe, it is quite natural that they should feel doubts of my future. You felt it yourself instantly in not finding it a good guarantee for the small loan of three thousand francs."
"A loan and marriage are not the same thing. A loan relieves you temporarily, and leaves you in a state to contract several others successively, which, you must acknowledge, weakens the guarantee that you offer. While a marriage instantly opens to you the road that your ambition wishes to travel."
"I have never thought of marriage."
"If you should think of it?"
"There must be a woman first of all."
"If I should propose one, what would you say?"
"You are surprised?"
"I confess that I am."
"My dear sir, I am the friend of my clients, and for many of them--I dare to say it--a father. And having much affection for a young woman, and for the daughter of one of my friends, while listening to you I thought that one or the other might be the woman you need. Both have fortunes, and both possess physical attractions that a handsome man like yourself has a right to demand. And for the rest, I have their photographs, and you may see for yourself what they are."
He opened a drawer in his desk, and took from it a package of photographs. As he turned them over Saniel saw that they were all portraits of women. Presently he selected two and handed them to Saniel.
One represented a woman from thirty-eight to forty years, corpulent, robust, covered with horrible cheap jewelry that she had evidently put on for the purpose of being photographed. The other was a young girl of about twenty years, pretty, simply and elegantly dressed, whose distinguished and reserved physiognomy was a strong contrast to the first portrait.
While Saniel looked at these pictures Caffie studied him, trying to discover the effect they produced.
"Now that you have seen them," he said, "let us talk of them a little. If you knew me better, my dear sir, you would know that I am frankness itself, and in business my principle is to tell everything, the good and the bad, so that my clients are responsible for the decisions they make. In reality, there is nothing bad about these two persons, because, if there were, I would not propose them to you. But there are certain things that my delicacy compels me to point out to you, which I do frankly, feeling certain that a man like you is not the slave of narrow prejudices."
An expression of pain passed over his face, and he clasped his jaw with both hands.
"You suffer?" Saniel asked.
"Yes, from my teeth, cruelly. Pardon me that I show it; I know by myself that nothing is more annoying than the sight of the sufferings of
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