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- CONSCIENCE - 5/13 -
"At least not to doctors."
"Never mind; we will return to my clients. This one"--and he touched the portrait of the bejewelled woman--" is, as you have divined already, a widow, a very amiable widow. Perhaps she is a little older than you are, but that is nothing. Your experience must have taught you that the man who wishes to be loved, tenderly loved, pampered, caressed, spoiled, should marry a woman older than himself, who will treat him as a husband and as a son. Her first husband was a careful merchant, who, had he lived, would have made a large fortune in the butcher business"--he mumbled this word instead of pronouncing it clearly--"but although he died just at the time when his affairs were beginning to develop, he left twenty thousand pounds' income to his wife. As I have told you what is good, I must tell you what is to be regretted. Carried away by gay companions, this intelligent man became addicted to intemperance, and from drinking at saloons she soon took to drinking at home, and his wife drank with him. I have every reason to believe that she has reformed; but, if it is otherwise, you, a doctor, can easily cure her--"
"You believe it?"
"Without doubt. However, if it is impossible, you need only let her alone, and her vice will soon carry her off; and, as the contract will be made according to my wishes in view of such an event, you will find yourself invested with a fortune and unencumbered with a wife."
"And the other?" Saniel said, who had listened silently to this curious explanation of the situation that Caffie made with the most perfect good- nature. So grave were the circumstances that he could not help being amused at this diplomacy.
"I expected your demand," replied the agent with a shrewd smile. "And if I spoke of this amiable widow it was rather to acquit my conscience than with any hope of succeeding. However free from prejudices one may be, one always retains a few. I understand yours, and more than that, I share them. Happily, what I am now about to tell you is something quite different. Take her photograph, my dear sir, and look at it while I talk. A charming face, is it not? She has been finely educated at a fashionable convent. In a word, a pearl, that you shall wear. And now I must tell you the flaw, for there is one. Who is blameless? The daughter of one of our leading actresses, after leaving the convent she returned to live with her mother. It was there, in this environment- ahem! ahem!--that an accident happened to her. To be brief, she has a sweet little child that the father would have recognized assuredly, had he not been already married. But at least he has provided for its future by an endowment of two hundred thousand francs, in such a way that whoever marries the mother and legitimizes the child will enjoy the interest of this sum until the child's majority. If that ever arrives-- these little creatures are so fragile! You being a physician, you know more about that than any one. In case of an accident the father will inherit half the money from his son; and if it seems cruel for an own father to inherit from his own son, it is quite a different thing when it is a stranger who receives the fortune. This is all, my dear sir, plainly and frankly, and I will not do you the injury to suppose that you do not see the advantages of what I have said to you without need of my insisting further. If I have not explained clearly,"
"But nothing is more clear."
"--it is the fault of this pain that paralyzes me."
And he groaned while holding his jaw.
"You have a troublesome tooth?" Saniel said, with the tone of a physician who questions a patient.
"All my teeth trouble me. To tell the truth, they are all going to pieces."
"Have you consulted a doctor?"
"Neither a doctor nor a dentist. I have faith in medicine, of course; but when I consult doctors, which seldom happens, I notice that they think much more of their own affairs than of what I am saying, and that keeps me away from them. But, my dear sir, when a client consults me, I put myself in his place."
While he spoke, Saniel examined him, which he had not done until this moment, and he saw the characteristic signs of rapid consumption. His clothes hung on him as if made for a man twice his size, and his face was red and shining, as if he were covered with a coating of cherry jelly.
"Will you show me your teeth?" he asked. "It may be possible to relieve your sufferings."
"Do you think so?"
The examination did not last long.
"Your mouth is often dry, is it not?" he asked.
"You are often thirsty?"
"Do you sleep well?"
"Your sight troubles you?"
"Have you a good appetite?"
"Yes, I eat heartily; and the more I eat the thinner I become. I am turning into a skeleton."
"I see that you have scars from boils on the back of your neck."
"They made me suffer enough, the rascals; but they are gone as they came. Hang it, one is no longer young at seventy-two years; one has small vexations. They are small vexations, are they not?"
"Certainly. With some precautions and a diet that I shall prescribe, if you wish, you will soon be better. I will give you a prescription that will relieve your toothache."
"We will talk of this again, because we shall have occasion to meet if, as I presume, you appreciate the advantages of the proposition that I have made you."
"I must have time to reflect."
"Nothing is more reasonable. There is no hurry."
"But I am in a hurry because, if I do not pay Jardine, I shall find myself in the street, which would not be a position to offer to a wife."
"In the street? Oh, things will not come to such a pass as that! What are the prosecutions?"
"They will soon begin; Jardine has already threatened me."
"They are going to begin? Then they have not begun. If he does, as we presume he will, proceed by a replevin, we shall have sufficient time before the judgment. Do you owe anything to your landlord?"
"The lease expired on the fifteenth."
"Do not pay it."
"That is easy; it is the only thing that is easy for me to do."
"It is an obstacle in the way of your Jardine, and may stop him a moment. We can manage this way more easily. The important thing is to warn me as soon as the fire begins. 'Au revoir', my dear Sir."
A CHARMING VISITOR
Although Saniel had had no experience in business, he was not simple enough not to know that in refusing him this loan Caffie meant to make use of him.
"It is very simple," he said to himself, as he went downstairs. "He undertakes to manage my affairs, and in such a way that some day I shall have to save myself by marrying that charming girl. What a scoundrel!"
However, the situation was such that he was glad to avail himself of the assistance of this scoundrel. At least, some time was gained, and when Jardine found that he was not disposed to let himself be slaughtered, he might accept a reasonable arrangement. But he must manage so that Caffie would not prevent this arrangement.
Unfortunately, he felt himself hardly capable of such manoeuvring, having been always straightforward, his eyes fixed on the end he wished to attain, and thinking only of the work through which he would attain it. And now he must act the part of a diplomat, submitting to craftiness and rogueries that were not at all in accord with his open nature. He had begun by not telling Caffie, instantly, what he thought of his propositions; but it is more difficult to act than to control one's self, to speak than to be silent.
What would he say, what would he do, when the time for action came?
He reached his house without having decided anything, and as he passed before the concierge's lodge absorbed in thought, he heard some one call him.
"Doctor, come in a moment, I beg of you."
He thought some one wished to consult him, some countryman who had waited for his return; and, although he did not feel like listening patiently to idle complainings, he turned back and entered the lodge.
"Some one brought this," the concierge said, handing him a paper that was stamped and covered with a running handwriting. "This" was the beginning of the fire of which Caffie had spoken. Without reading it, Saniel put it in his pocket and turned to go; but the concierge detained him.
"I would like to say two words to 'monchieur le docteur' about this
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