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- CONSCIENCE - 6/13 -
"Have you read it?"
"No, but I talked with the officer who gave it to me, and he told me what it meant. It is unfortunate, doctor."
To be pitied by his concierge! This was too much.
"It is not as he told you," he replied, haughtily.
"So much the better. I am glad for you and for me. You can pay my little bill."
"Give it to me."
"I have given it to you twice already, but I have a copy. Here it is."
To be sued by a creditor paralyzed Saniel; he was stunned, crushed, humiliated, and could only answer stupidly. Taking the bill that the concierge handed him, he put it in his pocket and stammered a few words.
"You see, doctor, I must say what has been in my heart a long time. You are my countryman, and I esteem you too much not to speak. In taking your apartment and engaging your upholsterer, you did too much. You ruin yourself. Give up your apartment, and take the one opposite that costs less than half, and you will get on. You will not be obliged to leave this quarter. What will become of our neighbors if you leave us? You are a good doctor; everybody knows it and says so. And now, as for my bill, it is understood that I shall be paid first, shall I not?"
"As soon as I have the money I will pay you."
"It is a promise?"
"I promise you."
"Thank you very much."
"If it could be to-morrow, it would suit me. I am not rich, you know, but I have always paid the gas-bill for your experiments."
With the paper in his pocket, Saniel returned to Caffie, who was just going out, and to whom he gave it.
"I will see about it this, evening," said the man of business. "Just now I am going to dinner. Do not worry. To-morrow I will do what is necessary. Good-evening. I am dying of hunger."
But three days before, Saniel emptied his purse to soothe his upholsterer by an instalment as large as he was able to make it, keeping only five francs for himself, and with the few sous left he could not go to a resttaurant, not even the lowest and cheapest. He could only buy some bread for his supper, and eat it while working, as he had often done before.
But when he returned to his rooms he was not in a state of mind to write an article that must be delivered that evening. Among other things that he had undertaken was one, and not the least fastidious, which consisted in giving, by correspondence, advice to the subscribers of a fashion magazine, or, more exactly speaking, to recommend, in the form of medical advice, all the cosmetics, depilatories, elixirs, dyes, essences, oils, creams, soaps, pomades, toothpowders, rouges, and also all the chemists' specialties, to which their inventors wished to give an authority that the public, which believes itself acute, refused to the simple advertisement on the last page. With his ambition and the career before him, he would never have consented to carry on this correspondence under his own name. He did it for a neighboring doctor, a simple man, who was not so cautious, and who signed his name to these letters, glad to get clients from any quarter. For his trouble, Saniel took this doctor's place during Sunday in summer, and from time to time received a box of perfumery or quack medicines, which he sold at a low price when occasion offered.
Every week he received the list of cosmetics and specialties that he must make use of in his correspondence, no matter how he recommended them, whether in answer to letters that were really addressed to him, or by inventing questions that gave him the opportunity to introduce them.
He began to consult this list and the pile of letters from subscribers that the magazine had sent him, when the doorbell rang. Perhaps it was a patient, the good patient whom he had expected for four years. He left his desk to open the door.
It was his coal man, who came with his bill.
"I will stop some day when I am near you," Saniel said. "I am in a hurry this evening."
"And I am in a hurry, too; I must pay a large bill tomorrow, and I count upon having some money from you."
"I have no money here."
After a long talk he got rid of the man and returned to his desk. He had answered but a few of the many letters when his bell rang again. This time he would not open the door; it was a creditor, without doubt. And he continued his correspondence.
But for four years he had waited for chance to draw him a good ticket in the lottery of life--a rich patient afflicted with a cyst or a tumor that he would take to a fashionable surgeon, who would divide with him the ten or fifteen thousand francs that he would receive for the operation. In that case he would be saved.
He ran to the door. The patient with the cyst presented himself in the form of a small bearded man with a red face, wearing over his vest the wine-merchant's apron of coarse black cloth. In fact, it was the wine merchant from the corner, who, having heard of the officer's visit, came to ask for the payment of his bill for furnishing wine for three months.
A scene similar to that which he had had with the coal merchant, but more violent, took place, and it was only by threatening to put him out of the door that Saniel got rid of the man, who went away declaring that he would come the next morning with an officer.
Saniel returned to his work.
His pen flew over the paper, when a noise made him raise his head. Either he had not closed the door tightly, or his servant was entering with his key. What did he want? He did not employ him all day, but only during his office hours, to put his rooms in order and to open the door for his clients.
As Saniel rose to go and see who it was, there was a knock at the door. It was his servant, with a blank and embarrassed air.
"What is the matter, Joseph?"
"I thought I should find you, sir, so I came."
Joseph hesitated; then, taking courage, he said volubly, while lowering his eyes:
"I came to ask, sir, if you will pay me my month, which expired on the fifteenth, because there is need of money at my house; if there was not need of money I would not have come. If you wish, sir, I will release you--"
"I will take the coat that you made me order a month ago; I am quite sure it is not worth what is due me, but it is always so."
"Take the coat."
Joseph took the coat from the wardrobe in the hall, and rolled it in a newspaper.
"Of course you will not expect me in the morning," he said, as he put his key on the table. "I must look out for another place."
"Very well, I shall not expect you."
And Joseph hurried away as quickly as possible.
Left alone, Saniel did not return to his work immediately, but throwing himself in an armchair he cast a melancholy glance around his office and through the open door into the parlor. In the faint light of the candle he saw the large armchairs methodically placed each side of the chimney, the curtains at the windows lost in shadow, and all the furniture which for four years had cost him so many efforts. He had long been the prisoner of this Louis XIV camlet, and he was now going to be executed. A beautiful affair, truly, brilliant and able! All this had been used only by the poor Auvergnats, without Saniel enjoying it at all, for he had neither the bourgeois taste for ornaments nor the desire for elegance. A movement of anger and revolt against himself made him strike his desk with his fist. What a fool he had been!
The bell rang again. This time, not expecting a rich patient, he would not open it. After a moment a slight tap was heard on the panel. He rose quickly and ran to open the door.
A woman threw herself into his arms.
"O my dearest! I am so glad to find you at home!"
A SWEET CONSOLER
She passed her arm about him and pressed him to her, and with arms entwined they entered the study.
"How glad I am!" she said. "What a good idea I had!"
With a quick movement she took off her long gray cloak that enveloped her from head to foot.
"And are you glad?" she asked, as she stood looking at him.
"Can you ask that?"
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