PIERRE DUMIAN SAT AT A TABLE in the Cafe Sigognac, sipping a glass of vichy and reading an article in L’Avenir.
From time to time he gave an impatient grunt, which occasionally reached an audible ejaculation as his eye met a phrase particularly displeasing.
Finally he tossed the paper onto the chair at his side and, placing his elbows on the table and his chin in his hands, gazed steadily at his empty glass with an air of deep disgust.
Pierre never felt very well in the morning.
True to his calling, he was always more or less uneasy in the sunlight; besides, one must pay for one’s indiscretions.
But on this particular morning he was more than uncomfortable: he was in genuine distress.
He was pondering over a real misfortune.
What an ass he had been!
Surely he had been insane. Nothing less could account for it.
He cast a glance at the newspaper, extended his hand toward it, then nervously resumed his former position.
The thing was absurd—absolutely absurd.
How could it have been taken seriously?
He would write an apology—a correction.
But no, that was no longer possible. Decidedly, he must see it through; there was his reputation.
Well, for the future he would be careful—very careful. He would be more than circumspect: he would be absolutely polite.
What a horrible thought!
Perhaps there would be no future?
Perhaps this would be his last?
This was too much for Pierre’s excited nerves.
He straightened himself in his chair, muttered an oath half-aloud, and called to a waiter for another glass of vichy.
It was at this moment that he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard a voice at his side.
Turning, he beheld Bernstein, of Le Matin.
I congratulate you, my friend,” he was saying.
Pierre was on his guard instantly.
So the story had already gotten around! Clearly, there was no way out of it.
With an effort he forced an easy smile, glanced meaningly around the half-filled room, and with a gesture invited the newcomer to be seated.
Bernstein, noticing the glass which the waiter was placing before Pierre, elevated his brows and shrugged his shoulders.
“Nerves?” he inquired pleasantly.
Pierre resented the implication, mainly because it was true.
He grunted a negative, lifted the glass and drained its contents, then spoke in a tone of indifference.
“It is necessary to take care of myself.
I expect to need—but perhaps you don’t know.
Why did you congratulate me?”
Bernstein winked slyly.
“Ah! But, my friend, it is useless. The whole world knows it.
Over at Lampourde’s they are already laying wagers, and at the office the talk is of nothing else.
They all envy you.
Or, at least, they would envy you if—” Bernstein hesitated and looked at Pierre curiously.
“Well?” said Pierre, with an attempt at lightness.
“Nothing,” said the other quickly.
“For, as to that, life itself is a gamble. We must take our chances. And what courage! What glory! What fame!
Why, my friend, on the day after tomorrow you can go to old Lispenard and say to him:
‘Henceforth I shall expect a thousand francs each for my signed articles.’
And what can he do?
That is, of course, if you can go to him at all.”
Pierre laughed contemptuously.