"Villa Jolie, Cannes.
"DEAR SIR AND FRIEND,--You told me, did you not, that I could reckon upon you for anything?
Well, I have a very painful service to ask of you; it is to come and help me, so that I may not be left alone during the last moments of Charles, who is dying.
He may not last out the week, as the doctor has forewarned me, although he has not yet taken to his bed.
I have no longer strength nor courage to witness this hourly death, and I think with terror of those last moments which are drawing near.
I can only ask such a service of you, as my husband has no relatives.
You were his comrade; he opened the door of the paper to you.
Come, I beg of you; I have no one else to ask.
"Believe me, your very sincere friend,
A strange feeling filled George's heart, a sense of freedom and of a space opening before him, and he murmured:
"To be sure, I'll go.
What are we, after all?"
The governor, to whom he read the letter, grumblingly granted permission, repeating:
"But be back soon, you are indispensable to us."
George left for Cannes next day by the seven o'clock express, after letting the Marelles know of his departure by a telegram.
He arrived the following evening about four o'clock.
A commissionaire guided him to the Villa Jolie, built half-way up the slope of the pine forest clothed with white houses, which extends from Cannes to the Golfe Juan.
The house--small, low, and in the Italian style--was built beside the road which winds zig-zag fashion up through the trees, revealing a succession of charming views at every turning it makes.
The man servant opened the door, and exclaimed: "Oh! Sir, madame is expecting you most impatiently."
"How is your master?" inquired Duroy.
"Not at all well, sir.
He cannot last much longer."
The drawing-room, into which George was shown, was hung with pink and blue chintz.
The tall and wide windows overlooked the town and the sea.
Duroy muttered: "By Jove, this is nice and swell for a country house.
Where the deuce do they get the money from?"
The rustle of a dress made him turn round.
Madame Forestier held out both hands to him.
"How good of you to come, how good of you to come," said she.
And suddenly she kissed him on the cheek.
Then they looked at one another.
She was somewhat paler and thinner, but still fresh-complexioned, and perhaps still prettier for her additional delicacy.
She murmured: "He is dreadful, do you know; he knows that he is doomed, and he leads me a fearful life.
But where is your portmanteau?"
"I have left it at the station, not knowing what hotel you would like me to stop at in order to be near you."
She hesitated a moment, and then said: "You must stay here.
Besides, your room is all ready.
He might die at any moment, and if it were to happen during the night I should be alone.
I will send for your luggage."
He bowed, saying:
"As you please."
"Now let us go upstairs," she said.
He followed her.
She opened a door on the first floor, and Duroy saw, wrapped in rugs and seated in an armchair near the window, a kind of living corpse, livid even under the red light of the setting sun, and looking towards him.
He scarcely recognized, but rather guessed, that it was his friend.
The room reeked of fever, medicated drinks, ether, tar, the nameless and oppressive odor of a consumptive's sick room.
Forestier held out his hand slowly and with difficulty.
"So here you are; you have come to see me die, then!