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Friend Patience
by [?]

What became of Leremy?”

“He is captain in the Sixth Dragoons.”

“And Pinson?”

“He’s a subprefect.”

“And Racollet?”

“Dead.”

We were searching for other names which would remind us of the youthful faces of our younger days. Once in a while we had met some of these old comrades, bearded, bald, married, fathers of several children, and the realization of these changes had given us an unpleasant shudder, reminding us how short life is, how everything passes away, how everything changes. My friend asked me:

“And Patience, fat Patience?”

I almost, howled:

“Oh! as for him, just listen to this. Four or five years ago I was in Limoges, on a tour of inspection, and I was waiting for dinner time. I was seated before the big cafe in the Place du Theatre, just bored to death. The tradespeople were coming by twos, threes or fours, to take their absinthe or vermouth, talking all the time of their own or other people’s business, laughing loudly, or lowering their voices in order to impart some important or delicate piece of news.

“I was saying to myself: ‘What shall I do after dinner?’ And I thought of the long evening in this provincial town, of the slow, dreary walk through unknown streets, of the impression of deadly gloom which these provincial people produce on the lonely traveller, and of the whole oppressive atmosphere of the place.

“I was thinking of all these things as I watched the little jets of gas flare up, feeling my loneliness increase with the falling shadows.

“A big, fat man sat down at the next table and called in a stentorian voice:

“‘Waiter, my bitters!’

“The ‘my’ came out like the report of a cannon. I immediately understood that everything was his in life, and not another’s; that he had his nature, by Jove, his appetite, his trousers, his everything, his, more absolutely and more completely than anyone else’s. Then he looked round him with a satisfied air. His bitters were brought, and he ordered:

“‘My newspaper!’

“I wondered: ‘Which newspaper can his be?’ The title would certainly reveal to me his opinions, his theories, his principles, his hobbies, his weaknesses.

“The waiter brought the Temps. I was surprised. Why the Temps, a serious, sombre, doctrinaire, impartial sheet? I thought:

“‘He must be a serious man with settled and regular habits; in short, a good bourgeois.’

“He put on his gold-rimmed spectacles, leaned back before beginning to read, and once more glanced about him. He noticed me, and immediately began to stare at me in an annoying manner. I was even going to ask the reason for this attention, when he exclaimed from his seat:

“‘Well, by all that’s holy, if this isn’t Gontran Lardois.’

“I answered:

“‘Yes, monsieur, you are not mistaken.’

“Then he quickly rose and came toward me with hands outstretched:

“‘Well, old man, how are you?’

“As I did not recognize him at all I was greatly embarrassed. I stammered:

“‘Why-very well-and-you?’

“He began to laugh “‘I bet you don’t recognize me.’

“‘No, not exactly. It seems–however–‘

“He slapped me on the back:

“‘Come on, no joking! I am Patience, Robert Patience, your friend, your chum.’

“I recognized him. Yes, Robert Patience, my old college chum. It was he. I took his outstretched hand:

“‘And how are you?’

“‘Fine!’

“His smile was like a paean of victory.

“He asked:

“‘What are you doing here?’

“I explained that I was government inspector of taxes.

“He continued, pointing to my red ribbon:

“‘Then you have-been a success?’

“I answered:

“‘Fairly so. And you?’

“‘I am doing well!’

“‘What are you doing?’

“‘I’m in business.’

“‘Making money?’

“‘Heaps. I’m very rich. But come around to lunch, to-morrow noon, 17 Rue du Coq-qui-Chante; you will see my place.’

“He seemed to hesitate a second, then continued:

“‘Are you still the good sport that you used to be?’

“‘I–I hope so.’

“‘Not married?’

“‘No.’

“‘Good. And do you still love a good time and potatoes?’

“I was beginning to find him hopelessly vulgar. Nevertheless, I answered “‘Yes.’