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PAGE 2

The Drunkard
by [?]

Jeremie, his collar unbuttoned, was taking drunkard’s poses, one leg outstretched, one arm hanging down and in the other hand holding a domino.

They were alone now with the owner, who had come up to them, interested.

He asked:

“Well, Jeremie, how goes it inside? Feel less thirsty after wetting your throat?”

Jeremie muttered:

“The more I wet it, the drier it gets inside.”

The innkeeper cast a sly glance at Mathurin. He said:

“And your brother, Mathurin, where’s he now?”

The sailor laughed silently:

“Don’t worry; he’s warm, all right.”

And both of them looked toward Jeremie, who was triumphantly putting down the double six and announcing:

“Game!”

Then the owner declared:

“Well, boys, I’m goin’ to bed. I will leave you the lamp and the bottle; there’s twenty cents’ worth in it. Lock the door when you go, Mathurin, and slip the key under the mat the way you did the other night.”

Mathurin answered:

“Don’t worry; it’ll be all right.”

Paumelle shook hands with his two customers and slowly went up the wooden stairs. For several minutes his heavy step echoed through the little house. Then a loud creaking announced that he had got into bed.

The two men continued to play. From time to time a more violent gust of wind would shake the whole house, and the two drinkers would look up, as though some one were about to enter. Then Mathurin would take the bottle and fill Jeremie’s glass. But suddenly the clock over the bar struck twelve. Its hoarse clang sounded like the rattling of saucepans. Then Mathurin got up like a sailor whose watch is over.

“Come on, Jeremie, we’ve got to get out.”

The other man rose to his feet with difficulty, got his balance by leaning on the table, reached the door and opened it while his companion was putting out the light.

As soon as they were in the street Mathurin locked the door and then said:

“Well, so long. See you to-morrow night!”

And he disappeared in the darkness.

Jeremie took a few steps, staggered, stretched out his hands, met a wall which supported him and began to stumble along. From time to time a gust of wind would sweep through the street, pushing him forward, making him run for a few steps; then, when the wind would die down, he would stop short, having lost his impetus, and once more he would begin to stagger on his unsteady drunkard’s legs.

He went instinctively toward his home, just as birds go to their nests. Finally he recognized his door, and began to feel about for the keyhole and tried to put the key in it. Not finding the hole, he began to swear. Then he began to beat on the door with his fists, calling for his wife to come and help him:

“Melina! Oh, Melina!”

As he leaned against the door for support, it gave way and opened, and Jeremie, losing his prop, fell inside, rolling on his face into the middle of his room, and he felt something heavy pass over him and escape in the night.

He was no longer moving, dazed by fright, bewildered, fearing the devil, ghosts, all the mysterious beings of darkness, and he waited a long time without daring to move. But when he found out that nothing else was moving, a little reason returned to him, the reason of a drunkard.

Gently he sat up. Again he waited a long time, and at last, growing bolder, he called:

“Melina!”

His wife did not answer.

Then, suddenly, a suspicion crossed his darkened mind, an indistinct, vague suspicion. He was not moving; he was sitting there in the dark, trying to gather together his scattered wits, his mind stumbling over incomplete ideas, just as his feet stumbled along.

Once more he asked:

“Who was it, Melina? Tell me who it was. I won’t hurt you!”

He waited, no voice was raised in the darkness. He was now reasoning with himself out loud.