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The Mask
by [?]

“Very,” agreed the doctor, who was beginning to be highly amused.

She added: “And if you had known him when he was twenty-five! But we must get him to bed, otherwise the drink will make him sick. Do you mind drawing off that sleeve? Higher-like that-that’s right. Now the trousers. Wait, I will take his shoes off–that’s right. Now, hold him upright while I open the bed. There–let us put him in. If you think that he is going to disturb himself when it is time for me to get in you are mistaken. I have to find a little corner any place I can. That doesn’t bother him! Bah! You old pleasure seeker!”

As soon as he felt himself stretched out in his sheets the old man closed his eyes, opened them closed them again, and over his whole face appeared an energetic resolve to sleep. The doctor examined him with an ever- increasing interest and asked: “Does he go to all the fancy balls and try to be a young man?” “To all of them, monsieur, and he comes back to me in the morning in a deplorable condition. You see, it’s regret that leads him on and that makes him put a pasteboard face over his own. Yes, the regret of no longer being what he was and of no longer making any conquests!”

He was sleeping now and beginning to snore. She looked at him with a pitying expression and continued: “Oh! how many conquests that man has made! More than one could believe, monsieur, more than the finest gentlemen of the world, than all the tenors and all the generals.”

“Really? What did he do?”

“Oh! it will surprise you at first, as you did not know him in his palmy days. When I met him it was also at a ball, for he has always frequented them. As soon as I saw him I was caught–caught like a fish on a hook. Ah! how pretty he was, monsieur, with his curly raven locks and black eyes as large as saucers! Indeed, he was good looking! He took me away that evening and I never have left him since, never, not even for a day, no matter what he did to me! Oh! he has often made it hard for me!”

The doctor asked: “Are you married?”

She answered simply: “Yes, monsieur, otherwise he would have dropped me as he did the others. I have been his wife and his servant, everything, everything that he wished. How he has made me cry–tears which I did not show him; for he would tell all his adventures to me–to me, monsieur– without understanding how it hurt me to listen.”

“But what was his business?”

“That’s so. I forgot to tell you. He was the foreman at Martel’s–a foreman such as they never had had–an artist who averaged ten francs an hour.”

“Martel?–who is Martel?”

“The hairdresser, monsieur, the great hairdresser of the Opera, who had all the actresses for customers. Yes, sir, all the smartest actresses had their hair dressed by Ambrose and they would give him tips that made a fortune for him. Ah! monsieur, all the women are alike, yes, all of them. When a man pleases their fancy they offer themselves to him. It is so easy–and it hurt me so to hear about it. For he would tell me everything–he simply could not hold his tongue–it was impossible. Those things please the men so much! They seem to get even more enjoyment out of telling than doing.

“When I would see him coming in the evening, a little pale, with a pleased look and a bright eye, would say to myself: ‘One more. I am sure that he has caught one more.’ Then I felt a wild desire to question him and then, again, not to know, to stop his talking if he should begin. And we would look at each other.