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The Breadwinner
by [?]

He wakes up in the morning from evil dreams of bills which have become due and copy which has not been delivered. His hair is damp with cold perspiration, and his cheeks tremble as he dresses himself. He listens to the chirruping of the children in the next room and plunges his burning face into cold water. He drinks the coffee which he has made himself, so as not to disturb the nursery maid at the early hour of eight o’clock. Then he makes his bed, brushes his clothes, and sits down to write.

The fever attacks him, the fever which is to create hallucinations of rooms he has never seen, landscapes which never existed, people whose names cannot be found in the directory. He sits at his writing table in mortal anguish. His thoughts must be clear, pregnant and picturesque, his writing legible, the story dramatic; the interest must never abate, the metaphors must be striking, the dialogue brilliant. The faces of those automata, the public, whose brains he is to wind up, are grinning at him; the critics whose good-will he must enlist, stare at him through the spectacles of envy; he is haunted by the gloomy face of the publisher, which it is his task to brighten. He sees the jurymen sitting round the black table in the centre of which lies a Bible; he hears the sound of the opening of prison doors behind which free-thinkers are suffering for the crime of having thought bold thoughts for the benefit of the sluggards; he listens to the noiseless footfall of the hotel porter who is coming with the bill….

And all the while the fever is raging and his pen flies, flies over the paper without a moment’s delay at the vision of publisher or jurymen, leaving in its track red lines as of congealed blood which slowly turn to black.

When he rises from his chair, after a couple of hours, he has only enough strength left to stumble across the room. He sinks down on his bed and lies there as if Death held him in his clutches. It is not invigorating sleep which has closed his eyes, but a stupor, a long fainting fit during which he remains conscious, tortured by the horrible thought that his strength is gone, his nervous system shattered, his brain empty.

A ring at the bell of the private hotel! Voila le facteur! The mail has arrived.

He rouses himself and staggers out of his room. A pile of letters is handed to him. Proofs which must be read at once; a book from a young author, begging for a candid criticism: a paper containing a controversial article to which he must reply without delay, a request for a contribution to an almanac, an admonishing letter from his publisher. How can an invalid cope with it all?

In the meantime the children’s nurse has got up and dressed the children, drunk the coffee made for her in the hotel kitchen, and eaten the rolls spread with honey which have been sent up for her. After breakfast she takes a stroll in the park.

At one o’clock the bell rings for luncheon. All the guests are assembled in the dining-room. He, too, is there, sitting at the table by himself.

“Where is your wife?” he is asked on all sides.

“I don’t know,” he replies.

“What a brute!” is the comment of the ladies, who are still in their morning gowns.

The entrance of his wife interrupts the progress of the meal, and the hungry guests who have been punctual are kept waiting for the second course.

The ladies enquire anxiously whether his, wife has slept well and feels refreshed? Nobody asks him how he feels. There is no need to enquire.

“He looks like a corpse,” says one of the ladies.

And she is right.

“Dissipation,” says another.

But that is anything but true. He takes no part in the conversation, for he has nothing to say to these women. But his wife talks for two. While he swallows his food, his ears are made to listen to rich praise of all that is base, and vile abuse of all that is noble and good.