Friend Patience by Guy de Maupassant
What became of Leremy?"
"He is captain in the Sixth Dragoons."
"He's a subprefect."
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
"'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:
"I wondered: 'Which newspaper can his be?' The title would certainly
reveal to me his opinions, his theories, his principles, his hobbies, his
"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.'
"'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.
"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
"I recognized him. Yes, Robert Patience, my old college chum. It was
he. I took his outstretched hand:
"'And how are you?'
"His smile was like a paean of victory.
"'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?'
"'Fairly so. And you?'
"'I am doing well!'
"'What are you doing?'
"'I'm in business.'
"'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.'
"'Good. And do you still love a good time and potatoes?'
"I was beginning to find him hopelessly vulgar. Nevertheless, I answered
"'And pretty girls?'
"He began to laugh good-humoredly.
"'Good, good! Do you remember our first escapade, in Bordeaux, after
that dinner at Routie's? What a spree!'
"I did, indeed, remember that spree; and the recollection of it cheered
me up. This called to mind other pranks. He would say:
"'Say, do you remember the time when we locked the proctor up in old man
"And he laughed and banged the table with his fist, and then he
"'Yes-yes-yes-and do you remember the face of the geography teacher,
M. Marin, the day we set off a firecracker in the globe, just as he was
haranguing about the principal volcanoes of the earth?'
"Then suddenly I asked him:
"'And you, are you married?'
"'Ten years, my boy, and I have four children, remarkable youngsters; but
you'll see them and their mother.'
"We were talking rather loud; the people around us looked at us in
"Suddenly my friend looked at his watch, a chronometer the size of a
pumpkin, and he cried:
"'Thunder! I'm sorry, but I'll have to leave you; I am never free at
"He rose, took both my hands, shook them as though he were trying to
wrench my arms from their sockets, and exclaimed:
"'So long, then; till to-morrow noon!'
"I spent the morning working in the office of the collector-general of
the Department. The chief wished me to stay to luncheon, but I told him
that I had an engagement with a friend. As he had to go out, he
"I asked him:
"'Can you tell me how I can find the Rue du Coq-qui-Chante?'
"'Yes, it's only five minutes' walk from here. As I have nothing special
to do, I will take you there.'
"We started out and soon found ourselves there. It was a wide, fine-
looking street, on the outskirts of the town. I looked at the houses and
I noticed No. 17. It was a large house with a garden behind it. The
facade, decorated with frescoes, in the Italian style, appeared to me as
being in bad taste. There were goddesses holding vases, others swathed
in clouds. Two stone cupids supported the number of the house.
"I said to the treasurer:
"'Here is where I am going.'
"I held my hand out to him. He made a quick, strange gesture, said
nothing and shook my hand.
"I rang. A maid appeared. I asked:
"'Monsieur Patience, if you please?'
"'Right here, sir. Is it to monsieur that you wish to speak?'
"The hall was decorated with paintings from the brush of some local
artist. Pauls and Virginias were kissing each other under palm trees
bathed in a pink light. A hideous Oriental lantern was ranging from the
ceiling. Several doors were concealed by bright hangings.
"But what struck me especially was the odor. It was a sickening and
perfumed odor, reminding one of rice powder and the mouldy smell of a
cellar. An indefinable odor in a heavy atmosphere as oppressive as that
of public baths. I followed the maid up a marble stairway, covered with
a green, Oriental carpet, and was ushered into a sumptubus parlor.
"Left alone, I looked about me.
"The room was richly furnished, but in the pretentious taste of a
parvenu. Rather fine engravings of the last century represented women
with powdered hair dressed high surprised by gentlemen in interesting
positions. Another lady, lying in a large bed, was teasing with her foot
a little dog, lost in the sheets. One drawing showed four feet, bodies
concealed behind a curtain. The large room, surrounded by soft couches,
was entirely impregnated with that enervating and insipid odor which I
had already noticed. There seemed to be something suspicious about the
walls, the hangings, the exaggerated luxury, everything.
"I approached the window to look into the garden. It was very big,
shady, beautiful. A wide path wound round a grass plot in the midst of
which was a fountain, entered a shrubbery and came out farther away.
And, suddenly, yonder, in the distance, between two clumps of bushes,
three women appeared. They were walking slowly, arm in arm, clad in
long, white tea-gowns covered with lace. Two were blondes and the other
was dark-haired. Almost immediately they disappeared again behind the
trees. I stood there entranced, delighted with this short and charming
apparition, which brought to my mind a whole world of poetry. They had
scarcely allowed themselves to be seen, in just the proper light, in that
frame of foliage, in the midst of that mysterious, delightful park. It
seemed to me that I had suddenly seen before me the great ladies of the
last century, who were depicted in the engravings on the wall. And I
began to think of the happy, joyous, witty and amorous times when manners
were so graceful and lips so approachable.
"A deep voice male me jump. Patience had come in, beaming, and held out
his hands to me.
"He looked into my eyes with the sly look which one takes when divulging
secrets of love, and, with a Napoleonic gesture, he showed me his
sumptuous parlor, his park, the three women, who had reappeared in the
back of it, then, in a triumphant voice, where the note of pride was
prominent, he said:
"'And to think that I began with nothing--my wife and my sister-in-law!'"