Weary of the advances and the facile intimacies of artists, Durtal had been attracted by this man’s fastidious reserve. It was perfectly natural that Durtal, surfeited with skin-deep friendships, should feel drawn to Des Hermies, but it was difficult to imagine why Des Hermies, with his taste for strange associations, should take a liking to Durtal, who was the soberest, steadiest, most normal of men. Perhaps Des Hermies felt the need of talking with a sane human being now and then as a relief. And, too, the literary discussions which he loved were out of the question with these addlepates who monologued indefatigably on the subject of their monomania and their ego.
At odds, like Durtal, with his confreres, Des Hermies could expect nothing from the physicians, whom he avoided, nor from the specialists with whom he consorted.
As a matter of fact there had been a juncture of two beings whose situation was almost identical. At first restrained and on the defensive, they had come finally to tu-toi each other and establish a relation which had been a great advantage to Durtal. His family were dead, the friends of his youth married and scattered, and since his withdrawal from the world of letters he had been reduced to complete solitude. Des Hermies kept him from going stale and then, finding that Durtal had not lost all interest in mankind, promised to introduce him to a really lovable old character. Of this man Des Hermies spoke much, and one day he said, “You really ought to know him. He likes the books of yours which I have lent him, and he wants to meet you. You think I am interested only in obscure and twisted natures. Well, you will find Carhaix really unique. He is the one Catholic with intelligence and without sanctimoniousness; the one poor man with envy and hatred for none.”
Durtal was in a situation familiar to all bachelors who have the concierge do their cleaning. Only these know how a tiny lamp can fairly drink up oil, and how the contents of a bottle of cognac can become paler and weaker without ever diminishing. They know, too, how a once comfortable bed can become forbidding, and how scrupulously a concierge can respect its least fold or crease. They learn to be resigned and to wash out a glass when they are thirsty and make their own fire when they are cold.
Durtal’s concierge was an old man with drooping moustache and a powerful breath of “three-six.” Indolent and placid, he opposed an unbudgeable inertia to Durtal’s frantic and profanely expressed demand that the sweeping be done at the same hour every morning.
Threats, prayers, insults, the withholding of gratuities, were without effect. Pere Rateau took off his cap, scratched his head, promised, in the tone of a man much moved, to mend his ways, and next day came later than ever.
“What a nuisance!” thought Durtal today, as he heard a key turning in the lock, then he looked at his watch and observed that once again the concierge was arriving after three o’clock in the afternoon.