“Mmmm,” said Durtal, who was now in front of his door. “Since anything can be maintained and nothing is certain, succubacy has it. Basically it is more literary—and cleaner—than positivism.”
The day was long and hard to kill. Waking at dawn, full of thoughts of Mme. Chantelouve, he could not stay in one place, and kept inventing excuses for going out. He had no cakes, bonbons, and exotic liqueurs, and one must not be without all the little essentials when expecting a visit from a woman. He went by the longest route to the avenue de l’Opera to buy fine essences of cedar and of that alkermes which makes the person tasting it think he is in an Oriental pharmaceutic laboratory. “The idea is,” he said, “not so much to treat Hyacinthe as to astound her by giving her a sip of an unknown elixir.”
He came back laden with packages, then went out again, and in the street was assailed by an immense ennui. After an interminable tour of the quays he finally tumbled into a beer hall. He fell on a bench and opened a newspaper.
What was he thinking as he sat, not reading but just looking at the police news? Nothing, not even of her. From having revolved the same matter over and over again and again his mind had reached a deadlock and refused to function. Durtal merely found himself very tired, very drowsy, as one in a warm bath after a night of travel.
“I must go home pretty soon,” he said when he could collect himself a little, “for Pere Rateau certainly has not cleaned house in the thorough fashion which I commanded, and of course I don’t want the furniture to be covered with dust. Six o’clock. Suppose I dine, after a fashion, in some not too unreliable place.”
He remembered a nearby restaurant where he had eaten before without a great deal of dread. He chewed his way laboriously through an extremely dead fish, then through a piece of meat, flabby and cold; then he found a very few lentils, stiff with insecticide, beneath a great deal of sauce; finally he savoured some ancient prunes, whose juice smelt of mould and was at the same time aquatic and sepulchral.
Back in his apartment, he lighted fires in his bedroom and in his study, then he inspected everything. He was not mistaken. The concierge had upset the place with the same brutality, the same haste, as customarily. However, he must have tried to wash the windows, because the glass was streaked with finger marks.
Durtal effaced the imprints with a damp cloth, smoothed out the folds in the carpet, drew the curtains, and put the bookcases in order after dusting them with a napkin. Everywhere he found grains of tobacco, trodden cigarette ashes, pencil sharpenings, pen points eaten with rust. He also found cocoons of cat fur and crumpled bits of rough draft manuscript which had been whirled into all corners by the furious sweeping.