“I am sorry, but”—the Latin shrug—“that is—that is not possible.”
“Have I ever seen your wife? She’s not a tallish, slender young-----?”
“No, my wife is neither. She’s never in the street or shop. She has no longer the cap-acity. She’s become so extraordinarily un-slender that the only way she can come down-stair’ is backward. You’ll see. Well,”—he waved—“till then—ah, a word: my close bargaining—I must explain you that—in confidence. ’Tis because my wife and me we are anxious to get every picayune we can get for the owners—of that manuscript.”
Chester thought to be shrewd: “Oh! is she hard up? the owner?”
“The owners are three,” Castanado calmly said, “and two dip-end on the earnings of a third.” He bowed himself away.
A few hours later Chester received from him a note begging indefinite postponement of the evening appointment. Mme. Castanado had fever and probably la grippe.
Early one day some two weeks after the foregoing incident the young lawyer came out of his pension francaise, opposite his office, and stood a moment in thought. In those two weeks he had not again seen Mr. Castanado.
Once more it was scant half past eight. He looked across to the windows of his office and of one bare third-story sleeping-room over it. Eloquent windows! Their meanness reminded him anew how definitely he had chosen not merely the simple but the solitary life. Yet now he turned toward Royal Street. But at the third or fourth step he faced about toward Chartres. The distance to the courthouse was the same either way, and its entrances were alike on both streets.
Thought he as he went the Chartres Street way: “If I go one more time by way of Royal I shall owe an abject apology, and yet to try to offer it would only make the matter worse.”
He went grimly, glad to pay this homage of avoidance which would have been more to his credit paid a week or so earlier. His frequent failure to pay it had won him, each time, a glimpse of her and an itching fear that prying eyes were on him inside other balconied windows besides those of the unslender Mme. Castanado.
Temptation is a sly witch. Down at Conti Street, on the court-house’s upper riverside corner, he paused to take in the charm of one of the most picturesque groups of old buildings in the vieux carre. But there, to gather in all the effect, one must turn, sooner or later, and include the upper side of Conti Street from Chartres to Royal; and as Chester did so, yonder, once more, coming from Bourbon and turning from Conti into Royal, there she was again, the avoided one!