THE GALLEY-SLAVE OF PLEASURE
One morning in the month of May, 1879, a young man, elegantly attired, alighted from a well-appointed carriage before the door of Madame Desvarennes’s house. The young man passed quickly before the porter in uniform, decorated with a military medal, stationed near the door. The visitor found himself in an anteroom which communicated with several corridors. A messenger was seated in the depth of a large armchair, reading the newspaper, and not even lending an inattentive ear to the whispered conversation of a dozen canvassers, who were patiently awaiting their turn for gaining a hearing. On seeing the young man enter by the private door, the messenger rose, dropped his newspaper on the armchair, hastily raised his velvet skullcap, tried to smile, and made two steps forward.
“Good-morning, old Felix,” said the young man, in a friendly tone to the messenger. “Is my aunt within?”
“Yes, Monsieur Savinien, Madame Desvarennes is in her office; but she has been engaged for more than an hour with the Financial Secretary of the War Department.”
In uttering these words old Felix put on a mysterious and important air, which denoted how serious the discussions going on in the adjoining room seemed to his mind.
“You see,” continued he, showing Madame Desvarennes’s nephew the anteroom full of people, “madame has kept all these waiting since this morning, and perhaps she won’t see them.”
“I must see her though,” murmured the young man.
He reflected a moment, then added:
“Is Monsieur Marechal in?”
“Yes, sir, certainly. If you will allow me I will announce you.”
“It is unnecessary.”
And, stepping forward, he entered the office adjoining that of Madame Desvarennes.
Seated at a large table of black wood, covered with bundles of papers and notes, a young man was working. He was thirty years of age, but appeared much older. His prematurely bald forehead, and wrinkled brow, betokened a life of severe struggles and privations, or a life of excesses and pleasures. Still those clear and pure eyes were not those of a libertine, and the straight nose solidly joined to the face was that of a searcher. Whatever the cause, the man was old before his time.