A Consultation

In the beginning of last autumn, among the people assembled in Doctor Magnan’s waiting room there was a man of about forty, fair-haired, lank, livid, a little bent, in a word with so sickly an aspect that it would have been enough to look at him, to guess that this was a doctor’s office. When he came in, this puny individual sat himself down with a careworn expression in a corner: he stayed there patiently until all the other patients had been interviewed by the doctor, who, after giving his last consultation, came towards him with a cordial smile.

‘Good-day, Bouchereau,’ said the doctor, ‘a thousand apologies for having kept you waiting so long: you know that my time belongs in the first place to my patients, and I hope you haven’t any claim to that title?’

‘The soul’s sufferings are worse than the body’s,’ the man answered stifling a sigh.

‘What’s the matter?’ inquired the doctor. ‘You are all upset! Can it be Madame Bouchereau who is ill?’

‘My wife has a cast-iron constitution,’ replied Bouchereau, and he accompanied those words with a smile full of bitterness.

‘Then tell me the cause of the agitation I see you in. It’s an affair of the soul, did you say? If you don’t speak, how do you think I can guess what passes in your soul? Let’s see: what use can I be?’

‘My dear doctor,’ answered the other, sitting down with an air of dejection, ‘we have known each other for more than twenty years. I look on you as one of my best friends, and I have a boundless confidence in you.’

‘Let’s leave out the compliments.’

‘They are not compliments: I am speaking my inmost thoughts. Besides, the strange confession that I have resolved to make to you will bear witness of the esteem I have for your character.’

‘Let’s get on to the facts,’ said the doctor, with a little impatience.

‘The fact is a sad one for me, and it may even appear ridiculous: that’s why I am hesitating to broach it; but, first promise me to reveal to nobody in the world what I am going to tell you.’

‘The secret of the confessional is as sacred for a doctor as for a priest,’ said Dr. Magnan in a serious voice.

Bouchereau sighed again, then bit his lips and raised his eyes to the ceiling.

‘You know Pelletier?’ he said at last, watching the man he was speaking to mournfully.

‘The captain of the general staff? That’s all I know. A sanguine temperament, a short neck, more shoulders than brains, the organization of an ox! I predicted long ago that he’d die of apoplexy.’

‘God grant it!’

‘You astound me: I thought you were friends.’

‘Friends!’ repeated Bouchereau, and indignation was mixed with irony in his voice.

‘What the blazes! Speak clearly or not at all. I am not an Oedipus to guess your riddles.’

The impatience that gleamed in the doctor’s black eyes prevented his suffering friend from avoiding the main point of the confession any longer.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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