Chapter III. 3
Doctor Magiot gave me dinner that night at his own home, and in addition he gave me a great deal of good advice which I was unwise enough to discount because I thought he might perhaps have an idea of obtaining the hotel for another client.
It was the one share he possessed in my mother´s company which made me suspicious even though I held the signed transfer.
He lived on the lower slopes of Petionville in a house of three storeys like a miniature version of my own hotel with its tower and its lace-work balconies. In the garden grew a dry spiky Norfolk pine, like an illustration in a Victorian novel, and the only modem object in the room, where we sat after dinner, was the telephone: It was like an oversight in a museum-arrangement. The heavy drape of the scarlet curtains, the woollen cloths on the occasional tables with bobbles at each corner, the china objects on the chimney-piece that included two dogs with the same gentle gaze as Doctor Magiot´s, the portraits of the doctor´s parents (coloured photographs mounted on mauve silk in oval frames), the pleated screen in the unnecessary fireplace, spoke of another age; the literary works in a glass-fronted bookcase (Doctor Magiot kept his professional works in his consulting-room) were bound in old-fashioned calf. I examined them while he was out ´washing his hands,´ as he put it in polite English. There were Les Miserables in three volumes, Les Mysteres de Paris with the last volume missing, several of Gaboriau´s romans policiers, Renan´s Vie de Jesus, and rather surprisingly among its companions Marx´s Capital rebound in exactly the same calf so that it was indistinguishable at a distance from Les Miserables. The lamp at Doctor Magiot´s elbow had a pink glass shade, and quite wisely, for even in those days the electric-current was erratic, it was oil-burning.
´You really intend,´ Doctor Magiot asked me, ´to take over the hotel?´
´Why not? I have a little experience of restaurant-work. I can see great possibilities of improvement. My mother was not catering for the luxury-trade.´ ´The luxury-trade?´ Doctor Magiot repeated. ´I think you can hardly depend on that here.´
´Some hotels do.´
´The good years will not always continue. Not very long now and there will be the elections .. .´
´It doesn´t make much difference, does it, who wins?´
´Not for the poor. But to the tourist perhaps.´ He put a flowered saucer upon the table beside me - an ash-tray would have been out of period in this room where no one had ever smoked in the old days. He handled the saucer carefully, as though it were of precious porcelain. He was very big and very black, but he possessed great gentleness _ he would never ill-treat, I felt sure, even an inanimate object, such as a recalcitrant chair. Nothing can be more inconsiderate to a man of Doctor Magiot´s profession than a telephone. But when it rang once during our conversation he lifted the receiver as gently as he would have raised a patient´s wrist.
´You have heard,´ Doctor Magiot said, ´of the Emperor Christophe?´
´Those days could return very easily. More cruelly perhaps and certainly more ignobly. God save us from a little Christophe.´
´Nobody could afford to frighten away the American tourists. You need the dollars.´
´When you know us better, you will realize that we don´t live on money here, we I ive on debts. You can always afford to kill a creditor, but no one ever kills a debtor.´
´Whom do you fear?´
´I fear a small country-doctor. His name would mean nothing to you now. I only hope you don´t see it one day stuck up in electric-lights over the city. If that day comes I promise yOU I shall run to cover.´ It was Doctor Magiot´s first mistaken prophecy. He underrated his own stubbornness or his own courage. Otherwise I would not have been waiting for him later beside the dry swimming-pool where the ex-Minister lay still as a hunk of beef in a butcher´s shop.