like many of his fellow humans in this distressed and distressing modern age, georges groy, second clerk at m hobart's fine foods wholesale business, suffered most terribly from ennui.
on this particular morning his unfortunate condition was more pronounced than usual, and is often the case, for no particular reason. had there been a particular reason his anguish might have been eased, with the prospect of the particular reason being overcome or dealt with. but as the brotherhood and sisterhood of this dreadful malady know only too well, its very nebulousness is its most pitiless attribute.
under the circumstances the comtesse d'a...............'s bill, which m hobart had thrust upon him when he entered, was something of a blessing to him, as it would occupy at least a small portion of his mind.
it would also provide him with an excuse - not that he needed one - to ignore the murmurings and soft complaints of little paradin, the third and lowest ranking clerk in m hobart's establishment. that is, when paradin arrived, for he had not yet done so.
groy took his place upon his high stool and placed the comtesse's bill on the wide wooden counter before him. groy was somewhat above the average height, and forced to stoop uncomfortably over the counter, said counter being unfortunately too high to allow of his working standing up, as he had done in some of his previous clerkly employments.
the long counter he shared with the not yet arrived paradin was surmounted by two shelves divided into compartments of varying sizes, and from one of the centermost compartments he extracted a sheaf of papers on which were recorded the most recent entries to the accounts of the regular customers. after a period of two or three months, if these entries had been paid up and not challenged, they would be entered into the formidable main account book by m due, the chief clerk.
m due had, of course, already arrived and was working away placidly at his desk in the corner, a desk which, though of generous enough size, did not seem able to accomodate his considerable bulk in the comfort befitting his station. but he never complained, either of that or of anything else, thereby setting an example to which groy seemed to adhere but not paradin.
m due had ignored groy's entrance not from rudeness - for he was the mildest and most polite of men - but from the absorption - whether in dreams or in his ledgers, who could say? - which was his most pronounced characteristic.
at last he looked up, "ah, there you are, groy. a pleasant day. at least it promised to be when i arrived."
"it is indeed, monsieur. a very fine day indeed."
and with that, both turned back to their assigned tasks.
groy expected the establishment's copy of the comtesse de a-----------'s bill to be third from the top of the sheaf he had taken from the central compartment, beneath the bills for m alcide and madame andrus. and it indeed proved to be the bill third from the top, beneath those of m alcide and madame andrus. he put the remaining papers back into the compartment.
he now took the two copies of the bill - the copy he had just seized upon and the copy of the comtesse's copy which m hobart had bestowed upon him - and spread them side by side in front of him on the counter.
at this point in the proceedings he had one fearful thought - that the comtesse - actually of course the comtesse's major domo or factotum - might be disputing the receipt of an order of truffles.
his first glance at the company bill showed no truffles! a pang shot through him. but a quick perusal of the comtesse's bill also showed no truffles, and his beating heart subsided. truffles had not been ordered at all, whether the comtesse's establishment had intended to or not. the worst outcome - that they had been paid for but somehow lost in the procurement and delivery - was not to be visited upon him. he had been spared. all this - the paralysis of fear, the flood of relief - had transpired in a matter of a few seconds.
with his breathing and pulse back to normal, he studied the two bills in a rapid but calm manner. if truffles were not involved, things could not be too bad. he looked at the bottom of the comtesse's bill - the total had been struck through and a new total - lower by ten francs - had been inscribed in a small, neat hand. the head housekeeper's? no matter.
no doubt some item worth ten francs had not been delivered, or not been recorded as delivered. it would be replaced with m hobart's apologies. the delivery man, or boy, would be questioned. it was one of groy's duties to go down to the stock room, find, and question him. he would then report the result of his investigation to m due, who would issue a final and irrevocable judgment on the unfortunate porter - a docking of his pay, banishment, or if his stars were in perfect alignment, a stern warning.
another day at hobart's , wholesaler of fine foods.
suddenly a dark cloud settled on groy's brain. he waited for it to pass, but it did not pass.
as was his practice, he tried to think of something more pleasant. with the alacrity of a fly settling on a piece of fruit, his brain fixed on the scene he had briefly witnessed in the street outside the office, before entering.
the two drabs squabbling in the dust under the mildly amused stares of the eternal morning idlers - one of them he had probably passed a dozen times, but the other - so young, so young! and she had looked him in the eye - only for a second, true, but she had looked him in the eye. and what an eye she had had!
groy's experience of the fair sex was not commensurate with his fascination with it.
the young woman's green eye - surely it had been green, "purest cat's green" - swelled in his mind, driving away the black cloud, and leaving him on an even greener lawn, in front of a magnificent chateau, under a cloudless blue sky, with the young woman, now in a long white dress, with a fresh unpainted face, twirling a single red flower in her slender fingers and looking up at him with limitless gratitude for saving her from - from - -. here the fantasy faltered a bit, and groy's eye fell on the word's - "2 dozen english biscuits",and "1 lb corsican olives" in the center of the comtesse's copy of the bill.
he would continue the fantasy at his brief lunch period, or even later, in his clean little furnished room. a sidelong glance at m due's desk reassured him that he had not been caught in his daydream.
for what would m due, or m hobart, or his colleague paradin think, if they knew of the thoughts that drove through his brain like rain-laden clouds all day? little did he realize that all three - but especially "little paradin" - spent the large part of their days in similar reveries, but of a decidedly more savagely masculine nature.
"ah," he heard the voice of m due "there you are, paradin. i was beginning to worry about you."
this was m due's little joke. for paradin arrived exactly on time every day. the ability to do so seemed, to his fellows, to be his only distinguishing feature.