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When Esther rang the bell of Numéro 86 Route de Grasse, she felt within her that pleasant sort of stage-fright—a mixture of dread and exhilaration—which one is apt to experience when venturing into the unknown. The thrill might be out of all proportion to the prosaic character of her mission—for what is there exciting in applying for a post as a doctor's assistant?—yet there was no gainsaying the fact that when this door confronting her opened, anything, everything, might happen. That is the way Youth regards things.

"Opportunity—a door open in front of one." So in earlier years her Latin teacher had dilated on the inner meaning of the word. Esther smiled reminiscently and congratulated herself that she was not going tamely back to her work in America, choosing instead, when she found a door open, to enter and explore on the other side.

Numéro 86 was a conventional and dignified villa, noncommittal in appearance, like a hundred others. Clean windows blinked in the sunshine, the doorstep was chalky white, the brass plate on the lintel glittered with the inscription, "Gregory Sartorius, M.D." Beside the gate a mimosa shook out its yellow plumage against the sky. Mimosa—in February! … New York, reflected Esther, was in the clutch of a blizzard. She could picture it now, with its stark ice-ribbed streets, its towering buildings, a mausoleum of frozen stone and dirty snow. As for flowers—why, even a spray of that mimosa in a frosty florist's window would be absurdly expensive; one would pay…

"Vous désirez, mademoiselle?"

She turned with a start to find the door open, framing the squat figure of a man-servant, a brigand in appearance, French of the Midi; black hair grew low on his forehead; his beetling brows met over sullen shiny eyes which scanned her with a hostile gaze. Diffidently she mustered her all-too-scanty French.

"Est-ce Monsieur le docteur est chez lui?" she ventured, hoping for the best.

To her relief the brigand broke into a friendly smile.

"Mademoiselle come about job?" he replied in English. "Yes, come this way, please."

He led the way through an entrance hall into a large salon of chill and gloomy aspect.

"Take a seat," he bade her, grinning cheerfully. "I go tell doctor."

The salon was plainly a reception-room for patients. Looking about, Esther wondered why physicians' reception-rooms were invariably so uninviting, so lacking in personality. This one was particularly drab and cold, though she could not say that it was shabby or in more than usual bad taste. It was furnished in nondescript French style, a mixture of periods, with heavy olive-green curtains at the windows shutting out most of the light, and pale cotton brocade on the modern Louis Seize chairs. A plaster bust of Voltaire on the mantel-piece was flanked by Louis Philippe candlesticks, the whole reflected in a gilt-framed mirror extending to the ceiling. Across the middle of the room stretched a reproduction Louis Quinze table with ormolu mounts, and on it were stacked regular piles of magazines, French and English....