Part 1 out of 3
Etext produced by Dagny, email@example.com
John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
PIERRE & JEAN
by GUY DE MAUPASSANT
"Tschah!" exclaimed old Roland suddenly, after he had remained
motionless for a quarter of an hour, his eyes fixed on the water,
while now and again he very slightly lifted his line sunk in the sea.
Mme. Roland, dozing in the stern by the side of Mme. Rosemilly, who
had been invited to join the fishing-party, woke up, and turning her
head to look at her husband, said:
"Well, well! Gerome."
And the old fellow replied in a fury:
"They do not bite at all. I have taken nothing since noon. Only men
should ever go fishing. Women always delay the start till it is too
His two sons, Pierre and Jean, who each held a line twisted round his
forefinger, one to port and one to starboard, both began to laugh, and
"You are not very polite to our guest, father."
M. Roland was abashed, and apologized.
"I beg your pardon, Mme. Rosemilly, but that is just like me. I invite
ladies because I like to be with them, and then, as soon as I feel the
water beneath me, I think of nothing but the fish."
Mme. Roland was now quite awake, and gazing with a softened look at
the wide horizon of cliff and sea.
"You have had good sport, all the same," she murmured.
But her husband shook his head in denial, though at the same time he
glanced complacently at the basket where the fish caught by the three
men were still breathing spasmodically, with a low rustle of clammy
scales and struggling fins, and dull, ineffectual efforts, gasping in
the fatal air. Old Roland took the basket between his knees and tilted
it up, making the silver heap of creatures slide to the edge that he
might see those lying at the bottom, and their death-throes became
more convulsive, while the strong smell of their bodies, a wholesome
reek of brine, came up from the full depths of the creel. The old
fisherman sniffed it eagerly, as we smell at roses, and exclaimed:
"Cristi! But they are fresh enough!" and he went on: "How many did you
pull out, doctor?"
His eldest son, Pierre, a man of thirty, with black whiskers trimmed
square like a lawyer's, his mustache and beard shaved away, replied:
"Oh, not many; three or four."
The father turned to the younger. "And you, Jean?" said he.
Jean, a tall fellow, much younger than his brother, fair, with a full
beard, smiled and murmured:
"Much the same as Pierre--four or five."
Every time they told the same fib, which delighted father Roland. He
had hitched his line round a row-lock, and folding his arms he
"I will never again try to fish after noon. After ten in the morning
it is all over. The lazy brutes will not bite; they are taking their
siesta in the sun." And he looked round at the sea on all sides, with
the satisfied air of a proprietor.
He was a retired jeweller who had been led by an inordinate love of
seafaring and fishing to fly from the shop as soon as he had made
enough money to live in modest comfort on the interest of his savings.
He retired to le Havre, bought a boat, and became an amateur skipper.
His two sons, Pierre and Jean, had remained at Paris to continue their
studies, and came for the holidays from time to time to share their
On leaving school, Pierre, the elder, five years older than Jean, had
felt a vocation to various professions and had tried half a dozen in
succession, but, soon disgusted with each in turn, he started afresh
with new hopes. Medicine had been his last fancy, and he had set to
work with so much ardour that he had just qualified after an unusually
short course of study, by a special remission of time from the
minister. He was enthusiastic, intelligent, fickle, but obstinate,
full of Utopias and philosophical notions.
Jean, who was as fair as his brother was dark, as deliberate as his
brother was vehement, as gentle as his brother was unforgiving, had
quietly gone through his studies for the law and had just taken his
diploma as a licentiate, at the time when Pierre had taken his in
medicine. So they were now having a little rest at home, and both
looked forward to settling in Havre if they could find a satisfactory
But a vague jealousy, one of those dormant jealousies which grow up
between brothers or sisters and slowly ripen till they burst, on the
occasion of a marriage perhaps, or of some good fortune happening to
one of them, kept them on the alert in a sort of brotherly and non-
aggressive animosity. They were fond of each other, it is true, but
they watched each other. Pierre, five years old when Jean was born,
had looked with the eyes of a little petted animal at that other
little animal which had suddenly come to lie in his father's and
mother's arms and to be loved and fondled by them. Jean, from his
birth, had always been a pattern of sweetness, gentleness, and good
temper, and Pierre had by degrees begun to chafe at ever-lastingly
hearing the praises of this great lad, whose sweetness in his eyes was
indolence, whose gentleness was stupidity, and whose kindliness was
blindness. His parents, whose dream for their sons was some
respectable and undistinguished calling, blamed him for so often
changing his mind, for his fits of enthusiasm, his abortive
beginnings, and all his ineffectual impulses towards generous ideas
and the liberal professions.
Since he had grown to manhood they no longer said in so many words:
"Look at Jean and follow his example," but every time he heard them
say "Jean did this--Jean does that," he understood their meaning and
the hint the words conveyed.
Their mother, an orderly person, a thrifty and rather sentimental
woman of the middle class, with the soul of a soft-hearted book-
keeper, was constantly quenching the little rivalries between her two
big sons to which the petty events of their life constantly gave rise.
Another little circumstance, too, just now disturbed her peace of
mind, and she was in fear of some complications; for in the course of
the winter, while her boys were finishing their studies, each in his
own line, she had made the acquaintance of a neighbour, Mme.
Rosemilly, the widow of a captain of a merchantman who had died at sea
two years before. The young widow--quite young, only three-and-twenty
--a woman of strong intellect who knew life by instinct as the free
animals do, as though she had seen, gone through, understood, and
weighted every conceivable contingency, and judged them with a
wholesome, strict, and benevolent mind, had fallen into the habit of
calling to work or chat for an hour in the evening with these friendly
neighbours, who would give her a cup of tea.
Father Roland, always goaded on by his seafaring craze, would question
their new friend about the departed captain; and she would talk of
him, and his voyages, and his old-world tales, without hesitation,
like a resigned and reasonable woman who loves life and respects
The two sons on their return, finding the pretty widow quite at home
in the house, forthwith began to court her, less from any wish to
charm her than from the desire to cut each other out.
Their mother, being practical and prudent, sincerely hoped that one of
them might win the young widow, for she was rich; but then she would
have liked that the other should not be grieved.
Mme. Rosemilly was fair, with blue eyes, a mass of light waving hair,
fluttering at the least breath of wind, and an alert, daring,
pugnacious little way with her, which did not in the least answer to
the sober method of her mind.
She already seemed to like Jean best, attracted, no doubt, by an
affinity of nature. This preference, however, she betrayed only by an
almost imperceptible difference of voice and look and also by
occasionally asking his opinion. She seemed to guess that Jean's views
would support her own, while those of Pierre must inevitably be
different. When she spoke of the doctor's ideas on politics, art,
philosophy, or morals, she would sometimes say: "Your crotchets." Then
he would look at her with the cold gleam of an accuser drawing up an
indictment against women--all women, poor weak things.
Never till his sons came home had M. Roland invited her to join his
fishing expeditions, nor had he ever taken his wife; for he liked to
put off before daybreak, with his ally, Captain Beausire, a master
mariner retired, whom he had first met on the quay at high tides and
with whom he had struck up an intimacy, and the old sailor Papagris,
known as Jean Bart, in whose charge the boat was left.
But one evening of the week before, Mme. Rosemilly, who had been
dining with them, remarked, "It must be great fun to go out fishing."
The jeweller, flattered by her interest and suddenly fired with the
wish to share his favourite sport with her, and to make a convert
after the manner of priests, exclaimed: "Would you like to come?"
"To be sure I should."
"Yes, next Tuesday."
"Are you the woman to be ready to start at five in the morning?"
She exclaimed in horror:
"No, indeed: that is too much."
He was disappointed and chilled, suddenly doubting her true vocation.
However, he said:
"At what hour can you be ready?"
"No, not before. Even that is very early."
The old fellow hesitated; he certainly would catch nothing, for when
the sun has warmed the sea the fish bite no more; but the two brothers
had eagerly pressed the scheme, and organized and arranged everything
there and then.
So on the following Tuesday the Pearl had dropped anchor under the
white rocks of Cape la Heve; they had fished till midday, then they
had slept awhile, and then fished again without catching anything; and
then it was that father Roland, perceiving, rather late, that all that
Mme. Rosemilly really enjoyed and cared for was the sail on the sea,
and seeing that his lines hung motionless, had uttered in a spirit of
unreasonable annoyance, that vehement "Tschah!" which applied as much
to the pathetic widow as to the creatures he could not catch.
Now he contemplated the spoil--his fish--with the joyful thrill of a
miser; seeing as he looked up at the sky that the sun was getting low:
"Well, boys," said he, "suppose we turn homeward."
The young men hauled in their lines, coiled them up, cleaned the hooks
and stuck them into corks, and sat waiting.
Roland stood up to look out like a captain.
"No wind," said he. "You will have to pull, young 'uns."
And suddenly extending one arm to the northward, he exclaimed:
"Here comes the packet from Southampton."
Away over the level sea, spread out like a blue sheet, vast and sheeny
and shot with flame and gold, an inky cloud was visible against the
rosy sky in the quarter to which he pointed, and below it they could
make out the hull of the steamer, which looked tiny at such a
distance. And to southward other wreaths of smoke, numbers of them,
could be seen, all converging towards the Havre pier, now scarcely
visible as a white streak with the lighthouse, upright, like a horn,
at the end of it.
Roland asked: "Is not the Normandie due to-day?" And Jean replied:
"Give me my glass. I fancy I see her out there."
The father pulled out the copper tube, adjusted it to his eye, sought
the speck, and then, delighted to have seen it, exclaimed:
"Yes, yes, there she is. I know her two funnels. Would you like to
look, Mme. Rosemilly?"
She took the telescope and directed it towards the Atlantic horizon,
without being able, however, to find the vessel, for she could
distinguish nothing--nothing but blue, with a coloured halo round it,
a circular rainbow--and then all manner of queer things, winking
eclipses which made her feel sick.
She said as she returned the glass:
"I never could see with that thing. It used to put my husband in quite
a rage; he would stand for hours at the windows watching the ships
Old Roland, much put out, retorted:
"Then it must be some defect in your eye, for my glass is a very good
Then he offered it to his wife.
"Would you like to look?"
"No, thank you. I know before hand that I could not see through it."
Mme. Roland, a woman of eight-and-forty but who did not look it,
seemed to be enjoying this excursion and this waning day more than any
of the party.
Her chestnut hair was only just beginning to show streaks of white.
She had a calm, reasonable face, a kind and happy way with her which
it was a pleasure to see. Her son Pierre was wont to say that she knew
the value of money, but this did not hinder her from enjoying the
delights of dreaming. She was fond of reading, of novels, and poetry,
not for their value as works of art, but for the sake of the tender
melancholy mood they would induce in her. A line of poetry, often but
a poor one, often a bad one, would touch the little chord, as she
expressed it, and give her the sense of some mysterious desire almost
realized. And she delighted in these faint emotions which brought a
little flutter to her soul, otherwise as strictly kept as a ledger.
Since settling at Havre she had become perceptibly stouter, and her
figure, which had been very supple and slight, had grown heavier.
This day on the sea had been delightful to her. Her husband, without
being brutal, was rough with her, as a man who is the despot of his
shop is apt to be rough, without anger or hatred; to such men to give
an order is to swear. He controlled himself in the presence of
strangers, but in private he let loose and gave himself terrible vent,
though he was himself afraid of every one. She, in sheer horror of the
turmoil, of scenes, of useless explanations, always gave way and never
asked for anything; for a very long time she had not ventured to ask
Roland to take her out in the boat. So she had joyfully hailed this
opportunity, and was keenly enjoying the rare and new pleasure.
From the moment when they started she surrendered herself completely,
body and soul, to the soft, gliding motion over the waves. She was not
thinking; her mind was not wandering through either memories or hopes;
it seemed to her as though her heart, like her body, was floating on
something soft and liquid and delicious which rocked and lulled it.
When their father gave the word to return, "Come, take your places at
the oars!" she smiled to see her sons, her two great boys, take off
their jackets and roll up their shirt-sleeves on their bare arms.
Pierre, who was nearest to the two women, took the stroke oar, Jean
the other, and they sat waiting till the skipper should say: "Give
way!" For he insisted on everything being done according to strict
Simultaneously, as if by a single effort, they dipped the oars, and
lying back, pulling with all their might, began a struggle to display
their strength. They had come out easily, under sail, but the breeze
had died away, and the masculine pride of the two brothers was
suddenly aroused by the prospect of measuring their powers. When they
went out alone with their father they plied the oars without any
steering, for Roland would be busy getting the lines ready, while he
kept a lookout in the boat's course, guiding it by a sign or a word:
"Easy, Jean, and you, Pierre, put your back into it." Or he would say,
"Now, then, number one; come, number two--a little elbow grease." Then
the one who had been dreaming pulled harder, the one who had got
excited eased down, and the boat's head came round.
But to-day they meant to display their biceps. Pierre's arms were
hairy, somewhat lean but sinewy; Jean's were round and white and rosy,
and the knot of muscles moved under the skin.
At first Pierre had the advantage. With his teeth set, his brow knit,
his legs rigid, his hands clinched on the oar, he made it bend from
end to end at every stroke, and the Pearl was veering landward. Father
Roland, sitting in the bows, so as to leave the stern seat to the two
women, wasted his breath shouting, "Easy, number one; pull harder,
number two!" Pierre pulled harder in his frenzy, and "number two"
could not keep time with his wild stroke.
At last the skipper cried: "Stop her!" The two oars were lifted
simultaneously, and then by his father's orders Jean pulled alone for
a few minutes. But from that moment he had it all his own way; he grew
eager and warmed to his work, while Pierre, out of breath and
exhausted by his first vigorous spurt, was lax and panting. Four times
running father Roland made them stop while the elder took breath, so
as to get the boat into her right course again. Then the doctor,
humiliated and fuming, his forehead dropping with sweat, his cheeks
white, stammered out:
"I cannot think what has come over me; I have a stitch in my side. I
started very well, but it has pulled me up."
Jean asked: "Shall I pull alone with both oars for a time?"
"No, thanks, it will go off."
And their mother, somewhat vexed, said:
"Why, Pierre, what rhyme or reason is there in getting into such a
state. You are not a child."
And he shrugged his shoulders and set to once more.
Mme. Rosemilly pretended not to see, not to understand, not to hear.
Her fair head went back with an engaging little jerk every time the
boat moved forward, making the fine wayward hairs flutter about her
But father Roland presently called out:
"Look, the Prince Albert is catching us up!"
They all looked round. Long and low in the water, with her two raking
funnels and two yellow paddle-boxes like two round cheeks, the
Southampton packet came ploughing on at full steam, crowded with
passengers under open parasols. Its hurrying, noisy paddle-wheels
beating up the water which fell again in foam, gave it an appearance
of haste as of a courier pressed for time, and the upright stem cut
through the water, throwing up two thin translucent waves which glided
off along the hull.
When it had come quite near the Pearl, father Roland lifted his hat,
the ladies shook their handkerchiefs, and half a dozen parasols
eagerly waved on board the steamboat responded to this salute as she
went on her way, leaving behind her a few broad undulations on the
still and glassy surface of the sea.
There were other vessels, each with its smoky cap, coming in from
every part of the horizon towards the short white jetty, which
swallowed them up, one after another, like a mouth. And the fishing
barks and lighter craft with broad sails and slender masts, stealing
across the sky in tow of inconspicuous tugs, were coming in, faster
and slower, towards the devouring ogre, who from time to time seemed
to have had a surfeit, and spewed out to the open sea another fleet of
steamers, brigs, schooners, and three-masted vessels with their
tangled mass of rigging. The hurrying steamships flew off to the right
and left over the smooth bosom of the ocean, while sailing vessels,
cast off by the pilot-tugs which had hauled them out, lay motionless,
dressing themselves from the main-mast to the fore-tops in canvas,
white or brown, and ruddy in the setting sun.
Mme. Roland, with her eyes half-shut, murmured: "Good heavens, how
beautiful the sea is!"
And Mme. Rosemilly replied with a long sigh, which, however, had no
sadness in it:
"Yes, but it is sometimes very cruel, all the same."
"Look, there is the Normandie just going in. A big ship, isn't she?"
Then he described the coast opposite, far, far away, on the other side
of the mouth of the Seine--that mouth extended over twenty kilometres,
said he. He pointed out Villerville, Trouville, Houlgate, Luc,
Arromanches, the little river of Caen, and the rocks of Calvados which
make the coast unsafe as far as Cherbourg. Then he enlarged on the
question of the sand-banks in the Seine, which shift at every tide so
that even the pilots of Quilleboeuf are at fault if they do not survey
the channel every day. He bid them notice how the town of Havre
divided Upper from Lower Normandy. In Lower Normandy the shore sloped
down to the sea in pasture-lands, fields, and meadows. The coast of
Upper Normandy, on the contrary, was steep, a high cliff, ravined,
cleft and towering, forming an immense white rampart all the way to
Dunkirk, while in each hollow a village or a port lay hidden: Etretat,
Fecamp, Saint-Valery, Treport, Dieppe, and the rest.
The two women did not listen. Torpid with comfort and impressed by the
sight of the ocean covered with vessels rushing to and fro like wild
beasts about their den, they sat speechless, somewhat awed by the
soothing and gorgeous sunset. Roland alone talked on without end; he
was one of those whom nothing can disturb. Women, whose nerves are
more sensitive, sometimes feel, without knowing why, that the sound of
useless speech is as irritating as an insult.
Pierre and Jean, who had calmed down, were rowing slowly, and the
Pearl was making for the harbour, a tiny thing among those huge
When they came alongside of the quay, Papagris, who was waiting there,
gave his hand to the ladies to help them out, and they took the way
into the town. A large crowd, the crowd which haunts the pier every
day at high tide--was also drifting homeward. Mme. Roland and Mme.
Rosemilly led the way, followed by the three men. As they went up the
Rue de Paris they stopped now and then in front of a milliner's or a
jeweller's shop, to look at a bonnet or an ornament; then after making
their comments they went on again. In front of the Place de la Bourse
Roland paused, as he did every day, to gaze at the docks full of
vessels--the /Bassin du Commerce/, with other docks beyond, where the
huge hulls lay side by side, closely packed in rows, four or five
deep. And masts innumerable; along several kilometres of quays the
endless masts, with their yards, poles, and rigging, gave this great
gap in the heart of the town the look of a dead forest. Above this
leafless forest the gulls were wheeling, and watching to pounce, like
a falling stone, on any scraps flung overboard; a sailor boy, fixing a
pulley to a cross-beam, looked as if he had gone up there bird's-
"Will you dine with us without any sort of ceremony, just that we may
end the day together?" said Mme. Roland to her friend.
"To be sure I will, with pleasure; I accept equally without ceremony.
It would be dismal to go home and be alone this evening."
Pierre, who had heard, and who was beginning to be restless under the
young woman's indifference, muttered to himself: "Well, the widow is
taking root now, it would seem." For some days past he had spoken of
her as "the widow." The word, harmless in itself, irritated Jean
merely by the tone given to it, which to him seemed spiteful and
The three men spoke not another word till they reached the threshold
of their own house. It was a narrow one, consisting of a ground-floor
and two floors above, in the Rue Belle-Normande. The maid, Josephine,
a girl of nineteen, a rustic servant-of-all-work at low wages, gifted
to excess with the startled animal expression of a peasant, opened the
door, went up stairs at her master's heels to the drawing-room, which
was on the first floor, and then said:
"A gentleman called--three times."
Old Roland, who never spoke to her without shouting and swearing,
"Who do you say called, in the devil's name?"
She never winced at her master's roaring voice, and replied:
"A gentleman from the lawyer's."
"Why, M'sieu 'Canu--who else?"
"And what did this gentleman say?"
"That M'sieu 'Canu will call in himself in the course of the evening."
Maitre Lecanu was M. Roland's lawyer, and in a way his friend,
managing his business for him. For him to send word that he would call
in the evening, something urgent and important must be in the wind;
and the four Rolands looked at each other, disturbed by the
announcement as folks of small fortune are wont to be at any
intervention of a lawyer, with its suggestions of contracts,
inheritance, lawsuits--all sorts of desirable or formidable
contingencies. The father, after a few moments of silence, muttered:
"What on earth can it mean?"
Mme. Rosemilly began to laugh.
"Why, a legacy, of course. I am sure of it. I bring good luck."
But they did not expect the death of any one who might leave them
Mme. Roland, who had a good memory for relationships, began to think
over all their connections on her husband's side and on her own, to
trace up pedigrees and the ramifications of cousin-ship.
Before even taking off her bonnet she said:
"I say, father" (she called her husband "father" at home, and
sometimes "Monsieur Roland" before strangers), "tell me, do you
remember who it was that Joseph Lebru married for the second time?"
"Yes--a little girl named Dumenil, a stationer's daughter."
"Had they any children?"
"I should think so! four or five at least."
"Not from that quarter, then."
She was quite eager already in her search; she caught at the hope of
some added ease dropping from the sky. But Pierre, who was very fond
of his mother, who knew her to be somewhat visionary and feared she
might be disappointed, a little grieved, a little saddened if the news
were bad instead of good, checked her:
"Do not get excited, mother; there is no rich American uncle. For my
part, I should sooner fancy that it is about a marriage for Jean."
Every one was surprised at the suggestion, and Jean was a little
ruffled by his brother's having spoken of it before Mme. Rosemilly.
"And why for me rather than for you? The hypothesis is very
disputable. You are the elder; you, therefore, would be the first to
be thought of. Besides, I do not wish to marry."
Pierre smiled sneeringly:
"Are you in love, then?"
And the other, much put out, retorted: "Is it necessary that a man
should be in love because he does not care to marry yet?"
"Ah, there you are! That 'yet' sets it right; you are waiting."
"Granted that I am waiting, if you will have it so."
But old Roland, who had been listening and cogitating, suddenly hit
upon the most probable solution.
"Bless me! what fools we are to be racking our brains. Maitre Lecanu
is our very good friend; he knows that Pierre is looking out for a
medical partnership and Jean for a lawyer's office, and he has found
something to suit one of you."
This was so obvious and likely that every one accepted it.
"Dinner is ready," said the maid. And they all hurried off to their
rooms to wash their hands before sitting down to table.
Ten minutes later they were at dinner in the little dining-room on the
At first they were silent; but presently Roland began again in
amazement at this lawyer's visit.
"For after all, why did he not write? Why should he have sent his
clerk three times? Why is he coming himself?"
Pierre thought it quite natural.
"An immediate decision is required, no doubt; and perhaps there are
certain confidential conditions which it does not do to put into
Still, they were all puzzled, and all four a little annoyed at having
invited a stranger, who would be in the way of their discussing and
deciding on what should be done.
They had just gone upstairs again when the lawyer was announced.
Roland flew to meet him.
"Good-evening, my dear Maitre," said he, giving his visitor the title
which in France is the official prefix to the name of every lawyer.
Mme. Rosemilly rose.
"I am going," she said. "I am very tired."
A faint attempt was made to detain her; but she would not consent, and
went home without either of the three men offering to escort her, as
they always had done.
Mme. Roland did the honours eagerly to their visitor.
"A cup of coffee, monsieur?"
"No, thank you. I have just had dinner."
"A cup of tea, then?"
"Thank you, I will accept one later. First we must attend to
The deep silence which succeeded this remark was broken only by the
regular ticking of the clock, and below stairs the clatter of
saucepans which the girl was cleaning--too stupid even to listen at
The lawyer went on:
"Did you, in Paris, know a certain M. Marechal--Leon Marechal?"
M. and Mme. Roland both exclaimed at once: "I should think so!"
"He was a friend of yours?"
Roland replied: "Our best friend, monsieur, but a fanatic for Paris;
never to be got away from the boulevard. He was a head clerk in the
exchequer office. I have never seen him since I left the capital, and
latterly we had ceased writing to each other. When people are far
apart you know----"
The lawyer gravely put in:
"M. Marechal is deceased."
Both man and wife responded with the little movement of pained
surprise, genuine or false, but always ready, with which such news is
Maitre Lecanu went on:
"My colleague in Paris has just communicated to me the main item of
his will, by which he makes your son Jean--Monsieur Jean Roland--his
They were all too much amazed to utter a single word. Mme. Roland was
the first to control her emotion and stammered out:
"Good heavens! Poor Leon--our poor friend! Dear me! Dear me! Dead!"
The tears started to her eyes, a woman's silent tears, drops of grief
from her very soul, which trickle down her cheeks and seem so very
sad, being so clear. But Roland was thinking less of the loss than of
the prospect announced. Still, he dared not at once inquire into the
clauses of the will and the amount of the fortune, so to work round to
these interesting facts he asked:
"And what did he die of, poor Marechal?"
Maitre Lecanu did not know in the least.
"All I know is," said he, "that dying without any direct heirs, he has
left the whole of his fortune--about twenty thousand francs a year
($3,840) in three per cents--to your second son, whom he has known
from his birth up, and judges worthy of the legacy. If M. Jean should
refuse the money, it is to go to the foundling hospitals."
Old Roland could not conceal his delight and exclaimed:
"Sacristi! It is the thought of a kind heart. And if I had had no heir
I would not have forgotten him; he was a true friend."
The lawyer smiled.
"I was very glad," he said, "to announce the event to you myself. It
is always a pleasure to be the bearer of good news."
It had not struck him that this good news was that of the death of a
friend, of Roland's best friend; and the old man himself had suddenly
forgotten the intimacy he had but just spoken of with so much
Only Mme. Roland and her sons still looked mournful. She, indeed, was
still shedding a few tears, wiping her eyes with her handkerchief,
which she then pressed to her lips to smother her deep sobs.
The doctor murmured:
"He was a good fellow, very affectionate. He often invited us to dine
with him--my brother and me."
Jean, with wide-open, glittering eyes, laid his hand on his handsome
fair beard, a familiar gesture with him, and drew his fingers down it
to the tip of the last hairs, as if to pull it longer and thinner.
Twice his lips parted to utter some decent remark, but after long
meditation he could only say this:
"Yes, he was certainly fond of me. He would always embrace me when I
went to see him."
But his father's thoughts had set off at a gallop--galloping round
this inheritance to come; nay, already in hand; this money lurking
behind the door, which would walk in quite soon, to-morrow, at a word
"And there is no possible difficulty in the way?" he asked. "No
lawsuit--no one to dispute it?"
Maitre Lecanu seemed quite easy.
"No; my Paris correspondent states that everything is quite clear. M.
Jean has only to sign his acceptance."
"Good. Then--then the fortune is quite clear?"
"All the necessary formalities have been gone through?"
Suddenly the old jeweller had an impulse of shame--obscure,
instinctive, and fleeting; shame of his eagerness to be informed, and
"You understand that I ask all these questions immediately so as to
save my son unpleasant consequences which he might not foresee.
Sometimes there are debts, embarrassing liabilities, what not! And a
legatee finds himself in an inextricable thorn-bush. After all, I am
not the heir--but I think first of the little 'un."
They were accustomed to speak of Jean among themselves as the "little
one," though he was much bigger than Pierre.
Suddenly Mme. Roland seemed to wake from a dream, to recall some
remote fact, a thing almost forgotten that she had heard long ago, and
of which she was not altogether sure. She inquired doubtingly:
"Were you not saying that our poor friend Marechal had left his
fortune to my little Jean?"
And she went on simply:
"I am much pleased to hear it; it proves that he was attached to us."
Roland had risen.
"And would you wish, my dear sir, that my son should at once sign his
"No--no, M. Roland. To-morrow, at my office to-morrow, at two o'clock,
if that suits you."
"Yes, to be sure--yes, indeed. I should think so."
Then Mme. Roland, who had also risen and who was smiling after her
tears, went up to the lawyer, and laying her hand on the back of his
chair while she looked at him with the pathetic eyes of a grateful
mother, she said:
"And now for that cup of tea, Monsieur Lecanu?"
"Now I will accept it with pleasure, madame."
The maid, on being summoned, brought in first some dry biscuits in
deep tin boxes, those crisp, insipid English cakes which seem to have
been made for a parrot's beak, and soldered into metal cases for a
voyage round the world. Next she fetched some little gray linen
doilies, folded square, those tea-napkins which in thrifty families
never get washed. A third time she came in with the sugar-basin and
cups; then she departed to heat the water. They sat waiting.
No one could talk; they had too much to think about and nothing to
say. Mme. Roland alone attempted a few commonplace remarks. She gave
an account of the fishing excursion, and sang the praises of the Pearl
and of Mme. Rosemilly.
"Charming, charming!" the lawyer said again and again.
Roland, leaning against the marble mantel-shelf as if it were winter
and the fire burning, with his hands in his pockets and his lips
puckered for a whistle, could not keep still, tortured by the
invincible desire to give vent to his delight. The two brothers, in
two arm-chairs that matched, one on each side of the centre-table,
stared in front of them, in similar attitudes full of dissimilar
At last the tea appeared. The lawyer took a cup, sugared it, and drank
it, after having crumbled into it a little cake which was too hard to
crunch. Then he rose, shook hands, and departed.
"Then it is understood," repeated Roland. "To-morrow, at your place,
"Quite so. To-morrow, at two."
Jean had not spoken a word.
When their guest had gone, silence fell again till father Roland
clapped his two hands on his younger son's shoulders, crying:
"Well, you devilish lucky dog! You don't embrace me!"
Then Jean smiled. He embraced his father, saying:
"It had not struck me as indispensable."
The old man was beside himself with glee. He walked about the room,
strummed on the furniture with his clumsy nails, turned about on his
heels, and kept saying:
"What luck! What luck! Now, that is really what I call luck!"
"Then you used to know this Marechal well?"
And his father replied:
"I believe! Why, he used to spend every evening at our house. Surely
you remember he used to fetch you from school on half-holidays, and
often took you back again after dinner. Why, the very day when Jean
was born it was he who went for the doctor. He had been breakfasting
with us when your mother was taken ill. Of course we knew at once what
it meant, and he set off post-haste. In his hurry he took my hat
instead of his own. I remember that because we had a good laugh over
it afterward. It is very likely that he may have thought of that when
he was dying, and as he had no heir he may have said to himself: 'I
remember helping to bring that youngster into the world, so I will
leave him my savings.'"
Mme. Roland, sunk in a deep chair, seemed lost in reminiscences once
more. She murmured, as though she were thinking aloud:
"Ah, he was a good friend, very devoted, very faithful, a rare soul in
Jean got up.
"I shall go out for a little walk," he said.
His father was surprised and tried to keep him; they had much to talk
about, plans to be made, decisions to be formed. But the young man
insisted, declaring that he had an engagement. Besides, there would be
time enough for settling everything before he came into possession of
his inheritance. So he went away, for he wished to be alone to
reflect. Pierre, on his part, said that he too was going out, and
after a few minutes followed his brother.
As soon as he was alone with his wife, father Roland took her in his
arms, kissed her a dozen times on each cheek, and, replying to a
reproach she had often brought against him, said:
"You see, my dearest, that it would have been no good to stay any
longer in Paris and work for the children till I dropped, instead of
coming here to recruit my health, since fortune drops on us from the
She was quite serious.
"It drops from the skies on Jean," she said. "But Pierre?"
"Pierre? But he is a doctor; he will make plenty of money; besides,
his brother will surely do something for him."
"No, he would not take it. Besides, this legacy is for Jean, only for
Jean. Pierre will find himself at a great disadvantage."
The old fellow seemed perplexed: "Well, then, we will leave him rather
more in our will."
"No; that again would not be quite just."
"Drat it all!" he exclaimed. "What do you want me to do in the matter?
You always hit on a whole heap of disagreeable ideas. You must spoil
all my pleasures. Well, I am going to bed. Good-night. All the same, I
call it good luck, jolly good luck!"
And he went off, delighted in spite of everything, and without a word
of regret for the friend so generous in his death.
Mme. Roland sat thinking again in front of the lamp which was burning
As soon as he got out, Pierre made his way to the Rue de Paris, the
high-street of Havre, brightly lighted up, lively and noisy. The
rather sharp air of the seacoast kissed his face, and he walked
slowly, his stick under his arm and his hands behind his back. He was
ill at ease, oppressed, out of heart, as one is after hearing
unpleasant tidings. He was not distressed by any definite thought, and
he would have been puzzled to account, on the spur of the moment, for
this dejection of spirit and heaviness of limb. He was hurt somewhere,
without knowing where; somewhere within him there was a pin-point of
pain--one of those almost imperceptible wounds which we cannot lay a
finger on, but which incommode us, tire us, depress us, irritate us--a
slight and occult pang, as it were a small seed of distress.
When he reached the square in front of the theatre, he was attracted
by the lights in the Cafe Tortoni, and slowly bent his steps to the
dazzling facade; but just as he was going in he reflected that he
would meet friends there and acquaintances--people he would be obliged
to talk to; and fierce repugnance surged up in him for this
commonplace good-fellowship over coffee cups and liqueur glasses. So,
retracing his steps, he went back to the high-street leading to the
"Where shall I go?" he asked himself, trying to think of a spot he
liked which would agree with his frame of mind. He could not think of
one, for being alone made him feel fractious, yet he could not bear to
meet any one. As he came out on the Grand Quay he hesitated once more;
then he turned towards the pier; he had chosen solitude.
Going close by a bench on the breakwater he sat down, tired already of
walking and out of humour with his stroll before he had taken it.
He said to himself: "What is the matter with me this evening?" And he
began to search in his memory for what vexation had crossed him, as we
question a sick man to discover the cause of his fever.
His mind was at once irritable and sober; he got excited, then he
reasoned, approving or blaming his impulses; but in time primitive
nature at last proved the stronger; the sensitive man always had the
upper hand over the intellectual man. So he tried to discover what had
induced this irascible mood, this craving to be moving without wanting
anything, this desire to meet some one for the sake of differing from
him, and at the same time this aversion for the people he might see
and the things they might say to him.
And then he put the question to himself, "Can it be Jean's
Yes, it was certainly possible. When the lawyer had announced the news
he had felt his heart beat a little faster. For, indeed, one is not
always master of one's self; there are sudden and pertinacious
emotions against which a man struggles in vain.
He fell into meditation on the physiological problem of the impression
produced on the instinctive element in man, and giving rise to a
current of painful or pleasurable sensations diametrically opposed to
those which the thinking man desires, aims at, and regards as right
and wholesome, when he has risen superior to himself by the
cultivation of his intellect. He tried to picture to himself the frame
of mind of a son who had inherited a vast fortune, and who, thanks to
that wealth, may now know many long-wished-for delights, which the
avarice of his father had prohibited--a father, nevertheless, beloved
He got up and walked on to the end of the pier. He felt better, and
glad to have understood, to have detected himself, to have unmasked
/the other/ which lurks in us.
"Then I was jealous of Jean," thought he. "That is really vilely mean.
And I am sure of it now, for the first idea which came into my head
was that he would marry Mme. Rosemilly. And yet I am not in love
myself with that priggish little goose, who is just the woman to
disgust a man with good sense and good conduct. So it is the most
gratuitous jealousy, the very essence of jealousy, which is merely
because it is! I must keep an eye on that!"
By this time he was in front of the flag-staff, whence the depth of
water in the harbour is signalled, and he struck a match to read the
list of vessels signalled in the roadstead and coming in with the next
high tide. Ships were due from Brazil, from La Plata, from Chili and
Japan, two Danish brigs, a Norwegian schooner, and a Turkish steamship
--which startled Pierre as much as if it had read a Swiss steamship;
and in a whimsical vision he pictured a great vessel crowded with men
in turbans climbing the shrouds in loose trousers.
"How absurd!" thought he. "But the Turks are a maritime people, too."
A few steps further on he stopped again, looking out at the roads. On
the right, above Sainte-Adresse, the two electric lights of Cape la
Heve, like monstrous twin Cyclops, shot their long and powerful beams
across the sea. Starting from two neighbouring centres, the two
parallel shafts of light, like the colossal tails of two comets, fell
in a straight and endless slope from the top of the cliff to the
uttermost horizon. Then, on the two piers, two more lights, the
children of these giants, marked the entrance to the harbour; and far
away on the other side of the Seine others were in sight, many others,
steady or winking, flashing or revolving, opening and shutting like
eyes--the eyes of the ports--yellow, red, and green, watching the
night-wrapped sea covered with ships; the living eyes of the
hospitable shore saying, merely by the mechanical and regular movement
of their eye-lids: "I am here. I am Trouville; I am Honfleur; I am the
Andemer River." And high above all the rest, so high that from this
distance it might be taken for a planet, the airy lighthouse of
Etouville showed the way to Rouen across the sand banks at the mouth
of the great river.
Out on the deep water, the limitless water, darker than the sky, stars
seemed to have fallen here and there. They twinkled in the night haze,
small, close to shore or far away--white, red, and green, too. Most of
them were motionless; some, however, seemed to be scudding onward.
These were the lights of the ships at anchor or moving about in search
Just at this moment the moon rose behind the town; and it, too, looked
like some huge, divine pharos lighted up in the heavens to guide the
countless fleet of stars in the sky. Pierre murmured, almost speaking
aloud: "Look at that! And we let our bile rise for twopence!"
On a sudden, close to him, in the wide, dark ditch between the two
piers, a shadow stole up, a large shadow of fantastic shape. Leaning
over the granite parapet, he saw that a fishing-boat had glided in,
without the sound of a voice or the splash of a ripple, or the plunge
of an oar, softly borne in by its broad, tawny sail spread to the
breeze from the open sea.
He thought to himself: "If one could but live on board that boat, what
peace it would be--perhaps!"
And then again a few steps beyond, he saw a man sitting at the very
end of the breakwater.
A dreamer, a lover, a sage--a happy or a desperate man? Who was it? He
went forward, curious to see the face of this lonely individual, and
he recognised his brother.
"What, is it you, Jean?"
"Pierre! You! What has brought you here?"
"I came out to get some fresh air. And you?"
Jean began to laugh.
"I too came out for fresh air." And Pierre sat down by his brother's
"Oh, yes, lovely."
He understood from the tone of voice that Jean had not looked at
anything. He went on:
"For my part, whenever I come here I am seized with a wild desire to
be off with all those boats, to the north or the south. Only to think
that all those little sparks out there have just come from the
uttermost ends of the earth, from the lands of great flowers and
beautiful olive or copper coloured girls, the lands of humming-birds,
of elephants, of roaming lions, of negro kings, from all the lands
which are like fairy-tales to us who no longer believe in the White
Cat or the Sleeping Beauty. It would be awfully jolly to be able to
treat one's self to an excursion out there; but, then, it would cost a
great deal of money, no end--"
He broke off abruptly, remembering that his brother had that money
now; and released from care, released from labouring for his daily
bread, free, unfettered, happy, and light-hearted, he might go whither
he listed, to find the fair-haired Swedes or the brown damsels of
Havana. And then one of those involuntary flashes which were common
with him, so sudden and swift that he could neither anticipate them,
nor stop them, nor qualify them, communicated, as it seemed to him,
from some second, independent, and violent soul, shot through his
"Bah! He is too great a simpleton; he will marry that little
Rosemilly." He was standing up now. "I will leave you to dream of the
future. I want to be moving." He grasped his brother's hand and added
in a heavy tone:
"Well, my dear old boy, you are a rich man. I am very glad to have
come upon you this evening to tell you how pleased I am about it, how
truly I congratulate you, and how much I care for you."
Jean, tender and soft-hearted, was deeply touched.
"Thank you, my good brother--thank you!" he stammered.
And Pierre turned away with his slow step, his stick under his arm,
and his hands behind his back.
Back in the town again, he once more wondered what he should do, being
disappointed of his walk and deprived of the company of the sea by his
brother's presence. He had an inspiration. "I will go and take a glass
of liqueur with old Marowsko," and he went off towards the quarter of
the town known as Ingouville.
He had known old Marowsko-/le pere Marowsko/, he called him--in the
hospitals in Paris. He was a Pole, an old refugee, it was said, who
had gone through terrible things out there, and who had come to ply
his calling as a chemist and druggist in France after passing a fresh
examination. Nothing was known of his early life, and all sorts of
legends had been current among the indoor and outdoor patients and
afterward among his neighbours. This reputation as a terrible
conspirator, a nihilist, a regicide, a patriot ready for anything and
everything, who had escaped death by a miracle, had bewitched Pierre
Roland's lively and bold imagination; he had made friends with the old
Pole, without, however, having ever extracted from him any revelation
as to his former career. It was owing to the young doctor that this
worthy had come to settle at Havre, counting on the large custom which
the rising practitioner would secure him. Meanwhile he lived very
poorly in his little shop, selling medicines to the small tradesmen
and workmen in his part of the town.
Pierre often went to see him and chat with him for an hour after
dinner, for he liked Marowsko's calm look and rare speech, and
attributed great depth to his long spells of silence.
A simple gas-burner was alight over the counter crowded with phials.
Those in the window were not lighted, from motives of economy. Behind
the counter, sitting on a chair with his legs stretched out and
crossed, an old man, quite bald, with a large beak of a nose which, as
a prolongation of his hairless forehead, gave him a melancholy
likeness to a parrot, was sleeping soundly, his chin resting on his
breast. He woke at the sound of the shop-bell, and recognising the
doctor, came forward to meet him, holding out both hands.
His black frock-coat, streaked with stains of acids and sirups, was
much too wide for his lean little person, and looked like a shabby old
cassock; and the man spoke with a strong Polish accent which gave the
childlike character to his thin voice, the lisping note and
intonations of a young thing learning to speak.
Pierre sat down, and Marowsko asked him: "What news, dear doctor?"
"None. Everything as usual, everywhere."
"You do not look very gay this evening."
"I am not often gay."
"Come, come, you must shake that off. Will you try a glass of
"Yes, I do not mind."
"Then I will give you something new to try. For these two months I
have been trying to extract something from currants, of which only a
sirup has been made hitherto--well, and I have done it. I have
invented a very good liqueur--very good indeed; very good."
And quite delighted, he went to a cupboard, opened it, and picked out
a bottle which he brought forth. He moved and did everything in jerky
gestures, always incomplete; he never quite stretched out his arm, nor
quite put out his legs; nor made any broad and definite movements. His
ideas seemed to be like his actions; he suggested them, promised them,
sketched them, hinted at them, but never fully uttered them.
And, indeed, his great end in life seemed to be the concoction of
sirups and liqueurs. "A good sirup or a good liqueur is enough to make
a fortune," he would often say.
He had compounded hundreds of these sweet mixtures without ever
succeeding in floating one of them. Pierre declared that Marowsko
always reminded him of Marat.
Two little glasses were fetched out of the back shop and placed on the
mixing-board. Then the two men scrutinized the colour of the fluid by
holding it up to the gas.
"A fine ruby," Pierre declared.
"Isn't it?" Marowsko's old parrot-face beamed with satisfaction.
The doctor tasted, smacked his lips, meditated, tasted again,
meditated again, and spoke:
"Very good--capital; and quite new in flavour. It is a find, my dear
"Ah, really? Well, I am very glad."
Then Marowsko took counsel as to baptizing the new liqueur. He wanted
to call it "Extract of currants," or else "/Fine Groseille/" or
"/Groselia/," or again "/Groseline/." Pierre did not approve of either
of these names.
Then the old man had an idea:
"What you said just now would be very good, very good: 'Fine Ruby.'"
But the doctor disputed the merit of this name, though it had
originated with him. He recommended simply "Groseillette," which
Marowsko thought admirable.
Then they were silent, and sat for some minutes without a word under
the solitary gas-lamp. At last Pierre began, almost in spite of
"A queer thing has happened at home this evening. A friend of my
father's, who is lately dead, has left his fortune to my brother."
The druggist did not at first seem to understand, but after thinking
it over he hoped that the doctor had half the inheritance. When the
matter was clearly explained to him he appeared surprised and vexed;
and to express his dissatisfaction at finding that his young friend
had been sacrificed, he said several times over:
"It will not look well."
Pierre, who was relapsing into nervous irritation, wanted to know what
Marowsko meant by this phrase.
Why would it not look well? What was there to look badly in the fact
that his brother had come into the money of a friend of the family?
But the cautious old man would not explain further.
"In such a case the money is left equally to the two brothers, and I
tell you, it will not look well."
And the doctor, out of all patience, went away, returned to his
father's house, and went to bed. For some time afterward he heard Jean
moving softly about the adjoining room, and then, after drinking two
glasses of water, he fell asleep.
The doctor awoke next morning firmly resolved to make his fortune.
Several times already he had come to the same determination without
following up the reality. At the outset of all his trials of some new
career the hopes of rapidly acquired riches kept up his efforts and
confidence, till the first obstacle, the first check, threw him into a
fresh path. Snug in bed between the warm sheets, he lay meditating.
How many medical men had become wealthy in quite a short time! All
that was needed was a little knowledge of the world; for in the course
of his studies he had learned to estimate the most famous physicians,
and he judged them all to be asses. He was certainly as good as they,
if not better. If by any means he could secure a practice among the
wealth and fashion of Havre, he could easily make a hundred thousand
francs a year. And he calculated with great exactitude what his
certain profits must be. He would go out in the morning to visit his
patients; at the very moderate average of ten a day, at twenty francs
each, that would mount up to seventy-two thousand francs a year at
least, or even seventy-five thousand; for ten patients was certainly
below the mark. In the afternoon he would be at home to, say, another
ten patients, at ten francs each--thirty-six thousand francs. Here,
then, in round numbers was an income of twenty thousand francs. Old
patients, or friends whom he would charge only ten francs for a visit,
or see at home for five, would perhaps make a slight reduction on this
sum total, but consultations with other physicians and various
incidental fees would make up for that.
Nothing could be easier than to achieve this by skilful advertising
remarks in the Figaro to the effect that the scientific faculty of
Paris had their eye on him, and were interested in the cures effected
by the modest young practitioner of Havre! And he would be richer than
his brother, richer and more famous; and satisfied with himself, for
he would owe his fortune solely to his own exertions; and liberal to
his old parents, who would be justly proud of his fame. He would not
marry, would not burden his life with a wife who would be in his way,
but he would choose his mistress from the most beautiful of his
patients. He felt so sure of success that he sprang out of bed as
though to grasp it on the spot, and he dressed to go and search
through the town for rooms to suit him.
Then, as he wandered about the streets, he reflected how slight are
the causes which determine our actions. Any time these three weeks he
might and ought to have come to this decision, which, beyond a doubt,
the news of his brother's inheritance had abruptly given rise to.
He stopped before every door where a placard proclaimed that "fine
apartments" or "handsome rooms" were to be let; announcements without
an adjective he turned from with scorn. Then he inspected them with a
lofty air, measuring the height of the rooms, sketching the plan in
his note-book, with the passages, the arrangement of the exits,
explaining that he was a medical man and had many visitors. He must
have a broad and well-kept stair-case; nor could he be any higher up
than the first floor.
After having written down seven or eight addresses and scribbled two
hundred notes, he got home to breakfast a quarter of an hour too late.
In the hall he heard the clatter of plates. Then they had begun
without him! Why? They were never wont to be so punctual. He was
nettled and put out, for he was somewhat thin-skinned. As he went in
Roland said to him:
"Come, Pierre, make haste, devil take you! You know we have to be at
the lawyer's at two o'clock. This is not the day to be dawdling."
Pierre sat down without replying, after kissing his mother and shaking
hands with his father and brother; and he helped himself from the deep
dish in the middle of the table to the cutlet which had been kept for
him. It was cold and dry, probably the least tempting of them all. He
thought that they might have left it on the hot plate till he came in,
and not lose their heads so completely as to have forgotten their
other son, their eldest.
The conversation, which his entrance had interrupted, was taken up
again at the point where it had ceased.
"In your place," Mme. Roland was saying to Jean, "I will tell you what
I should do at once. I should settle in handsome rooms so as to
attract attention; I should ride on horseback and select one or two
interesting cases to defend and make a mark in court. I would be a
sort of amateur lawyer, and very select. Thank God you are out of all
danger of want, and if you pursue a profession, it is, after all, only
that you may not lose the benefit of your studies, and because a man
ought never to sit idle."
Old Roland, who was peeling a pear, exclaimed:
"Christi! In your place I should buy a nice yacht, a cutter on the
build of our pilot-boats. I would sail as far as Senegal in such a
boat as that."
Pierre, in his turn, spoke his views. After all, said he, it was not
his wealth which made the moral worth, the intellectual worth of a
man. To a man of inferior mind it was only a means of degradation,
while in the hands of a strong man it was a powerful lever. They, to
be sure, were rare. If Jean were a really superior man, now that he
could never want he might prove it. But then he must work a hundred
times harder than he would have done in other circumstances. His
business now must be not to argue for or against the widow and the
orphan, and pocket his fees for every case he gained, but to become a
really eminent legal authority, a luminary of the law. And he added in
"If I were rich wouldn't I dissect no end of bodies!"
Father Roland shrugged his shoulders.
"That is all very fine," he said. "But the wisest way of life is to
take it easy. We are not beasts of burden, but men. If you are born
poor you must work; well, so much the worse; and you do work. But
where you have dividends! You must be a flat if you grind yourself to
Pierre replied haughtily:
"Our notions differ. For my part, I respect nothing on earth but
learning and intellect; everything else is beneath contempt."
Mme. Roland always tried to deaden the constant shocks between father
and son; she turned the conversation, and began talking of a murder
committed the week before at Bolbec Nointot. Their minds were
immediately full of the circumstances under which the crime had been
committed, and absorbed by the interesting horror, the attractive
mystery of crime, which, however commonplace, shameful, and
disgusting, exercises a strange and universal fascination over the
curiosity of mankind. Now and again, however, old Roland looked at his
watch. "Come," said he, "it is time to be going."
"It is not yet one o'clock," he said. "It really was hardly worth
while to condemn me to eat a cold cutlet."
"Are you coming to the lawyer's?" his mother asked.
"I? No. What for?" he replied dryly. "My presence is quite
Jean sat silent, as though he had no concern in the matter. When they
were discussing the murder at Bolbec he, as a legal authority, had put
forward some opinions and uttered some reflections on crime and
criminals. Now he spoke no more; but the sparkle in his eye, the
bright colour in his cheeks, the very gloss of his beard seemed to
proclaim his happiness.
When the family had gone, Pierre, alone once more, resumed his
investigations in the apartments to let. After two or three hours
spent in going up and down stairs, he at last found, in the Boulevard
Francois, a pretty set of rooms; a spacious entresol with two doors on
two different streets, two drawing-rooms, a glass corridor, where his
patients while they waited, might walk among flowers, and a delightful
dining-room with a bow-window looking out over the sea.
When it came to taking it, the terms--three thousand francs--pulled
him up; the first quarter must be paid in advance, and he had nothing,
not a penny to call his own.
The little fortune his father had saved brought him in about eight
thousand francs a year, and Pierre had often blamed himself for having
placed his parents in difficulties by his long delay in deciding on a
profession, by forfeiting his attempts and beginning fresh courses of
study. So he went away, promising to send his answer within two days,
and it occurred to him to ask Jean to lend him the amount of this
quarter's rent, or even of a half-year, fifteen hundred francs, as
soon as Jean should have come into possession.
"It will be a loan for a few months at most," he thought. "I shall
repay him, very likely before the end of the year. It is a simple
matter, and he will be glad to do so much for me."
As it was not yet four o'clock, and he had nothing to do, absolutely
nothing, he went to sit in the public gardens; and he remained a long
time on a bench, without an idea in his brain, his eyes fixed on the
ground, crushed by weariness amounting to distress.
And yet this was how he had been living all these days since his
return home, without suffering so acutely from the vacuity of his
existence and from inaction. How had he spent his time from rising in
the morning till bed-time?
He had loafed on the pier at high tide, loafed in the streets, loafed
in the cafes, loafed at Marowsko's, loafed everywhere. And on a sudden
this life, which he had endured till now, had become odious,
intolerable. If he had had any pocket-money, he would have taken a
carriage for a long drive in the country, along by the farm-ditches
shaded by beech and elm trees; but he had to think twice of the cost
of a glass of beer or a postage-stamp, and such an indulgence was out
of his ken. It suddenly struck him how hard it was for a man of past
thirty to be reduced to ask his mother, with a blush for a twenty-
franc piece every now and then; and he muttered, as he scored the
gravel with the ferule of his stick:
"Christi, if I only had money!"
And again the thought of his brother's legacy came into his head like
the sting of a wasp; but he drove it out indignantly, not choosing to
allow himself to slip down that descent to jealousy.
Some children were playing about in the dusty paths. They were fair
little things with long hair, and they were making little mounds of
sand with the greatest gravity and careful attention, to crush them at
once by stamping on them.
It was one of those gloomy days with Pierre when we pry into every
corner of our souls and shake out every crease.
"All our endeavours are like the labours of those babies," thought he.
And then he wondered whether the wisest thing in life were not to
beget two or three of these little creatures and watch them grow up
with complacent curiosity. A longing for marriage breathed on his
soul. A man is not so lost when he is not alone. At any rate, he has
some one stirring at his side in hours of trouble or of uncertainty;
and it is something only to be able to speak on equal terms to a woman
when one is suffering.
Then he began thinking of women. He knew very little of them, never
having had any but very transient connections as a medical student,
broken off as soon as the month's allowance was spent, and renewed or
replaced by another the following month. And yet there must be some
very kind, gentle, and comforting creatures among them. Had not his
mother been the good sense and saving grace of his own home? How glad
he would be to know a woman, a true woman!
He started up with a sudden determination to go and call on Mme.
Rosemilly. But he promptly sat down again. He did not like that woman.
Why not? She had too much vulgar and sordid common sense; besides, did
she not seem to prefer Jean? Without confessing it to himself too
bluntly, this preference had a great deal to do with his low opinion
of the widow's intellect; for, though he loved his brother, he could
not help thinking him somewhat mediocre and believing himself the
superior. However, he was not going to sit there till nightfall; and
as he had done on the previous evening, he anxiously asked himself:
"What am I going to do?"
At this moment he felt in his soul the need of a melting mood, of
being embraced and comforted. Comforted--for what? He could not have
put it into words; but he was in one of these hours of weakness and
exhaustion when a woman's presence, a woman's kiss, the touch of a
hand, the rustle of a petticoat, a soft look out of black or blue
eyes, seem the one thing needful, there and then, to our heart. And
the memory flashed upon him of a little barmaid at a beer-house, whom
he had walked home with one evening, and seen again from time to time.
So once more he rose, to go and drink a bock with the girl. What
should he say to her? What would she say to him? Nothing, probably.
But what did that matter? He would hold her hand for a few seconds.
She seemed to have a fancy for him. Why, then, did he not go to see
He found her dozing on a chair in the beer-shop, which was almost
deserted. Three men were drinking and smoking with their elbows on the
oak tables; the book-keeper in her desk was reading a novel, while the
master, in his shirt-sleeves, lay sound asleep on a bench.
As soon as she saw him the girl rose eagerly, and coming to meet him,
"Good-day, monsieur--how are you?"
"Pretty well; and you?"
"I--oh, very well. How scarce you make yourself!"
"Yes. I have very little time to myself. I am a doctor, you know."
"Indeed! You never told me. If I had known that--I was out of sorts
last week and I would have sent for you. What will you take?"
"A bock. And you?"
"I will have a bock, too, since you are willing to treat me."
She had addressed him with the familiar /tu/, and continued to use it,
as if the offer of a drink had tacitly conveyed permission. Then,
sitting down opposite each other, they talked for a while. Every now
and then she took his hand with the light familiarity of girls whose
kisses are for sale, and looking at him with inviting eyes she said:
"Why don't you come here oftener? I like you very much, sweetheart."
He was already disgusted with her; he saw how stupid she was, and
common, smacking of low life. A woman, he told himself, should appear
to us in dreams, or such a glory as may poetize her vulgarity.
Next she asked him:
"You went by the other morning with a handsome fair man, wearing a big
beard. Is he your brother?"
"Yes, he is my brother."
"Do you think so?"
"Yes, indeed; and he looks like a man who enjoys life, too."
What strange craving impelled him on a sudden to tell this tavern-
wench about Jean's legacy? Why should this thing, which he kept at
arm's length when he was alone, which he drove from him for fear of
the torment it brought upon his soul, rise to his lips at this moment?
And why did he allow it to overflow them as if he needed once more to
empty out his heart to some one, gorged as it was with bitterness?
He crossed his legs and said:
"He has wonderful luck, that brother of mine. He had just come into a
legacy of twenty thousand francs a year."
She opened those covetous blue eyes of hers very wide.
"Oh! and who left him that? His grandmother or his aunt?"
"No. An old friend of my parents'."
"Only a friend! Impossible! And you--did he leave you nothing?"
"No. I knew him very slightly."
She sat thinking some minutes; then, with an odd smile on her lips,
"Well, he is a lucky dog, that brother of yours, to have friends of
this pattern. My word! and no wonder he is so unlike you."
He longed to slap her, without knowing why; and he asked with pinched
lips: "And what do you mean by saying that?"
She had put on a stolid, innocent face.
"O--h, nothing. I mean he has better luck than you."
He tossed a franc piece on the table and went out.
Now he kept repeating the phrase: "No wonder he is so unlike you."
What had her thought been, what had been her meaning under those
words? There was certainly some malice, some spite, something shameful
in it. Yes, that hussy must have fancied, no doubt, that Jean was
Marechal's son. The agitation which came over him at the notion of
this suspicion cast at his mother was so violent that he stood still,
looking about him for some place where he might sit down. In front of
him was another cafe. He went in, took a chair, and as the waiter came
up, "A bock," he said.
He felt his heart beating, his skin was gooseflesh. And then the
recollection flashed upon him of what Marowsko had said the evening
before. "It will not look well." Had he had the same thought, the same
suspicion as this baggage? Hanging his head over the glass, he watched
the white froth as the bubbles rose and burst, asking himself: "Is it
possible that such a thing should be believed?"
But the reasons which might give rise to this horrible doubt in other
men's minds now struck him, one after another, as plain, obvious, and
exasperating. That a childless old bachelor should leave his fortune
to a friend's two sons was the most simple and natural thing in the
world; but that he should leave the whole of it to one alone--of
course people would wonder, and whisper, and end by smiling. How was
it that he had not foreseen this, that his father had not felt it? How
was it that his mother had not guessed it? No; they had been too
delighted at this unhoped-for wealth for the idea to come near them.
And besides, how should these worthy souls have ever dreamed of
anything so ignominious?
But the public--their neighbours, the shopkeepers, their own
tradesmen, all who knew them--would not they repeat the abominable
thing, laugh at it, enjoy it, make game of his father and despise his
And the barmaid's remark that Jean was fair and he dark, that they
were not in the least alike in face, manner, figure, or intelligence,
would now strike every eye and every mind. When any one spoke of
Roland's son, the question would be: "Which, the real or the false?"
He rose, firmly resolved to warn Jean, and put him on his guard
against the frightful danger which threatened their mother's honour.
But what could Jean do? The simplest thing no doubt, would be to
refuse the inheritance, which would then go to the poor, and to tell
all friends or acquaintances who had heard of the bequest that the
will contained clauses and conditions impossible to subscribe to,
which would have made Jean not inheritor but merely a trustee.
As he made his way home he was thinking that he must see his brother
alone, so as not to speak of such a matter in the presence of his
parents. On reaching the door he heard a great noise of voices and
laughter in the drawing-room, and when he went in he found Captain
Beausire and Mme. Rosemilly, whom his father had brought home and
engaged to dine with them in honour of the good news. Vermouth and
absinthe had been served to whet their appetites, and every one had
been at once put into good spirits. Captain Beausire, a funny little
man who had become quite round by dint of being rolled about at sea,
and whose ideas also seemed to have been worn round, like the pebbles
of a beach, while he laughed with his throat full of /r/'s, looked
upon life as a capital thing, in which everything that might turn up
was good to take. He clinked his glass against father Roland's, while
Jean was offering two freshly filled glasses to the ladies. Mme.
Rosemilly refused, till Captain Beausire, who had known her husband,
"Come, come, madame, /bis repetita placent/, as we say in the lingo,
which is as much as to say two glasses of vermouth never hurt any one.
Look at me; since I have left the sea, in this way I give myself an
artificial roll or two every day before dinner; I add a little
pitching after my coffee, and that keeps things lively for the rest of
the evening. I never rise to a hurricane, mind you, never, never. I am
too much afraid of damage.
Roland, whose nautical mania was humoured by the old mariner, laughed
heartily, his face flushed already and his eye watery from the
absinthe. He had a burly shop-keeping stomach--nothing but stomach--in
which the rest of his body seemed to have got stowed away; the flabby
paunch of men who spend their lives sitting, and who have neither
thighs, nor chest, nor arms, nor neck; the seat of their chairs having
accumulated all their substance in one spot. Beausire, on the
contrary, though short and stout, was as tight as an egg and as hard
as a cannon-ball.
Mme. Roland had not emptied her glass and was gazing at her son Jean
with sparkling eyes; happiness had brought a colour to her cheeks.
In him, too, the fulness of joy had now blazed out. It was a settled
thing, signed and sealed; he had twenty thousand francs a year. In the
sound of his laugh, in the fuller voice with which he spoke, in his
way of looking at the others, his more positive manners, his greater
confidence, the assurance given by money was at once perceptible.
Dinner was announced, and as the old man was about to offer his arm to
Mme. Rosemilly, his wife exclaimed:
"No, no, father. Everything is for Jean to-day."
Unwonted luxury graced the table. In front of Jean, who sat in his
father's place, an enormous bouquet of flowers--a bouquet for a really
great occasion--stood up like a cupola dressed with flags, and was
flanked by four high dishes, one containing a pyramid of splendid
peaches; the second, a monumental cake gorged with whipped cream and
covered with pinnacles of sugar--a cathedral in confectionery; the
third, slices of pine-apple floating in clear sirup; and the fourth--
unheard-of lavishness--black grapes brought from the warmer south.
"The devil!" exclaimed Pierre as he sat down. "We are celebrating the
accession of Jean the rich."
After the soup, Madeira was passed round, and already every one was
talking at once. Beausire was giving the history of a dinner he had
eaten at San Domingo at the table of a negro general. Old Roland was
listening, and at the same time trying to get in, between the
sentences, his account of another dinner, given by a friend of his at
Mendon, after which every guest was ill for a fortnight. Mme.
Rosemilly, Jean, and his mother were planning an excursion to
breakfast at Saint Jouin, from which they promised themselves the
greatest pleasure; and Pierre was only sorry that he had not dined
alone in some pot-house by the sea, so as to escape all this noise and
laughter and glee which fretted him. He was wondering how he could now
set to work to confide his fears to his brother, and induce him to
renounce the fortune he had already accepted and of which he was
enjoying the intoxicating foretaste. It would be hard on him, no
doubt; but it must be done; he could not hesitate; their mother's
reputation was at stake.
The appearance of an enormous shade-fish threw Roland back on fishing
stories. Beausire told some wonderful tales of adventure on the
Gaboon, at Sainte-Marie, in Madagascar, and above all, off the coasts
of China and Japan, where the fish are as queer-looking as the
natives. And he described the appearance of these fishes--their goggle
gold eyes, their blue or red bellies, their fantastic fins like fans,
their eccentric crescent-shaped tails--with such droll gesticulation
that they all laughed till they cried as they listened.
Pierre alone seemed incredulous, muttering to himself: "True enough,
the Normans are the Gascons of the north!"
After the fish came a vol-au-vent, then a roast fowl, a salad, French
beans with a Pithiviers lark-pie. Mme. Rosemilly's maid helped to wait
on them, and the fun rose with the number of glasses of wine they
drank. When the cork of the first champagne-bottle was drawn with a
pop, father Roland, highly excited, imitated the noise with his tongue
and then declared: "I like that noise better than a pistol-shot."
Pierre, more and more fractious every moment, retorted with a sneer:
"And yet it is perhaps a greater danger for you."
Roland, who was on the point of drinking, set his full glass down on
the table again, and asked:
He had for some time been complaining of his health, of heaviness,
giddiness, frequent and unaccountable discomfort. The doctor replied:
"Because the bullet might very possibly miss you, while the glass of
wine is dead certain to hit you in the stomach."
"And what then?"
"Then it scorches your inside, upsets your nervous system, makes the
circulation sluggish, and leads the way to the apoplectic fit which
always threatens a man of your build."
The jeweller's incipient intoxication had vanished like smoke before
the wind. He looked at his son with fixed, uneasy eyes, trying to
discover whether he was making game of him.
But Beausire exclaimed:
"Oh, these confounded doctors! They all sing the same tune--eat
nothing, drink nothing, never make love or enjoy yourself; it all
plays the devil with your precious health. Well, all I can say is, I
have done all these things, sir, in every quarter of the globe,
wherever and as often as I have had the chance, and I am none the
Pierre answered with some asperity:
"In the first place, captain, you are a stronger man than my father;
and in the next, all free livers talk as you do till the day when--
when they come back no more to say to the cautious doctor: 'You were
right.' When I see my father doing what is worst and most dangerous
for him, it is but natural that I should warn him. I should be a bad
son if I did otherwise."
Mme. Roland, much distressed, now put in her word: "Come, Pierre, what
ails you? For once it cannot hurt him. Think of what an occasion it is
for him, for all of us. You will spoil his pleasure and make us all
unhappy. It is too bad of you to do such a thing."
He muttered, as he shrugged his shoulders.
"He can do as he pleases. I have warned him."
But father Roland did not drink. He sat looking at his glass full of
the clear and luminous liquor while its light soul, its intoxicating
soul, flew off in tiny bubbles mounting from its depths in hurried
succession to die on the surface. He looked at it with the suspicious
eye of a fox smelling at a dead hen and suspecting a trap. He asked
doubtfully: "Do you think it will really do me much harm?" Pierre had
a pang of remorse and blamed himself for letting his ill-humour punish
"No," said he. "Just for once you may drink it; but do not take too
much, or get into the habit of it."
Then old Roland raised his glass, but still he could not make up his
mind to put it to his lips. He contemplated it regretfully, with
longing and with fear; then he smelt it, tasted it, drank it in sips,
swallowing them slowly, his heart full of terrors, of weakness and
greediness; and then, when he had drained the last drop, of regret.
Pierre's eye suddenly met that of Mme. Rosemilly; it rested on him
clear and blue, far-seeing and hard. And he read, he knew, the precise
thought which lurked in that look, the indignant thought of this
simple and right-minded little woman; for the look said: "You are
jealous--that is what you are. Shameful!"
He bent his head and went on with his dinner.
He was not hungry and found nothing nice. A longing to be off harassed
him, a craving to be away from these people, to hear no more of their
talking, jests, and laughter.
Father Roland meanwhile, to whose head the fumes of the wine were
rising once more, had already forgotten his son's advice and was
eyeing a champagne-bottle with a tender leer as it stood, still nearly
full, by the side of his plate. He dared not touch it for fear of
being lectured again, and he was wondering by what device or trick he
could possess himself of it without exciting Pierre's remark. A ruse
occurred to him, the simplest possible. He took up the bottle with an
air of indifference, and holding it by the neck, stretched his arm
across the table to fill the doctor's glass, which was empty; then he
filled up all the other glasses, and when he came to his own he began
talking very loud, so that if he poured anything into it they might
have sworn it was done inadvertently. And in fact no one took any
Pierre, without observing it, was drinking a good deal. Nervous and
fretted, he every minute raised to his lips the tall crystal funnel
where the bubbles were dancing in the living, translucent fluid. He
let the wine slip very slowly over his tongue, that he might feel the
little sugary sting of the fixed air as it evaporated.
Gradually a pleasant warmth glowed in his frame. Starting from the
stomach as a centre, it spread to his chest, took possession of his
limbs, and diffused itself throughout his flesh, like a warm and
comforting tide, bringing pleasure with it. He felt better now, less
impatient, less annoyed, and his determination to speak to his brother
that very evening faded away; not that he thought for a moment of
giving it up, but simply not to disturb the happy mood in which he
Beausire presently rose to propose a toast. Having bowed to the
company, he began:
"Most gracious ladies and gentlemen, we have met to do honour to a
happy event which has befallen one of our friends. It used to be said
that Fortune was blind, but I believe that she is only short-sighted
or tricksy, and that she has lately bought a good pair of glasses
which enabled her to discover in the town of Havre the son of our
worthy friend Roland, skipper of the Pearl."
Every one cried bravo and clapped their hands, and the elder Roland
rose to reply. After clearing his throat, for it felt thick and his
tongue was heavy, he stammered out:
"Thank you, captain, thank you--for myself and my son. I shall never
forget your behaviour on this occasion. Here's good luck to you!"
His eyes and nose were full of tears, and he sat down, finding nothing
more to say.
Jean, who was laughing, spoke in his turn:
"It is I," said he, "who ought to thank my friends here, my excellent
friends," and he glanced at Mme. Rosemilly, "who have given me such a
touching evidence of their affection. But it is not by words that I
can prove my gratitude. I will prove it to-morrow, every hour of my
life, always, for our friendship is not one of those which fade away."
His mother, deeply moved, murmured: "Well said, my boy."
But Beausire cried out:
"Come, Mme. Rosemilly, speak on behalf of the fair sex."
She raised her glass, and in a pretty voice, slightly touched with
sadness, she said: "I will pledge you to the memory of M. Marechal."
There was a few moments' lull, a pause for decent meditation, as after
prayer. Beausire, who always had a flow of compliment, remarked:
"Only a woman ever thinks of these refinements." Then turning to
Father Roland: "And who was this Marechal, after all? You must have
been very intimate with him."
The old man, emotional with drink, began to whimper, and in a broken
voice he said:
"Like a brother, you know. Such a friend as one does not make twice--
we were always together--he dined with us every evening--and would
treat us to the play--I need say no more--no more--no more. A true
friend--a real true friend--wasn't he, Louise?"
His wife merely answered: "Yes; he was a faithful friend."
Pierre looked at his father and then at his mother, then, as the
subject changed he drank some more wine. He scarcely remembered the
remainder of the evening. They had coffee, then liqueurs, and they
laughed and joked a great deal. At about midnight he went to bed, his
mind confused and his head heavy; and he slept like a brute till nine
These slumbers, lapped in Champagne and Chartreuse, had soothed and
calmed him, no doubt, for he awoke in a very benevolent frame of mind.
While he was dressing he appraised, weighed, and summed up the
agitations of the past day, trying to bring out quite clearly and
fully their real and occult causes, those personal to himself as well
as those from outside.
It was, in fact, possible that the girl at the beer-shop had had an
evil suspicion--a suspicion worthy of such a hussy--on hearing that
only one of the Roland brothers had been made heir to a stranger; but
have not such natures as she always similar notions, without a shadow
of foundation, about every honest woman? Do they not, whenever they
speak, vilify, calumniate, and abuse all whom they believe to be
blameless? Whenever a woman who is above imputation is mentioned in
their presence, they are as angry as if they were being insulted, and
exclaim: "Ah, yes, I know your married women; a pretty sort they are!
Why, they have more lovers than we have, only they conceal it because
they are such hypocrites. Oh, yes, a pretty sort, indeed!"
Under any other circumstances he would certainly not have understood,
not have imagined the possibility of such an insinuation against his
poor mother, who was so kind, so simple, so excellent. But his spirit
seethed with the leaven of jealousy that was fermenting within him.
His own excited mind, on the scent, as it were, in spite of himself,
for all that could damage his brother, had even perhaps attributed to
the tavern barmaid an odious intention of which she was innocent. It
was possible that his imagination had, unaided, invented this dreadful
doubt--his imagination, which he never controlled, which constantly
evaded his will and went off, unfettered, audacious, adventurous, and
stealthy, into the infinite world of ideas, bringing back now and then
some which were shameless and repulsive, and which it buried in him,
in the depths of his soul, in its most fathomless recesses, like
something stolen. His heart, most certainly, his own heart had secrets
from him; and had not that wounded heart discerned in this atrocious
doubt a means of depriving his brother of the inheritance of which he
was jealous? He suspected himself now, cross-examining all the
mysteries of his mind as bigots search their consciences.
Mme. Rosemilly, though her intelligence was limited, had certainly a
woman's instinct, scent, and subtle intuitions. And this notion had
never entered her head, since she had, with perfect simplicity, drunk
to the blessed memory of the deceased Marechal. She was not the woman
to have done this if she had had the faintest suspicion. Now he
doubted no longer; his involuntary displeasure at his brother's
windfall of fortune and his religious affection for his mother had
magnified his scruples--very pious and respectable scruples, but
exaggerated. As he put this conclusion into words in his own mind he
felt happy, as at the doing of a good action; and he resolved to be
nice to every one, beginning with his father, whose manias, and silly
statements, and vulgar opinions, and too conspicuous mediocrity were a
constant irritation to him.
He came in not late for breakfast, and amused all the family by his
fun and good humour.
His mother, quite delighted, said to him:
"My little Pierre, you have no notion how humorous and clever you can
be when you choose."
And he talked, putting things in a witty way, and making them laugh by
ingenious hits at their friends. Beausire was his butt, and Mme.
Rosemilly a little, but in a very judicious way, not too spiteful. And
he thought as he looked at his brother: "Stand up for her, you muff.
You may be as rich as you please, I can always eclipse you when I take
As they drank their coffee he said to his father:
"Are you going out in the Pearl to-day?"
"No, my boy."
"May I have her with Jean Bart?"
"To be sure, as long as you like."
He bought a good cigar at the first tobacconist's and went down to the
quay with a light step. He glanced up at the sky, which was clear and
luminous, of a pale blue, freshly swept by the sea-breeze.
Papagris, the boatman, commonly called Jean Bart, was dozing in the
bottom of the boat, which he was required to have in readiness every
day at noon when they had not been out fishing in the morning.
"You and I together, mate," cried Pierre. He went down the iron ladder
of the quay and leaped into the vessel.
"Which way is the wind?" he asked.
"Due east still, M'sieu Pierre. A fine breeze out at sea."