PIERRE & JEAN
Guy de Maupassant
Part 3 out of 3
common with him.
"Ah! ah! Good Heavens! Jealous of you! I? I? And of what? Good God! Of
your person or your mind?"
But Jean knew full well that he had touched the wound in his soul.
"Yes, jealous of me--jealous from your childhood up. And it became
fury when you saw that this woman liked me best and would have nothing
to say to you."
Pierre, stung to the quick by this assumption, stuttered out:
"I? I? Jealous of you? And for the sake of that goose, that gaby, that
Jean, seeing that he was aiming true, went on:
"And how about the day when you tried to pull me round in the Pearl?
And all you said in her presence to show off? Why, you are bursting
with jealousy! And when this money was left to me you were maddened,
you hated me, you showed it in every possible way, and made every one
suffer for it; not an hour passes that you do not spit out the bile
that is choking you."
Pierre clenched his fist in his fury with an almost irresistible
impulse to fly at his brother and seize him by the throat.
"Hold your tongue," he cried. "At least say nothing about that money."
Jean went on:
"Why your jealousy oozes out at every pore. You never say a word to my
father, my mother, or me that does not declare it plainly. You pretend
to despise me because you are jealous. You try to pick a quarrel with
every one because you are jealous. And now that I am rich you can no
longer contain yourself; you have become venomous, you torture our
poor mother as if she were to blame!"
Pierre had retired step by step as far as the fire-place, his mouth
half open, his eyes glaring, a prey to one of those mad fits of
passion in which a crime is committed.
He said again in a lower tone, gasping for breath: "Hold your tongue--
for God's sake hold your tongue!"
"No! For a long time I have been wanting to give you my whole mind!
You have given me an opening--so much the worse for you. I love the
woman; you know it, and laugh her to scorn in my presence--so much the
worse for you. But I will break your viper's fangs, I tell you. I will
make you treat me with respect."
"Respect you? You who have brought shame on us all by your greed."
"You say--? Say it again--again."
"I say that it does not do to accept one man's fortune when another is
reputed to be your father."
Jean stood rigid, not understanding, dazed by the insinuation he
"What? Repeat that once more."
"I say--what everybody is muttering, what every gossip is blabbing--
that you are the son of the man who left you his fortune. Well, then--
a decent man does not take the money which brings dishonour on his
"Pierre! Pierre! Pierre! Think what you are saying. You? Is it you who
give utterance to this infamous thing?"
"Yes, I. It is I. Have you not seen me crushed with woe this month
past, spending my nights without sleep and my days in lurking out of
sight like an animal? I hardly know what I am doing or what will
become of me, so miserable am I, so crazed with shame and grief; for
first I guessed--and now I know it."
"Pierre! Be silent. Mother is in the next room. Remember she may hear
--she must hear."
But Pierre felt that he must unburden his heart. He told Jean all his
suspicions, his arguments, his struggles, his assurance, and the
history of the portrait--which had again disappeared. He spoke in
short broken sentences almost without coherence--the language of a
He seemed to have quite forgotten Jean, and his mother in the
adjoining room. He talked as if no one were listening, because he must
talk, because he had suffered too much and smothered and closed the
wound too tightly. It had festered like an abscess and the abscess had
burst, splashing every one. He was pacing the room in the way he
almost always did, his eyes fixed on vacancy, gesticulating in a
frenzy of despair, his voice choked with tearless sobs and revulsions
of self-loathing; he spoke as if he were making a confession of his
own misery and that of his nearest kin, as though he were casting his
woes to the deaf, invisible winds which bore away his words.
Jean, distracted and almost convinced on a sudden by his brother's
blind vehemence, was leaning against the door behind which, as he
guessed, their mother had heard them.
She could not get out, she must come through his room. She had not
come; then it was because she dare not.
Suddenly Pierre stamped his foot.
"I am a brute," he cried, "to have told you this."
And he fled, bare-headed, down the stairs.
The noise of the front-door closing with a slam roused Jean from the
deep stupor into which he had fallen. Some seconds had elapsed, longer
than hours, and his spirit had sunk into the numb torpor of idiocy. He
was conscious, indeed, that he must presently think and act, but he
would wait, refusing to understand, to know, to remember, out of fear,
weakness, cowardice. He was one of those procrastinators who put
everything off till to-morrow; and when he was compelled to come to a
decision then and there, still he instinctively tried to gain a few
But the perfect silence which now reigned, after Pierre's
vociferations, the sudden stillness of walls and furniture, with the
bright light of six wax candles and two lamps, terrified him so
greatly that he suddenly longed to make his escape too.
Then he roused his brain, roused his heart, and tried to reflect.
Never in his life had he had to face a difficulty. There are men who
let themselves glide onward like running water. He had been duteous
over his tasks for fear of punishment, and had got through his legal
studies with credit because his existence was tranquil. Everything in
the world seemed to him quite natural and never aroused his particular
attention. He loved order, steadiness, and peace, by temperament, his
nature having no complications; and face to face with this
catastrophe, he found himself like a man who has fallen into the water
and cannot swim.
At first he tried to be incredulous. His brother had told a lie, out
of hatred and jealousy. But yet, how could he have been so vile as to
say such a thing of their mother if he had not himself been distraught
by despair? Besides, stamped on Jean's ear, on his sight, on his
nerves, on the inmost fibres of his flesh, were certain words, certain
tones of anguish, certain gestures of Pierre's, so full of suffering
that they were irresistibly convincing; as incontrovertible as
He was too much crushed to stir or even to will. His distress became
unbearable; and he knew that behind the door was his mother who had
heard everything and was waiting.
What was she doing? Not a movement, not a shudder, not a breath, not a
sigh revealed the presence of a living creature behind that panel.
Could she have run away? But how? If she had run away--she must have
jumped out of the window into the street. A shock of terror roused him
--so violent and imperious that he drove the door in rather than
opened it, and flung himself into the bed-room.
It was apparently empty, lighted by a single candle standing on the
chest of drawers.
Jean flew to the window; it was shut and the shutters bolted. He
looked about him, peering into the dark corners with anxious eyes, and
he then noticed that the bed-curtains were drawn. He ran forward and
opened them. His mother was lying on the bed, her face buried in the
pillow which she had pulled up over her ears that she might hear no
At first he thought she had smothered herself. Then, taking her by the
shoulders, he turned her over without her leaving go of the pillow,
which covered her face, and in which she had set her teeth to keep
herself from crying out.
But the mere touch of this rigid form, of those arms so convulsively
clinched, communicated to him the shock of her unspeakable torture.
The strength and determination with which she clutched the linen case
full of feathers with her hands and teeth, over her mouth and eyes and
ears, that he might neither see her nor speak to her, gave him an
idea, by the turmoil it roused in him, of the pitch suffering may rise
to, and his heart, his simple heart, was torn with pity. He was no
judge, not he; not even a merciful judge; he was a man full of
weakness and a son full of love. He remembered nothing of what his
brother had told him; he neither reasoned nor argued, he merely laid
his two hands on his mother's inert body, and not being able to pull
the pillow away, he exclaimed, kissing her dress:
"Mother, mother, my poor mother, look at me!"
She would have seemed to be dead but that an almost imperceptible
shudder ran through all her limbs, the vibration of a strained cord.
And he repeated:
"Mother, mother, listen to me. It is not true. I know that it is not
A spasm seemed to come over her, a fit of suffocation; then she
suddenly began to sob into the pillow. Her sinews relaxed, her rigid
muscles yielded, her fingers gave way and left go of the linen; and he
uncovered her face.
She was pale, quite colourless; and from under her closed lids tears
were stealing. He threw his arms round her neck and kissed her eyes,
slowly, with long heart-broken kisses, wet with her tears; and he said
again and again:
"Mother, my dear mother, I know it is not true. Do not cry; I know it.
It is not true."
She raised herself, she sat up, looked in his face, and with an effort
of courage such as it must cost in some cases to kill one's self, she
"No, my child; it is true."
And they remained speechless, each in the presence of the other. For
some minutes she seemed again to be suffocating, craning her throat
and throwing back her head to get breath; then she once more mastered
herself and went on:
"It is true, my child. Why lie about it? It is true. You would not
believe me if I denied it."
She looked like a crazy creature. Overcome by alarm, he fell on his
knees by the bedside, murmuring:
"Hush, mother, be silent." She stood up with terrible determination
"I have nothing more to say, my child. Good-bye." And she went towards
He threw his arms about her exclaiming:
"What are you doing, mother; where are you going?"
"I do not know. How should I know-- There is nothing left for me to
do, now that I am alone."
She struggled to be released. Holding her firmly, he could find only
words to say again and again:
"Mother, mother, mother!" And through all her efforts to free herself
she was saying:
"No, no. I am not your mother now, poor boy--good-bye."
It struck him clearly that if he let her go now he should never see
her again; lifting her up in his arms he carried her to an arm-chair,
forced her into it, and kneeling down in front of her barred her in
with his arms.
"You shall not quit this spot, mother. I love you and I will keep you!
I will keep you always--I love you and you are mine."
She murmured in a dejected tone:
"No, my poor boy, it is impossible. You weep to-night, but to-morrow
you would turn me out of the house. You, even you, could not forgive
He replied: "I? I? How little you know me!" with such a burst of
genuine affection that, with a cry, she seized his head by the hair
with both hands, and dragging him violently to her kissed him
distractedly all over his face.
Then she sat still, her cheek against his, feeling the warmth of his
skin through his beard, and she whispered in his ear: "No, my little
Jean, you would not forgive me to-morrow. You think so, but you
deceive yourself. You have forgiven me this evening, and that
forgiveness has saved my life; but you must never see me again."
And he repeated, clasping her in his arms:
"Mother, do not say that."
"Yes, my child, I must go away. I do not know where, nor how I shall
set about it, nor what I shall do; but it must be done. I could never
look at you, nor kiss you, do you understand?"
Then he in his turn spoke into her ear:
"My little mother, you are to stay, because I insist, because I want
you. And you must pledge your word to obey me, now, at once."
"No, my child."
"Yes, mother, you must; do you hear? You must."
"No, my child, it is impossible. It would be condemning us all to the
tortures of hell. I know what that torment is; I have known it this
month past. Your feelings are touched now, but when that is over, when
you look on me as Pierre does, when you remember what I have told you
--oh, my Jean, think--think--I am your mother!"
"I will not let you leave me, mother. I have no one but you."
"But think, my son, we can never see each other again without both of
us blushing, without my feeling that I must die of shame, without my
eyes falling before yours."
"But it is not so, mother."
"Yes, yes, yes, it is so! Oh, I have understood all your poor
brother's struggles, believe me! All--from the very first day. Now,
when I hear his step in the house my heart beats as if it would burst,
when I hear his voice I am ready to faint. I still had you; now I have
you no longer. Oh, my little Jean! Do you think I could live between
"Yes, I should love you so much that you would cease to think of it."
"As if that were possible!"
"But it is possible."
"How do you suppose that I could cease to think of it, with your
brother and you on each hand? Would you cease to think of it, I ask
"I? I swear I should."
"Why you would think of it at every hour of the day."
"No, I swear it. Besides, listen, if you go away I will enlist and get
This boyish threat quite overcame her; she clasped Jean in a
passionate and tender embrace. He went on:
"I love you more than you think--ah, much more, much more. Come, be
reasonable. Try to stay for only one week. Will you promise me one
week? You cannot refuse me that?"
She laid her two hands on Jean's shoulders, and holding him at arm's
length she said:
"My child, let us try and be calm and not give way to emotions. First,
listen to me. If I were ever to hear from your lips what I have heard
for this month past from your brother, if I were once to see in your
eyes what I read in his, if I could fancy from a word or a look that I
was as odious to you as I am to him--within one hour, mark me--within
one hour I should be gone forever."
"Mother, I swear to you--"
"Let me speak. For a month past I have suffered all that any creature
can suffer. From the moment when I perceived that your brother, my
other son, suspected me, that as the minutes went by, he guessed the
truth, every moment of my life has been a martyrdom which no words
could tell you."
Her voice was so full of woe that the contagion of her misery brought
the tears to Jean's eyes.
He tried to kiss her, but she held him off.
"Leave me--listen; I still have so much to say to make you understand.
But you never can understand. You see, if I stayed--I must--no, no. I
"Speak on, mother, speak."
"Yes, indeed, for at least I shall not have deceived you. You want me
to stay with you? For what--for us to be able to see each other, speak
to each other, meet at any hour of the day at home, for I no longer
dare open a door for fear of finding your brother behind it. If we are
to do that, you must not forgive me--nothing is so wounding as
forgiveness--but you must owe me no grudge for what I have done. You
must feel yourself strong enough, and so far unlike the rest of the
world, as to be able to say to yourself that you are not Roland's son
without blushing for the fact or despising me. I have suffered enough
--I have suffered too much; I can bear no more, no indeed, no more!
And it is not a thing of yesterday, mind you, but of long, long years.
But you could never understand that; how should you! If you and I are
to live together and kiss each other, my little Jean, you must believe
that though I was your father's mistress I was yet more truly his
wife, his real wife; that, at the bottom of my heart, I cannot be
ashamed of it; that I have no regrets; that I love him still even in
death; that I shall always love him and never loved any other man;
that he was my life, my joy, my hope, my comfort, everything--
everything in the world to me for so long! Listen, my boy, before God,
who hears me, I should never have had a joy in my existence if I had
not met him; never anything--not a touch of tenderness or kindness,
not one of those hours which make us regret growing old--nothing. I
owe everything to him! I had but him in the world, and you two boys,
your brother and you. But for you, all would have been empty, dark,
and void as the night. I should never have loved, or known, or cared
for anything--I should not even have wept--for I have wept, my little
Jean; oh, yes, and bitter tears, since we came to Havre. I was his
wholly and forever; for ten years I was as much his wife as he was my
husband before God who created us for each other. And then I began to
see that he loved me less. He was always kind and courteous, but I was
not what I had been to him. It was all over! Oh, how I have cried! How
dreadful and delusive life is! Nothing lasts. Then we came here--I
never saw him again; he never came. He promised it in every letter. I
was always expecting him, and I never saw him again--and now he is
dead! But he still cared for us since he remembered you. I shall love
him to my latest breath, and I never will deny him, and I love you
because you are his child, and I could never be ashamed of him before
you. Do you understand? I could not. So if you wish me to remain you
must accept the situation as his son, and we will talk of him
sometimes; and you must love him a little and we must think of him
when we look at each other. If you will not do this--if you cannot--
then good-bye, my child; it is impossible that we should live
together. Now, I will act by your decision."
Jean replied gently:
She clasped him in her arms, and her tears flowed again; then, with
her face against his, she went on:
"Well, but Pierre. What can we do about Pierre?"
"We will find some plan! You cannot live with him any longer."
At the thought of her elder son she was convulsed with terror.
"No, I cannot; no, no!" And throwing herself on Jean's breast she
cried in distress of mind:
"Save me from him, you, my little one. Save me; do something--I don't
know what. Think of something. Save me."
"Yes, mother, I will think of something."
"And at once. You must, this minute. Do not leave me. I am so afraid
of him--so afraid."
"Yes, yes; I will hit on some plan. I promise you I will."
"But at once; quick, quick! You cannot imagine what I feel when I see
Then she murmured softly in his ear: "Keep me here, with you."
He paused, reflected, and with his blunt good-sense saw at once the
dangers of such an arrangement. But he had to argue for a long time,
combating her scared, terror-stricken insistence.
"Only for to-night," she said. "Only for to-night. And to-morrow
morning you can send word to Roland that I was taken ill."
"That is out of the question, as Pierre left you here. Come, take
courage. I will arrange everything, I promise you, to-morrow; I will
be with you by nine o'clock. Come, put on your bonnet. I will take you
"I will do just what you desire," she said with a childlike impulse of
timidity and gratitude.
She tried to rise, but the shock had been too much for her; she could
He made her drink some sugared water and smell at some salts, while he
bathed her temples with vinegar. She let him do what he would,
exhausted, but comforted, as after the pains of child-birth. At last
she could walk and she took his arm. The town hall struck three as
they went past.
Outside their own door Jean kissed her, saying:
"Good-night, mother, keep up your courage."
She stealthily crept up the silent stairs, and into her room,
undressed quickly, and slipped into bed with a reawakened sense of
that long-forgotten sin. Roland was snoring. In all the house Pierre
alone was awake, and had heard her come in.
When he got back to his lodgings Jean dropped on a sofa; for the
sorrows and anxieties which made his brother long to be moving, and to
flee like a hunted prey, acted differently on his torpid nature and
broke the strength of his arms and legs. He felt too limp to stir a
finger, even to get to bed; limp body and soul, crushed and heart-
broken. He had not been hit, as Pierre had been, in the purity of
filial love, in the secret dignity which is the refuge of a proud
heart; he was overwhelmed by a stroke of fate which, at the same time,
threatened his own nearest interests.
When at last his spirit was calmer, when his thoughts had settled like
water that has been stirred and lashed, he could contemplate the
situation which had come before him. If he had learned the secret of
his birth through any other channel he would assuredly have been very
wroth and very deeply pained, but after his quarrel with his brother,
after the violent and brutal betrayal which had shaken his nerves, the
agonizing emotion of his mother's confession had so bereft him of
energy that he could not rebel. The shock to his feeling had been so
great as to sweep away in an irresistible tide of pathos, all
prejudice, and all the sacred delicacy of natural morality. Besides,
he was not a man made for resistance. He did not like contending
against any one, least of all against himself, so he resigned himself
at once; and by instinctive tendency, a congenital love of peace, and
of an easy and tranquil life, he began to anticipate the agitations
which must surge up around him and at once be his ruin. He foresaw
that they were inevitable, and to avert them he made up his mind to
superhuman efforts of energy and activity. The knot must be cut
immediately, this very day; for even he had fits of that imperious
demand for a swift solution which is the only strength of weak
natures, incapable of a prolonged effort of will. His lawyer's mind,
accustomed as it was to disentangling and studying complicated
situations and questions of domestic difficulties in families that had
got out of gear, at once foresaw the more immediate consequences of
his brother's state of mind. In spite of himself, he looked at the
issue from an almost professional point of view, as though he had to
legislate for the future relations of certain clients after a moral
disaster. Constant friction against Pierre had certainly become
unendurable. He could easily evade it, no doubt, by living in his own
lodgings; but even then it was not possible that their mother should
live under the same roof with her elder son. For a long time he sat
meditating, motionless, on the cushions, devising and rejecting
various possibilities, and finding nothing that satisfied him.
But suddenly an idea took him by storm. This fortune which had come to
him. Would an honest man keep it?
"No," was the first immediate answer, and he made up his mind that it
must go to the poor. It was hard, but it could not be helped. He would
sell his furniture and work like any other man, like any other
beginner. This manful and painful resolution spurred his courage; he
rose and went to the window, leaning his forehead against the pane. He
had been poor; he could become poor again. After all he should not die
of it. His eyes were fixed on the gas lamp burning at the opposite
side of the street. A woman, much belated, happened to pass; suddenly
he thought of Mme. Rosemilly with a pang at his heart, the shock of
deep feeling which comes of a cruel suggestion. All the dire results
of his decision rose up before him together. He would have to renounce
his marriage, renounce happiness, renounce everything. Could he do
such a thing after having pledged himself to her? She had accepted him
knowing him to be rich. She would take him still if he were poor; but
had he any right to demand such a sacrifice? Would it not be better to
keep this money in trust, to be restored to the poor at some future
And in his soul, where selfishness put on a guise of honesty, all
these specious interests were struggling and contending. His first
scruples yielded to ingenious reasoning, then came to the top again,
and again disappeared.
He sat down again, seeking some decisive motive, some all-sufficient
pretext to solve his hesitancy and convince his natural rectitude.
Twenty times over had he asked himself this question: "Since I am this
man's son, since I know and acknowledge it, is it not natural that I
should also accept the inheritance?"
But even this argument could not suppress the "No" murmured by his
Then came the thought: "Since I am not the son of the man I always
believed to be my father, I can take nothing from him, neither during
his lifetime nor after his death. It would be neither dignified nor
equitable. It would be robbing my brother."
This new view of the matter having relieved him and quieted his
conscience, he went to the window again.
"Yes," he said to himself, "I must give up my share of the family
inheritance. I must let Pierre have the whole of it, since I am not
his father's son. That is but just. Then is it not just that I should
keep my father's money?
Having discerned that he could take nothing of Roland's savings,
having decided on giving up the whole of this money, he agreed; he
resigned himself to keeping Marechal's; for if he rejected both he
would find himself reduced to beggary.
This delicate question being thus disposed of he came back to that of
Pierre's presence in the family. How was he to be got rid of? He was
giving up his search for any practical solution when the whistle of a
steam-vessel coming into port seemed to blow him an answer by
suggesting a scheme.
Then he threw himself on his bed without undressing, and dozed and
dreamed till daybreak.
At a little before nine he went out to ascertain whether his plans
were feasible. Then, after making sundry inquiries and calls, he went
to his old home. His mother was waiting for him in her room.
"If you had not come," she said, "I should never have dared to go
In a minute Roland's voice was heard on the stairs: "Are we to have
nothing to eat to-day, hang it all?"
There was no answer, and he roared out, with a thundering oath this
time: "Josephine, what the devil are you about?"
The girl's voice came up from the depths of the basement.
"Yes, M'sieu--what is it?"
"Where is your Miss'es?"
"Madame is upstairs with M'sieu Jean."
Then he shouted, looking up at the higher floor: "Louise!"
Mme. Roland half opened her door and answered:
"What is it, my dear?"
"Are we to have nothing to eat to-day, hang it all?"
"Yes, my dear, I am coming."
And she went down, followed by Jean.
Roland, as soon as he saw him, exclaimed:
"Hallo! There you are! Sick of your home already?"
"No, father, but I had something to talk over with mother this
Jean went forward holding out his hand, and when he felt his fingers
in the old man's fatherly clasp, a strange, unforeseen emotion
thrilled through him, and a sense as of parting and farewell without
Mme. Roland asked:
"Pierre is not come down?"
Her husband shrugged his shoulders.
"No, but never mind him; he is always behind-hand. We will begin
She turned to Jean:
"You had better go to call him, my child; it hurts his feelings if we
do not wait for him."
"Yes, mother. I will go."
And the young man went. He mounted the stairs with the fevered
determination of a man who is about to fight a duel and who is in a
fright. When he knocked at the door Pierre said:
He went in. The elder was writing, leaning over his table.
"Good-morning," said Jean.
"Good-morning!" and they shook hands as if nothing had occurred.
"Are you not coming down to breakfast?"
"Well--you see--I have a good deal to do." The elder brother's voice
was tremulous, and his anxious eye asked his younger brother what he
meant to do.
"They are waiting for you."
"Oh! There is--is my mother down?"
"Yes, it was she who sent me to fetch you."
"Ah, very well; then I will come."
At the door of the dining-room he paused, doubtful about going in
first; then he abruptly opened the door and saw his father and mother
seated at the table opposite each other.
He went straight up to her without looking at her or saying a word,
and bending over her, offered his forehead for her to kiss, as he had
done for some time past, instead of kissing her on both cheeks as of
old. He supposed that she put her lips near but he did not feel them
on his brow, and he straightened himself with a throbbing heart after
this feint of a caress. And he wondered:
"What did they say to each other after I had left?"
Jean constantly addressed her tenderly as "mother," or "dear mother,"
took care of her, waited on her, and poured out her wine.
Then Pierre understood that they had wept together, but he could not
read their minds. Did Jean believe in his mother's guilt, or think his
brother a base wretch?
And all his self-reproach for having uttered the horrible thing came
upon him again, choking his throat and his tongue, and preventing his
either eating or speaking.
He was now a prey to an intolerable desire to fly, to leave the house
which was his home no longer, and these persons who were bound to him
by such imperceptible ties. He would gladly have been off that moment,
no matter whither, feeling that everything was over, that he could not
endure to stay with them, that his presence was torture to them, and
that they would bring on him incessant suffering too great to endure.
Jean was talking, chatting with Roland. Pierre, as he did not listen,
did not hear. But he presently was aware of a pointed tone in his
brother's voice and paid more attention to his words. Jean was saying:
"She will be the finest ship in their fleet. They say she is of 6,500
tons. She is to make her first trip next month."
Roland was amazed.
"So soon? I thought she was not to be ready for sea this summer."
"Yes. The work has been pushed forward very vigorously, to get her
through her first voyage before the autumn. I looked in at the
Company's office this morning, and was talking to one of the
"Indeed! Which of them?"
"M. Marchand, who is a great friend of the Chairman of the Board."
"Oh! Do you know him?"
"Yes. And I wanted to ask him a favour."
"Then you will get me leave to go over every part of the Lorraine as
soon as she comes into port?"
"To be sure; nothing could be easier."
Then Jean seemed to hesitate, to be weighing his words, and to want to
lead up to a difficult subject. He went on:
"On the whole, life is very endurable on board those great
Transatlantic liners. More than half the time is spent on shore in two
splendid cities--New York and Havre; and the remainder at sea with
delightful company. In fact, very pleasant acquaintances are sometimes
made among the passengers, and very useful in after-life--yes, really
very useful. Only think, the captain, with his perquisites on coal,
can make as much as twenty-five thousand francs a year or more."
Roland muttered an oath followed by a whistle, which testified to his
deep respect for the sum and the captain.
Jean went on:
"The purser makes as much as ten thousand, and the doctor has a fixed
salary of five thousand, with lodgings, keep, light, firing, service,
and everything, which makes it up to ten thousand at least. That is
very good pay."
Pierre raising his eyes met his brother's and understood.
Then, after some hesitation, he asked:
"Is it very hard to get a place as medical man on board a
"Yes--and no. It all depends on circumstances and recommendation."
There was a long pause; then the doctor began again.
"Next month, you say, the Lorraine is to sail?"
"Yes. On the 7th."
And they said nothing more.
Pierre was considering. It certainly would be a way out of many
difficulties if he could embark as medical officer on board the
steamship. By-and-by he could see; he might perhaps give it up.
Meanwhile he would be gaining a living, and asking for nothing from
his parents. Only two days since he had been forced to sell his watch,
for he would no longer hold out his hand to beg of his mother. So he
had no other resource left, no opening to enable him to eat the bread
of any house but this which had become uninhabitable, or sleep in any
other bed, or under any other roof. He presently said, with some
"If I could, I would very gladly sail in her."
"What should hinder you?"
"I know no one in the Transatlantic Shipping Company.
Roland was astounded.
"And what has become of all your fine schemes for getting on?"
Pierre replied in a low voice:
"There are times when we must bring ourselves to sacrifice everything
and renounce our fondest hopes. And after all it is only to make a
beginning, a way of saving a few thousand francs to start fair with
His father was promptly convinced.
"That is very true. In a couple of years you can put by six or seven
thousand francs, and that well laid out, will go a long way. What do
you think of the matter, Louise?"
She replied in a voice so low as to be scarcely audible:
"I think Pierre is right."
"I will go and talk it over with M. Poulin: I know him very well. He
is assessor of the Chamber of Commerce and takes an interest in the
affairs of the Company. There is M. Lenient, too, the ship-owner, who
is intimate with one of the vice-chairmen."
Jean asked his brother:
"Would you like me to feel my way with M. Marchand at once?"
"Yes, I should be very glad."
After thinking a few minutes Pierre added:
"The best thing I can do, perhaps, will be to write to my professors
at the college of Medicine, who had a great regard for me. Very
inferior men are sometimes shipped on board those vessels. Letters of
strong recommendation from such professors as Mas-Roussel, Remusot,
Flanche, and Borriquel would do more for me in an hour than all the
doubtful introductions in the world. It would be enough if your friend
M. Marchand would lay them before the board."
Jean approved heartily.
"Your idea is really capital." And he smiled, quite reassured, almost
happy, sure of success and incapable of allowing himself to be unhappy
"You will write to-day?" he said.
"Directly. Now; at once. I will go and do so. I do not care for any
coffee this morning; I am too nervous."
He rose and left the room.
Then Jean turned to his mother:
"And you, mother, what are you going to do?"
"Nothing. I do not know."
"Will you come with me to call on Mme. Rosemilly?"
"You know I must positively go to see her to-day."
"Yes, yes. To be sure."
"Why must you positively?" asked Roland, whose habit it was never to
understand what was said in his presence.
"Because I promised her I would."
"Oh, very well. That alters the case." And he began to fill his pipe,
while the mother and son went upstairs to make ready.
When they were in the street Jean said:
"Will you take my arm, mother?"
He was never accustomed to offer it, for they were in the habit of
walking side by side. She accepted and leaned on him.
For some time they did not speak; then he said:
"You see that Pierre is quite ready and willing to go away."
"But why 'poor boy'? He will not be in the least unhappy on board the
"No--I know. But I was thinking of so many things."
And she thought for a long time, her head bent, accommodating her step
to her son's; then, in the peculiar voice in which we sometimes give
utterance to the conclusion of long and secret meditations, she
"How horrible life is! If by any chance we come across any sweetness
in it, we sin in letting ourselves be happy, and pay dearly for it
He said in a whisper:
"Do not speak of that any more, mother."
"Is that possible? I think of nothing else."
"You will forget it."
Again she was silent; then with deep regret she said:
"How happy I might have been, married to another man!"
She was visiting it on Roland now, throwing all the responsibility of
her sin on his ugliness, his stupidity, his clumsiness, the heaviness
of his intellect, and the vulgarity of his person. It was to this that
it was owing that she had betrayed him, had driven one son to
desperation, and had been forced to utter to the other the most
agonizing confession that can make a mother's heart bleed. She
muttered: "It is so frightful for a young girl to have to marry such a
husband as mine."
Jean made no reply. He was thinking of the man he had hitherto
believed to be his father; and possibly the vague notion he had long
since conceived, of that father's inferiority, with his brother's
constant irony, the scornful indifference of others, and the very
maid-servant's contempt for Roland, had somewhat prepared his mind for
his mother's terrible avowal. It had all made it less dreadful to him
to find that he was another man's son; and if, after the great shock
and agitation of the previous evening, he had not suffered the
reaction of rage, indignation, and rebellion which Mme. Roland had
feared, it was because he had long been unconsciously chafing under
the sense of being the child of this well-meaning lout.
They had now reached the dwelling of Mme. Rosemilly.
She lived on the road to Sainte-Adresse, on the second floor of a
large tenement which she owned. The windows commanded a view of the
On seeing Mme. Roland, who entered first, instead of merely holding
out her hands as usual, she put her arms round her and kissed her, for
she divined the purpose of her visit.
The furniture of this drawing-room, all in stamped velvet, was always
shrouded in chair-covers. The walls, hung with flowered paper, were
graced by four engravings, the purchase of her late husband, the
captain. They represented sentimental scenes of seafaring life. In the
first a fisherman's wife was seen, waving a handkerchief on shore,
while the vessel which bore away her husband vanished on the horizon.
In the second the same woman, on her knees on the same shore, under a
sky shot with lightning, wrung her arms as she gazed into the distance
at her husband's boat which was going to the bottom amid impossible
The others represented similar scenes in a higher rank of society. A
young lady with fair hair, resting her elbows on the ledge of a large
steamship quitting the shore, gazed at the already distant coast with
eyes full of tears and regret. Whom is she leaving behind?
Then the same young lady sitting by an open widow with a view of the
sea, had fainted in an arm-chair; a letter she had dropped lay at her
feet. So he is dead! What despair!
Visitors were generally much moved and charmed by the commonplace
pathos of these obvious and sentimental works. They were at once
intelligible without question or explanation, and the poor women were
to be pitied, though the nature of the grief of the more elegant of
the two was not precisely known. But this very doubt contributed to
the sentiment. She had, no doubt, lost her lover. On entering the room
the eye was immediately attracted to these four pictures, and riveted
as if fascinated. If it wandered it was only to return and contemplate
the four expressions on the faces of the two women, who were as like
each other as two sisters. And the very style of these works, in their
shining frames, crisp, sharp, and highly finished, with the elegance
of a fashion plate, suggested a sense of cleanliness and propriety
which was confirmed by the rest of the fittings. The seats were always
in precisely the same order, some against the wall and some round the
circular centre-table. The immaculately white curtains hung in such
straight and regular pleats that one longed to crumple them a little;
and never did a grain of dust rest on the shade under which the gilt
clock, in the taste of the first empire--a terrestrial globe supported
by Atlas on his knees--looked like a melon left there to ripen.
The two women as they sat down somewhat altered the normal position of
"You have not been out this morning?" asked Mme. Roland.
"No. I must own to being rather tired."
And she spoke as if in gratitude to Jean and his mother, of all the
pleasure she had derived from the expedition and the prawn-fishing.
"I ate my prawns this morning," she added, "and they were excellent.
If you felt inclined we might go again one of these days."
The young man interrupted her:
"Before we start on a second fishing excursion, suppose we complete
"Complete it? It seems to me quite finished."
"Nay, madame, I, for my part, caught something on the rocks of Saint
Jouain which I am anxious to carry home with me."
She put on an innocent and knowing look.
"You? What can it be? What can you have found?"
"A wife. And my mother and I have come to ask you whether she had
changed her mind this morning."
She smiled: "No, monsieur. I never change my mind."
And then he held out his hand, wide open, and she put hers into it
with a quick, determined movement. Then he said: "As soon as possible,
"As soon as you like."
"In six weeks?"
"I have no opinion. What does my future mother-in-law say?"
Mme. Roland replied with a rather melancholy smile:
"I? Oh, I can say nothing. I can only thank you for having accepted
Jean, for you will make him very happy."
"We will do our best, mamma."
Somewhat overcome, for the first time, Mme. Rosemilly rose, and
throwing her arms round Mme. Roland, kissed her a long time as a child
of her own might have done; and under this new embrace the poor
woman's sick heart swelled with deep emotion. She could not have
expressed the feeling; it was at once sad and sweet. She had lost her
son, her big boy, but in return she had found a daughter, a grown-up
When they faced each other again, and were seated, they took hands and
remained so, looking at each and smiling, while they seemed to have
Then they discussed a number of things which had to be thought of in
view of an early marriage, and when everything was settled and decided
Mme. Rosemilly seemed suddenly to remember a further detail and asked:
"You have consulted M. Roland, I suppose?"
A flush of colour mounted at the same instant on the face of both
mother and son. It was the mother who replied:
"Oh, no, it is quite unnecessary!" Then she hesitated, feeling that
some explanation was needed, and added: "We do everything without
saying anything to him. It is enough to tell him what we have decided
Mme. Rosemilly, not in the least surprised, only smiled, taking it as
a matter of course, for the good man counted for so little.
When Mme. Roland was in the street again with her son she said:
"Suppose we go to your rooms for a little while. I should be glad to
She felt herself homeless, shelterless, her own house being a terror
They went into Jean's apartments.
As soon as the door was closed upon her she heaved a deep sigh, as if
that bolt had placed her in safety, but then, instead of resting as
she had said, she began to open the cupboards, to count the piles of
linen, the pocket-handkerchiefs, and socks. She changed the
arrangement to place them in more harmonious order, more pleasing to
her housekeeper's eye; and when she had put everything to her mind,
laying out the towels, the shirts, and the drawers on their several
shelves and dividing all the linen into three principal classes, body-
linen, household-linen, and table-linen, she drew back and
contemplated the results, and called out:
"Come here, Jean, and see how nice it looks."
He went and admired it to please her.
On a sudden, when he had sat down again, she came softly up behind his
arm-chair, and putting her right arm round his neck she kissed him,
while she laid on the chimney-shelf a small packet wrapped in white
paper which she held in the other hand.
"What is that?" he asked. Then, as she made no reply, he understood,
recognising the shape of the frame.
"Give it me!" he said.
She pretended not to hear him, and went back to the linen cupboards.
He got up hastily, took the melancholy relic, and going across the
room, put it in the drawer of his writing-table, which he locked and
double locked. She wiped away a tear with the tip of her finger, and
said in a rather quavering voice: "Now I am going to see whether your
new servant keeps the kitchen in good order. As she is out I can look
into everything and make sure."
Letters of recommendation from Professors Mas-Roussel, Remusot,
Flache, and Borriquel, written in the most flattering terms with
regard to Dr. Pierre Roland, their pupil, had been submitted by M.
Marchand to the directors of the Transatlantic Shipping Co., seconded
by M. Poulin, judge of the Chamber of Commerce, M. Lenient, a great
ship-owner, and Mr. Marival, deputy to the Mayor of Havre, and a
particular friend of Captain Beausires's. It proved that no medical
officer had yet been appointed to the Lorraine, and Pierre was lucky
enough to be nominated within a few days.
The letter announcing it was handed to him one morning by Josephine,
just as he was dressed. His first feeling was that of a man condemned
to death who is told that his sentence is commuted; he had an
immediate sense of relief at the thought of his early departure and of
the peaceful life on board, cradled by the rolling waves, always
wandering, always moving. His life under his father's roof was now
that of a stranger, silent and reserved. Ever since the evening when
he allowed the shameful secret he had discovered to escape him in his
brother's presence, he had felt that the last ties to his kindred were
broken. He was harassed by remorse for having told this thing to Jean.
He felt that it was odious, indecent, and brutal, and yet it was a
relief to him to have uttered it.
He never met the eyes either of his mother or his brother; to avoid
his gaze theirs had become surprisingly alert, with the cunning of
foes who fear to cross each other. He was always wondering: "What can
she have said to Jean? Did she confess or deny it? What does my
brother believe? What does he think of her--what does he think of me?
He could not guess, and it drove him to frenzy. And he scarcely ever
spoke to them, excepting when Roland was by, to avoid his questioning.
As soon as he received the letter announcing his appointment he showed
it at once to his family. His father, who was prone to rejoicing over
everything, clapped his hands. Jean spoke seriously, though his heart
was full of gladness: "I congratulate you with all my heart, for I
know there were several other candidates. You certainly owe it to your
His mother bent her head and murmured:
"I am very glad you have been successful."
After breakfast he went to the Company's offices to obtain information
on various particulars, and he asked the name of the doctor on board
the Picardie, which was to sail next day, to inquire of him as to the
details of his new life and any details he might think useful.
Dr. Pirette having gone on board, Pierre went to the ship, where he
was received in a little state-room by a young man with a fair beard,
not unlike his brother. They talked together a long time.
In the hollow depths of the huge ship they could hear a confused and
continuous commotion; the noise of bales and cases pitched down into
the hold mingling with footsteps, voices, the creaking of the
machinery lowering the freight, the boatswain's whistle, and the
clatter of chains dragged or wound on to capstans by the snorting and
panting engine which sent a slight vibration from end to end of the
But when Pierre had left his colleague and found himself in the street
once more, a new form of melancholy came down on him, enveloping him
like the fogs which roll over the sea, coming up from the ends of the
world and holding in their intangible density something mysteriously
impure, as it were the pestilential breath of a far-away, unhealthy
In his hours of greatest suffering he had never felt himself so sunk
in a foul pit of misery. It was as though he had given the last
wrench; there was no fibre of attachment left. In tearing up the roots
of every affection he had not hitherto had the distressful feeling
which now came over him, like that of a lost dog. It was no longer a
torturing mortal pain, but the frenzy of a forlorn and homeless
animal, the physical anguish of a vagabond creature without a roof for
shelter, lashed by the rain, the wind, the storm, all the brutal
forces of the universe. As he set foot on the vessel, as he went into
the cabin rocked by the waves, the very flesh of the man, who had
always slept in a motionless and steady bed, had risen up against the
insecurity henceforth of all his morrows. Till now that flesh had been
protected by a solid wall built into the earth which held it, by the
certainty of resting in the same spot, under a roof which could resist
the gale. Now all that, which it was a pleasure to defy in the warmth
of home, must become a peril and a constant discomfort. No earth under
foot, only the greedy, heaving, complaining sea; no space around for
walking, running, losing the way, only a few yards of planks to pace
like a convict among other prisoners; no trees, no gardens, no
streets, no houses; nothing but water and clouds. And the ceaseless
motion of the ship beneath his feet. On stormy days he must lean
against the wainscot, hold on to the doors, cling to the edge of the
narrow berth to save himself from rolling out. On calm days he would
hear the snorting throb of the screw, and feel the swift flight of the
ship, bearing him on in its unpausing, regular, exasperating race.
And he was condemned to this vagabond convict's life solely because
his mother had yielded to a man's caresses.
He walked on, his heart sinking with the despairing sorrow of those
who are doomed to exile. He no longer felt a haughty disdain and
scornful hatred of the strangers he met, but a woeful impulse to speak
to them, to tell them all that he had to quit France, to be listened
to and comforted. There was in the very depths of his heart the shame-
faced need of a beggar who would fain hold out his hand--a timid but
urgent need to feel that some one would grieve at his departing.
He thought of Marowsko. The old Pole was the only person who loved him
well enough to feel true and keen emotion, and the doctor at once
determined to go and see him.
When he entered the shop, the druggist, who was pounding powders in a
marble mortar, started and left his work.
"You are never to be seen nowadays," said he.
Pierre explained that he had had a great many serious matters to
attend to, but without giving the reason, and he took a seat, asking:
"Well, and how is business doing?"
Business was not doing at all. Competition was fearful, and rich folks
rare in that workmen's quarter. Nothing would sell but cheap drugs,
and the doctors did not prescribe the costlier and more complicated
remedies on which a profit is made of five hundred per cent. The old
fellow ended by saying: "If this goes on for three months I shall shut
up shop. If I did not count on you, dear good doctor, I should have
turned shoe-black by this time."
Pierre felt a pang, and made up his mind to deal the blow at once,
since it must be done.
"I--oh, I cannot be of any use to you. I am leaving Havre early next
Marowsko took off his spectacles, so great was his agitation.
"You! You! What are you saying?"
"I say that I am going away, my poor friend."
The old man was stricken, feeling his last hope slipping from under
him, and he suddenly turned against this man, whom he had followed,
whom he loved, whom he had so implicitly trusted, and who forsook him
He stammered out:
"You are surely not going to play me false--you?"
Pierre was so deeply touched that he felt inclined to embrace the old
"I am not playing you false. I have not found anything to do here, and
I am going as medical officer on board a Transatlantic passenger
"O Monsieur Pierre! And you always promised you would help me to make
"What can I do? I must make my own living. I have not a farthing in
Marowsko said: "It is wrong; what you are doing is very wrong. There
is nothing for me but to die of hunger. At my age this is the end of
all things. It is wrong. You are forsaking a poor old man who came
here to be with you. It is wrong."
Pierre tried to explain, to protest, to give reasons, to prove that he
could not have done otherwise; the Pole, enraged by his desertion,
would not listen to him, and he ended by saying, with an allusion no
doubt to political events:
"You French--you never keep your word!"
At this Pierre rose, offended on his part, and taking rather a high
tone he said:
"You are unjust, pere Marowsko; a man must have very strong motives to
act as I have done and you ought to understand that. Au revoir--I hope
I may find you more reasonable." And he went away.
"Well, well," he thought, "not a soul will feel a sincere regret for
His mind sought through all the people he knew or had known, and among
the faces which crossed his memory he saw that of the girl at the
tavern who had led him to doubt his mother.
He hesitated, having still an instinctive grudge against her, then
suddenly reflected on the other hand: "After all, she was right." And
he looked about him to find the turning.
The beer-shop, as it happened, was full of people, and also full of
smoke. The customers, tradesmen, and labourers, for it was a holiday,
were shouting, calling, laughing, and the master himself was waiting
on them, running from table to table, carrying away empty glasses and
returning them crowned with froth.
When Pierre had found a seat not far from the desk he waited, hoping
that the girl would see him and recognise him. But she passed him
again and again as she went to and fro, pattering her feet under her
skirts with a smart little strut. At last he rapped a coin on the
table, and she hurried up.
"What will you take, sir?"
She did not look at him; her mind was absorbed in calculations of the
liquor she had served.
"Well," said he, "this is a pretty way of greeting a friend."
She fixed her eyes on his face. "Ah!" said she hurriedly. "Is it you?
You are pretty well? But I have not a minute to-day. A bock did you
"Yes, a bock!"
When she brought it he said:
"I have come to say good-bye. I am going away."
And she replied indifferently:
"Indeed. Where are you going?"
"A very find country, they say."
And that was all!
Really, he was very ill-advised to address her on such a busy day;
there were too many people in the cafe.
Pierre went down to the sea. As he reached the jetty he descried the
Pearl; his father and Beausire were coming in. Papagris was pulling,
and the two men, seated in the stern, smoked their pipes with a look
of perfect happiness. As they went past the doctor said to himself:
"Blessed are the simple-minded!" And he sat down on one of the benches
on the breakwater, to try to lull himself in animal drowsiness.
When he went home in the evening his mother said, without daring to
lift her eyes to his face:
"You will want a heap of things to take with you. I have ordered your
under-linen, and I went into the tailor's shop about cloth clothes;
but is there nothing else you need--things which I, perhaps, know
His lips parted to say, "No, nothing." But he reflected that he must
accept the means of getting a decent outfit, and he replied in a very
calm voice: "I hardly know myself, yet. I will make inquiries at the
He inquired, and they gave him a list of indispensable necessaries.
His mother, as she took it from his hand, looked up at him for the
first time for very long, and in the depths of her eyes there was the
humble expression, gentle, sad, and beseeching, of a dog that has been
beaten and begs forgiveness.
On the 1st of October the Lorraine from Saint-Nazaire, came into the
harbour of Havre to sail on the 7th, bound for New York, and Pierre
Roland was to take possession of the little floating cabin in which
henceforth his life was to be confined.
Next day as he was going out, he met his mother on the stairs waiting
for him, to murmur in an almost inaudible voice:
"You would not like me to help you to put things to rights on board?"
"No, thank you. Everything is done."
Then she said:
"I should have liked to see your cabin."
"There is nothing to see. It is very small and very ugly."
And he went downstairs, leaving her stricken, leaning against the wall
with a wan face.
Now Roland, who had gone over the Lorraine that very day, could talk
of nothing all dinnertime but this splendid vessel, and wondered that
his wife should not care to see it as their son was to sail on board.
Pierre had scarcely any intercourse with his family during the days
which followed. He was nervous, irritable, hard, and his rough speech
seemed to lash every one indiscriminately. But the day before he left
he was suddenly quite changed, and much softened. As he embraced his
parents before going to sleep on board for the first time he said:
"You will come to say good-bye to me on board, will you not?"
"Why, yes, of course--of course, Louise?"
"Certainly, certainly," she said in a low voice.
Pierre went on: "We sail at eleven precisely. You must be there by
half-past nine at the latest."
"Hah!" cried his father. "A good idea! As soon as we have bid you
good-bye, we will make haste on board the Pearl, and look out for you
beyond the jetty, so as to see you once more. What do you say,
Roland went on: "And in that way you will not lose sight of us among
the crowd which throngs the breakwater when the great liners sail. It
is impossible to distinguish your own friends in the mob. Does that
meet your views?"
"Yes, to be sure; that is settled."
An hour later he was lying in his berth--a little crib as long and
narrow as a coffin. There he remained with his eyes wide open for a
long time, thinking over all that had happened during the last two
months of his life, especially in his own soul. By dint of suffering
and making others suffer, his aggressive and revengeful anguish had
lost its edge, like a blunted sword. He scarcely had the heart left in
him to owe any one or anything a grudge; he let his rebellious wrath
float away down stream, as his life must. He was so weary of
wrestling, weary of fighting, weary of hating, weary of everything,
that he was quite worn out, and tried to stupefy his heart with
forgetfulness as he dropped asleep. He heard vaguely, all about him,
the unwonted noises of the ship, slight noises, and scarcely audible
on this calm night in port; and he felt no more of the dreadful wound
which had tortured him hitherto, but the discomfort and strain of its
He had been sleeping soundly when the stir of the crew roused him. It
was day; the tidal train had come down to the pier bringing the
passengers from Paris. Then he wandered about the vessel among all
these busy, bustling folks inquiring for their cabins, questioning and
answering each other at random, in the scare and fuss of a voyage
already begun. After greeting the Captain and shaking hands with his
comrade the purser, he went into the saloon where some Englishmen were
already asleep in the corners. The large low room, with its white
marble panels framed in gilt beading, was furnished with looking-
glasses, which prolonged, in endless perspective, the long tables,
flanked by pivot-seats covered with red velvet. It was fit, indeed, to
be the vast floating cosmopolitan dining-hall, where the rich natives
of two continents might eat in common. Its magnificent luxury was that
of great hotels, and theatres, and public rooms; the imposing and
commonplace luxury which appeals to the eye of the millionaire.
The doctor was on the point of turning into the second-class saloon,
when he remembered that a large cargo of emigrants had come on board
the night before, and he went down to the lower deck. He was met by a
sickening smell of dirty, poverty-stricken humanity, an atmosphere of
naked flesh (far more revolting than the odour of fur or the skin of
wild beasts). There, in a sort of basement, low and dark, like a
gallery in a mine, Pierre could discern some hundreds of men, women,
and children, stretched on shelves fixed one above another, or lying
on the floor in heaps. He could not see their faces, but could dimly
make out this squalid, ragged crowd of wretches, beaten in the
struggle for life, worn out and crushed, setting forth, each with a
starving wife and weakly children, for an unknown land where they
hoped, perhaps, not to die of hunger. And as he thought of their past
labour--wasted labour, and barren effort--of the mortal struggle taken
up afresh and in vain each day, of the energy expended by this
tattered crew who were going to begin again, not knowing where, this
life of hideous misery, he longed to cry out to them:
"Tumble yourselves overboard, rather, with your women and your little
ones." And his heart ached so with pity that he went away unable to
endure the sight.
He found his father, his mother, Jean, and Mme. Rosemilly waiting for
him in his cabin.
"So early!" he exclaimed.
"Yes," said Mme. Roland in a trembling voice. "We wanted to have a
little time to see you."
He looked at her. She was dressed all in black as if she were in
mourning, and he noticed that her hair, which only a month ago had
been gray, was now almost white. It was very difficult to find space
for four persons to sit down in the little room, and he himself got on
to his bed. The door was left open, and they could see a great crowd
hurrying by, as if it were a street on a holiday, for all the friends
of the passengers and a host of inquisitive visitors had invaded the
huge vessel. They pervaded the passages, the saloons, every corner of
the ship; and heads peered in at the doorway while a voice murmured
outside: "That is the doctor's cabin."
Then Pierre shut the door; but no sooner was he shut in with his own
party than he longed to open it again, for the bustle outside covered
their agitation and want of words.
Mme. Rosemilly at last felt she must speak.
"Very little air comes in through those little windows."
"Port-holes," said Pierre. He showed her how thick the glass was, to
enable it to resist the most violent shocks, and took a long time
explaining the fastening. Roland presently asked: "And you have your
doctor's shop here?"
The doctor opened a cupboard and displayed an array of phials ticketed
with Latin names on white paper labels. He took one out and enumerated
the properties of its contents; then a second and a third, a perfect
lecture on therapeutics, to which they all listened with great
attention. Roland, shaking his head, said again and again: "How very
interesting!" There was a tap at the door.
"Come in," said Pierre, and Captain Beausire appeared.
"I am late," he said as he shook hands, "I did not want to be in the
way." He, too, sat down on the bed and silence fell once more.
Suddenly the Captain pricked his ears. He could hear the orders being
given, and he said:
"It is time for us to be off if we mean to get on board the Pearl to
see you once more outside, and bid you good-bye out on the open sea."
Old Roland was very eager about this, to impress the voyagers on board
the Lorraine, no doubt, and he rose in haste.
"Good-bye, my boy." He kissed Pierre on the whiskers and then opened
Mme. Roland had not stirred, but sat with downcast eyes, very pale.
Her husband touched her arm.
"Come," he said, "we must make haste, we have not a minute to spare."
She pulled herself up, went to her son and offered him first one and
then another cheek of white wax which he kissed without saying a word.
Then he shook hands with Mme. Rosemilly and his brother, asking:
"And when is the wedding to be?"
"I do not know yet exactly. We will make it fit in with one of your
At last they were all out of the cabin, and up on deck among the crowd
of visitors, porters, and sailors. The steam was snorting in the huge
belly of the vessel, which seemed to quiver with impatience.
"Good-bye," said Roland in a great bustle.
"Good-bye," replied Pierre, standing on one of the landing-planks
lying between the deck of the Lorraine and the quay. He shook hands
all round once more, and they were gone.
"Make haste, jump into the carriage," cried the father.
A fly was waiting for them and took them to the outer harbour, where
Papagris had the Pearl in readiness to put out to sea.
There was not a breath of air; it was one of those crisp, still autumn
days, when the sheeny sea looks as cold and hard as polished steel.
Jean took one oar, the sailor seized the other and they pulled off. On
the breakwater, on the piers, even on the granite parapets, a crowd
stood packed, hustling, and noisy, to see the Lorraine come out. The
Pearl glided down between these two waves of humanity and was soon
outside the mole.
Captain Beausire, seated between the two women, held the tiller, and
"You will see, we shall be close in her way--close."
And the two oarsmen pulled with all their might to get out as far as
possible. Suddenly Roland cried out:
"Here she comes! I see her masts and her two funnels! She is coming
out of the inner harbour."
"Cheerily, lads!" cried Beausire.
Mme. Roland took out her handkerchief and held it to her eyes.
Roland stood up, clinging to the mast, and answered:
"At this moment she is working round in the outer harbour. She is
standing still--now she moves again! She is taking the tow-rope on
board no doubt. There she goes. Bravo! She is between the piers! Do
you hear the crowd shouting? Bravo! The Neptune has her in tow. Now I
see her bows--here she comes--here she is! Gracious Heavens, what a
ship! Look! Look!"
Mme. Rosemilly and Beausire looked behind them, the oarsmen ceased
pulling; only Mme. Roland did not stir.
The immense steamship, towed by a powerful tug, which, in front of
her, looked like a caterpillar, came slowly and majestically out of
the harbour. And the good people of Havre, who crowded the piers, the
beach, and the windows, carried away by a burst of patriotic
enthusiasm, cried: "/Vive la Lorraine!/" with acclamations and
applause for this magnificent beginning, this birth of the beautiful
daughter given to the sea by the great maritime town.
She, as soon as she had passed beyond the narrow channel between the
two granite walls, feeling herself free at last, cast off the tow-
ropes and went off alone, like a monstrous creature walking on the
"Here she is--here she comes, straight down on us!" Roland kept
shouting; and Beausire, beaming, exclaimed: "What did I promise you!
Heh! Do I know the way?"
Jean in a low tone said to his mother: "Look, mother, she is close
upon us!" And Mme. Roland uncovered her eyes, blinded with tears.
The Lorraine came on, still under the impetus of her swift exit from
the harbour, in the brilliant, calm weather. Beausire, with his glass
to his eye, called out:
"Look out! M. Pierre is at the stern, all alone, plainly to be seen!
The ship was almost touching the Pearl now, as tall as a mountain and
as swift as a train. Mme. Roland, distraught and desperate, held out
her arms towards it; and she saw her son, her Pierre, with his
officer's cap on, throwing kisses to her with both hands.
But he was going away, flying, vanishing, a tiny speck already, no
more than an imperceptible spot on the enormous vessel. She tried
still to distinguish him, but she could not.
Jean took her hand.
"You saw?" he said.
"Yes, I saw. How good he is!"
And they turned to go home.
"Cristi! How fast she goes!" exclaimed Roland with enthusiastic
The steamer, in fact, was shrinking every second, as though she were
melting away in the ocean. Mme. Roland, turning back to look at her,
watched her disappearing on the horizon, on her way to an unknown land
at the other side of the world.
In that vessel which nothing could stay, that vessel which she soon
would see no more, was her son, her poor son. And she felt as though
half her heart had gone with him; she felt, too, as if her life were
ended; yes, and she felt as though she would never see the child
"Why are you crying?" asked her husband, "when you know he will be
back again within a month."
She stammered out: "I don't know; I cry because I am hurt."
When they had landed, Beausire at once took leave of them to go to
breakfast with a friend. Then Jean led the way with Mme. Rosemilly,
and Roland said to his wife:
"A very fine fellow, all the same, is our Jean."
"Yes," replied the mother.
And her mind being too much bewildered to think of what she was
saying, she went on:
"I am very glad that he is to marry Mme. Rosemilly."
The worthy man was astounded.
"Heh? What? He is to marry Mme. Rosemilly?"
"Yes, we meant to ask your opinion about it this very day."
"Bless me! And has this engagement been long in the wind?"
"Oh, no, only a very few days. Jean wished to make sure that she would
accept him before consulting you."
Roland rubbed his hands.
"Very good. Very good. It is capital. I entirely approve."
As they were about to turn off from the quay down the Boulevard
Francois, his wife once more looked back to cast a last look at the
high seas, but she could see nothing now but a puff of gray smoke, so
far away, so faint that it looked like a film of haze.
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