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 harbour.
"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 inheritance?"
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 and regretted.
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 of
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
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 brain.
"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 liqueur?"
"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
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 himself:
"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.