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 great vessel.
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,
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 thus.
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 boat."
"O Monsieur Pierre! And you always promised you would help me to make a
"What can I do? I must make my own living. I have not a farthing in the
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
"You French--you never keep your word!"
At this Pierre rose, offended on his part, and taking rather a high tone
"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 wish
"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 nothing
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, Louise?"
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
"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 healing.
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 the
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 he
"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!
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 waters.
"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 again.
"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.