Pierre and Jean, by Guy de Maupassant

Chapter 2

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 these 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 theater, he was attracted by the lights in the Café Tortoni, and slowly bent his steps to the dazzling façade; 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 harbor.

“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 toward the pier; he had chosen solitude.

Going close by a bench on the breakwater he sat down, tired already of walking and out of humor 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 has 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 Madame Rosémilly. 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 flagstaff, whence the depth of water in the harbor is signaled, and he struck a match to read the list of vessels signaled 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 Hève, like monstrous twin Cyclops, shot their long and powerful beams across the sea. Starting from two neighboring centers, 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 harbor; 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 eyelids: “I am here. I am Trouville; I am Honfleur; I am the Audemer River.” And high above all the rest, so high that from this distance it might be taken for a planet, the airy light-house 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 moorings.

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 two-pence!”

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 a few steps further again, 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 recognized 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 side.

“Lovely — isn’t it?”

“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 colored girls, the lands of humming-birds, of elephants, of roaming lions, of negro kings, from all the lands which are like fairy tales to us who no longer believe in the White Cat or the Sleeping Beauty. It would be awfully jolly to be able to treat one’s self to an excursion out there; but, then, it would cost a great deal of money, no end — ”

He broke off abruptly, remembering that his brother had that money now; and released from care, released from laboring 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 Rosémilly.” 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 toward the quarter of the town known as Ingouville.

He had known old Marowsko — le père 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 afterwards among his neighbors. 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 single 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 recognizing the doctor, came forward to meet him, holding out both hands.

His black frock coat, streaked with stains of acids and syrups, 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 a 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 syrup 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 syrups and liqueurs. “A good syrup 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 color 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 flavor. It is a find, my dear fellow.”

“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 “Grosélia,” or again “Groséline.” Pierre did not approve of either of these names.

Then the old man had an idea:

“What you said just now would be very good, very good: ‘Fine Ruby.’” But the doctor disputed the merit of this name, though it had originated with him. He recommended simply “Groseillette,” which Marowsko thought admirable.

Then they were silent, and sat for some minutes without a word under the solitary gas-lamp. At last Pierre began, almost in spite of 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 yet he could hear Jean moving softly about the adjoining room, and then, after drinking two glasses of water, he fell asleep.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11