An hour earlier, the Avalanche had anchored in the river, at the Bayard's side.
There were exchanges, reports, explications. But things still went quickly: Fierce only found closed doors on his return. Admiral Orvilliers was off inspecting the batteries of Saint-Jacques, the arsenal commander was overwhelmed with his work and didn't see him, as the administrative departments, shaken out of their normal regulatory stupor, were showing zeal and even some activity. In less than an hour, Fierce, Fierce managed to find the second in command of the Mobile Defense and returned his gunboat to him. After that, he was free. Crossing the port, he saw a lot of activity, and everything had been turned upside down: the six torpedo boats were being fitted out, and the workers' hammers were busy flanking away. He was surprised by it as he walked past, then put it out of his mind.
On Moïs Street, he found the door shut on him. The serving boys spoke vaguely about the Sylvas having gone off to Mythos. The bep - cook - was called in, and confirmed that they wouldn't dine at the house, but would probably be back for lunch tomorrow. Fierce left.
He felt feverish and exhausted. Eight days earlier, in the burning village, his fidelity to Sélysette had died. And since that fatal night, not one had passed without another treason to her. Ahh! How they had tempted him, the lavicious smile of the Cambodian girls, their thin bare bodies that breathed the flavor of opium, and the venal curiosity that had led them, at sunset, to paddle their sampans towards the gunboat! Eight nights of debauchery had flowed by! His heart was full of disgust, of shame, but he was powerless and impotent against the instinct, the animal instincts seizing his mind. Even here, within spitting distance from his fiancée, he dreaded that he would succomb yet another night.
He walked quickly, fleeing the temptation of the sultry twilight. The recent downpour had flayed the trees, and their wet flowers gave off a heady perfume.
On Grandière Street - the street of the old tribunal, which was now the lieutenant-governor's palace - he halted in shock - the horses of a carriage were stamping their feet impatiently behind a pedestrian, and the driver, holding fiercely onto his reins, was yelling angrily at the top of his lungs: the man ignored him and walked with his head downturned, not hearing or seeing anything, a slow sleepwalker's pace. Fierce recognized Mévil and called out to him, but the doctor just kept walking past him. Worried, the ensign ran after him and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Where are you going? What's wrong with you? Are you sun struck?"
Mévil looked at him hazily before he responded. "I don't know..."
He took the hand that Fierce held out to him, and suddenly he staggered against it like a drowned man.
"You're sick," declared Fierce, forgetting his own problems, and he helped him to his home, supporting his staggering dead weight. Mévil walked passively, without saying anything. Fierce felt his clothes, soaping wet.
"You got caught in the rain? What the hell happened to you?"
Espagne Street, Mévil almost went past his door without recognizing it. But in his room, ensconced among his furniture, his furniture, his trinkets, his normal surroundings breathing his own touch, he started to perk up a bit and come back to himself. He still only responded vaguely to Fierce's questions. He had changed clothes now and he was seated taciturn. Darkness overtook them without him thinking about turning on the lights.
Torral appeared at the door. Worried about his friend, he had been coming by to see he. "What a tomb, this place," he muttered to himself at the door as he turned on the light, saw Fierce and said hello. Mévil was still very pale and hardly spokoe. Torral was stunned in turn.
"But you were doing so well earlier? Bah! Come to dinner anyway."
"He can't, just an hour ago he was staggering around in the street," said Fierce.
Mévil struggled and stood up.
"I was a bit dizzy. But it's gone, or mostly gone. Even still, I don't like to go out so soon. Maybe we could eat here as the three of us, if that suits you?"
They ate at Mévils's home. Mévil had them served in his room, which looked quite a lot like his cabinet: there were the same mauve colored muslins, too long and too heavy for the walls, the same low chairs, the same soft half-light cast by safron colored lamps. The boys came and went silently with their felt slippers. Mévils native mistress didn't appear.
Fierce was silent and Mévil defeated. Torral looked from one to the other with his piercing gaze.
"Five months ago," he broke in, "we ate together for the first time, at the club. Do you remember it? It was far happier than this evening. You were men in those days! Now you're dead walking!"
"Yes," Mévil replied dejectly. He wiped his hand several times under his eyes. There was a vision that he couldn't erase, graven into his retina. A vision of an upright woman... he tried to force out of his mind.
"Yes," he said again, "but those days will come back again someday.."
He had the servers bring a bottle of Syracuse wine, and started to drink. Fierce used to like this wine and he drank too.
But things didn't liven up. They drank quietly around the round table, and the electric glow from the wall lamps cast large and silent shadows. The curtains muffled any sound that could come from outside, and the chamber was as still and quiet as a crypt.
Two bottles had been drained. Mévil's face, death pale earlier, had started to gain some of its color back, but he still shuddered from time to time, and looked fearfully at the yawning darkness of the open door.
"What's out there?" said Torral when he saw his gaze.
"Some of my dizziness: I have some ghosts in my mind, this evening..."
Torral swore and picked up a newspaper. "The last week of the theater: let's go there, that'd be better than sitting around hallucinating here. Liseron will be playing too."
"I'm going back onboard the Bayard," said Fierce.
"They've forbidden you from going out alone?" he jibed at Fierce mockingly. "The Petit-Duc is too up right for you?"
Fierce shrugged and gave in. The Saigon Opera House was right next to Espagne Street, but because of the mud, Mévil readied the carriage.
"We'll have a carriage for going around Cholon afterwards, if we want to," he explained.
Fierce opened his mouth to protest. But the ironic eyes of Torral killed his courrage and he fell silent, seized by a guilty shame.
They chose a stage-level box: Fierce was trying to not be seen from the audience. But they couldn't avoid Liseron's eyes: she recognized them and kept throwing smiles their way. At the intermission, she passed them an invitation: if they were kind, maybe they would take her out for dinner later, her and a girl friend of hers who had just debarked in Saigon. Just as friends of course, she knew Mr. Fierce was married after all... but then she herself had been trying to be a bit more respectable, back to being a virgin and all!
Mévil wrote yes on a card.
"I'm not sure," said Fierce firmly.
"He's wise," jeered Torral," to flee from temptations before marriage, since that gives him the right to indulge in them afterwards."
"I can't flaunt myself in front of Saigon with two actrices.."
"The night will be dark, the streets deserted, and we'll be inside a closed carriage. Of course you can't, Sélysette's a seer and she'll figure it out anyway!"
The curtain had risen up for the third act. Fierce looked over the singers, wondering which one of them was Liseron's new girl. He guessed that it was the brunette who was playing at being a transvestite. She was petite and a real tease. Liseron - the Little Duchess - was getting very sensual with her touches.
"If I go with you," he said haltingly, "Torral will be the one who takes care of that brunette.."
"I'll take up the burden. What a struggle! And all of this just to dine with two women who've gained back their virginity!
"Let's get going," said Mévil. "We'll wait at the performers door, and Fierce will hide in the carriage."
On the stage the two women were mostly paying attention to their box rather than to their lines, but Saigon was made for that sort of thing and nobody cared.
The carriage could hold four inside, and if they squeezed together very tightly, it could manage five. Mévil made noises about a second carriage, but they couldn't find one. Fierce was smashed under the hood. They waited half an hour, then the actresses came out of the theater, scurrying along like mice. They had barely enough time to scrub off their makeup, and then they were buried under the hood up to their eyes: all of this mystery really titillated them. They jammed into the carriage, and Fierce didn'th ave the time to try to move aside: the two of them sat on both sides, one on the right, the other on the left, while Mévil and Torral seized the folding seat. The carriage left with a sudden jolt. Fierce felt and recognized Hélène's leg against his own, while the other woman held his knee with a naughty hand that kept feeling more and more. And he, in the middle, was troubled and wanted both of them, despite the bitter shame that boiled up within his soul.
It was a dark and wretched night. Silent lightning bolts flashed to the west. A moist wind blew from there, as hot as a beast's breath.
"I'm suffocating," complained the girls, and they started undoing their clothes. A damp breast flopped onto Fierce's shoulder, and he felt the palpitations of the bare flesh through the thin fabric of his tuxedo. The sucking sound of kisses sighed through the black carriage: Mévil on Hélène's mouth lusting after his old virility.
All of Fierce's energy condensed in his hands, and he had a burning desire run through him to grab the other women, to touch her hot flesh, to throttle her, to bite her. He held back the urge still, his fingers flexing on top of each other in nervous energy, squezeed in between his legs. The chauffer had taken the upper Cholon road, the shorter one, and they arrived after half an hour en route: even still, Fierce felt that he was at the end of his rope when he finally could get out of the carriage and stagger into the hallway of the cabaret.
Mévil ordered supper. The Syracuse wine and Hélène's kisses hadn't been able to completely chase away his stupor: there was still a cloud that hung hazily about his head, like the whisps of clouds that the wind forgote when it swept through and left at the bottom of valleys and hollows - but a vague fever warmed him up, drove him forward. He tried to lose himself once more: he ate chili picallilis, drank thunders, a sort of flip (a Norman drink) with mint instead of water, and red pepper instead of cinnamon. But still he shook nervously, and kept looking fearfully at the door. In time enough he was drunk, but even though Liseron ate her support sitting on his knees, he hadn't touched her in the slightest.
Hélène's new girlfriend watched Fierce, like a cat stalking a bowl of forbidden cream, so intently that Torral who had at first tried to make a few plays for her, soon ehough ordered a dry champagne, and occupied himself just with drinking it. Fierce resisted desperately, even tried to find asylum in drunkenness, but it didn't come soon enough, or completely enough. Little by little the girl moved in closer and closer for the kill, curling up on his knees, drinking from his glass, getting more and more wasted, coming onto him shamelessly. He managed to stand up and wanted to leave. But they all cried and held him back and they jammed into the carriage again when they left the cabaret.
Mévil, completely dead to the world, ordered the chauffer to go right ahead: the indifferent man drove them to the last houses of the neighborhood. There inside a hut belonging to some nhaqués (Annamite peasants), they thought it was hilarious idea to ask them for a drink. A stuttering old man brought them saké, which they thought was horribly bland after the cocktails. Further along, in a lone hovel on the river bank, a favorite haunt of the Chinese dregs, Torral, increasingly bored, picked out an Annamite serving boy and demanded that they let him in on the cushions. The sky heavy with rain sometimes spilled forth with heavy splatters of the storm, and they huddled together under the hood, cuddling and feeling each other up. But the downpour didn't come, and instead the heat rose more and more. The women were suffocating in the stuffy space and mad with lust, and started stripping like they were in a whorhouse, and Fierce, a half-naked body straddling him, succombed.
On the black and muddy road, they drove further into the countryside. The carnal debauchery in the carriage was like a rolling brothel as they jolted and creaked along.
Their shouts and drunk songs echoed throughout the night, in the frenzy of their lust and drunkenness. But eventually they got hoarse and fell silent, tiredness having laid them to rest helter skelter on the cushions, on the carpet, like fallen soldiers. The orgy ended in torpor. The women, exhausted, slept despite the jolting of the carriage, the men, wasted, didn't even notice. And like that they started their voyage back to Saigon, their bodies limp and their minds blank. They had gone far away, and the road back was long, as they rolled through the Plain of Tombs, with its eternal silence.
Towards the west, the lightning bolts had given way to darkness, and the wind had died to leave the calm stillness of the night.
Like before they arrived in front of the tomb of the Bishop of Adran, rising indistinctly from the somber horizon. And then a terrible and strange thing happened - the horses, which trotted along with their heads hanging low in exhaustion, suddenly had a jolt of terror and reared back whinnying. The carriage stopped with shocking speed, turned sideways on the road and almost overturned. Everyone was ripped from their sleep or stupor and bolted upright in fear, yelling confusedly.
The carriage still recoiled, despite the driver's whip. Torral, sobered up, jumped to the ground. IN front of them, the route was inky black with darkness. Fierce, jumping out in turn, seized one of the lanterns and tried to scout out the invisible obstacle.
"There's nothing?" he said puzzled, as he turned back to face them.
But the lantern lit up now Mévil's face, who had stayed behind, and together, Torral and Fierce had to muffle a scream. Mévil's eyes were hagard in a face confused with terror and grey as ash, where all of the blood had fled. His teeth rattled in his gaping mouth. The eyelids roved around his orbits, and his eyes, staring like an owl's gaze, stabbed the night, watching and seeing the Horrible Thing that the lantern couldn't reveal.
He talked like a suffocating man. "The ghost... the ghost of Adran... he blocks the road in his shroud... he's motioning something to me... to me.."
The terrified women shrieked. Fierce felt a cold sweat on his temples, and Torral jerked back despite himself. An unquenchable fear swept over them, like the fall wind raking away dead leaves. The horses seemed pinned to the earth.
But there was nothing, nothing that they saw! Fierce with a spasm of movement advanced three paces forward, a ferocious resistance rising up within him, the stubborn pride of his race that stayed strong within him, and this old pride mixed bizarrely with the skeptical cynicism of the decadent French. Upright, facing the invisible foe, Fierce, brayed forth an exorcism.
"In nomme diaboli... Sir Bishop, if you please, leave alone the honest living that we are! You terrify the woman and that's very ungentelmanly, and completely unwothy of your episcopal character. If it is an evil omen that you portend for us, I take it upon myself, and may that be all.
"And," he added, "return to your grave, for you are going to catch a cold! Your coffin is cooling once more..."
"Shut up!" yelled one of the women fearfully, "you're going to bring something horrible down on us"
Mévil let out a loud sigh; and his eyes slid from right to left.
"He's leaving.. he showed himself to you..."
The horses started to go forward again, still shaken with fear.
"No no no!" protested Hélène violently - I can't go there, I can't!
"What, not there?" Torral was suddenly furious "So where then? Are you drunk too?"
She wanted to leap down to the earth, but he held her firmly by the arm, and the carriage got past the mausoleum without another obstacle. The women were still afraid and clutched onto Fierce, who seemed the most courageous to them. He had stiffened quietly, and Mévil, rigid and with his eyes still open and starring, was spilled out on the cushions like a cadaver.
They continued driving forward. But the alarm had knocked out the horses, and they stumbled forward slowly however many whip blows the chauffer levied on them. The road seemed endless. Luckily, the storm had kept blowing away, and the stars shown between the clouds. They fell back asleep once more, a broken sleep, broken people shattered by fatigue, fear, and drink.
The night was ending. Dawn started to turn the eastern sky grey, and then the sun rose without a dawn. The morning breeze blew refreshingly once more. A beautiful day was born.
Fierce, his temple stroked by the air and the sun, slowly emerged from his torpor. He stretched upright. The two women still had their arms wrapped around him, and they were almost naked. He suddenly feared about what possible people he might run into, as the day emerged and they rolled into the city: already the bridge of the stream was behind them.
Fierce wanted to unlace the arms that encircled him and to jump out of the carriage. But they were stiff and tight in their embrace, wrapped around him like chains, like his old life, like his civilization, stuck to his flesh. He struggle to break free: he struggled too late.
Too late! Fate's capricious hand had dealt her cards. As he tore himself from the naked embrace, a carriage spilled out of an adjoining street, Moïs street, and passed right next to them, slowly: Mrs. and Miss Sylva on their morning promenade.
Sélysette sat up bolt straight, her eyes wide. A cry escaped from her mouth, a sound that wrenched at Fierce's heart like a knife blow. And that was all, as the carriage went past them and vanished.
For a whole minute, Fierce remained upright, still, like those treets hit by lightning that don't fall immediately. Then, with a terrible wrenching tear, he broke out of the horrible embrace and he threw one of the women on top of the other, the forehead of one bleeding from the blow. And he himself jumped out of the carriage and ran off into the street, panting with despair and madness.
Une minute entière, Fierce resta debout, immobile, comme les arbres foudroyés qui ne tombent pas tout de suite. Puis, d'un geste terrible, il brisa l'étreinte funeste, il jeta l'une sur l'autre les deux femmes, et le front de l'une saigna. Lui cependant bondissait hors de la voiture et se sauvait à travers les rues, fou.
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Chapter 29
- Chapter 30
- Chapter 31
- Chapter 32
- Chapter 33
- Chapter 34
- Chapter 35
- Chapter 36