It was 7 o'clock in the morning. In his officer's cabin onboard the French cruiser Bayard, Fierce - Jacques-Raoul-Gaston de Civadière, comte de Fierce - slumbered in his bunk.
What a room! It was , intended for an aide de camp, quite large, 10 feet long, 8 feet wide, 6 feet high - and truly magnificently lit, with two portholes as large as pocket handkerchiefs that one could open up when the weather was good. Four walls of corrugated steel, a wardrobe and a desk, made of sheet steel, a toilet and a chest of drawers, made of curved steel, and finally a bad made of straight steel tubes finished this lap of luxury. That was all, and the room was already full. In France, in Cherbourg or Toulon, Fierce, who was rich and pampered, would straight up refuse to squeeze into such a sardine tin. He would find somewhere on land, in a discreet and quiet street, a respectable Parisian style hovel, so necessary for life in the dull battlefleet, and which soothed his nostalgia for his bachelor's pad on the Rue de Madgebourg. Here, he had no choice but to spruce up his cage, unable to escape from it. The furnishings had been artistically arranged, and you didn't see the bars holding him in anymore. All of the array of steel was hidden underneath a gray-pearl silk, alternating with iron grey velvet. Too much grey, but grey was the color of his thoughts when he was sleeping, sleeping on the berth of grey muslin.
He slept blessedly soundly, with the peaceful air which wasn't at all like someone who had gone to bed long after the dawn, completely, absolutely, wonderfully drunk, every sin of drink. Sure, his eyelids were a big baggy, but his curls were arranged very respectably around his forehead, and his breast rose and fell as peacefully as the body of an innocent monk slumbering away in a convent's bed.
Jacques-Raoul-Gaston de Civadière, comte de Fierce - His heraldry azure with a gold chevron, with three ships of the same shining yellow, set on silver seas, two and one, had been born at Paris, December 3, 19... the only son of the late count Fred-Raoul de Civadière de Fierce, and the late Simone de Marroy, his wife. At least that was what the law said about this conjugal project, which seemed hardly probable otherwise. The Fierces had been far too fashionable to stoop to the level of having a child together, in the eight year of their marriage. As befitted them, they had been lovers for four months, four months in Tyrol and Hungary, after a cardinal who was related to them had luxuriously blessed their marriage at Sainte-Clotilde, and then afterwards the two newlyweds had been completely estranged, with the slightest bit of intimacy completely out of the question. So Jacques de Fierce was probably born as a result of some fling in a moment of bored fantasy. But that wasn't of the least importance: Madame de Fierce could hardly refrain from her caprices, and her son would be a true noble. As for the rest of things involved in having a child, she couldn't care less.
Jacques de Fierce had grown up at first like a weed in a prison's courtyard, ensconced in the fifth floor of the family house, with a moralizing German nanny for company, an array of servants, and lots of toys.
And that was pretty much that until he was six years old. At six, he had his first upsetting memory. It was a winter evening, and snow had fallen, framing all of the windows, a fact that like everything else still stood out in his young mind. Young Mr. Jacques had escaped his nanny and was flitting about the house, thinking that since it was 5 o'clock, mommy was probably having her tea, and there had to be some wonderful cookies to go with it. Mr. Jacques went down three stories and sneaked around looking for his mother, uncertain about the route to take. A door, two doors, then three doors, all closed, and then a screen. He stalked forward, even more stealthily than a mouse. There she was! Mother, sprawled back on a chair, a man embraced by her arms. He could only see the back of the man and the arms of mama, and the armchair was being shoved backwards with little thrusts, squeaking like bed springs. M. Jacques, extremely surprised and worried, backed out on his tip toes, and went to diplomatically question the servants. Plentiful, copious numbers of explanations were given to him about what he had seen.
His first private tutor came when he was seven, the first of a long line of them. This one was a preacher, an honest and virtuous man. He had had quickly sparked in his student a lasting distaste for virtue. M. Jaques, by some unknown family hereditary history, turned out to be an exceptionally sincere and proper child, and on top of that, very serious. For him the gulf between what he saw and what he was being taught was far too great to bridge. Everything in the world was a lie. He started to lose his confidence in everything, to question and doubt. By all of their different ways to educate him, his tutors managed to convince him that life was really some sort of massive hoax, and the world was a play that had been laid out for the delight of satirical playwrights.
At thirteen, young Mr. Fierce, a student at a religious middle school in Belgium, had gone to celebrate Easter's thirteen days in Paris, with his parents. What a boring experience! There was only his class buddy little Troarn who he was allowed to go see. The two of them were free spirits and fired by curiosity, and so the two middle schoolers set off to explore Paris. 2 March - the date stood out in his mind - Fierce and Troarn dared to go to Moscow Street, to an elegant woman with the name of Ms. d'Harteval, whose reputation had reached even them. They discovered a pretty, if a bit disreputable girl, who put on her airs at first for appearance's sake and then gave in indulgently to what the two wanted. Fierce went to her bed a bit troubled, finished a bit disappointed, and annoyed by his nervousness under the teasing eyes of the young girl, had finally given in to laughter. It was over.
At eighteen, Fierce had chosen to be a sailor, just like how his friends were choosing to be cavalrymen or diplomats. The Ecole Navale was an unexpected refuge for him, but invaluable and much-needed to rein in his own personality, normally so wanton and completely unrestrained. Fierce spent three sparkling and exhausting years at Paris, wonderful in just how many intrigues he had been wrapped up in, exhausting because these colorless intrigues had pointed him to more varied and risque amusements. And then a suitable time later he found himself extremely shut in in the sticks of Britany, on a dismal boat, crabby and cold, far from professional or sociable skirts which had so welcomed him the last few years - far from the annoying cuddles of some petite cousin whose cherry he had popped during the vacation in the Angevin castle, far from the senators' back rooms and the English bars for foreign diplomats, where he had been able to revel in his unquenchable lust for anything new or forbidden. M. Fierce was now a naval officer, which protected him for the moment against all sorts of annoying afflictions, notably senility and ataxia.
And now, Fierce was seeing the world.
It wasn't very fun. But even still, it was more enjoyable than life in Paris - more eclectic and less fake. Parisian debauchery didn't have much to envy next to exotic debauchery, but it put on too many airs with all of its closed curtains and dimmed lamps. Elsewhere, lovemaking didn't wither away in fear at the touch of sun. Above all else, if there was one thing which Fierce appreciated, it was sincerity.
His profession had become a hunt for it across the world, roaming from China to Sumatra to the Antilles, to find it in the grey velvet-bound books above his bed, in their wrought iron bookshelves, on the brown or red lips of many a mistress caressed by what shore leave and ports of call permitted, at the bottom of flasks and too many bottles, lost in all sorts of smokes known by this fallen world, in the fumes of hash, opium, or ether, in the positivist and well-tried theories of a Torral, in the hedonist egoism of a Mévil, in his own impulsive and carefree self. All of the fragments of revealed wisdom, all of the veils torn away had done nothing to satisfy him. He had tasted everything and in turn it had disgusted him. But still he continued to live wildly, to take advantage of what life proferred, and he found it insipid to just exist in it.
His father and mother had passed away. From these twin griefs he had gained a bit of melancholy, and altogether little sadness. Free, and rich, he still trod the same road, not knowing how to find a better one - one which somewhere at heart he dreamed of discovering.
An old admiral, idealist and truthful, had fallen for him and for some unknown reason found a way to overlook his sins and view him in a pure light, to love him like his own son and treat him like a hero. Fierce paid him back with a fragment of contemptuous friendship.
Fierce wandered the world, and from land to land, sea to sea carried with him his disdain for every law, his ironic detachment from every religion, his hatred for lies and social conventions, and his hunger and thirst for promised and wonderful pleasures that life promised and didn't give.