Albert Camus – The Stranger (Part 1, Chapter 4)
I had a busy time in the office throughout the week. Raymond dropped in once to tell me he’d sent off the letter. I went to the pictures twice with Emmanuel, who doesn’t always understand what’s happening on the screen and asks me to explain it. Yesterday was Saturday, and Marie came as we’d arranged. She had a very pretty dress, with red and white stripes, and leather sandals, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. One could see the outline of her firm little breasts, and her sun-tanned face was like a velvety brown flower. We took the bus and went to a beach I know, some miles out of Algiers. It’s just a strip of sand between two rocky spurs, with a line of rushes at the back, along the tide line. At four o’clock the sun wasn’t too hot, but the water was pleasantly tepid, and small, languid ripples were creeping up the sand.
Marie taught me a new game. The idea was, while one swam, to suck in the spray off the waves and, when one’s mouth was full of foam, to lie on one’s back and spout it out against the sky. It made a sort of frothy haze that melted into the air or fell back in a warm shower on one’s cheeks. But very soon my mouth was smarting with all the salt I’d drawn in; then Marie came up and hugged me in the water, and pressed her mouth to mine. Her tongue cooled my lips, and we let the waves roll us about for a minute or two before swimming back to the beach.
When we had finished dressing, Marie looked hard at me. Her eyes were sparkling. I kissed her; after that neither of us spoke for quite a while. I pressed her to my side as we scrambled up the foreshore. Both of us were in a hurry to catch the bus, get back to my place, and tumble on to the bed. I’d left my window open, and it was pleasant to feel the cool night air flowing over our sunburned bodies.
Marie said she was free next morning, so I proposed she should have luncheon with me. She agreed, and I went down to buy some meat. On my way back I heard a woman’s voice in Raymond’s room. A little later old Salamano started grumbling at his dog and presently there was a sound of boots and paws on the wooden stairs; then, “Filthy brute! Get on, you cur!” and the two of them went out into the street. I told Marie about the old man’s habits, and it made her laugh. She was wearing one of my pajama suits, and had the sleeves rolled up. When she laughed I wanted her again. A moment later she asked me if I loved her. I said that sort of question had no meaning, really; but I supposed I didn’t. She looked sad for a bit, but when we were getting our lunch ready she brightened up and started laughing, and when she laughs I always want to kiss her. It was just then that the row started in Raymond’s room.
First we heard a woman saying something in a high-pitched voice; then Raymond bawling at her, “You let me down, you bitch! I’ll learn you to let me down!” There came some thuds, then a piercing scream—it made one’s blood run cold—and in a moment there was a crowd of people on the landing. Marie and I went out to see. The woman was still screaming and Raymond still knocking her about. Marie said, wasn’t it horrible! I didn’t answer anything. Then she asked me to go and fetch a policeman, but I told her I didn’t like policemen. However, one turned up presently; the lodger on the second floor, a plumber, came up, with him. When he banged on the door the noise stopped inside the room. He knocked again, and, after a moment, the woman started crying, and Raymond opened the door. He had a cigarette dangling from his underlip and a rather sickly smile.
“Your name?” Raymond gave his name. “Take that cigarette out of your mouth when you’re talking to me,” the policeman said gruffly. Raymond hesitated, glanced at me, and kept the cigarette in his mouth. The policeman promptly swung his arm and gave him a good hard smack on the left cheek. The cigarette shot from his lips and dropped a yard away. Raymond made a wry face, but said nothing for a moment. Then in a humble tone he asked if he mightn’t pick up his cigarette.
The officer said, “Yes,” and added: “But don’t you forget next time that we don’t stand for any nonsense, not from guys like you.”
Meanwhile the girl went on sobbing and repeating: “He hit me, the coward. He’s a pimp.”
“Excuse me, officer,” Raymond put in, “but is that in order, calling a man a pimp in the presence of witnesses?”
The policeman told him to shut his trap.
Raymond then turned to the girl. “Don’t you worry, my pet. We’ll meet again.”
“That’s enough,” the policeman said, and told the girl to go away. Raymond was to stay in his room till summoned to the police station. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” the policeman added, “getting so tight you can’t stand steady. Why, you’re shaking all over!”
“I’m not tight,” Raymond explained. “Only when I see you standing there and looking at me, I can’t help trembling. That’s only natural.”
Then he closed his door, and we all went away. Marie and I finished getting our lunch ready. But she hadn’t any appetite, and I ate nearly all. She left at one, and then I had a nap.
Toward three there was a knock at my door and Raymond came in. He sat down on the edge of my bed and for a minute or two said nothing. I asked him how it had gone off. He said it had all gone quite smoothly at first, as per program; only then she’d slapped his face and he’d seen red, and started thrashing her. As for what happened after that, he needn’t tell me, as I was there.
“Well,” I said, “you taught her a lesson, all right, and that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
He agreed, and pointed out that whatever the police did, that wouldn’t change the fact she’d had her punishment. As for the police, he knew exactly how to handle them. But he’d like to know if I’d expected him to return the blow when the policeman hit him.
I told him I hadn’t expected anything whatsoever and, anyhow, I had no use for the police. Raymond seemed pleased and asked if I’d like to come out for a stroll with him. I got up from the bed and started brushing my hair. Then Raymond said that what he really wanted was for me to act as his witness. I told him I had no objection; only I didn’t know what he expected me to say.
“It’s quite simple,” he replied. “You’ve only got to tell them that the girl had let me down.”
So I agreed to be his witness.
We went out together, and Raymond stood me a brandy in a café. Then we had a game of billiards; it was a close game and I lost by only a few points. After that he proposed going to a brothel, but I refused; I didn’t feel like it. As we were walking slowly back he told me how pleased he was at having paid out his mistress so satisfactorily. He made himself extremely amiable to me, and I quite enjoyed our walk.
When we were nearly home I saw old Salamano on the doorstep; he seemed very excited. I noticed that his dog wasn’t with him. He was turning like a teetotum, looking in all directions, and sometimes peering into the darkness of the hall with his little bloodshot eyes. Then he’d mutter something to himself and start gazing up and down the street again.
Raymond asked him what was wrong, but he didn’t answer at once. Then I heard him grunt, “The bastard! The filthy cur!” When I asked him where his dog was, he scowled at me and snapped out, “Gone!” A moment later, all of a sudden, he launched out into it.
“I’d taken him to the Parade Ground as usual. There was a fair on, and you could hardly move for the crowd. I stopped at one of the booths to look at the Handcuff King. When I turned to go, the dog was gone. I’d been meaning to get a smaller collar, but I never thought the brute could slip it and get away like that.”
Raymond assured him the dog would find its way home, and told him stories of dogs that had traveled miles and miles to get back to their masters. But this seemed to make the old fellow even more worried than before.
“Don’t you understand, they’ll do away with him; the police, I mean. It’s not likely anyone will take him in and look after him; with all those scabs he puts everybody off.”
I told him that there was a pound at the police station, where stray dogs are taken. His dog was certain to be there and he could get it back on payment of a small charge. He asked me how much the charge was, but there I couldn’t help him. Then he flew into a rage again.
“Is it likely I’d give money for a mutt like that? No damned fear! They can kill him, for all I care.” And he went on calling his dog the usual names.
Raymond gave a laugh and turned into the hall. I followed him upstairs, and we parted on the landing. A minute or two later I heard Salamano’s footsteps and a knock on my door.
When I opened it, he halted for a moment in the doorway.
“Excuse me ... I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
I asked him in, but he shook his head. He was staring at his toe caps, and the gnarled old hands were trembling. Without meeting my eyes, he started talking. “They won’t really take him from me, will they, Monsieur Meursault? Surely they wouldn’t do a thing like that. If they do—I don’t know what will become of me.”
I told him that, so far as I knew, they kept stray dogs in the pound for three days, waiting for their owners to call for them. After that they disposed of the dogs as they thought fit.
He stared at me in silence for a moment, then said, “Good evening.” After that I heard him pacing up and down his room for quite a while. Then his bed creaked. Through the wall there came to me a little wheezing sound, and I guessed that he was weeping. For some reason, I don’t know what, I began thinking of Mother. But I had to get up early next day; so, as I wasn’t feeling hungry, I did without supper, and went straight to bed.
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