Albert Camus
The Stranger (Part 1, Chapter 3)
I had a busy morning in the office. My employer was in a good humor. He even inquired if I wasn’t too tired, and followed it up by asking what Mother’s age was. I thought a bit, then answered, “Round about sixty,” as I didn’t want to make a blunder. At which he looked relieved—why, I can’t imagine—and seemed to think that closed the matter.

There was a pile of bills of lading waiting on my desk, and I had to go through them all. Before leaving for lunch I washed my hands. I always enjoyed doing this at midday. In the evening it was less pleasant, as the roller towel, after being used by so many people, was sopping wet. I once brought this to my employer’s notice. It was regrettable, he agreed—but, to his mind, a mere detail. I left the office building a little later than usual, at half-past twelve, with Emmanuel, who works in the Forwarding Department. Our building overlooks the sea, and we paused for a moment on the steps to look at the shipping in the. harbor. The sun was scorching hot. Just then a big truck came up, with a din of chains and backfires from the engine, and Emmanuel suggested we should try to jump it. I started to run. The truck was well away, and we had to chase it for quite a distance. What with the heat and the noise from the engine, I felt half dazed. All I was conscious of was our mad rush along the water front, amongst cranes and winches, with dark hulls of ships alongside and masts swaying in the offing. I was the first to catch up with the truck. I took a flying jump, landed safely, and helped Emmanuel to scramble in beside me. We were both of us out of breath, and the bumps of the truck on the roughly laid cobbles made things worse. Emmanuel chuckled, and panted in my ear, “We’ve made it!”

By the time we reached Céleste’s restaurant we were dripping with sweat. Céleste was at his usual place beside the entrance, with his apron bulging on his paunch, his white mustache well to the fore. When he saw me he was sympathetic and “hoped I wasn’t feeling too badly.” I said, “No,” but I was extremely hungry. I ate very quickly and had some coffee to finish up. Then I went to my place and took a short nap, as I’d drunk a glass of wine too many.

When I woke I smoked a cigarette before getting off my bed. I was a bit late and had to run for the streetcar. The office was stifling, and I was kept hard at it all the afternoon. So it came as a relief when we closed down and I was strolling slowly along the wharves in the coolness. The sky was green, and it was pleasant to be out- of-doors after the stuffy office. However, I went straight home, as I had to put some potatoes on to boil.

The hall was dark and, when I was starting up the stairs, I almost bumped into old Salamano, who lived on the same floor as I. As usual, he had his dog with him. For eight years the two had been inseparable. Salamano’s spaniel is an ugly brute, afflicted with some skin disease—mange, I suspect; anyhow, it has lost all its hair and its body is covered with brown scabs. Perhaps through living in one small room, cooped up with his dog, Salamano has come to resemble it. His towy hair has gone very thin, and he has reddish blotches on his face. And the dog has developed something of its master’s queer hunched-up gait; it always has its muzzle stretched far forward and its nose to the ground. But, oddly enough, though so much alike, they detest each other.

Twice a day, at eleven and six, the old fellow takes his dog for a walk, and for eight years that walk has never varied. You can see them in the rue de Lyon, the dog pulling his master along as hard as he can, till finally the old chap misses a step and nearly falls. Then he beats his dog and calls it names. The dog cowers and lags behind, and it’s his master’s turn to drag him along. Presently the dog forgets, starts tugging at the leash again, gets another hiding and more abuse. Then they halt on the pavement, the pair of them, and glare at each other; the dog with terror and the man with hatred in his eyes. Every time they’re out, this happens. When the dog wants to stop at a lamppost, the old boy won’t let him, and drags him on, and the wretched spaniel leaves behind him a trail of little drops. But, if he does it in the room, it means another hiding.

It’s been going on like this for eight years, and Céleste always says it’s a “crying shame,” and something should be done about it; but really one can’t be sure. When I met him in the hall, Salamano was bawling at his dog, calling him a bastard, a lousy mongrel, and so forth, and the dog was whining. I said, “Good evening,” but the old fellow took no notice and went on cursing. So I thought I’d ask him what the dog had done. Again, he didn’t answer, but went on shouting, “You bloody cur!” and the rest of it. I couldn’t see very clearly, but he seemed to be fixing something on the dog’s collar. I raised my voice a little. Without looking round, he mumbled in a sort of suppressed fury: “He’s always in the way, blast him!” Then he started up the stairs, but the dog tried to resist and flattened itself out on the floor, so he had to haul it up on the leash, step by step.

Just then another man who lives on my floor came in from the street. The general idea hereabouts is that he’s a pimp. But if you ask him what his job is, he says he’s a warehouseman. One thing’s sure: he isn’t popular in our street. Still, he often has a word for me, and drops in sometimes for a short talk in my room, because I listen to him. As a matter of fact, I find what he says quite interesting. So, really I’ve no reason for freezing him off. His name is Sintès; Raymond Sintès. He’s short and thick-set, has a nose like a boxer’s, and always dresses very sprucely. He, too, once said to me, referring to Salamano, that it was “a damned shame,” and asked me if I wasn’t disgusted by the way the old man served his dog. I answered: “No.”

We went up the stairs together, Sintès and I, and when I was turning in at my door, he said:

“Look here! How about having some grub with me? I’ve a black pudding and some wine.”

It struck me that this would save my having to cook my dinner, so I said, “Thanks very much.”

He, too, has only one room, and a little kitchen without a window. I saw a pink- and-white plaster angel above his bed, and some photos of sporting champions and naked girls pinned to the opposite wall. The bed hadn’t been made and the room was dirty. He began by lighting a paraffin lamp; then fumbled in his pocket and produced a rather grimy bandage, which he wrapped round his right hand. I asked him what the trouble was. He told me he’d been having a roughhouse with a fellow who’d annoyed him.

“I’m not one who looks for trouble,” he explained, “only I’m a bit short-tempered. That fellow said to me, challenging-like, ‘Come down off that streetcar, if you’re a man.’ I says, ‘You keep quiet, I ain’t done nothing to you.’ Then he said I hadn’t any guts. Well, that settled it. I got down off the streetcar and I said to him, ‘You better keep your mouth shut, or I’ll shut it for you.’ ‘I’d like to see you try!’ says he. Then I gave him one across the face, and laid him out good and proper. After a bit I started to help him get up, but all he did was to kick at me from where he lay. So I gave him one with my knee and a couple more swipes. He was bleeding like a pig when I’d done with him. I asked him if he’d had enough, and he said, ‘Yes.’”
Sintès was busy fixing his bandage while he talked, and I was sitting on the bed.

“So you see,” he said, “it wasn’t my fault; he was asking for it, wasn’t he?”
I nodded, and he added:

“As a matter of fact, I rather want to ask your advice about something; it’s connected with this business. You’ve knocked about the world a bit, and I daresay you can help me. And then I’ll be your pal for life; I never forget anyone who does me a good turn.”

When I made no comment, he asked me if I’d like us to be pals. I replied that I had no objection, and that appeared to satisfy him. He got out the black pudding, cooked it in a frying pan, then laid the table, putting out two bottles of wine. While he was doing this he didn’t speak.

We started dinner, and then he began telling me the whole story, hesitating a bit at first.

“There’s a girl behind it—as usual. We slept together pretty regular. I was keeping her, as a matter of fact, and she cost me a tidy sum. That fellow I knocked down is her brother.”

Noticing that I said nothing, he added that he knew what the neighbors said about him, but it was a filthy lie. He had his principles like everybody else, and a job in a warehouse.

“Well,” he said, “to go on with my story ... I found out one day that she was letting me down.” He gave her enough money to keep her going, without extravagance, though; he paid the rent of her room and twenty francs a day for food. “Three hundred francs for rent, and six hundred for her grub, with a little present thrown in now and then, a pair of stockings or whatnot. Say, a thousand francs a month. But that wasn’t enough for my fine lady; she was always grumbling that she couldn’t make both ends meet with what I gave her. So one day I says to her, ‘Look here, why not get a job for a few hours a day? That’d make things easier for me, too. I bought you a new dress this month, I pay your rent and give you twenty francs a day. But you go and waste your money at the café with a pack of girls. You give them coffee and sugar. And, of course, the money comes out of my pocket. I treat you on the square, and that’s how you pay me back.’ But she wouldn’t hear of working, though she kept on saying she couldn’t make do with what I gave her. And then one day I found out she was doing me dirt.”

He went on to explain that he’d found a lottery ticket in her bag, and, when he asked where the money’d come from to buy it, she wouldn’t tell him. Then, another time, he’d found a pawn ticket for two bracelets that he’d never set eyes on.

“So I knew there was dirty work going on, and I told her I’d have nothing more to do with her. But, first, I gave her a good hiding, and I told her some home truths. I said that there was only one thing interested her and that was getting into bed with men whenever she’d the chance. And I warned her straight, ‘You’ll be sorry one day, my girl, and wish you’d got me back. All the girls in the street, they’re jealous of your luck in having me to keep you.’ ”

He’d beaten her till the blood came. Before that he’d never beaten her. “Well, not hard, anyhow; only affectionately-like. She’d howl a bit, and I had to shut the window. Then, of course, it ended as per usual. But this time I’m done with her. Only, to my mind, I ain’t punished her enough. See what I mean?”

He explained that it was about this he wanted my advice. The lamp was smoking, and he stopped pacing up and down the room, to lower the wick. I just listened, without speaking. I’d had a whole bottle of wine to myself and my head was buzzing. As I’d used up my cigarettes I was smoking Raymond’s. Some late streetcars passed, and the last noises of the street died off with them. Raymond went on talking. What bored him was that he had “a sort of lech on her” as he called it. But he was quite determined to teach her a lesson.

His first idea, he said, had been to take her to a hotel, and then call in the special police. He’d persuade them to put her on the register as a “common prostitute,” and that would make her wild. Then he’d looked up some friends of his in the underworld, fellows who kept tarts for what they could make out of them, but they had practically nothing to suggest. Still, as he pointed out, that sort of thing should have been right up their street; what’s the good of being in that line if you don’t know how to treat a girl who’s let you down? When he told them that, they suggested he should “brand” her. But that wasn’t what he wanted, either. It would need a lot of thinking out. ... But, first, he’d like to ask me something. Before he asked it, though, he’d like to have my opinion of the story he’d been telling, in a general way.
I said I hadn’t any, but I’d found it interesting.

Did I think she really had done him dirt?

I had to admit it looked like that. Then he asked me if I didn’t think she should be punished and what I’d do if I were in his shoes. I told him one could never be quite sure how to act in such cases, but I quite understood his wanting her to suffer for it.

I drank some more wine, while Raymond lit another cigarette and began explaining what he proposed to do. He wanted to write her a letter, “a real stinker, that’ll get her on the raw,” and at the same time make her repent of what she’d done. Then, when she came back, he’d go to bed with her and, just when she was “properly primed up,” he’d spit in her face and throw her out of the room. I agreed it wasn’t a bad plan; it would punish her, all right.

But, Raymond told me, he didn’t feel up to writing the kind of letter that was needed, and that was where I could help. When I didn’t say anything, he asked me if I’d mind doing it right away, and I said, “No,” I’d have a shot at it.

He drank off a glass of wine and stood up. Then he pushed aside the plates and the bit of cold pudding that was left, to make room on the table. After carefully wiping the oilcloth, he got a sheet of squared paper from the drawer of his bedside table; after that, an envelope, a small red wooden penholder, and a square inkpot with purple ink in it. The moment he mentioned the girl’s name I knew she was a Moor.

I wrote the letter. I didn’t take much trouble over it, but I wanted to satisfy Raymond, as I’d no reason not to satisfy him. Then I read out what I’d written. Puffing at his cigarette, he listened, nodding now and then. “Read it again, please,” he said. He seemed delighted. “That’s the stuff,” he chuckled. “I could tell you was a brainy sort, old boy, and you know what’s what.”

At first I hardly noticed that “old boy.” It came back to me when he slapped me on the shoulder and said, “So now we’re pals, ain’t we?” I kept silence and he said it again. I didn’t care one way or the other, but as he seemed so set on it, I nodded and said, “Yes.”

He put the letter into the envelope and we finished off the wine. Then both of us smoked for some minutes, without speaking. The street was quite quiet, except when now and again a car passed. Finally, I remarked that it was getting late, and Raymond agreed. “Time’s gone mighty fast this evening,” he added, and in a way that was true. I wanted to be in bed, only it was such an effort making a move. I must have looked tired, for Raymond said to me, “You mustn’t let things get you down.” At first I didn’t catch his meaning. Then he explained that he had heard of my mother’s death; anyhow, he said, that was something bound to happen one day or another. I appreciated that, and told him so.

When I rose, Raymond shook hands very warmly, remarking that men always understood each other. After closing the door behind me I lingered for some moments on the landing. The whole building was as quiet as the grave, a dank, dark smell rising from the well hole of the stairs. I could hear nothing but the blood throbbing in my ears, and for a while I stood still, listening to it. Then the dog began to moan in old Salamano’s room, and through the sleep-bound house the little plaintive sound rose slowly, like a flower growing out of the silence and the darkness.