The Guest by Albert Camus
Translated by Justin O’Brien he schoolmaster was watching the two men climb toward him. One was on horseback, the other on foot. They had not yet tackled the abrupt rise leading to the schoolhouse built on the hillside. They were toiling onward, making slow progress in the snow, among the stones, on the vast expanse oft he high, deserted plateau. From time to time the horse stumbled. Without hearing anything yet, he could see the breath issuing from the horses nostrils. One of the men, at least, knew the region. They were following the trail although it had disappeared days go under a layer of dirty white snow. The schoolmaster calculated that it would take them half an hour to get onto the hill. It was cold; he went back into the school to get a sweater. He crossed the empty, frigid classroom. On the blackboard the four rivers of France, 1 drawn with four different colored chalks, had been flowing toward their estuaries for the past three days. Snow had suddenly fallen in mid-October after eight months of drought without the transition of rain, and the twenty pupils, more or less, who lived in the villages scattered over the plateau had stopped coming. With fair weather they would return.
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Daru now heated only the single room that was lodging, adjoining the classroom and giving also onto the plateau to the east. Like the class cows, his window looked to the south too. On that side the school was a few kilometers from the point where the plateau began to slope toward the south. In clear weather could be seen the purple mass of the mountain range where the gap opened onto the desert. Somewhat warmed, Daru returned to the window from which he had first seen the two men. They were no longer visible. Hence they must have tackled the rise. The sky was not so dark, for the snow had stopped falling during the night. The morning ad opened with a dirty light which had scarcely become brighter as the ceiling of clouds lifted. At two in the after- noon it seemed as if the day were merely beginning. But still this was better than those three days when the thick snow was falling amidst unbroken darkness with little gusts of wind that rattled the double door of the classroom. Then Daru had spent long hours in his room, leaving it only to go to the shed and feed the chickens or get some coal. Fortunately the delivery truck from Tadjid, the nearest village to the north, had brought his supplies two days before the blizzard. It would return in forty-eight hours.
Besides, he had enough to resist a siege, for the little room was cluttered with bags of wheat that the administration left as a stock to distribute to those of his pupils whose families had suffered from the drought. Actually they had all been victims because they were all poor. Every day Daru would distribute a ration to the children. They had missed it, he knew, during these bad days. Possibly one of the fathers would come this afternoon and he could supply them with grain. It was just a matter of carrying them over to the next harvest. Now shiploads of wheat were arriving from France and the worst was over.
But it would be hard to forget that poverty, that army of ragged ghosts wandering in the sunlight, the plateaus burned to a cinder month after month, the earth shriveled up little by little, literally scorched, every stone bursting into dust under one’s foot. The sheep had died then by thousands and even a few men, here and there, sometimes without anyone’s knowing. T – 2 – In contrast with such poverty, he who lived almost like a monk in his remote schoolhouse, nonetheless satisfied with the little he had and with the rough life, had felt like a lord with his whitewashed walls, his narrow couch, his unpainted shelves, his ell, and his weekly provision of water and food. And suddenly this snow, without warning, without the foretaste of rain. This is the way the region was, cruel to live in, even without men–who didn’t help matters either. But Daru had been born here Everywhere else, he felt exiled. He stepped out onto the terrace in front of the schoolhouse. The two men were now halfway up the slope. He recognized the horseman as Balducci the old gendarme he had known for a long time. Balducci was holding on the end of a rope an Arab who was walking behind him with hands bound and head lowered. The gendarme waved a greeting to which Daru id not reply, lost as he was in contemplation of the Arab dressed in a faded blue jellaba, 2 his feet in sandals but covered with socks of heavy raw wool, his head surmounted by a narrow, short cheche. They were approaching. Balducci was holding back his horse in order not to hurt the Arab, and the group was advancing slowly. Within earshot, Balducci shouted: “One hour to do the three kilometers from El Ameur! ” Daru did not answer. Short and square in his thick sweater he watched them climb. Not once had the Arab raised his head. “Hello,” said Daru when they got up onto the terrace. “Come in and warm up. Balducci painfully got down from his horse without letting go the rope. From under his bristling mustache he smiled at the schoolmaster. His little dark eyes, deepset under a tanned forehead, and his mouth surrounded with wrinkles made him look attentive and studious. Daru took the bridle ]led the horse to the shed, and came back to the two men, who were now waiting for him in the school. He led them into his room “I am going to heat up the classroom,” he said. “We’ll be more comfortable there. ” When he entered the room again, Balducci was on the couch. He had undone the rope tying him to the Arab, who had squashed near the stove.
His hands still bound, the cheche pushed back on his head, he was looking toward the window. At first Daru noticed only his huge lips, fat, smooth, almost Negroid; yet his nose was straight, his eyes were dark and full of fever. The cheche revealed an obstinate forehead and, under the weathered skin now rather discolored by the cold, the whole face had a restless and rebellious look that struck Daru when the Arab, turning his face toward him, looked him straight in the eyes. “Go into the other room,” said the schoolmaster’ “and I’ll make you some mint tea. ” ”Thanks,” Balducci said. “what a chore! How I long for retirement. And addressing his prisoner in Arabic: “Come on, you. ” The Arab got up and, slowly, holding his bound wrists in front of him, went into the classroom. With the tea, Daru brought a chair. But Balducci was already enthroned on the nearest pupil’s desk and the Arab had squatted against the teacher’s platform facing the stove, which stood between the desk and the window. When he held out the glass of tea to the prisoner, Daru hesitated at the sight of his bound hands. “He might perhaps be untied. ” “Sure,” said Balducci. “That was for the trip. ” He started to get to his feet. But Daru, setting the glass on the floor, had nelt beside the Arab. Without saying anything, the Arab watched him with his feverish eyes. Once his hands were free, he rubbed his swollen wrists against each other, took the glass of tea, and sucked up the burning liquid in swift little sips. “Good,” said Daru. “And where are you headed? ” – 3 – Balducci withdrew his mustache from the tea. “Here, Son. ” “Odd pupils! And you’re spending the night? ” “No. I’m going back to El Ameur. And you will deliver this fellow to Tinguit. He is expected at police headquarters. ” Balducci was looking at Daru with a friendly little smile. “What’s this story? ” asked the schoolmaster. Are you pulling my leg? ” “No, son. Those are the orders. ” “The orders? I’m not . . . ” Daru hesitated, not wanting to hurt the old Corsican.
3 “I mean, that’s not my job. ” “What! What’s the meaning of that? In wartime people do all kinds of jobs. ” “Then I’ll wait for the declaration of war! ” Balducci nodded. “O. K. But the orders exist and they concern you too. Things are brewing, it appears. There is talk of a forthcoming revolt. We are mobilized,in away. Daru still had his obstinate look. Listen, Son,” Balducci said. “I like you and you must understand. There’s only a dozen of us at El Ameur to patrol hroughout the whole territory of a small department 4 and I must get back in a hurry. I was told to hand this guy over to you and return without delay. He couldn’t be kept there. His village was beginning to stir; they wanted to take him back. You must take him to Tinguit tomorrow before the day is over. Twenty kilometers shouldn’t faze a husky fellow like you. After that, all will be over. You’ll come back to your pupils and your comfortable life. ” Behind the wall the horse could be heard snorting and pawing the earth. Daru was looking out the window. Decidedly, the weather was clearing and the light was ncreasing over the snowy plateau. When all the snow had melted, the sun would take over again and once more would burn the fields of stone. For days, still, the unchanging sky would shed its dry light on the solitary expanse where nothing had any connection with man. “After all,” he said, turning around toward Balducci, “what did he do? ” And, before the gendarme had opened his mouth, he asked: “Does he speak French? ” “No, not a word. We had been looking for him for a month, but they were hiding him. He killed his cousin. ” “Is he against us? ” “I don’t think so. But you can never be sure. ” “Why did he kill? ” A family squabble, I think one owned the other grain, it seems. It’s not all clear. In short, he killed his cousin with a billhook. You know, like a sheep, kreeck! ” Balducci made the gesture of drawing a blade across his throat and the Arab, his attention attracted, watched him with a sort of anxiety. Dam felt a sudden wrath against the mall, against all men with their rotten spite, their tireless hates, their blood lust. But the kettle was singing on the stove. He sened Balducci more tea hesitated, then served the Arab again, who, a second time, drank avidly his raised arms made the jellaba fall open and the schoolmastcr saw his hin, muscular chest. “Thanks, kid,” Balducci said. “And now, I’m off. ” He got up and went toward the Arab, taking a small rope from his pocket.
“What are you doing? ” Daru asked dryly. Balducci, disconcerted, showed him the rope. “Don’t bother. ” The old gendarme hesitated. “It’s up to you. Of course, you are armed? ” “I have my shotgun. ” “Where? ” “In the trunk. ” – 4 – “You ought to have it near your bed. ” “Why? I have nothing to fear. ” “You’re crazy, son. If there’s an uprising, no one is safe, we’re all in the same boat. ” “I’ll defend myself. I’ll have time to see them coming. ” Balducci began to laugh, then uddenly the mustache covered the white teeth. “You’ll have time? O. K. That’s just what I was saying. You have always been a little cracked. That’s why I like you, my son was like that. ” At the same time he took out his revolver and put it on the desk. “Keep it; I don’t need two weapons from here to El Ameur. ” The revolver shone against the black paint of the table. When the gendarme turned toward him, the schoolmastcr caught the smell of leather and horseflesh. “Listen, Balducci,” Daru said suddenly, “every bit of this disgusts me, and first of all your fellow here. But I won’t hand him over. Fight, yes, if I have to.