Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 566
Chapter 23 focuses on Henri, the painter. Henri, it is learned, is neither French nor truly a painter. But in his mind, Henri has imagined himself French for so long that he has convinced everyone, especially himself, that he truly has lived in the Left Bank in Paris. In reality,...
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Chapter 23 focuses on Henri, the painter. Henri, it is learned, is neither French nor truly a painter. But in his mind, Henri has imagined himself French for so long that he has convinced everyone, especially himself, that he truly has lived in the Left Bank in Paris. In reality, he has never even visited Paris, much less lived there. His knowledge of French art and the latest trends, like Dadaism, are learned from periodicals. Henri is quick to adopt whatever trend is fashionable in Parisian circles, whether in philosophy, politics, or art. He becomes so enamored of whatever movement is fashionable that he does not find much time at all for actual painting.
While his few odd paintings leave something to be desired, the same is not true of Henri's skill as a boat builder. Henri has been working on his boat for ten years. It is huge, "thirty-five feet long . . . had a clipper bow and a fantail." It is a thing of beauty and Henri is always changing it. Because it is always in a state of flux as far as the design goes, the boat is never finished, thus relieving Henri of any duty to actually take it to sea.
The boat sits on a rented lot for which Henri annually pays the landowner five dollars. Henri gets into his home by way of a rope ladder, which is only left hanging when he has guests. Inside, his galley is equipped on three sides with padded seats. There is a table that folds down. Each and every item has been carefully planned, and all have a useful purpose.
Despite his odd living arrangements and perhaps because he is a decent-looking fellow, Henri has little difficulty attracting women. Many even end up moving into the dry-docked boat, but most leave after a few months; the small space becomes claustrophobic for two people, and not having a proper working bathroom soon becomes tedious.
Having gone through women moving in and then leaving several times, Henri begins to notice that he actually enjoys the time after their departure. He feels himself to be a free man, living the way he desires without female intrusion or comment.
On one such evening following another abandonment, Henri begins drinking and then suddenly feels as if he is not alone. Cautiously, he looks about the cabin. In the shadows, he sees a terrifying sight: a "devilish young man" appears. The man has a face that looks somewhat comforting and somewhat horrifying. Beside the devil-man is a blonde baby. The baby looks up at the man and the baby begins to laugh. The man puts his hand on the child's golden curls and then slides a razor across the baby's throat. The baby continues to laugh. Henri screams.
Shakily, Henri heads over to Doc's. He wants to hear what the most rational man he knows has to say about what Henri has just experienced. Instead of the comfort and realistic explanation Henri expects to receive from the scientist, Doc instead refuses to refute or admit that such a thing is possible.
A girl arrives at Doc's door. Doc tells her that Henri has a problem and that it is one of two things: Either Henri really did see a ghost or he has a "terrible conscience." Doc and the girl leave Henri to ponder alone which of the two it may be.