Part 3 out of 9
any of his probity, she feared that, notwithstanding the excellence of his
nature, Germain might at some future period become indifferent to that
which then tormented him so cruelly.
Rigolette, wiping her eyes, and addressing Germain, who was leaning against
the grating, said to him with a touching, serious, almost solemn accent,
and in a manner he had never seen her assume, "Listen to me, Germain; I
shall express myself perhaps badly; I do not speak so well as you; but what
I shall tell you will be as truly sincere. In the first place, you were
wrong to complain of being isolated, abandoned."
"Oh! do not think that I ever forget that which your pity for me inspires
you to do!"
"Just now, I did not interrupt you when you spoke of _pity_; but since
you repeat this word, I must say that it is not pity at all which I feel
for you. I am going to explain this as well as I can. When we were
neighbors, I loved you as a brother, as a good companion; you rendered me
some little services, I rendered you others; you made me partake of your
Sunday amusements, I tried to be very lively, very agreeable, in order to
thank you; we were quits."
"Quits? oh! no--I----"
"Let me speak in my turn. When you were forced to leave the house where we
dwelt, your departure caused me more regret than that of my other
"Can it be true?"
"Yes, because they were men without care, whom certainly I ought to miss
less than you; and, besides, they did not yield themselves to be my
acquaintances until I had told them a hundred times that they could be
nothing else; while you----you have at once imagined what we ought to be
to each other. Notwithstanding this you have passed with me all the time
you had to spare: you taught me to write; you gave me good advice, a little
serious, because it was good: in fine, you have been the most attentive of
my neighbors, and the only one who asked nothing of me for the trouble.
This is not all; on leaving the house you gave me a great proof of
confidence. To see you confide a secret so important to a little girl like
me, bless me! that made me proud. Thus, when I was separated from you, my
thoughts were oftener of you than of my other neighbors. What I tell you
now is true; you know I never tell a falsehood."
"Can it be possible you should have made this distinction between me and
"Certainly, I have made it, otherwise I should have a bad heart. Yes, I
said to myself, 'No one can be better than M. Germain; only he is a little
too serious; but never mind, if I had a friend who wished to marry to be
very, very happy, certainly I should advise her to marry M. Germain; for he
would be the idol of a nice little housekeeper.'"
"You thought of me for another!" Germain could not prevent himself from
"It is true; I should have been delighted to see you make a happy marriage,
since I loved you as a valued friend. You see I am frank; I tell you
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart; it is a consolation for me to
learn that among your friends I was he whom you preferred."
"This was the situation of things when your troubles came. It was then that
I received the good and kind letter in which you informed me of what you
called your fault; fault! which I think--who am not a scholar--is a good
and praiseworthy action; it was then that you asked me to go for those
papers which informed me that you had always loved me, without daring to
tell me so. Those papers, in which I read"--and Rigolette could not
restrain her tears--"that, thinking of my future, which sickness, or the
want of work might render so painful, you left me, if you should die a
violent death, as you feared--you left me the little which you had
acquired: by force of industry and economy--"
"Yes; for if I were alive and you found yourself without work or sick, it
is to me, rather than any one else, that you would address yourself--is it
not so? I count on it! speak! speak! I am not mistaken, am I?"
"It is very plain; to whom would you have me apply?"
"Oh! hold; these are words which do good, which are a balm for many
"I cannot express to you what I felt on reading--what a sad word--this
_will_, of which each line contained a 'souvenir' of me, or a thought
for my welfare; and yet I was not to know these proofs of your attachment
until you were no longer in existence. Bless me! what would you? after such
generous conduct one is astonished that love should come all at once! yet
it is very natural, is it not, M. Germain?"
The girl said these last words with such touching frankness, fixing her
large black eyes on those of Germain, that he did not understand her at
first, so far was he from thinking himself beloved by Rigolette. Yet these
words were so pointed, that their echo resounded from the bottom of the
prisoner's heart; he blushed, then became pale, and cried,
"What do you say! I fear--oh! I am mistaken--I----"
"I say that from the moment in which I found you were so kind to me and in
which I saw you so unhappy, I have loved you otherwise than as a brother,
and that if now one of my friends wished to marry," said Rigolette, smiling
and blushing, "it is no longer you I should recommend to her, M. Germain."
"You love me! you love me!"
"I must then tell you myself, since you ask me."
"Can it be possible?"
"It is not, however, my fault, for having twice put you in the way to make
you comprehend it. But no, my gentleman does not wish to understand a hint;
he forces me to confess these things to him. It is wrong, perhaps; but as
there is no one here but you to scold me for my effrontery, I have less
fear; and, besides," added Rigolette, in a more serious tone, and with deep
emotion, "just now you appeared to me so much afflicted, so despairing,
that I did not mind it; I have had the self-love to believe that this
avowal, made frankly and from the bottom of the heart, would prevent you
from being so unhappy for the future. I thought, 'Until now I have had no
luck in my efforts to amuse or console him; my dainties take away his
appetite, my gayety makes him weep; this time at least'--oh dear me! what
is the matter?" cried Rigolette, on seeing Germain conceal his face in his
hands. "There, tell me now if this is not cruel!" cried she; "no matter
what I say or what I do, you remain still unhappy; it is to be too wicked,
and by far too egotistical also. One would say there was no one but you who
"Alas, what misery is mine!" cried Germain, with, despair. "You love me,
when I am no longer worthy of you!"
"No longer worthy of me? There is no good sense in what you say now. It is
as if I had said formerly, that I was not worthy of your friendship,
because I had been in prison; for, after all, I have also been a prisoner;
am I any less an honest girl?"
"But you were sent to prison because you were a poor abandoned child, while
I--what a difference!"
"In fine, as to the prison, we have nothing to reproach ourselves for. It
is rather I who am presumptuous; for in my situation I ought only to think
of marrying some workman. I am a foundling: I possess nothing but my little
chamber and my good courage; yet I come boldly and propose to you to take
me for a wife."
"Alas! formerly this had been the dream, the happiness of my life! but
now--I, under the weight of an infamous accusation, I should abuse your
admirable generosity--your pity, which carries you away, perhaps! no--no!"
"But," cried Rigolette, with impatience, "I tell you, it is not pity, it is
love. I only think of you! I sleep no more--I eat no more. Your sad and
melancholy looks follow me everywhere. Is that pity? Now, when you speak to
me, your voice, your look, go to my heart. There are a thousand things in
you which now please me, and which I had not remarked. I love your face, I
love your eyes, I love you, I love your mind, I love your good heart; is
this still pity? Why, after having loved you as a friend, do I love you as
a lover? I do not know! Why was I lively and gay when I loved you as a
friend? Why am I all changed since I love you as a lover? I do not know.
Why have I waited so long to find you both handsome and good? to love you
at once with my eyes and my heart? I do not know; or, rather, yes, I do
know: it is because I have discovered how much you loved me without ever
telling it; how much you were generous and devoted. Then love mounted from
my heart to my eyes, like as a soft tear mounts there when one is
"Really, I think I am in a dream on hearing you talk thus."
"And I, then! I never should have thought it possible that I could dare to
tell you all this; but your despair compelled me! Ah, well! now that you
know that I love you as my friend, as my lover, as my husband, will you
still say it is pity?"
The generous scruples of Germain were dispelled in a moment before this
avowal, so artless and courageous. A joy unlooked--for tore him from his
"You love me!" cried he. "I believe you; your voice, your look, all tell
me! I do not wish to ask myself how I have deserved such happiness, I
abandon myself to it blindly. My life, my whole life, will not suffice to
pay my debt to you! Ah! I have already suffered much, but this moment
"At length you are consoled. Oh! I was very sure, very sure I should
succeed!" cried Rigolette, with a burst of charming joy.
"And is it in the midst of the horrors of a prison, and is it when
everything oppresses me, that such a felicity--" Germain could not finish.
This thought recalling the reality of his position, his scruples, for a
moment forgotten, returned more cruel than ever, and he resumed, with
despair, "But I am a prisoner; I am accused of robbery; I shall be
condemned perhaps; and I would accept your valorous sacrifice! I would
profit by your generous exaltation! Oh, no! no! I am not infamous enough
"What do you say?"
"I may be condemned to years of imprisonment."
"Well!" answered Rigolette, with calmness and firmness, "they will see that
I am a virtuous girl; they will not refuse to marry us in the prison
"But I may be confined far from Paris."
"Once your wife, I will follow you; I will live in the place where you may
be; I will work there, and will come to see you every day!"
"But I shall be disgraced in the eyes of all."
"You love me more than all, don't you?"
"Can you ask me?"
"Then what matters it to you? Far from being disgraced in my eyes, I shall
regard you as the martyr of your good heart."
"But the world will condemn, calumniate your choice."
"The world! we will be the world to each other, and then let them talk."
"Finally, on coming out of the prison, my living will be precarious,
miserable. Repulsed on all sides, perhaps I shall find no employment; and
then, it is horrible to think of: but if this corruption which I dread
should, in spite of myself, gain on me, what a future for you!"
"You will not be corrupted; no, for now you know I love you, and this
thought will give you strength to resist bad examples. You will think that
even if every one should repulse you on your leaving the prison, your wife
will receive you with love and gratitude, very certain that you are still
an honest man. This language astonishes you, does it not? It astonishes
_me_. I do not know where I find what I say to you. It is from the
bottom of my heart, assuredly, and that ought to convince you; otherwise,
if you disdain an offer which is made from the heart, if you do not wish
the attachment of a poor girl who--"
Germain interrupted Rigolette with warmth:
"Well! I accept--I accept; yes, I feel that it is sometimes cowardly to
refuse certain sacrifices; it is to acknowledge that one is unworthy of
them. I accept, noble and courageous girl."
"True! very true this time!"
"I swear it to you; and, beside, you have spoken words which have struck
me--which have given me the courage I wanted."
"What happiness! and what have I said?"
"That for you I ought to remain an honest man. Yes, in this thought I will
find the strength to resist the detestable influences which surround me.
I will brave the contagion, and will know how to preserve worthy of your
love this heart, which belongs to you!"
"Oh! Germain, how happy I am! if I have done anything for you, how you
"And then, do you see, although you excuse my fault, I will not forget its
gravity. My task, for the future, shall be doubled--to atone for the past,
and deserve the happiness I owe to you. For that I will do good; for,
however poor one may be, the occasion is never wanting."
"Alas! that is true; those who are more unfortunate than one's self can
always be found."
"In default of money--"
"One gives tears, that which I did for the poor Morels. And it is holy
alms: the charity of the heart is worth more than that which gives bread."
"In fine, you accept; you will not retract?"
"Oh! never, never, my friend, my wife; yes, my courage returns; I seem to
emerge from a dream; I doubt myself no longer! I wronged myself--happily, I
wronged myself. My heart would not beat as it does beat if it had lost its
"Oh! Germain, how handsome you look while thus speaking! How you reanimate
me, not for myself, but for you! Now, you promise, do you not, that, now
you have my love to shield you, you will no longer fear to speak to these
wicked men, in order not to excite their anger against you?"
"Be comforted. On seeing me sad and dejected, they, doubtless, accused me
of being a prey to my remorse; and in seeing me joyous and gay, they will
think that I have acquired their recklessness."
"It is true; they will suspect you no more, and I shall be happy. So, no
imprudence; now you belong to me. I am your little wife!"
At this moment the warder stirred: he awoke. "Quick!" whispered Rigolette,
with a smile full of grace and maiden tenderness; "quick, my husband, give
me a sweet kiss on my forehead, through the grating; it will be our
And the girl leaned her face against the iron bars. Germain, profoundly
affected, touched with his lips, through the grating, the pure and white
forehead. A tear from the prisoner fell like a humid pearl. Oh! touching
baptism, of this chaste, melancholy, and charming love!
"Ho! ho! already three o'clock!" said the warder, rising from his seat;
"and visitors ought to leave at two. Come, my dear," added he, addressing
the grisette; "it is a pity, but you must part."
"Oh! thank you, thank you, sir, for allowing us to talk alone. I have given
Germain good courage; he will no longer look so sorrowful, and thus he will
have nothing more to fear from his wicked companions. Is it not so, my
"Be tranquil," said Germain, smiling; "I shall be for the future the gayest
in the prison."
"Very good; then they will pay no more attention to you," said the warder.
"Here is a cravat which I have brought for Germain," said Rigolette; "must
I leave it at the office?"
"It is the rule; but, after all, while I have already transgressed orders,
in for a lamb, in for a sheep--come, make the day complete; give him
quickly the present yourself." And the warder opened the door.
"The good man is right; the happiness of the day will be complete," said
François Germain, on receiving the cravat from the hands of Rigolette,
which he tenderly pressed. "Adieu! Now I have no longer any fear to ask you
to come and see me as soon as possible."
"Nor I to promise it. Adieu, good Germain!"
"Farewell, my own darling!"
"And be sure to make use of my cravat; take care you do not catch cold; it
is so damp."
"What a handsome cravat! When I think that you made it for me! Oh! I will
always keep it," said Germain, carrying it to his lips.
"Now you will have some appetite, I hope. Do you wish that I should make my
little dish for you?"
"Certainly, and this time I will do it honor."
"Do not be uneasy, then, Mister Glutton; you shall give me your opinion.
Come, once more, adieu. Thank you, Mister Warder; today I go away very
happy and gratified. Adieu, Germain."
"Adieu, my little wife: soon again!"
Some moments after, Rigolette, having put on her pattens, left the prison
with a lighter heart than when she entered it. During the conversation of
Germain and the grisette, other scenes were passing in one of the courts of
the prison, where we shall now conduct the reader.
THE LION'S DEN
If the material aspect of a vast house of detention, constructed with every
reference to comfort and salubrity claimed by humanity, presents, as we
have said, nothing gloomy or sinister, the sight of the prisoners causes a
contrary impression. A person is commonly touched with sadness and pity
when he finds himself in the midst of a crowd of female prisoners, in
thinking that these unfortunates are almost always forced to crime less
from their own will than by the pernicious influence of the first who
betrayed them. And then, again, women, the most criminal, preserve at the
bottom of the heart two holy ties, which the violent action of passions the
most detestable, the most impetuous, never breaks entirely--Love and
Maternity! To speak of love and maternity, is to say that with these poor
creatures a soft and pure emotion can still light up here and there the
profound gloom of a wretched corruption. But with men, such as the prison
makes them and casts into the world, there is nothing similar. It is crime
of one cast; it is a lump of brass, which only becomes red in the fire of
infernal passions. Thus, at the sight of the criminals who encumber the
prisons, one is at first seized with a shudder of alarm and horror.
Reflection alone leads you to thoughts more compassionate, but of great
bitterness. Yes, of great bitterness; for one reflects that the vicious
population of jails and hulks, the bloody harvest of the executioner,
springs up from that mire of ignorance, of misery, and of stupidity. To
comprehend this alarming and horrible proposition, let the reader follow us
into the Lions' Den. One of the courts of La Force is thus called. There
are ordinarily placed the prisoners most dangerous, for their previous
ferocity, or for the gravity of the accusations which rest upon them.
Nevertheless, it had been found necessary to add to their number
temporarily, in consequence of the repairs now going on in the prison,
several other prisoners. These, although equally under the jurisdiction of
the Court of Assizes, were almost honest people compared to the habitual
inmates of the Lions' Den. The gloomy, dark, and rainy sky cast a mournful
light on the scene we are going to describe. It took place in the middle of
the court, which was a vast quadrangle, formed by high white walls, pierced
here and there by some grated windows.
At one of the ends of this court was seen a narrow wicket door; at the
other, the entrance to the sitting-room; a large paved hall, in the middle
of which was a cast-iron stove, surrounded by wooden seats, on which were
stretched several prisoners, talking among themselves. Others, preferring
exercise to repose, were walking in the courts, in close ranks, four and
five together, With locked arms.
[Illustration: THE DISCOMFITED MONKEY]
One should possess the energetic and somber pencil of Salvator or of Goya
to sketch these diverse specimens of physical and moral ugliness; to
describe their hideous habiliments, the variety of costume of these
wretches, covered for the most part with miserable clothing; for, only
being attainted, that is to say, supposed innocents, they were not dressed
in the uniform of the penitentiaries; some of them, however, wore it; for,
on their entrance into prison, their rags had appeared so dirty, so
infectious, that, after the customary bath, they had given to them the cap
and coarse gray trowsers of the convict. A phrenologist would have
attentively studied these ghastly and bronzed faces, with their flat
foreheads, their cruel and insidious glances, wicked mouths, and brawny
necks; almost all offered a frightful resemblance to the brute. On the
cunning features of this, one would find the subtle perfidy of the fox; on
another, the sanguinary rapacity of the bird of prey; on a third, the
ferocity of the tiger; and on another, again, the animal stupidity of the
brute. The circular walk of this band of silent beings, with bold and
contemptuous looks, an insolent and cynical laugh, pressing one against the
other, at the bottom of this court, offered something strangely suspicious.
It caused a shudder to think that this ferocious horde would be, in a given
time, again let loose among mankind, against whom they had declared an
implacable warfare. How much sanguinary revenge, how many murderous
projects, lurk under this appearance of brazen and jeering perversity!
Let us sketch some few of the prominent physiognomies of the Lions' Den,
let us leave the others in the background. While one of the warders watched
those who were walking, a kind of meeting was held in the hall, Among those
who were present, we will find Barbillon and Nicholas Martial, of whom we
shall speak only to remind the reader of their presence. He who appeared to
preside and conduct the discussion was a prisoner nicknamed Skeleton. He
was provost-marshal or captain of the hall. This man, of a good height, and
about forty years of age, justified his appropriate nickname by a leanness
impossible to be described, which we should call almost osteological. If
the physiognomies of his companions offered more or less analogy to that of
the tiger, the vulture, or the fox, the form of his retreating forehead,
and his bony, lank, and protruding jaws, supported by a neck of immense
length, resembled entirely the conformation of a serpent's head. Total
baldness increased this resemblance still more, for, under the rough skin
of this reptile-shaped forehead, could be distinguished the slightest
protuberances, the smallest sutures of his skull; as to his visage, let one
imagine some old parchment drawn over the face, and only slightly tightened
from the cheek-bone to the angle of the lower jaw, the ligament of which
was plainly visible. The eyes, small and squinting, were so deeply sunken,
the eyebrows and cheek-bones so prominent, that under the yellowish
forehead could be seen two sockets, literally filled with darkness, and, at
a small distance, the eyes seemed to disappear in the bottom of these
cavities, two black holes, which give such a horrible appearance to a
skull. His long projecting teeth were almost constantly displayed by an
habitual grin. Although the emaciated muscles of this man were almost
reduced to the condition of tendons, he was of extraordinary strength. The
most robust resisted with difficulty the grasp of his long arms and long,
bony fingers. It could be called the grasp of an iron skeleton. He wore a
blue smock-frock, much too short, which disclosed, and he was proud of
them, his sinewy hands, and the lower part of his arms, or rather bones
(the _radius_ and the _cubitus_ the reader will pardon the anatomical
designations), wrapped in a rough, blackened skin, and separated by some
hard and cord-like veins. When he placed his hands on a table, he seemed to
use a just metaphor of Pique-Vinaigre to play a game of cockles.
After having passed fifteen years of his life at the galleys for robbery
and attempt at murder, he had broken his ticket-of leave, and had been
taken in the act of murder and robbery. This last assassination had been
committed under circumstances of such ferocity, that, taking into account
he was a robber, this bandit looked upon himself, with good reason, as
already condemned to death. The influence which the living Skeleton
exercised over the other prisoners by his strength and his perversity, had
caused him to be chosen by the director of the prison provost of the
dormitory; that is to say, he was charged with the government of his ward,
as far as regarded the order, arrangements, and neatness of the room and
beds. He acquitted himself perfectly of these functions; and never had the
prisoners dared to fail in the duties of which he had the superintendence.
Strange and significant. The most intelligent directors of prisons, after
having tried to invest with the functions of which we speak the prisoners
who most recommended themselves by their good conduct, or whose crimes were
less grave, had found themselves obliged to deviate in their choice,
however logical and moral, and seek for provosts among prisoners the most
corrupted, the most feared: these alone could exercise any influence over
Thus, let us repeat it again, the more a culprit shows audacity and
impudence, the more he will be regarded, and, thus to speak, respected.
This fact, proved by experience, sanctioned by the forced choice of which
we have spoken, is an irrefragable argument against the evil of an
imprisonment in common, I say.
Does it not show, even to an absolute evidence, the intensity of the
contagion which mortally attacks prisoners in whom there is some hope of
restoration? Yes, for what use of thinking of repentance, amendment, when,
in this pandemonium, where one must pass many years--his life, perhaps--it
is seen that influence is measured by the number and gravity of misdeeds?
The provost of the hall was talking with several prisoners, among whom were
Barbillon and Nicholas Martial, we repeat.
"Are you very sure of what you say?" asked he of Martial.
"Yes, yes, a hundred times, yes; Micou had it from Big Cripple, who already
wanted to kill the muff, because he betrayed some one."
"Then let some one eat his nose, and put a stop to this!" added Barbillon.
"Just now, Skeleton was for giving a stab to this spy Germain."
The provost took his pipe for a moment from his mouth, and said, in a voice
so low, so crapulously hoarse, that he could scarcely be heard, "Germain
holds up his head; he is a spy; he troubles us: for the less one talks, the
more one listens. We must make him clear out of the Lions' Den. Once we
make him bleed, they will take him from here."
"Well, then," said Nicholas, "what change is that?"
"There is this change," replied Skeleton, "that if he has sold us, as Big
Cripple says, he shall not escape with a small bleeding."
"Very good," said Barbillon.
"There must be an example," said Skeleton, becoming more animated. "Now it
is no longer the grabs who find us out: it is the spies. Jacques and
Gauthier guillotined the other day. Roussillon, sent to the galleys for
"And me, and my mother, and Calabash, and my brother at Toulon!" cried
Nicholas, "have we not been sold by Bras-Rouge? That is certain now, since,
instead of putting him here, they have sent him to La Roquette! They did
not dare leave him with us; he knew his treachery, the sneak!"
"And," said Barbillon, "has not Bras-Rouge also sold me?"
"And me," said a young prisoner, in a shrill and reedy voice, lisping in an
affected manner, "I was betrayed by Jobert, a man who proposed an affair in
the Rue Saint Martin."
This last personage, with the reedy voice, a pale, fat, and effeminate
face, and an insidious and cowardly expression, was dressed in a singular
manner. He had on his head a red handkerchief, which allowed two locks of
white hair to be seen plastered on his temples; the ends of the
handkerchief formed a bow over his forehead; he wore, for a cravat, a
shawl, of white merino with green palms in the corners on his bosom; his
jacket, of maroon colored cloth, disappeared under the tight waistband of
his ample trousers, made of gay Scotch plaid.
"If this is not an indignity! Must a man be a scoundrel?" resumed this
gentleman with the pretty voice. "Nothing in the world would have made me
"I know that he informed against you," answered the Skeleton, who seemed to
patronize this prisoner particularly. "The proof is, that they have done
with him as they did with Bras-Rouge; they did not dare leave Jobert here;
they locked him up at the Conciergerie. Well, this must be put a stop to:
we must have an example. Our traitor brothers carve out work for the
police. They think they are sure of their necks because they are put in a
different prison from those they have betrayed."
"It is the truth."
"To prevent this, every prisoner must look upon all turncoats as deadly
enemies: if they have blown on Tony, Dick, or Harry, it matters not which
pounce on them. When we have done the job for four or five in the court,
the others will wag their tongues twice before they blow the gaff!"
"You are right," said Nicholas; "Germain must die!"
"He shall die," answered the provost; "but let us wait until Big Cripple
comes. When he shall have proved to everybody that" Germain is a spy,
enough said: the sheep will bleat no more; his breath shall be stopped."
"And what shall we do with the warders, who watch us!" asked the prisoner
whom the Skeleton called Ja-votte.
"I have my own idea. Pique-Vinaigre shall serve us."
"He? He is too cowardly."
"And not stronger than a mouse."
"Enough. I understand. Where is he?"
"He returned from the grate, some one came for him to go and patter with
his Newgate lawyer."
"And Germain. Is he still at the grate?"
"Yes; with the little mot who comes to see him."
"As soon as he descends, attention. But we must wait for Pique-Vinaigre; we
can do nothing without him."
"And Germain shall be--"
"I will take charge of it."
"But with what? They have taken away our knives."
"And these hooks--will you put your neck between them?" asked Skeleton,
opening his long fingers, hard as iron.
"But if they know it is you?"
"What's the odds? Am I a calf with two heads, such as is shown in the
"That is true. One can only be made a head shorter once; and since you are
sure of being--"
"Doubly sure; the lawyer told me so yesterday. I have been taken with my
hand in the pocket, and my knife in the throat, of the stiff 'un; I am a
second comer; it is all over with me. I will send my head to see, in the
basket, if it is true that they cheat the condemned, and put sawdust in,
instead of bran, which the government allows us."
"It is true; the guillotined has a right to his bran. My father was
cheated, I recollect," said Nicholas Martial, with a ferocious chuckle.
This abominable pleasantry made all the prisoners laugh loudly.
"A thousand thunders!" cried Skeleton. "I wish all the nobs could hear us
talk, who think to make us quake before the guillotine. They have only to
come to the Barrière Saint Jacques the day of my benefit; they will hear me
crack jokes with the crowd, and say to Jack, in a bold voice, 'Open the
door till I go down into the cellar!' Renewed laughter followed this
"The fact is, that the affair lasts as long as it takes to swallow a
mouthful. Draw the bolt; and he opens the devil's door for you!" said
Skeleton continuing to smoke his pipe.
"Ah, bah! is there a devil?"
"Fool! I said that for a joke. There is a knife; a head is placed under,
and that is all."
"Besides, is that our business?"
"As for me, now that I know my road, and that I must stop at the tree, I
would as soon go today as tomorrow," said Skeleton, with savage energy. "I
wish I was there now. I feel my blood in my mouth when I think of the crowd
who will be there to see me. There will be four or five thousand who will
fight or quarrel for places. They will hire out windows and chairs as for a
procession. I hear them already cry, 'Window to let! Place to let!' And then
there will be the troops, cavalry and infantry. And all this for me--for
old Boulard. It is not for an honest man that they take all this trouble,
hey, Sals! Here is something to make a man proud. Even he should be as
cowardly as Pique-Vinaigre, it would make him resolute. All these eyes
which are looking at you give you courage, and it is but a moment to pass,
you die boldly; that vexes the judges and the duffers, and encourages a
flash cove to die game."
"That is true," replied Barbillon, endeavoring to imitate the frightful
boasting. "They think to make us afraid, and confess all, when they send
Ketch to open shop on our account."
"Bah!" said Nicholas, in his turn. "One is not wrong to laugh at the
scaffold; it is like the prison and the galleys; we laugh at them also; so
long as we are all friends together, 'A short life and a merry one!'"
"For instance," said the prisoner with the lisping voice, "what would be
tough would be to keep us in cells day and night."
"In cells!" cried Skeleton, with a kind of savage alarm. "Do not speak of
it. In cells! All alone! I would rather they would cut off my arms and
legs. All alone! Between four walls! All alone! No old mates to laugh with!
That cannot be! I prefer a hundred times the galleys to the prisons,
because at the galleys, instead of being shut up, one is out of doors, sees
company, moves about. Well! I would rather a hundred times be a head
shorter than be put into a cell only for one year. See here, at this
moment, I am sure of being cut down, am I not? Well, let them say to me,
'Would you prefer a year in a cell?' I would stretch out my neck. A year
all alone! Can this be possible? What would they have one think of when one
is all alone?"
"If they were to put you there by force?"
"I would not remain. I would make such use of my feet and hands that I
would escape," said Skeleton.
"But if you could not--if you were sure that you could not escape?"
"Then I would kill the first one I could, in order to be guillotined."
"But if, instead of condemning the red-handed to death, they condemned them
to a solitary cell for life?"
Skeleton seemed to be staggered by this reflection. After amoment's pause
"Then I do not know what I should do. I would break my head against the
walls. I would allow myself to die with hunger rather than be in a cell.
How? All alone--all my life alone with myself? without the hope of escape?
I tell you it is not possible. You know there is no one bolder than I am. I
would bleed a man for a crown, and even for nothing, for honor. They think
that I have only assassinated two persons; but if the dead could speak,
there are five who could tell how I work." The brigand boasted of his
crimes. These sanguinary egotisms are among the most characteristic traits
of hardened criminals. A prison governor told us,"If the pretended murders
of which these wretches boast were real, population would be decimated."
"So I say," replied Barbillon, boasting in his turn; "they think that I
only laid out the milkwoman's husband in the city; but I have served many
others out, with Big Robert, who was shortened last year."
"It was only to tell you," said Skeleton, "that I neither fear fire nor the
devil. But, if I were in a cell, and very sure of not being able to
escape--thunder! I believe I should be afraid."
"Of what?" asked Nicholas.
"Of being all alone," answered the cock of the walk.
"So, if you had to recommence your robberies and murders, and, instead of
prisons and galleys and guillotine, there were only cells, you would
"Yes--perhaps" (_a fact_), answered the Skeleton.
And he spoke the truth. A noisy burst of laughter, and exclamations of joy
proceeding from the prisoners who were walking in the court, interrupted
the meeting. Nicholas rose precipitately, and advanced toward the door to
ascertain the cause of this unaccustomed noise.
"It is the Big Cripple!" cried Nicholas, returning.
"The Big Cripple?" said the provost; "and Germain, has he descended from
"Not yet," said Barbillon.
"Let him hurry, then," said Skeleton, "that I may give him an order for a
Big Cripple, whose arrival had been hailed by the prisoners in the Lions'
Den with such noisy joy, and whose denunciation was to be so fatal to
Germain, was a man of middle stature; notwithstanding his obesity and his
infirmity, he seemed active and vigorous. His bestial physiognomy, as was
the case with most of his companions, much resembled a bull-dog's; his low
forehead, his little yellow eyes, his falling cheeks, his heavy jawbones,
of which the lower projecting beyond the other was armed with long teeth,
or rather, broken tusks, which protruded over the lips, rendered this
animal resemblance still more striking; he had on his head an otter-skin
cap, and wore over his coat a blue cloak with a fur collar. He entered the
hall, accompanied by a man of about thirty years of age, whose brown and
sunburnt face seemed less degraded than those of the other prisoners,
although he affected to appear as resolute as his companion; sometimes his
face became clouded, and he smiled bitterly. The Cripple found himself, to
use a vulgar expression, quite at home. He could hardly reply to the
felicitations and welcomes which were addressed to him from all sides.
"Here you are at last, my jolly bloke! So much the better; we shall have a
"We wanted you, old son!"
"You have stayed away a long time."
"Yet I have done all I could to return to my friends. It is not my fault if
they would not have me sooner."
"Just so, my crummy mate; no one will come of his own accord to be caged;
but once there, one must enjoy himself."
"You are in luck, for Pique-Vinaigre is here."
"He also? an old Melun chum! famous, famous, he will help us pass the time
with his stories, and customers will not be wanting, for I announce some
"Just now, at the office, while they were enrolling me, they brought in two
young coves. One I do not know; but the other, who wore a blue cotton cap
and a gray blouse, struck my eye. I have seen the fellow somewhere. I think
it was in the White Rabbit: a very fine-looking prig."
"Say now, Big Cripple, do you recollect at Melun, I bet you, before a year
you would be nabbed?"
"That is true; you have won; but I had more chances to be a second comer
than to be medaled; but what have you done?"
"On the American lay."
"Ah! good, always the same fashion!"
"Always; I go my own nice little road. This trick is common; but yokels
are also common; and if it had not been for the ignorance of my _bonnet_,
I should not be here."
"Never mind, the lesson will be of service."
"When I begin again, I will take my precautions; I have my plan."
"Ah, here is Cardillac," said the Cripple, seeing a man approach, miserably
dressed, with a low, cunning, and wicked expression, which partook of the
fox and the wolf "Good-day, old man."
"Come, come, limpy," answered Cardillac, gayly; "they said every day, 'He
will come.' You do like the pretty women one must wish for."
"Oh!" continued Cardillac, "is it for something a little uppish that you
"My dear, I went in for burglary. Before, I had done some good business;
but the last failed, a superb affair; which, however, still remains to be
done. Unfortunately, me and Frank, whom you see, missed our mark!" He
pointed to his companion, on whom all eyes were turned.
"So it is true, here is Frank!" said Cardillac. "I would not have known him
on account of his beard. Is it you? I thought that at this present moment
you were at least the mayor of your district. You wished to play honest?"
"I was a fool, and I have been punished," said Frank, roughly; "but pardon
for all sinners; it was good for once; now I belong to the _forty_ until I
die; look out when I am released; hang 'em!"
"Very good, that is the style!"
"But what has happened to you, Frank?"
"What happens to all liberated prisoners who are fools enough, as you say,
to play honest. Their fate is so just! On coming out of Melun, I had saved
nine hundred and odd francs."
"It is true," said the Cripple, "all his misfortunes come from his haying
saved this money instead of spending it. You will see what repentance leads
to, and whether one pays his expenses by it."
"They sent me to Etampes," resumed Frank; "locksmith by trade, I went to
seek employment. I said, 'I am a released convict; I know no one likes to
employ them, but here are 900 francs of my savings; give me work, my money
shall be your guarantee; I wish to labor and be honest.'"
"On my word, there is no one but Frank could have such ideas."
"I proposed, then, my savings as a guarantee to the master locksmith, so
that he might give me work. 'I am not a banker, to take money on interest,'
said he. 'I do not wish convicts in my shop; I work in houses, open the
doors the keys of which are lost; my trade is a confidential one, and if it
were known that I had a convict among my workmen, I should lose my
customers. Goodnight, neighbor.' Did he not, Cardillac, get what he
"Childish!" added the Cripple, addressing Frank in a paternal manner,
"instead of tearing your ticket at once, and coming to Paris to fritter
away your savings, so as to be without a sou in your pocket, and compelled
to rob. Then one finds superb ideas."
"You tell me always the old story," said Frank, with impatience; "it is
true, I was wrong not to spend my money, since I have not enjoyed it. As
there were only four locksmiths at Etampes, he to whom I had first spoken
had blabbed; when I addressed myself to the others, they told me the same
as their fellow. Thank you; everywhere the same song. So you see, friends,
where is the use? We are marked for life! Behold me on a strike in the
streets of Etampes! I lived on my money for two months," said Frank; "the
money went, and no work came. I broke my leave. I left Etampes."
"That's what you should have done before."
"I came to Paris; then I found some work; my master did not know who I was.
I told him I came from the country. There was no better workman than
myself. I placed 700 francs, which remained of my savings, with a broker,
who gave me a note; when it fell due, he did not pay; I placed my note in
the hands of an attorney, who sued and recovered; I left my money with him,
and I said to myself, 'It is for a rainy day.' Then I met the Big Cripple."
"Yes, pals, and I was his rainy day, as you will see. Frank was a
locksmith; he manufactured keys; I had an affair in which he could serve
me; I proposed it to him; I had impressions; he had only to copy them. The
lad refused; he wished to become honest; I said to myself, 'I must do him
good in spite of himself.' I wrote a letter, without a signature, to his
master, another to his companions, to inform them that Frank was a released
convict. The master turned him out of doors, and his companions turned
their backs upon him. He went to another master; worked there a week; same
game. If he had gone to ten more I would have served him the same."
"I did not then suspect that it was you who denounced me," said Frank,
"otherwise you might have had it hot!"
"Yes; but I was no fool; I told you I was going to Longjumeau to see my
uncle; but I remained at Paris; and I knew all you did through little
"In short, they drove me away from my last master like a beggar, fit only
to hang. Work then! be peaceable! so that one may say to you, not, What are
you doing? but, What have you done? Once in the street, I said to myself,
'Happily I have my money left.' I went to the attorney; he had cleared
out-my money was gone--I was without a you. I had not enough to pay my
week's rent. You ought to have seen my rage! Thereupon Big Cripple
pretended to arrive from Longjumeau; he profited by my anger. I did not
know on what peg to hang myself. I saw there was no means to be honest;
that, once a robber, one was in for it for life! the Cripple kept so close
at my heels."
"Let Frank scold no more," said the Cripple, "he took his part boldly; he
entered into the put-up thing; it promised great things. Unfortunately, the
moment we opened our mouths to swallow the morsel--nabbed by the police!
What would you, it is a misfortune. The trade would be too fine without
"I don't care. If that confounded lawyer had not robbed me, I should not be
here," said Frank, with rage.
"The Skeleton is here!" said Cardillac, pointing out the provost, who had
just appeared at the door, to his companion.
"Cadet, advance at the call!" said Skeleton to the Cripple.
"Here!" he answered, advancing into the hall, accompanied by Frank, whom he
took by the arm. During the conversation of Cripple, Frank and Cardillac,
Barbillon had gone, by orders of the provost, to recruit twelve or fifteen
prisoners, picked men. These, not to excite the suspicions of the keeper,
had gone separately to the hall. The other prisoners remained in the yard;
some of them, following the instructions of Barbillon, spoke in a loud,
quarrelsome tone, to attract the notice of the keeper, and thus call his
attention away from the hall, where were soon assembled Barbillon,
Nicholas, Frank, Cardillac, Big Cripple, the Skeleton, and some fifteen
other prisoners, all waiting with impatient curiosity until the provost
should take the chair. Barbillon, charged as spy to announce the approach
of the superintendent, placed himself near the door. The Skeleton, taking
his pipe from his mouth, said to the Big Cripple:
"Do you know a young man named Germain, with blue eyes, brown hair, and the
air of a swell cove?"
"Germain here!" cried Cripple, whose features expressed at once surprise,
"You do know him, then?"
"Don't I know him? My friend, I denounce him, he is a betrayer! he must be
"Yes, yes!" said the prisoners together.
"Is it very sure that he has denounced?" asked Frank. "Suppose you should
be mistaken, and injure a man who does not deserve it?"
This observation displeased the Skeleton, who leaned toward the Cripple,
"Who is this?"
"A man with whom I have worked."
"Are you sure of him?"
"Yes; only he is not made of gall--but treacle!"
"Enough; I'll keep my eye upon him."
"Let us hear how Germain is a spy," said a prisoner.
"Explain yourself, Cripple," resumed the Skeleton, who watched Frank
"Here you are," said the Cripple. "A Nantes man, named Velu, an old
convict, brought up this young fellow, whose parents are unknown. When he
was old enough, he placed him in a banking-house at Nantes, intending to
make use of him for an affair he had in view. He had two strings to his
bow--a forgery, and robbery of the banker's strong box! perhaps a hundred
thousand francs to gain by the two. All is ready; Velu counted on the young
man as on himself; this blackguard slept in the room where the strong box
was kept; Velu told him his plan; Germain neither said yes nor no, but told
his master all about it, and left the same evening for Paris."
The prisoners uttered violent threats and murmurs of indignation.
"If he is a betrayer, we must settle him."
"If any one wishes it, I'll pick a quarrel, and I'll brain him."
"We must write on his face an order for the hospital."
"Silence in the gang!" cried Skeleton, in an imperious tone. "Continue!" he
said to the Cripple; and he recommenced smoking.
"Believing that Germain had said yes, counting on his aid, Velu and two of
his mates attempted the affair the same night; the banker was on his guard,
one of Velu's pals was nabbed in climbing in at a window, and he himself
had the luck to escape. He arrived in Paris, furious at having been
betrayed by Germain, and foiled in a tip-top job. One fine day he met the
nice young man; it was broad day; he did not dare to touch him; but he
followed him, he saw where he lived, and one night me, Velu, and little
Ledru pounced upon Germain. Unfortunately he escaped us; he left his nest
in the Rue du Temple, and since that time we have not been able to find
him; but if he is here, I demand----"
"You have nothing to demand," said the Skeleton, with authority. The
Cripple was silent. "I take your bargain; or make over to me the skin of
Germain, I'll take it off. I am not called Skeleton for nothing. I am dead
in advance; my grave is already dug at Clamart; I risk nothing in working
for the leary coves: the spies devour us more than the police; they place
the turncoats of La Force at La Roquette, and those of La Roquette at the
Conciergerie, where they think themselves safe. Stop a bit, when each
prison shall have killed its pet, no matter where he has denounced, that
will take away the appetite from the others. I set the example--they will
All the prisoners, admiring the resolution announced, crowded around him.
Barbillon himself, instead of remaining at the door, joined the group, and
did not perceive that a new prisoner had entered the hall. This newcomer,
clothed in a gray blouse, and wearing a cap of blue cotton embroidered with
red wool, pulled well over his eyes, started on hearing the name of
Germain; then he went in among the Skeleton's admirers and loudly approved
both with voice and gesture the determination of the provost.
"Isn't Bones a mad-cap?" said one.
"What a learned man!"
"The devil himself could not scare him."
"There's a man!"
"If all the family had his cheek, it would be they who would judge and
guillotine the honest fools."
"That would be just: every one in his turn."
"Yes; but they won't agree upon that subject."
"All the same; he renders a famous service to the family by killing them;
betrayers will denounce no more."
"That is certain."
"And since Skeleton is so sure of being cut down, it costs him nothing to
"I think it cruel to kill this young man!" said Frank.
"What: what!" cried Skeleton, in an angry tone; "one has no right to pay
off a traitor?"
"Yes, true, he is a traitor; so much the worse for him," said Frank, after
a moment's reflection.
These last words, and the assurances of Cripple, calmed the suspicions
which Frank for a moment had raised among the prisoners. Skeleton alone
"What shall we do with the keeper?"
"Tell us, Doomed-to-Death," said Nicholas, laughing.
"Well! some will engage his attention on one side."
"No: we will hold him by force."
"Silence in the gang!" cried Skeleton. The most profound quiet ensued.
"Listen to me well," resumed the provost, in a hoarse voice, "there are no
means to do the job while the keeper is in the ward, or the court. I have
no knife; there will be some stifled cries--the sneak will struggle."
"Then what is to be done?"
"This is my plan: Pique-Vinaigre has promised to relate to us to-day, after
dinner, his story of Gringalet and Cut-in-half. It rains, we will all
retire here, and the beggar will come and take his seat in the corner, in
his usual place. We will give some sous to Pique-Vinaigre to make him
commence his story. It will be the dinner hour. The keeper, seeing us
quietly occupied in listening to the nonsense, will have no suspicions; he
will go and take a pull at the canteen. As soon as he has left the court,
we have a quarter of an hour to ourselves--the turncoat will be done up
before the warder returns. I take it upon myself. I have done the trick for
stouter fellows than he. I wish no help."
"A moment," said Cardillac; "the bailiff always comes lounging here at
dinner-time. If he should enter the hall to listen to Pique-Vinaigre, and
should see us fixing Germain, he is likely to sing out for help; he is not
fly; look out."
"That is true," said the Skeleton.
"A bailiff here!" cried Frank, the victim of Boulard, with astonishment.
"And what is his name?"
"Boulard," said Cardillac.
"It is my man," cried Frank, doubling his fists; "it is he who stole my
"The bailiff?" asked the provost.
"Yes; seven hundred and twenty francs which he collected for me."
"You know him? he has seen you?" asked the Skeleton.
"I should think I had seen him, to my sorrow. But for him I should not be
These regrets sounded badly in the ears of Skeleton; he fixed his squinting
eyes on Frank, who answered some questions of his comrades; then leaning
over toward Cripple, whispered in a low tone, "Here is a kid who is capable
of informing the keepers of our plant."
"No: I answer for him: he will denounce no one, but he is still a little
timid about crime, and he might be capable of defending Germain. Better get
him out of the way."
"Enough," said Skeleton, and he said in a loud tone, "I say, Frank, won't
you have a settlement with this rascally bailiff?"
"Let me alone; let him come, his account is made out."
"He is coming, get ready."
"I am all ready; he will bear my mark."
"That will make a scuffle; they will send the bailiff to his ell, and Frank
to the dungeon," whispered Skeleton to the Cripple, "we shall get rid of
"What a head! Is he not a trump?" said the robber, with admiration; then he
resumed aloud, "Shall Pique-Vinaigre be informed that by the assistance of
his story we mean to stuff the keeper and finish the traitor?"
"No; Pique-Vinaigre has too much milk in his composition, and is too great
a coward; if he knew it he would not tell his story; the blow struck, he
will bear his part." The dinner-bell rang.
"To your grub, mates!" said Skeleton; "Pique-Vinaigre and Germain are going
to enter the court. Attention, friends! you call me Doomed-to-Death! all
right, the denouncer is in the same boat!"
The new prisoner of whom we have spoken, who wore a blue cotton cap and
gray blouse, had attentively listened to, and energetically approved,
the plot which threatened the life of Germain. This man, of athletic
form, left the sitting-room with the other prisoners, without having
been remarked, and soon mingled with the different groups that pressed
into the court around the persons who distributed the beef, which they
brought in brass kettles, and the bread in huge baskets. Each prisoner
received a piece of boiled beef, which had served to make the soup for
the morning meal, with half a loaf of bread, superior in quality to that
given to soldiers. The prisoners who had money could buy wine at the
canteen, and go there to drink. Those who, like Nicholas, had received
victuals from out of doors, got up a feast to which they invited the
other prisoners. The guests of the widow's son were Barbillon, Skeleton,
and, upon the latter's recommendation, Pique-Vinaigre, in order to get
him in a good humor for telling stories. The ham, hard eggs, cheese, and
white bread, due to the forced liberality of Micou the receiver, were
spread out on one of the benches, and Skeleton prepared to do honor to
this repast, without feeling any inquietude concerning the murder he was
about to commit.
"Go and see if Pique-Vinaigre is never coming. While I am waiting to choke
Germain, I choke with hunger and thirst; do not forget to say to the Big
Cripple that Frank must pull the bailiff's hair, so that we may be rid of
"Be easy, if Frank does not pitch into the tipstaff, it will not be our
And Nicholas left the sitting-room. At this moment, Boulard entered the
yard smoking a cigar, his hands plunged into his long surtout of gray
moleskin, his cap drawn over his ears, his face smiling and gay; he spied
Nicholas, who on his side looked at Frank. The latter and the Cripple were
dining, seated on one of the benches in the court; they had not perceived
the bailiff, on whom their backs were turned. Faithful to the Skeleton's
recommendations, Nicholas, seeing with the corner of his eye Boulard coming
toward him, appeared not to remark him, and drew nearer to Frank and the
"Good-day!" said the bailiff to Nicholas.
"Ah! good-day, master, I did not see you; you come, as usual, to take a
"Yes, my boy, and to-day I have two reasons for doing it. I am going to
tell you why; but first take these cigars. Come, now, among comrades--the
devil! one must not stand on ceremony."
"Thank you, my gentleman. Why have you two reasons for walking?"
"You will understand it, my boy; I do not feel any appetite to-day. I said
to myself, 'Looking at these gay boys at their dinner, and seeing them make
use of their jaws, perhaps hunger will come.'"
"Not so bad. But look this way if you wish to see two babies who eat
lustily," said Nicholas, leading the bailiff by degrees near the bench of
Frank, whose back was turned; "just look at these two; your hunger will
come as if you were eating a whole bottle of pickles."
"Oh! let us see this phenomenon!" said Boulard.
"I say, Big Cripple!" cried Nicholas.
The Big Cripple and Frank quickly turned their heads. The bailiff was
stupefied, and stood with his mouth open on recognizing him whom he had
Frank, throwing his bread and meat on the bench, with one bound jumped at
Boulard, whom he caught by the throat, crying:
"How? What? You strangle me. I--"
"My friend, listen to me!"
"My money! And yet is is too late, for it is your fault that I am here."
"If I go to the hulks, mark me, it is your fault; for if I had that of
which you robbed me, I should not have been under the necessity of
stealing. I should have remained honest, as I wished to be. And you will be
acquitted perhaps--they will do nothing to you. But I will do something to
you. You shall bear my marks. Ah! you wear jewels, gold chains, and you
rob. There--there--have you enough? No--here, take some more!"
"Help, help!" cried the bailiff, rolling under the feet of Frank, who
struck him furiously.
The other prisoners, very indifferent to this squabble, made a ring round
the combatants, or, rather, round the beating and the beaten, for Boulard,
panting and much alarmed, made no resistance, but endeavored to parry, as
well as he could, the blows of his adversary. Happily, the overseer ran up,
on hearing the cries, and released the bailiff from his peril. Boulard
arose, pale and trembling, with one of his large eyes bruised, and, without
giving himself time to pick up his cap, cried, as he ran toward the wicket:
"Keeper--open for me; I do not wish to remain a moment longer--help!"
"And you, for having struck the gentleman, follow me to the governor," said
the keeper, taking Frank by the collar; "you will go to the blackhole two
days for this."
"I don't care; he has got his gruel."
"Mum!" whispered the Cripple to Frank, pretending to adjust his clothes,
"not a word of what they are going to do to the spy."
"Be easy; perhaps if I had been there, I should have defended him; for to
kill a man for that is hard; but blab! never."
"Will you come?" said the keeper.
"There we are rid of the bailiff and Frank now; hot work for the spy!" said
As Frank left the court, Germain and Pique-Vinaigre entered. Germain was no
longer recognizable; his physiognomy, formerly so sad and cast down, was
radiant with joy; he carried his head erect, and cast around him a cheerful
and assured glance; he was beloved!--the horrors of the prison
disappeared from before his eyes. Pique-Yinaigre followed him with an
embarrassed air; at length, after having hesitated two or three times to
accost him, he made a great effort, and slightly touched the arm of Germain
before he had approached the group of prisoners, who, at a distance, were
examining him with sullen hatred. Their victim could not escape. In spite
of himself, Germain shuddered at the touch of Pique-Vinaigre; for the face
and rags of the ex-juggler did not speak much in his favor. But,
recollecting the advice of Rigolette, and, besides, too happy not to be
friendly, Germain stopped, and said kindly to Pique-Vinaigre,
"What do you wish?"
"To thank you."
"For what your pretty little visitor wishes to do for my sister."
"I do not understand you," said Germain, surprised.
"I am going to explain. Just now, in the office, I met the overseer, who
was on guard in the visitors' room."
"Ah, yes; a very good man."
"Ordinarily, the jailers do not agree with that description. But Roussel is
another bird; he deserves it. Just now he whispered in my ear,
'Pique-Vinaigre, my boy, do you know Germain well?' 'Yes; the butt of the
yard,' I answered." Then, interrupting himself, Pique-Vinaigre said to
Germain, "Pardon, excuse me, if I have called you a butt. Do not think of
it; wait for the end. 'Yes, then,' I answered, 'I know Germain, the butt of
the prison.' 'And yours also, perhaps, Pique-Vinaigre?' asked the keeper,
in a severe tone. 'I am too cowardly and too good-natured to allow myself
any kind of a butt black, white, or gray, and Germain still less than any
other for he does not appear wicked, and they are unjust toward him.'
'Well, Pique-Vinaigre, you have reason to be on Germain's side, for he has
been good to you.' 'To me? How so?' 'That is to say, not to you; but,
saving that, you owe him great gratitude,' answered old Roussel."
"Let us see; explain yourself a little more clearly," said Germain,
"That is exactly what I said to the keeper: 'Do speak more clearly.' Then
he answered, 'It is not Germain, but his pretty little visitor, who has
been full of kindness for your sister. She overheard her relate to you her
misfortunes, and, as she was about leaving, the girl offered her any
assistance she could render.'"
"Good Rigolette!" cried Germain, affected. "She took good care not to
"'Oh, then,' I answered the keeper, 'I am only a gander. You are right;
Germain has been good to me; for his visitor is, as may be said, himself,
and my sister Jeanne is myself and much more.'"
"Poor little Rigolette!" said Germain. "This does not surprise me; she has
a heart so generous and susceptible!"
"The keeper went on; 'I heard all this without pretending to listen. Now
you know, if you do not try to render a service to Germain; if you do not
warn him in case of any plot against him, you will be a finished scoundrel,
Pique-Vinaigre.' 'Keeper, I am a scoundrel,' commenced I, 'it is true; but
not a finished scoundrel. In fine, since Germain's visitor wished to do
some good to my poor Jeanne, who is a good and honest girl, I will do for
Germain what I can; unfortunately, that will be no great things.'"
"'Never mind, do what you can; I am also going to give you some good news
for Germain; I have just heard it.'"
"What is it, then?" asked Germain.
"'To-morrow there will be a separate cell vacant,' the keeper told me to
"Can it be true? Oh, what happiness!" cried Germain. "The good man was
right; it is good news you tell me."
"I think so; for your place is not with rough-scuff like us, Germain." Then
he added hastily, and in a low tone, as he pretended to stoop for
something, "Germain, look at the prisoners, how they stare at us; they are
astonished to see us talking together. I leave you; be on your guard. If
they pick a quarrel, do not answer; they only want a pretext to engage you
in a dispute, and beat you. Barbillon is to begin the dispute--look out for
him; I will try to turn them from this notion." And Pique-Vinaigre lifted
up his head as if he had found what he pretended to look for. Only informed
of the conspiracy of the morning, which was to provoke a quarrel in which
Germain would be roughly handled, in order to force the governor to change
his ward, not only was Pique-Vinaigre ignorant of the murderous project,
but he was also ignorant that they counted on his story of Gringalet to
deceive and distract the attention of the keeper.
"Come along, lazybones!" said Nicholas to Pique-Vinaigre, going to meet
him; "leave your ration of flesh there; we have a merry-making and
feasting. I invite you."
"Whereabouts? To the Panier-Fleuri? to the Petit Ramponneau?"
"No, in the hall; the table is set on a bench. We have some ham, eggs, and
"That suits me; but it is a pity to lose my ration, and still more that my
sister cannot profit by it. Neither she nor her children often see meat,
except at the butcher's door."
"Come, come quick, Skeleton is making a beast of himself; he is capable of
devouring the whole with Barbillon."
Nicholas and Pique-Vinaigre entered the hall; seated astride on the end of
the bench where the feast was spread, Skeleton swore and cursed while
waiting for the giver of the banquet.
"Here you are at last, snail, laggard!" cried the bandit, at the sight of
Pique-Vinaigre; "what have you been doing then?"
"He was chatting with Germain," said Nicholas, carving the ham.
"Oh! talking with Germain?" said Skeleton, looking attentively at
Pique-Vinaigre, without pausing in his mastication.
"Yes!" answered the patterer. "Oh! here is another who never invented
bootjacks and hard eggs (I say eggs, because I adore them). Isn't he a
fool! this Germain! I used to think that he was a spy, but he is too much
of a flat for that!"
"Oh! you think so?" said Skeleton, exchanging a rapid and significant
glance with Nicholas and Barbillon.
"I am as sure of it as that I see ham! And, then, how the devil would you
have him spy?--he is always alone; he speaks to no one, and no one speaks
to him; he runs away from us as if we had the cholera. Besides, he will not
spy for a long time; he is going to be boxed up alone."
"He!" cried Skeleton; "when?"
"To-morrow morning there will be a cell vacant."
"You see we must kill him at once. He does not sleep in my ward; to-morrow
will be too late. To-day we have only until four o'clock, and now it is
almost three," whispered Skeleton to Nicholas, while Pique-Vinaigre talked
"All the same," answered Nicholas aloud, pretending to answer an
observation of Skeleton, "Germain looks as if he despises us."
"On the contrary, my children," answered Pique-Vinaigre, "you intimidate
this young man. He looks upon himself, in comparison with you, as the least
of the least. Just now, what do you think he said?"
"How should I know?"
"He said to me, 'You are very happy, Pique-Vinaigre, to dare to speak with
the famous Skeleton (he used the word famous) as an equal and a companion.'
I am dying to speak to him; but he produces an effect upon me so
respectful--so respectful--that, should I see the chief of police in flesh,
and bones, and uniform, I could not be more overcome."
"He told you that?" replied Skeleton, feigning to believe him, and to be
flattered at the admiration he excited in Germain.
"As true as that you are the greatest magsman on the earth, he told me so."
"Then it is different," answered Skeleton; "I must make it up with him.
Barbillon had a mind to pick a quarrel, but he, too, will do well to let
"He will do better," cried Pique-Vinaigre, persuaded that he had turned
away the danger with which Germain was threatened. "He will do better, for
this poor fellow won't dispute; he is one of my kind, bold as a hare."
"Yes, it is a pity," said Skeleton; "we reckoned on this quarrel to amuse
us after dinner, the time appears so long."
"Yes. What shall we do then?" asked Nicholas.
"Since it is so, let Pique-Vinaigre tell us a story. I will not seek a
quarrel with Germain," said Barbillon.
"Agreed, agreed!" cried the story-teller. "That is one condition; but there
is another, and without both I tell no stories."
"Come, what is your other condition?"
"It is, that the honorable society which is poisoned with capitalists,"
said Pique-Vinaigre, assuming his mountebank twang, "will make for me the
trifle of a contribution of twenty sous. Twenty sous, ladies and gents, to
hear the famous Pique-Vinaigre, who has had the honor to perform before the
most renowned robbers, before the most famous rogues, of France and
Navarre, and who is immediately expected at Brest and at Toulon, where he
goes by order of the government. Twenty sous! A mere nothing, gents."
"Come, you shall have twenty sous when you have told your story."
"After? No; before!" cried Pique-Vinaigre.
"I say, do you think us capable of cheating you out of twenty sous?" said
Skeleton, with a displeased air.
"Not at all," answered Pique-Vinaigre; "I honor the family with my
confidence, and it is to spare its purse that I ask twenty sous in
"On your word of honor?"
"Yes, gents; for after my tale is finished, you will be so satisfied that
it is no longer twenty sous, but twenty francs--a hundred francs that you
will force me to take! I know, myself, I should have the _meanness_ to
accept the offering; so, you see, that for economy's sake, you will do
better to give me twenty sous in advance."
"Oh! you are not wanting in soft-sawder."
"I have nothing but my tongue; I must use it; and, then, the point of the
matter is that my sister and her children are in Queer Street, and twenty
sous is an out-and-out _friendly call_."
"Why does she not toddle out on the prigging lay; and her kids also, if
they are old enough?" said Nicholas.
"Do not speak of it; it wounds me, it dishonors me. I am too good."
"You had better say too stupid, since you encourage her."
"It is true, I encourage her in the vice of honesty. But she is only good
for that trade--she makes me pity her. Come, is it agreed? I will relate
to you my famous history of 'Gringalet', but I must have my twenty sous;
and Barbillon will not seek a quarrel with that softy, Germain."
"You shall have your twenty sous, and Barbillon will not pick a quarrel
with Germain," said Skeleton.
"Then open your ears, for you are going to hear something choice. But here
is the rain, which sends in the audience; there will be no need to go after
In fact, the rain began to fall, the prisoners left the court, and came to
take refuge in the hall, accompanied by a keeper. We have already said this
hall was a long paved room, lighted by windows looking out on the court; in
the center was placed the stove, near which were Skeleton, Barbillon,
Nicholas, and Pique-Vinaigre. At a nod from the provost, Big Cripple joined
the group. Germain entered among the last, absorbed in delightful thoughts.
He went mechanically to seat himself on the ledge of the farthest window in
the room, a place he habitually occupied, which no one disputed; for it was
far from the stove, around which the prisoners clustered. We have said that
only a dozen of the prisoners had been informed at first of the intended
murder of Germain. But, once divulged, this project counted as many
adherents as there were prisoners; these wretches, in their blind cruelty,
regarded this frightful plot as a legitimate vengeance, and saw in it a
certain guarantee against future denunciations.
Germain, Pique-Vinaigre, and the keeper were alone ignorant of what was
about to take place. The general attention was divided between the
executioner, the victim, and the patterer, who was about innocently to
deprive Germain of the only succor which he had to depend upon; for it was
almost certain that the keeper, seeing the prisoners attentive to the story
of Pique-Vinaigre, would believe his presence useless, and profit by this
moment of calm to go and take his repast. When all the prisoners had
entered, Skeleton said to the keeper:
"I say, old man, Pique-Vinaigre has a good idea; he is going to tell us his
story of 'Gringalet.' The weather is so bad it is not fit to turn a
constable out of doors; we are going to wait here quietly for the time to
"True enough, when he talks, you keep yourselves quiet. At least, there is
no need of being behind your backs."
"Yes," replied Skeleton; "but Pique-Vinaigre charges high for telling a
story; he wants twenty sous."
"Yes, the trifle of twenty sous; and then it is for nothing," cried
Pique-Vinaigre. "Yes, nothing; for one should not keep a red in his pocket,
and thus deprive himself of the pleasure of hearing the adventures of poor
little Gringalet, of the terrible Cut-in-half, and the wicked Gargousse; it
is enough to break one's heart, to make your hair stand on end. Now, gents,
who is it that cannot spare the bagatelle of four coppers, to have his
heart broken and his hair stand on end?"
"I give two sous!" said Skeleton; and he threw his penny toward
Pique-Vinaigre. "Shall the gang be stingy for such an entertainment?" he
added, looking at his accomplices with a significant air. Several sous were
thrown, from one side and the other, to the great joy of Pique-Vinaigre,
who thought of his sister as he made his collection. "Eight, nine, eleven,
twelve, thirteen!" he cried, picking up his money. "Come, rich folks,
capitalists and other bankers, one more little effort; you cannot remain at
thirteen, it is an unlucky number. Only seven sous wanting--a paltry seven
sous. How! shall it be said the Lions' Den cannot raise seven sous more--
seven miserable sous! O! you will lead me to think that you have been
placed here unjustly, or that you have been very unlucky."
The piercing voice and the witticisms of Pique-Vinaigre had roused Germain
from his reverie; as much to follow the advice of Rigolette, to make
himself popular, as to make a slight donation to this poor fellow, who had
shown some desire to be useful to him, he arose and threw a piece of ten
sous at the speaker's feet, who cried, showing to the crowd the generous
donor: "Ten sous, gents! you see I spoke of capitalists; honor to the
banker, who tries to be agreeable to the society. Yes, gents! for it is to
him you will owe the greater part of Gringalet, and you will thank him for
it. As to the three sous surplus caused by his donation, I will deserve
them by imitating the voices of my personages, instead of speaking in my
ordinary manner! This shall be another delight that you will owe to this
rich capitalist whom you must adore."
"Come, don't gammon so much, but begin," said Skeleton.
"A moment," said Pique-Vinaigre; "it is but just that this capitalist, who
has given me ten sous, should have the best place, except our provost, who
must choose first." This proposition answered the purpose of Skeleton so
well that he cried:
"It is true, after me he should be the best seated." And the bandit again
cast a look of intelligence at the prisoners.
"Yes, yes, let him approach," they cried.
"Let him take the front seat."
"You see, young man, your liberality is recompensed; the honorable society
recognizes that you have the right to the first seat," said Pique-Vinaigre
Believing that his liberality had really disposed his odious companions in
his favor, enchanted thus to follow the advice of Rigolette, Germain, in
spite of his repugnance, left his seat, and approached.
Pique-Vinaigre, aided by Nicholas and Barbillon, having arranged around the
stove the four or five benches, said with emphasis,
"Here are orchestra stalls! honor to whom honor is due; in the first place
the capitalist. Now let those who have paid seat themselves on the
benches," added Pique-Vinaigre, gayly, firmly believing that Germain had,
thanks to him, no more danger to apprehend. "And those who have not cashed
up," he added, "will sit on the ground or stand up, as they choose."
Let us glance at the arrangements as now completed.
Pique-Vinaigre, standing near the stove, was getting ready to commence his
story. Near him, Skeleton is also standing, ready to spring on Germain the
moment the keeper should leave the hall. Some distance from Germain,
Nicholas, Barbillon, Cardillac, and some other prisoners, among whom was
seen the man in the blue cotton cap and gray blouse, occupied the back
benches. The larger number of the prisoners grouped here and there, some
seated on the ground, others standing, and leaning against the walls,
composed the background of this picture, lighted, after the manner of
Rembrandt, by the three lateral windows, which cast a vivid light and deep
shade on these figures, so differently characterized and so strongly
The keeper who, without knowing it, was, by his departure, to give the
signal for the murder of Germain, stood near the half-opened door.
"All ready!" said Pique-Vinaigre to Skeleton.
"Silence in the band" answered the latter, half-turning round; then,
addressing Pique-Vinaigre, "Now fire away! we listen." A profound silence
reigned in the sitting-room.
GRINGALET AND CUT-IN-HALF.
Before we commence the recital of Pique-Vinaigre, we will recall to our
readers that, by a strange contrast, the majority of the prisoners,
notwithstanding their cynical perversity, almost always preferred artless
stories (we will not say puerile), in which the oppressed, by the laws of
an inexorable fatality, is revenged on his tyrant, after trials and
difficulties without number. The thought is far from us, to establish the
slightest parallel between corrupted beings and the honest and poor masses;
but is it not known with what frenzied applause the audience of minor
theaters behold the deliverance of the victim, and with what curses they
pursue the traitorous and the wicked? One ordinarily laughs at these rough
evidences of sympathy for that which is good, weak, and persecuted; of
aversion for that which is powerful, unjust, and cruel. It seems to us that
to laugh at this is wrong. Nothing is more consoling than these feelings
innately of the multitude. Is it not evident that these salutary instincts
may become fixed principles in those unfortunate beings whom ignorance and
poverty expose to the subversive attacks of evil? Why not have every hope
of a people whose good moral sense is so invariably manifested? of a people
who, in spite of the fascinations of art, will never permit a dramatic work
to arrive at its denouement by the triumph of the wicked and the punishment
of the just? This fact, scorned and laughed at though it be, appears to us
of considerable importance on account of the tendencies which it proves,
and which are even often found (we repeat it) among beings the most
corrupt, when they are, so to speak, in repose, and sheltered from criminal
temptations or necessities. In a word, since men hardened in crime still
sometimes sympathize with the recital and expression of elevated
sentiments, ought we not to believe that all men have more or less in them
of the good, the well doing, the just, but that poverty and ignorance, in
falsifying, in stifling these Divine instincts, are the first causes of
Is it not evident that generally ones does not become wicked except through
misfortune, and that to snatch man from the terrible temptations of warn by
the equitable melioration of his material condition, is to make him capable
of the virtues of which he is conscious? The impression caused by the story
of Pique-Vinaigre will demonstrate, or rather display, we hope, some of the
ideas we have just set forth. Pique-Yinaigre then commenced his story in
these terms, in the midst of the profound silence of his audience. "It is
not very long since the events occurred which I am going to relate to this
honorable society. Little Poland was not then destroyed. Does the honorable
society know what was called Little Poland?"
"I remember," said the prisoner in the blue cap and gray blouse, "it was
some small houses near the Rue du Rocher, and the Rue de la Pepiniere."
"Exactly, pal," replied Vinaigre; "the city streets, which, however, are
not full of palaces, would be lovely alongside of Little Poland, but,
otherwise, a famous resort for our lot; there were no streets, but lanes;
no houses, but hovels; no pavement, but a carpet of mud, so that the noise
of carriages would not have incommoded you if any passed; but none passed.
From morning to night, and, above all, from night till morning, what one
did not cease to hear, were cries, of '_watch_!' '_help_!' '_murder_!' but
the watch did not disturb himself. The more with their brains dashed out in
Little Poland--so many the less to be arrested!
"The swarming population, therein, you should have seen; very few jewelers,
goldsmiths, or bankers lodged there! but to make amends, there were heaps
of organ-players, rope-dancers, Punch-and-Judy-men, or keepers of curious
beasts. Among the latter was one named Cut-'em-in-half, so cruel was he;
above all, cruel toward children. They called him so, because, with a
hatchet, he had cut in two a little Savoyard!"
At this part of the story the prison clock struck a quarter past three. The
prisoners entering their sleeping apartments at four o'clock, the crime was
to be consummated before that hour.
"Thousand thunders! the keeper does not go," whispered the Skeleton to the
"Be quiet; once the story started, he will leave." Pique-Vinaigre continued
"No one knew whence Cut-in-half came; some said he was an Italian, others a
gipsy, others a Turk, others an African; the old women called him a
magician, although a magician in these days may appear fishy; as for me, I
should be quite tempted to say the same as the old women. What makes this
likely is, that he always had with him a great red ape called Gargousse,
which was so cunning, and wicked, that one would have said he had Old Nick
in him. By and by I shall speak again of Gargousse. As to Cut-'em-in-half,
I am going to show him up; he had skin the color of a bootlining, hair as
red as the hide of his ape, green eyes, and what makes me think with the
old women that he was a magician, is, that he had a black tongue."
"Black tongue?" said Barbillon.
"Black as ink!" answered Pique-Vinaigre.
"And how is that?"
"Because, before he was born, his mother had probably spoken of a negro,"
answered Pique-Vinaigre, with modest assurance. "To this ornament,
Cut-in-half joined the trade of having I do not know how many tortoises,
apes, guinea-pigs, white mice, foxes and marmots, with an equal number of
"Every morning, the padrone distributed to each one his beast and a piece
of black bread, and started them off, to beg for a sou or dance a Catalina.
Those who, at night, brought back less than fifteen sous were beaten, oh!
how they were beaten! so that they were heard to cry from one end of Little
Poland to the other.
"I must tell you also that there was in Little Poland a man who was called
the Alderman, because he was the longest resident of this quarter, and also
the mayor, justice of the peace, or rather, of war, for it was in his court
(he was a wine dealer) that they went to comb one another's heads when
there was no other way to settle their disputes. Although quite old, the
Alderman was strong as a Hercules, and very much feared; they swore only by
him in Little Poland; when he said, 'It is good,' every one said, 'It is
very good;' when he said, 'It is bad,' every one said, 'It is awful bad,'
he was a good man at the bottom, but terrible; when, for example, strong
people caused misery to the weaker, then, stand from under! As the Alderman
was the neighbor of Cut-in-half, he had in the commencement heard the
children cry, on account of the blows which the owner of the beasts gave
them; so he said to him, 'If I hear the kids squeal again, I'll make you
cry in your turn, and, as you have a stronger voice, I'll strike harder.'"
"Comic of the Alderman! I quite tumble to the old boy," said the prisoner
in a blue cap.
"And so do I," added the keeper, approaching the group. Skeleton could not
restrain a movement of angry impatience.
"Thanks to the Alderman threatening Cut-in-half, the children were no more
heard to cry at night; but the poor little unfortunates did not suffer the
less, for if they did not cry when their master beat them, it was because
they feared to be beaten still more. As for going and complaining to the
Alderman, they never had such an idea. For the fifteen sous which each of
the little boys was obliged to bring him, Cut-in-half fed them, lodged
them, and clothed them. At night, a piece of black bread, the same for
breakfast--that was the way he fed them; he never gave them any
clothes--that was the way he clothed them; and he shut them up at night
pell-mell with their beasts, on the same straw, in a garret, to which they
clambered by a ladder and through a trap-door--and that was the way he
lodged them. Once the beasts and children were all housed, he took away the
ladder and locked the trap-door with a key. You may imagine the noise and
uproar which these apes, guinea-pigs, foxes, mice, tortoises, marmosets,
and children made, without any light, in this garret, which was as large as
a thimble. Cut-in-half slept in a room underneath, having his large ape
Gargousse tied to the foot of the bed. When the noise was too loud in the
garret, the owner of the beasts arose, took a large whip, mounted the
ladder without a light, opened the trap, and lashed away at random. As he
always had about a dozen boys, and some of the innocents brought sometimes
as much as twenty sous a day, Cut-in-half, his expenses paid, and they were
not heavy, had for himself about four or five francs each day; with that he
frolicked, for note well that he was the greatest drinker on the earth, and
was regularly dead drunk once every day. It was his rule, he said; except
for that he would have a headache all day long; it must be said, also, that
from his gains he bought sheep's hearts for Gargousse, the big ape eating
raw meat like a very cannibal. But I see that the honorable assembly asks
for Gringalet (Walking Rushlight); here he is, gents!"
"Ay! let us see Gringalet, and then I'll go and eat my soup," said the
keeper. Skeleton exchanged a look of ferocious satisfaction with the
"Among the children to whom Cut-in-half distributed his beasts," resumed
Pique-Vinaigre, "there was a poor little devil nicknamed Gringalet. Without
father or mother, without sister or brother, without a home, he found
himself alone--all alone in the world, where he never asked to come, and
whence he could have gone, without anybody caring at all about it. He was
not called Gringalet in mere sport; he was dwarfish and puny, and reedy; no
one would have given him over seven or eight years, yet he was thirteen;
but if he did not look more than half his age, it was not his fault, for he
had not on the average eaten more than every other day, and then so little,
and so bad, that he really did very well to appear to be seven."
"Poor babby, I think I see him," said the prisoner in the blue cap; "there
are so many like him on the streets of Paris, little starved-to-deaths."
"They ought to begin to learn that trade young," replied Pique-Vinaigre,
bitterly; "so that they can become used to it."
"Come, go on then, make haste," said Skeleton, gruffly; "the keeper is
impatient, his soup is growing cold."
"Oh, bah! never mind," answered the keeper; "I wish to make a little more
acquaintance with Gringalet. It is amusing."
"Really, it is very interesting," added Germain, attentive to the story.
"Oh, thank you for what you say, my capitalist; that gives me more pleasure
than your ten sous."
"Thunder! you sluggard!" cried the Skeleton. "Will you have done keeping us
"Here goes!" answered Pique-Vinaigre.
"One day Cut-in-half had picked up Gringalet in the street, dying with cold
and hunger; he would have done just as well to let him alone to die. As
Gringalet was feeble, he was afraid; and as he was cowardly, he became the
laughing-stock and scapegoat of his companions, who beat him, and caused
him so much misery, that he would have been very wicked if strength and
courage had not failed him. But no; when they beat him, he cried, saying,
'I have done no harm to any one, yet every one harms me--it is unjust. Oh!
if I were strong and bold!' You think, perhaps, that Gringalet was going to
add, 'I would return to others the evil they did me.' Well, no! not at all:
he said, 'Oh! if I were strong and bold, I would defend the weak against
the strong; for I am weak, and the strong make me suffer.' In the mean
time, as he was too much of a pigmy to prevent the strong from molesting
the weak, he prevented the larger beasts from injuring the smaller ones.
"There's a funny idea!" said the prisoner in the blue cap.
"And what is still more funny," replied the patterer, "is that, with this
idea, one would have said that Gringalet consoled himself for being beaten;
and that proves that, at bottom, he had not a bad heart."
"I think so--on the contrary," said the keeper, "Pique-Vinaigre is jolly
At this moment the clock struck half-past three. The Skeleton and Big
Cripple exchanged significant glances. The hour advanced, the keeper did
not retire, and some of the least hardened prisoners seemed almost to
forget the sinister projects against Germain, who listened with eagerness
to the recital. "When I say," Pique-Vinaigre resumed, "that Gringalet
prevented the larger beasts from eating the smaller ones, you will please
understand that Gringalet did not go and interfere in the affairs of the
tigers, lions, wolves, or even the foxes and apes of the menagerie; he was
too cowardly for that. But as soon as he saw, for example, a spider
concealed in his web, to catch a poor foolish fly that was buzzing about
gayly in the sun, without harming any one, crack! Gringalet gave a sweep
into the web, delivered the fly, and crushed the spider, like a real Cæsar!
Yes, like a real Cæsar! for he became as white as chalk at even touching
these villainous creatures; he needed, then, resolution. He was afraid of a
lady-bug, and had taken a very long time to become familiar with the turtle
which Cut-in-half handed over to him every morning. Thus Gringalet,
overcoming the alarm which spiders caused him, to prevent the flies from
being eaten, showed himself--"
"Showed himself as bold, in his way, as a man who would have attacked a
wolf, to take from him a lamb of the fold," said Blue Cap.
"Or as a man who would have attacked Cut-in-half, to drag Gringalet from
his claws," added Barbillon, also much interested.
"As you say," replied Pique-Yinaigre. "Accordingly, after these doings,
Gringalet did not feel so very unfortunate. He who never laughed, smiled,
looked wise, put on his cap sideways, when he had a cap, and sung the
Marseillaise with a trumpet air. At such times, there was not a spider that
dared to look him in the face! Another time it was a cricket that was
drowning and struggling in a gutter; quickly Gringalet bravely plunged two
of his fingers into the waves and caught the cricket, which he afterward
placed on a blade of grass; a champion swimmer with a medal, who should
have fished up his tenth drowned person, at fifty francs the head, could
not have been more proud than Gringalet, when he saw his cricket kick and
run away. And yet the cricket gave him neither money nor a medal, and did
not even say thank you, nor did the fly. 'But then, Pique-Vinaigre, my
friend,' will the honorable society say, 'what kind of pleasure could
Gringalet, whom every one beats, find in being the deliverer of crickets
and the executioner of spiders? Since others injured him, why did he not
revenge himself in doing harm according to his strength; for instance, by
causing the flies to be eaten by spiders, or in letting the crickets drown
themselves, or even drowning them himself.'"
"Yes; exactly; why did he not revenge himself in that way?" said Nicholas.
"What good would that have done him?" said another.
"Why, to do harm because others harmed him!"
"No! I can comprehend why the poor little kid liked to save the flies,"
answered Blue Cap. "He thought, perhaps, 'Who knows that some one will not
save me in the same way?'"
"Pal, you're right," cried Pique-Vinaigre; "you have read in your heart
what I was about to explain to the honorable company. Gringalet was not
malicious; he saw no further than the end of his nose; but he said to
himself, 'Cut-in-half is my spider; perhaps one day somebody will do for me
what I do for the flies; they will break up his web, and snatch me from his
claws.' For until then, on no account would he have dared to run away from
his master; he would have thought himself stone dead. Yet, one day, when
neither he nor his turtle had had any luck, and they had only earned two or
three sous, Cut-in-half began to whip the child so hard, so hard, that,
hang it! Gringalet could stand it no longer. Tired of being the butt and
martyr of everybody, he watched the moment when the trap-door of the garret
was open, and while the padrone was feeding his beasts, he slipped down the
"Hooray! so much the better!" said a prisoner.
"But why did he not go and complain to the Alderman?" said Blue Cap; "he
would have given Cut-in-half his token!"
"Yes, but he did not dare; he was too much afraid, he preferred to run
away. Unfortunately, Cut-in-half had seen him; he caught him by the throat,
and carried him back to the garret; this time Gringalet, thinking of what
he had to expect, shuddered from head to foot, for he was not at the end of
his troubles. Speaking of the troubles of Gringalet, it is necessary that I
should tell you of Gargousse, the favorite ape. This wicked animal was
larger than Gringalet; judge what a size for an ape! Now I am going to tell
you why they did not lead him as a show through the streets, like the other
beasts of the menagerie; it was because Gargousse was so wicked and so
strong that, among all the children, there was only one, Auvergnat,
fourteen years old, a resolute fellow, who, after having several times
collared and fought with Gargousse, had succeeded in mastering him, and
leading him by a chain; and even then, there were often battles between
them, and bloody ones too, you may bet! Tired of this, the little Auvergnat
said one day, 'Well, well, I will revenge myself on you, you lubberly
baboon!' So one morning he set off with his beast as usual; to decoy him he
bought a sheep's heart. While Gargousse was eating, he passed a cord
through the end of his chain, and fastened it to a tree; and when he had
the scoundrel of an ape once tied fast, he poured on him such a torrent of
blows! a torrent that fire could not have extinguished."
"Hit him again, he's got no friends."
"Break his back for him, the rascally Gargousse," said the prisoners.
"And he did lay it on with a good heart," answered Pique-Vinaigre. "You
should have heard how Gargousse yelled, seen how he gnashed his teeth,
jumped, danced here and there; but Auvergnat trimmed him up with his club,
saying, 'Do you like it? then here is some more!' Unfortunately, apes are
like cats, they have nine lives. Gargousse was as cunning as he was wicked.
When he saw, as I may say, what kind of wood was burning for him, at the
very thickest moment of the torrent, he cut a last caper, fell flat down at
the foot of the tree, kicked a moment, and then shammed dead, not budging
any more than a log. The Auvergnat wished nothing more; believing the ape
done for, he cleared out, never to put his feet in Cut-in-half's drum
again. But the vagabond Gargousse watched him out of the corner of his eye,
all wounded as he was, and as soon as he saw himself alone and Auvergnat at
a distance, he gnawed the cord with his teeth. The Boulevard Monceau, where
he had had his dance, was very near Little Poland; the ape knew the road as
well as he did his prayers. He slowly went off then, crawling along, and
arrived at his master's, who swore and foamed to see his pet ape thus
served out. But this is not all; from that moment Gargousse had preserved
such furious spite against all children in general, that Cut-in-half,
though not very tender-hearted, had not dared to let any of them lead him
out, for fear of an accident; for Gargousse would have been capable of
strangling or devouring a child, and the little fellows would rather have
allowed themselves to be slashed by their master than approach the ape."
"I must most decidedly go and eat my soup," said the keeper, making a
movement toward the door; "Pique-Vinaigre would make the birds come down
from the trees to hear him. I do not know wherever he has fished up this
"At length the keeper is off," whispered Skeleton to the Cripple; "I am in
a fever, so much do I burn. Only attend to making the ring around the spy,
I'll take care of the rest."
"Be good boys," said the keeper, going toward the door.
"Good as pictures," answered Skeleton, drawing near Germain, while the Big
Cripple and Nicholas, at a concerted signal, made two steps in the same
"Oh! respectable warder, you are going away at the finest moment," said
Pique-Yinaigre, with an air of reproach.
Except for the Cripple, who prevented his movement by seizing his arm,
Skeleton would have sprung upon Pique-Vinaigre.
"How at the finest moment?" answered the keeper, turning.