"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 Cripple.
"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 waiting?"
"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 amusing."
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 Caesar! Yes, like a real Caesar! 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 ladder."
"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 story."
"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 direction.
"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.
"I think so," said Pique-Vinaigre; "you do not know all you are going to lose; the most charming part of my story is about to commence."
"Do not listen to it, then," said Skeleton, with difficulty restraining his rage; "he is not in the vein to-day: I find his story abominably stupid."
"My story stupid?" cried Pique-Vinaigre, his vanity wounded; "well, keeper, I beg you, I supplicate you, to remain to the end. I have only enough to fill a good quarter of an hour; besides, your soup is cold. Now what do you risk? I will hasten on with my story, so that you may still have the time to go and eat before we go to our beds."
"Well, then, I remain, but make haste," said the keeper, drawing near.
"And you are right to remain, for, without boasting, you have never heard anything like it—above all, the conclusion; there is the triumph of the ape and of Gringalet, escorted by all the little beast conductors and inhabitants of Little Poland. My word of honor I do not say it from vanity, but it is first-class."
"Then go on, my boy," said the keeper, coming close to the stove.
The Skeleton trembled with rage. He almost despaired of accomplishing his crime. Once the hour of repose arrived, Germain was saved; for he did not sleep in the same ward with his implacable enemy, and the next day, as we have said, he was to occupy one of the vacant cells. And, moreover, Skeleton saw, from the interruptions of several of the prisoners, that they found themselves, thanks to the story of Pique-Vinaigre, filled with ideas that softened their hearts; perhaps, then, they would not assist, with savage indifference, the accomplishment of a frightful murder, of which their presence would make them accomplices. He could prevent the patterer from finishing his story, but then his last hope vanished of seeing the keeper retire before the hour in which Germain would be in safety.
"Oh! stupid, is it?" said Pique-Vinaigre. "Well, the honorable society shall be the judge.
"There was not then an animal more wicked than the large ape Gargousse, which was, above all, as savage as his master toward children. What did Cut-in-half do to punish Gringalet for wishing to run away? That you shall know directly; in the mean time, he caught the child, shut him up in the garret, saying to him, 'To-morrow morning, when all your comrades are gone, I will take hold of you, and you shall see what I do to those who wish to run away from here.'
"I leave you to imagine what a horrible night Gringalet passed. He hardly closed his eyes; he wondered what Cut-in-half would do. At length he fell asleep. But what a sleep! Then there was a dream, a frightful dream—that is to say, the beginning—you will see. He dreamed that he was one of those poor flies which he had so often saved from the spider's web, and that he, in his turn, fell into a large and strong web, where he struggled with all his strength without being able to escape; then he saw coming toward him softly, cautiously, a kind of monster, which had the face of his master, on a spider's body. My poor Gringalet began again to struggle, as you may imagine; but the more efforts he made, the more he was entangled in the toils, just like the poor flies. At length the spider approached—touched him—and he felt the large, cold, and hairy paws of the monster encircle him. He thought himself dead, but suddenly he heard a kind of humming noise, clear and acute, and saw a little golden gnat, which had a kind of sting as fine and brilliant as a diamond needle, flying round the spider in a furious manner, and a voice (when I say voice, just imagine the voice of a gnat!)-a voice said to him, 'Poor little fly! you have saved flies; the spider shall not—-'
"Unfortunately, Gringalet awoke with a start, and he saw not the end of the dream; nevertheless, he was a little comforted, saying to himself, 'Perhaps the golden gnat with the diamond sting would have killed the spider if I had seen the end of the dream.'
"But Gringalet had need of all this to console himself, for, as the night advanced, his fear returned so strongly that in the end he forgot his dream, or rather, he only remembered the frightful part of it; the great web where he had been entangled, and the spider with the padrone's face. You can judge what shiverings of alarm he must have had. Bless me! judge then, alone—all alone—with no one to take his part!
"In the morning, when he saw the light appear little by little through the garret-window, his alarm redoubled; the moment was drawing near when he would be left all alone with Cut-in-half. Then he threw himself on his knees in the middle of the garret, and weeping hot tears, he begged his companions to ask his pardon from Cut-in-half, or to assist him to escape if there was any way. Oh, yes! some from fear of the master, others from caring nothing about it, others from cruelty, refused the service which poor Gringalet demanded."
"Wicked scrubs," said the prisoner in the blue cap, "they had neither body nor soul."
"It is true," said another; "it is vexing to see this want of feeling."
"And, alone, and without defense," resumed Blue Cap; "for one who cannot stretch out his neck without wincing, it is always a pity. When one has teeth to bite, then it is different. You have tusks? Well, show them, and look for tail, my cadet."
"That is true!" said several of the prisoners.
"Come!" cried Skeleton, no longer able to restrain his rage, and addressing Blue Cap, "will you shut up? Have I not already said, 'Silence in the band'? Am I, or am I not, the ruler here?"
For sole answer, Blue Cap looked him in the face, and then made a gesture, perfectly well known to street arabs, which consists in placing on the tip of the nose the thumb of the right hand, opened, and touching with the little finger the thumb of the left, also spread out like a fan. Blue Cap accompanied this mute answer with an expression so grotesque that several of the prisoners shouted with laughter, while some of the others, on the contrary, remained stupefied at the audacity of the new prisoner. Skeleton shook his fist at Blue Cap, and said, grinding his teeth, "We'll settle this to-morrow."
"And I will make the addition on your hide. I'll set down seventeen and carry naught."
For fear the keeper should find a new reason for remaining in order to prevent a possible quarrel, Skeleton answered calmly:
"That is not the question. I have the ruling of the hall, and I must be obeyed; is it not so, keeper?"
"It is true," said the officer. "Do not interrupt. And you, Pique-Vinaigre, go on; but make haste, my boy."
"Then," resumed Pique-Vinaigre, continuing his story, "Gringalet, seeing himself abandoned, gave himself up to his unhappy fate. Broad daylight came, and all the children prepared to depart with their beasts. Cut-in-half opened the trap and called the roll, in order to give each one his piece of bread; all descended the ladder, and Gringalet, more dead than alive, crouching in a corner of the garret, moved no more than it did; he saw his companions going off one after the other; he would have given anything to do as they did. Finally, they were all gone. The heart of the poor child beat strongly; he hoped that, perhaps, his master would forget him. Ah, well, he heard Cut-in-half at the foot of the ladder, cry in a harsh voice: 'Gringalet! Gringalet!' 'Here I am, master.'
"'Come down at once, or I'll fetch you,' answered Cut-in-half. Gringalet thought his last day was come.
"'I must,' he said to himself, trembling in every limb, and remembering his dream, 'now you are in for it, little fly: the spider is going to eat you.'
"After having placed his turtle softly on the ground, he bade him good-bye, for he had become attached to the creature, and approached the trap-door. He placed his foot on the ladder to descend, when Cut-in-half, taking him by his poor little leg, as slender as a spindle, drew him so strongly, so harshly, that Gringalet tumbled down, and polished his face against the whole length of the ladder."
"What a pity that the Alderman had not been there—what a fine dance for Cut-in-half," said Blue Cap; "it is in such times as these that it is good to be strong."
"Yes, my son; but, unfortunately, the Alderman was not there! Cut-in-half took the child by the seat of his trousers, and carried him into his den, where he kept his big ape tied to the foot of his bed. On seeing the child, the beast began to leap and grind his teeth like a mad thing, and to spring the whole length of his chain, as if he wished to devour him."
"Poor Gringalet, how did he ever get out of this?"
"Why, if he had fallen into the clutches of the ape, he would have been strangled at once."
"Thunder! it makes me half dead," said Blue Cap: "as for me at this moment, I could not harm a mouse—what do you say, mate?"
"Nor I either."
At this moment the clock struck three-quarters past three. Skeleton, fearing more and more that time would be wanting, cried, furious at these interruptions, which seemed to indicate that several of the prisoners were becoming softened, "Silence in the crowd! He will never finish, if you jabber as much as he does."
Pique-Vinaigre continued: "When one reflects that Gringalet had had all the trouble in the world to become accustomed to his turtle, and that the most courageous of his comrades trembled at the name alone of Gargousse, let him imagine his terror when he saw himself carried by his master near to this fiend of an ape. 'Pardon, master,' he cried, his teeth chattering as if he had an ague,—'pardon, master! I'll never do it again, I promise you.'
"The poor little fellow cried, 'I will never do it again,' without knowing why he said so, for he had nothing to reproach himself with; but Cut-in-half laughed at that. In spite of the cries of the child, who struggled hard, he placed him within reach of Gargousse, and the beast sprung upon him and clutched him!"
A shudder passed through the audience, who were more and more attentive.
"How stupid I should have been to go away," said the keeper, approaching still nearer.
"And this is nothing yet; the finest has to come," answered Pique-Vinaigre. "As soon as Gringalet felt the cold and hairy paws of the great ape, which seized him by the throat and by the head, he thought himself devoured, became, as it were, off his nut, and began to cry with groans which would have softened a tiger.
"' The spider of my dream, good Lord! the spider of my dream—little golden gnat, help, help!'
"'Will you hush? will you hush?' said Cut-in-half, giving him heavy kicks, for he was afraid that his cries would be heard; but at the end of a moment there was no more danger: poor Gringalet cried no more, struggled no more; on his knees, as white as a sheet, he shut his eyes and shivered as if it had been January. Meantime the ape beat him, pulled his hair, and scratched him; and from time to time, the wicked beast stopped to look at his master, absolutely as if they understood each other. As for Cut-in-half, he laughed so loud, that if Gringalet had cried, the shouts of his master would have drowned his cries. It would seem as if this encouraged Gargousse, for he was more and more cruel to the child."
"Oh! you sanguinary ape," cried Blue Cap. "If I had hold of you by the tail, I would spin you round like a mill—just like a sling, and I would crack your conk on the pavement."
"Rascally ape! he was as wicked as a man!"
"There are no men so wicked as that!"
"Not so wicked?" answered Pique-Vinaigre. "You forget old Cut-in-half! Judge of it—this is what he did afterward: he unfastened the chain (which was very long) from the bed, took the child, more dead than alive, from the paws of Gargousse, and fastened him at one end of it, with Gargousse at the other. There was an idea!"
"It is true, there are men more cruel than the most cruel beasts."
"When Cut-in-half had done this, he said to his ape, which appeared to understand him,
"'Attention, Gargousse! they have led and shown you, now in your turn you shall show Gringalet; he shall be your ape. Come, hop, stand up, Gringalet, or I say to Gargousse, 'Speak to him, fellow!'"
"The poor child had fallen on his knees, his hands clasped, but not able to speak; his teeth chattered in his head.
"'There! make him walk, Gargousse,' said Cut-in-half to his ape; 'and if he is sulky, do as I do.'
"And at the same time he gave the child a torrent of blows with a switch, and afterward handed it to the ape. You know how these animals imitate by nature, but Gargousse in this respect excelled; so he took the rod in his hand and fell upon Gringalet, who was obliged to get up. Once on his legs he was about the same size as the ape; then Cut-in-half went out of his room and descended the staircase, calling Gargousse, and Gargousse followed him, driving Gringalet before him with blows from the rod. They reached thus the little court of the building. There Cut-in-half counted on amusing himself; he shut the door leading into the lane, and signed to Gargousse to make the child run before him around the court, by striking him with the switch. The ape obeyed, and began to chase Gringalet in this manner, while Cut-in-half held his sides with laughter. You think that this wickedness was enough? Oh! yes, but it was nothing as yet. Up to this time, Gringalet would have escaped with a few scratches, lashes, and horrible fear. Now this is what Cut-in-half did: to make the ape furious against the child, who, panting and out of breath, was more dead than alive, he took Gringalet by the hair, pretending to belabor him with blows, and then he handed him back to Gargousse, crying, 'Speak to him, speak to him!' and then he showed him a piece of sheep's heart, as much as to say to him, 'This shall be your reward!' Oh! then, my friends, truly it was a dreadful sight. Imagine a great red ape with a black snout, grinding his teeth like a madman, and throwing himself furiously on this poor little unfortunate, who, not being able to defend himself, had been thrown down at the first blow, and lay with his face to the ground, in order to protect it. Seeing this, Gargousse, his master setting him at the child continually, mounted on his back, took him by the neck, and fell to biting him, until he made the blood come. 'Oh! the spider of my dream—the spider!' cried Gringalet in a stifled voice, believing now that he was going to be killed. Suddenly there was a knock at the door!"
"Ah! the Alderman!" cried the prisoners with joy.
"Yes, this time it was he, my friends; he called through the door, 'Will you open, Cut-in-half? will you open? Do not sham deaf; for I see you through the keyhole!"
"Cut-in-half, forced to reply, went grumbling to open the door for the Alderman, who was a rough, as solid as a bridge, in spite of his fifty years, and with whom it was worth no one's while to joke when he was angry.
"'What do you want with me?' said Cut-in-half to him, half opening the door. 'I want to speak to you,' said the Alderman, who entered almost by force into the little yard; then, seeing the ape still savage after Gringalet, he ran, caught Gargousse by the nape of his neck, and tried to take the child away from under him; but he only then saw that the child was chained to the ape. Seeing this, he looked at Cut-in-half in a terrible manner, and cried, 'Come, then, at once, and unchain this poor boy!' You can judge of the joy and surprise of Gringalet, who, half dead with fright, found himself saved as it were by a miracle. Then he could not but think of the golden gnat of his dream, although the Alderman did not look much like a gnat, the big buffer."
"Ah," said the keeper, making a step toward the door; "now Gringalet is saved, I'll go to eat my soup."
"Saved?" cried Pique-Vinaigre, "oh yes, saved! but not yet at the end of his troubles, poor Gringalet."
"Really?" said several of the prisoners, with interest.
"But what is going to happen to him now?" asked the keeper, drawing near.
"Remain, and you shall know," answered the patterer.
"Cunning Pique-Vinaigre, he does with one just as he pleases," said the keeper; "I will remain a little longer."
Skeleton, mute, foamed with rage. Pique-Vinaigre continued:
"Cut-in-half, who feared the Alderman as he did fire, had grumblingly loosened the child from the chain; when that was done, the Alderman threw Gargousse into the air, received him on the end of a most magnificent kick, and sent him sprawling ten feet off. The ape cried like a burned child, gnashed his teeth, but fled quickly, and went to take refuge on the top of a shed, where he shook his fist at the Alderman. 'Why do you beat my ape?' said Cut-in-half to the Alderman. 'You ought rather to ask me, why I do not beat you, to cause this child such suffering! You are drunk pretty early this morning!' 'I am no more drunk than you are; I was teaching a trick to my ape; I wish to give a representation where he and Gringalet will appear together; I am following my business—why do you meddle with it?' 'I meddle with what concerns me. This morning, not seeing Gringalet pass before my door with the other children, I asked them where he was; they did not answer—they looked embarrassed. I know you. I thought you were after no good, and I was not wrong. Listen to me: every time I do not see Gringalet pass before my door with the others in the morning, I will be here at once, and you must show him to me, or I'll knock you down.' 'I will do as I please; I have no orders to receive from you,' answered Cut-in-half, riled at this threat. You shall not knock me down; and if you do not take yourself off from this, or if you return, I—-' Flip flap! went the Alderman, interrupting Cut-in-half by a duet of blows enough to silence a rhinoceros: 'There is what you get for answering to the Alderman of Little Poland.'"
"Two blows! it was too little," said Blue Cap; "in his place, I should have given him a bigger dose."
"And he should not have had it too hastily," added a prisoner.
"The Alderman," replied Pique-Vinaigre, "could have eaten ten like Cut-in-half. So he was obliged to put these blows in his pocket; but he was none the less furious at being struck, and above all, before Gringalet. So at this very moment he promised to avenge himself, and an idea occurred to him which could only have occurred to a demon of wickedness like himself. While he was ruminating on this diabolical idea, the Alderman said: 'Remember, that if you attempt to injure this child again, I will force you to clear out from Little Poland, you and your beasts; otherwise I will stir up the neighborhood against you; you know they hate you here, so you will have a passport which your back will remember, I promise you.' Traitor as he was, in order to be able to execute his wicked idea, instead of continuing to be angry against the Alderman, Cut-in-half cringed like a dog, and said: 'Faith of a man! you were wrong to strike me, Alderman, and to think that I wished any harm to Gringalet; on the contrary, I repeat to you that I was teaching a new trick to my ape; he is not sweet-tempered when he is angry, and if, in the scuffle, the little one was bitten, I am sorry for it. 'Hum!' said the Alderman, looking at him out of the corner of his eye, 'is this really true, what you tell me? If you wish to teach a trick to your ape, why did you fasten him to Gringalet?' 'Because Gringalet must also know it. This is what I wish to do; I will dress Gargousse in a red coat and a cap with feathers; I will seat Gringalet in a child's chair; then I will put a towel around his neck, and the ape, with a large wooden razor will pretend to shave him.'
"The Alderman could not keep from laughing at this idea. 'Is it not comical?' said Cut-in-half, with a smirking look. 'In truth, it is,' said the Alderman, 'so much the more as they say your ape is sufficiently cunning and knowing to play such a part.
"'I think so. When he has seen me five or six times pretend to shave Gringalet, he will imitate me with his large wooden razor; but on that account, as the child must become used to him, I have tied them together.'
"'But why have you chosen Gringalet rather than any other?'
"'Because he is the smallest of all, and, being seated, Gargousse will be larger than he is; besides, I intended to give half the profits to Gringalet.'
"'If this is so,' said the Alderman, reassured by the hypocrisy of the owner of the beasts, 'I regret the dose I gave you; consider it as an advance against the next time you do wrong.'
"While his master spoke with the Alderman, Gringalet dared not breathe; he trembled like a leaf, and longed to throw himself at the Alderman's feet, and beg to be taken away; but his courage failed him, and he began again to despair, saying to himself, 'I shall be like the poor fly of my dream—the spider will devour me; I was wrong to believe that the golden gnat would save me!'
"'Look here, my boy; since Daddy Cut-'em-in-half gives you half of the money, that ought to encourage you to accustom yourself to the ape. Bah! bah! you will do it; and if the profits are large, you will have no cause to complain.'
"'He complain! Have you any reason to complain?' asked his master, giving him a side look so terrible that the child wished he was a hundred feet under ground.
"'No, no, master!' he stammered.
"'You see, Alderman,' said Cut-in-half, 'he never has complained. I only wish for his welfare, after all. If Gargousse scratched him the first time, it shall not happen again, I promise you. I will watch.'
"'Very well! Thus every one will be content.'
"'Gringalet the most,' said Cut-in-half; 'is it not so?'
"'Yes, yes, master,' said the trembling child.
"'And to console you for your scratches, I will give you part of a good breakfast; for the Alderman is going to send a plate of cutlets and pickles, four bottles of wine, and a gallon of brandy.'
"'At your service, Cut-in-half, my cellar and my kitchen are open for the whole world.'
"At heart the Alderman was a good man, but he was not very wise, and he liked to sell his wine, and cutlets also. The rascal knew it well; you see that he sent him off contented at having sold some eatables and drinkables, and reassured as to the fate of Gringalet. So now, here is the poor little fellow fallen again into the power of his master. The moment the Alderman had turned on his heels, Cut-in-half showed the staircase to his victim, and ordered him to mount at once to his garret; the child did not allow him to say it twice, but went, very much alarmed.
"'Oh, Lord! I am lost,' he cried, throwing himself upon the straw beside his turtle, and weeping bitterly. He was there for a good hour sobbing, when he heard Cut-in-half's coarse voice calling him. What increased the fear of Gringalet was, that it seemed to him the voice of his master had a strange sound.
"'Will you come down at once?' said the owner of the beasts, with a horrid oath.
"The child quickly descended the stairs. Hardly had he put his foot on the ground, when his master seized him, and carried him to his chamber, staggering at each step, for Cut-in-half had drunk so much that he was as tipsy as a sow, and could hardly keep his legs; his body swayed backward and forward, and he looked at Gringalet, rolling his eyes in a most ferocious manner, but without speaking. He had too thick a tongue. Never had the child been more afraid of him.
"Gargousse was chained to the foot of the bed. In the middle of the room was a chair with a cord hanging on the back.
"'Si—(hic!)—sit down there,'" continued Pique-Vinaigre, imitating, to the end of his story, the stammering of a drunken man, whenever he related what Cut-in-half said.
"Gringalet seated himself trembling. Then Cut-in-half, without saying a word, wound the cord around him, and tied him to the chair, and that not easily; for although the owner of the beasts could still see a little, and knew what he was about, you may imagine he made granny's knots. At length Gringalet is firmly fastened in the chair. 'Oh, dear,' he murmured, 'this time no one will come to deliver me.'
"Poor little fellow, he was right; no one could—no one did come, as you will see. The Alderman had gone, and Cut-in-half had double-locked the door of the court on the inside, and drawn the bolt; no one could come there to the aid of Gringalet."
"Oh! this time," said several of the prisoners, much interested in the story, "Gringalet, you are lost!"
"Poor little fellow!"—-"What a pity!"
"If twenty sous would save him, I would give them."
"Rascal of a Cut-in-half! Whatever is he going to do?"
Pique-Vinaigre continued: "When Gringalet was tied to the chair, his master said to him, 'You young rascal, it is you who have been the cause that—I have been beaten by the Alderman—you—are—go-o-o-ing to die!' And he drew from his pocket a large razor, newly sharpened, opened it, and took with one hand Gringalet by the hair."
A murmur of indignation and horror circulated among the prisoners, and interrupted for a moment Pique-Vinaigre, who resumed:
"At sight of the razor the child began to cry, 'Pardon! master, pardon! do not kill me! 'C-r-r-r-y, c-r-r-y, b-o-o-y—you will not (hic!) cry long,' answered Cut-in-half.
"'Golden gnat! golden gnat! help!' cried poor Gringalet, almost delirious, recalling to his mind his dream; 'here is the spider going to kill me!'
"'Ah! you call—me—a-a-a (hic!) spider!' said Cut-in-half; 'on account—o-of—that—and other things you—are—go-o-o-ing to (hic!) die—do you hear-r-r?—but—not by my (hic!) hand—because, besides, they will guillotine me-e-e. I will say—and—prove—that it was—the a-a-pe—I have prepared—but no matter!' said Cut-in-half, hardly able to stand; then, calling his ape, which, at the end of his chain, ground his teeth, and looked alternately at his master and the child:
"'Look here, Gargousse,' he said showing him the razor and Gringalet, whom he held by the hair, 'you must do so to him; do you (hic!) see?'
"And passing the back of the razor several times over the throat of Gringalet, he pretended to cut it. The confounded ape was such a good imitator, so wicked, and so malicious, that he comprehended what his master wished; and, to prove it to him, shook his chain with the left paw, threw his head back, and pretended to cut his throat. 'That's it, Gargousse— that's it,' said Cut-in-half stammering, shutting his eyes, and reeling so much that he came near, falling with Gringalet and the chair. 'Yes, that's it; I'll unfasten your chain—cut his whistle—that's it; hey, Gargousse?'
"The ape cried and chattered, as if to say yes, and put out his paw to take the razor, which was held toward him.
"'Golden gnat, help!' murmured Gringalet, in a crying tone, certain now that his hour was come. For, alas! he called the golden gnat to his assistance, without any hope that he would come; but he said that as one says 'Oh, Lord!' when one is drowning. Just at this moment, Gringalet saw come in at the window one of those small flies, green and gold, which are so common; one would have called it a spark of fire which flew, and just at the moment Cut-in-half gave the razor to Gargousse, the golden gnat flew straight into the eye of the wicked wretch. A fly in the eye is no great thing; but, for a moment, it stings like a prick with a needle; so Cut-in-half, who could hardly stand, fell on the floor and rolled like a log to the foot of the bed where Gargousse was chained.
"'Golden gnat, I thank you; you have saved me!' cried Gringalet; for, still seated, and tied on the chair, he had seen everything."
"It is true enough, the golden gnat prevented his throat from being cut," cried the prisoners, transported with joy.
"Hooray for the golden gnat!" cried Blue Cap.
"Yes, long live the golden gnat!" repeated several voices.
"Bravo, Pique-Vinaigre and his stories!" said another.
"Stop, then," resumed the patterer, "here's the finest and most terrible part of the story that I had promised you. Cut-in-half had fallen on the ground like lead; he was so drunk that he stirred no more than a log; he was dead drunk, and knew nothing; but, in falling, he came near crushing Gargousse, and had almost broken one of his hind paws. You know how wicked this villainous beast was—rancorous and malicious. He held on to the razor which his master had given him to cut the throat of Gringalet. What does my lovely ape do when he sees his master stretched on his back, immovable as a fried carp, and much at his ease? He sprung upon him, crouched on his breast, with one of his paws stretched the skin of his throat, and with the other—click! he cut his windpipe in a moment, exactly as Cut-in-half had shown him how to operate on Gringalet."
"Long live Gargousse!"
"The little golden gnat forever!"
"Hooray, Gargousse!" cried the prisoners with enthusiasm.
"Well, my friends!" cried Pique-Vinaigre, enchanted at the success of his story, "what you have just cried, all Little Poland cried an hour later."
"How is that—how?"
"I told you that, to do this bloody deed quite at his ease, Cut-in-half had locked his door on the inside. In the evening, the children returned, one after the other, with their beasts; the first knocked—no answer; at length, when they were all assembled, they knocked again—no reply; one of them went after the Alderman, and told him that they had knocked, and that their master did not open the door. 'The fellow is as drunk as a Dutchman,' said he. 'I sent him some wine just now; we must break open the door; the children cannot remain all night out of doors.'
"They break open the doors, they enter, they mount the stairs, they reach the chamber, and what do they see? Gargousse, chained and crouching on the body of his master, and playing with the razor; poor Gringalet, happily out of his reach, still seated, and tied on the chair, not daring to cast his eyes on the dead body, and looking at—guess what? The little golden fly, which, after having fluttered around the child, as if to felicitate him, had finally come and seated itself on his little hand. Gringalet related all to the Alderman, and the crowd who followed him; this appeared truly, as they said, an act of Providence; then the Alderman said, 'A triumph to Gringalet; a triumph to Gargousse, who has killed this bad Cut-in-half. He cut others; it was his turn to be cut!'
"'Yes, yes!' said the crowd, for the defunct was detested by everybody, 'a triumph for Gargousse! a triumph for Gringalet.'
"It was night; they lighted wisps of straw, they tied Gargousse on a bench, which four boys carried on their shoulders; the sweet pet of an ape did not appear to dislike this, and assumed the airs of a conqueror, showing his teeth to the crowd. After the ape came the Alderman, carrying Gringalet in his arms: all the little boys, each with his beast, surrounded the Alderman; one carrying his fox, another his marmoset, another his guinea-pig: those who played on the hurdygurdy, played on the hurdygurdy; there were chimney-sweeps, with their bagpipes, who also played; it was an uproar of joy, which cannot be imagined! Behind the musicians came all the inhabitants of Little Poland, men, women, and children; they all held torches, and shouted like madmen, 'Hooray, Gringalet!' 'Gargousse forever!' The cortege in this order marched round the house of Cut-in-half. It was a droll spectacle; the old buildings and all the figures illuminated by the red light of the straw fires, which flickered, and sparkled, and blazed up! As to Gringalet, the first thing he did, once at liberty, was to place the little golden fly in a paper box; and he kept repeating, during his triumph, 'Little golden gnat, I did well to hinder the spiders from eating you, for—-'"
The recital of Pique-Vinaigre was interrupted.
"Roussel, ahoy!" cried a voice from without; "come then, and eat your soup; four o'clock will strike in ten minutes."
"All right! the story is about finished. I'll go. Thank you, my boy, you have amused me finely; you may be proud of it," said the keeper to Pique-Vinaigre, going toward the door. Then, stopping, "Be good boys!" he added, to the prisoners, turning around.
"We are going to hear the end of the story," said Skeleton, almost bursting with restrained rage. Then he whispered to the Big Cripple, "Go to the door, look after the keeper, and when you have seen him go out of the court, cry 'Gargousse!' and the spy is dead."
"Just so," said the Cripple, who accompanied the keeper, and remained standing near the door, watching him.
"I told you, then," said Pique-Vinaigre, "that Gringalet, all the time of his triumph, said to himself, 'Little gnat, I have—-'"
"Gargousse!" cried the cripple.
"Mine! Gringalet, I will be your spider!" shouted Skeleton, throwing himself on Germain so that he could neither make a movement nor utter a cry. His voice died under the formidable grasp of the long iron fingers.
AN UNEXPECTED FRIEND.
"If you are the spider, I will be the golden gnat, Skeleton of evil!" cried a voice, at the moment when Germain, surprised by the violence and sudden attack of his implacable enemy, fell backward on his bench, at the mercy of the ruffian, who, with one knee on his breast, held him by the throat. "Yes, I will be the gnat, and, what is more, a famous gnat!" repeated the man in the blue cap, of whom we have spoken; then, with a furious bound, overturning three or four prisoners who separated him from Germain, he sprung upon Skeleton, and struck him on his head, between the eyes, such a torrent of blows with his fists that the sound was like a hammer upon an anvil.
The man in the blue cap (who was no other than the Chourineur) added, as he redoubled the rapidity of his hammering on the head of the Skeleton, "It is the hail-storm of fisticuffs which M. Rudolph planted on my skull. I have learned the trick."
At this unexpected assault, the prisoners were struck with surprise, taking no part for or against the Chourineur. Many of them, still under the salutary impression of the story of Pique-Vinaigre, were even satisfied at this incident, which might save Germain. Skeleton, at first stunned, staggered like an ox under the butcher's ax, extended his hand mechanically to ward off the blows of his enemy. Germain was enabled to disengage himself from the mortal grip, and half arose.
"But what is all this? who is this bruiser?" cried the Cripple; and springing upon the Chourineur, he tried to seize his arms from behind, while the latter endeavored to hold down Skeleton on the bench.
The defender of Germain answered the attack by a kick so violent, that he sent the Cripple rolling to the extremity of the circle formed by the prisoners. Germain, of a livid paleness, half suffocated, kneeling beside the bench, did not appear to have any consciousness of what was passing around him. The strangulation had been so violent and painful he hardly breathed. After he had recovered a little, Skeleton, by a desperate effort, succeeded in shaking off the Chourineur, and getting upon his feet. Panting, drunk with rage and hatred, he was frightful. His cadaverous face streamed with blood, his upper lip, drawn back like a mad wolfs, displayed his teeth closely set against each other. At length he cried, in a voice breathless with anger and fatigue, for his struggle with the Chourineur had been violent, "Cut him down, the turncoat, cowards! who let me be attacked traitorously, or the spy will escape."
During this kind of truce, the Chourineur, raising up the half-fainting Germain, had skillfully managed to approach by degrees an angle of the wall, where he placed him. Profiting by this excellent position of defense, the Chourineur could then, without fear of being attacked from behind, hold out a long time against the prisoners, on whom the courage and Herculean strength which he had just displayed made a powerful impression. Pique-Vinaigre, alarmed, had disappeared during the tumult, without any one remarking his absence.
Seeing the hesitation of the greater part of the prisoners, Skeleton said, "Come on, then, let us do the job for both of them, the big 'un and the little spy."
"Not too fast!" answered the Chourineur, preparing for the combat; "look out for yourself, Bones! If you wish to play Cut-in-half, I will play Gargousse—I'll cut your weasand."
"Why don't you jump on him?" cried the Cripple. "Why does this madman defend the spy? Death to the spy, and him also! If he defends Germain, he is a traitor."
"Death to the betrayers!"
"Yes; death to the traitor who defends him!"
Such were the cries of several of the prisoners. A part of them, more merciful, cried, "Not before he speaks!"
"Yes, let him explain!"
"A man must not be killed without a hearing!"
"And without defense!"
"One would be a regular Cut-in-half!"
"So much the better!" answered the Cripple and the partisans of Skeleton.
"One cannot do too much to a spy!"
"Death to him!"
"Fall upon him!"
"Let us support Skeleton!"
"Yes, yes! down with the Blue Cap!"
"No; let us sustain the Blue Cap! hang the Skeleton!" answered the party of the Chourineur.
"No; down with the Blue Cap!"
"Down with Skeleton!"
"That's the ticket, pals!" cried the Chourineur, addressing those prisoners who ranged themselves on his side; "you have hearts; you will not see a man murdered who is half dead; only cowards are capable of such conduct. Skeleton is no bad joker; he is condemned in advance; that is the reason why he urges you on. But if you aid him to kill Germain, you will be roughly treated. Besides, I have a proposition to make. Skeleton wants to finish this young man. Well! let him come and take him, if he can: it will be a match between ourselves; we will walk into each other, and you will see; but he dares not—he is like Cut-in-half, strong among the kids."
The vigor, energy, and hardy aspect of the Chourineur had a powerful effect on the prisoners; a considerable number ranged themselves on his side, and surrounded Germain; Skeleton's party were grouped around that ruffian. A bloody affray was about to take place, when the quick and measured step of a guard of infantry was heard in the court. Pique-Vinaigre, profiting by the noise and general commotion, had gained the court and knocked at the wicket, in order to inform the keepers of what was going on in the hall. The arrival of the soldiers put an end to the scene. Germain, Skeleton, and the Chourineur were conducted to the governor's presence; the first to lodge his complaint, the others to answer the charge of a fight in the prison.
The alarm and sufferings of Germain were so intense, his weakness so great, that he was obliged to lean on two of the keepers to reach the governor's room. There he became quite faint; his excoriated throat bore the livid and bloody marks of the Skeleton's iron fingers. A few seconds more, and the betrothed of Rigolette would have been strangled. The keeper charged with the hall watch, who, as we have said, was much interested for Germain, gave him every assistance. When he came to himself, when reflection succeeded the rapid and terrible emotions that had hardly left him the exercise of his reason, his first thought was for his deliverer.
"Thank you for your attentions, sir," he said to the keeper; "but for that courageous man, I was lost."
"How are you now?"
"Better. Ah! all that has passed seems to me like a horrid dream!"
"And my savior, where is he?"
"In the governor's room. He is telling how the affray occurred. It appears that without him——"
"I should have been murdered, sir. Oh! tell me his name—who is he?"
"His name I do not know; he is nicknamed the Slasher; he was once in the galleys."
"And the crime which brought him here, perhaps, is not serious?"
"Very serious—burglary," said the keeper. "He will probably have the same dose as Pique-Vinaigre; fifteen or twenty years of hard labor, and the pillory, as he is an old offender."
Germain shuddered; he would have preferred to be bound by the ties of gratitude to one less criminal.
"Oh! it is frightful," he said; "and yet this man, without knowing me, took my part. So much courage, so much generosity."
"What would you have, sir? Sometimes there is some good left in these people. The most important fact is, that you are saved; to-morrow you will have your own cell, and for to-night you will sleep in the infirmary, according to orders. Come, courage, sir! The worst is over; when your pretty little visitor comes to see you, you can reassure her; for, once in your own cell, you will have nothing more to fear."
"Oh! no, I will not speak to her about it; but I wish to thank my defender. However culpable he may be in the eyes of the law, he has none the less saved my life."
"I hear him leaving the governor's room. Skeleton is now to be examined; I will take them back together, Skeleton to the dungeon, and the Slasher to the Lions' Den. He will, besides, be a little recompensed for what he has done for you; for as he is a bold and determined fellow, such as one should be to lead others, it is probable that he will take the place of Skeleton as provost."
The Slasher having crossed a little lobby, on which opened the governor's room, entered the apartment where Germain was seated.
"Wait for me here," said the keeper to the Slasher; "I am going to learn what the governor decides to do with the Skeleton, and I will return directly for you. There is our young man quite recovered; he wishes to thank you, and he has reason too, for without you all had been finished for him." The keeper retired. Slasher's features were radiant with delight. He advanced joyfully, saying:
"Thunder! how happy I am at saving you!" And he extended his hand to Germain.
He, from a feeling of involuntary repulsion, at first drew back slightly, instead of taking the hand offered by the Slasher; then, recollecting that, after all, he owed his life to this man, he wished to make amends for this first movement of repugnance. But the Slasher had perceived it; a gloom spread over his face, and drawing back in his turn, he said, with much bitterness, "Ah! it is right. Pardon me, sir."
"No, it is I who should ask your pardon. Am I not a prisoner like you? I should only think of the service you have rendered me—you have saved my life. Your hand, friend, I entreat you. I pray you, your hand."
"Thank you; now it is useless. The first movement is everything. If you had at first given me your hand, that would have given me pleasure; but, on reflection, it is I who do not wish it. Not because I am a prisoner, like you, but," he added, in a hesitating and gloomy manner, "because, before I was here, I was—"
"The keeper has told me all," replied Germain, interrupting him; "but you have none the less saved my life."
"I have done but my duty and pleasure, for I know who you are, M. Germain."
"You know me?"
"A little, my boy; I talk to you like a father," said the Slasher, resuming his tone of habitual carelessness; "and you would be very wrong to place my arrival at La Force on the back of chance. If I had not known you, I should not have been here."
Germain looked at the Slasher with the utmost surprise.
"How, because you knew me—-"
"I am here a prisoner in La Force."
"I wish to believe you, but—-"
"But you do not believe me."
"I wish to say that it is impossible for me to comprehend how it can be that I have anything to do with your imprisonment."
"Have anything to do? You have everything."
"I have this misfortune!"
"A misfortune! On the contrary, it is I who am indebted to you; and very much, that is more."
"To me—you indebted to me!"
"Yes, for having procured me the advantage of making a call at La Force."
"Truly," said Germain, passing his hand over his face, "I do not know whether the terrible shock I received has impaired my reason, but it is impossible for me to understand you. The keeper has just told me that you were accused of—of—" And Germain hesitated.
"Of robbery, I dare say? Yes, burglary, and at night, into the bargain! Everything under full sail," cried the Slasher, shouting with laughter. "Nothing was wanting—my robbery had all the modern improvements to make it a bang-up work."
Germain, painfully affected by the audacious boldness of the Slasher, could not help saying, "How, you, so brave, so generous, talk thus? Do you not know the terrible punishment that awaits you?"
"Twenty years in the galleys, and the pillory! I am a headstrong scoundrel, to take it so coolly? But what would you have when one is in for it? And yet to think that it is you, M. Germain," added the Slasher, uttering a heavy sigh, in a manner jokingly contrite, "who are the cause of my misfortune!"
"When you explain yourself more clearly, I shall understand you. Joke as much as you please, my gratitude for the service you have rendered me will be none the less," said Germain, sadly.
"I ask your pardon, M. Germain," answered the Slasher, becoming more serious; "you do not like to see me laugh at this; let us speak no more about it. I must have a little explanation with you, and force you, perhaps, once more to offer me your hand."
"I do not doubt it; for, notwithstanding the crime of which you are accused, and of which you accuse yourself, everything in you announces courage and frankness. I am sure you are unjustly suspected; appearances, perhaps, compromise you."
"Oh! as to that, you are wrong, M. Germain," said the Slasher, so seriously this time, and with such an accent of sincerity, that Germain was forced to believe him. "As true as that I have a protector" (the Slasher took off his cap), "who is for me what the Judge above is for the good priests, I robbed at night, by breaking in at a window; I was caught in the fact, and secured, with the stolen goods in my possession."
"But want, hunger, drove you, then, to this extremity?"
"Hunger? I had a hundred and twenty francs when they arrested me—the change of a thousand-franc note, without counting that the protector of whom I have spoken, who does not know that I am here, will never let me want anything. But since I have spoken to you of my protector, you ought to believe that I am speaking the truth, because before him it is like going down on your knees. The torrent of blows I rained down on Bones is a fashion of his, which I copied after nature. The idea of the robbery, on account of him, came into my head. In fine, if you are here, instead of being strangled by Skeleton, thanks to him."
"But this protector?"
"Is yours also."
"Yes! M. Rudolph protects you; when I say Monsieur, it is his highness that I ought to say, for he is a prince; but I am accustomed to call him M. Rudolph, and he allows it."
"You mistake," said Germain, more and more surprise; "I do not know any prince."
"Yes, but he knows you; you do not doubt it? It is possible—it is his way. He hears there is a good man in trouble—slap! the good man is relieved, and he is neither seen nor known. I perplex you; for him happiness falls from the clouds like a tile on the head. Thus, patience! some day or other you will receive your tile."
"Truly, what you say confounds me."
"You will have a great deal more of the same! To return to my protector: some time since, after a service which he pretended I had rendered him, he procured me a slap-up situation. I have no need to tell you what—it would be too long; in a word, he sent me to Marseilles, to embark for my place. I left Paris contented as a beggar! Good! But soon that changed. A supposition: let us say that I left on a fine sunny day. Well! the next day is cloudy; the day after very cloudy, and every succeeding day more and more so, until, at length, it became as black as the devil. Do you comprehend?"
"Well, let us see. Did you ever keep a pup?"
"What a singular question!"
"Have you had a dog that loved you well, and that was lost?"
"Then I will tell you at once, that when at a distance from M. Rudolph, I was restless, uneasy, alarmed, like a dog that had lost his master. It was brutish, but the dogs also are brutes, and this does not prevent them from being attached to their masters, and remembering quite as much the good mouthfuls as the kickings they are accustomed to receive; and M. Rudolph had given me better than good mouthfuls, for, do you see, for me M. Rudolph is all in all. From a wicked, brutal, savage, and riotous rascal, he made me a kind of honest man, by saying only two words to me; but those words were like magic."
"And those words, what are they? What did he say to you?"
"He told me that I had still a 'heart' and 'honor,' although I had been to the hulks—not for having robbed, it is true. Oh! that, never, but for what is worse, perhaps—for having killed. Yes," said the Slasher, in a sad tone, "yes, killed in a moment of anger, because from my childhood, brought up like a brute, without father or mother, abandoned in the streets of Paris, I knew neither God nor the devil, nor good nor evil, nor strong nor weak. Sometimes the blood rushed to my eyes, I saw red, and if I had a knife in my hand, I stabbed—I stabbed! I was like a wolf; I could not frequent any other places than those where I met beggars and ruffians; I did not put crape on my hat for that. I was obliged to live in the mire; I did not even know I was there. But, when M. Rudolph told me that since in spite of the contempt of the world and misery, instead of stealing, as others did, I had preferred to work as much as I could, and at what I could, that showed I had a heart and honor. Thunder! those two words had the same effect upon me as if some one had caught me by the hair, and raised me a thousand feet in the air above the beggars with whom I lived, and showed me in what mire I wallowed. Then, of course, I said, 'Thank you, I have enough.' Then my heart beat with something besides anger, and I swore to myself always to preserve this honor of which M. Rudolph had spoken. You see, M. Germain, by telling me with kindness that I was not as bad as I thought, M. Rudolph encouraged me, and, thanks to him, I have become better than I was."
On hearing this language, Germain comprehended still less how the Slasher could have committed the robbery of which he accused himself.
"No," thought Germain, "it is impossible; this man, who suffers himself to be thus carried away by the simple words honor and heart, cannot have committed this robbery of which he speaks with such ease."
The Slasher continued, without remarking the astonishment of Germain: "Finally, the reason why I am to M. Rudolph like a dog to his master, is that he has raised me in my own estimation. Before I knew him, I was only sensible to the touch; but he made me feel within, and deep down, I bet you. Once separated from him and the place where he dwelt, I found myself like a body without a soul. As I traveled on, I said to myself, 'He leads such a queer life! he mingles with such great scoundrels (I know something about it), that he will risk his bones twenty times a day,' and it is under these circumstances that I could play the dog for him, and defend my master; for I have good teeth. But, on the other hand, he had told me, 'You must, my friend, make yourself useful to others; go, then, where you may be of some good.' I had a great desire to answer him, 'For me, there is no one to serve, but you, M. Rudolph.' But I did not dare. He had told me to 'Go.' I went; and I have obeyed him as well as I was able. But, thunder! when the time came to get into the tub, leave France, and place the sea between M. Rudolph and me, without the hope of ever seeing him again, in truth, I had not the courage. He told his correspondent to give me a heap of money as heavy as I am when I should embark. I went to see the gentleman. I told him, 'It is impossible just now; I prefer the solid ground. Give me enough to get back to Paris on foot. I have good legs. I cannot embark. M. Rudolph may say what he pleases; he will be angry, he will not see me any more. Possibly I shall see him; I shall be where he is; and if he continues the life he leads, sooner or later, I shall arrive in time, perhaps, to put myself between a knife and him.' And, besides, I cannot live so far away from him. At length they gave me enough for my journey. I arrived at Paris. I do not fear trifles: but once back fear seized me. What could I say to M. Rudolph to excuse myself for having returned without his permission? Bah! after all, he will not eat me. What is to be will be. I will go to find his friend a bald man—another trump, this one. Thunder! when M. Murphy came in, I said, 'My fate will be decided.' I felt my throat dry—my heart beat a tattoo. I expected to be scolded soundly. The worthy man received me as as if he had left me the evening previous. He told me that M. Rudolph, far from being angry, wished to see me at once. In short, he took me to my protector. Thunder! when I found myself again face to face with him, who has such an open hand and so good a heart, terrible as a lion, and gentle as a child, a prince, who has worn a blouse like me—to have the opportunity (which I bless) of punching my eye. Faith, M. Germain, on thinking of all these fascinations which he possesses, I felt myself done up. I wept like a doe. Well! instead of laughing—for imagine my mug when I weep—M. Rudolph said to me, seriously:
"'So you are back again, my good fellow?'
"'Yes, M. Rudolph, pardon me if I am wrong, but I could not go. Make me a little nest in the corner of your court, give me my food, or let me earn it here; that is all I ask from you; and, above all, do not be angry because I have returned.'
"'I am so far from that, my good friend, that you have returned just in time to render me a service.'
"'I, M. Rudolph! Can it be possible! Well, do you see, it must be, as you told me, that there is Something upstairs; otherwise, how explain that I arrive here just at the moment when you have need of me? What is it, then, I can, do for you, M. Rudolph—jump from the top of the towers of Notre-Dame?'
"'Less than that, my man. An honest, excellent young man, in whom I am as much interested as if he were my son, is unjustly accused of robbery, and confined in La Force; he is called Germain, and is of a mild and gentle disposition; the scoundrels with whom he is imprisoned have taken an aversion to him; he may be in great danger; you, who have unfortunately the experience of a prison life, and know a great number of prisoners, could you not, in case some of your old comrades should be at La Force, could you not go and see them, and, by promises of money which shall be faithfully kept, engage them to protect this unhappy young man?'"
"But who, then, is this generous and unknown man, who takes so much interest in my fate?" said Germain, more and more surprised.
"You will know, perhaps; as for me, I am ignorant. To return to my conversation with M. Rudolph: while he was talking an idea struck me, but an idea so laughable, that I could not keep from laughing before him. 'What is the matter?' said he.
"'M. Rudolph, I laugh, because I am content, and I am content because I have the means of placing your M. Germain out of all dangers, by giving him a protector who will defend him bravely; for, once the young man is under the wing of the fellow of whom I speak, there is not one of them will dare to come and look under his nose.'
"' Very well, my friend; it is doubtless one of your old companions?'
"' Exactly, M. Rudolph; he entered La Force some days ago; I learned this on my arrival; but we must have some money.'
"'A thousand francs.'
"'Here they are.'
"'Thank you, M. Rudolph; in two days you shall hear from me; your servant, sirs.' Thunder! the king was not my master: I could render a service to M. Rudolph by joining you; it was that which was famous."
"I begin to understand, or rather, I tremble to understand," cried Germain; "such fidelity cannot be possible! to come to protect me, defend me in this prison, you have, perhaps, committed a robbery? oh! this would be the sorrow of my whole life."
"Stop a bit! M. Rudolph had told me that I had a heart and honor; these words are my law, do you see; and he can tell me so yet; for if I am no better than formerly, at least I am no worse."
"But this robbery? this robbery? If you have not committed it, how are you here?"
"Stop a moment. Here is the plant; with my thousand francs I went and bought a black wig; I shaved off my whiskers; I put on blue spectacles; I stuck a pillow on my back, and made up a hump. I began at once to look for one or two rooms on a ground floor in a retired street. I found my affair in the Rue du Provence; I paid my rent in advance under the name of Gregoire. The next day I went to the Temple to buy furniture for my two rooms, always wearing my black wig, hump, and blue barnacles, so that I might be well known. I sent the things to the Rue du Provence, and six silver spoons and forks which I bought on the Boulevard Saint Denis, still in my disguise as a hunchback. I returned to put all these in order in my domicile, I said to the porter that I should not sleep there for two days, and I carried away my key. The windows of the two rooms were fastened by strong shutters. Before I went away, I left one unfastened on the inside. At night I took off my wig, goggles, and hump, with which I had been to make my purchases and hired my rooms. I put this disguise in a trunk, which I sent to the address of M. Murphy, the friend of M. Rudolph, begging him to take care of it. I bought this blouse and blue cap, and a jimmy, and at one o'clock in the morning I came to the Rue du Provence to hang about my lodgings waiting until the patrol should pass, to commence my robbery, my burglary, in order to be copped!"
The Slasher was unable to suppress a hearty fit of laughter. "Oh! I comprehend," cried Germain.
"But you will see if I had not ill-luck: no police passed. I could have robbed myself twenty times at my ease. At length, about two o'clock, I heard the snails at the end of the street; I opened my window, and broke two or three panes of glass to make a devil of a noise; I dashed in the window, jumped into the room, and seized the money box and some clothes. Happily, the patrol had heard the jingling of the glass just as I got out of the window. I was nabbed by the guard, who, at the noise of breaking glass, had come to see what was the matter. They knocked at the door; the porter opened it; they sent for the commissary; he came; the porter said that the rooms had been taken the evening previous by a gentleman with a hunchback, with black hair and blue spectacles, and who was named Gregoire. I had the flaxen wool which you see; I had my eyes open like a hare in her form; I was as straight as a Russian at the command, 'Carry arms!' They could never take me for the hunchback, with blue spectacles and black locks. I confessed every, thing; I was arrested; they took me to the station—from there, here; and I arrived at a good moment, just in time to snatch from the claws of the Skeleton the young man of whom M. Rudolph had said, 'I am as much interested for him as for my own son.'"
"Oh! what do I not owe you for such services!" cried Germain.
"It is not me—it is to M. Rudolph you owe it.'
"But the cause of his interest for me."
"He will tell you, unless he does not choose to do so; for often he is pleased to do good, and if you take it into your head to ask him why, he will not mind answering, 'Mind your own business!'"
"And does M. Rudolph know that you are here?"
"Not so stupid as to tell him my idea; he would not, perhaps, have allowed me the fun, and without bragging, it is rich."
"But the risks you have run and still run?"
"What did I risk? not to be conducted to La Force, where you were, that is true. But I counted on the protection of M. Rudolph, to have my prison changed and join you; a lord like him can do everything. And when I was once shut up, he would have wished me to be of service to you."
"But when your trial comes on?"
"Well! I will beg M. Murphy to send me my trunk; I will put on before the big wig, my big wig, the blue spectacles, and the hump, and I will become M. Gregoire again, send for the porter who let me the chamber, and for the shopkeepers who sold me the furniture; so much for the robbed. If they wish to see the robber again, I will throw off my disguise, and it will be as clear as day that the robbed and the robber make the sum total of the Slasher, neither more nor less. Then, what the devil would you have them do to me, when it shall be proved that I have robbed myself?"
"That's true!" said Germain, more assured; "but since you felt so much interest for me, why did you not speak to me on entering the prison?"
"I knew at once the plot which was formed against you; I could have exposed it before Pique-Vinaigre had commenced his story: but to denounce even such ruffians does not go down with me. I preferred to depend upon my fists to drag you from the paws of Skeleton. And, besides, when I saw this brigand, I said to myself, 'Here is a fine occasion to practice the boxing of M. Rudolph, to which I am indebted for the honor of his acquaintance."
"But if all the prisoners had taken part against you, what could you have done?"
"Then I should have screamed like an eagle, and called for help! But it suited me to do my own cooking myself; to be able to say to M. Rudolph, 'No one but I meddled in the affair. I have defended, and will defend, your young man; be tranquil!'"
At this moment the keeper entered quickly.
"M. Germain, come, make haste, to the governor's room. He wishes to speak to you at once. And you, Slasher, my boy, descend to the hall. You shall be provost if it suits you, for you have every requisite to fill the office, and the prisoners will not joke with a big un of your caliber."
"All the same to me-as well be captain as soldier while one is here."
"Will you still refuse my hand?" said Germain, cordially, to the Slasher.
"No, M. Germain, no; I believe that now I can allow myself this pleasure, and I do it with all my heart."
"We shall see each other again, for I am now under your protection. I shall have nothing more to fear, and from my cell I shall descend each day to the court."
"Be assured, if I wish it, they shall not speak to you except on all fours. But, now I think of it, you know how to write; put down on paper what I have just related to you, and send it to M. Rudolph; he will know that he need have no more uneasiness about you, and that I am here for a good motive; for if he should learn elsewhere that the Slasher had stolen, and he did not know the game—thunder! that would not suit me."
"Rest satisfied: this very night I will write to my unknown protector; to-morrow you will give me his address, and the letter shall be sent. Adieu, once more, thank you, my good fellow."
"Adieu, M. Germain; I go to return among this band of rascals, of whom I am provost; they will have to march pretty straight, or stand from under!"
"When I think that on my account you go to live for some time among these wretches—"
"What is that to me, now that there is no risk of their contaminating me. M. Rudolph has washed me too well. I am insured against fire."
And the Slasher followed the keeper. Germain entered the apartment of the governor. What was his surprise—he found Rigolette there.
Rigolette, pale, with deep emotion, her eyes bathed in tears, and yet smiling through these tears, her face expressed a sentiment of joy, of happiness indescribable.
"I have good news to tell you, sir," said the governor. "The judges have just declared that no action lies against you, and I have the order to set you immediately at liberty."
"What do you say, sir? Can it be possible?"
Rigolette wished to speak; her too lively emotion prevented her; she could only make to Germain an affirmative sign with her head.
"This young lady arrived here a few moments after I had received the order to set you at liberty," added the governor. "A letter of all-powerful recommendation which she brought me has informed me of the touching devotion she has shown you during your stay in prison, sir. It is, then, with great pleasure that I have sent for you, certain that you would be very happy to give your arm to the lady on leaving the place."
"A dream! surely it is a dream!" said Germain. "Oh, sir, what kindness! Pardon me if surprise—joy—prevents me from thanking you as I ought."
"And I, too, M. Germain, cannot find a word to say," added Rigolette. "Judge of my happiness: on leaving you, I found the friend of M. Rudolph waiting for me."
"M. Rudolph again!" said the astonished Germain.
"Yes; now I can tell you all. M. Murphy said to me then, 'Germain is free; here is a letter for the governor of the prison; before you arrive, he will have received the order to set Germain at liberty, and you can bring him away.' I could not believe what I heard, and yet it was true. Quick—quick—I took a cab—I arrived—and it is now below waiting for us."
We renounce the attempt to describe the delight of the two lovers when they left La Force; of the evening they passed in the little chamber of Rigolette, which Germain left at eleven o'clock for a modest furnished apartment. Let us sum up in a few words the practical or theoretical ideas we have endeavored to place in relief in this episode of a prison life. We shall esteem ourselves very happy if we have shown the insufficiency, the impotency, and the danger of imprisonment in common. The disproportion which exists between the appreciation and punishment of certain crimes, and those of certain other offenses. And, finally, the material impossibility for the poorer classes to enjoy the benefits of the civil laws.
We will conduct the reader again to the office of the notary, Jacques Ferrand. Thanks to the habitual loquacity of the clerks, almost constantly occupied with the increasing caprices of their patron, we can learn the events that occurred since the disappearance of Cecily.
"A hundred to ten, if the present state of his health continues, before a month the governor will be as dead as a doornail."
"The fact is, that since the servant who had the air of an Alsatian has left the house, he has had nothing but skin on his bones."
"And what skin!"
"I'll wager he was in love with this Alsatian, for it is since her departure that he has shriveled up so!"
"He in love? what nonsense! on the contrary, he sees the priests more than ever; and the parish cure, a very respectable man (one must be just), went away yesterday, saying (I overheard him) to another priest who accompanied him,' This is admirable! M. Ferrand is the personification of Charity and Generosity.'"
"The cure said that? of himself? without prompting?"
"Yes! I heard him."
"Then, I can't understand it at all. The cure has the reputation, and deserves it, of being what is called a right good pastor."
"It is true; and of him we must speak seriously and with respect; he is as good and charitable as 'Little Blue Mantle,' [Footnote: We must be allowed to mention here, with veneration, the name of that excellent man, M. Champion, with whom we have not the honor of a personal acquaintance, but of whom all the poor of Paris speak with as much respect as gratitude.] and when one says that of a man he is judged."
"Ay, that is not a little to say."
"No. For 'Little Blue Mantle,' as well as for the good priest, the poor have only one word, and a good word it is, from the heart."
"Then I return to my idea; when the cure affirms a thing, he must be believed, as he is incapable of telling a falsehood; and yet to think as he does, that our master is charitable and generous—that sticks in my throat."
"Oh! how pretty that is, Chalamel! how pretty."
"Seriously, I would just as soon believe that as I would a miracle. It would not be more difficult."
"M. Ferrand generous! he would skin an egg!"
"And yet the forty sous for our breakfast?"
"Beautiful proof! It is like a pimple on the end of a man's nose—it is an accident."
"Yes, but, on the other hand, the head clerk told me that three days ago he sold out an enormous amount of treasury bonds, and that—"
"Well! speak then."
"It is a secret."
"So much the more reason for telling it."
"Your word and honor that you won't mention it?"
"On the heads of our children, we give it."
"And besides, let us remember what the great king Louis XIV. majestically said to the Doge of Venice before his assembled court:
"'When a secret's told a clerk, Its exposure he'll not burk!'"
"Good! there is Chalamel with his proverbs!"
"I demand the head of Chalamel!"
"Proverbs are the wisdom of nations; it is on that account I require your secret."
"Come, none of your nonsense. I tell you the head clerk made me a promise to speak of it to no one."
"Yes; but he did not say that you should not tell it to every one?"
"It shall not go out of the office. Go on."
"He is dying with desire to tell us the secret."
"Well! the governor is about selling his notary's business. At this present moment, perhaps, it is done."
"Here is news!"
"Let us see, without charge, who charges himself with the charge which he discharges?"
"Tush! how insupportable Chalamel is with his riddles."
"Do you think I know to whom he sells it?"
"If he sells it, it is because, perhaps, he wishes to come out, give balls, routs, in the gay world. After all, there is something in it."
"I think so, indeed! The head clerk spoke of more than a million, including the value of the business."
"More than a million!"
"It is said that he has been gambling in stocks secretly with Commandant Robert, and that he has made much money."
"Not to speak of his living like a curmudgeon."
"But these misers, when once they begin to spend money, become as prodigal as they were once mean."
"Well, I agree with Chalamel; I think that now the governor is coming out."
"And he would be most stupendously in the wrong not to bury himself in voluptuousness, and not to plunge into the delights of Golconda, if he has the means; for, as the misty Ossian says, in the grotto of Fingal,
"'All-Ariel is it, yet not-arial, too, That he should still be right, Who roseate tapestry has in open view, And of his gold makes light.'"
"I demand the head of Chalamel!"
"It is absurd!"
"Yes, and the governor looks very much like a man who thinks of amusing himself. He has a face that might cause the devil to appear on earth."
"And then the cure, who boasts of his charity!"
"Well-ordered charity begins at home."
"You do not know your ten commandments, heathen! If the governor asks from himself the alms of great pleasures, it is his duty to grant them."
"What astonishes me is, that this intimate friend, who seems to have dropped from the clouds, never leaves him."
"Not to mention his ugly face."
"He is as red as a carrot."
"I am rather inclined to believe that this intruder is the fruit of a first false step which M. Ferrand has committed in the springtime of life, for, as the Eagle of Meaux said concerning the taking of the veil by the tender La Valliere,
"'Young or old, whiche'er you love, Crows may have an offspring dove!'"
"I demand the head of Chalamel!"
"In truth, with him it is impossible to talk reason a moment."
"What stupidity! To say that this stranger is the son of the governor, when he is the oldest, as is easy to be seen—"
"Well, what of that?"
"How? what of that? The son older than the father?"
"It is very plain; in that case, the intruder must have made the false step, and be the father of M. Ferrand, intead of being his son."
"I demand the head of Chalamel!"
"Do not listen to him; you know, when once he is in the way of saying stupid things, there is no end to it."
"What is certain is, that this intruder has a bad face, and does not leave M. Ferrand for a moment."
"He is always with him in his cabinet; they eat together; one does not move without the other."
"I think I have seen the man before."
"I think not."
"Tell me, gents, have you not also remarked that for some days past, there comes regularly almost every two hours a man with great light mustaches and a military air, who asks the porter for the intruder? The intruder comes down, talks for a moment with the man with mustaches, after which the latter makes a half turn like an automaton, to come again in two hours after."
"It is true; I have remarked him. It seems to me, also, that I meet some men when I go into the street who appear to be watching the house."
"Seriously, there is something extraordinary going on here."
"Who lives long enough will see."
"On this subject the head clerk, perhaps, knows more than we do. But he plays the diplomatist."
"Exactly; and where is he, then, for so long a time?"
"He has gone to the house of the countess who was stabbed; it appears that she is now out of danger."
"The Countess M'Gregor?"
"Yes; this morning she sent for the governor to come at once, but he sent the head clerk in his place."
"It is, perhaps, for a will."
"No, because she is better."
"Hasn't he work enough now, the head clerk, since he has taken Germain's place also?"
"Speaking of Germain, here is another strange thing.'"
"What is it?"
"In order to have him set at liberty, the governor has declared it was he himself who made an error in his accounts, and that he had found the money which he accused Germain of stealing."
"I do not find this strange, but just; you recollect I always said that Germain was incapable of theft."
"It must, nevertheless, have been very disagreeable for him to be arrested and confined as a thief."
"If I were in his place I would sue Jacques Ferrand for damages."
"The least he could do would be to reinstate him as cashier, in order to prove that Germain was not culpable."
"Yes, but perhaps Germain would not be willing."
"Is he still at the farm, where he went on coming out of prison, and from which he wrote us to announce M. Ferrand's discontinuance of the suit?"
"Probably, for yesterday I went to the place where he directed us to go; they told me that he was still in the country, and that I could write to him at Bouqueval, near Ecouen, at Madame George's."
"Oh! a carriage!" said Chalamel, leaning over toward the window.
"Nothing but a hackney-coach."
"And who gets out?"
"Stop a moment! Oh! a black-gown!"
"A woman! a woman! Oh! let us see."
"This gutter-jumper is indecently sensitive at his age; he only thinks of women. We shall have to chain him up, or he will carry off the Sabines from the streets; for, as said the Swan of Cambray in his Treatise on Education for the Dauphin,
"'Of Gutter-jumper have a care, Who assaults the lovely fair.'"
"I demand the head of Chalamel!"
"M. Chalamel, you said a black robe, I thought."
"It is the cure, goose! Let him be an example for you."
"The cure of the parish? The good pastor?"
"He is a worthy man!"
"He is no Jesuit, not he."
"I think not; and if all the priests were like him everybody would be devout."
"Silence! some one opens the door."
And all the clerks, bending over their desks, began to scratch away with apparent industry, making their pens pass rapidly over the paper. The pale face of this priest was at once mild and grave, intelligent and venerable, its expression full of benevolence and serenity. A small black cap concealed his tonsure, and his long gray hair floated on the collar of his maroon-colored coat. Let us add that, from his simple credulity, this excellent priest had always been, and was still, the dupe of Jacques Ferrand's deep and cunning hypocrisy.
"Your worthy master is in his cabinet, my son?" asked the cure.
"Yes, M. l'Abbe," said Chalamel, rising respectfully. And he opened for the priest the door leading into a room adjoining the office.
Hearing some one speaking with vehemence in the cabinet of the notary, the abbe, not wishing to hear, walked rapidly toward the door, and knocked.
"Come in," said a voice with an Italian accent, and the priest found himself face to face with Jacques Ferrand and Polidori.
It would seem that the clerks were not wrong when they prophesied the death of their employer at no distant day. Since the flight of Cecily, the notary was hardly to be recognized. Although his visage was of a frightful thinness, and of a cadaverous hue, a hectic flush colored his hollow cheeks; a nervous shivering, except when interrupted by convulsive spasms, agitated his frame continually; his bony hands were dry and burning; his large green spectacles concealed his bloodshot eyes, which sparkled with the fire of a consuming fever; in a word, this sinister face betrayed the ravages of a rapid consumption. The physiognomy of Polidori formed a contrast with that of the notary; nothing could be more bitterly, more coldly ironical than the expression of this scoundrel; a forest of fiery red hair, interspersed with some silvered locks, crowned his high and wrinkled forehead; his penetrating eyes, green as the ocean wave, were close to his hooked nose; his mouth, with its thin lips, expressed wickedness and sarcasm. Polidori, completely dressed in black, was seated beside the desk of Jacques Ferrand. At the sight of the priest they both arose.
"Well! how do you get on, my worthy M. Ferrand?" said the abbe, with solicitude; "are you a little better?"
"I am always in the same state, M. l'Abbe; the fever does not leave me," answered the notary; "the want of sleep is killing me. But the will of heaven be done!"
"See, M. l'Abbe," added Polidori, with emphasis, "what pious resignation! My poor friend is always the same; he only finds a solace for his sufferings in doing good."
"I do not deserve these praises, have the goodness to dispense with them," said the notary, dryly, with difficulty concealing his anger. "To the Lord alone belongs the appreciation of good and evil; I am only a miserable sinner."
"We are all sinners," answered the abbe gently; "but we have not all the charity which distinguishes you, my respected friend. There are very few who, like you, dispossess themselves of so much of their earthly wealth to employ it during their lifetime in a manner so Christian-like. Do you still persist in selling your business, in order to devote yourself more entirely to the practice of religion?"
"Since yesterday, my business is sold, M. l'Abbe; some concessions have enabled me to realize (a rare thing) the cash down: this sum, added to others, will enable me to found the institution of which I have spoken, and of which I have definitively arranged the plan that I am about to submit to you."
"Ah! my worthy friend," said the abbe, with deep and reverential admiration, "to do so much good—so unostentatiously—and, I may say, so naturally! I repeat to you, people like you are rare; they will receive their reward."
"It is true that very few persons unite, like Jacques Ferrand, riches to piety, intelligence to charity," said Polidori, with an ironical smile which escaped the notice of the good abbe.
At this new and sarcastic eulogium the hand of the notary was clinched; he cast from under his spectacles a look of deadly hatred on Polidori.
"You see, M. l'Abbe," the bosom friend of Jacques Ferrand hastened to say, "he has continually these nervous spasms, and he will do nothing for them. He worries me, he is his own executioner, my poor friend!"
At these words of Polidori, the notary shuddered still more convulsively, but he composed himself again. A man less simple than the abbe would have remarked, during this conversation, and, above all, during what is about to follow, the notary's constrained manner of speaking; for it is hardly necessary to say that a will superior to his own, the will of Rudolph, in a word, imposed on this man words and acts diametrically opposed to his true character. Thus sometimes, pushed to extremities, the notary appeared reluctant to obey this all powerful and invisible authority; but a look from Polidori put an end to his indecision. Then, constraining with a sigh of rage his most violent feelings, Jacques Ferrand submitted to the yoke which he could not break.
"Alas! M. l'Abbe," said Polidori, who seemed to take delight in torturing his victim, as is said vulgarly, by pricks of a pin, "my poor friend neglects his health too much. Tell him to be more careful of himself, if not for his own sake, for his friends', or, at least, for the unfortunates of whom he is the hope and support."
"Enough! enough!" murmured the notary.
"No, it is not enough," said the priest, with emotion; "we cannot repeat to you too often that you do not belong to yourself, and that it is wrong thus to neglect your health. In ten years that I have known you, I have never seen you ill; but for a month past you are no longer recognizable. I am so much the more struck with this alteration of your features, as I was for some time without seeing you. Thus, at our first interview, I could not conceal my surprise; but the change I have remarked in you for the last few days is much more serious: you sink every hour, you give us much uneasiness. I implore you, my worthy friend, take care of your health."
"I am very sensible of your solicitude, M. l'Abbe; but I assure you that my condition is not so alarming as you think."
"Since you are so obstinate," said Polidori, "I will tell everything to the abbe; he loves you—he esteems you—he honors you much; how much the more will he honor you when he shall know your new merits—when he shall know the true cause of your wasting away?"
"What is this?" asked the abbe.
"M. l'Abbe," said the notary, with impatience, "I begged you to come here to communicate to you projects of high importance, and not to hear me ridiculously praised by my friend."
"You know, Jacques, that from me you must be resigned to here everything," said Polidori, looking fixedly at the notary, who cast down his eyes, and remained silent. Polidori continued: "You perhaps remarked, M. l'Abbe, that the first symptoms of his nervous complaint appeared a short time after the abominable scandal which Louise Morel caused in this house."
The notary shuddered.
"You know of the crime of this unhappy girl, sir?" demanded the astonished priest; "I thought you had arrived but a few days since at Paris?"
"Without doubt, M. l'Abbe; but Jacques has related everything to me, as his friend—as his physician; for he attributes these nervous attacks almost entirely to the indignation which the crime of Louise Morel caused him. This is nothing, as yet; my poor friend, alas! had new trials to endure, which, you see, have ruined his health. An old servant, who for many years was attached to him by the ties of gratitude—"
"Madame Seraphin?" said the cure, interrupting Polidori. "I have heard of the death of this unfortunate, drowned by her own imprudence, and I comprehend the grief of M. Ferrand. It is not easy to forget ten years of faithful services; such regrets do credit to the master as well as to the servant."
"M. l'Abbe," said the notary, "I entreat you, do not speak of my virtues—you confuse me—it is painful."
"And who will speak of them, then—will it be yourself?" answered Polidori affectionately; "but you will be obliged to praise him still more, M. l'Abbe: you perhaps do not know who is the servant that took the place of Louise Morel and Madame Seraphin. You do not know what he has done for this poor Cecily, M. l'Abbe, for so she is named."
The notary started from his seat, his eyes sparkling under his spectacles, a burning red diffused over his livid face.
"Hush! be silent!" he cried; "not a word more. I forbid it!"
"Come, come, calm yourself," said the abbe, smiling benevolently; "another good action to reveal? As for myself, I strongly approve of the generous indiscretion of your friend. I did not know this servant, for it was just after her arrival that my worthy friend, overwhelmed with business, was obliged momentarily, to my great regret, to interrupt our relations."
"It was to conceal from you this new good action he meditated, M. l'Abbe; thus, although his modesty revolts at the mention of it, he must hear me, and you shall know all," said Polidori, smiling.
Jacques Ferrand was silent; he leaned on his desk, and concealed his face in his hands.
THE BANK FOR THE POOR.
"Imagine then, M. l'Abbe," resumed Polidori, addressing the cure, but emphasizing, as it were, each phrase by an ironical glance at Jacques Ferrand—"imagine that my friend found in his new servant, who, as I have already told you, was called Cecily, the best qualities, great modesty, angelic sweetness, and above all, much piety. This is not all; Jacques, you know, owes to his long practice in business affairs an extreme penetration; he soon saw that this young woman, for she was young and very pretty, M. l'Abbe—that this young and pretty woman was not made for a servant, and that, to principles most virtuously austere, she added solid accomplishments very diversified."