The End of Evil Ways/Section 1
At six o'clock next morning two vehicles with postilions, prison vans, called in the vigorous language of the populace, paniers a salade, came out of La Force to drive to the Conciergerie by the Palais de Justice.
Few loafers in Paris can have failed to meet this prison cell on wheels; still, though most stories are written for Parisian readers, strangers will no doubt be satisfied to have a description of this formidable machine. Who knows? A police of Russia, Germany, or Austria, the legal body of countries to whom the "Salad-basket" is an unknown machine, may profit by it; and in several foreign countries there can be no doubt that an imitation of this vehicle would be a boon to prisoners.
This ignominious conveyance, yellow-bodied, on high wheels, and lined with sheet-iron, is divided into two compartments. In front is a box-seat, with leather cushions and an apron. This is the free seat of the van, and accommodates a sheriff's officer and a gendarme. A strong iron trellis, reaching to the top, separates this sort of cab-front from the back division, in which there are two wooden seats placed sideways, as in an omnibus, on which the prisoners sit. They get in by a step behind and a door, with no window. The nickname of Salad-basket arose from the fact that the vehicle was originally made entirely of lattice, and the prisoners were shaken in it just as a salad is shaken to dry it.
For further security, in case of accident, a mounted gendarme follows the machine, especially when it conveys criminals condemned to death to the place of execution. Thus escape is impossible. The vehicle, lined with sheet-iron, is impervious to any tool. The prisoners, carefully searched when they are arrested or locked up, can have nothing but watch-springs, perhaps, to file through bars, and useless on a smooth surface.
So the panier a salade, improved by the genius of the Paris police, became the model for the prison omnibus (known in London as "Black Maria") in which convicts are transported to the hulks, instead of the horrible tumbril which formerly disgraced civilization, though Manon Lescaut had made it famous.
The accused are, in the first instance, despatched in the prison van from the various prisons in Paris to the Palais de Justice, to be questioned by the examining judge. This, in prison slang, is called "going up for examination." Then the accused are again conveyed from prison to the Court to be sentenced when their case is only a misdemeanor; or if, in legal parlance, the case is one for the Upper Court, they are transferred from the house of detention to the Conciergerie, the "Newgate" of the Department of the Seine.
Finally, the prison van carries the criminal condemned to death from Bicetre to the Barriere Saint-Jacques, where executions are carried out, and have been ever since the Revolution of July. Thanks to philanthropic interference, the poor wretches no longer have to face the horrors of the drive from the Conciergerie to the Place de Greve in a cart exactly like that used by wood merchants. This cart is no longer used but to bring the body back from the scaffold.
Without this explanation the words of a famous convict to his accomplice, "It is now the horse's business!" as he got into the van, would be unintelligible. It is impossible to be carried to execution more comfortably than in Paris nowadays.
At this moment the two vans, setting out at such an early hour, were employed on the unwonted service of conveying two accused prisoners from the jail of La Force to the Conciergerie, and each man had a "Salad-basket" to himself.
Nine-tenths of my readers, ay, and nine-tenths of the remaining tenth, are certainly ignorant of the vast difference of meaning in the words incriminated, suspected, accused, and committed for trial—jail, house of detention, and penitentiary; and they may be surprised to learn here that it involves all our criminal procedure, of which a clear and brief outline will presently be sketched, as much for their information as for the elucidation of this history. However, when it is said that the first van contained Jacques Collin and the second Lucien, who in a few hours had fallen from the summit of social splendor to the depths of a prison cell, curiosity will for the moment be satisfied.
The conduct of the two accomplices was characteristic; Lucien de Rubempre shrank back to avoid the gaze of the passers-by, who looked at the grated window of the gloomy and fateful vehicle on its road along the Rue Saint-Antoine and the Rue du Martroi to reach the quay and the Arch of Saint-Jean, the way, at that time, across the Place de l'Hotel de Ville. This archway now forms the entrance gate to the residence of the Prefet de la Seine in the huge municipal palace. The daring convict, on the contrary, stuck his face against the barred grating, between the officer and the gendarme, who, sure of their van, were chatting together.
The great days of July 1830, and the tremendous storm that then burst, have so completely wiped out the memory of all previous events, and politics so entirely absorbed the French during the last six months of that year, that no one remembers—or a few scarcely remember—the various private, judicial, and financial catastrophes, strange as they were, which, forming the annual flood of Parisian curiosity, were not lacking during the first six months of the year. It is, therefore, needful to mention how Paris was, for the moment, excited by the news of the arrest of a Spanish priest, discovered in a courtesan's house, and that of the elegant Lucien de Rubempre, who had been engaged to Mademoiselle Clotilde de Grandlieu, taken on the highroad to Italy, close to the little village of Grez. Both were charged as being concerned in a murder, of which the profits were stated at seven millions of francs; and for some days the scandal of this trial preponderated over the absorbing importance of the last elections held under Charles X.
In the first place, the charge had been based on an application by the Baron de Nucingen; then, Lucien's apprehension, just as he was about to be appointed private secretary to the Prime Minister, made a stir in the very highest circles of society. In every drawing-room in Paris more than one young man could recollect having envied Lucien when he was honored by the notice of the beautiful Duchesse de Maufrigneuse; and every woman knew that he was the favored attache of Madame de Serizy, the wife of one of the Government bigwigs. And finally, his handsome person gave him a singular notoriety in the various worlds that make up Paris—the world of fashion, the financial world, the world of courtesans, the young men's world, the literary world. So for two days past all Paris had been talking of these two arrests. The examining judge in whose hands the case was put regarded it as a chance for promotion; and, to proceed with the utmost rapidity, he had given orders that both the accused should be transferred from La Force to the Conciergerie as soon as Lucien de Rubempre could be brought from Fontainebleau.
As the Abbe Carlos had spent but twelve hours in La Force, and Lucien only half a night, it is useless to describe that prison, which has since been entirely remodeled; and as to the details of their consignment, it would be only a repetition of the same story at the Conciergerie.
But before setting forth the terrible drama of a criminal inquiry, it is indispensable, as I have said, that an account should be given of the ordinary proceedings in a case of this kind. To begin with, its various phases will be better understood at home and abroad, and, besides, those who are ignorant of the action of the criminal law, as conceived of by the lawgivers under Napoleon, will appreciate it better. This is all the more important as, at this moment, this great and noble institution is in danger of destruction by the system known as penitentiary.
A crime is committed; if it is flagrant, the persons incriminated (inculpes) are taken to the nearest lock-up and placed in the cell known to the vulgar as the Violon—perhaps because they make a noise there, shrieking or crying. From thence the suspected persons (inculpes) are taken before the police commissioner or magistrate, who holds a preliminary inquiry, and can dismiss the case if there is any mistake; finally, they are conveyed to the Depot of the Prefecture, where the police detains them pending the convenience of the public prosecutor and the examining judge. They, being served with due notice, more or less quickly, according to the gravity of the case, come and examine the prisoners who are still provisionally detained. Having due regard to the presumptive evidence, the examining judge then issues a warrant for their imprisonment, and sends the suspected persons to be confined in a jail. There are three such jails (Maisons d'Arret) in Paris—Sainte-Pelagie, La Force, and les Madelonettes.
Observe the word inculpe, incriminated, or suspected of crime. The French Code has created three essential degrees of criminality—inculpe, first degree of suspicion; prevenu, under examination; accuse, fully committed for trial. So long as the warrant for committal remains unsigned, the supposed criminal is regarded as merely under suspicion, inculpe of the crime or felony; when the warrant has been issued, he becomes "the accused" (prevenu), and is regarded as such so long as the inquiry is proceeding; when the inquiry is closed, and as soon as the Court has decided that the accused is to be committed for trial, he becomes "the prisoner at the bar" (accuse) as soon as the superior court, at the instance of the public prosecutor, has pronounced that the charge is so far proved as to be carried to the Assizes.
Thus, persons suspected of crime go through three different stages, three siftings, before coming up for trial before the judges of the upper Court—the High Justice of the realm.
At the first stage, innocent persons have abundant means of exculpating themselves—the public, the town watch, the police. At the second state they appear before a magistrate face to face with the witnesses, and are judged by a tribunal in Paris, or by the Collective Court of the departments. At the third stage they are brought before a bench of twelve councillors, and in case of any error or informality the prisoner committed for trial at the Assizes may appeal for protection to the Supreme court. The jury do not know what a slap in the face they give to popular authority, to administrative and judicial functionaries, when they acquit a prisoner. And so, in my opinion, it is hardly possible that an innocent man should ever find himself at the bar of an Assize Court in Paris—I say nothing of other seats of justice.
The detenu is the convict. French criminal law recognizes imprisonment of three degrees, corresponding in legal distinction to these three degrees of suspicion, inquiry, and conviction. Mere imprisonment is a light penalty for misdemeanor, but detention is imprisonment with hard labor, a severe and sometimes degrading punishment. Hence, those persons who nowadays are in favor of the penitentiary system would upset an admirable scheme of criminal law in which the penalties are judiciously graduated, and they will end by punishing the lightest peccadilloes as severely as the greatest crimes.
The reader may compare in the Scenes of Political Life (for instance, in Une Tenebreuse affaire) the curious differences subsisting between the criminal law of Brumaire in the year IV., and that of the Code Napoleon which has taken its place.
In most trials, as in this one, the suspected persons are at once examined (and from inculpes become prevenus); justice immediately issues a warrant for their arrest and imprisonment. In point of fact, in most of such cases the criminals have either fled, or have been instantly apprehended. Indeed, as we have seen the police, which is but an instrument, and the officers of justice had descended on Esther's house with the swiftness of a thunderbolt. Even if there had not been the reasons for revenge suggested to the superior police by Corentin, there was a robbery to be investigated of seven hundred and fifty thousand francs from the Baron de Nucingen.