Memoirs of Vidocq, Volume I/Chapter I
My birth—Precocious disposition—I become a journeyman baker—The first theft—The false key—The accusing fowls—The stolen plate—Prison—Maternal clemency—My father's eyes opened—The finishing stroke—Departure from Arras—I seek a ship—The ship broker—The danger of idleness—The trumpet calls—M. Comus, first physician in the world—The preceptor of general Jacquot—The rope dancers—I enter the company—Lessons of the Little Devil—The savage of the South Seas—Punch and the Theatre of Amusing Varieties—A scene of jealousy, or the serjeant in the eye—I go into the service of a quack doctor—Return to my father's house—Acquaintance with an actor—Another chace—My departure in a regiment—The rash companion—Desertion—The raw Picardy soldier and the assignats—I go over to the enemy—A flogging—I return to my old standard—A domestic robbery, and the housekeeper of an old worthy—Two duels a day—I am wounded—My father a public functionary—I join the war-Change of regiment-Residence at Arras.
I was born at Arras; my continual disguises, the flexibility of my features, and a singular power of grimacing, having cast some doubt concerning my age, it will not be deemed superfluous to declare here, that I was brought into the world on the 23d of July 1775, in a house adjoining that in which Robespierre was born sixteen years before. It was night; the rain fell in torrents; the thunder growled; a relation, who combined the functions of midwife and fortune-teller, predicted that my career would be a stormy one. There were even then in the world some good people who believed in prognostications; now that the world has become more enlightened, how many men, and those far from being old women, would bet on the infallibility of Miss Lenormand!
However that may be, we will presume that the sky was not troubled on my special account; and although there is always something very attractive in the marvellous, I am far from thinking that the turbulence of the elements had much reference to my birth. I had a most robust constitution, and there was plenty of me, so that as soon as I was born they took me for a child of two years of age; and I gave tokens of that athletic figure, that colossal form, which have since struck terror into the most hardened and powerful ruffians. My father's house being situated in the Place d'Armes, the constant resort of all the blackguards of the vicinity, I had my muscular powers early called into action, in regularly thrashing my comrades, whose parents were regularly complaining of me to my father and mother. At home nothing was talked of but torn ears, black eyes and rent garments; at eight years of age, I was the terror of all the dogs, cats, and children of the neighbourhood; at thirteen I handled a foil sufficiently well not to be defeated in an attack. My father perceiving that I associated chiefly with the military of the garrison, was alarmed for me, and desired me to prepare myself for the first receiving of the communion: two devotees undertook to prepare me for this solemn duty. God knows what fruit I have gathered from their lessons. I began at the same time to learn the trade of a baker, which was my father's business, in which he intended that I should succeed him, although I had an elder brother.
My employment principally consisted in carrying bread through the city. During my rounds I made frequent visits to the fencing-rooms, of which my parents were not long in ignorance; but the cooks all gave such testimony of my politeness and punctuality that they winked at this trifling prank. This went on until they discovered a deficiency in the till, of which they never took away the key. My brother, who visited it in the same manner as myself, was detected in the very act, and sent off in a hurry to a baker at Lille. The day after this event, which had not been explained to me, I was about to explore, according to custom, the convenient drawer, when I perceived that it was carefully closed. The same day my father desired me to use more alacrity in my rounds, and to return at a certain hour. It was then evident that from this day forward I should be equally deprived of liberty and money. I bewailed this twofold calamity, and hastened to impart it to a comrade named Poyant, older than myself. As a hole was cut in the counter to drop the money through, he first advised me to introduce a feather dipped in glue; but this ingenious expedient only produced me very small pieces of money, and it became necessary for me to employ a false key, which was made for me by a blacksmith's son. I then dipped again into the chest, and we spent together the fruits of these pilferings at a public-house where we had established our head quarters. There assembled, attracted by the master of the house, a great many well-known rogues, and some unfortunate young fellows, who, to get replenished pockets, used the same expedient as myself. I soon joined the society of the most abandoned vagabonds of the country, Boudou, Delcroix, Hedon, Franchison, Basserie, &c., who initiated me into all their villanies. Such was the honourable society in the bosom of which I spent my leisure hours, until one day my father surprised me, as he had done my brother, took away my key, heartily thrashed me, and took such precautions as totally cut off all my hopes of ever again getting a dividend from the receipts therein deposited.
My only resource was now to take my tithes from the bakings. Occasionally I pilfered a loaf or two; but as in disposing of them I was compelled to sell them very cheaply, I scarcely by their sale obtained sufficient to regale myself with tarts and honey. Necessity makes us active; I had an eye for everything; all was agreeable to me, wine, sugar, coffee, and liquors. My mother had never known her provisions to disappear so quickly, and perhaps would not have discovered so soon, but two chickens which I had resolved on disposing of to my own peculiar profit raised their voices to accuse me. Hid in my breeches pocket, and concealed by my baker's apron, they thrust out their heads and crowed; and my mother thus informed of their intended fate, came out to prevent it. She gave me several cuffs of the head, and sent me supperless to bed. I did not sleep a wink, and it was, I think, the evil spirit that kept me awake; all I know is, that I rose with the determination to lay hands on all the plate. One thing alone gave me uneasiness. On each piece the name of Vidocq was engraved in large letters. Poyant, to whom I broached the matter, overruled all difficulties; and the same day, at dinner time, I swept off ten forks and as many coffee spoons. Twenty minutes afterwards the whole was pawned, and the next day I had not a farthing left of the hundred and fifty francs which they lent me on them.
I did not return home for three days, and on the third evening I was arrested by two police officers, who conveyed me to the Baudets, a place in which mad persons are confined, together with those committed for trial, and the rogues of the district. I was kept in a dungeon for ten days without being told the cause of my arrest, and then the jailor told me that I had been imprisoned at the desire of my father. This information a little composed me: it was a paternal correction that was inflicted on me, and I accordingly judged that its continuance would not be rigorous. My mother came to see me the next day, and I was pardoned. Four days afterwards I was set at liberty, and I returned to work with a determination and promise of henceforward conducting myself irreproachably. Vain resolve! I soon resumed my old habits, except extravagance; and I had excellent reasons for no more playing the prodigal, for my father, who had before been rather careless and regardless, now exercised a vigilance that would have done credit to the commandant of an advanced guard. If he left the post at the counter, my mother relieved guard; it was impossible for me to approach it, although I was constantly on the look out. This put me in despair. At last one of my tavern companions took pity on me; it was Poyant again, that thorough rogue, of whose abilities in this way the citizens of Arras may still preserve the memory. I confided my sorrows to his friendly bosom. "What," said he, "you are a precious fool to remain thus; and what a thing it is that a lad of your age should be ever short a farthing. Ah! were I in your place, I know what I should do."—"Well, what?"—"Your parents are rich, and a thousand crowns, more or less, would not hurt them. The old misers! they are fair game, and we must carry it off."—"I understand, we must grasp at once what we cannot get in detail."—"You're right; and then we will be off, neither seen nor known."—"Yes, but the police."—"Hold your tongue; are you not their son? and your mother is too fond for that." This consideration of my mother's love, united to the remembrance of her indulgence after my late freaks, was powerfully persuasive; I blindly adopted a project which smiled on my audacity; it only remained to put it in execution, and an opportunity was not long wanting.
One evening whilst my mother was at home alone, a confidant of Poyant came kindly to tell her, that engaged in a debauch with some girls, I was fighting everybody, and breaking and destroying everything in the house, and that if I were not stopped there would be at least a hundred francs to pay for the damage done.
At this moment my mother was seated in her chair knitting; the stocking dropped from her hand, she arose with haste, and ran with great alarm to the place of the pretended affray, which had been fixed on at the extremity of the city. Her absence could not be of long continuance, and we hastened to profit by it. A key which I had stolen from the old lady procured us admittance into the shop. The till was closed; I was almost glad to meet with this obstacle. I recalled the memory of my mother's love for me, not as an inducement to commit the act with impunity, but as exciting feelings of coming remorse. I was going to retire; Poyant held me, his infernal eloquence made me blush for what he called my weakness; and when he presented me with a crowbar, with which he had the precaution to provide himself, I seized it almost with enthusiasm; the chest was forced; it contained nearly 2,000 francs (upwards of 80l.) which we shared, and half an hour afterwards I was alone on the road to Lille. In the trouble which this affair threw me into, I walked at first very quickly, so that when I reached Lens I was much fatigued. A return chaise passed, into which I got, and in less than three hours arrived at the capital of French Flanders, whence I immediately started for Dunkirk, being excessively anxious to place myself beyond the reach of pursuit.
I had resolved on visiting the new world. My fate forbade this project. The port of Dunkirk was empty. I reached Calais, intending to embark immediately, but they asked me more than the whole sum in my possession. I was induced to hope that at Ostend the fare would be less; and on going there found the captains not more reasonable than at Calais. Thus disappointed I fell into that adventurous disposition which induces us to throw ourselves voluntarily into the arms of the first enterprize that offers; and, I scarcely know why, I expected to meet with some good fellow who would take me on board his vessel without being paid, or at least would make a considerable reduction in favour of my good appearance, and the interest which a young man always inspires. Whilst I was walking, full of this idea, I was accosted by a person whose benevolent appearance induced a belief that my vision was about to be realized. The first words he addressed to me were questions. He had learnt that I was a stranger; he told me that he was a ship-broker; and when he learnt the cause of my coming to Ostend, he offered his services. "Your countenance pleases me," said he, "I like an open face; there is in your features the air of frankness and joviality which I like, and I will prove it to you by procuring for you a passage for almost nothing." I spoke of my gratitude. "No thanks, my friend, that will be soon enough when your business is completed, which I hope will be soon; but surely you will be tired of waiting about in this manner?" I said that certainly I was not very much amused. "If you will accompany me to Blakemberg, we will sup there together, with some jolly fellows, who are very fond of Frenchmen." The broker was so polite, and asked me so cordially, that I thought it would be ungentlemanly to refuse, and therefore accepted his invitation. He conducted me to a house where some very agreeable ladies welcomed us with all that ancient hospitality which did not confine itself only to feasting. At midnight, probably—I say probably, for we took no account of hours—my head became heavy, and my legs would no longer support me; there was around me a complete chaos, and things whirled in such a manner, that without perceiving that they had undressed me, I thought I was stripped to my shirt in the same bed with one of the Blakembergian nymphs; it might be true, but all that I know is, that I soon fell soundly asleep. On waking I found myself cold; instead of the large green curtains which had appeared to me in my sleep, my heavy eyes only gazed on a forest of masts, and I heard the watchful cry which only echoes in the sea-ports. I endeavoured to rise, and my hand touched a heap of cordage against which I was leaning. Did I dream, then, or had I dreamt the previous evening? I felt about, I got up, and when on my feet I found that I did not dream, and what was worse, that I was not one of the small number of those personages whom fortune favours whilst sleeping. I was half naked, and except two crowns and six livres, which I found in one of my breeches pockets, I was pennyless. It was then but too clear to me, as the broker had said, "my business had soon been done." I was greatly enraged, but what did that avail me? I was even unable to point out the spot where I had been thus plundered. I made up my mind and returned to the inn, where I had some clothes which remedied the deficiencies of my attire. I had no occasion to tell my misfortune to the landlord. "Ah, ah!" said he to me, as far off as he could see me, "here comes another. Do you know, young man, that you have got off well? You return with all your limbs, which is lucky when one gets into such a hornet's nest; you now know what a land shark is; they were certainly beautiful syrens! All pirates are not on the sea, you observe, nor all the sharks within it; I will wager that they have not left you a farthing." I drew my two crowns from my pocket to show them to the inn-keeper. "That will be," said he, "just enough to pay your bill," which he then presented. I paid it and took leave of him, without however quitting the city.
Assuredly, my voyage to America was deferred till the Greek calends, and the old continent was to be my lot; I was about to be reduced to the level of the lowest degrees of degraded civilization, and my future lot was the more uncertain and disquieting, as I had no present resources. At home I never wanted bread; and this inspired regret for my paternal roof; the oven, said I to myself, was always heated for me as well as for others. After these regrets, I ran over mentally all that crowd of moral reflexions which people have thought to strengthen by clothing them in the garb of superstition:—"A bad action brings no good luck: ill acquired gains profit us nothing." For the first time I acknowledged from experience a mine of truth in these prophetic sentences, which perpetual predictions were more sure than the admirable Centuries of Michael Nostradamus. I was in the repenting mood, as may be believed from my situation. I calculated the consequences of my flight and its aggravating sequel, but these were but ephemeral feelings: it was written that I should not so soon be placed in the right way. The sea was open to me as a profession, and I resolved to betrothe myself to it, at the risk of breaking my neck thirty times a day, by climbing, for eleven francs a month, up the rigging of a ship. I was ready to enter like a novice, when the sound of a trumpet suddenly arrested my attention; it was not that of a regiment, but of Paillasse (Merry-Andrew) and his master, who, in front of a show bedecked with the emblems of an itinerant menagerie, was awaiting the mob, which never hisses the vulgar exhibitions. I saw the beginning; and whilst a large crowd was testifying its gratification by loud shouts of laughter, it occurred to me that the master of Paillasse might give me employment. Paillasse appeared to me a good fellow, and I was desirous of securing his protection; and as I knew that one good turn deserves another, when he got down from his platform, on saying "follow the crowd," thinking that he might be thirsty, I devoted my last shilling in offering him half a pint of gin. Paillasse, sensible of this politeness, promised instantly to speak for me, and as soon as our pint was finished, he presented me to the director. He was the famous Cotte-Comus; he called himself the first physician of the world, and in traversing the country, had united his talents to those of the naturalist Garnier, the learned preceptor of general Jacquot, whom all Paris saw in the square of the Fountains before and after the revolution. These gentlemen had with them a troop of rope dancers, Comus, as soon as I appeared before him, asked me what I could do. "Nothing," said I. "In that case," said he, "they will teach you: there are greater fools than you, and then besides, you have not a clumsy appearance. We shall see if you have a taste for the stage; then I will engage you for two years; the first six months you shall be well fed, and clothed; at the end of that time you shall have a sixteenth of the profits; and the year following, if you are bright, I will give you a share like the others; in the mean time, my friend, I will find occupation for you."
Thus was I introduced, and then went to partake of the flock-bed of the obliging merry-andrew. At the break of day we were awakened by the sonorous voice of our master, who leading me to a kind of small room, said, whilst showing me the lamps and wooden chandeliers—"There is your employment, you must clean these and put them in proper order; do you understand? And afterwards you must clean out the cages of the animals, and brush the floors." I went about my job, which did not greatly please me: the tallow disgusted me, and I was not quite at my ease with the monkeys, who enraged to see a fool to whom they were not accustomed, made inconceivable efforts to tear my eyes out. But I yielded to iron necessity. My duty performed, I appeared before the director, who said that I was apt pupil, and that if I was assiduous he would do something for me. I rose early, and was very hungry; it was ten o'clock, but no signs of breakfast were visible, and yet it was agreed that I should have bed and board. I was sinking from want, when they gave me a piece of brown bread, so hard, that being unable to get through with it, although gifted with sharp teeth and a famous appetite, I threw the greater portion amongst the animals. I was obliged to light up in the evening, and as, from want of practice, I did not evince in my occupation all possible dispatch, the director, who was a brute, administered to me a slight correction, which he renewed the next and following days. A month had not elapsed before I was in a wretched condition; my clothes, spotted with grease and torn by the monkeys, were in rags; I was devoured by vermin; hard diet had made me so thin that no one would have recognised me; and then it was that there arose in all imaginable bitterness the regrets for my paternal home, where good food, soft bed, and excellent clothing were mine, and when I had no monkeys to make clean and feed.
I was in this mood, when one morning Comus told me that after due consideration he was convinced that I should make an admirable tumbler. He then placed me under the tuition of sieur Balmate, called the "little devil," with orders to train me. My master just escaped breaking my loins at the first bend which he compelled me to make. I took two or three lessons daily. In less than three weeks, I was able to execute with much skill the monkey's leap, the drunkard's leap, the coward's leap, &c. My teacher, delighted at my progress, took pains to forward me; a hundred times I thought that in developing my powers, he would dislocate my limbs. At length we reached the difficulties of the art, which became more and more complicated. At my first attempt at the grand fling I nearly split myself in two; and in the chair-leap I broke my nose. Bruised, maimed and tired of so perilous a business, I determined on telling Comus that I had no desire to become a vaulter. "Oh you do not like it," said he; and without objecting to my refusal gave me a sound thumping. I then left Balmate entirely and returned to my lamps.
Comus had given me up, and it was now for Garnier to give me a turn. One day, after having beaten me more than usual (for he shared that pleasing office with Comus) Garnier, measuring me from head to foot, and viewing with a marked delight the dilapidation of my doublet, through which my flesh was visible, said to me, "I like you; you have reached the point that pleases me. Now, if you are obedient it remains with yourself to be happy: from to day you must let your nails grow; your hair is already of a sufficient length; you are nearly naked, and a decoction of walnut-tree leaves will do the rest." I did not understand what Garnier meant, when he called my friend Paillasse and desired him to bring the tiger skin and club. Paillasse obeyed—"Now," said Garnier, "we will go through the performance. You are a young savage from the South Seas, and moreover a cannibal; you eat raw flesh, the sight of blood puts you in a fury, and when you are thirsty, you introduce into your mouth flints which you crack; you utter only broken and shrill sounds, you open your eyes widely, your motions are violent; you only move with leaps and bounds: finally, take for your model the ourang-outang who is in cage number one." During this lesson, a jar full of small stones quite round was placed at my feet, and near it a cock which was tired with having its legs tied together; Garnier took it, and offered it to me, saying "Gnaw away at this." I would not bite it; he threatened me. I rebelled, and demanded to be released; to which he relied by a dozen cuffs of the ear. But he did not get off scot-free: irritated at this usage, I seized a stake, and should assuredly have knocked the naturalist on the head, if the whole troop had not fallen on me, and thrust me out at the door with a shower of blows from the fist and kicks of the feet.
Some days afterwards, I was at the same public house with a showman and his wife who exhibited puppets in the open street. We made acquaintance, and I found that I had inspired them with some feelings of interest. The husband pitied me for having been condemned to what he termed the society of beasts. He compared me with Daniel in the lions' den. We may see that he was learned, and intended for something better than to play 'Punch.' At a later period he superintended a provincial theatrical company, and perhaps superintends it still. I shall conceal his name. The embryo manager was very witty, though his wife did not perceive it; he was very ugly, which she plainly perceived. She was one of those smart brunettes with long eyelashes, whose hearts are of most inflammable material, which deserve a better destiny than to light a fire of straw. I was young and so was the lady: she was only sixteen, her husband thirty-five. As soon as I found myself out of place, I went to seek this couple; it struck me that they would advise me correctly. They gave me some dinner and congratulated me in having dared to free myself from the despotic yoke of Garnier. "Since you are your own master," said the husband to me, "you had better accompany us: you will assist us; at least, when we are three in number we shall have no lost time between the acts; you will move the actors whilst Eliza goes round with the hat; thus the public will be attracted and not go off, and our profits will be more abundant. What say you, Eliza?" Eliza answered, that she would do in this respect all he might desire, and besides she entirely agreed with him; and at the same time gave me a look which bespoke that she was not displeased, and that we should soon understand each other. I accepted the new employ with gratitude, and at the next representation I was installed to my office. The situation was infinitely superior to that at Garnier's. Eliza, who, despite my leanness, had discovered that I was not so badly made as I was clothed, made a thousand secret advances, to which I was not backward in reply: at the end of three days she said she loved me. I was not ungrateful; we were happy and constantly together. At home, we only laughed, played and joked. Eliza's husband took all that for child's sport; when at work we were side by side under a narrow cabin, formed of four cloth rags, dignified by the splendid title of "Theatre of Amusing Varieties." Eliza was on the right of her husband, and I on her right hand, and filled her place when she was not there to superintend the exits and entrances. One Sunday the play was in full representation, and there was a crowded audience round the stage. Punch had beaten everybody, and our master, having nothing more to do with one of his personages (the Serjeant of the Watch) wished it to be removed, and called for his assistant. We heard him not. "Assistant, assistant," he repeated with impatience, and at the third time turning round he saw us enfolding each other in a close embrace. Eliza, surprised, sought for an excuse, but the husband without listening cried out again, "Assistant," and thrust against his eye the hook which served to suspend the serjeant. At the same moment the blood flowed, the representation was interrupted, and a battle ensued between the two married people; the show was overturned, and we were exposed in the midst of a numerous crowd of spectators, from whom this scene drew a lengthened peal of applause and laughter.
This disaster again threw me on the wide world, without a home to shelter my head. If I had had a decent appearance I might have procured a situation in a respectable family, but my appearance was so wretched that no one would have anything to say to me. In my situation I had but one resource, that of returning to Arras: but then how to exist on the road? I was a prey to these perplexities, when a person passed near me whom I took by his appearance to be a pedlar. I entered into conversation with him, and he told me that he was going to Lille; that he sold powders, opiates, and elixirs, cut corns, relieved bunnions, and sometimes extracted teeth. "It is a good trade," added he, "but I am getting old, and want somebody to carry my pack; it is a stiff-backed fellow like you that I need, with a firm foot, and steady eye; so if you like we will tramp it together."—"Willingly," was my reply, and without any further stipulation, we went on our way together. After an eight hours' walk, night drew on, and we could scarcely see our way, when we halted before a wretched village inn."—"Here it is." said the itinerant doctor, knocking at the door.—"Who is there?" cried a hoarse voice. "Father Godard with his pack," answered my guide; and the door immediately opening, we found ourselves in the midst of a crowd of pedlars, tinkers, quack-doctors, umbrella-venders, showmen, &c. who hailed my new master, and ordered a plate to be brought for him. I thought they would do me equal honor, and I was about to seat myself at table, when the host, striking me familiarly on the shoulder, asked me if I was not the mountebank of father Godard. "Who do you call a mountebank?" said I with astonishment. "The merry-andrew, then." I confess that, despite of the recent reminiscences of the menagerie, and the Theatre of Amusing Varieties, I felt mortified at such an appellation. But I had a devil of an appetite, and as I thought that supper would follow the interrogatory, and that, after all, my situation with father Godard had not been accurately defined, I consented to pass for his mountebank. On my answering, the host led me at once to a neighbouring spot, a sort of barn, where a dozen of fellows were smoking, drinking, and playing at cards. He said that they would send me in something to eat. Soon afterwards, a stout wench brought me in a mess in a wooden bowl, on which I feed with the utmost avidity. A loin of mutton was swimming in a sea of pot liquor with stringy turnips: I cleared the whole up in a twinkling. This done, I laid myself down with the other packmen's valets, on some piles of straw, which we shared with a camel, two muzzled bears, and a crowd of learned dogs. The vicinity of such bed-fellows was not the most pleasing; but it was necessary to put up with it. I did not close my eyes, whilst all the others snored away most gloriously.
Father Godard paid for all, and however bad were the beds and the fare, as we drew near Arras, it was necessary that I should not quit him. At length we reached Lille, which we entered on a market day. By way of losing no time, father Godard went straight to the principal square, and desired me to arrange his table, his chest, his vials and packets, and then proposed that I should go and announce his arrival round the place. I had made a good breakfast, and the proposition disgusted me: I could put up with acting with a dromedary, and carrying his baggage from Ostend to Lille, but to go round in parade, at ten leagues from Arras—No! I bade adieu to father Godard, and then set out towards my native city, of which the clock soon became visible. Having reached the foot of the ramparts, before the closing of the gates, I trembled at the idea of the reception I should meet with: one moment I was tempted to beat a retreat, but fatigue and hunger could not allow that; rest and food were vitally necessary: I wavered no longer, and ran towards my paternal roof. My mother was alone in the shop: I entered, and throwing myself at her feet, wept whilst I intreated her forgiveness. The poor old woman, who hardly recognised me, so greatly was I altered, was softened. She had not power to repulse me, and even appeared to have forgotten all. She reinstated me in my old chamber, after having supplied all my wants. But it was necessary to tell my father of my return. She did not feel courage to race his first bursts of anger: a priest of her acquaintance, the almoner of the regiment of Anjou, garrisoned at Arras, undertook to be the bearer of the words of peace; and my father, after having vowed fire and flames, consented to pardon me. I trembled lest he should prove inexorable, and when I learnt that he had yielded, I jumped for joy. The almoner brought the news to me, and followed it up with a moral application, which was no doubt very touching, but I do not remember a word of it; I only recollect that he quoted the parable of the Prodigal Son, which was in truth a history similar to my own.
My adventures had made some noise in the city; everybody was anxious to hear them from my own lips. But no one, except one actress of the Arras company, took more interest in them than two milliners of the Rue de Trois Visages: I paid them frequent visits. However, the actress soon obtained the exclusive privilege of my attention, and an intrigue followed, in which, disguised as a young girl, I renewed at her house some scenes from the romance of Faublas. A sudden journey to Lille with my conquest, her husband, and a very pretty little maid servant, who passed me off for her sister, proved to my father that I had soon forgotten the troubles of my first campaign. My absence was not of long continuance: three weeks had scarcely elapsed, when, from want of money, the actress refused any longer to allow me to form part of the baggage. I returned quietly to Arras, and my father was confounded at the straightforward way with which I asked his consent to enter the army. The best he could do was to comply, which he did; and the next day I was clad in the uniform of the Bourbon regiment. My height, good figure, and skill in arms, procured for me an appointment in a company of chasseurs. Some old veterans took offence at it, and I sent two to the hospital in consequence, when I soon joined them myself, on being wounded by one of their comrades. This commencement gave me notoriety, and they took a malicious pleasure in reviewing my past adventures; so that at the end of six months. Reckless,—for they bestowed that name on me,—had killed two men and fought fifteen duels. In other respects I enjoyed all the pleasures of a garrison life. I mounted guard at the cost of some good shopkeepers, whose daughters took on themselves the charge of making me as comfortable as possible. My mother added to these liberalities, and my father made me an allowance; and besides I found means to run in debt: thus I really cut a figure, and scarcely felt anything of the troubles of discipline. Once only I was sentenced to a fortnight's imprisonment because I had not answered to three summonses. I underwent my punishment in a dungeon beneath one of the bastions, where one of my comrades was shut up with me, a soldier in the same regiment. He was accused of various robberies, which he had confessed. Scarcely were we alone when he told me the grounds of his detention. Doubtlessly the regiment would give him up, and this idea, joined to the dread of dishonouring his family, threw him into dispair. I pitied him, and seeing no remedy for so deplorable a case, I counselled him to evade punishment either by escape or suicide. He determined to try the former ere he resolved on the latter; and, aided by a young friend who came to visit me, I prepared all for his flight. At midnight two bars of iron were broken, and we conducted the prisoner to the ramparts, and then I said to him—"Go: you must either jump or hang." He calculated the height, and hesitating, determined rather to run the chance of his sentence than to break his legs. He was preparing to return to his dungeon: at a moment when he least expected it, we gave him a push over: he shrieked out whilst I bid him be silent. I then returned to my cell: when on my straw I tasted the repose which the consciousness of a good deed always brings. The next day, on the flight of my companion being discovered, I was questioned, and dismissed on saying that I knew nothing of the affair. Some years afterwards, I met this unfortunate fellow, who looked on me as his liberator. Since his fall he had been lame, but had become an honest man.
I could not remain eternally at Arras; war had been declared against Austria, and I set out with the regiment, and soon after was present at the rout of Marquain which ended at Lille by the massacre of the brave and unfortunate general Dillon. After this we were ordered against the camp at Maulde, and then in that de la Lune, when, with the infernal army under the command of Kellerman, I was engaged in the battle against the Prussians of the 30th of October. The next day I was made corporal of grenadiers: thereupon it became necessary to baptise my worsted lace, find I acquitted myself with much credit at the drinking booth, when I know not how or why, I quarrelled with the serjeant-major of the regiment which I had just left. An honourable meeting, which I proposed, was agreed upon, but when on the ground my adversary pretended that the difference from rank would not allow of his measuring weapons with me. I sought to compel him by violence, he went to make complaint of me, and the same evening I was, together with my second, placed under arrest. Two days afterwards we were informed that we were to be tried by court-martial, and thereupon determined to desert. My comrade in his waistcoat only, with a cap on his head, like a soldier about to undergo punishment, walked before me, who had on a hairy cap, my knapsack, and musket, at the end of which was a large packet sealed with red wax, and inscribed "To the citizen commandant of the quarters at Vitry-le-Français." This was our passport, and we reached Vitry in safety, and procured citizens' habits from a Jew. At this period the walls of every city were covered with placards, in which all Frenchmen were invited to fly to the defence of their country. At such a juncture the first comers were enrolled: a quarter-master of the 11th chasseurs received us, gave us our route, and we immediately started for the depôt at Philippeville.
My companion and self had but little cash, when fortunately a lucky windfall was in waiting for us at Châlons. In the same inn with us was a soldier of Beaujolais, who invited us to drink. He was an open-hearted countryman of Picardy, and as I conversed with him in the provincial dialect of his country, whilst the glass was circulating we grew such great friends, that he shewed us a portfolio filled with assignats, which he said he had found near Chateau-l'Abbaye. "Comrades," said he, "I cannot read, but if you will tell me what these papers are worth, I will give you a share." The Picard could not have asked any one better able to inform him, and in bulk he had much the greater quantity; but he had no suspicion that we had retained in value nine-tenths of the sum. This little supply was not useless during the remainder of our journey, which we finished with much glee. Arrived at our place of destination, we had still enough left to keep the pot boiling. A short time afterwards we were sufficiently skilled in horsemanship to be appointed to one of the squadrons on service, and we reached the army two days before the battle of Jemmappes. It was not the first time that I had smelt powder, and I was no coward; indeed I had reason to know that I had found favour in the eyes of my officers, when my captain informed me, that having been discovered to be a deserter, I should be most certainly arrested. The danger was imminent, and that same evening I saddled my horse, intending to go over to the Austrians. I soon reached their out-posts; and on asking to be admitted, was incorporated at once with the cuirassiers of Kinski. What I most feared was lest I should be compelled next day to cross swords with the French, and I hastened to avoid any such necessity. A pretended illness enabled me to be left at Louvain, where after passing some days in the hospital, I offered to give the officers of the garrison lessons in fencing. They were delighted with the proposal, and supplied me with masks, gloves, and foils; and an assault, in which I disarmed two or three pretended German masters was enough to give them the highest opinion of my skill. I soon had many pupils, and reaped a good harvest of florins.
I was too much elated with my success, when at the end of a brisk attack on a brigadier, I was condemned to undergo twenty stripes of the cat, which, according to custom, were given to me on parade. This transported me with rage, and I refused to give another lesson. I was ordered to continue, with a choice of giving lessons or a fresh flogging. I decided on the former; but the cat annoyed me, and I resolved to dare all to escape from it. Being informed that a lieutenant was about to join the army under general Schroeder, I begged to accompany him as his servant; to which he agreed, under the idea that I should make a St George of him; but he was mistaken, for as we approached Quesnoi I took French leave, and directed my journey towards Landrecies, where I passed for a Belgian who had left the Austrian banner. They wished me to enter a cavalry regiment, but the fear of being recognised and shot, if ever I should be brigaded with my old regiment, made me give the preference to the 14th light regiment (the old chasseurs of the barriers.) The army of the Sambre and Meuse was then marching towards Aix-la-Chapelle; the company to which I belonged received orders to follow it. We set out, and on entering Rocroi I saw the chasseurs of the 11th. I gave myself up for lost, when my old captain, with whom I could not avoid an interview, gave me courage. This worthy man, who had taken an interest in me ever since he had seen me, cut away amongst the hussars of Saxe-Teschen, told me that as an amnesty would henceforward place me out of the reach of all pursuit, he should have much pleasure in again having me under his order. I told him how glad it would make me; and he, undertaking to arrange the affair, I was once more reinstated in the 11th. My old comrades received me with pleasure, and I was not less pleased to find myself once again amongst them; and nothing was wanting to complete my happiness, when love, who is always busy, determined on playing me one of his tricks. It will not be thought surprising that at seventeen I captivated the housekeeper of an old gentleman. Manon, for that was her name, was near twice my age, but then she loved me very tenderly, and proved it by making every sacrifice to me unhesitatingly. I was to her taste the handsomest of chasseurs, because I was hers, and she wished that I should also be the most dashing. She had already given me a watch, and I was proudly adorned with various jewels, proofs of the love with which I had inspired her, when I learnt that Manon was accused by her master of robbery. Manon confessed the fact, but at the same time, to assure herself that after her sentence I should not pass into another's arms, she pointed me out as her accomplice, and even asserted that I had proposed the theft to her. It had the appearance of probability, and I was consequently implicated, and should have extricated myself with difficulty if chance had not brought to light some letters of hers, which established my innocence. Manon, conscience-stricken, retracted. I had been shut up in the house of confinement at Stenay, whence I was set at liberty, and sent back as white as snow. My captain, who had never thought me guilty, was delighted at seeing me again; but the chasseurs could not forgive my being even suspected; and in consequence of various allusions and comments, I had no less than six duels in as many days. In the last I was badly wounded, and was conveyed to the hospital, where I remained for a month before I recovered. On going out, my officer, convinced that these quarrels would be renewed if I did not go away for a time, gave me a furlough for six weeks. I went to Arras, where I was much astonished to find my father in a public employment. As an old baker, he had been appointed to watch over the supplies of the commissariat. He opposed the distribution of bread at a time of scarcity; and this discharge of his duty, although he performed it gratis, was so offensive, that he would assuredly have been conducted to the guillotine had he not been protected by citizen (now lieutenant-general) Souham, commandant of the 2d battalion of Corrèze, into which I was temporarily drafted.
My furlough being out, I rejoined my regiment at Givet, whence we marched for the county of Namur. We were quartered in the villages on the banks of the Meuse; and as the Austrians were in sight, not a day passed without some firing on both sides. At the termination of an engagement more serious than usual, we were driven back almost under the cannon of Givet; and in the retreat I received a ball in my leg, which compelled me to go again to the hospital, and afterwards to remain at the depôt; and I was there when the Germanic legion passed, principally composed of a party of deserters, fencing-masters, &c. One of the chief officers proposed that I should enter this corps, offering me the rank of quarter-master. "Once admitted," said he, "I will answer for you, you shall be safe from all pursuit." The certainty of not being asked for, joined to the remembrance of the disagreeables of my intimacy with Manon, decided me; I accepted the offer, and the next day was with the legion on the road to Flanders. No doubt, in continuing to serve in this corps, where promotion was very rapid, I should have been made an officer, but my wound opened afresh, with such bad symptoms, that I determined to ask for leave again, which on obtaining, I was six days afterwards once more at the gates of Arras.