Memoirs of Vidocq, Volume I/Chapter XIV
Father Mathieu—I enter on a new line of business—Ruin of my establishment—I am supposed to be paralyzed in my limbs—I am assistant major—Ecce Homo, or the psalm-seller—A disguise—Step him! he is a fugitive convict—I am added to the double chain—The kindness of the commissary—I tell him a made-up tale—My best contrived escape—The lady of the town and the burial—I know not what—Critical situation—A band of robbers—I detect a thief—I get my dismissal—I promise secrecy.
I never was so wretched as after my entry at the Bagne at Toulon. Cast at twenty-four years of age amongst the most abandoned wretches, and necessarily in contact with them, although I would have preferred a hundred times to be reduced to living in the midst of people infected with the plague,—compelled only to see and hear degraded beings, whose minds were incessantly bent on devising evil schemes, I feared the dire contagion of such vicious society. When, day and night, in my presence, they openly practised the most vile and demoralized actions, I was not so confident in the strength of my own character as not to fear that I might become but too much familiarised with such atrocious and dangerous conversation. In fact, I had resisted many dangerous temptations; but want, misery, and the thirst of liberty, will often involuntarily tempt us to a step towards crime. I had never been in any situation where it was more positively incumbent on me to attempt an escape; and henceforward all my ideas and thoughts were turned to the compassing of this measure. Various plans suggested themselves, but that was not sufficient; for to put any of them into execution I must await a favourable opportunity, and until then, patience was the only remedy for my woes. Fastened to the same bench with robbers by profession, who had already escaped several times, I was as well as they, an object of special surveillance, which it was difficult to divert. In their cambrons (watch-boxes) at a short distance from us, the argousins were always on the look-out, and observed our least motions. Father Mathieu, their chief, had the eyes of a lynx, and such a knowledge of the men he had to deal with, that he could tell at the slightest glance if they were scheming to deceive him. This old fox was nearly sixty years of age; but having a vigorous constitution, which seemed proof against the attacks of time, he was still hale and hearty. He was one of those square figures which never wear out. I have him now in "my mind's eye," with his little tail, his grey and powdered locks, and his face in wrinkles so congruous with the business of his calling. He never spoke without mentioning his cudgel; it was a never-ending theme of pleasurable recital to talk of the many bastinadoes he had inflicted personally, or ordered to be done. Always at war with the convicts, he knew every one of their tricks. His mistrust was so excessive, that he often accused them of plotting when they were not at all thinking of it. It may be supposed that it was no easy matter to make a sop for this Cerberus. I tried however to procure his favour, an attempt in which no one had as yet succeeded: but I soon found that I had not essayed in vain; for I perceptibly gained on his good will. Father Mathieu sometimes talked to me; a sign, as the experienced told me, that I had made some way with him. I thought I might ask something from him on the strength of this, and I asked him to allow me to make children's toys with the pieces of wood brought in by the working convicts. He granted all I asked, provided I was steady; and the next day I began my work. My companions cut out roughly, and I finished the toys. Father Mathieu approved of my productions; and when he saw that I had assistance in my work, he could not forbear testifying his approbation, which he had not expressed for a long time previously. "Well, well!" said he, "how I like people to amuse themselves; it would be well if you all did the same; it would pass time away; and, with the profits, you might purchase some small comforts." A few days afterwards, the bench was a perfect workshop, where fourteen men, equally anxious to drive away ennui and to earn a little money, worked away with much industry. We had all some goods ready, which were sold by the assistance of the convicts who gave us the materials. For a month, our trade was very brisk, and every day we had abundant returns, not a sous of which was reserved. Father Mathieu had authorized us to appoint as our treasurer a convict named Pantaragat, who sold provisions in the room in which we were. Unfortunately there are goods which cannot be multiplied without the necessary balance between produce and consumption being destroyed. This is a fact in political economy, that there is a point when the production must terminate for lack of demand. Toulon was replete with toys of every description, and we must thenceforward sit with folded arms. No longer knowing what to do, I feigned a complaint in my legs, that I might be sent to the hospital. The doctor, to whom I was recommended by father Mathieu, whose protegé I had become, actually believed that I was unable to walk. When one would attempt to escape, it is impossible to manage better than to contrive to excite such an opinion. Doctor Ferrant did not for an instant suspect me of any intent to deceive him; he was one of those disciples of Esculapius, who, like many of the Hippocrates of the school of Montpellier, whence he came, think that bluntness is a part of their profession; but still he was a humane man, and behaved very kindly to me. The chief surgeon had also a liking for me, and to me he trusted the care of his surgery chest; I scraped his lint, rolled his bandages, and made myself generally useful, so that my willingness procured for me his kindness: every one, even to the argousin of the infirmary, behaved well to me, although no one could exceed in sternness M. l'Homme (that was his name), whom they called, jokingly, "Ecce Homo," because he had been formerly a seller of psalms and canticles. Although I had been pointed out to him as a daring fellow, M. l'Homme was so much pleased with my good behaviour, and still more with the bottles of mulled wine which I shared with him, that he perceptibly became more humanized. When I was pretty well assured that I should not excite his suspicions, I unmasked my battery, to overpower his vigilance, as well as that of his fellow guards. I had already procured a wig and black whiskers, and had besides concealed in my mattress an old pair of boots, which, when well waxed, seemed as good as new; but that was only an equipment for my head and feet: to complete my toilet, I relied on the head surgeon, who used to lay on my bed his great coat, hat, cane, and gloves. One morning, whilst he was engaged in amputating an arm, I saw that M. l'Homme had followed him to assist in the operation, which was performed at the extremity of one of the wards: the opportunity for a disguise was admirable, and I hastened to complete it; and, in my new costume, I went straight to the door. I had to pass through a crowd of argousins, but I ventured boldly, and none of them appeared to pay any attention to me, and I already thought myself out of danger, when I heard a cry, "Stop him, stop him; a prisoner has escaped!" I was not more than twenty steps from the arsenal, and, without losing my presence of mind, I redoubled my speed, and having got to the door, I said to the guard, pointing to a person who was just entering the city, "Run with me, he has escaped from the hospital."
This would, perhaps, have saved me; but, just as I stepped over the wicket, I was seized by the wig, and, on turning round, saw M. l'Homme: resistance would have been certain death; and I therefore quietly followed him back to the Bagne, where I was put to the double chain. It was evident that I was to undergo punishment, and to avoid it, I cast myself on my knees before the commissary, saying, "Oh, sir, do not let me be beaten; that is the only favour I ask; I would rather undergo three years' additional confinement." The commissary, however touching my petition might have been, could not keep his countenance; but told me, that he would pardon me on account of my boldness and ingenuity, on condition that I would point out the person who had procured me the disguise. "You must be aware," I replied to him, "that the people who guard us are wretches, who will do anything for money, but nothing in the world shall induce me to betray those who serve me." Pleased with my frankness, he ordered me to be released from the double chain; and when the argousin murmured at so much indulgence, he desired him to be silent, adding, "You ought to like, rather than be angry with him; for he has just given you a lesson, which you would do well to profit by." I thanked the commissary, and the next moment was conducted to the fatal bench to which I was to be fastened for the next six years. I then flattered myself with the hopes of returning to my trade of toy-making, but father Mathieu refusing me, I was compelled unwillingly to remain unemployed. Two months elapsed without any change in my circumstances, when, one night, being unable to sleep, there flashed through my brain one of those luminous ideas which only occur in darkness. Jossas was awake, and I mentioned it to him. It may be surmised that he was always intent on effecting his escape, and he thought it admirably wonderful as I had devised it, and begged me not to fail putting it into execution. It will be seen that I did not neglect his advice. One morning, the commissary of the Bagne going his rounds, passed near me, and I begged leave to speak to him in private. "What do you want?" said he. "Have you any complaint to make? Speak, my man; speak out, and I will do you justice." Encouraged by the kindness of this language, I said, "Good sir, you see before you a second example of an honest criminal. You may perhaps remember that on coming here, I told you that I was put in my brother's place. I do not accuse him; I am even pleased at thinking he was ignorant of the crime imputed to him; but it was he, who, under my name, was condemned by the court at Douai; he escaped from the Bagne at Brest, and now, having reached England, he is free; and I, the victim of a sad mistake, must submit to punishment. Alas! how fatal to me has been our resemblance!
"Without this circumstance, I should not have been taken to Bicêtre; the keeper would not have sworn to my person. In vain have I begged for an inquiry; it is because their testimony has been received, that an identity is allowed which does not exist. But the error is consummated, and I have much to bewail! I know that it is not with you to alter a decision from which there is no appeal, but it is a favour you may grant to me: to be sure of me, I am placed in a cell with suspected men, where I am with a herd of robbers, assassins, and hardened ruffians. At every moment I tremble at the recital of crimes which have been committed, as well as at the hopes of those who are plotting others, to be perpetrated the moment, if it ever arrives, they shall get free from their fetters. Ah! I beg you, in the name of every sentiment of humanity, to leave me no longer amongst a set of such abandoned miscreants. Put me in a dungeon, load me with chains, do with me whatever you will, but do not leave me any longer with them. If I have endeavoured to escape, it has been only that I might get away from such a sink of infamy. (At this moment I turned towards the convicts.) You may see, sir, how ferociously they gaze at me; they already prepare to make me repent of what I am saying to you; they pant, they burn, to bathe their hands in my blood: once more I conjure you, do not give me up to the vengeance of these atrocious monsters."
During this discourse, the convicts were petrified with astonishment; they could not conceive that one of their comrades would thus upbraid them in their very teeth; the commissary himself did not know what to think of such a step; he was silent, and I saw that I had touched him deeply. Then throwing myself at his feet, with tears in my eyes, I added. "Pity me; if you refuse me, if you go without removing me from this room, you shall never see me again." These words produced the desired effect. The commissary, who was a worthy man, had me unloosed in his presence and gave orders that I should be placed with the working convicts (à la fatigue). I was yoked with a man named Salesse, a Gascon, as knavish as a convict may be. The first time we were alone he asked me if I intended to escape. "I have no thoughts of it," replied I, "I am but too glad that they allow me to work. But Jossas possessed my secret, and he arranged all for my escape. I had a plain dress which I concealed under my galley clothes without the knowledge even of my yoke-fellow. A moving screw had supplied the place of the rivet in my fetters, and I was ready to start. The third day after leaving my companions I went out to labour, and presented myself before the argousin; "Get along, good-for-naught," said Father Mathieu, "it is not time." I was in the rope-room, and the place appeared propitious. I told my companion that I had a call of nature, and he pointed out some pieces of wood behind which I could go, and he was scarcely out of sight, when throwing off my red shirt, and taking out the screw, I ran towards the basin. The frigate la Meuron was then under repair, which had brought Buonaparte and his suite from Egypt. I went on board and asked for the master carpenter, whom I knew to be in the hospital. The cook, whom I accosted, took me for one of the new crew. I was rejoiced at this, and to confirm the idea, as I knew him to be a man of Auvergne, by his accent, I began conversing with him in his own provincial dialect, and in a tone of much assurance, although I was on thorns the whole time; for forty couples of convicts were at work close to us. They might recognize me in a moment. A cargo soon set off for the town, and I jumped into the boat, when seizing an oar, I rowed away like an old sailor, and we soon reached Toulon. Anxious to reach the country I went to the Italian gate, but no one was allowed to go out without a green card given by the magistrates, and I was refused egress, and whilst I was thinking how I could get out, I heard the three reports of the cannon which announced my escape. At this moment a tremor pervaded all my limbs; already did I see myself in the power of the argousins, and all the police of the Bagne. I pictured myself in presence of the excellent commissary, whom I had so basely deceived. If I were taken I must be lost. These sad reflexions coming over me, I walked away in haste, and that I might avoid a crowd, betook myself to the ramparts.
On reaching a solitary spot, I walked very slowly like a man who not knowing whither to bend his steps, is full of consideration, when a female accosted me, and asked me in provincial French what the hour was; I told her that I did not know, and she then began talking of the weather, and concluded by asking me to accompany her home; it is only a few yards hence, she added, and no one will see us. The opportunity of finding a place of refuge was too propitious to be refused, and I followed my conductress to a sort of small inn, when I sent for some refreshment. Whilst we were conversing together, three other cannon shots were heard. "Ah!" cried the girl, with an air of satisfaction, "there is a second escape to-day." "What!" said I, "my lass, does that please you? Should not you like to get the reward?" "I, why you cannot know much of me." "Bah, bah," I replied, "fifty francs are always worth earning, and if I swear to you that if one of these fellows fall into my clutches——." "You are a wretch!" she said, making a gesture of indignation. "I am only a poor girl, but Celestine would never eat the bread earned by means so despicable." At these words, pronounced with an accent of truth which left no doubt on my mind of her sincerity, I did not hesitate to confide my secret to her. As soon as I had informed her that I was a convict, I cannot express how much she appeared interested in my fate. "Mon Dieu!" said she, "they are so much to be pitied; I would save them all, and have already saved many;" then, after pausing for an instant, as if to consider. "Let me manage it," she then added, "I have a lover who has a green card, I will borrow it from him and you shall use it, and, once out of the city, you can deposit it under a stone which I will point out to you, and, in the interim, as we are not in security here, I will take you to my apartment." On reaching this, she told me that she must leave me for a moment. "I must tell my lover," said she, "and will speedily return." Women are sometimes most admirable actresses, and, in spite of her kind protestations I feared some treachery. Perhaps Celestine was going to denounce me; she had not reached the street, when I ran down the staircase; "Well, well." cried the girl, "do not fear. If you mistrust me, come along with me." I thought it most prudent to watch her, and we walked away together, whither I knew not. Scarcely had we gone ten yards, when we met a funeral procession. "Follow the burial," said my protectress, "and you will escape;" and before I had time to thank her, she disappeared. The followers were numerous, and I mixed amongst the crowd of assistants, and that I might not be thought a stranger at the ceremony, I entered into a conversation with an old sailor, from whose communications I soon learnt how to utter a few well-timed remarks on the virtues of the defunct. I was soon convinced that Celestine had not betrayed me. When I left the ramparts behind me, which it had been of such paramount importance for me to pass, I almost wept for joy; but that I might not betray myself, I still kept up a strain of suitable lamentations.
On reaching the cemetery I advanced in my turn to the edge of the grave, and after having cast a handful of earth on the coffin, I separated from the company by taking a circuitous path. I walked on for many hours without losing sight of Toulon, and about five o'clock in the evening, just as I was entering a grove of firs, I saw a man armed with a gun. As he was well clad, and had a game-bag, my first thought was that he was a huntsman; but observing the butt of a pistol projecting from his girdle, I feared that I had met with one of those provençals, who at the sound of the cannon, always scour the country in search of the runaway galley-slaves. If my fears were just, flight was unavaling; and it was perhaps best to advance rather than retreat. This I did, and on approaching him sufficiently close to be on my guard in case he should show any hostilities, I asked the road to Aix.
"Do you want the high road or the bye-way?" said he with peculiar emphasis.
"Oh either, no matter which," I answered; hoping by my indifference to remove his suspicions.
"In that case, follow this path, it leads to the station of the gendarmes; and it you do not like travelling alone, you can avail yourself of the escort."
At the word 'gendarmes' I turned pale, and the stranger perceiving the effect his words had produced, added, "Come, come; I see you are not over anxious to travel on the highway. Well, if you are not in a very great hurry, I will conduct you to the village of Pourières, which is not two leagues from Aix."
He seemed so well acquainted with the localities, that I availed myself of his offer, and consented to follow him. Then, without stirring, he pointed out a clump of bushes, where he bid me await his joining me. Two hours passed before he finished his guard, and he then came to me—"Get up," said he. I obeyed, and when I thought myself in the thickest of the wood, I found myself at the borders of it, about fifty paces from a house, in front of which were seated several gendarmes. At the sight of their uniforms, I started. "What ails you, man," asked my guide; "do you think I would betray you? If you fear anything, take these and defend yourself;" at the same time offering me his pistols, which I refused. "Well, well;" he added, and squeezed my hand, to testify how much he was satisfied with my confidence.
Concealed by the bushes which skirted our path, we stopped. I could not comprehend the motive of a halt so near the enemy. Our stay was protracted till nightfall, when we saw approaching from Toulon a mail, escorted by four gendarmes, who were relieved by the same number from the brigade whose vicinity had so much alarmed me. The mail proceeded on its journey, and was soon out of sight. My companion then taking my arm, said in an under-tone, "Let us start, nothing can be done to-day."
We then walked away in an opposite direction for about an hour, and my guide going up to a tree, clasped the trunk in his hands, and I saw that he was counting the number of notches cut by a knife—"Good, good;" he ejaculated with an air of satisfaction, which was to me inexplicable, and taking from his game-bag a piece of bread, which he divided with me, he then gave me a bottle, whence I drank with pleasure. The collation could not have been more opportune, for I was in want of something to recruit my strength. In spite of the darkness, we walked so fast that I was tired, and my feet, long unused to exercise, had become so painful that I was going to declare it impossible for me to proceed further, when a village clock struck three. "Gently," said my guide, stooping and placing his ear on the ground; "do as I do, and listen; with this cursed Polish legion one must be always on the watch. Did you hear nothing?" I replied that I thought I heard the footsteps of a body of men. "Yes," he added, it is they; stir not on your life, or we shall be taken." He had scarcely spoken, when a patrol guard came towards the thicket in which we were concealed. "Did you see anything, you fellows?" said some one in a low tone.—"Nothing, serjeant."
"Parbleu! I thought so; it is as dark as an oven. This devil of a Roman, whom heavens thunders crush! To make us travel all night like wolves in a wood! Ah, if ever I find him, or any of his gang!"
"Qui vive? (who goes there?)" cried a soldier suddenly.
"What do you see?" said the serjeant.—"Nothing; but I heard a breathing on this side," and he indicated the spot where we were.
"Stuff! you are dreaming. You are so much alarmed about Roman, that you think that you always have him in your cartridge-box."
Two other soldiers asserted that they had heard the same.
"Hold your tongues," replied the serjeant. "I see there is nobody, and we must once more, according to custom, return to Pourières without having trapped our game. Come, my lads, it is time to be off." The patrol seemed disposed to retreat. "It is a ruse de guerre," said my companion. "I know they will beat the wood and return upon us in a semi-circle."
It was now necessary that I should be firm and composed. "Are you fearful?" said my guide.
"This is no time for fear," I replied."
"Well then, follow me: here are my pistols; when I fire, do you the same, so that the four shots only sound like one report. Now, fire!"
The four shots were fired, and we then ran with all speed, without being pursued. The fear of falling into an ambuscade had made the soldiers come to a halt, but we did not pause from our flight. On getting near an isolated hut, the stranger said to me, "It is now daylight, and we are safe:" and then leaping the pales of the garden, he took a key from the hollow trunk of a tree, and opening the door of the cot we immediately entered.
An iron lamp, placed on the mantel-piece, lighted up a plain and rustic apartment. I only observed in a corner a barrel containing, as I thought, gunpowder, and near it on a shelf was a quantity of gun-cartridges. A woman's attire placed on a chair with one of those large black hats worn by the provençal peasants, indicated the presence of a sleeping female, whose heavy breathing reached our ears. Whilst I threw a rapid glance about me, my guide produced from an old trunk a quarter of a kid, some onions, oil, and a bottle of wine: he invited me to partake of a repast, of which I felt in the greatest need. He seemed very desirous of interrogating me, but I ate with so much appetite that I believe he felt a scruple of conscience in interrupting me. When I had finished, which was not whilst anything remained on the table, he led me to a sort of loft, assuring me that I was in perfect safety, and then left me before I could ask if he was going to stay in the hut; but scarcely had I stretched myself out on the straw when a heavy sleep took possession of all my faculties.
When I awoke I judged by the height of the sun that it was two o'clock. A female peasant, doubtlessly the same whose apparel I had seen, warned by my movements, showed her head at the opening of the door of my garret—"Do not stir," said she in a provincial dialect, "the environs are full of sapins (gendarmes) who are examining every place." I did not know what she meant by 'sapins,' but I guessed that it did not refer to anything very propitious for me.
At twilight I saw my new friend of the previous evening, who, after some trifling conversation, asked me point-blank who I was, whence I came, and whither I was going. Prepared for these unavoidable questions, I replied that I was a deserter from the ship Ocean, then in the roadstead at Toulon, that I was going to Aix, whence I hoped to get to my own country.
"That is all very good," said my host. "I see who you are; but do you know who I am?"
"I 'faith, to tell the honest truth, I first took you for a patrol; afterwards I took you for a leader of smugglers—and now I do not know what to think."
"You shall know then. In our country we are brave enough, you see, but object to be made soldiers on compulsion—so we did not comply with the requisition when we could do anything to avoid it. The quota selected in Pourières even refused to march at all when called upon. The gendarmes came to compel the refractory, and they resisted. Men were killed on both sides: and all the townsmen who participated in the affray, betook themselve to the woods to escape a court-martial. We thus met sixty in number, under the orders of M. Roman and the brothers, Bisson de Tretz: if you like to remain with us I shall be glad, for last night's experience tells me that you are a man of mould, and I advise you not to be in any fear about gendarmes. Besides, we want for nothing, and run but little risk. The country people inform us of all that passes, and give us provisions in time of need. Come, will you join us?"
I did not judge it wise to reject the proposition: and without reflecting on the consequences, I answered as he wished. I stayed two days at the hut, and on the third set out with my companion, armed with a carbine and two pistols. After many hours' walking over mountains covered with wood, we reached a hut larger than that we had quitted: it was the headquarters of Roman. I waited a moment at the door for my guide to announce me. He soon returned, and introduced me to a large apartment, where I saw about forty persons, the greater number of whom were grouped about a man who, by his appearance, half rustic, half citizen, might have passed for a rich country proprietor. I was presented to this personage, who said to me, "I am delighted to see you: I have heard of your coolness, and know your worth. If you will share our perils, you shall find friendship and freedom: we do not know you, but you have a face which would command friends everywhere. To sum up all, our men are honourable and brave—for probity and honour are our mottos." After this discourse, which could only be addressed to me by Roman, the brothers Bisson, and then all the troop, gave me the embrace of brotherhood.
Such was my reception in this society, to which its leader attributed a political intent; but it is certain, that after beginning, like the Chouans, to stop the diligences which conveyed the state monies, Roman had began to plunder travellers. The mutineers who composed his band had at first much reluctance in committing these robberies; but habits of an unsettled life, idleness, and especially the difficulty of returning to their homes, soon removed all scruples.
The day after my arrival, Roman appointed me to conduct six men to the environs of Saint Maximin. I did not know the purport of the mission. About midnight, on reaching the borders of a small thicket that skirted the road, we ensconced ourselves in a ravine. Roman's lieutenant, Bisson de Fretz, recommended absolute silence. The wheels of a carriage were soon heard, and it passed us. Bisson looked out cautiously, and said, "It is the Nice diligence; that will not do for us: it has more soldiers than ducats." He then ordered us to retreat, and we regained the hut: when Roman, enraged at seeing us return empty-handed, swore loudly, exclaiming, "Well, well! they shall pay for this tomorrow."
It was no longer possible for me to deceive myself as to the association to which I belonged: I had decidedly fallen in with that famous band of highwaymen who were spreading terror throughout Provence. If I fell into the hands of justice—a fugitive galley-slave—I could hardly hope for that pardon which might be granted even to the troop with which I was mingled. Reflecting on all the difficulties of my situation, I was tempted to escape them by flight; but, so recently enrolled, how was it possible to evade the strict scrutiny with which they regarded me? On the other hand, to express any desire of withdrawing myself from the confederacy would only have provoked a suspicion fatal to my purpose or safety. Might I not be considered as a spy, and be shot as such? Death and infamy threatened me whichever way I turned. In the midst of these perplexities to which I was a prey, my only idea was to sound the man who had first effected my introduction amongst my comrades; and, with as much apparent indifference as I could assume, I enquired if it would not be possible to obtain from our captain leave of absence for a few days? The man looked at me with an air of cunning and suspicion: "Yes, friend," said he, "such favours are sometimes obtained, when our chief knows well the person to whom he grants them." This said, he turned upon his heel, and left me to rack my brain anew for some happier device to effect my liberty than this had proved.
I had now been upwards of eleven days with these bandits, each day more fully resolved to withdraw myself from the honour of their exploits, when, one night that I had fallen asleep through excessive fatigue, I was suddenly aroused by an extraordinary noise; I listened, and discovered that the confusion which had broken my rest was occasioned by one of the troop having been robbed of a purse heavy with many years' booty: to my consternation I found that, as being the last comer amongst them, their suspicions were directed to me. They surrounded me, and formally accused me of having stolen the purse; the cry was unanimously against me, and drowned my protestations of innocence; they insisted upon searching my person. I had lain down in my clothes, which a hundred hands were ready to strip off me. What was their surprise, anger, and astonishment, at preceiving on my shoulder the brand of a galley-slave! "A galley-slave!" exclaimed the captain. "A galley-slave amongst us! He can only be here as a spy; knock him on the head, or shoot him, that will be soonest done." I heard the click of the muskets preparing to obey this last order. "One moment," exclaimed the chief; "let him, before he dies, make restitution of the lost money." "Yes," said I to him, "the money shall be restored, but on condition that you grant me a few minutes' private conversation." He consented to listen to what I had to say, under the idea that now I should make a full confession; but the moment I found myself alone with him, I protested anew that I was entirely innocent of the affair, and suggested an expedient for discovering the culprit, the idea of which was drawn from a work I had read of Berquin's. My plan was acceded to, and the captain returned to his men, holding as many straws in his hand as there were individuals present. "Observe me well," said he to them; "the longest of these straws will fall into the hands of him who is guilty."
The drawing began, each man in silence plucked out a straw; but when it had concluded, the straws were returned to the captain, and his troop looked with curious eagerness for the result.
One alone was found shorter than the others. A man named Joseph d'Osiolles presented it. "You are then the thief!" exclaimed the captain. "Every straw was of the same length; you have shortened yours, and thus criminated yourself."
Joseph was searched, and the stolen purse found, hid in his belt.
My justification was complete; the whole troop acknowledged my innocence; and the captain, whilst he sought to excuse the violence to which I had been subjected, added, that I must no longer form part of his band. "It is a sad piece of ill luck for you," said he; "but you must feel that, having been at the gallies———" He did not complete the sentence; but, putting fifteen louis in my hands, he compelled me to promise silence as to all I had seen or heard for the next twenty-five days.
I was prudent, and faithful to my engagement.
END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.