From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
1176739Ninety-three — The Caimand.Victor Hugo



The Marquis de Lantenac,—henceforth we will call him by his name,—replied gravely,—

"You are right. Deliver me up."

The man continued,—

"We are both at home here: you in the castle, I in the thicket."

"Make an end of it. Do your work. Give me up," said the marquis.

The man continued,—

"You were going to the farm of Herbe-en-Pail, were you not? "


"Don't go there."


"Because the Blues are there."

"How long since?"

"For three days."

"Did the inhabitants of the farm and the hamlet make any resistance?"

"No, they opened all the doors."

"Ah!" said the marquis.

The man pointed to the roof of the farmhouse, which could be seen some distance away, above the trees.

"Do you see the roof, monsieur le marquis?"


"Do you see what is above it?"



"It is a flag."

"The Tricolor," said the man.

This was the object which had already attracted the marquis's attention when he was on the top of the dune.

Are they not sounding the tocsin?" asked the marquis.



"Evidently on your account."

"But it can't be heard."

"The wind prevents it."

The man continued, "Have you seen your placard?"


"They are searching for you;" and glancing towards the farm, he added, "There is a half battalion there."

"Of repubicans?"


"Well," said the marquis, "let us go on."

And he took a step in the direction of the farm.

The man seized him by the arm.

"Don't go there."

"And where would you have me go?"

"Home with me."

The marquis looked at the beggar.

"Listen, marquis, my home is not fine, but it is safe. A hut lower than a cave. For a floor, a bed of seaweed, for ceiling, a roof of branches and grass. Come. You would be shot at the farm. With me you will go to sleep. You must be tired; and to-morrow morning the Blues will march away, and you can go wherever you please."

The marquis. scrutinized the man.

"On which side are you?" asked the marquis. "Are you a republican? Are you a royalist?"

"I am poor."

"Neither royalist, nor republican?"

"I think not."

"Are you for or against the king?"

"I have no time for that."

"What do you think of what is going on?"

"I have nothing to live on."

"Why do you come to my assistance?"

"I saw that you were an outlaw. What is the law? So one can be out of it. I don't understand. As for me, am I in the law? am I out of the law? I know nothing about it. To die of hunger, is that to be in the law?"

"How long have you been dying of hunger?"

"All my life."

"And you wish to save me?"



"Because I said, 'There is another poorer than I. I have the right to breathe, he has not.'"

"It is true. And you would save me?"

"Surely. We are brothers, monseigneur. I ask for bread, you ask for life. We are both beggars."

"But do you know that a price has been put on my head?"


"How did you know?"

"I read the placard."

"You know how to read?"

"Yes, and to write, too. Why should I be a brute?"

"Then, since you know how to read, and since you have read the placard, you know that the man who betrays me will win sixty thousand francs."

"I know it."

"Not in assignats."

"Yes, I know, in gold."

"Do you know that sixty thousand francs is a fortune? "


"And that the one who will deliver me up will make his fortune?"

"Well, what next?"

"His fortune!"

"That is just what I thought. When I saw you, I said to myself, 'Only think of it, the one who betrays this very man, will win sixty thousand francs and make his fortune! Let us hasten to conceal him.'"

The marquis followed the poor man. They entered a thicket. Here was the beggar's den. It was a sort of room that a grand old oak had let this man have in its heart. It was hollowed out under its roots, and covered with its branches. It was dark, low, concealed, out of sight. There was room for two people in it.

"I foresaw that I was going to have a guest," said the beggar.

This sort of underground dwelling, more common than one would suppose in Brittany, is called in the language of the peasants, "carnichot." This name also applies to hiding-places made inside of thick walls.

It was furnished with several pots, a pallet of straw or seaweed, washed and dried, with a thick covering of kersey; some tallow dips, with a tinder-box, and hollow twigs of furze for matches.

They bent down, crept along a little way, entered the room, cut up into odd compartments by the great tree-roots, and sat down on a heap of seaweed, which formed the bed. The space between two roots, where they entered, and which served as a doorway, let in some light. Night had come, but the eye adjusts itself to darkness, and there is always a trace of light to be found in darkness. A reflection of moonlight threw a mysterious pallor over the entrance. In a corner there was a jug of water, a loaf of buckwheat bread, and some chestnuts.

"Let us have some supper," said the poor man.

They shared the chestnuts; the marquis added his piece of biscuit: they bit the same loaf of buckwheat, and drank from the jug one after the other.

They talked together.

The marquis began to question the man.

"So, whether anything happens or not, it is all the same to you?"

"Very nearly. You are seigneurs, you people. These are your affairs."

"But what happens——"

"Happens beyond our reach."

The beggar added, "And then there are other things happening still farther away from us, the sun rising, the moon waxing and waning; it is with such things that I am concerned."

He took a sip from the jug, and said,—

"What good, fresh water!" Then he added, "How do you like this water, monseigneur?"

"What is your name?" said the marquis.

"My name is Tellmarch, and they call me the caimand."

"I know. Caimand is one of your provincial words."

"Which means beggar. They have named me besides, the old man." He continued: "For forty years I have been called the old man."

"Forty years! Why, you are young."

"I never was young. You are always young, monsieur le marquis. You have the legs of twenty, you climb up the great dune; as for me I can hardly walk at all; a quarter of a league tires me out. Still, we are of the same age; but the rich have an advantage over us, for they eat every day. Eating preserves one."

After a silence, the beggar continued: "Poverty and riches—it is a troublesome problem. That is the cause of calamities. At least, so it seems to me. The poor want to be rich, the rich do not want to be poor. I believe that is at the bottom of it. I don't mix myself up with it. Events are events. I am neither for the debtor nor for the creditor. I know that there is a debt and that it is being paid. That is all. I should have liked it better if they had not killed the king, but it would be difficult for me to tell why. In reply to that they tell me: But once they used to hang men to trees for nothing at all. I myself have seen a man with a wife and seven children hanged for shooting one of the king's deer. There are two sides to be considered."

He was silent again, then added,—

"You understand. I don't know exactly, people come and go, and things happen, but as for me, I am up among the stars."

Tellmarch stopped again to think, then continued,—

"I am a little of a bone-setter, a little of a doctor. I am familiar with herbs, and have some experience with plants; the peasants see me in a brown study and that makes me pass for a sorcerer. Because I dream, they think I know."

"You belong to this country?" asked the marquis.

"I have never been out of it."

"Do you know me?"

"Certainly. The last time I saw you was when you passed through here, two years ago. You went from here to England, Just now I noticed a man on the top of the dune. A tall man. Tall men are rare; Brittany is a country of small men. I looked carefully. I had read the placard. I said wait! And when you came down, it was moonlight and I recognized you."

"But I do not know you."

"You have seen me, but you never looked at me."

And Tellmarch, the caimand, added,—

"I used to see you. A beggar does not look with the same eyes as the passers-by."

"Have I ever met you before?"

"Often, for I am your own beggar. I was the poor man at the foot of the road to your castle. You used to give me alms, sometimes; but the giver pays no attention, the receiver watches and observes. A beggar is a spy. But as for me, though often sad, I try not to be a malicious spy. I held out my hand, you saw the hand only, and you dropped in it the alms which I needed in the morning to keep me from dying of hunger at night. I have sometimes been twenty-four hours without eating. Sometimes, a sou saved my life. I owe life to you. I give it back to you."

"'Tis true, you are saving me."

"Yes, I am saving you, monseigneur."

And Tellmarch's voice grew serious.

"On one condition."

"What is that?"

"That you do not come here to work evil."

"I come here to do good," said the marquis.

"Let us go to sleep," said the beggar.

They lay down side by side on the bed of seaweed. The beggar fell asleep immediately. The marquis, although very tired, remained absorbed in thought for a time, then he looked at the poor man in the darkness, and lay down again. Lying on this pallet was like lying on the ground; he took advantage of it to put his ear to the earth and listen. There was a dull humming underground; sound is known to be propagated under the earth; he heard the noise of the bells.

The tocsin was still sounding.

The marquis fell asleep.