The Man with the Black Feather/Chapter 14

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CHAPTER XIV

THE OPERATION BEGINS

It is to M. Lecamus that we owe the account of the operation which M. Eliphas de Saint-Elme de Taillebourg de la Nox thought it his duty to perform on Theophrastus Longuet. His account of it, apparently written for the Pneumatic Club, at the instance of Theophrastus himself, is among the papers in the sandalwood box. It runs:

"The scene of savagery which would have ended in my poor friend Theophrastus losing the little finger of his left hand, but for the presence of mind of M. Eliphas de la Nox, proved to us that the bloodthirsty imagination of Cartouche had absolutely filled the brain of that honest man, my best and trustiest friend. It seemed to us therefore that the sole cure for this terrible evil was the death of Cartouche.

"M. de la Nox, indeed, did not hesitate; he had tried reason in vain, though for a moment we had believed it victorious: an operation was indicated. Madame Longuet made a few protests, so half-hearted that we ignored them. As for Theophrastus, it was useless to ask his opinion. Besides, M. de la Nox had already fixed him with his gaze; and no one has ever resisted the gaze of M. de la Nox.

"Theophrastus breathed several deep sighs, and began to tremble violently. But when M. de la Nox cried: 'I order you to sleep, Cartouche!' he fell back into the armchair behind him and never stirred. His breathing was so faint that we might almost have doubted that he was still living.

"The operation of the death of Cartouche was about to begin. I knew, from several famous instances, that it was an operation of great difficulty, for one always risks, in essaying to kill a reincarnate soul, that is to say, to cast back into nothingness that part of the Individuality which has been someone in a previous existence, and pursues us into this with a violence which prevents us from living in the Present—one always risks, I say, killing along with the reincarnate soul the body in which it is reincarnate. We were going to try to kill Cartouche without killing Theophrastus, but we might kill Theophrastus. Hence our anxiety.

"It needed all the authority, all the science, and also the absolute calmness of M. de la Nox to render me at all at ease in the extremity in which we found ourselves. But M. de la Nox has the most powerful and dominating will the world has known since Jacques Molay, whom he has succeeded in the supreme command of the actual and secret Order of the Templars.

"Also I bore in mind the categorical demonstrations of his last treatise on Psychical Surgery, and the exact precision of his instructions in his monograph on the Astral Scalpel. My trust in M. de la Nox, and the criminal eccentricity of poor Theophrastus, of which the ears of the wretched Signor Petito had been the first victims and filled me with dread of irremediable catastrophes, led me to consider the operation of the death of Cartouche, in spite of its danger, the best course in these painful circumstances.

"We carried the sleeping Theophrastus down into the basement, into the psychical laboratory of the Mage, which is lighted night and day by great hissing flames of a crimson gas of the nature of which I am ignorant.

"We laid Theophrastus down on a camp-bed; and for more than a quarter of an hour M. de la Nox gazed at him in a marvellous stillness. We were silent. At last an admirable melody was heard. It was the voice of M. de la Nox praying. Of what angelic music, of what empyrean vibrations, of what syllables of heavenly glory and triumphant love, was that prayer composed! Who shall ever repeat it? Who shall ever re-compose it? Do you know the musician, incomparable Master of sound, who shall re-compose, once they have passed, the elements of that fragrant breeze of Spring which chants, for the first time, under the first leaves, its trembling song of hope and eternal life, on the threshold of the recurring seasons?

"I only know that that prayer began somewhat like this:

'In the beginning, you were Silence, Æon eternal, source of Æons! Silent, as thou wert, was Eunoia, and ye contemplated one another in an inexpressible embrace, Æon, source of Æons, Eunoia, source of love, fruitful germ from which the Abyss should bring forth life! In the beginning, you were the Silence, source of Æons!' …

"When the prayer came to an end, M. de la Nox took the hand of Theophrastus and commanded him. But since the lips of M. de la Nox did not move, since he commanded without speaking, and questioned Theophrastus through the sole interpreter of his dominating will, I only learnt what his commands and questions had been from the answers of the sleeping Theophrastus. "Theophrastus began without any apparent effort or suffering:

"'Yes; I see. … Yes; I am …

"'……………………

"'I'm Theophrastus Longuet …

"'……………………

"'In a flat in Gerando Street …'

"M. de la Nox turned towards us, and said in a low voice: 'The operation is not going well. I put Cartouche to sleep; and it is Theophrastus who is answering. He is asleep in the Present. It would be dangerous to be abrupt. I am going to let him move about in the Present for a while.'

"Theophrastus began to speak again:

"'I'm in Gerando Street, in the flat above my own. I see stretched on a bed an earless man. Facing him is a woman—a dark woman—young and pretty—her name is Regina—'

"'……………………

"'The pretty young woman … whose name is Regina … is speaking to the earless man … She is saying:

"‘"As sure as my name's Regina, you'll see no more of me, and you'll never hear the 'Carnival of Venice' again, if in forty-eight hours from now you have n't found some way of making a big enough income to support me properly. When I married you, Signor Petito, you deceived me shamefully about the amount of your fortune and the character of your intelligence. A nice thing that fortune of yours, Signor Petito! We 're two quarters behind with the rent; and unless we wish to lose our furniture, we must shoot the moon. And as for your intelligence! Well, when a woman is young and pretty like I am, she wants a husband with enough intelligence to find the money to pay her dressmaker's bill. Am I to go back to my mother, or are you going to do it?"

"'The earless man is speaking… He says:

"‘"Oh, shut up, Regina, you're only making my head ache. Can't you leave me in peace to discover the hiding-place of the treasures, which the silly fool downstairs is incapable of getting out of the earth?"

"'The silly fool,' said the sleeping Theophrastus, 'is Cartouche!'

'I was waiting for that word,' said M. de la Nox quickly. 'Now I can make him quit the Present! Pray, madame! pray, my friend! the hour has come! I am going to tempt Providence!'

"Then, raising his hand above the brow of my sleeping friend, he said in a voice of command impossible, utterly impossible, to disobey: 'Cartouche, what were you doing at ten o'clock at night on the First of April, 1721?'

"'At ten o'clock at night on the First of April, 1721,' said the sleeping Theophrastus without a moment's hesitation, 'I tap sharply twice on the door of the Queen Margot tavern… After the row I should never have believed that I could have got so easily to Ferronnerie Street… But I did for the horse of the French Guard, or rather he fell down near the pump at Notre-Dame… I have thrown my pursuers off my track… At the Queen Margot I find Patapon, Saint James's Gate, and Black-mug… Pretty-Milkmaid is with them… I tell them the story over a bottle of ratafia… I trusted them; and I tell them that I suspect Old Easy-Going, and perhaps Marie-Antoinette herself, of having whispered something to the Police… They all protested… But I shout louder than they; and they are quiet… I tell them that I have made up my mind to deal faithfully with all those who give me any reason to suspect them. I get into a fine rage… Pretty-Milkmaid says that there's no longer any living with me… It's true that there's no longer any living with me… But is it my fault?… Everybody betrays me. I can't sleep two nights running in the same place… Where are the days when I had all Paris on my side? The day of my wedding with Marie-Antoinette? The day when at the Little Seal tavern in Faubourg-Saint-Antoine Street, we sang in chorus:


"Guzzle, cullies, and booze away,
Till Gabriel's trump on Judgment Day!"


We ate partridge that day—that was more than the King did—we drank champagne. My beautiful Marie-Antoinette loved me dearly. My Uncle and Aunt Tanton were there. And all that happiness was only last May, the fifteenth of last May!… And now!… Where is Uncle Tanton now? Shut up in the Châtelet… And his son?… I had to kill him last month to prevent him denouncing me!… I was quick about it… One pistol bullet at Montparnasse, and the body in a ditch; and I was sure of his silence… But how many more to kill?… How many more to kill to be sure of the silence of all?… By the throttle of Madame Phalaris! I had to kill Pepin, the Archer, and Huron the King's Deputy who were in full cry after me one evening, and five archers besides whom I massacred, poor beggars! in Mazarine Street… I see their five corpses still… And yet I'm not at all bad-natured!… I don't want to hurt anybody… I only ask one thing, to be allowed to quietly police Paris, for everybody's security… My chief councillor himself is grumbling. He does n't forgive my executing Jacques Lefebvre… Of course, there's no living with me any longer; but it's only because I wish to live!

"'After that little talk I leave them… I look out of the door of the Queen Margot: Ferronnerie Street is empty. I hurry off; and near the Cemetery of the Innocents I meet Madeline… But I don't tell her where I am going… As a matter of fact, I am going to spend the night in my hole in Amelot Stree [1] like a wretched thief!… It's pouring with rain.'"

M. Adolphe Lecamus declares that he has given us the exact words which came from the lips of Theophrastus in his hypnotic sleep, but that he has not been able to give us the modulation of these phrases, their strange tones, their sudden stops, their hurried starts, and their often dolorous endings. He makes no attempt to describe the physiognomy of Theophrastus. At times it expressed anger, at times scorn, sometimes extravagant daring, sometimes terror. Sometimes, he declares, at certain moving moments, Theophrastus was exactly like the portrait of Cartouche.

M. de la Nox was desirous of bringing Cartouche to the hour of his death by slow degrees. He feared the shock of making him abruptly live it over again. Therefore he had taken him back to the First of April, 1721.

The minutes which followed were exceedingly painful for us, as the wretched Cartouche once more went through the agony of those last months amid the perpetual treachery of his lieutenants and the incredible, dogged animosity of the police.

The narrative of M. Lecamus, painful as it is, presents no new fact. It merely corroborates history. There is, indeed, nothing to be gained by descending to the laboratory of M. Eliphas de la Nox to acquire a knowledge of the sensational arrest and imprisonment in the Grand-Châtelet. We find in the Register of the Orders of Committal of the King:

"May 16, 1721, Order of the King to seize and arrest one Cartouche, who has murdered Sire Huron, Lieutenant of the Short Robe, and one Tanton; and also Cartouche Cadet, called Louison; the Chevalier, called Cracksman; and Fortier, called Mouchy, for complicity in the murders."

On the margin against the name of Cartouche is written the single word, "Broken."

That arrest was much easier to order than to effect. It was not till October 14, 1721, that treachery bore its fruit, and we can read the report of Jean de Coustade, paymaster of the company of Chabannes, forty-seven years old, twenty-seven years' service.

M. de Coustade took with him forty men and four sergeants, of whose trustworthiness he was assured by Duchâtelet (Lieutenant of Cartouche, who was betraying him, himself a sergeant of the French Guards; they had promised him a pardon), dressed as civilians, with their weapons hidden, and surrounded the house in which Duchâtelet had informed him that Cartouche was lying. It was a little after nine at night that they arrived at the Pistol Inn, kept by Germain Savard and his wife, at Courtille, near High Borne (Trois-Bornes Street).

Savard was smoking his pipe on his door-step; and Duchâtelet said to him, "Is there anyone upstairs?"

"No," said Savard.

"Are the four ladies here?"

"Up you go!" said Savard, who was waiting for these words.

He stepped aside; and the whole troop dashed upstairs to attack Cartouche.

"When we entered the chamber upstairs," writes M. Jean de Coustade in his report, "we found Balagny and Limousin drinking wine in front of the fire. Gaillard was in bed, and Cartouche sitting on the side of the bed, mending his breeches. We threw ourselves on him. The stroke was so unexpected that he had no time to make any resistance. We bound him with thick ropes, took him first to the house of the Secretary of State for War, and then, on foot, to the Grand-Châtelet, as soon as the order was given."

As a matter of fact the affair was by no means as simple as M. de Coustade relates, though it ended as he says. In spite of his short stature, Cartouche was of exceptional strength; and they only overcame him and bound him to a pillar after a furious struggle.

At last, after all precautions had been taken, they put him in a coach. He was in his shirt only; for he had not had time to put on the breeches he was mending. Since they hustled him fiercely, he said: "Look out, lads, you're ruffling my clothes!"

He had retained all his usual calm; and he congratulated the lieutenant who had betrayed him on the fine clothes he was wearing that day. In truth, Duchâtelet had come out dressed in a very fine new black suit, on account of the death of the Duchess Marguerite d'Orleans, who had died a fortnight before. On the way, as the coach just missed crushing an unfortunate wayfarer, Cartouche once more uttered the words of which he was so fond: "We must avoid the wheel!"

From the house of the Secretary of State for War he went on foot in the middle of a grand escort. Half the people of Paris rushed out of their houses to see him pass, crying, "It's Cartouche!" without any strong belief that it was. They had been deceived so many times. But they perceived that it was true, when an officer of the escort struck the prisoner with his cane, and the prisoner turned quietly round and gave him a kick on the jaw with his left foot, which sent him head over heels into the gutter. The crowd applauded, for it has a great affection for robbers—when they are taken.

In the Grand-Châtelet Prison Cartouche was visited by all the Polite World. The Regent went out of his way to express his personal regret at this sad event. "But," said he, "my sovereign duties impose this unpleasant duty on me." The ladies of the Court vied with one another in their attentions to the prisoner. They refused him nothing. He had three pints of wine a day.

He had never been so much the fashion. At once a play was produced entitled "Cartouche." Legrand, its author, and Quinault, who took the principal part, came to ask him for information about details of the production. At last, when Cartouche had sufficiently amused himself, he turned his attention to escape. In spite of the unceasing watch they kept on him, he was on the very point of success, having got out of his cell and by means of a rope twisted from the straw of his mattress, made his way down into a shop, when they caught him as he was drawing the last bolt of a door which separated him from the street. They found that the Grand-Châtelet was not safe enough for a man of such ingenuity; and he was secretly carried in chains to the Conciergerie, and imprisoned in the most secure corner of Montgomery Tower.[2]


  1. In 1823,when they were cleaning the great sewer under Amelot Street, they found near its principal mouth a recess, a cave, about nine feet square which they still called, in the Official Report, "Cartouche's chamber," because that robber had often been obliged to spend the night in it. This is a long way from the legend which represents Cartouche as living in the best society and on the eve of marrying the daughter of a rich nobleman, when he was arrested.
  2. This tower is no longer standing.