|Book the Second
Balaoo has the Time of his Life.
|Chapter I.||There are Limits to Balaoo's Patience|
|Chapter II.||The Tsarina's Dress|
|Chapter III.||"There are Men who Behave Worse than Savages"|
|Chapter IV.||Balaoo Dares not Come Home|
|Chapter V.||The Siege of the Forest|
|Chapter VI.||Hubert, Siméon and Élie|
|Chapter VII.||The Attack|
|Chapter VIII.||Balaoo Defends Himself|
Not to mention that he had lost his hat. This careless attire and the job which he had just pulled off at Riom led him to avoid the high-road and to look askance upon the passers-by. He sat.down quietly in the middle of a thicket and leant against the trunk of a beech to put on his boots, which he usually took off when he was going through the forest and sure of not meeting any of the Race.
The fact was that he had been taught never to attract attention either by his get-up or by his wild-man's gestures. Since he had had explained to him what a pithecanthrope (6) was, he accentuated the gentleness and shyness of his manners, for he wished on no account to be confused with a member of the monkey race, who are so rude and ill-bred. It was quite bad enough to be taken, because of his almond eyes, his slightly flattened nose and his face with the broad flat surfaces, for a native of Hal-Nan, whom Dr. Coriolis, who had been French consul at Batavia, had brought back from his travels and taken into his service as his gardener.
So Balaoo put on his boots. As he found some difficulty in forcing in his hind-hands --- for Balaoo could say what he liked: pithecanthrope though he was, he had more of the monkey than the man about him, since he had four hands, which is the obvious characteristic of the quadrumana --- he heaved slight sighs, in other words, he gave forth growls which the inhabitants of Saint-Martin-des-Bois had more than once taken for the premonitory sounds of a storm.
Moreover, it was one of his favourite amusements to imitate the thunder with his reverberating, rolling voice, when far away from men, to frighten them. He distinctly remembered seeing his father and mother filling the whole family --- his little brothers, his little sisters, his old aunt and him, Balaoo --- with unspeakable delight by striking their chests, down yonder, in the heart of the Forest of Bandong, not so very far from the bamboo villages built hanging over the swamps. They thumped their chests like men-singers about to raise their voice; and they brought forth the thunder. Oh, it was quick work! Hidden behind the mangroves, they at once saw the bravest members of the Human Race, even the very Dyaks, who are armed with bows and arrows, run like water-rats in search of a shelter, of a well-fortified kampong, behind which they heard them call upon Patti Palang Kaing, the king of the animals, himself. What fun they had in those days! Balaoo had his boots on. He reflected that, now, when he mimicked the voice of the thunder, he was scolded on returning home. And there was cause for it, no doubt; for, after all, he ran the risk that, one fine day, it would be discovered that the thunder was he! And his master had told him flatly that he would not answer for the consequences. The members of the Human Race, if they found Balaoo out, would treat him like a gorilla or a common gibbon. He would be popped into a cage . . . and a good job too! He had better bear that in mind.
What he had in mind at the moment was the stroke of work which he had done at Riom. And, when, by the last glimmer of daylight, he saw two gendarmes pass along the road, the short hairs on the top of his head stood up and began to move swiftly to and fro, an unmistakable sign of terror . . . or of rage.
He considered that the gendarmes did not go away quick enough. He was late: he had been away two days. He wished himself home again. What would his master and Mlle. Madeleine say? He could hear their reproaches now: they had had to look for him, to call after him in the forest. All the same, before he went in, he must go and tell Zoé of the stroke of work which he had done at Riom.
The road was free. He crossed it at a bound and ran across the fields to the cabin of the Three Brothers Vautrin.
It stood midway between the forest and the village, all by itself, on the roadside, with a screen of poplars behind it. It consisted of but one floor, covered with a thatched roof, from which rose a single chimney sending its smoke straight up into the peaceful evening. There was no light at the window. When he opened the door, a figure sitting huddled in the chimney-corner asked:
"Who's there?" He replied:
"It's I, Noël."
Balaoo's voice was both dull and guttural, rasping out the syllables low down in the throat. Bottles and bottles of syrup had been used up in the effort to "humanize" that voice. It was a little painful, a little startling, but not unpleasant to listen to. And, even with that voice, as he possessed the genius of mimicry, he managed to imitate a number of other voices and to excite sympathy for an incurable sore throat. When he tried to soften it, when speaking to young ladies, it produced a queer piping sound which roused laughter; and he hated that. He went about saying that he owed that curious lack of control over his vocal organs to the excessive use of betel in his youth; but, of course, he had given up chewing since he entered the service of his kind master, Dr. Coriolis!
"It's I, Noël."
The figure in the chimney-corner rose and another dark figure, in a recess in the wall, sat up on end. Mother Vautrin, the old paralyzed woman, and little Zoé looked at him with questioning eyes.
Zoé struck a match. Balaoo knocked it out of her hand and put his foot on the burning wood. He said there were gendarmes on the road and he did not want to be seen in the cabin. The old mother moaned in her dark corner; and the breath rattled in her throat, for she was very ill; but the first words uttered by Balaoo gave her relief:
"They will be here, in a cart, at eleven o'clock tonight . . . Have everything ready . . . "
Zoé was on her knees, kissing the pithecanthrope's boots:
"Have you saved them, Noël? .. . Have you seen them? . . . Are they coming, all three of them?"
And she named them, to make sure that not one would be missing: "Siméon? Élie? Hubert?"
"Yes, Siméon, Élie and Hubert!"
"You've done it, Noël, you've done it?"
She continued to drag herself at his feet, but he pushed her away with his heel. The girl irritated him: when brothers were at liberty, she was always complaining about being beaten; and, now that she heard that they had been rescued from prison, she was licking his boots for joy.
"Quick!" he said. "Let me get back. What will they say to me at home?"
The child burst into tears:
"Mlle. Madeleine has been looking for you all day. She went all over the forest calling out, 'Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . . "
"Oh, bad luck!" said Balaoo, giving himself a great blow, on the chest, which resounded like a gong.
And he left without even taking leave of the old woman, so great was his hurry to get away.
Once outside, he sniffed the air. It no longer smelt of gendarmes. He went through the vineyard, by a path which he knew well, from taking it a hundred times when he had leapt his master's wall to fetch the Vautrins and go with them in search of adventures or to have "a rare old spree" in the forest. And he at once reached the back of the Coriolis estate, by the little door opening on the woods. He carefully sniffed the path leading to the station, but it did not smell of railway-passengers. Then, trembling, he gave a tug at the bell. It tinkled so loudly that Balaoo almost fainted.
Footsteps creaked upon the dead leaves on the other side of the wall. Balaoo fell on his knees upon the stone threshold. The door opened and Balaoo at once felt a hand seize him by the ear.
"You rascal!" said an angry young female voice. "I'll make you pay for this! . . . Two days and two nights out of doors . . . and in such a plight! . . . A nice thing! . . . I could cry, to look at you! . . . I have cried, Balaoo, I have cried! . . . Oh, don't you go crying, you; don't you begin! You'll bring the whole village round you! . . . You young scamp, you! . . . All your clothes in rags! . . . Your new trousers! . . . Your Paris overcoat! . . . You've been climbing the trees, sir, you've been larking in the moonlight! . . . And you've upset papa most terribly! . . . "
Dragged by the ear, docile, repentant, snivelling and with his heart throbbing loudly with remorse, Balaoo let the girl lead him to his quarters. But, on reaching the end of the kitchen-garden, where he was supposed to work with M. Coriolis, in the greatest mystery, at the different transformations of the bread-plant, and opening the door of his room, he found himself in the presence of Coriolis himself. He at once made a movement as though to return to the friendly forest at a bound.
Coriolis' face was colder, deader than marble.
Balaoo knew that expression. He dreaded nothing on earth so much as the sight of it. He would have preferred beatings and even the whippings with which he was tamed in his early youth to the silent reproach of those fixed eyes, of the haughty and contemptuous mask assumed by one of the Human Race who had obviously made a mistake in thinking that there was anything to be made out of a mere pithecanthrope.
And Coriolis' lips --- if they moved at all, for there were days when they remained closed as though human speech would be disgraced by conversing with a pithecanthrope --- Coriolis' lips were perhaps about to ask him, in front of Mlle. Madeleine --- oh, the shame of it! --- how his friends were, the great wild-boar of the Crau-mort and the wild-sow, his good lady, and the little wild boars, their children; and had he brought a message from the family of wolves that lived on the table-rock of Madon ? Oh, horror! He who used to visit the brothers Vautrin, before they went to prison! And who was treated by them as an equal, as one of the same race! And even that he must not say, of course, because his master had remarked to him, one day, after meeting him on the road with his three chums, that he would rather have seen him in the company of hyenas, and jackals! So that he no longer knew where he was! After all, they belonged to the Human Race, they did! . . . '
Coriolis moved his lips:
Balaoo did not obey.
But Balaoo did as though he had not heard. He knew that his overcoat was nothing more than a rag and that the seat of his trousers was hanging down behind. He could never display such a sight before Mlle. Madeleine.
Coriolis took a step towards Balaoo, who began to tremble in every limb. Madeleine interposed with her gentle voice, with her gentle face of entreaty. She had understood Balaoo's shame. She wanted to spare him the disgrace. His eyes filled with tears. Oh, he loved her, he loved her, he loved her! Goodness, how he loved her! . . .
But the doctor commanded:
"I want him to turn around!"
Then the soft voice said:
"Turn round, Balaoo dear!"
Ah! "Balaoo dear!" She could do what she pleased with him, when she dropped his man-name and called him by that which his father and mother had bestowed upon him in the Forest of Bandong: Balaoo! . . .
Balaoo dug his toe-nails into the soles of his boots and turned round.
Then a laugh which he had never heard before echoed through the room.
He spun round furiously. There stood a man whom he recognized at once from meeting him sometimes in the village street. He was the friend of the man who limped and whom he, Balaoo, could not stand at any price, the friend of that M. Bombarda whom he smacked in the face whenever the opportunity offered. He was the friend also of the gendarmes who had taken the Three Brothers to prison. Had he come to take Balaoo to prison too? What was he doing here? . . .
It was the first time that Balaoo had had the honour of having a stranger brought to see him! It was the first time that he was receiving a guest under his roof, that people condescended to introduce one of the Race to him in his own apartments!
By Patti Palang Kaing, his king, his god, the man had laughed at the condition of the pithecanthrope's trousers! But Balaoo spun round so quickly and so furiously that the man's laughter broke off in the middle and the man himself, terror-stricken, rushed to take refuge behind the table.
"Don't be afraid, monsieur," said Coriolis. "He's not dangerous. He wouldn't hurt a fly!"
"A fly!" growled Balaoo, within himself. "A fly indeed! Better ask Camus, the tailor in the Cours National, who was always making fun of me, better ask him if I wouldn't hurt a fly!"
"Come here, Noël," said Coriolis.
And, as Balaoo came forward, quivering with anger, Coriolis, with his grand white beard, resuming his kinder manner, gave the pithecanthrope a friendly little tap on his raging cheek. Balaoo drew in his dog-teeth and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. It was high time. Another minute and the stranger would have taken him for a brute.
The visitor said:
"It's extraordinary! I have seen monkeys at the music-hall, but anything to equal this . . . never! "
Balaoo clenched his fists to his mouth to prevent the thunder that swelled his chest from bursting.
"Never use that word in his presence."
"Oh, does he understand as much as that?"
"You need not ask if he understands: look at the face he's pulling!"
"Yes, he frightens me," declared the visitor, stepping back in alarm.
"Once again, you have nothing to be afraid of. You have vexed him by using that word, but he wouldn't hurt a fly . . . "
"Oh, he understands anything!" continued Coriolis.
"And you say that he speaks?"
"He speaks better French than our peasants. Speak, Balaoo, say something." Balaoo, seeing himself treated, in front of one of the Race, like an interesting animal at a fair, turned his poor face, wrung with shame and despair, to her who always, at his worst trials, had been his supreme consolation and who sometimes, when his brain relapsed into animal darkness, had proved herself his saving star.
Madeleine, seeing his anguish, gave him a smile and uttered these words:
"Book of etiquette, paragraph ten."
The pithecanthrope at once turned to the visitor:
"I have not had the honour of being introduced to you, monsieur," he said, in a roar that made the house shake again.
"Oh!" exclaimed the visitor. "Oh! Ah! Ah!..."
And he opened, the wide eyes of one who is ready to rush away in fright.
But Coriolis was not satisfied:
"Politely," he said. "Politely. In your gentlest voice."
"Come, Balaoo, in your gentlest voice," insisted Madeleine, in her own gentle voice.
And Balaoo repeated the sentence --- "I have not had the honour of being introduced to you, monsieur" --- in the piping voice that made all the young ladies laugh, excepting Madeleine.
"But it's marvellous," shouted the other member of the Race. "It's marvellous, marvellous! . . . I can't believe it! . . . He can't be a pithecanthrope! . . . "
"He's not one any longer," Coriolis assented. "He's a man."
At these words, Balaoo raised a proud and triumphant forehead.
Coriolis proceeded to make the introductions in the terms prescribed in the book of etiquette:
"I have the honour to introduce to you M. Noël, my valued assistant in my work on the bread-plant." And, turning to Balaoo, "This, my dear friend, is M. Herment de Meyrentin, the examining-magistrate, who is very anxious to make your acquaintance. Pray sit down, gentlemen."
The "gentlemen" sat down.
"You know what a magistrate is, my dear Noël?" asked Coriolis, with an important air.
"A magistrate," replied Balaoo, with an air of equal importance, "is a man who sends thieves to prison."
"And what is a thief?" M. de Meyrentin ventured to ask.
"A thief," said Balaoo, imperturbably. "is a man who takes things without paying for them."
And he closed his eyes to escape the visitor's curious scrutiny:
"That magistrate's a great bore," he thought. "Is he never going?"
"May I give you some tea?" said Madeleine, in her musical voice.
Tea! Balaoo, utterly dazed, opened his eyes again. Madeleine handed him a cup and he stirred the sugar in the fragrant brew with the tip of his silver-gilt spoon.
Only, just before drinking, believing that no one was looking at him, he swiftly dipped his hand into the liquid and sucked his fingers, pithecanthrope-fashion. That was a thing he could not resist.
Coriolis and M. de Meyrentin, who were carrying on an eager conversation between themselves, did not notice the ill-bred action; but Madeleine saw it all and silently scolded Balaoo with a threatening forefinger. Balaoo glanced at her out of the corner of his eye and gave a sly grin. Then, when Coriolis looked at him again, he drank like a man and put his cup down prettily on the tray.
Next, Balaoo crossed his legs, swung one foot with a careless grace, threw himself back in his chair with a smirk and sat smiling fatously. Suddenly, M. Herment de Meyrentin stooped, took Balaoo's right hand and examined it attentively:
"But these are not the hands of a . . . "
Coriolis cut him short: "Hush," he said. "I warned you not to use that word . . . and I have already told you of the work to which I have devoted myself for the last ten years. You can do anything with electrolytic, depilatory creams and a little patience. Look at his face: wouldn't you say he was a Chinese or a Japanese, just a trifle sunburnt? Who would ever take him for a quadrumane? You can use that word: he does not understand it."
"A quadrumane? A quadrumane?" repeated Herment de Meyrentin, rather irritably. "I've seen only two hands so far . . . "
"Balaoo, take off your boots." Balaoo thought that his ears must have deceived him. But no, Coriolis repeated the hideous command. Take off his boots! He, who has always been forbidden to show his shoe-hands! And who had been brought up to loathe and abominate his lower extremities! And who had never revealed this mystery except before the brothers Vautrin, in the depths of the forest, on days when he had gone hunting without leave and taught them to build invisible little huts in the trees! . . .
No, then, no, he would not take off his boots! The disgrace was too great, when all was said! And he stood up, with his hands in his pockets, whistling a tune, as though he had forgotten all about it. To his surprise, the others said nothing. They watched him as he walked, for Balaoo was walking up and down, with a thoughtful brow, as we sometimes do when we have something that preoccupies our mind. He forgot that he had no seat to his trousers. A scrap of conversation between his two visitors reminded him of it:
"You see, he has no appendage like that which we see in the lower quadrumana: no tail and no callosities. Note also that the bones of the ischium, which forms the solid framework of the surface on which the body rests when sitting, are less developed than in the quadrumana endowed with ischial callosities and are shaped more like those of a man. Lastly, he walks, as a rule, slowly and circumspectly; and I have taught him to give up his habit of waddling . . . "
Just then, in his annoyance, Balaoo began to waddle from side to side.
"You'd better waddle!" cried Coriolis, angrily. "I'll send you waddling in the streets of the village; and the school-children will laugh at you, Balaoo!"
Balaoo thought to himself :
"Ask Camus and Lombard, who were found hanged, why I put them to waddle at the end of a rope!" (7) But Balaoo's trials were not over. After taking off Balaoo's boots himself, Coriolis took his shoe-hands in his own, human hands. Balaoo turned away his head so as not to witness a sight that, disgusted him. But he could not help hearing.
"You see," said Coriolis, "that the great toe of the foot, which is smaller than in a man, makes up for this by being much more flexible."
"I hope he's not going to tickle me!" thought Balaoo.
M. Herment de Meyrentin nearly swooned with delight, when he saw, at last, the feet of the man who walked upside down.
"I see! I see!" he cried. "It's incredible: a quadrumane, a quadrumane that talks! . . . Oh, it's simply incredible!"
"All animals talk," said Coriolis, "but the quadrumane, which is one of the higher animals, possesses a greater variety of distinct sounds than the other beasts to express desire, pleasure, hunger, thirst, terror and so on: very distinct sounds and invariably the same. These utterances, therefore, from a language. In my pithecanthrope, which is the chief of the quadrumana, the one most nearly related to man, I have discovered as many as forty distinct sounds."
"And you went on the principle that, if an animal can pronounce forty sounds, it can pronounce every sound?"
"Open your mouth, Balaoo," said Coriolis.
Balaoo, who was ready to die of shame, had no time to protest. Coriolis, after holding his shoe-hands, was now holding his two jaws, without any antiseptic preliminaries, and working them on their coronoid processes as though he were setting a wolf trap. Balaoo foamed at the mouth; and his large, round, gentle eyes shed tears as they contemplated Madeleine, who was sadly watching the operation. Even so the sufferer who is having a tooth extracted gazes mournfully and gloomily at the staunch friend who had accompanied him to the dentist's.
"He has magnificent teeth," said M. de Meyrentin.
"Never mind the teeth, my dear sir," said Coriolis, impatiently "Just look at that pharynx! I have always said and I have always written, 'Every faculty, functional and anatomical, moral, intellectual and instinctive,' depends upon the strueture; and, as the structure tends to vary, it is capable of improvement.' "
"He doesn't see that he's spitting in my mouth!" thought Balaoo.
"You have perfected the pharynx," said M. de Meyrentin, "altered the back of the throat, worked at the vocal cords; and that was enough, you say, to enable you to turn a monk . . . a quadrumane, I mean, into a man?"
"Why not?" said Coriolis, letting go the jaw for a moment. "It is not difficult to show that no absolute structural line of demarcation, wider than that between the animals which immediately succeed us in the scale, can be drawn between the animal world and ourselves."
"All the same, my dear sir, there is an immense gulf between the monk . . . the animal, I mean, and man."
"No one is more strongly convinced than I am," answered Coriolis, continuing to quote the late Professor Huxley, "of the vastness of the gulf between civilized man and the brutes. No one is less disposed to think lightly of the present dignity or despairingly of the future hopes of the only consciously intelligent denizens of this world; but, even from this intellectual and moral point of view, I contend that, by modifying the structure, it is possible to fill up the gulf."
"What you say fills me with admiration and, at the same time, with terror."
Within himself, the magistrate thought:
"It's you who will be filled with terror, presently, when I tell you what your advanced theories have brought you to!"
For M. de Meyrentin, the cousin of the great Meyrentin of the Institute, had remained an idealist and an anti-Darwinian, like the pride of the family.
"Nonsense!" said Coriolis, aloud. "What is it that makes man what he is? Is it not the faculty of speech? Language enables him to note his experiences; language increases the scientific assets of the generations that follow one upon the other. It is thanks to language that man is able to link together more closely his fellow-creatures distributed over the face of the globe. It is language that distinguishes man from the rest of the animal world. This functional difference is immense and the consequences are extraordinary. And yet all this can depend on the very slightest alteration in the conditions of the back of the throat. For, what is this gift of speech? I am speaking at this moment; but, if you change in the least degree the proportion of the combined forces at present in action in the two nerves that control the muscles of my glottis, I become dumb at once. The voice is produced only so long as the vocal cords are parallel; they are parallel only so long as certain muscles contract in a similar fashion; and this, in its turn, depends upon the equal action of the two nerves of which I have just spoken. The least change in the structure of these nerves and even in the part from which they spring, the least alteration even in the blood-vessels involved, or, again, in the muscles which the blood reaches, might make us dumb. A race of dumb men, deprived of all power of communicating with those who can speak, would be a race of brutes."
"Just so, just so," said the magistrate.
"It goes without saying," continued Coriolis. "Don't scratch yourself, Balaoo!"
Balaoo, who hought himself unobserved, was covered with shame.
"Well, what I have done is the opposite of one aiming at producing dumbness: I have aimed at increasing the scope of an organ which was already capable of emitting certain sounds of speech. I have held all those nerves, all those muscles, all those arteries in my forceps, for the greater glory of my demonstration."
Balaoo, who had been under an anæsthetic during the operations, listened to all this with a very casual interest.
"And I have succeeded in producing the necessary parallel position of a quadrumane's vocal cords. Open your mouth, Balaoo."
Balaoo opened a terrible wide mouth, which Coriolis at once turned back under the lamp, and asked himself when on earth this awful torture was coming to an end.
"Look, my dear sir, look . . . there . . . you can still see the scars . . . "
"It's astounding, it's astounding! . . . And he now talks like a man . . . But has he also retained the power of emitting the animal sounds which he used to?"
"Yes, but it takes him a greater effort than it did. Speak as you used to, Balaoo."
Balaoo, by way of revenge and of joking, began to speak as he used to in the old days, but as he used to when he was angry, that is to say, when his voice could be heard for a mile around:
"Goek! Goek! Goek! . . . Ha! Ha! Ha! Hâââ! . . . Hâââ! . . . Hâââ! . . . Goek! Goek! . . . "
The magistrate, Coriolis and Madeleine put their fingers to their ears and made violent signs to Balaoo that that was enough. He ceased; but Coriolis explained what he wanted:
"Talk as you used to, but not so loud. We can't hear ourselves speak."
Thereupon Balaoo "talked" as he used to, but mezzo voce, while Coriolis expatiated on the virtues of the pithecanthrope's throat:
"You see," he said, to Meyrentin, "how the capacious membranous pouch, situated beneath the throat and communicating with the vocal organ, with the laryngeal ventricle, swells. Look at it: it swells and swells and swells! The louder he speaks and shouts, the more it swells; and then it resumes its normal shape when he stops."
"Goek! Goek! Goek!" said Balaoo, more and more embarassed by the singularly persistent gaze of the man who sent thieves to prison.
"And what does 'Goek' mean?" asked M. de Meyrentin.
"It means, 'Go away,' " said Balaoo, who was not without a sense of humour.
"Why," observed M. de Meyrentin, "it's almost like the German 'Geh weg!' "
Balaoo did not know German and declined to pursue the subject; and M. de Meyrentin stayed on.
Balaoo heaved a sigh: he had never suffered so much in all his life. A hand took his tenderly. Oh, Madeleine! And Balaoo's heart began to thump inside his breast. Ah! M. de Meyrentin was getting up. Did he mean to go, this time? . . . Did he? . . . Yes, yes, at last! . . . He offered Coriolis "all his congratulations" . . . like an ass, like an ass! . . . He seemed to be fairly laughing at Balaoo and to be planning something which Balaoo couldn't make out: one must always be careful with those people who send thieves to prison . . . And it was foolish in any case, of M. Herment de Meyrentin to appear to make little of Balaoo, for this business might turn out badly too!
The magistrate said, with icy deliberation:
"All my congratulations, my dear sir. You have made a man-child. What with science and your scalpel, you equal the Creator!"
Coriolis thought that he was exaggerating and told him as much. M. de Meyrentin confessed that he was exaggerating. With an insolent glance at Balaoo:
"Yes," he granted, "it's true. The Creator made them handsomer."
He uttered this in front of Madeleine. Balaoo, at first, choked. His astonishment paralyzed him, stupefied him. Coriolis, seeing the pain which his visitor had given to his pupil, to the child of his creating, tried to speak a word of comfort:
"Yes, the Creator has made handsomer men," he said, "but none gentler, better, more loving, or more faithful. This one has amply rewarded his old master for all the trouble which he gave him at first; for I admit that it was difficult, during the early years, to make him forget his games in the Forest of Bandong. But now he is absolutely, as I contend and am prepared to prove, a member of the human race."
At this speech, which ought to have touched him, M. Herment de Meyrentin grinned like a fool and, pointing to the torn overcoat and trousers, said:
"Humph! He still indulges in a little prank at times!"
Balaoo could have wept, but he controlled his tears in the presence of a stranger. And kind Dr. Coriolis gave the magistrate his answer:
"I have known men's children who were not more than seventeen years old and whose parents would have been thankful if they had spent their time climbing the trees after apples and tearing the seats of their trousers in the process. It is not for me to advise you, my dear sir, to consult the records of the criminal courts. You know as well as I do how some men's children employ themselves at seventeen, with knife in hand!"
"The master's right," thought Balaoo. "I have never struck anyone with a knife. That's all very well for men-children, who have no strength in their hands."
"In your part of the country, M. Coriolis," said the magistrate, in a tone of voice that made Balaoo look asquint, "people don't use the knife in committing murder. They strangle their victim. Their fingers are all they want."
Balaoo blinked his eyes and thought:
"What made him say that, I wonder?"
Corlolis, pointing to Balaoo's hand, observed:
"There's a hand that wouldn't hurt a fly!" "You insist upon that fly of yours," thought Balaoo, timidly, with lowered eyes, for he was an admirable dissembler, "but I, who wouldn't hurt a fly, would not at all mind strangling this distinguished visitor!"
M. Herment de Meyrentin, remembering that his illustrious cousin in the Academy had always combated the Darwinian theory with rather antiquated arguments about the impossibility of indefinite reproduction among mixed species, refused to leave without a Parthian shot to give Coriolis something to think about. What right had the imprudent doctor to let loose the evil instincts of the Forest of Bandong upon civilized human society? Well, he would be punished for it before supper by the arrest of his pithecanthrope, whom M. de Meyrentin fully intended to come back and fetch with his posse of gendarmes. And, in his finest, throatiest voice, the magistrate let fly:
"I congratulate you, my dear sir. All you now have to do is" --- here de Meyrentin's features widened into an infamous smile --- "to get him married. He will soon have attained the legal age. I hope that you are already thinking of the young lady whom he will lead to the altar. Mlle. Madeleine will be bridesm . . . "
M. Herment de Meyrentin was unable to finish either his smile or his sentence, for he felt round his throat the grip of two clutches contracting with a force that was positively alarming to a member of the Human Race who still hoped to spend many a year upon this earth, utterign foolish and unseemly words. He gurgled, he struggled, he choked! Balaoo squeezed and squeezed. Coriolis and Madeleine uttered yells of terror and hung on to Balaoo to make him let go. Coriolis seized a poker and rained blows with it upon Balaoo. The blows sounded as though they were striking a drum; but Balaoo felt nothing. Madeleine wept and sobbed and prayed and raved; but Balaoo heard nothing. He squeezed!
And he did not stop squeezing until M. Herment de Meyrentin stopped struggling. That would teach the gentleman to think that Balaoo, who wouldn't hurt a fly, was not handsome and to make fun of him in front of marriageable girls! A nice thing the gentleman had done for himself: he was dead!
Dead was M. le Juge d'Instruction Herment de Meyrentin, first cousin of the illustrious Professor Herbert de Meyrentin, member of the Institute, secretary of the moral and political science section! A whole family cast into mourning! A most distinguished family! That was all that remained of that mighty exemplar of human power, an examining-magistrate! A rag, a doll broken over a pithecanthrope's arm!
Balaoo flung that offal to the ground. He was astounded to see kind Dr. Coriolis glue his ear to the thing's chest. There were some people who didn't mind what they touched! But where was his little sister Madeleine? Balaoo looked round for her and discovered her standing flat against the wall, with her mouth wide open and her eyes glittering with fright.
"It's clear to me," thought the pithecanthrope, "that I've made a blunder here. They don't look a bit pleased!"
Coriolis rose to his feet as pale as death:
"Wretch!" he raved. "What have you done? You have murdered your guest! "
"Tut!" thought Balaoo. "Why do they get into such a state? What worries them is the corpse, I can see that! And I expect they are afraid of the commissary of police, who always arrives when you hurt a member of the Human Race. For instance, you can murder my friend Huon, the great old bachelor wild-boar, who was nicely killed with a stab in the heart in the presence of everybody, and nobody to say a word against it, or my friend Dhol; the big old lusty wolf, whom they riddled with bullets because he ate a six-months' baby that hadn't yet learnt to say 'Papa' and 'Mamma,' but you've no right to strangle one of the Human Race, just like that, with your hands. It's the law. All right! All right! I'll take away the corpse; and no one will be any the wiser. I'll hang this one too: that will be a good trick!" "So thinking, Balaoo took M. Herment de Meyrentin's big, flabby body by the hind legs and dragged it to the door. Coriolis tried to stop him, but Balaoo shouted, "Goek! Goek!" in so loud a voice that Coriolis soon saw there was nothing to be done with the pithecanthrope at such a moment. Balaoo was all on edge, excited, glorying in his terrible work. He wouldn't hurt a fly; but, for all that, Dr. Coriolis realized that it would be unadvisable to part him from his prey, which the pithecanthrope was dragging behind him with a pride as conscious as that of a Roman general carrying the spolia opima in his triumph. Oh, what a lofty brow was Balaoo's and how well fitted to wear the laurel-crown! There is a Roman general in every monkey! . . . And bang! One good kick with his shoe-hand to the door; and it opened wide to let the procession through.
Madeleine was powerless to stir a limb and Coriolis was still shaking like a poltroon when Balaoo, with his burden, solemnly made his way under the branches of the neighbouring forest.
Having filled her basket, Mme. Mûre cautiously opened her door. The church-clock struck the hour. More doors opened in the direction of the Cours National. Other little old women poked out their caps in the moonlight, hesitating to cross the threshold, having lost the habit of leaving the house after supper. True, people were nearly easy now that those horrid brothers Vautrin were comfortably stowed away in prison and about to pay their debt to society; but, all the same, it was impossible to throw prudence to the winds from one day to the next.
Ohoo! Ohoo! Shadows on the road, swinging lanterns as they went: it was M. Roubion and his inn-servants to summon the embroiderers to sit up with the Empress of Russia's gown.
The little doors opened wider: the little white caps ventured forth, hand-basket on one arm, foot-warmer hanging from the other. Oh, they knew better, in this harsh weather, than to go out without their warming-stools, the coals in which, for years and years, had scorched the skin of their legs to such good purpose that many of them, no doubt, had nothing but a pair of burnt sticks to show under their skirts.
Ohoo! Ohoo! They pattered and clattered along, after carefully locking their doors. It was the last evening which they were to spend on the Tsarina's gown; and they would not have missed it for the empire of All the Russias. Two hours' work and it would be done; the contractor was coming to Saint-Martin next morning to fetch the dress. At least, so Mother Toussaint, the forewoman who had arranged with the contractor, said --- the old gossip! --- perhaps to stimulate their zeal.
The procession went flapping and clapping down the Rue Neuve. Shutters were flung back against the walls as it passed. More than one would have loved to be invited to go and see the Empress'gown and not all who had been long in bed were yet asleep.
Big Roubion increased his pace. No one wanted to loiter. They trotted and trotted. It was cold; and the women had lowered their hoods over their caps; and their shoulders shivered, in spite of all, less with cold than with fear, at the thought of the Three Brothers, who loomed large in the shadows of the night.
There was a full gathering at Mme. Roubion's for the last evening with the Empress'gown. The embroiderers worked in the large summer dining-room, which was used for the commercial travellers in the fine season, but closed in winter. The wonderful gown lay spread at full length on the leaves of the dining-table; and each of the needlewomen took her seat. Two of them made the eyelets, another the raised spots, another finished a rosette, another worked at the scalloped edges and two assistant hands, working side by side, sewed on some old lace. Mme. Toussaint, that old gossip, supervised everything and worried everybody. Mme. Roubion, with her enormous head resting on her capacious bosom, had eyes for none but her guests. After the bar-room was closed, monsieur le maire arrived, accompanied by Mme. Jules, his spouse; M. Sagnier, the notary, and madame, who possessed such beautiful false pearls; and M. Valentin, the chemist, and madame, who was the only lady in the neighbourhood that used make-up --- and such a lot of it! --- and who was also the only lady that could boast of having had an adventure, last autumn, at the manúuvres, with a cavalry-officer. All these fine folk had come to admire "the masterpiece of French industry" before its departure for the Russian court.
Now this dress, which, at any other time, would have kept twenty talkative women wagging their tongues for an hour, left the ladies very indifferent in ten minutes or even less. To begin with, they thought it too simple in its immaculate splendour. It was an all-white dress, of embroidered cloth, and Saint-Martin-des-Bois could not picture the Empress of Russia other than adorned like a reliquary and swathed from head to foot in gold, precious stones and silver lace. Mme. Jules considered it hardly even a dress for the seaside. The embroiderers could have boxed her ears; and Mme. Toussaint, the old gossip, felt that she would like to scratch her eyes out. The ladies gradually left the summer dining-room to join their husbands in the bar-room, where they found the gentlemen sitting round the fire, cracking a bottle of old wine and discussing the Vautrin case. Oh, how that case had been discussed since the arrest! But it was apperently always new; and, now that "they" were going to be guillotined and that there was no longer any reason to fear them, people were almost proud of having been so afraid. Nevertheless, no one was willing to admit his terrors. On the contrary, each vied with the other in trying to show that it was he who had "handed over the Vautrins to the public vengeance." Through the half-open door, the embroiders, who also thought of nothing but the Three Brothers, heard the chemist and the notary each boasting of his courage at the trial, where they had smashed the ruffians with their evidence. True, by that time, the verdict against them was certain, because they had been captured red-handed: the gendarmes had appeared in the road at the moment when Élie, Siméon and Hubert were taking Bazin the process-server's money-bags from him, after stunning him with that little pat on the head of which he died. However, it must be admitted that, in order that this verdict might be far-reaching and allow none of the three prisoners to escape, M. Sagnier and M. Valentin had taken advantage of the Bazin murder to saddle the Vautrins with all the suspicious matters that had distressed the district for the past ten years.
The chemist and the notary each enlarged upon the merits of the civic heroism displayed by himself at a time when no one else seemed to retain a proper sense of his duty; monsieur le maire knew what was meant!
All this self-sufficiency and self-conceit ended by annoying the people present, down to the needlewomen in their work-room; and even Mme. Mûre coughed as she swallowed her poppy seeds. As for Mlle. Franchet, that worthy could not keep from chuckling and spluttering into the bowl of mulled wine which Mme. Roubion had brought her, with a word of warning not to stain the Empress of Russia's gown. They knew and everybody knew that those two who were now posing as dare-devils had been very meek and mild indeed while the Vautrins were about.
Had the needlewomen been in monsieur le maire's place, they would soon have made them put a stopper on their loquacity. The same thought occurred to monsieur le maire himself. It was not a very happy thought, however; for, when he reproached the gentle men, not without a touch of irritation, with having waited so long to accuse men of whose crimes they were cognizant, he was told, in reply, that, "but for the fortunate incident of the murder of the process-server, where the Vautrins were caught red-handed, there would have been every reason to pity decent people who were so ill-advised as to inform against such powerful election-agents as the brothers Vautrin."
The mayor bit his lips and Mme. Jules, his spouse, made a sign to him not to go on embittering the conversation. Nevertheless, he retorted that he was not the only one to be elected to the municipal council with the Vautrins' aid. His two subordinates protested loudly and called Heaven to witness that they had had no finger in that pie and that, at any rate, they had never been mixed up in the dirty jerrymandering of the general elections; and they didn't mind saying so; and, if anyone chose to take offence, that was his affair.
M. Jules, the mayor, of course, could not take this insult lying down; he did his best to pass it off by saying that, if anyone had the right to boast that he had brought the truth to light, it was good old Dr. Honorat. Ah, there was one who had spoken out! And said useful things too! He had supplied the proof of the murders by speaking of the rope with which the men were hanged.
"Agreed," retorted Mme. Valentin, the local lady who had had that adventure with the cavalry-officer, "agreed; but, as M. le Vicomte de la Terrenoire" --- the officer in question --- "said at the trial, considering that Dr. Honorat examined the bodies in the commissary's presence, why did he not then call the attention of the police to the kind of rope with which the men had been hanged and which he thought that he had already noticed at the Vautrins' on the day when he was called in to attend Zoé?" And she concluded, "If Dr. Honorat was more useful than anybody afterwards, he was more prudent than all rest of us before!"
To this, Mme. Jules, the mayoress, replied:
"He had the right to be, or, at least, he had every excuse. Dr. Honorat drives along the roads, night and day, all alone in his gig; and an accident is easily met with. What could he have done against those three ruffians?"
"He preferred to nurse them," hissed long, lean Mme. Sagnier, the lady with the false pearls, between her teeth. "It was he got them sentenced to death," resumed the mayor, in an authoritative tone, "and, I repeat, he showed courage in doing so, for, as long as I live, I shall never forget Siméon jumping up from his seat in the dock, shaking his fist at Dr. Honorat and shouting, 'You'd better mind yourself, for, if ever I get out of this, my first visit will be paid to you!' It was enough to give one the shivers. Well, Dr. Honorat did not turn a hair. He's a brave man, I tell you."
The two others raised their voices in protest:
"And what about us, weren't we threatened? Élie and Hubert said to us, 'You are liars; and, the next we meet you, we'll break your heads.' Those are the very words."
"I had to keep my bed for a fortnight after," declared Mme. Valentin"
"So had I," said Mme. Sagnier.
There was an embarassed silence, which was interrupted by fat Mme. Roubion, who went round among the company with her bowls of mulled wine:
"That's not thc point," she said. "What's the use of arguing, now that their business is settled? When are their heads to be cut off? They ought to have been cut off here; but, as the thing's arranged to take place at Riom, has monsieur le maire thought of engaging a window?"
"Look here," said M. Jules, roughly, "I'd rather talk about something else . . . "
And, for the next five minutes, they talked about nothing at all. Everybody sat steeped in thought and one and all had the same thought: they would not be really easy in their minds until the Three Brothers were dead and buried. There was only one fear, that the President of the Republic might commute the sentence of one of them; and, after all, people had been known to escape from prison. You never could tell . . .
Mme. Roubion made a fresh effort to dispel the figures of the Vautrins:
"You know Mlle. Madeleine Coriolis is to be married soon?" she said.
"Oh, nonsense!" said Mme. Valentin. "To whom?"
"Why, to M. Patrice Saint-Aubin, her cousin from Clermont."
"There was a rumour of it," said Mme. Sagnier, "but they have lots of time before them. He is quite young still."
He's twenty-four," said Mme. Roubion, "and he has just passed as a solicitor. His father is anxious to make over his practice to him. He wants to see his son fixed up and married and settled behind his papers in the Rue de l'Écu before his death, for the old gentleman does not think that he has long to live."
"He's right there," declared the chemist. "You can't be too careful. One never knows who's going to live and who's going to die."
"They say the Saint Aubin boy is rich enough for two," said Mme. Valentin. "Has little Madeleine any money?" All the company were of opinion that she had not. Dr. Coriolis, an old eccentric, who used to be consul at Batavia, might have made his fortune in the Malay Archipelago, but the general view was that he had returned from the Far East with nothing but a fatal passion for the bread-plant, which had made away with his last shilling. Did anyone ever hear of such madness? To try and make a single plant take the place of bread, milk, butter, cream, asparagus and even Brussels sprouts, which he pretended that he was able to make out of the waste! And for years he had been living with his hobby, at the bottom of his immense garden surrounded by tall walls behind which he lived in a state of almost complete isolation, seeing nobody and refusing to be assisted by any one except his gardener, a boy whom he had brought with him from the East and who seemed greatly devoted to him. He was a very nice young fellow, that Noël, that they must say: a little shy, never talking to anybody, but always bowing to everyone most politely. When he crossed the street; for his master sometimes sent him on an errand, he nearly always carried his hat in his hand, as though he lived in fear of "offending somebody."
"He's not what you would call good-looking," said M. Roubion.
"He's not ugly either" said Mme. Valentin. "Only, he's rather flat-faced." "He's like all the Chinese," said Mme. Roubion, pedantically, having seen "Celestials," as she called the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire, at the Exhibition of 1878. "They are not handsome, but they look very intelligent and not the least bit ill-natured. My opinion is that he's a Celestial."
And Mme. Jules summed up the general view on Noël by asserting that "he wouldn't hurt a fly."
In the summer dining-room, the needlewomen, seated around the Empress' gown, ceased to listen to the ladies' and gentlemen's conversation as soon as they had finished talking about the Three Brothers. These alone had the gift of interesting Mme. Toussaint, Mlle. Franchet, Mme. Boche and Mme. Mûre, though on this subject the good women were inexhaustible, always finding new things to say and even repeating the old things over and over again, without ever wearying. They were fellows who were not satisfied with being highway robbers, said one, but who did wrong for its own sake, in other words, for their pleasure. Mme. Boche told how she had nearly died of fright, last year, one evening when she was closing the shutters of the little shop where she dealt in groceries, haberdashery, deal boards, laths and coals. She maintained that one of the Vautrins had hidden on the roof of her house --- Mme. Boche's roof almost touched the ground --- and snatched off her cap and wig. She was almost sure that she had recognized Élie, unless it was Siméon, unless it was Hubert, but it was certainly one of the Three Brothers, who, when they were not murdering people on the roads, spent their time frightening old women. Oh, the Vautrins had broad backs! Mme. Mûre shed tears over the decease of a poodle which met its death in a very curious way, one evening when it was barking too loudly at the heels of the Vautrins, who were preparing some trick. It suddenly ceased barking. Mme. Mûre went out into the yard and found her dog hanging from the rope of the well. This suicide, which was at least as difficult to explain as Camus' and Lombard's, had been as it were a signal for the suicide of all the dogs in the village at that time. It was a regular epidemic. The dogs were all found hanging from the well ropes, So much so that, since then, Saint-Martin-des-Bois had given up keeping dogs.
Mme. Toussaint shook her fat chops and hcr flabby chin under her mob-cap:
"And, then, if they had only been satisfied with the dogs!" she said. "Those wretches need not have thrown my little cat Mirette into the pond, with a stone round her neck, for us to know them for savages. Their reputation was made!"
In short, "life had become a hell;" but, since "they" had been in prison, people had recovered their peace of mind to some extent and the old ladies of Saint-Martin were once more beginning to enjoy life.
It was at that moment, just as the several visitors at the Black Sun were expressing their contentment with a state of quiet to which they had long been unaccustomed that a mad sound of galloping was heard on the rough cobbles of the Rue Neuve. This galloping was accompanied by the noise of a light vehicle, a noise which could only belong to Dr. Honorat's gig. Everybody recognized it; and the proof was that everybody cried:
"There's Dr. Honorat!"
But what had happened? Why that din? Why that hurry? Had his horse taken the bit between its teeth and run away? Had the doctor dropped the reins?
Mlle. Franchet cried:
"Perhaps he's been murdered!"
But everyone was at once reassured, at least in so far as Dr. Honorat's existence was concerned, for he was heard shouting, in a hoarse voice:
"Open the door! . . . Open the door quickly! . . . "
M. Jules, the mayor, M. Roubion, M. Sagnier and M. Valentin drew their revolvers, without which they had not sallied forth for many a long day; and the ladies, seeing their husbands produce those lethal weapons, began to tremble and were unable to utter a word.
"What's the matter?" asked Roubion, putting his ear to the door.
"Open the door, can't you? It's I, Dr. Honorat! Let me in, Roubion, let me in!"
"Are you alone?" asked Roubion, prudently.
"Yes, yes, I'm alone, let me in!"
"You can't keep the doctor standing at the door," Mme. Roubion declared. "Let him in."
Everybody at once fell back, while the needlewomen, leaving their work, gathered anxiously in the doorway between the bar-room and the summer dining-room.
Roubion opened the door.
Dr. Honorat, who had fastened his panting horse to the ring in the wall, burst into the room like a whirl-wind. Roubion bolted the door behind him and all clustered round the doctor, who had promptly sunk into a chair. He was deathly pale. He was hardly able to speak. His eyes were wild and staring. He managed to groan:
"The Vautrins! . . . The Vautrins! . . . "
"What about them? . . . What about the Vautrins? . . . "
"The Vautrins are here! . . . "
Everybody shrieked. Fear sent its gust of madness over them, flinging up their arms in meaningless gestures, tossing the company this way and that way, making them writhe and twist as though they had all suddenly lost their mental balance:
"Eh? . . . What? . . . Where? . . . The Vautrins? . . . What's he talking about? . . . The man must be mad! . . . Where did you see them? . . . "
"At their own place!" gasped the doctor. "At their own place! . . . In their house! . . . "
"He's been dreaming! . . . He must have been dreaming! . . . "
The chemist and the notary were now as pale as the doctor. They did not believe him. They did not think that such a thing was possible; but, all the same, from the very moment of his stating the incredible horror, it left them as though stunned, with arms and legs paralyzed, throats dry and hearts beating like mad.
The nameless terror depicted on their faces seemed rather to exhilarate monsieur le maire who, after a rapid examination of conscience, arrived at the conclusion that, throughout this business, he had preserved so prudent an attitude that he had nothing to fear from the vengeance of the Three Brothers. He showed the coolness which should never desert a chief magistrate in the presence of his fellow-citizens. He silenced the silly moans of the needlewomen and the incoherent questions of the ladies.
"Come, doctor," he said, "don't lose your head like this. Are you quite sure that you saw them?"
"As sure as I see you now."
"In their house,by the roadside?"
"In their house. They had not even drawn their window-curtains. I was coming down the road, on my way back from my rounds. My mare was going at a slow trot. I saw a cart outside the Vautrins' door and a light in the windows; and I seemed to hear voices. I had a sort of feeling that I should come upon something unexpected. And I was not mistaken. I was just passing the door, when the door opened and I saw, as plainly as I see you, Élie, Siméon and Hubert quietly carrying a chest out to the cart. I at once whipped up my mare; and she galloped off. But they had caught sight of me and recognized me, they shouted after me, 'See you soon, doctor!' I thought I should go mad! . . . Oh, I thought they were behind me; and I rushed on like the very devil. I felt that I was done for, if I did not reach Saint-Martin before they did. For they are coming! . . . They are coming! . . . "
"Don't talk nonsense, doctor," monsieur le maire broke in, speaking in his most serious tone. "If it's really they, then they've escaped from prison and will never dare come here."
"I tell you, they are coming. They told me so in court! I'm a dead man! . . . "
As he spoke, good old Dr. Honorat, decent man, who, perhaps, before this fatal meeting, had taken a pint of old wine more than he need have on his rounds --- for he did himself pretty well --- Dr. Honorat, I was saying, noticed the white faces of M. Sagnier and M. Valentin and had the satisfaction of remembering that they too had been threatened at the trial; and he put his satisfaction into words:
"And you too, M. Sagnier! . . . And you too, M. Valentin! . . . You are both dead men!"
M. Sagnier shook his head and said, in an expiring voice:
"It's not true, what you're saying; it's impossible!" M. Valentin shared this opinion. He whispered:
"How can they have got out of Riom gaol? It's impossible!"
This was clearly the key-note of the situation; and everybody repeated:
"No, no, it's quite impossible!"
Monsieur le maire smiled at seeing people so frightened: "Come, ladies," he said, "pull yourselves together. Our worthy doctor has been imagining things. Give him a glass of mulled wine, Mme. Roubion; that will do him good."
"I don't want anything," said the doctor; and his eyes wandered more wildly than ever over the company.
Monsieur le maire shrugged his shoulders and, seeing Mme. Toussaint, Mme. Mûre, Mme. Bache and Mlle. Franchet gathered round him like so many hens who had sought refuge under their rooster's wing, he packed them back to their work. Clucking with anxiety, they returned to the summer dining-room; but no sooner were they there than they uttered such screams that it was now the turn of those in the bar-room to go after them. They found Mme. Toussaint, the old gossip, indulging in an orthodox fit of hysterics. The Tsarina's dress had disappeared! . . .
The mystery surrounding the incident was so profound that nobody doubted that "there were Vautrins at the bottom of it." It resembled too closely a number of other indoor disappearances which had never been explained and which had always been put down to the Three Brothers. No one now doubted that Élie, Siméon and Hubert were back and that they had performed the miracle of escaping from the executioner's knife with the one and only object of rushing to Saint-Martin-des-Bois and stealing the Empress' gown. And, if M. Jules, the mayor, who had always had a sneaking kindness for those scamps, because of the relations which they kept up with the elected representatives of the nation, if M. Jules still hesitated to yield before the evidence, his hesitation did not last long. For there came a fresh knock at the door of the Black Sun; and the person who knocked seemed in as great a hurry to obtain admission as Dr. Honorat himself had been. An awful silence at once reigned inside the inn, for all were wondering if they were about to hear the voices of the Three Brothers. But no, it was the trembling voice of an old lady entreating to be let in; and everybody recognized Mme. Godefroy, the Saint-Martin postmistress.
"An official telegram! An official telegram for monsieur le maire! Open the door, M. Roubion, it's very urgent. O Jesus, Mary, Joseph!"
Mme. Godefroy's terror must have exceeded all bounds for that respectable functionary to neglect the last counsels of prudence and to dare invoke the saints of the Roman and Catholic paradise within two steps of her lord and mayor, who had distinguished himself by his stalwart paganism at the time of the separation of Church and State.
"Monsieur le maire is here, Mme. Godefroy," Roubion shouted, through the door."
"I know that," replied the other. "Let me in."
The mayor, greatly perturbed, said:
"An official telegram? Push it under the door, Mme. Godefroy."
"Never will I push an official telegram under the door!" declared the unhappy woman. "I must deliver it into monsieur le maire's own hands . . . "
"Let her in," said M. Jules, heroically.
The door was half-opened and Mme. Godefroy appeared.
She wore the same mortal pallor, the same wild, staring eyes that had marked the entrance of Dr. Honorat. A yellow paper shook between her fingers. Monsieur le maire took it from her and read the contents of the official telegram aloud:
"Prefect PUY-DE-DÔME to Mayor SAINT-MARTIN-DES-BOIS.
"Three brothers Vautrin escaped to-day from Riom gaol; take necessary steps."
The mayor, who had no armed forces at his disposal, beyond his beadle and his town-crier Daddy Drum, flung a lifeless, circular glance at those around him. The poor people seemed to have lost the power of breathing. M. and Mme. Sagnier and M. and Mme. Valentin held each other clasped in a tight embrace, forming two couples similar to those in the pictures representing the early Christian families thrown to the lions. Dr. Honorat, in his chair, gave not a sign of life. The band of little old needlewomen clustered round buxom Mme. Roubion; who, with her two hands laid flat on her enormous breast, made a vain effort to control the beating of her heart. And the terror was so great that Mme. Toussaint herself, who was supported by Mme. Boche, who was supported by Mme. Mûre, who kept a tight hold on Mlle. Franchet's hand, Mme. Toussaint herself had ceased her lamentations on the disappearance of the Empress of Russia's dress.
Monsieur le maire read the official telegram for the fifth time, without deriving from it the inspiration that would have saved him at this difficult moment. For everybody was relying on him. He kept on repeating:
"Take necessary steps . . . take necessary steps . . . he's a nice one, the prefect! . . . What necessary steps would he have me take? It's for him to take the necessary steps . . . He ought to have sent us some gendarmes by now . . . He must have known that 'they' would come back here . . . "
Three loud bangs on the bar-room door . . . Everybody gave a fresh jump. And a voice in the street said:
"Quick, quick! Let me in! . . . It's I, Clarice. Open the door, in Heaven's name!"
"Camus' clerk! We ought to put out those lights. We shall have them all coming here," cried Roubion.
But the other kept thumping at the door for all he was worth:
"Let me in! Let me in! . . . "
They opened the door, but swore that this was the last that they would admit. He was even more scared than the others; and he had every reason to be. He had not seen the Three Brothers, but he had bumped up against M. de Meyrentin's body hanging on a tree on the Riom Road. Oh, how they all screamed! The Vautrins were beginning their revenge! Lord, what would happen next?
The cries were followed by general consternation, by mute despair; and then this assumed yet a fresh shape as was to be expected. While monsieur le maire was reflecting upon the melancholy of the situation, without being able to come to the slightest decision, he suddenly saw a furious spectre brandishing its fists in his face.
It was Dr. Honorat, shouting at him: "This is all your fault!"
It needed nothing more to inspire the rest with courage.
The notary and the chemist attacked the mayor at once; of course, it was his fault! But for him, none of this would have happened! But for him, those ruffians would long since have relieved the country of their presence! But they had found a mayor to encourage them, to reward them! Every time they committed a misdeed, a crime, the mayor gave them money! And that, no doubt, was how they had escaped, by bribing their warders with the gold of the municipality and the elections!
The wretched mayor could not get a word in edgewise. Everybody was now shouting:
"You have made yourself their accomplice, their accomplice!"
Dr. Honorat, with his eyes starting from his head, let fly the word:
And they made so great a noise that they did not hear some one rapping, this time at the gate of the yard, with the heavy knocker.
Mme. Boche it was who went and listened in the passage. She returned, waving her arms, while her legs gave way beneath her:
All were silent; and, as the knocking had also ceased, everyone heard a rough voice in the distance calling monsieur le maire.
This time, there was no mistake about it: Hubert, the eldest of the three Vautrins, was outside! They knew his voice; and, as he was the most dreadful of the three, there was a general rush to the darkest corner of the bar-room. The women began to squeal like cats that were being skinned alive. But monsieur le maire, whom madame was holding back by the skirts of his jacket, broke away from the trembling band and said to the innkeeper:
"Come, Roubion, we must find out what they want. You've never had any bother with the Vautrins; have you?"
"Never! Never!" proclaimed Roubion, hurriedly, with obvious satisfaction. "No, no, there's never been anything between us."
"I won't have you go, for all that," whined Mme. Roubion.
"Then I shall have to go alone," said the mayor, laughing.
At that moment, the knocking at the gate started afresh.
Roubion pulled himself together:
"Monsieur le maire is right," he said to his wife. "They can't mean harm to people who have never done them any. I never refused them a glass of wine when they came here. What do you imagine they could do to us? Perhaps they want a drink . . . "
"You're not going to let them in?" sobbed Mme. Valentin.
"No," said the mayor, "but we can talk to them."
"I'll open the spy-hole in the gate and we shall soon see what's up," said Roubion.
"It's quite true, I've never failed them. I've always treated them well. Why should they wish us harm?" argued Mme. Roubion. "If they're thirsty, we can always hand them a bottle through the spy-hole. So let's all go together."
"That's it," said the mayor. "We'll all go together." Nevertheless, none except the mayor and Roubion, followed by their wives, left the bar-room and ventured under the archway of the yard. And even then Mme. Jules and Mme. Roubion remained at the entrance to the archway. As for the others in the bar-room, they did not make a movement. The women had ceased squealing. There was not a sound heard but their heavy breathing.
The mayor and Roubion were away for at least five minutes, which seemed an eternity. They returned at last, still accompanied by their wives. When they entered the bar-room, the others saw, by their awe-struck faces, that they had no good news to tell. Dr. Honorat, the chemist and the notary kept their eyes fixed on monsieur le maire, waiting for him to speak. And no prisoner in the condemned cell, watching the magistrate who comes, at break of day, to tell him that his petition for mercy has been rejected, ever felt greater terror in his heart.
"But at least tell us what it is," said Mme. Sagnier, with chattering teeth.
"Well, it's like this," said the mayor, mopping his forehead with his handkerchief. "I saw Hubert through the spy-hole. He wants us to hand Dr. Honorat over to him."
The doctor, on hearing these words, gave a great jump in his chair; and there was a long pause, at the end of which monsieur le maire said:
"I did my duty; I refused."
"Quite right!" said M. Sagnier, who had meanwhile recovered his voice. "Quite right! We are armed. We will defend ourselves here to the death and until the arrival of the gendarmes, who can't be very far off."
"M. Sagnier is right," said M. Valentin, of the pale face. "The ruffians are asking for the doctor because they know that he's here; and, presently, when they know that we are here too, they will ask for us as well, What do they take us for? We won't allow ourselves to be killed like sheep!"
Mme. Sagnier and Mme. Valentin said nothing, but began to glare angrily at Dr. Honorat, who had not spoken a word and who, according to them, should have given himself up at once, to save the rest.
Mme. Godefroy vanquished the tyranny of her nerves, which condemned her to a trembling silence, and asked:
"What answer did he make?"
"He said," replied the mayor, "that he would go and consult his brothers; and he went away."
"Did you think of telling him," asked M. Sagnier, "that they were running the greatest danger by remaining here, that the gendarmes were on their way and that they'd do better to, clear out to some other part of the country?"
"I said all that," the mayor declared, stiffly, "but he told me to mind my own business."
"He has gone away," said Mme. Roubion. "Perhaps they will not come back. Perhaps all of you had better go home."
But one and all protested. They were quite agreed not to leave the inn before daylight and especially before the arrival of the gendarmes who were sure to be sent to Saint- Martin-des- Bois.
"Hark! They haven't gone far!" said Mme. Boche.
The knocking was renewed. The mayor once more drew himself up, like a hero marching to his death, and, with not a sign of weakness, stepped towards the archway. M. Roubion wanted to go with him again; but, this time, Mme. Roubion curtly ordered her husband to stay with her:
"Don't you go mixing yourself up in other people's affairs!" she said.
M. Roubion did not care to dispute the matter and acquiesced.
Mme. Jules sighed out her husband's name and took three steps in his wake:
"What a business!" she moaned. "What a shocking business! It's hard indeed to be mayor under such conditions." And, gazing severely at the down-hearted band, "Monsieur le maire is the only brave man here," she said.
The brave man returned. This time, he was almost as pale as the others. They awaited the decree. He spoke:
"Hubert says that he has consulted his brothers," he intimated, in a flat and shaky voice. "They are all three agreed to murder everybody here, if we don't give Dr. Honorat up to them. I replied that we were armed, that we would defend ourselves and that we would not give up Dr. Honorat."
Hereupon the pack of sempstresses began yelping: they had never had any differences with the Three Brothers; and, if the Three Brothers knew that they were there, they would certainly let them go without hurting them! . . . There was no need for them to stay in the inn! Who knew what might happen? . . . As the Three Brothers only wanted Dr. Honorat, the needlewomen ran no risk in going home. They wanted to go home.
"The doors shall not be opened without my orders," said the mayor. "Besides, you would never get out. Hubert, Élie, Siméon and little Zoé are watching every exit. Hubert told me again and again that they would murder anyone who tried to leave. And they know quite well that you are here."
"And what about us? Do they know that we are here?" asked the chemist and the notary.
"Yes, they do."
"And . . . and . . . and did they say nothing . . . about us?"
"It's only Dr. Honorat they're after, that's quite clear!" said Mme. Sagnier, with a fierce glance at the unfortunate man.
"Yes, yes," repeated the notary and the chemist, between their teeth, "it's only Dr. Honorat they're after."
"But what do they mean to do?" asked Mme. Roubion, who began to cry like a little girl.
Her example was immediately followed by Mme. Boche and Mme. Toussaint, while Mme. Mûre and Mlle. Franchet still retained a particle of dignity and became reconciled in the moment of misfortune after an estrangement that had lasted for five years:
"There, Mlle. Franchet, there, they won't hurt us!"
"We needn't fear, my dear Mme. Mûre. They would be ashamed to!"
"You ask me what they mean to do: upon my word, I don't know!" confessed the mayor, with a submission to the inevitable that was not without dignity. "Perhaps they merely wanted to frighten us . . . I hope so, but one can never be sure of anything with those fellows!"
Just then, a great commotion was heard in the street, accompanied by shouting and swearing. It was as though they were dragging a lorry to the door of the Black Sun. Those inside could distinctly hear the sound of shutters clapping against the walls of the houses opposite and Siméon's loud voice ringing through the echoing night:
"Hi, you, up there! Hide your ugly mugs, or I'll pepper them with lead."
The threat was no sooner uttered than it was followed by the report of a gun which woke up the whole village.
The needlewomen fell on their knees. Mme. Mûre and Mlle. Franchet, who were regular church-goers, began a Hail Mary. The sounds from outside bore evidence that the whole of the Rue Neuve was in an uproar; but the windows half-opened by the terror-stricken onlookers must have been closed again at once, for the threats of the Three Brothers had ceased. Nothing was now heard but the movement of their heavy shoes over the cobbles of the road and up and down the pavement. What were they doing? That was what all the people inside the inn were wondering. All were sweating with anguish and trembling with despair. However, the notary and the chemist, assisted by the mayor, the Roubions and some of the women, had made a last heroic effort and pushed the billiard-table against the door leading to the archway, through which they dreaded to see the ill-favoured features of one of the Vautrins appear at any moment. They worked thus for the general safety without making any demands upon Dr. Honorat, who had lost the last shred of resemblance to anything human and who sat huddled in a chair, in a corner, like a lifeless thing. All of them gave him a malevolent look as they passed and controlled themselves so as not to load him with insults. The chemist's wife, who was braver than the others, because of her adventure in the cavalry, manifested the general feeling towards the wretched doctor by spitting on the floor in his direction. Mme. Jules had caught the contagion of Mme. Roubion's tears. The sobbing of these two, combined with the mumbled prayers of the others, ended by irritating the mayor, who was pricking up his ears to try and discover what was happening in the street. Taking the name of the Lord in vain, he swore at them to stop; and, having thus restored silence, he put a chair on a table and scrambled up to peep through the fanlight above the window-shutters. From here, he was able to look into the street. What he saw, by the flickering flame of the lamp that was supposed to light that corner of Saint-Martin-des-Bois, seemed to fill him with fresh terror, for he was unable to control an excla mation which increased the excitement of the besieged.
He disregarded their requests for explanations and sprang from the chair to the table and thence to the floor with the nimbleness and agility of a youth of twenty:
"Oh no!" he cried. "We can't have that!"
"We can't have that! We can't have that! Let me be, all of you, and hold your tongues!" This with a terrible oath. "No, we can't have that! . . . Keep quiet, keep quiet, will you? I must go and talk to them."
And, pushing aside the woebegone wretches who pressed round him, he leant against the bar-room door that opened on the Rue Neuve and glued his ear to it, after giving three great thumps on the shutter with his clenched fist:
"Hullo, you, out there!" he shouted. "What are you doing?"
The noise outside ceased as had that indoors.
The mayor resumed his position and called the Three Brothers by their names. Then some one was heard approaching the shutter from the street.
"Who's there?" asked the mayor.
"It's Hubert," said a voice.
"I'm the mayor speaking."
"What can I do for you, M. Jules?"
"What are you doing out there, in the street and at the corner of the square?"
"We're putting down some straw, Mr. Mayor, some nice, dry straw, which looked like spoiling in the Delarbres' loft."
"To send you to blazes, Mr. Mayor, since you refuse to hand over that old Honorat."
At the announcement of this fresh and imminent catastrophe, the cries were renewed in the bar-room of the inn. A fierce gesture of the mayor's demanded silence.
"You wouldn't do that, Hubert. You wouldn't do a thing like that . . . Oh, he's not answering! Shut up, all of you, can't you! . . . Hubert! . . . Hubert! . . . "
"What is it, Mr. Mayor?"
"You surely won't do that?"
"Oh, won't I just! Here, Zoé, give me the matches . . . "
Fresh cries, fresh roars in the bar-room.
"Hold, your blasted tongues, will you? . . . Hubert! . . . Hubert! . . . You can't do that . . . There are women in here, women and girls! . . . "
The last word referred to Mlle. Franchet, who would never see fifty-five again. But Hubert's tremendous voice now filled the whole street. Men have since said that it was heard from one end of the village to the other.
"We don't care a hang about the women. It's Dr. Honorat we want . . . "
Then, pushing his mouth against the door, he sent a hideous threat through the key-hole:
"You shall all go through the mill --- the notary and the chemist and the notary's wife and the chemist's wife --- if you don't hand Dr. Honorat out to us . . . Give us Honorat and all will be forgiven and forgotten . . . "
This time, the ruffian was so near that there was no mistaking what he said. It seemed to Sagnier and Valentin as though his voice were drilling the words of temptation into their ears. At the same moment, a great flame lit up the fan-light; fear and cowardice began to do their work; and the two men made a rush for the limp rag of a doctor huddled in his corner. And they had no difficulty in dragging with them the women, who were already raving at the thought of being burnt alive.
But great was the assailants' amazement at finding themselves confronted by a victim who defended himself tooth and nail! The doctor had not understood at first; but, feeling the hands that clutched him and hearing the mouths that roared, "Out of this! Out of this!" he had no doubt left of the fate that awaited him. And he recovered his strength in the presence of death. It was a merciless battle. The notary, the chemist, the women no longer even thought of turning him out. Instinctively, they revenged themselves on his person for their own cowardice, treating him as a coward because he had not the pluck to save them all at the cost of his own skin. In the rear of this onslaught, the front of the inn began to blaze. The wood crackled and the whole house was lit up through the fan-lights. Outside, there were more cries, gun-shots; and suddenly came the mournful sound of the alarm-bell tolling over the village and across the fields, proclaiming the disaster, summoning help. The fierce and callous voices of the Three Brothers and the shrill voice of little Zoé rose above all the other noises. With the aid of a thick plank, which they used as a battering-ram, the Vautrins were now trying to drive in the bar-room door, while the Black Sun was already wreathed in clouds of smoke.
The women at last let go of the doctor, who, covered with blood, with his clothes torn from his back, crawled under the billiard-table. Followed by the men, they rushed into the yard. There was no way out of the yard save through the great gate under the archway. And this road was closed to them.
Roubion did nothing but shout:
"Why don't the fire-brigade come? . . . They're burning down my house! . . . My house is on fire! . . . Why don't the firemen come?" forgetting, for the moment, that he himself was the captain of the fire brigade and that the engine was locked up in his own shed.
The three inn-servants, in their night-attire, were asking for explanations in tragic sentences, accompanied by murderous threats. Not realizing what was taking place, they had attempted to escape by the Rue aux Navets, where they were shot at the moment they put their noses outside. They had only just time to slam and barricade the door. They had recognized the Vautrins' voices; and fear now sent them tearing around like squirrels in a cage.
The whole troop once more gathered round the mayor and called upon him to get them out of their plight without delay. And they might all have flung themselves upon him, as they had upon the doctor, if the glow in the sky, which lighted up the whole of the inn-yard, had not suddenly faded, as though it had been blown out.
The noises outside had ceased. The alarm-bell stopped ringing. The terrible battering against the bar-room door was heard no longer. This instantaneous calm, the dark and peaceful night surprised everybody. They stood for some time without speaking, without shouting, not knowing what to think. At last, the mayor's voice was heard saying;
"They have burnt a few trusses of straw to frighten us and they have gone away . . . "
Mme. Roubion thought and said:
"Perhaps the gendarmes have come . . . "
M. Roubion, following up his idea of getting rid of the whole crew, the primary cause of the tragedy, made a suggestion:
"There may be a way for all of us to get to the town-hall. We should be safe there. Come up with me to the hay-loft."
They followed him, scrambling up a wooden staircase, with a greasy rope for a rail.
"Mind and don't strike any matches!"
They were in utter darkness, groping and feeling for one another, stumbling at every step. At last, the hatch for hoisting the fodder was cautiously opened by Roubion; and a slice of the outer dusk, less black than that of the loft, stood out against the dense gloom inside. They had forgotten Dr. Honorat. No one knew what had become of him and nobody worried.
Roubion leant out of the hatch. He looked down at the lane that separated the inn from the town-hall, which was shrouded in darkness and gave no sign of life. Roubion --- who saw nothing at all --- said, in a low voice;
"I see the schoolmaster! He's making signs that we can get down this way. Who'll go first? The Vautrins will never imagine that we can get out here. And they will still be watching at the doors when we are far away."
"That's not a bad idea," said the mayor.
"Well, set them the example," said Roubion. "There's a rope and pulley: that's all you want."
The mayor declared that it was his duty to be the last to leave, like a captain on board his ship. But they explained to him that it was "not the same thing." In fact, it was "just the contrary." The first to leave was the first to take a risk. If he saved himself, then everybody was saved. He decided to venture, after fondly embracing Mme. Jules; and this was the road by which they all left the inn, men and women alike sliding down a rope. It formed the staple subject of conversation in the village for many a long day. Mme. Mûre had not practised this form of exercise for over sixty years; and I fear that it will leave her with a rick in her back for the rest of her life. To this day, when she speaks of it, she says, thinking of the Vautrins:
"There are men who behave worse than savages." M. Roubion was the last to let himself down.
When the little band were all below, the mayor said: "And now to thw town-hall, all of you!"
"Don't make a noise," Mme. Jules advised them.
But nobody dreamt of making a noise. They tried to get in by the back of the building, but they shouted to the schoolmaster in vain.
"He must have gone back to bed again," thought M. Roubion, aloud.
They decided to go round and reach the municipal sanctuary through the square, unless they should see anything to arouse their suspicions on the road.
A silence quite as impressive as the recent uproar weighed heavily on the village; and they pressed against one another, holding their breaths and walking on tiptoe .And even now no one troubled to think what could have become of Dr. Honorat.
As they were about to enter the square, gliding along the walls and keeping in the shadow, suddenly, as though with one accord, they stopped. Not a cry did they utter, not a movement did they make, nothing that might betray them. What they saw in the, circle of light cast by the lamp at the corner of the Rue Neuve had struck them dumb and powerless, as though by lightning. Élie and Siméon passed, dragging after them Dr. Honorat, with a gag in his mouth and his hands tied together. Behind them walked Hubert and little Zoé. Hubert carried a gun on his shoulder. Little Zoé carried two.
No, on thinking it well over, he positively preferred not to go home that evening. And yet it was not that he did not want to be good. He knew quite well that, when he spent the night in the forest, Madeleine was sad all the following day, because it grieved her to think that he would never be anything more than a horrid wild beast. Ah, what would she say now that she knew that he had killed one of the Race? Balaoo scratched the short bristly hairs on the top of his head. O perplexity! . . .
It was to purchase his forgiveness and to secure a welcome at Madeleine's hands that Balaoo had purloined the Empress' gown just now. After hanging M. Herment de Meyrentin's corpse, from the first tree in the forest on the Riom Road, in the dead man's own necktie as was right and proper, Balaoo had been three times round the Coriolis estate, listening for a sound, a call. Ah, if he had suddenly heard Madeleine's voice in the dark, calling him by the name which he bore in the Forest of Bandong --- "Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . . Balaoo!" --- how he would have flown to her! How gladly he would have returned at once to his human dwelling! . . . But no, he heard nothing. No one was calling him. Everything seemed dead in Coriolis' house since he had killed that visitor, that M. Herment de Meyrentin, without a word of warning.
With bent back and hanging head, dragging his feet and carrying his hands in his pockets, Balaoo had entered the deserted village, wondering what he could do to atone for his offence, when he met the little frightened troop of needlewomen, with their galoshes and foot-warmers, going to the Black Sun under Roubion's escort. He smiled, without exactly knowing why: perhaps because he recognized Mme. Mûre and Mme. Boche, on whom he had played many a practical joke in his time. He heard them talking about a wonderful dress, a dress of the kind that was only worn among the emperors of men, the dress of the Empress of Russia. Balaoo's curiosity was roused. He wanted to see that "masterpiece of French industry." He removed his shoes and tied them round his neck by the laces. He was quite comfortable now; and it only took an acrobatic leap or two over a couple of walls and a roof to bring him to the fan-light of that summer dining-room where Mme. Toussaint was spreading out the marvel. Balaoo made up his mind the moment he set eyes on it. The dress would suit Madeleine "to perfection." And, at the first opportunity supplied by the absence of the needlewomen, he pushed open the fan-light, held on to the window by his hind-hands, took a swing; seized the coveted object with his fore-hands flying, leapt back through the fan-light and vanished over the roofs with the Empress' gown.
He ran straight to the little door at the end of Coriolis' garden, his own private door, and was on the point of ringing. But, suddenly, his hand, which was already on the bell-pull, rose and scratched the bristly hairs on the top of his head. He remembered the law, the lessons in the law which Madeleine had given him:
"One must always pay for things before taking them!"
And Balaoo had just taken something without paying for it; for, to Balaoo, stealing and taking meant the same thing; and the question of payment before taking possession was only a matter of politeness invented by the members of the Human Race, who refused to do anything like other races. And Madeleine would not be pleased. She would send him packing, with his Empress' gown. And that would make two bothers instead of one. Sorrowfully, he moved away from the little door at the end of the garden and made for the open country.
So there he stood, on the edge of the forest, with the Empress' gown under his arm. Hearing a noise in the distance, from the Rue Neuve, he said to himself that they must have discovered his theft and that Mme. Boche and Mme. Mûre were rousing the whole village in order to tell the story of that strange event . . . Unless, indeed, it was some one in the neighbourhood who, coming home by the Riom Road, had bumped up against the distinguished cqrpse of the distinguished visitor whom he had strung up by his necktie on the first branch of the first tree on the left of the road. If so, M. Jules had been told by this time and the man who played the drum would be harnessing his cart to go and fetch the commissary of police, as they always did when there were dead people hanging at the end of a rope . . . Unless, again, they had learnt that Élie, Siméon and Hubert --- with his, Balaoo's, assistance; but no one would ever know that! --- had escaped from Riom prison, a thing which would certainly annoy the members of the Race, for the Three Brothers were feared by everybody.
Ah, Balaoo had done some pretty work that day! It was a red letter day in his life. He ought to have been well pleased with himself . . . But no, he was not: since Madeleine was unhappy, Balaoo was sad.
However, he could not remain all night on the edge of the forest, whining like a baby, and it was not healthy to sleep in the open air; so he got up to go to his home in the forest, his little set of chambers in the Big Beech in the Pierrefeu clearing.
It was a very dense forest, which had never been disfigured except by the necessary high-roads running from town to town. Apart from these gashes, which are inevitable in the forests of the Human Race, there were no carriage-roads, good, bad or indifferent: merely a few small foot-paths used by poachers and animals; and even then you had to know where to find them! And those woods went on for ever in the direction of the rising sun. Oh, there was plenty of room to walk about, even for a Balaoo who had known the Forest of Bandong! True, all that tangle of hornbeams, ashes, big oaks and big beeches; all that collection of thousands of pine trees standing bolt upright; all that which went to make up the Black Woods was but a shift for Balaoo, "as who should say a park." And, when one of his friends in the underwood, such as As the fox, for instance, put on side about the thick yoke-elm where his hole was, Balaoo had great fun telling him stories of the giant creepers of the tropics, roaring with laughter as he did so.
Thus, last time that the other came to look him up at the Big Beech, Balaoo spoke out pretty freely:
"As, you're just a new-born baby. If you had seen, as I have, the flowers of the cocoanut-trees and the trees with three feet, (8) in which we build our huts above the thick water of the swamps; and if you had seen the wall of giant creepers, strung from tree to tree, which, for a hundred thousand years, have kept the members of the Human Race from penetrating to our village, you would never again dare mention your hole of a house protected by the yoke-elm of Saint-Martin-des-Bois . . . That As," thought Balaoo to himself, "who puts on such a lot of side in Europe, would bring a smile to the lips of an elephant at home." And he added, aloud, "Besides, you see, just look at this: when anyone wants to enter my Forest of Bandong, he has to make a hole in it, like a tunnel. It's quite unlike the forests over here."
As did not insist, knowing that he would not get the better of Balaoo, remembering the proverb:
"A traveller may lie with authority."
As understood all that Balaoo said to him, because the pithecanthrope took care, when talking to animals, to drop the language of men which he had learnt from Coriolis and Madeleine. He never waited to be asked, but always, very amiably, put himself on an equality with them, as between beast and beast, and communication was at once restored between animal instincts. This, however, did not prevent him from preserving his human dignity and even thinking his human thoughts, while expressing himself to the others in the usual terms employed by the animal race. And he acted in this way even with General Captain, who spoke men's words without understanding them and understood only animals' words.
General Captain was the parrot he had stolen from Mlle. Franchet and carried as a slave to his hut in the forest, to serve as his hall-porter. Balaoo had the greatest contempt for General Captain, being of opinion that there was nothing sillier for an animal than to insist on talking men's words when he does not understand what they mean.
Thus thought Balaoo in the dense forest, as he walked, without a road and without compass or matches, through the dark, moonless night to his hut in the Big Beech, which might be described as his bachelor's chambers. Thus thought Balaoo, his heart heavy with his misdeeds, carrying the Empress' gown, done up in a neat parcel, under his arm.
A voice from high up in the air disturbed his meditations:
"The idiot!" said Balaoo, aloud, shrugging his shoulders.
The voice at once continued, in the dark trees:
"Well I never! Did you ever? What next? What next? What next?"
"Stop playing the fool, General Captain!" commanded the pithecanthrope, in a rough, animal voice, employing animal sounds that produced an immediate effect.
General Captain ceased pretending to be a man and, from his perch on a branch so high that none of us could have seen it from below, even had it been daylight and even had we had Balaoo's eyes, he humbly bade his master welcome, like the humble porter-parrot that he was and in the parrot tongue, which Balaoo understood quite well, for almost all animals understand one another's language.
Balaoo gave a grunt or two and asked how it was that the parrot was not asleep, at that time of night. General Captain replied that he was awoke by a great light shining over the village:
You can't see it from below," the bird-porter explained to the pithecanthrope, "but I can see it clearly. The sky is quite red, a glorious, bright red, as when the sun rises in my country."
Balaoo grinned, for he knew General Captain's high-flown pretensions. The bird, who lied like a lawyer or a dentist, used to declare that he had seen as many countries as Balaoo himself, though he was unable to name them. As a matter fact, he was only able to brag from hearing a Brazilian parakeet describe his equatorial feats of prowess at the Marseilles bird-fancier's where General Captain had been landed as a youngster. Balaoo always shut him up by saying:
"Oh, drop it! I have known parrots in the Forest of Bandong. They were not a yellowy-green like you, but had bright-red wings and bright-blue heads and gold round their necks. You don't even know; General Captain, how the parrot-mothers of the Forest of Bandong get the gold into their little one's necks. Why, old chap, it's by feeding them on the yolks of eggs! There's nothing like yolk of egg to make you gold in the neck. That's the way they produce canary-yellow in the Forest of Bandong, General Captain!"
Whereupon the general would make no reply, because everybody knew that he was not fed on the yolks of eggs at Mlle. Franchet's.
For the moment, Balaoo climbed the tree, feeling uneasy at what the parrot had told him about the fire. The Big Beech in the Pierrefeu clearing was at least three hundred years old. It was a world, a nature, a universe in itself. It was the finest tree in the forest, stood nearly a hundred and sixty feet high and was over six feet in diameter. Balaoo took the greatest pride in it, although he never omitted to tell any of his forest friends who congratulated him upon it that the tree was nothing compared with those in the Forest of Bandong and that his father and mother, before slinging their house in the mangroves in the swamps, had begun, when they were quite young, by living in a eucalyptus-tree which was over fifteen hundred feet high --- so he said --- and thirty feet in diameter. However, he consented to be satisfied with his tree, for he liked its smooth, clean bark, its silky branches, its polished leaves, which looked so shiny after the rain; and he ate its fruit. But he took care to throw away the rind, nature, whose voice was always whispering in his ear, having told him that it contained the worst of poisons, the one that gives epilepsy and makes you look like a tipsy man.
Balaoo, when he moved in, had driven all the animals from the tree, excepting the little birds, whose nests he respected with the greatest care. But he had sent a family of crows about their business, with such honours as were due to them; for their croaking deafened him and disturbed his midday slumbers. The crows thought themselves quite safe up there, on the top floor, where they sat and laughed at men; but they were nicely caught, one fine spring afternoon, when they saw a man come walking up the trunk as easily as up a staircase, who, after greeting them with a stately wave of his straw hat in his right hand, with his left sent the clumsy tangle of twigs and branches which that wretched family dignified with the sweet name of nest flying right across the tree-tops.
As I said, Balaoo kept the little birds with him, in his tree. This was not from any excess of sentiment, but because he loved a good omelette, a fact of which the little birds became aware, in course of time, and left him, for all his consideration in not driving them away.
Balaoo, after climbing ten flights of branches, arrived at his little set of pithecanthrope chambers. The hall-porter was standing at the door, with his beak wide open, gazing towards the distant blaze. Balaoo shaded his eyes with his hand and looked. The fire was flaring in the very middle of Saint-Martin, by the Place de la Mairie. He at once felt reassured. As long as Madeleine's home was not in danger, nothing else mattered. His thoughts turned instinctively to the Three Brothers, who loved to play tricks on the members of the Human Race, like real pithecanthropes, and he said to himself that this great glare was perhaps an invention of theirs
The sound of the alarm-bell filled his ears with a noisy and unpleasant booming. General Captain thought aloud that they were ringing the bells for the midnight mass to which Mlle. Franchet went once a year. Balaoo called him a fool and told him to hold his tongue. All this fuss and bustle in the village worried him. He was still thinking of his hanged man, of Madeleine's grief, of Coriolis' anger. When the light fell and the alarm bell ceased, he went indoors and struck a match.
He lit a candle, which had not cost him a large sum, any more than the candlestick. We may safely say that Balaoo had furnished his flat without going to great expense. The grocers', drapers' and other shops in the village had supplied him, in due course, with all he wanted; and he had provisions in his larder; for his hut, which he had built very neatly, solidly and comfortably, in the pithecanthrope style, with reeds, leaves, ferns and branches, was divided into two rooms, after the fashion of men. In the back room, he heaped up the fruit of his industry and the produce of his thefts; the front room, which was always very clean and nicely kept and almost decorative, contained the essential articles of furniture, that is to say, a mat; a chest of drawers filled with a few changes of clothes and linen, but especially plenty of well-starched collars and cuffs, for which Balaoo entertained a perfect passion: this chest of drawers had once belonged to Dr. Honorat; a pedestal cupboard, from the same source; a cabinet-photograph of Madeleine; and that was all. No bed. It was bad enough to have a bed, with sheets and blankets, in his rooms in the house at the village. Here, when you wanted to sleep, you lay down on the mat; and the same when you wanted to talk. Balaoo hated arm-chairs, of whatever style or period. This does not mean that he was averse to decorative art: for instance, he had hung his walls with picture-placards advertising the best chocolates and the daintiest biscuits. The owners of the Black Sun Inn had long misses a gorgeous cardboard poster, on which a young and lovely female, in short skirts, was pictured lifting her little finger as she sipped a glass of golden yellow bitters. This work of art, which had once adorned the Roubions' summer dining-room, now figured in Master Balaoo's picture-gallery, at his country-house in the Big Beech at Pierrefeu.
General Captain was attached to this palace, in the office of hall-porter, by one leg. His duties consisted not only in cleaning the whole establishment, with a deft beak, during his master's absences, but also in admitting visitors and giving them beech-mast while they waited. For Balaoo, whcn in the mood, was at home to his friends of the woods and the underwood. For those who were heavy in their haunches, he had contrived a system of little notches cut into the trunk so as to form a staircase. He had taken the idea from General Captain's perch at Mlle. Franchet's. Balaoo, who had never seen a lift, was very proud of this piece of work, which allowed even his friend Dhol, who had never left the level of the ground, to walk about Balaoo's tree as though he were at home and to give himself the airs of a jaguar, airs which, I am bound to say, looked absolutely ridiculous in a wolf.
Balaoo, as we have seen, struck a light. He next unfurled the splendours of the Empress' gown before General Captain's fascinated gaze. Then, after shaking it, as he had been taught to shake out stuffs, in order to remove the folds, he hung it on a nail. This done, he lay down dreamily on his mat, his brain afluster with the day's events.
He longed for quiet; but General Captain never ceased asking him questions, to which, for that matter, he did not reply.
The Empress' gown puzzled the hall-porter. He wanted to know if Balaoo had brought the garment for his own use and if he should soon see his master walking about in that fine white dress. He turned it with his beak and managed to tear a bit of lace from it, for which he got a box on the ear.
"You needn't be angry," he said, hurrying out of reach. "I am sure it would suit you beautifully. You ought to have a necklace of beads to go with it, like Mlle. Franchet."
Balaoo was filled with concentrated fury at the idea that anyone could conceive him decked out like that old faggot of a Mlle. Franchet. General Captain, who was too stupid to notice his master's bad temper, went on jabbering like a parrot:
"I hear that beads are much worn by the monkeys." At this word, Balaoo pushed two fingers into his nostrils and sat up on his hind-quarters, a bad sign.
"A parakeet in the Cours Belzunce at Marseilles told me that, on the Equator, the macaques" --- O fool of a General Captain, to use that name before Balaoo! --- "have hairs behind their ears and rings and bracelets of yellow gold on their feet and necklaces of rare pearls round their necks."
Balaoo withdrew the fingers from his nostrils, a sign that he had overcome his anger and recovered his spirits. One can't lose one's temper with a General Captain. And he said:
"General Captain, I suppose you don't know what a jacare is?"
"A jacare? No, Balaoo, I don't."
"A jacare is a sort of crocodile who lives in the Forest of Bandong. When the Java panther begins to eat him by the tail, he does not move a step; when the Java panther has eaten half of him and satisfied his hunger for the day, the panther goes away, but the jacare remains. Yes, I give you my word, he remains waiting for the panther to come back, next day, and eat the other half. Isn't he a fool?"
"Why do you tell me that?" asked the hall-porter, aghast.
"So that you may know that, in the Forest of Bandong, everything is finer and grander than here. Thus, for instance, the jacare is an even bigger fool than you. But don't go building on it, General Captain! True, I sha'n't ever eat you by the tail; but my friend As, if I gave him leave, might be less squeamish."
At that moment, some one scratched at the door. Balaoo told his servant to open it, for he recognized a friendly scratch; and, as luck would have it, As the fox walked in, carrying a chicken between his jaws and waving a greeting with his arched brush.
Balaoo at once ordered him to go outside and leave his prey on the door-mat --- Balaoo had recognized one of Mme. Boche's chickens --- and reproached him with his carnivorous instincts. As put the chicken carefully in a corner, within easy reach. His snout was covered with blood and feathers and he stretched it out on his paws with the air of a philosopher who claims the right to live as he likes and who can listen to the observations of others with equanimity, having his belly full and his dinner provided for the morrow. He let the virtuous Balaoo talk and descant upon the peaceful charms of a vegetarian diet; and, at the moment when the other least expected it, let fly an argument which, in a manner of speaking, struck the pithecanthrope all of a heap:
"You boast of being a man," said As, "and you don't even eat chicken!"
Balaoo said nothing, for a series of moments that, to himself, seemed endless. Would no fit answer ever occur to his brain? It was really not worth while going through a course of study, learning to read men's words on wooden cubes and to write them first with a pencil and then with a pen and ink, only to allow one's self to be flummoxed like that by a simple As. At last, he sat up, with glittering eyes, gave a cough and declared:
"I wouldn't hurt a fly for the sake of food! True enough, I kill; but I kill because I'm annoyed and I never kill to eat: I call that disgusting; and you can take it straight from me."
"Then you don't like those who kill to eat," said As. "If so, why do you like the Three Brothers, who kill to eat?"
"I saw them kill the process server; and they did not eat the process-server."
"Yes, but they kill us, here, in the forest; and they do it to eat us."
"You flatter yourself," said Balaoo, shrugging his shoulders. "The Three Brothers never eat fox. Men don't eat fox. You are not even good to eat for those who eat everything, which is far from saying that the Three Brothers won't kill you, for they don't like chatterers and windbags."
"I know more than you think about them," said As, in a tone of vexation. "As I was going through the Rue Neuve, I saw them dragging one of the Race along ; and they had put a piece of white stuff, like that which you use to wipe yourself with, in his mouth; and they were kicking him to make him go faster. I ran away, because they had guns on their shoulders. They can do what they like, for all I care: they are no friends of mine; but, as you are so thick with them, you might tell them to leave me alone. Last year, I came home to find that they had set fire to my hole. They thought that I was there."
"People who lead the life which you do must be prepared for everything," replied Balaoo, sententiously, without making any promise. And he thought it his duty to add, "There are good and bad sides to forest life. And now, As, old chap, let me get to sleep."
"It's easy to sleep," said As, who understood that he was being shown the door, "when one is the friend of men and has an easy conscience, like yourself. By the way, Balaoo, there's a man hanging from the first tree on the left on the Riom Road; you ought to go and cut him down."
Balaoo sprang at As' paw and nearly broke it:
"Who told you that?"
"No one told me: I saw it! " said As, releasing and licking his paw.
"What did you see?" growled Balaoo.
As gave a glance to make sure that the door was open:
"I saw you putting his tie straight!" he flung to Balaoo, jumping out of the little set of chambers in the Big Beech at Pierrefeu.
Balaoo ran to the door, but the other was far away.
His nasty, sniggering laugh was heard in the dark and leafy distance.
Balaoo, choking with anger, could find nothing better than a word in man-language to express his animal wrath:
"Filth! " he shouted, in his terrible voice of thunder, into the black night of the forest.
M. Mathieu Delafosse was upset, to begin with, by the undoubted fact of the kidnapping of Dr. Honorat and showered reproaches on the mayor of Saint-Martin for not interfering when the ruffians were passing under his nose with their unfortunate victim, to which M. Jules replied, with no little common sense, that, if he had given the least sign of life, the result would have been a great massacre of his fellow-citizens and that, taking one thing with another, they could congratulate themselves on being let off, after such a night, with the disappearance of Dr. Honorat, who, at any rate, was an unmarried man.
These sage words did not, for the moment, have the effect of cheering monsieur le prefet, who felt a secret fear that the Three Brothers had seized upon the doctor's person only with the object of holding him as a hostage, thus complicating a task which was difficult enough in itself. However, upon reflection, the fact that the three ruffians had already killed M. Herment de Meyrentin gave monsieur le prefet some little hope. Those scoundrels were thirsting for blood; and Dr. Honorat also was probably dead by this time. If that were so, there was no need for the authorities to hold their hands lest they should thereby be giving the doctor his quietus!
"They are impulsive brutes," thought M. le Prefet Mathieu Delafosse, recovering his serenity. "They've killed him without thinking that they had the price of their ransom in their hands."
Once this idea, that Dr. Honorat's sufferings were at an end, had taken definite root in the brains of the first magistrate of the department, it was resolved to "go strenuously to work."
There would be no shrinking from extreme measures.
The government was very much annoyed by this fresh bother, because of the rumour which began to be current that the Three Brothers, who were known for political agents, had held their tongues throughout the trial on the part which they played in the elections, only because they had been promised an absolute chance of escape.
And that escape had been neatly carried out indeed! It could not be explained except on the assumption that a helper had come from the outside, working at his leisure, undisturbed by the warders. The warders themselves declared that they could make nothing of it. The commission of enquiry came to no conclusion and declared itself powerless to explain the escape by ordinary human means. The Three Brothers, confined, in one cell and guarded by five armed policemen, had flown as though on wings. When it happened, the warders were playing cards in the cell, as usual, all seated round a table, while Siméon, Élie and Hubert stood behind, advising them. When the game was finished and the players raised their heads, they looked in vain for the prisoners, who had disappeared. Two of the bars at the window had been twisted out of shape with an effort which no man's arm was capable of making. It was through this aperture that they had flown away. And there was really no other word for it: they must have skimmed across the roofs like birds. In short, the whole thing resembled a dream; and the ministry, who would certainly have to answer questions, could hardly come down to the Chamber with such a fairy-tale! And so the prefect and his staff were given clearly to understand that, since it was impossible to explain the escape, they must absolutely find the fugitives, alive or dead, so that any idea of complicity might be removed.
"Strenuous measures, major, strenuous measures!" said M. Mathieu Delafosse to the Vicomte de la Terrenoire, whom he found prancing on his sorrel outside Mme. Valentin's windows, with all the village round him. "You will please trot down the Tournadon-la-Riviere Road with your men, till you come to the Grange-aux- Belles, and there join the detachment which is marching from the Chevalet side. That is the only road still open. It must be barred to the ruffians. You will then arrange with Colonel du Briage and drive the quarry between Moabit and Pierrefeu. And be sure to tell the colonel to send his whole regiment into the woods and to make his men beat all the bushes and hunt about everywhere. And, if the scoundrels defend themselves, they're to be shot down like rabbits. Send me a message by one of your troopers, when you're nearing Moabit, and we'll enter the forest in our turn. Do you understand? Good-bye and good luck to you! . . . I shall go straight back to that old Vautrin hag, who may end by telling us something. When I think that they had the cheek to come home and fetch their belongings. What belongings? More politics, that's certain! There was nothing found when the place was searched . . . And what's become of the Zoé girl? The old woman says that she went scouring the forest with them. It seems hardly likely: she would be rather in their way . . . "
"Little Zoé knows the forest as well as they do," said monsieur le maire, who had now arrived, "and she climbs the trees like a monkey. I tell you, they're not caught yet! You would have done better to keep them in your prison, monsieur le prefet."
The prefect pretended not to hear and, followed by the whole village, turned towards the Vautrins' cabin, where paralyzed old Barbe lay moaning in her recess by the chimney. The mayor and his two deputies sadly closed the procession.
The other actors in last night's tragedy did not think of putting in an appearance. One and all were laid up with a feverish chill, including even Mme. Godefroy, the postmistress, though there was plenty for her to do. All the heroes and heroines of that fatal night wished themselves miles away, down to Mme. Valentin, who carefully kept her little powdered and painted face hidden behind the lace curtains of her dainty bedroom, although her maid told her that M. de la Terrenoire had passed under her windows on horseback to say good-bye before setting out for the war.
The only people who could have told the truth about the events of the night were either invisible or silent. And the population had embroidered on the terrible adventure to its heart's content. Some went so far as to say that the Vautrins had loaded with chains at least half a score of prisoners, men and women together, and carried them off to the forest with Dr. Honorat and that the Three Brothers had started operations by slitting the tongues of everybody in the big room at the Black Sun.
Citizens who had had the courage to peep through their shutters on that accursed night had seen things fit to make you shudder. Mme. Toussaint, they said, who had tried to defend her Empress' gown, had been dragged three times round the Place de la Mairie by the hair of her head.
The news soon spread all over the department. People struck work for thirty miles around. Peasants came across the vineyards waving their arms and asking, as soon as they were within earshot, if "they" had been caught. Their curiosity outweighed their very fears.
No, no, the Three Brothers had not been caught.
And what beat everything was that old Barbe, on her truckle-bed, laughed in her sleeve at all the questions which the prefect put to her. She was prouder than ever of having brought into the world that fine progeny which was keeping the whole Republic busy and upsetting an entire department. And she sent a cold shiver down the back of all who had entered her cabin by the way in which she said:
"Ah, good! They've taken Dr. Honorat, have they? I wouldn't be in his skin for a trifle!"
And she went on, in the hearing of the thunder-struck authorities:
"Oh,the lads! When I think that I had all three of them 'in one litter!' There aren't many mothers like me in the world! I ought to have had a decoration. Ay, on the christening-day, I thought they were going to fork out the legion of honour! The mayor gave me a kiss. Yes, M. Jules, that's how the mayors used to carry on with Barbe, in those days. They christened the three of them together. They put three pillows in a basket, my word they did, with the three laddies on top of them, squealing like calves. And they carried the three kids in the basket to his reverence, who put salt on their tongues. There were three godfathers, who all gave their names. And, in the evening, the whole village was drunk and the mayor and the priest too! . . . That's how people carried on in those days, M. Jules! . . . So don't you go hurting my boys! Old Barbe couldn't get three more like them nowadays!"
And then she stopped and refused to answer any more questions.
Suddenly, there was a great commotion in the road outside the Vautrins' house. Everybody was pushing and jostling to see a white thing coming down the middle of the road, from the forest.
It suggested an apparition of the Virgin Mary. A white, ethereal shape came gliding and floating towards the astounded crowd. Nobody dared take a step in its direction. Everyone marvelled what it could be. The pious crossed themselves. It was like a miracle, that beautiful lady in white, erect and buoyant in the middle of the road! . . .
She advanced with no apparent movement of her feet. Monsieur le maire and monsieur le prefet, alarmed and curious like all the rest, had gone to the window. And, suddenly; a voice cried:
"Why, it's the Empress' dress!"
And every mouth repeated:
"It's the Empress' dress! It's the Empress' dress come back!"
But the Empress' dress was not returning alone; and soon they were able to see that the Empress' dress was returning on the shoulders of little Zoé! Yes, as I live, it was Zoé, in the Empress' gown, giving herself the airs of the Queen of Heaven as she came down the road! The stupor was so great that not a cry was heard, not a laugh. And yet it was enough to make a cat laugh to see that little black sloe of a Zoé, who was usually no bigger than a shrimp, now looking ever so tall in the white trailing gown of the Empress of All the Russias!
She wore that gown, which was not yet stitched, like a cope, with the back panel falling in an immense long train over her heels; and she had passed her bare, skinny, grubby arms through the holes that were waiting for the sleeves. Her towzled blue-black hair hung down her shoulders and flowed in inky waves over all that as yet unspotted whiteness.
Zoé wore a serious face, as though in church. And her eyes insulted all the bystanders.
She at once addressed the mayor:
"Monsieur le maire," she said, boldly, in her little shrill, vinegary voice, "I have come from my brothers, who have something to say to the President of the Republic. They want him to give them a pardon."
The ambassadress rattled out her message loud enough for everyone to hear. Then she took breath and gave a little cough, putting her hand before her mouth like a well-bred ambassadress, or like a schoolgirl trying to remember the exact words of her lesson.
This quiet self-assurance took everybody aback. She continued:
"If the President of the Republic does that, my brothers will never be heard of any more. They will do nobody any harm and they will leave the district."
Then an angry, threatening voice arose. It was M. Mathieu Delafosse, recovering his wits:
"And, if your brothers do not receive their pardon, what will they do then?" he asked, furious at seeing all his apprehensions justified, for he guessed that there was a hostage behind this move.
Zoé coughed, blushed slightly, gave a kick to the train of her lovely dress and said:
"If the President of the Republic does not give them their pardon, they will kill Dr. Honorat."
Loud rumours at once arose and the prefect again regretted that the worthy doctor had not already departed this life. He was heard growling in his moustache: "A nice business! We're in for blackmail now!" He left the Vautrins' house at last and walked up to Zoé. The others formed a circle round them on the road.
"Don't touch me, mind!" said the girl. "My brothers said that, if anyone touched me, they would kill Dr. Honorat first and set fire to Saint-Martin afterwards."
Fresh rumours, which the prefect silenced with a gesture:
"No one's going to touch you, child," he promised, with sudden gentleness, "but you must tell us where Dr. Honorat is."
"He's with my brothers."
"And where are your brothers?"
"With Dr. Honorat," replied the girl, wiping her nose on a corner of the Empress' gown.
The mayor now came forward:
"Zoé," he said, "I promise that you shall not be hurt. Go back quietly to the forest, where your brothers are waiting for you, and tell them that they have nothing to gain by behaving as they are doing. The President of the Republic has not yet taken any decision about their pardon; but they must remember that they can't hope to save their heads by setting fire to the village and murdering Dr. Honorat. Of course, we can't promise anything; but, supposing one of them was to have been pardoned a couple of days ago, he won't be now, unless, of course, they all three surrender of their own accord. Tell them to think of that. Do you understand?"
"I can't understand a word of what you're saying!" declared Zoé, whereat everybody laughed, in spite of the gravity of the position.
The mayor, flushing pink under the humiliation, retorted, roughly:
"Don't you understand that, if the President of the Republic was thinking of pardoning one of your brothers . . . ?"
"That's no good," said Zoé, interrupting him bluntly.
"What they told me was, 'All or none!' "
More rumours in the crowd.
"This obstinacy won't serve their turn!" exclaimed M. Mathieu Delafosse. "You go and tell them, child, that you've seen the prefect and the gendarmerie and the police and all the soldiers from Clermont . . . and that orders have been given to fire on them, if they don't surrender."
Zoé coughed, with her hand before her mouth, and
"Is that your answer?"
"Our answer is that they must surrender and then the President of the Republic will see what he can do. If they listen to reason and don't hurt Dr. Honorat, the chances are that they won't repent it . . . You tell them that."
"I don't mind," said Zoé, nodding her head, "but that's no answer . . . "
"Tell them, all the same " said the mayor, "and you'll see, it will make them think, if they have any sense . . . Be off, now. How is Dr. Honorat?"
"Oh, he's all right!"
"What does he say?"
"He doesn't say anything."
"Mind they don't put him to pain!"
"Oh, he's tied up, so that he can't run away! Apart from that, no one bothers about him!"
"But surely you give him something to eat?"
"Oh, we gave him his feed this morning, but most likely he's not hungry: he never touched his pan! . . . So that's all you have to say to me? . . . Well, then, good-bye, gentlemen all; see you later!"
And she turned back, in her Empress' gown, while no one ventured to utter a reflection upon the manner in which she had obtained possession of that sumptuous garment. Nobody cared to fall out with the Vautrins.
A few voices were even uplifted in praise of Zoé's appearance in that get-up. Some one said:
"It suits her jolly well!"
She dissappeared as she had come, erect and proud as a lady, not deigning to turn her head, sweeping all the dust off the road . . .
It goes without saying that none dared follow her. The edge of the forest was dangerous, notwithstanding the presence of a company of infantry which was flaunting its red trousers on the grass, waiting for orders to march ahead. Other soldiers, farther away, continued the chain of posts; but, as the officers said, "it would need two divisions and more to make sure of preventing the escape of those beggars who know every bit of timber in the forest."
Colonel du Briage had drawn up his men on the other side of the tall trees of Pierrefeu, but hesitated to push his way into the woods. As a matter of fact, he hated this police-work and only performed it grudgingly. He had told the Vicomte de la Terrenoire, who was riding at the head of his squadron from one end of the district to the other, linking the different units of that curious besieging army, that he would talk to the prefect first, for he had no intention of accepting the slightest responsibility in the matter.
The episode of Zoé's embassy delayed operations still longer. The prefect telegraphed to the minister of the interior and was waiting for the minister's reply, which had not yet arrived at three o'clock.
At three o'clock, on the other hand, Zoé once more appeared on the edge of the forest. She was still wearing her Empress' gown and was still bareheaded, in spite of the blazing sun. She passed through the soldiers, who could not refrain from cracking a few jests at her, which made her knit her young brows, for no one had ever had a word to say against Zoé's morals.
She walked into the Rue Neuve. The whole village was around her in a second. She said that she had brought the answer of the Three Brothers and that she wanted to speak to the mayor. They told her that the mayor, the prefect, the chief detective of Clermont, Colonel du Briage himself and two majors had just finished luncheon at the Black Sun.
She entered the Black Sun and, a minute after, was shown into the room where the civil and military authorities were sitting.
There were clouds of tobacco-smoke, a profusion of bottles and liqueur-glasses and, on the top of all, any number of stupid remarks, stupid because they were futile and could lead to nothing until the minister's reply came. However, in the absence of the minister's reply, they now had Zoé.
It was the prefect, of course, who put the questions: "Come here, child," he said, as though he were speaking to a little shy girl.
But there was no shyness about Zoé. She walked up to him, carrying in her hand a parcel wrapped in a newspaper.
"You've seen your brothers? And you're back already? Then they are not far away," said the prefect.
"You see for yourself that, if we had wanted to capture them, they would have been in our hands by now. But it's better that they should come back of their own accord. I hope they understood that?"
"Here's their answer," said Zoé.
And she held out her parcel to the prefect, who asked: "What's that?"
"Look inside and you'll know," she said, with her usual coolness.
After turning his eyes over all those present, to express his astonishment, M. Mathieu Delafosse took the parcel from Zoé's hands and began to undo it.
Everybody's curiosity was excited to the utmost when, after the first wrapper had been removed, another appeared all covered with blood-stains. The prefect opened it quickly and at once put the parcel on the table, uttering an exclamation of horror as he did so. The others, who stood bending over him, all gave a cry of horror with him. The parcel contained a finger.
When the excitement had more or less subsided, M. Mathieu Delafosse, pale in the face and gnawing his moustache, began to question Zoé:
"What's this you've brought us, you unhappy girl?"
"It's one of Dr. Honorat's little fingers," replied Zoé, placidly, wiping her nose again on the Empress' dress.
"Have your brothers cut off the doctor's finger?"
"Well, it's not yours, monsieur le prefet, and it's not
"Oh, so it's Dr. Honorat's little finger, is it?"
"I know it is," said the mayor. "I can tell it by the ring."
And he pointed to the gold ring which had been left on the finger as though to prove its genuineness.
"But this is abominable!" exclaimed the prefect, turning paler and paler.
"Why shouldn't they cut a finger off people who want to cut off their heads?" asked Zoé, logically.
"And can you tell me, you little wretch, why they have committed this horrible cruelty?"
"It's like this, they say it's to show you that they're prepared to go to all lengths with Dr. Honorat, if the President of the Republic won't give them their pardon. They told me to tell you that they'll give the President of the Republic until the stroke of twelve to-morrow. If, at the stroke of twelve to-morrow, the President of the Republic has not pardoned them, they'll cut off the doctor's other little finger and make you think again. I'm only telling you what they said. Lastly, on the day after to-morrow, they'll kill him outright and send you the pieces; and they'll resume their full liberty; and you'll be responsible for whatever happens . . . That's all I have to say. Can I go back?".
At that moment, the prefect was handed an official telegram. It was the long-expected answer. M. Mathieu Delafosse opened it eagerly and read it at a glance. Then he indignantly gave vent to his dissatisfaction:
"Well, this beats everything!"
And he passed the telegram to the colonel and the mayor, who read:
"Impossible for government to treat with people who have placed themselves outside the law. The law cannot give way; but act cautiously, for sake of Dr. Honorat."
"That doesn't help us much!" said the mayor. "It amounts to this, monsieur le prefet," explained the colonel, "that the government leaves the entire responsibility for the operations with you. I will do what you tell me, but there must be no misunderstanding: I want precise orders; and, for the rest, I wash my hands of it."
"But what am I to do? What am I to do? You see for yourselves they mean to kill him!" exclaimed M. Mathieu Delafosse.
"That's certain!" declared Zoé, whose presence had been overlooked by all of them.
The prefect was ashamed of betraying his weakness and embarrassment before an agent of the enemy. He got out of his difficulty, for the moment, by a display of anger:
"What's still more certain," he cried, "is that your three brothers, if they act like savages, will obtain neither pardon nor pity and that they will be massacred by the troops before dark. Those are the orders."
"No," said Zoé, shaking her head. "If those were the orders, you wouldn't be so puzzled. However, what am I to tell them?"
"Tell them to set Dr. Honorat free."
"That's no answer. You won't be satisfied till they've cut off his other little finger. So I'm to go?"
The mayor said:
"We might telegraph the story of the little finger to the minister. Perhaps that will make him come to a decision."
The prefect acquiesced:
"I'll do so at once."
And he called for a pen and ink.
"Listen, Zoé," he said. "I'll keep you here until I receive an answer from the minister. You go into that room next door. We must get the matter settled one way or the other."
"You'd better get it settled as fast as you can," said Zoé, "for they're beginning to lose their patience in the forest."
Zoé went into the next room and the prefect wrote out his telegram. When the telegram was dispatched, they resumed the discussion.
Suddenly, the noise of a great altercation came from the next room. They heard a voice yelping:
"Give me back my dress! Give me back my dress, will you, you thief, you sister of murderers!"
And the door opened and Zoé came and took refuge with the officers and claimed their assistance and protection against Mother Toussaint, who wanted to strip her as naked as a worm. Mother Toussaint had learnt from public rumour that her Empress' gown was on Zoé's back and that Zoé was walking about, doing the grand in her property. She forthwith forgot the terrors of the night and her wholesome dread of the Three Brothers, ran to the Black Sun like mad and went for Zoé, who was at a loss to understand the reason of this rating.
Zoé defended herself with indignation, opened wide innocent eyes before the mayor and the prefect and called heaven to witness that the gown was really and truly hers and that she had never stolen a thing in her life.
Losing his last shred of patience at an incident which he considered of no importance at such a moment, the prefect asked the girl where she had got that work of art. When the child replied that a passer-by, whom she did not know, had made her a present of it in the forest, there was a great burst of laughter, which carried the day. The mayor himself tried to make Madame Toussaint understand how very much out of place her claim was at a moment when they were engaged in saving a man's life. Lastly, the chief-detective reconciled everybody by dogmatically stating that the child had not been seen to steal the dress and that, in the matter of personal property, possession is nine points of the law, whereupon Mme. Toussaint was turned out of the room and advised to seek her remedy in the law-courts. And thus was settled the fate of the Empress' gown, which remained on the back of little Zoé, Queen of the Forest at Saint-Martin-des-Bois. While this was going on, the government's second reply arrived. It was as categorical as the first and ran:
"Abominable savagery. We repeat law cannot give way. Finish business to-day certain and telegraph report. Debate set down for to-morrow. Act cautiously, for sake of Dr. Honorat."
As we may imagine, these fresh instructions did not relieve M. Mathieu Delafosse' perplexity. More than ever, the whole burden of this extraordinary adventure was left upon his shoulders. It was for him to make the best he could of it.
He concealed his discomfiture beneath an air of haughty decision:
"Tell your brothers," he said tb Zoé, "that the government refuses to recognize them except to receive their submission. Once again, they must surrender and the President of the Republic will see what he can do. He will give them till ten o'clock tomorrow morning to think it over. And Dr. Honorat's death won't keep your brothers from being guillotined: on the contrary! And now be off!"
She went away, pouting.
As soon as she was gone, a council of war was held at Roubion's. The prefect had his plan. As his orders were to act quickly and cautiously, he would skilfully combine ruse and force. He had already begun to realize this Machiavellian scheme by sending word to the Vautrins that they would be left alone until ten o'clock next morning. Ostensibly, the troops guarding the skirt of the woods would be ordered to pile their arms. They would encamp where they were, cook their suppers and appear to settle down with the sole object of quietly spending the night there. Then, at two o'clock in the morning, they would all make a start. The Three Brothers could not be very far from Saint-Martin, as was proved by little Zoé's journeys. The circle hemming them in could be narrowed during the night by the soldiers slipping under wood, with the wariness of Red Indians.
This circle, according to the prefect's calculations, must have as its centre the Moabit clearing, so called because it had once served as a retreat to a Jew of the name of Moab, who was crossed in love and who lived there, far from the world, in some quarry-pits disused since thousands of years, covered with luxuriant vegetation and, at that time, known to him alone.
An ordnance-survey map was brought and spread upon the table; and they worked out the plan of operations until dinner-time, after which everybody, knowing exactly what he had to do, returned to his post. The mayor had sent the crier round the village to announce that it would be dangerous to walk about the streets and in the country after eight o'clock at night; and he advised his fellow-citizens to go to bed early and not to trouble their heads about anything that might happen outside their doors. They could sleep with easy minds: their safety was being cared for.
That night, nobody went to bed at Saint-Martin-des-Bois. Every inhabitant
was posted behind his shutters. Those in the Rue Neuve could see the light
burning in monsieur le maire's office in the town-hall and tried to give
a name to the fitful shadows that slipped across the square, doubtless
coming for orders. At midnight, three cloaked forms were seen to leave
the municipal buildings, avoiding the light of the street-lamp. It was
M. le Prefet Mathieu Delafosse, Colonel du Briage and the chief-detective
of Clermont. As for the mayor, he had declared that he would not leave
the post of honour, but stay in his office, ready to grapple with events!
. . .
They slept; but Dr. Honorat did not sleep. Seated at the foot of the oak to which he was firmly tethered by one ankle, he was still, though he suffered great pain from the loss of his little finger, thinking of the skill with which the amputation had been performed. This secret admiration had not, as will be believed, come to him at once. It was preceded by a feeling of the deepest horror; and it is useless to attempt to describe the frenzy of alarm with which the excellent man had seen the operator, armed with his knife, come up to him. His anguish can be easily imagined; and, in spite of the abject cowardice displayed by the worthy doctor on the previous night, when the Vautrins were besieging the Black Sun, it would be unfair to despise him altogether. The poor man knew that, from the instant that the Three Brothers escaped their gaolers, he himself was doomed to suffer martyrdom. His evidence was designed to send the Vautrins to the scaffold. He had a pretty shrewd notion of what they would say to him, now that they were free. And that was more than enough to make a man lose his nerve!
And yet, though it threw him into a blue funk, Dr. Honorat kept his wits sufficiently about him to admire the neatness of an operation that had deprived him of a finger. And the doctor set great store by his finger!
Élie had cut off the finger; Hubert, who knew the virtue of herbs, had dressed it properly and bound up the bleeding stump; Siméon had explained:
"You understand that, if we meant to hurt you, we should not cut off your finger. Follow my argument: you represent to us the most precious thing in the world, our lives. We shall restore you to your friends on the day when the President of the Republic announces in his official gazette that our death-sentence has been commuted into anything he pleases. The hulks! We're not there yet! But one can't take too many precautions against the guillotine. Well, old codger, there you are; we're taking a finger off you just to stir the President up and make him leave our three heads on our shoulders. When he gets that by post, he'll see that we're in earnest and that it doesn't do to trifle with the Three Brothers!"
"And, if he won't give in?" asked the prisoner.
"Oho! Why, if he won't give in . . . next day, we'll send him a bit more! . . . "
"Oh, indeed? . . . A bit more?" stammered the poor doctor. "A bit more? . . . And, if he won't give in then, what will you send him on the third day?"
"Oh, on the third day, blow me tight, I think you might begin to say your prayers! . . . But there are chances that neither you nor we will be reduced to such sad extremities. Let us hope for the best, doctor. A little finger, delivered by post, makes a big impression."
And, upon my word, the doctor ended by saying as much to himself! What a glorious thing it would be if he got out of that tight place with the loss of a little finger! And he could not conceive that the public authorities, when confronted with his little finger, would hesitate for a moment to make the necessary sacrifices to recover possession of a worthy country practitioner, whose premature disappearance would have been a disgrace to any civilized nation. He had not, therefore, felt unduly perturbed when he saw Zoé go off with her brother's last instructions and with his little finger wrapped in a paper parcel. And he also thought, in the secret recesses of his being, that the government, which was born tricky, could always promise those scoundrels their lives . . . and change its mind at leisure . . .
So he sat down, patiently, at the foot of his tree, to which he was tied by the ankle with so cunning a knot that it would have been vain for him to try to discover its mystery. Moreover; he knew that the Three Brothers would be down upon him at the least suspicious movement . . .
Élie was the first to straighten himself. A glance at the prisoner, who had not stirred, sitting on the grass, against the trunk of his tree; and Élie stretched himself with a yawn, displaying an enormous pair of jaws and a splendid set of teeth.
The yawn woke the others, both of whom sat up, wide mouthed, tiger-jawed.
"Oho!" growled Hubert. "It's late; and the child's not back."
Unhooking his clasp-knife from his belt with a fierce gesture, he said no more.
A sigh came from the foot of the tree, a shudder, every sign of cowering fear.
"Yes, old codger," snarled Hubert. "If she's not back in an hour . . . your time's up!"
Inarticulate syllables at the foot of the tree, a stammering, a terror-struck mouthing and jabbering.
"What are you saying? I can't hear, doctor. Why don't you speak up?"
"Ah," grinned Siméon, ominously, "he spoke better than that at the trial!"
"No one can tell what he was trying to say," remarked Élie, contemptuously. "He's dribbled it into his beard. Call that a man!"
"No, he's not that!" Hubert assented. "Now Balaoo: there's a man for you. But this one's worse than nothing: he doesn't count! . . . The others won't even have him as a swap for us!"
"Ay, it would be better if we, had the President of the Republic!" thought Siméon, who had greater powers of imagination than either of the others.
"Oh, they won't dare touch us, now that we have got clear with the State papers!" retorted Hubert.
"Bah, a deputy's, not the State!" said Élie, with a contemptuous smirk. "Because he owes his situation to us, that's no reason why the Republic should divorce us from the widow!" (9) "The swine!" said Hubert. "He'd never have got in but for us."
And all three, yielding once more to the fascination of the elections, began to talk voting-papers and registers and committees, just like so many town-clerks. The doctor, s'itting with his cord round his leg at the foot of his tree, could not bÉlieve his ears! Here, in the depths of the forest, were these three wild beasts antici pating the chances of a candidate for the next par liament and calmly casting up the lik:ely number of votes before sharpening their knives to cut him, the doctor, in o pieces and sending him by post to the President of the Republic! What a sight! What a prospect! Was it not enough to make anyone mouth and jabber?
Suddenly, Hubert was on his short, thick legs with an alarming bound:
"That's all neither here nor there. The kid's not back!" The doctor at once found his voice; and what he had to say came straight from his throat, proclaiming the anguish that stifled him:
"Perhaps she's stopped to play on the road!"
"If that's so," said Siméon, facetiously, "you shall give her her smacking."
"It's getting dark," said Élie, deliberately, "but there's no danger at our place. If there was any danger, Balaoo would be here by now."
"Ah, there's a man for you, there's a man!" Hubert repeated, enthusiastically.
"You'd better give him our sister for a wife," grinned Siméon, drawing himself up on his enormous feet and swaying from one to the other, like an opossum.
"Why not? " asked Élie.
"Soon as he likes," said Hubert. "When shall we have the bans?"
"I believe there's nothing the kid would like better," said Siméon, whistling down the barrel of his gun.
"He's not hunch-backed, the citizen; and he's not bandy-legged; and he's no slouch on his feet!" declared Élie, squinting at his brothers.
"He needn't show his feet to monsieur le maire!" declared Hubert, peremptorily, tossing down a dram. "And it's not with his feet that a man swears to make a woman happy."
"Well, if you like, we'll mention it to him, next time we have the honour of receiving him at our table," suggested Siméon.
"Talk of the devil, there he is!" said Hubert, with his nose pointing up to the tree-tops.
And all three, with their loud, jolly voices, shouted:
"Halloa, Balaoo! . . . Halloa, Balaoo! . . . Halloa, Balaoo! . . . "
"Whom are they halloaing to ? " Dr. Honorat wondered, seized with a fresh sense of anxiety.
No one had appeared in the little clearing. The others were looking up at the sky. Honorat could see nothing. He thought that they must be having a joke with him. Were they expecting a visitor in an aeroplane?
"Well, what's he waiting for?" asked Hubert.
"He's spotted that there's somebody here," said Élie.
"Can't you see he's putting on his socks?"
The doctor took his spectacles from their case and, more dismayed than ever, fixed them on his perspiring nose. And, in fact, right up on high, between two branches, he caught sight of a party sitting at his ease and pulling on a pair of socks.
"Well, Balaoo," cried the Three Brothers, "shall we see you to-day or to-morrow?"
"Coming, coming!" replied Balaoo, in his soft, gong-like voice.
And Dr. Honorat, unable to believe either his eyes or his spectacles, saw a gentleman walk down from the top, from the very top of the tree, as comfortably as though he were walking down from the top floor of a house: a highly respectable gentleman, upon my word, except that he was walking on his socks and carried his boots slung over his shoulder. He walked down from up there with his hands in his pockets and his hat on one ear, from branch to branch, all the way down the trunk, just as an ordinary person walks down a staircase, without hurrying. Dr. Honorat had never seen anything like it, except in the circus at Clermont, with Japanese acrobats walking straight up and down a pole. Who was this acrobat? Eh? Why? What? The doctor was not mistaken! . . . It was he! . . . He recognized him beyond a doubt! . . . There was no mistake about it! . . . It was M. Noël! . . . "How are you, M. Noël? . . . "
The prisoner in the heart of that deep forest, at the mercy of three ruffians who might rob him of his life from one minute to the other, looked upon Balaoo in the light of a saviour. The new-comer's kind, flat, placid face and his round, good-natured eyes gave the doctor confidence. Of course, he was not expecting M. Noël, especially by such a road, and he remained absolutely astonished, while attempting vaguely to explain the anomaly by the circus tradition of the facility of the yellow race for climbing slippery poles. In any case, his eyes did not deceive him: there was M. Noël; and the doctor, in his present plight, was determined to accept the most unhoped-for and even the most ridiculous assistance.
Balaoo, on touching ground, gave him a little wave of the hand and said, "How do you do, doctor?" from a distance, in a casual and patronizing tone that did not reassure Dr. Honorat quite as much as he expected. M. Noël, Dr. Coriolis' gardener, whom he had sometimes seen passing through the village, lonely and saturnine, seemed on the best of terms with the Three Brothers. They shook hands all round and exchanged congratulations. Then, taking no notice whatever of the doctor, they moved away and sat down in a circle, as though for a palaver.
Dr. Honorat, more and more puzzled, tried to hear what was said at this secret council in which, for aught he knew, his fate was being decided; but the voices did not reach his ears.
The news which Balaoo brought his friends was this: "I have just come from the top branch of the Big Beech at Pierrefeu. No one has entered the forest yet. Tourôô! . . . Tourôô!(10) Still, there are a lot of red trousers in the fields. They don't look as if they were preparing for battIe. They are all eating and smoking, lying on the grass, like cows . . . I saw Zoé this morning: she told me she was going to Saint-Martin. She went back again in the afternoon. Aren't you afraid that the people of your Race will hurt her? I called out to her that it was rash, but she wouldn't listen. Has she come back? No? . . . Now here's what I heard in the forest: As told me that they are going to attack you from every side at the same time. As is giving the alarm to all the animals, like the funk that he is. All the inhabitants of the forest have gone to their homes and are lying low and barricading their doors and shivering. I'm keeping a look-out; and I can see that this is all cowardly animals' fuss, for the red trousers are sprawling on the grass like cows. Taurôô! Taurôô!"
The Three Brothers in turns questioned Balaoo about the distribution and attitude of the troops and asked what the officers were doing and whether there was much movement at Saint-Martin. He replied to the best of his ability, saying that he would return to his post before nightfall and that they could go to sleep in all security: he was there as a sort of night-watchman, he added. Then he looked in the direction of the doctor and asked what they meant to do with him. Were they going to eat him?
The others began to laugh. Balaoo retorted, with a serious face, that he had only asked the question because he knew that they ate all the game which they caught and had heard As say that the Three Brothers had killed the process-server to eat him.
Hubert answered that he was keeping the doctor as a hostage, whereupon Balaoo wanted to know what a hostage was. But the other had not time to explain: the branches of the hornbeam nearest to the group parted and Zoé's wide-awake face appeared, smiling all over. She cast her eyes around her, saw that all was well and dropped into the midst of the circle like a grasshopper. Her skin was almost bare, with just a few rags and tatters as its covering.
Balaoo gave her an angry look:
"What have you done with the Empress' dress?" he asked.
Zoé blushed and tried not to answer.
But Balaoo persisted and growled again:
"What have you done with the Empress' dress?"
"I've put it away," she ended by explaining. "I don't want to spoil it: it's not a forest dress."
"Woop! Woop! Please, please!" said Balaoo, in the pithecanthrope monkey-tongue, for he was very fond of showing the Three Brothers and their sister that he knew foreign languages. "Woop! Woop! I told you, I don't want to see you naked, like an animal. You disgust me, Zoé. Put on your dress, or I'll go away, sure as my name is Balaoo!"
Zoé vanished behind the hornbeam and, five minutes later, appeared in the clearing with the gorgeous white dress on her back. The brothers, who did not know of this acquisition, uttered shouts of delight and were lavish in expressions of their admiration. Hubert laughed till he cried, at seeing his sister dressed as an empress in the middle of the Moabit clearing. Siméon and Élie, the two albinos, slapped their thighs. Zoé walked up and down, indifferent as a queen.
"So help me, where did you get that?" asked Hubert, choking with laughter.
"I gave it her," said Balaoo. "I felt sorry for her, when I saw her passing this morning in her rags. I won't have her going along the roads with nothing on her back: it's indecent. I happened to have a dress up at my place, so I dropped it over her shoulders from the top of the Big Beech at Pierrefeu. It fits her like a glove. Tourôô! Tourôô!"
The others "could not get over it" and turned and twisted their sister about, to take the thing in. So she had gone to see the prefect like that, like a real lady, what! She had swaggered round Saint-Martin-des-Bois in that rig-out! What a sensation she must have made! They were proud of her; they could have kissed Balaoo, had Balaoo been willing.
"Why didn't you let us see it sooner? " they asked.
"You had it when you came back this morning!"
"She's a secretive kid," said Élie. "Every time Balaoo gives her something, she keeps it to herself, as if we were likely to steal it."
"It's a dress," said Siméon, speaking with a purpose --- a purpose so clumsily emphasized that everybody understood what he meant" --- it's a dress which she is quite right to be careful with. She couldn't hope for a grander to wear on her wedding-day."
Zoé at once ceased parading her finery and turned as red as a peony. Balaoo gave a growl and, without ceremony, spat at Siméon's feet: an invariable sign of his displeasure. And, lest there should be any doubt about it, he grunted:
"I don't like people to talk about marriage in my presence!"
There was a chilly pause. Hubert thought it wise to say, in a soft voice:
"There's nothing to upset you, Balaoo, in that remark. Zoé will have to marry some day."
"That's her business!" jerked Balaoo, with swelling cheeks and temples.
"And you too, Balaoo! You must, you know, someday! . . . "
"I!" roared the pithecanthrope, springing up. "I! Marry! Marry a man-girl! Never! Never! Never! . . . Phoh! Phoh! Goek! Goek! Tch! Tch! Phoh! Phoh! Phoh! Phoh! . . . A man-girl, indeed! . . . "
He struck great blows on his chest, which gave forth sounds like a drum, and moved away from his man friends.
"Have you left your sweetheart in your own country, Balaoo?"
"Yes . . . perhaps . . . in the Forest of Bandong," lied Balaoo, with a steaming breath and a voice thick with sobs.
He moved still farther away, flung himself suddenly with his face to the ground and his head in his hands and lay long motionless.
The others did not seek to interfere:
"He is dreaming of the Forest of Bandong," they said.
"Let's get to business."
And they now first thought of asking Zoé the result of her negotiations, so sure were they beforehand that the enemy, whose obstinacy they had learnt to know at the time of the elections, would never accept their conditions on receipt of the first little finger!
The doctor prepared to spend another sleepless night. He was warned of the fate that awaited him and suffered all the pangs of anguish. He refused his food. He had a temperature, which is easy to understand, and was reduced to a little heap of terror, at the foot of the tree, in the silent darkness.
Never had the forest been so quiet at night. The animals had disappeared; and the leaves scarce ventured to stir, as though frozen hard in the humble expectation of what was coming.
Élie, Siméon and Hubert dined heartily, with Zoé to wait on them. Balaoo all the time lay flat on the ground. When Zoé asked if he would take anything, the only answer she received was a stiff clout. In such cases, it is no use insisting; and Zoé, with tears in her eyes, went and sat in her corner, reflecting that Balaoo was anything but kind to her.
By this time, the Moabit clearing was nothing more than a black hole, fearsome as a cave and deep as well. You had to throw your head back to see the blue night and the stars up in the sky. And you had to know the place well to venture your groping steps there. It was as treacherous --- even to animals that were not used to it --- as the quicksands by the sea. You never knew that the creepers on which you trod were not going to give way and swallow you up for good. A simple carpet of moss, which nobody would suspect, might prove to be a curtain just flung across the breakneck entrance to some deserted quarry which had not been worked since the early days of French history and which was used by the Three Brothers as a store-house to keep their savings and provisions, amid countless skeletons of animals.
In point of fact, Élie, Siméon and Hubert disappeared suddenly, without the doctor's being able to tell how, and this long before the night was at its darkest. Zoé alone remained to watch the prisoner. As for Balaoo, he rose to his feet in the gloom, preparatory to returning to his barbican in the Big Beech at Pierrefeu.
"Are you going, Balaoo?" asked Zoé, with tears in her voice.
"Yes," he replied, quite pacified now and a little sad, "I am going. It is safer. If there's anything fresh, I shall thunder; and then you must all keep still as mice in your hole. If the men come this way, I shall strike my breast three times, like this . . . " And he gave three terrible blows on his chest, which sounded like a bronze bell. "That will mean, 'Look out, at Moabit!' Do you understand?"
"I understand," said Zoé. "But they won't have the face to do anything before ten o'clock to-morrow. They promised me."
"One never knows, with the people of your Race!" Balaoo grunted.
"Ah, yes, I know that, at heart, you despise us," murmured Zoé.
"No, not your brothers, because they are of the Race without belonging to it and they can see in the dark. I took to them at once. And also they have noses that smell everything in the forest and would never confuse the trail of a rabbit with that of an elephant, like the rest of the Race, who don't know anything except how to read a book. I wonder what they would do if they had no books, what Coriolis, my master, would do! Whereas your brothers don't want anything. They are like the animals, who know everything and are not to be humbugged, in the forest. I like your brothers very much. They would have been as happy as could be, if they had been born in the Forest of Bandong."
"You are always talking of your Forest of Bandong. Do you regret it so?"
"And me?" Zoé ventured to ask, in a trembling voice. "Do you like me?"
"You don't count: you're a man-girl!"
"But I say, Balaoo: I know a man-girl who has only to walk in the forest and cry, 'Balaoo! Balaoo!' for Balaoo to come hurrying from any distance as fast as ever he can."
"Now look here," panted Balaoo, angrily, "look here and just listen to me: you'd better not speak of that one and never mention her name before me. You'd soil it by merely sending it through the dirty little lips of the dirty little man-witch that you are! You go and talk to men: men will understand you and put you in their back-yards, if that's what you like; but don't you talk to Balaoo!"
Zoé stood crying in the shade. "Why are you crying, Zoé?"
"You don't expect me to laugh, do you, after what you've said to me? I thought you had become my friend again, because you gave me the dress. What are you here for, if you're never happy except with her?"
"You dirty little man-witch; you forget that I came to the forest to defend your brothers against those of the Race."
"And also because of the man you hanged."
"Who told you that? As?"
"I don't understand the language of animals as you do, Balaoo. I only understand them when they don't speak. And there are plenty who know me in the forest and come and sit in my lap and smicker to me; and we understand one another without speaking. I have friends in the forest. Why, I have only to show myself by the big fir-thicket, with my hands full of nuts, to have squirrels climbing all over me! But, as for your friend As, I despise him too much to associate with him. One evening, when we met in Mme. Boche's yard, he tried to nod to me, on the pretext, no doubt, that he had seen you and me together; and I threw a big stone at him which nearly broke his paw."
"What do you think about the hanged man?" asked Balaoo, feeling bored.
"I think that you hanged him as you hanged Camus and Lombard, after settling their business. You can't pretend it wasn't you: I was there when they were cut down. I recognized the mark of your long thumb. A thumb like that is called a murderer's thumb, among us. I don't care, mind you: I like you as you are. And that's why I said nothing when my brothers were accused and even when they were sentenced. Their three heads, you see, are nothing to me compared with one smile from you, Balaoo. But you never smile to me, now; and you're always laughing at me. . I put on your Empress' dress only so that you might think that I looked nice. But you laughed at me, like the others. And yet you will never know what I did for you at the time of Blondel's death . . . "
"Hold your tongue, will you, you filth!" roared Balaoo.
"Oh dear! Oh dear!" sobbed Zoé. "The things he says to me!"
"Why do you speak of that? I never speak of it to myself: surely, there's no reason why you should . . . Lombard and Camus had made fun of me. I played with their throats and they died. And I don't regret it. But Blondel had done me no harm . . . "
"And what harm had Patrice done you?"
Balaoo began to storm from the bottom of his pithecanthrope chest. His whole thoracic cage rumbled with distant thunder.
"Never mention him to me!" he sent hissing through his terrible jaws.
"Not him, nor her! . . . I know! . . . I know! . . . "
Zoé sniffed, wiped her nose with the Empress' dress and said, in tones of damp despair:
"You tell us that you're only happy with us in the forest; and, all the time, you're lying! . . . You thinking of no one but her . . . The reason why you're here now is that you daren't go back to your house in the village, because she'd reproach you with the man you hanged: she thinks he's your first, Balaoo! . . . If she only knew! . . . If she only knew! . . . I saw you dragging him by the hind-legs, from the garden-door to the forest . . . Oh, that was a fine piece of work you did; and how pleased they'll be with you in your house in the village! No, don't come to me with your tales. Don't tell me that you love my brothers. And you've no need either to call me a filth, like Siméon. You don't go home, because you daren't, that's all!"
"It's true," said Balaoo, "it's true. But, as for the men I've hanged, the only one I regret killing is Blondel, which proves that I'm not a bad sort! . . . "
"Who said you were a bad sort?"
This ended their conversation; but Dr. Honorat had heard every word of it. With his cord round his foot and his hair-standing erect with horror, he had listened to that curious talk and wondered if he were dreaming. But, alas, since they had cut off his dear little finger joints, he had lost the right to doubt the reality of his portentous adventure! And this adventure was now complicated by an unparalleled revelation of crimes and criminal complicity that seemed incredible to one who, from time to time, in the village-street, had come across the whimsical and inoffensive figure of M. Noël, the man-servant and gardener of that old eccentric of a Coriolis.
Apart from the fact that the doctor was unable to understand the greater part of the conversation --- just the part that puzzled him more than all the rest: what did they mean with the reproaches which each addressed to the other in regard to their race and their association with the beasts of the forest? --- M. Noël now inspired him with the same fear as a monster and appeared to him like the beast in Revelation, with the shadow of his rude and superhuman strength cast by the light of the moon, which now hung like a lamp, right over the middle of the clearing. And he had the strength left to withdraw his cowering fear to a distance of at least eighteen inches,which was a praiseworthy feat, considering that his fear had never weighed so much as at this moment.
But nothing could stir in the forest unheard by Balaoo, even when he was not listening:
"Some one's moved!" he said, without getting particularly excited, so greatly depressed was he by the words of that little man-witch of a Zoé.
"It's the doctor," said Zoé, mopping her nose and eyes and all her moist little face with the Empress' dress.
"What do they mean to do with him?" asked Balaoo, for the sake of saying something.
"They mean to kill him for speaking ill of them to the jury . . . It'll do them no good. One never has any peace with them. I'm beginning to have enough of it. We've had murders enough, as it is."
"Yes, yes," muttered Balaoo, fed up with his last hangings. "Murders enough, as it is . . . Where are you going, Zoé?"
"I'm going back to the quarry . . . This is the second night I've had no sleep . . . Good-night, Balaoo . . . "
And Zoé, in spite of the full moon shining straight upon her, suddenly disappeared before the doctor's eyes, as though the earth had swallowed her up.
Amid this appalling nightmare, Dr. Honorat heard one phrase sounding and resounding in his ears:
"Murders enough as it is!"
Zoé had uttered it and gone, but M. Noël had repeated it and stayed. Who could this person be, who walked about so easily, with his hands in his pockets, on the tree-tops in the forest? The Three Brothers must have great confidence in him, not to hide their secrets from him!
Meantime, he heard M. Noël calling:
"Zoé ! Zoé! What about the doctor? Are you leaving him to himself?"
Zoé's voice rose from somewhere close at hand, from a tiny bush not large enough to hide a pair of lizards; Zoé must be underground:
"That's all right! " she cried. "They've tied him with a poacher's knot . . . Good-night, Balaoo."
And, from that moment, an immense silence filled the moonlight.
For ten minutes, the pithecanthrope stood motionless as a statue. He stared at the doctor, who pretended to be asleep. Persuaded that the prisoner was sleeping, he sat down with infinite precautions, hardly displacing the air as he moved. He took off his socks, his hat, his overcoat, his jacket, his neck-tie and collar, his shirt, his trousers. At last, as in the days of the Forest of Bandong, he sat quite naked under the moon.
The doctor looked at M. Noël's feet. A monkey! M. Noël was a monkey!
He nearly swallowed his tongue in the effort not to cry out. Oh, there was not a doubt of it, because of the feet, the shoe-hands, the lower hands with which he hung to the nearest branch and swung, gleefully, upside down, as in the days of the Forest of Bandong! And then he let go and hung on with his upper hands and, swinging here and swinging there, caught hold with his lower hands, in mid-air, and thus flew from tree to tree across the clearing, the Trapezium King of the forest, under the silent moon.
Suddenly, a last bound brought him seated in front of the doctor, who pretended to sleep and who had his back so close against the tree that he seemed to form part of the trunk, Balaoo contemplated the prisoner, with one elbow on his left thigh and his cheek in his right upper hand, in the attitude of a member of the Race who is thinking. What was Balaoo thinking of? Why those sighs? Why that trembling, that movement of the lips? What was the man-phrase that escaped from that animal mouth?
"Murders enough as it is!"
Balaoo craftily imagined that, if he saved one of the race, Madeleine would perhaps forgive him for dragging his distinguished visitor by the hind-legs to the tree where he hanged him. And, as I live, here was Balaoo undoing the poacher's knot and, abandoning his pithecanthrope attitude, tapping Dr. Honorat on the head:
"Hop!" he said, rudely. "Get up!"
Get up! The quadrumane was telling him to get up!
The quadrumane was releasing him! Already, in his stupid brain, apt to draw hasty and sentimental inferences, the doctor was setting animals above men, because of this one generous act. Nothing could please him better than to get up. Unfortunately, he was unable to get up, because the monkey, with his human way of expressing himself, had given him a blow on the head more powerful than one administered with a quarter-staff! Balaoo lifted him up, Balaoo made him take a drain of the fire-water left over from the banquet, at the bottom of a: flask. The doctor sighed, leant on the arm of the dear, kind quadrumane, took a few steps, felt his assurance return and suddenly thought that perhaps he might recover his strength and not die after all! . . .
He collected the last remnants of that strength and, hanging on to the quadrumane, who led the way, walking erect, ever so erect, while he, the man, was nearly crawling on all fours, he dived under the trees. Sometimes the quadrumane took him in his arms and carried him into the trees . . . and he made no more resistance than a babe in the arms of its nurse. Oh, the dear, kind quadrumane! . . .
At last, they came to a foot-path . . . Balaoo put him down . . . Yes, yes, the doctor remembered stories of "wild men of the woods" in books of travel. After all, once that eccentric of a Coriolis had a wild man of the woods living with him, perhaps there was nothing so very extraordinary about the adventure. True, this particular wild man of the woods talked. Well; why shouldn't he have been taught to talk? Scientists had been known to say that it was not impossible. At any rate, the great thing for good old Dr. Honorat was to get out of his perilous predicament as quickly as he could.
Balaoo, on reaching the path, pointed to the direction in which the doctor was to go and himself turned back, solemnly, without even waiting to be thanked.
Released! The doctor began to run like a madman, like a madman, like the madman that he was certainly in a fair way to become.
For how long did he run? He could not be far from the high-road now. He was saved! Suddenly, he stopped short: some one had tapped him on the shoulder. He recognized the quadrumane's touch. He turned round, greatly annoyed. Balaoo was standing behind him:
"You never told me," said Balaoo, quite as much out of breath as the doctor, "you never told me you were a postage!"
A dismayed silence on the doctor's part.
"You must come back, as you're a postage!" continued Balaoo.
A despairing silence on the doctor's part.
"They can't hurt my friends as long as you're a postage. So come back at once."
A comatose silence on the doctor's part.
Silence gives consent. Balaoo tucked Dr. Honorat under his arm; and a quarter of an hour later found the doctor once more sitting at the foot of his tree, with the poacher's knot round his foot and all the tribe of Vautrin gathered round him, trying to make him understand that Balaoo' would never have let him loose if he had for one moment suspected the real value of a postage!
But Dr. Honorat was never again to understand anything in this life . . . Dr. Honorat had dropped asleep with the peaceful sleep of childhood . . . Dr. Honorat was mad. "Phoh! Phoh!... Hack! Hack!"
Friend Dhol came up, yellow-eyed, his tail between his legs, chattering his wolf's teeth. Hubert snatched at his gun, but Balaoo struck down the barrel:
"What's the matter, Dhol? Can't you stop those teeth of yours?"
"Can we come here?" Dhol asked Balaoo, in three words of wolf. "The Race are on their way. Is there room for Mother Dhol and the little ones? We don't know where to go in the forest."
Balaoo, who knew all the forest languages by heart, understood all that those three wolf-words implied. Behind the branches, a little beyond Dhol's tail and levell with the moss, was a great pair of yellow eyes, as wide as goggles, belonging to the mother, and, close beside them, six little piercing stars and, around all that, a great sound of chattering teeth. It was the terrified Dhol family, following its head.
"We have been to the Big Beech at Pierrefeu," Dhol explained, "but it's not safe. The people of the Race who are hastening from every part of the forest cannot be very far away. I spoke to General Captain, who told me that you were with the Three Brothers at the Moabit clearing, so I thought you might say a good word for us to the Three Brothers. The people of the Race will never come so far. We should be quite safe here, Balaoo, if you don't mind."
All this was said in three or four or five wolf-words at the most, words in which people of the Race, who only know how to read books, would have heard nothing but "Hack! Hack!" and understood nothing at all, of course.
Balaoo spoke to the Three Brothers and they had a serious discussion as to what to do. Dhol was the first scout to announce the enemy's attack. They showed their appreciation by allowing him to tuck away his family in a little corner of Moabit, on the express understanding, however, that they were not to bite Zoé's bare legs.
Dhol had not finished settling down, when friend As showed his anxious mask. Balaoo learnt from him that all the animals were trembling with fright in their lairs and that they did not even dare remain there, at least not those who, like As, had seen men firing their holes.
Never had so many men been known to go hunting, especially at night. No one knew what it meant, but it was most alarming. It was no good their hiding: they had reckoned without the moon and they could be seen gliding like snakes through the grass. And besides they could be scented from a distance, for the wind was blowing straight from Saint-Martin-des-Bois.
All this was useful information for the Three Brothers; and Balaoo imparted it to them. As also received permission to curl himself up in a corner of Moabit; but he chose the opposite corner to that of the Dhol family, with whom he was on bad terms. As had no family; he had been a bachelor all his life.
Élie, Siméon, Hubert, Zoé and Balaoo held a palaver in the centre of the clearing. They were all of one mind that the members of the Race who made use of speech to tell lies and break their promises were more contemptible than the cow in the fields, who knew no better than to let herself be milked by hired hands.
At that moment, a family of roe-deer, the buck --- a six-pointer --- his doe and their little fawn, arrived from the opposite side to Saint-Martin. They stopped at the edge of the clearing with their legs all atremble, not knowing where to go, already showing the white of their scuts, turning tail because of the men. But where were they to flee? There were men everywhere!
Balaoo whistled to them; and they shook with fright as he went up to them with soft words. He wanted to question them also, but had not time. A great noise approached from the distance. The whole forest seemed to rustle with thousands of wings and thousands of legs; and the branches on the ground crackled like burning wood. And, suddenly, Moabit was filled with an innumerable horde of panic-stricken animals. They darted blindly into the forest and ran round and round, like the horses in a circus under the ring-master's whip. The rabbits arrived in battalions. They were thick underfoot. And all the boughs of the trees were full of birds. An old stag lifted desperate antlers to the moon. A pair of wild-boars with their young were so frightened that, neglecting all caution, they slid into the bottomless pit of an abandoned quarry.
Balaoo in vain tried to calm them all by declaring that the members of the Race would never, never dare venture above the Moabit quarries. There was nothing but moaning and wailing all over the ampitheatre; and this partly because of the presence of the Three Brothers, which they could have well dispensed with. Yet the whole forest knew that the Three Brothers never killed animals when Balaoo was there. Hubert silenced Balaoo, when he was renewing his attempts to give confidence to the crowd, and whispered in his ear:
"I can see you've never served in the army. 'They,' will go where they are told to go. That's their orders; And you'll see, they will come here."
"So much the worse for them," said the pithecanthrope, simply.
He asked for room in a tree and clambered to the top.
He came down almost immediately.
"Here they are," he said. "Look out!"
And, as he had resumed his trousers, he took them off again, so as to be more at his ease.
He had built a sort of belvedere up there, where he loved to spend his time in contemplation. On level ground, in spite of his protecting walls, he did not feel far enough removed from the men whom he despised.
Here, Coriolis had passed two horrible nights and a hideous day. No one will ever know what he suffered, though he was not inclined to exaggerate the importance of a Herment de Meyrentin's disappearance from the face of the earth. When you are first cousin to a gentleman who has written all the nonsense, on the subject of Darwinism and the theory of evolution, with which that pretentious bookworm had filled the learned reviews for twenty years past, you need not expect to be mourned by an old eccentric who has studied nature at first hand, in every latitude, and who has taken her in at a glance, considering her one and indivisible and prepared to prove his views with his pithecanthrope.
When all was said, what had Meyrentin the magistrate wanted with him? As likely as not, he had been sent by the cousin at the Institute, who might have got wind of the pithecanthrope!
It was obvious that this pithecanthrope was going to annoy a lot of people. So much the worse for them! So much the worse for the idiots who do not believe in the doctrine of the evolution of species. Who ever heard of such stupidity! To think that the different species had never been developed on earth! Had the earth itself developed, yes or no, from the iron age to that of the old fossils of the Institute? So their contention was that the earth, which is constantly being transformed and constantly shifting, is covered with species which do not change, do not improve, do not decay with the worlds! . . .
Oh, how angry Coriolis was, in his belvedere! . . . Luckily, he was there! Just so! And that prodigious chain of life, arrogantly broken by man, who refuses to know anything of his brothers the animals, he was going to weld for good and all to that rebel's leg! With his pithecanthrope --- now that he had turned the pithecanthrope into . . . a man! --- he would say to man:
But, alas, what a catastrophe!
At the very moment when, after all those years of patient work, he was proposing to make known his masterpiece and to introduce it, as a matter of right, into the great human family, the human child of his genius and his nocturnal studies had behaved like any old wild beast in the Forest of Bandong! For there was no denying it: his dear Balaoo's murderous deed was as unconscious an act of impulse as the closing of any wild animal's jaws upon its prey, in the jungle. What a catastrophe! What a catastrophe!"
Yes, Coriolis was having the bad time of his life. Buthe was incapable of vulgar despair. Possessed as he was by his fixed idea of making men out of monkeys and believing that he had succeeded, not an anxious thought as to the dangers involved had ever entered his brain; and his heart had no feeling of pity for the victim. He experienced neither remorse nor indignation. Not for a moment did he reflect:
"What have I done? The murderer is myself! "In his heart of hearts --- and who will ever know the heart of hearts of scientific men? --- he was not wholly sorry, since there had to be a victim and since you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, that this victim happened to be the near relation of a scientist who had never grasped the principles of evolution and who, for years, had horrified sensible men by maintaining his theory of the non-mutability of species!
The thing was quite simple: all the man's grief was due to the fact that he was afraid lest his crime should be discovered and his pithecanthrope taken from him. And I am in a position to add a few words that can only redound to his advantage and his credit: Coriolis suffered untold agonies not merely because it would mean the end of his work, if men learnt what had happened, but also and above all because he was less afraid of prison as a punishment for himself than he dreaded a cage for Balaoo, in which the poor orphan from the Forest of Bandong would have died of a broken heart. Coriolis loved Balaoo with the love of a father for his child.
Besides, to know Balaoo was to love him: so gentle was he, so simple, charming and natural. It was certain that, if Balaoo had only given him time, M. Herment de Meyrentin would have been attracted by him like everybody else; but Balaoo had not given him time.
After this, it will be understood why Coriolis sat weeping up in his tower; and why Madeleine, vainly trying to sew by the lamp in the dining-room, cried into the little basket in which she kept her needles and thread; and why old Gertrude, in her kitchen, wetted the knifeboard with her tears.
The door between the dining-room and the kitchen was open. Gertrude did not know of the misfortune that had befallen her dear Noël's distinguished visitor; but, as Balaoo had not been seen for five days, she had little doubt that he had been guilty of some villainy. As a rule, when Balaoo took a day off in the forest, the escapade did not last longer than twenty-four hours and Coriolis and Madeleine showed no particular anxiety. But, during the last three days, there was no talking to the master, who had locked himself up in his tower; and Madeleine went about mopping her eyes in every corner of the house. Another extraordinary thing was that, for three days, Gertrude had been forbidden to go into the village on any excuse whatever. Not only that, but all the doors of the house had been barred and bolted. And, on the top of this, they had heard the sound of fire-arms, one night, in the village; and a great light had shot up from behind the Place de la Mairie.
All this mystery was quite enough to make a body tremble. Gertrude dreaded the worst for Balaoo. Nor did her anguish know any bounds when, on the afternoon of the next day, going up to her young mistress' bedroom, she saw the roads black with people and the country filled with soldiers marching towards the forest. In her terror, she called Madeleine, who gave her but little comfort by telling her that she had asked her father what all that crowd and that movement of troops meant and that Coriolis had said that it had to do with the manúuvres.
All this was very far from, clear; but one fact was certain, which was that Balaoo did not return.
Gertrude, while cleaning her knives, tried to obtain some little light from the few remarks vouchsafed by Madeleine. But Madeleine hardly answered her questions. And the old servant began to speak of Balaoo with a funereal sadness, as of one whom she was destined never to see again, enumerating his pretty ways, his oddities and all the tricks which he loved to play upon her in her kitchen, hiding the most useful articles and spilling all the salt into the soup when she was making a soup which Balaoo did not like. Gertrude had more than once seen Balaoo's foothands and was acquainted with the great mystery. She loved Balaoo, therefore, not as a human being, but as a dear little pet of her own, that is to say, with all an old woman's immeasurable fondness. Madeleine, on the other hand, cherished the pithecanthrope as she would a wayward and mischievous brother, whom an elder sister loves to correct and protect; and Balaoo returned every atom of her affection.
The two women could easily have communicated their common sorrow through the open door; and yet they hesitated to do so, especially as they could only expect to intensify their grief. Gertrude was the first to break silence, by speaking of the wedding:
"Have you heard from M. Patrice?" she asked.
Madeleine replied by merely shaking her head. She did not care a straw for M. Patrice at that moment, nor for any sweetheart in the wide world.
"When shall we see him again?" the old woman continued, more or less indifferently.
"Will the wedding be here or in Paris?"
A dead silence.
"Balaoo doesn't like it when M. Patrice comes," Gertrude said, more timidly.
This time, she got an answer with a vengeance:
"How do you know, you silly old fool? Has Balaoo spoken to you of Patrice?"
"No, but he becomes unbearable when M. Patrice is here . . . Oh, where can he be now? . . When I think," she moaned, "that, only last Saturday, he was sitting there, on that chair, peeling my leeks for me and telling me his stories of the Forest of Bandong, I feel as if I could die of misery! I am sure that something has happened to him!"
She could not understand why Madeleine did not go out to call him, as she always did when he stayed out too late.
"He must please himself," sighed Madeleine. "If he keeps away for so long, it's because he's lost his affection for us. Papa is right: he is big enough to be a man. He must know his own mind. If he prefers the society of the forest to ours, that's his affair: he will never be anything but a Balaoo of the forest and we must give up the hope, at his age, of making a proper man of him."
"You take it very easily, miss," Gertrude retorted, "and I don't think that's natural. You're keeping something from me, here. You've lost confidence in me. If I'm in the way, you had better say so."
"You're talking like the dear old stupid that you are. No one's keeping anything from you. Balaoo doesn't care about us any more; and I don't see why I should upset myself: he's only a monkey, after all!"
"You break my heart when you talk like that," said Gertrude, who had a sensitive heart and who once nearly died of grief at the death of a little crook-backed cat which she had shut up in a drawer by accident. "You didn't always say so. You used to say, 'That fellow is extraordinarily clever. He understands all we say and he guesses the rest. He knows more than the mayor and the priest rolled into one.' Did you say that or did you not?"
"Evil instincts always regain the upper hand in the children of wicked parents," replied Madeleine, her little nose all red with weeping and despair.
"He didn't know them long enough to learn their wicked ways," rejoined Gertrude, defending Balaoo inch by inch.
"Oh, he was twelve months old when he left them: that's a lot for a little monkey, my dear Gertrude, a great deal more than you think!"
"I know, of course, that he couldn't talk. He learnt that here; and all his ways are just like yours and the master's. He walks like the master, with a little stoop in his back and his feet turned out. And, when he laughs, he mimics you so exactly, miss, that, if one weren't to see him, one would think it was you!"
"Thank you, Gertrude."
"I'm not saying it to annoy you: there was a time when you would have been pleased to hear it. But you don't care for Balaoo any more; and I can't think what's happened!"
Suddenly, old Gertrude stopped cleaning her knives and ran into the dining-room, for Madeleine had burst into a fit of crying. She sat sobbing, with her elbows on the table and her fair-haired little head between her hands, while her shoulders shook spasmodically.
"Oh, what is it, miss, what is it? Lord above, is it I who've upset you? . . . Do say something! . . . You frighten me! . . . "
"Let me be, Gertrude, let me be! . . . "
"I see myself letting you be, in such a state! I'll go and call the master."
"No, no, Gertrude, don't do anything of the sort . . . There . . . I'm all right now . . . "
"I feel certain that something has happened!"
"I wish you would stop talking your nonsense! What do you think can have happened? Nothing's happened at all, do you hear, you old fool?"
"I'm sure I beg your pardon, miss," said Gertrude, wounded in her pride and returning to her kitchen.
They sat without exchanging another word. The night wore on.
Gertrude lit her lantern and prepared to go up to her garret. She said good-night, in a tearful voice, to Madeleine, who raised her head and begged her not to leave her:
"You've frightened me with your jeremiads, Gertrude! Come and sleep in my room. We'll put you a mattress on the floor."
"But what's happening? Lord above, miss, I've never seen you like this before! . . . Aren't you going to say good-night to your father?"
"No, he doesn't want to be disturbed: he's working."
"He's no more working than we are: he's waiting for Balaoo to come back, miss. You can't deceive old Gertrude."
They both lay down in Madeleine's room; but neither Gertrude, on the floor, nor Madeleine, in her bed, was able to sleep. And it was quite two o'clock in the morning when, as though moved by a common spring, they both sat up, with ears on the alert:
"Did you hear, miss?"
"Yes, Gertrude, I heard . . . I believe it's he, isn't it?"
"It came from the forest. It's as if the forest were sighing."
"That's a bad sign," said Madeleine, in a choking voice. "Those sighs always frightened me."
They were silent . . . and then, when the sighs in the forest were renewed, they got up, huddled on a few things and opened the window.
And they at once whispered:
"It's he! . . . It's he! . . . "
They could see the skirt of the forest, at no great distance, in the moonlight; and, from that near, mysterious, ominous horizon, the sound reached them of a strange growling breath.
The growling increased and became a rolling, like the incipient noise of thunder trying its voice before it becomes a storm. The forest stood poised like an immense, black, tempest-laden cloud upon the earth, upon the fields, which already shook under the as yet distant voice of the thunder. And, suddenly, the thunder burst (11) so furiously that Madeleine almost fainted away as she moaned:
"Oh dear, what are they doing to him? Balaoo never thundered so loud as that before!"
And, when, at the same moment, shots were heard amid shouting, in the woods, the two women flung themselves into each other's arms, stammering in their fright:
A fresh report of fire-arms electrified them and sent them rushing madly out of the room, across the house and up the tower. They climbed its shaky stairs, screaming for the doctor. The men were killing Balaoo! They were killing Balaoo!
The two women burst into the belvedere, to find the old eccentric fretting like a wild beast in its cage, tearing from window to window, with fists clenched and mouth afire. Coriolis, who was stifling, had unfastened his neck-tie, his collar and his shirt; and, at intervals, when the shots rang out anew, his nails dug into his bare chest, drawing the blood., With his eyes starting from his sockets, he gurgled:
"They'll kill him! . . . They'll kill him! . . . Oh, the scoundrels! The murderers! . . . The men! . . . "
His overpowering rage could find no stronger expression, nor did it seek one. It was satisfied with that:
"The men! The men!"
Was it possible, was it possible that they were going to destroy his handiwork, to kill his child?
There was not a doubt left in his mind but that they had surprised Balaoo with Meyrentin's body, that they had tried to arrest him and that, in his madness, the pithecanthrope, forgetting all his acquired human prudence, had revealed himself the monster! This explained both the array of troops and the curiosity displayed throughout the day by all the people of the country-side. Coriolis had reassured Madeleine not long ago, but he himself knew that the thing was certain and that the whole crowd were there for the purpose of storming the forest.
Nevertheless, until two oclock in the morning, Coriolis did not cease to hope that Balaoo, who was an integral part of the forest, would manage to extricate himself by trickery and silence. A pithecanthrope has more than one trick up his sleeve! Every tree is his friend; and he knows how to "move" in the branches!
Alas, the thunder was soon to teach Coriolis otherwise! Balaoo sometimes thundered to amuse himself, but that was always quite evident and Coriolis then knew that the pithecanthrope was making fun of men. Now the thunder of that night was something different, was positively alarming. Never had one of the higher quadrumanes, attacked by a band of hunters in the bush, made the depths of the equatorial jungle ring with a more gigantic anger. And then there were the shots. Balaoo had been discovered! They were giving him a dose of platoon-firing!
Coriolis tore out his hair by handfuls. He took no notice of the women when they entered. Leaning from the tower, he shouted into the night:
"Have at them, Balaoo, have at them! . . . Defend yourself! . . . The cowards! . . . There's a thousand of them to one of you, the cowards! . . . Have at them, Balaoo! . . . Kill them! Kill them! . . . "
Madeleine, seeing his wild condition, tried to silence him, but in vain. He repelled her with the utmost violence. He shook his fist at heaven and earth. He cursed the universe.
Such a work as his! They were murdering his work, the work of a god! For he had proved himself God's equal, that old eccentric, with his pithecanthrope! He had created man; and in less time than it had occupied Him! Where God had taken perhaps five hundred thousand years, he, the old eccentric, had taken ten: ten years and a couple of touches with the scalpel under the tongue! And all that to end . . . how? In their daring to destroy his masterpiece in the corner of a forest! . . . O misery! And he wept . . .
He wept, for the sounds had ceased . . . The thing must be over . . . Nothing remained of Balaoo.
Madeleine took her father's head in her lap and petted and consoled him like an old, white-haired child.
He did not reply.
He certainly did not hear her. From time to time, he repeated:
"It's over! . . . It's all over! . . . We shall never see Balaoo again, we shall never see him again!"
The scene told Gertrude much that she did not know before. Through her master's ravings, she at last learnt the nature of the "dirty trick" of which Balaoo had been guilty. The dear darling had killed a gentleman visitor! She could not get over it. He who had always seemed to her so gentle . . . and who certainly would never have hurt a fly! . . .
Daylight found them all three in the belvedere : they were still there at the hour when nature seems to rise from the mists of the dawn, when thick grey tints enshroud the beauty of the woods, while, far away, on the clearer horizon, the leafless tops of the great trees gleam and sparkle in the light.
With terrified hearts, they assisted at nature's awakening. It was the moment when the earth reeks, when the wind falls, when wild things suck the breath of the earth that makes them strong . . . Ah, how Balaoo used to love that hour! . . . And how often Coriolis had caught him, with his nose in the cool grass, sniffing the pungent smell of the morning; how often he had almost to drag him to the schoolroom where his lessons awaited him! . . . Poor Balaoo, who was so fond of playing truant! . . . How could they grow accustomed to the thought that he was now probably nothing more than a torn and mutilated corpse, which those brutes of men, who fought a thousand to one, would carry back on a litter of branches, little suspecting the miraculous nature of the game which they had killed!.
But the idea in Coriolis' mind suddenly found utterance on Madeleine's lips:
"If they have killed him," she said, "they will certainly know. They will recognize M. Noël."
"Why, of course! Why, of course! There would be hundreds of people to recognize him; and Coriolis would soon be asked for explanations . . .
Well, what did that matter? He would furnish the explanations. He would call to witness everybody who had spoken to M. Noël: Mme. Boche, Mme. Mûre, the small tradesmen in the Rue Neuve and even those rascals the brothers Vautrin, in their prison, for Dr. Coriolis did not yet know of their escape. And people would learn what they had killed, what they had silenced for ever: human speech in a monkey's throat!
When Coriolis reached this second stage of his despair, he saw groups of men emerging from the forest and walking in front of something which he could not yet distinguish, but which resembled a load thrown over a litter of boughs; and he had not a doubt that it was the remains of Balaoo being carried back to the village. Soon he recognized the mayor and the prefect walking ahead: he had seen them, at a distance, on the day before, when already their curious behaviour had caused him no little anxiety. They both seemed now to be talking very excitedly, with gestures expressive of immense distress. Soldiers and peasants followed, making similar gesticulations. And all these people were escorting that sort of bier, over which a long military cloak was thrown. As the procession approached, the occupants of the tower distinguished the details more plainly; and, when it passed the foot of the tower, Madeleine and Gertrude burst into loud sobs, while Coriolis, pale as death, nearly fell over, in his attempt to see. But he saw nothing, except the cloak beneath which lay outlined a human shape that could only be the shape of Balaoo.
When the procession had passed, another followed at once; and here again there were multitudes of people and soldiers around a litter bearing a human figure covered with a cloak . . .
And then came another . . . and yet another . . . making four funeral processions . . .
"Oho!" muttered Coriolis, who no longer had the strength to stand and who felt as though he were losing his reason for good. "Oho! So Balaoo defended himself! . . . "
But that was not all . . . Gradually, the forest belched forth all the soldiers whom it had swallowed up yesterday . . . but in what a plight! After the dead came the wounded. Of these there were at least a score, limping along in single file, supported by their comrades, with their arms in slings and their foreheads bandaged . . . Good old Balaoo! . . .
Yet one more procession brought up the rear. It was formed of a group of people in whose midst a figure which Coriolis seemed to know was struggling in the strangest fashion. Suddenly, he recognized it: Dr. Honorat! But such a Dr. Honorat! Coriolis could not make out the dear doctor's attitude, nor his cries. Honorat's face was covered with blood . . . and he was singing the Marseillaise!
It was really not the moment to strike up this triumphal anthem; and the others were doing their very best to make him stop, but could not. They also had the greatest difficulty in keeping him on his legs . . .
At length, this last procession, like the others, disappeared down the Rue Neuve, towards which all the peasants around were hastening with cries and shouts and lamentations, while the bell of the little church began to toll dismally for the dead, with short, single knells that fell from the steeple slowly, one by one, like tears.
Coriolis, remembering at last that he was a member of the human race, slid to the floor at full length, lifeless, icy cold. The women thought for a moment that he was dead. No amount of attention or rubbing was able to restore the warmth to his body. At last, he opened his eyes and looked around him with a startled air:
"Where is Balaoo?" he asked.
They did not reply. He remembered and heaved a sigh that seemed to come from the dark depths of his scientist's soul, the soul that had taught a pithecanthrope to speak. He shook his head and asked:
"How many killed?"
When the others again did not reply, he gave a violent movement of impatience:
"I'm asking you, how many killed, how many killed!"
"But, papa, we don't know," said Madeleine's trembling voice, at last.
"Well, you, Gertrude, go and find out."
She went to the municipal buildings to enquire.
There were four killed and twenty-seven wounded.
The first victim was the Vicomte de la Terrenoire, who had died the death of a soldier, at the head of his troops, with his skull cracked like a nutshell. It was his body that lay under the first cloak; and he had been laid in state on the desk in the marriage-registry-office. The three others were private soldiers. Their bodies were placed in a row on the floor of the council-chamber.
In addition to these four heroes, there were a number of men suffering from fractured arms, broken legs, bruised noses; but the wordt injuries were certainly those of Colonel du Briage, who had met with an astounding adventure of which, unfortunately, he was unable to furnish particulars, for the very simple reason that he had returned with his jaws smashed to a jelly, every tooth in his head broken and his tongue torn out by the roots. Moreover, both his wrists were fractured. As for the Three Brothers, not one of them, of course, was brought back, dead or alive. More than that, they had not even been seen; and they had not fired a single shot. The soldiers had discharged their rifles at them, at random, but were unable to say if they had even driven them away. All that they found was Dr. Honorat, tied to the foot of a tree in the middle of the Moabit clearing. Throughout the fighting, he had sung the Girondins' song, Mourir pour la patrie, and, afterwards, when the others had tried to make him speak, he had struck up the Marseillaise, which he was singing still. The mayor was utterly dismayed. As for the prefect, he could think of nothing but a telegram which he had received from the government, dismissing him from his post.
From the town-hall, Gertrude went on to the Black Sun. The crowd in the street was so great that she soon saw that she would never reach the door of the Roubions' inn, where generally all the news of the district centred. However, by working her way through the kitchens, she managed to reach the large summer dining-room, now transformed into an infirmary, at the moment when Born-drunk, a sergeant in the second battalion of the 3rd, was describing the terrible, swift and incomprehensible events in which he himself had taken part. He'd had the luck, he had, to get off with a split ear. Now that it was all over, he gave you his word, he wasn't sorry that he'd been there!
Sergeant Born-drunk expressed himself as nimbly with gestures as with words; and often the former were the more easily understood. His hearers could see, as plainly as though they had been present, the little troop under his command, slipping through the tall ferns, noiselessly, amid the silent darkness of the forest; and this merely by the way in which he stooped, bending his body, stretching out his arms, groping with cautious fingers.
And then he pictured the whole mysterious battle, with his chest flung out, his fists cleaving the air, striking at some invisible, retreating form. And then came the firing --- Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! --- with his cheek on his arm, as though he were taking aim. Oh, he was there, he was there right enough! But he was no wiser for all that; for, after all, what did anyone know? Why, nothing! Not a thing! They knew that there were so many killed, that was all, and so many wounded. But how did it happen? Ah, that was the difficulty, that was the difficulty!
The colonel alone could have told. But he would never speak again! And, as for writing, they would have long to wait, for both his wrists were smashed! As for Sergeant Born-drunk, he only knew one thing and that was that the whole business had come from above! Yes, the disaster, so to speak, had dropped out of the sky! At the moment when they thought they were going to catch the Three Brothers, when they were not far from Moabit, he had seen Colonel du Briage standing in front of him, right under the moon, in the middle of a little path. Suddenly, the colonel's figure began to rise up from the ground, absolutely like the pictures of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. The colonel simply ascended to heaven. Not a word! Not a cry! The "old man" said nothing, but just ascended to heaven, with his arms stretched out, as though to bless the earth!
Sergeant Born-drunk was not the only one to see that wonderful sight: all his comrades around him had seen it . . . and all were so much struck by it that they thought, at first, that, they were dreaming, that they were the victims of an illusion, an hallucination . . . And then they had had to accept the fact that the colonel had disappeared: two officers, behind him, had also witnessed that unprecedented piece of witchcraft. And all, officers and men alike, had begun, with their heads in the air, to call out, "Colonel! Colonel!" as though they expected him to drop down from the sky. His figure had vanished through the upper branches of the tall trees . . .
When the first moment of bewilderment was over, everybody ran forward . . . They scrambled into the branches, they quickly beat that corner of the forest . . . But nothing, nobody, no colonel! . . .
The news soon spread along the whole line, which was closing in upon Moabit. Sergeant Born-drunk was dispatched by his lieutenant to tell Major de la Terrenoire and arrived just in time to see the major disappear, even as he had seen the colonel. But, this time, it was something awful. The major and a few other officers were sitting on their horses under the branches of a great oak. As a matter of fact, they feared that it was coming on to rain; for, though the sky was clear and the moon as bright as a five-franc piece, they could hear the first rumblings of a storm that seemed close at hand.
Suddenly, they thought that the oak itself was struck, for there was a terrible clap of thunder in the tree and the horses shied, reared and neighed with terror. There was no holding them in. Sergeant Born-drunk, if he lived to be a hundred, would never forget the moment when Major de la Terrenoire, sitting his prancing charget, was lifted out of the saddle by something that dropped out of the tree and yet remained hanging to it. It was like a swing in which the viscount was now caught by the feet, while his head swept the ground. It was impossible quite to realize the extraordinary spectacle, in the first place, because it was dark and the moon did not shine clearly through the branches and, secondly, because everybody had lost his presence of mind.
The horses, upsetting everything in their way, bolted, carrying their riders with them or throwing them under the branches. The linesmen ran to the assistance of the officer, who began to whirl round and to come down like a club among the rash group which was trying to rescue him. It only lasted a minute. Two of them, a corporal and a private, were killed on the spot by blows of the viscount, whose own head was no more than a mass of pulp. And the viscount himself, reduced to a useless weapon, was quickly flung by "the swing" into the midst of the dead and wounded.
At the sound of this battle, of the shouts, of the moans of the wounded and dying, some officers ran up and gave orders to the men to open fire, without knowing whom or what they were firing, at the risk of shooting one another point-blank. They next rushed to Moabit, yelling like savages. All the men who were still able-bodied, wild with rage, tearing themselves in the brambles, the impenetrable bushes, leaping into the underwood, maddened by the thought that they were fighting against a mysterious force, a new forest weapon invented by the Three Brothers, had dashed forward whooping as though they were storming a battery. Oh, that assault of Moabit! Sergeant Born-drunk could still hear it ringing in his ears, with the shouts of the infantrymen and the thunder of the trees, for the trees around them growling, rumbling and roaring, as though they were the storm itself. One would have thought that the trees were defending themselves. And, from time to time terrible blows were let fly out of the trees by the Three Brothers, whom they never saw and at whom they kept on firing! . . . Blows that would fell an ox! . . . A chap by your side would go down, without so much as an "Ah!" before you knew what was happening! . . . The most awful bludgeoning blows, raining down from the trees and ending you flat to the ground, with a crash! . . .
He himself, Sergeant Born-drunk, was grazed by one of those blows, only grazed, fortunately, but enough to split his ear and make him sit on the ground, like a baby, and see stars!
But there were others who wouldn't stir a limb for many a long day and some who would never stir at all . . . Oh, they would remember the Three Brothers and the siege of the Black Woods! . . . And nobody would ever know how the forest had managed to defend itself like that! . . . Not to speak of the animals, which also had fought like mad: animals by the hundred, which seemed to have taken refuge in Moabit as in a fortress and which delivered sallies, rushing upon the soldiers, coming from every side; wild-boars, wolves, running in every direction, spreading disorder in the ranks; herds rushing blindly before them, knocking down and trampling on all that stood in their way.
The colonel was found, at daybreak, in the condition described, at the very spot from which he had vanished. Then they picked up the dead and wounded and came home.
Sergeant Born-drunk finished his story, while the passing-bell continued to bewail this ill-fated and, from every point of view, deplorable expedition.
Gertrude went away, but did not go straight back, first calling on Mme. Mûre and Mme. Bache and on Mme. Valentin's cook, whom she found in tears because of "that poor M. de la Terrenoire, who was so fond of the mistress." And, in this way, she learnt all the events of yesterday and the day before.
Greatly relieved, she returned to Coriolis' tower with a glad heart.
"Well?" asked Coriolis, as soon as he caught sight of her, while Madeleine prepared herself to hear the worst.
"Well, it's nothing."
"How do you mean, it's nothing?"
"Why, it has nothing to do with him. They've been in the forest hunting the Three Brothers, who have escaped from prison and who have hanged the examining-magistrate, just as they hanged Camus and Lombard and that poor M. Blondel! The Three Brothers defended themselves and knocked thirty of them on the head. There, are four killed."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Coriolis, returning to life, while his heart began to beat with an immense delight. "You don't mean it! And what about Balaoo?"
"Balaoo? Who's talking of Balaoo? Don't I tell you that he was out of it?"
"Oh!" cried Madeleine, in gratitude to Providence. "Oh, can it be possible?"
"It's as I tell you, sure as I hope to be saved!" rejoined the old woman, with amazing effrontery, for she knew quite well what to think of the mysterious defence of the forest and the battle of the trees.
Coriolis and Madeleine embraced. Then Madeleine, hesitatingly, said:
"All the same, he was thundering in the forest last night."
"The soldiers must have frightened him," said Gertrude.
"And then perhaps he is sad," said Coriolis, in a sig nificant tone. "He has been away too long and he dares not come in. You ought to go and fetch him, Madeleine."
Madeleine did not wait to be told a second time. Fifteen minutes later, she was walking, with short steps, through the paths in the forest, calling; in her softest, voice:
"Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . . "
And it was not long before she saw Balaoo come timidly towards her, his clothes in disorder, hanging his head, with a repentant face. Sniffing and moaning, he fell on his knees, muttering, as in the days of the Forest of Bandong, when, after perpetrating some piece of mischief, he returned to the maternal hut, where a good beating awaited him:
"Woonoup brout! . . . Woonoup brout! . . . Brout! Brout!" (12)
"Talk like a Christian, you savage!" said she, with tears in her eyes.
"Mercy!" he sighed, in his gentle, gong-like voice.
She took him by the ear and brought him home.
All the same, he had hanged M. Herment de Meyrentin.
He was given seven days in the black hole, which he fully deserved.
(6). From the Greek pithekos,
ape, and anthropos, man: an animal half way between a monkey and a man
marking as it were the transition between the former and the latter. Scientists,
including Gabriel de Mortillet in the first place, have discovered in the
tertiary strata the traces and the fossilized remains of these intelligent
animals, as well as the proofs of their intelligence. Others, relying on
traveller's tales, declare that this species of ape still exists and that
a few specimens can be found in the depths of the forests of Java. Dr.
Coriolis is not the only one who has hunted for them there. --- AUTHOR'S
(7). This was a terrible thing for Balaoo. who did not know that Camus and Lombard were lame and who believed that they made fun of him by imitating his waddle as they walked along the street, which was his reason for hanging them! --- AUTHOR'S NOTE.
(8). The mangroves. --- AUTHOR'S NOTE.
(9). La veuve, the slang term for the guillotine. --- TRANSLATOR'S NOTE.
(10). A monkey-word expressing satisfaction and equivalent to "All right!" --- AUTHOR'S NOTE.
(11). In the opinion of every traveller who has heard the orang-utan in the virgin forest, its thunderous voice can be compared only with that of the thunder itself. An angry orang-utan sends the sound of a storm for many miles around, creating a noise that has deceived more than one inexperienced hunter at the first hearing. --- AUTHOR'S NOTE.
(12).Woonoup brout, in the language of the larger apes, means "mercy," as Professor Garner tells us. --- AUTHOR'S NOTE.
Book the Second:Balaoo has the Time of his Life
Book the Third: Balaoo Man-About-Town
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