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Read The Mysteries Of Paris Volume V Part 32

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“Let’s have Gringalet, and I’ll go and eat my soup,” said the turnkey.

The Skeleton exchanged a look of savage satisfaction with the Gros-Boiteux.

“Amongst the children to whom Cut-in-Half distributed his animals,”

continued Pique-Vinaigre, “was a poor little devil named Gringalet.

Without father or mother, brother or sister, without fire, food, or shelter, he was alone in the world,–quite alone in a world which he had not asked to enter, and which he might leave without attracting any one’s attention. He was not called Gringalet for any pleasure he had in the name, for he was meagre, lean, and pallid; he did not look above seven or eight years old, but was really thirteen. If he did not seem more than half his name, it was not because of his own will, but because he only fed perhaps every other day, and then so scantily, so poorly, that it was really an exertion to make him pa.s.s for seven years old.”

“Poor little brat! I think I see him!” said the prisoner in the blue cotton nightcap; “there are so many children like him on the streets of Paris dying of hunger!”

“They must begin to learn that way of living very young in order to get accustomed to it,” said Pique-Vinaigre, with a bitter smile.

“Come, get on!” said the Skeleton, suddenly; “the turnkey is getting impatient–his soup is getting cold.”

“Oh, never mind that!” said the _surveillant_. “I wish to know something more of Gringalet; it is very amusing!”

“Yes, it is really very interesting!” added Germain, who was very attentive to the story.

“Ah, thank ye for saying that, my capitalist,” said Pique-Vinaigre; “that gives me more satisfaction than your ten-sous’ piece.”

“_Tonnerre!_” exclaimed the Skeleton, “will you have done with your delays?”

“Well, then,” replied Pique-Vinaigre, “one day Cut-in-Half had picked up Gringalet in the streets, dying with cold and hunger; perhaps it would have been best if he had let him die. As Gringalet was weak, he was a coward; as he was a coward, he became the jest and sport of the other lads, who beat him and used him so ill that he would have become wicked if he had not been deficient in strength and courage. But no; when he had been heartily thumped, he cried, and said, ‘I have not done any harm to anybody, and everybody is unkind to me,–that’s very cruel; oh, if I were strong and bold!’ You will, perhaps, imagine that Gringalet was about to add, ‘I would return to others the ill they do to me?’ By no means. He said,’ Oh, if I were strong and bold, I would defend the weak against the strong, for I am weak, and the strong have made me suffer!’

In the meanwhile, as he was too small a boy to prevent the strong from ill-using the weak, beginning with himself, he prevented the larger brutes from eating the smaller ones.”

“What a strange idea!” said the prisoner in the blue cap.

“And, what is stranger still,” said the tale-teller, “it was this idea that consoled Gringalet for being beaten; which proves that his heart was not bad at bottom.”

“_Pardieu!_ Quite the contrary,” said the guardian. “What an amusing devil that Pique-Vinaigre is!”

At this instant the chimes went half past three o’clock. The Skeleton and Gros-Boiteux exchanged significant glances. The time was drawing on, and the _surveillant_ did not go; and some of the less hardened prisoners seemed almost to forget the sinister projects of the Skeleton against Germain, as they listened attentively to Pique-Vinaigre’s recital.

“When I say,” he continued, “that Gringalet prevented the larger brutes from eating the smaller, you must understand that Gringalet did not mix himself up with tigers, and lions, and wolves, or even foxes and monkeys, in the menagerie of Cut-in-Half,–he was too much of a coward for that; but if he saw, for instance, a spider hidden in his web, in wait for a poor foolish fly flying gaily in the sunshine of the good G.o.d, without hurting any one, why, in a moment, Gringalet smashed the web, freed the fly, and did for the spider like a regular Caesar,–a real Caesar; for he turned as white as a sheet in touching such nasty reptiles; and then it required resolution in him, who was afraid of a c.o.c.kchafer, and had been a long while in forming an intimacy with the tortoise which Cut-in-Half handed to him every morning. Thus Gringalet, overcoming the fear which the spider caused him, in order to prevent flies from being eaten, proved himself–“

“As plucky in his way as a man who attacks a wolf to take a lamb from his jaws,” said the prisoner in the blue cap.

“Or a man who would have attacked Cut-in-Half to take Gringalet from his clutches,” added Barbillon, who was deeply interested.

“As you say,” continued Pique-Vinaigre; “so that after one of these onslaughts Gringalet did not feel himself so unhappy. He who never laughed, smiled, looked about him, c.o.c.ked his cap on one side (when he had one), and hummed the ‘Ma.r.s.eillaise’ with the air of a conqueror. At this moment, there was not a spider that dared to look him in the face.

Another time it was a gra.s.shopper which was swimming and struggling in a brook; in a moment, Gringalet put his two fingers boldly in the water and rescued the gra.s.shopper, which he put on the gra.s.s. A first-cla.s.s swimmer, who had fished up his tenth drowning man at fifty francs a head, could not have been prouder than Gringalet when he saw his gra.s.shopper bend his legs and jump away. And yet the gra.s.shopper gave him neither money nor medal, nor uttered any more thanks than did the fly. But then, Pique-Vinaigre, worthy friend, the honourable company will say to me, what the devil pleasure could Gringalet, whom all the world thumped and buffeted, find in freeing gra.s.shoppers and destroying spiders? Since people were unkind to him, why did he not take his revenge by doing all the evil in his power? For instance, in giving spiders flies to eat, leaving gra.s.shoppers to drown, or even drowning them on purpose?”

“Yes, why not? Why did he not revenge himself in that way?” asked Nicholas.

“What good would that have been?” inquired another.

“Why, to do ill, as ill was done to him.”

“No! Well, then, I understand he liked to save the flies, poor little chap!” said the man in a blue cap. “He said, perhaps, ‘Who knows if some day they mayn’t save me in the same way?'”

“My right worthy friend is right,” cried Pique-Vinaigre, “and has read in his heart what I was about to narrate to the honourable a.s.sembly.

Gringalet was not wicked; he did not see beyond the end of his nose; but he said,’Cut-in-Half is my spider, and perhaps some day some one will do for me what I do for the other poor little flies,–break his web and take me from his clutches;’ for till then nothing could have induced him to run away from his master; he would as soon have thought of killing himself. However, one day, when neither he nor his tortoise had had a chance, and had not gained between either of them more than three sous, Cut-in-Half beat the poor child very severely, so severely that, _ma foi!_ Gringalet could not stand it any longer; and, tired of being the b.u.t.t and martyr of everybody, he watched a moment when the trap was open, and, whilst Cut-in-Half was feeding his animals, he slid down the ladder.”

“Oh, so much the better,” said a prisoner.

“But why didn’t he go and complain to the Doyen?” inquired the blue cap; “he would have served Cut-in-Half out.”

“Yes, but he dared not; he was too much afraid, and preferred trying to escape. Unfortunately, Cut-in-Half had seen him, and, seizing him by the wrist, lugged him up again into the loft. Poor Gringalet, thinking of what must befall him, shuddered all over, although he was by no means at the end of his troubles. Apropos of Gringalet’s troubles, I must now mention to you Gargousse, the large and favourite ape of Cut-in-Half.

This mischievous brute was, _ma foi!_ taller than Gringalet; only imagine what a size for a monkey! I must tell you why he was never taken into the streets to be shown, like the other animals of the menagerie: it was because Gargousse was so wicked and powerful that there was not one amongst all the show-boys, except an Auvergnat of fourteen, a determined chap, who, after many skirmishes and contests with Gargousse, had mastered him, and could lead him about with a chain; and even with him Gargousse frequently got up some fights, which ended in bloodshed produced by Gargousse’s bites. Enraged at this, the little Auvergnat said, one fine day, ‘Very well, I will revenge myself on this infernal monkey;’ and so, one morning, having gone out with the brute as usual, he, in order to appease its savageness, bought a sheep’s heart. Whilst Gargousse was eating it, he put a rope through the end of his chain, tied it to a tree, and, when he had got the brute quite at his mercy, he gave it an outrageous walloping.”

“Well done! Bravo the Auvergnat! Go it, my lad! Skin the beast alive!”

said the prisoners.

“He did whack him gloriously!” continued Pique-Vinaigre. “And you should have seen how Gargousse cried, ground his teeth, leaped, danced, and skipped hither and thither; but the Auvergnat used his stick famously!

Unfortunately, monkeys, like cats, are very tenacious of life. Gargousse was as crafty as he was vicious; and when he saw, as they say, how the wood was on fire, at a heavy blow he made a final bound, and fell flat at the foot of a tree, shook for a moment, and then shammed dead, lying as motionless as a log. The Auvergnat believed he had done for him, and, thinking the ape dead, he cut away, resolved never again to return to Cut-in-Half. But the beast Gargousse watched him out of the corner of his eye, and, bruised and wounded as he was, as soon as he saw himself alone he rent the cord asunder with his teeth. The Boulevard Monceaux, where he had had this hiding, was close to La Pet.i.te Pologne, and the monkey knew his way as easy as his paternoster; and, making off in that direction, arrived at his master’s, who roared and foamed when he saw how his monkey had been served. This is not all. From this moment Gargousse entertained such a furious revenge against all children that Cut-in-Half, who was not the tenderest soul alive, dared not trust him to any one for fear of an accident; for Gargousse was capable of strangling or devouring a child, and all the little brute-showers, knowing that, would rather be thrashed by Cut-in-Half than go near the monkey.”

“I must really go and eat my soup,” said the turnkey, turning towards the door; “this devil of a Pique-Vinaigre would wheedle a bird down from a tree to hear him! I can’t tell where the deuce he fishes up all he tells!”

“Now, then, the turnkey will go,” said the Skeleton, in a whisper to the Gros-Boiteux. “I’m in such a rage I shake all over! Mind and form a wall all around the informer,–I will take care of the rest!”

“Mind, now, and be good boys!” said the turnkey, turning towards the door.

“As good as images!” replied the Skeleton, coming closer to Germain, whilst the Gros-Boiteux and Nicholas, after having agreed on a signal, made two steps in the same direction.

“Ah, worthy turnkey, you are going at the most interesting moment!” said Pique-Vinaigre, with an air of reproach.

Had it not been for the Gros-Boiteux, who antic.i.p.ated his intention, and seized him suddenly by the arm, the Skeleton would have rushed on Pique-Vinaigre.

“What! The most interesting moment?” replied the turnkey, turning towards the story-teller.

“Decidedly,” said Pique-Vinaigre; “you do not know all you will lose,–the most delightful portion of the history is now about to commence.”

“Don’t attend to him,” exclaimed the Skeleton, who with difficulty repressed his rage; “he is not in good trim to-day; for my part I think his story very stupid.”

“My story very stupid?” cried Pique-Vinaigre, wounded in his pride as a tale-teller. “Well, turnkey, I beg of you,–I entreat you to remain till the conclusion, which, at most, will not be longer than a quarter of an hour, and as by this time your soup must be cold, why, you haven’t much to lose by a little delay. I will go ahead with my narrative, so that you may still have time to eat your soup before we are locked up for the night.”

“Well, then, I’ll stay, but make haste,” said the turnkey, coming closer towards him.

“You are wise to stay, turnkey,” continued Pique-Vinaigre; “without bragging, you never heard anything like it before, especially the finale, which is the triumph of the ape, and Gringalet escorted in procession by all the little beast-showers and inhabitants of La Pet.i.te Pologne. On my word and honour, it is not for the sake of boasting, but it is really superb.”

“Then tell it speedily, my boy,” said the turnkey, returning towards the stove.

The Skeleton shook with rage. He almost despaired of accomplishing his crime. If bedtime arrived, Germain must escape, for he was not in the same dormitory with his implacable enemy, and on the following day Germain was to be in a separate cell.

“So it’s very stupid!” continued Pique-Vinaigre. “Well, the honourable company shall be the judge of that. There could not exist a more vicious brute than the big ape Gargousse, who was even more savage with children than his master. What does Cut-in-Half do to punish Gringalet for trying to run away? You shall know by and by. Well, in the meantime, he seizes on the unhappy child, and locks him into the c.o.c.k-loft for the night, saying, ‘To-morrow morning, when all your companions are gone out, I will let you see what I do with vagabonds who try to run away from me.’ You may imagine what a wretched night Gringalet pa.s.sed. He did not close an eye, but kept asking himself what Cut-in-Half meant to do with him, and then he fell asleep. He had a dream,–such a horrid dream,–that is, the beginning of it was, as you shall see. He dreamed that he was one of the very poor flies that he had so often rescued from the spiders’ webs, and that he had fallen into a large and strong web, where he was struggling,–struggling with all his might, without being able to escape. He then saw coming towards him, stealthily and treacherously, a kind of monster, which looked like Cut-in-Half turned into a spider. Poor Gringalet began to struggle again, as you may suppose, but the more he struggled the more he got entangled, like the poor flies. At last the spider came up to him, touched him, and he felt the cold and hairy paws of the horrid beast curl around him and enclose him, intending to devour him. He believed he was dead, when suddenly he heard a kind of clear, ringing, sharp sort of buzzing, and he saw a beautiful golden fly, with a kind of brilliant dart, like a diamond needle, which flew around the spider with a furious air, and a voice (when I say a voice you must imagine a fly’s voice) which said, ‘Poor little fly! You have saved flies! The spider shall not–‘ Unfortunately Gringalet jumped up at this moment, and did not see the end of his dream; but yet he was at first somewhat a.s.sured, and said to himself, ‘Perhaps the golden fly with the diamond dart would have killed the spider if I had finished the dream.’ But in vain did Gringalet endeavour to make himself easy and take comfort; in proportion as the night ended, his fears renewed, so strongly, that at last he forgot his dream, or, rather, he only remembered the portion which affrighted him, the large web in which he had been caught and enfolded by the spider which resembled Cut-in-Half. You may imagine what a fright he was in; only think–only think–alone,–quite alone, and no one to defend him!

In the morning, when he saw daybreak gradually appear through the skylight of the c.o.c.k-loft, his fears redoubled, and the moment was at hand when he would be alone with Cut-in-Half. He then threw himself on his knees in the middle of the garret, and, weeping bitterly, entreated his comrades to ask Cut-in-Half to forgive him, or else to help him to escape if possible. But some from fear of their master, others from disregard, and some from ill nature, refused what poor Gringalet requested so earnestly.”

“Young scamps!” said the prisoner in the blue cap; “he is to be pitied, so helpless. If he could have defended himself, tooth and nail, it would have been very different, _ma foi!_ If you have fangs, show ’em, boy, and defend your tail!”


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