Louise Michel, "The Claque-Dents" (in progress)

THE CLAQUE-DENTS

The claque-dents is the death throes of the old world.
It dreams of decking itself out again in purple and ermine, and of giving drink to the swords. But the purple and ermine are soiled, and the rusty swords want no more blood. The orgy is over.
This old world has the chattering teeth of the death throes; Shylock and Satyr at once, its chipped teeth seek living flesh; its demented claws search, deepen all the keen miseries. This is the delirium of the end.
In vain its wants to rejuvenate, to drink the blood of the crowds in long drafts; its sops rise in its throat to suffocate it. The debacle begins at the little clink of the gold, the danse macabre of the banks waltzes around a few last Bastilles.
The bell tolls for all tyrannies. But they do not want to die, feeling the sap of the new spring.
We saw there, in Caledonia, old paperbark trees whose age no one knew, crumble suddenly, still having some green twigs on their dead branches.
A dull thud, a cloud of dust, and all was finished; the great tree was no longer anything but a little heap of dust, in which bustled desperately some insects from another age, enormous millipedes, hairy spiders, brightly colored bugs.
Thus will disappear the society where might makes right.
In Germinal, the breezes sing, troubling with their sweet breath the grass full of flowers.
At times, a last icy breath passes through the air like a leaf that passes.
Soon the nests in the woods will fill with life.
Thus we come to Germinal, to the end of our age-old winter.

I

The whole unhinged world jostled, for one dizzy day, at the division of spoils, made at the Hôtel des Ventes,[1] of the furniture of Lucrèce Milot, a madwoman of the best class, tragically dead.
The distracted, daft, and jaded vied for the smallest of trinkets. A blood-soaked rag was sold for the price of an objet d’art.
The things on which the crime lingered were worth the weight of human folly.
Little Muscadet had spent the last bits of his wife’s dowry there; young Madulphe had taken “an enormous toll” on his expectations, his parents not being very advanced in age; old Griffus had stolen.
Some defendant waited at the Roquette for the hour of the abattoir, charged with overwhelming proofs and unimpeachable testimonies, while the killer, a big, young blond man with the eyes of a dove, against whom no charge had been made, remaining perfectly tranquil, attended the sale, keeping an eye on the trinkets that would have been dangerous for him to let escape.
He had found enough gold and banknotes in his victim’s drawers to ensure its safety.
His appearance, since that time, was even more immaculate than usual; he inspired a perfect confidence in those who judge infallibly if men have an honest face or a sinister mien.
Several items for personal use had been purchased by him; as he was a jack of all trades and consequently had a future, it was prudent to not leave behind him things smelling like the corpse. He was named Sylvestre, a name as sweet as his face.
One of the most rabid buyers was an old musician known as Old Hermann; he had never been to the Hôtel des Ventes.
It was quite simple: Old Hermann had never had the cash; this time, chance or fate had brought him some waves from the River Pactolus.[2] The old man, resembling by chance another musician, a famous one, who played first violin in the orchestra of a new opera, that resemblance, as known as his talent, led him to replace, in name and in fact, the famous man, who had fallen sick, and, for a change, he was extremely well paid.
Old Hermann was applauded wildly, especially since, instead of following the score, it allowed him to pursue the whims of his frenzied imagination.
His nerves vibrated like strings, and the violin became one with him, body and soul. He had played as no one had played in a long time; the harmony took hold of him, carrying the bow in an instinctive movement.
The great musician that Old Herman replaced died on the next day, and, as no one would believe that he rose each evening to come and take his place in the orchestra, it was necessary to end the new opera for a few days.
Old Hermann, that much better paid for having hushed up the affair, not knowing what to do with the gold jingling in his pockets, had by chance entered the Hôtel des Ventes.
Having spotted a piano among the furniture, he rushed to it, rejuvenated, handsome from the strange harmony that he had conjured up, he sat down to play, to play, sometimes softly, sometimes in a furious manner, a sort of death song for those whose parties this piano had enlivened. There was a moment with the assassin grew pale, thinking he heard the moans of his victim; he vowed not to lose sight of Old Hermann.
When the stewards and the buyers, terrified by the mad music, were finally able to make Old Hermann stop, he rose unsteadily as if he were drunk, and throwing down two handfuls of gold as a final offer for an old veil of white gauze, he left carrying his purchase, without anyone standing of the way of that peculiar course of action.
Nothing remained but the bed, awarded with the last of the dead woman’s jewelry to a pale young man with drooping eyelids who was named Stéphane.
Sylvestre, anxious, followed Old Hermann.

II

At the home of young Stéphane’s mistress there occurred a scène at once burlesque and sinister.
Thirty thousand francs, won at the tables when chance was on his side, had allowed him to buy the bed and the jewels; he tried Lucrèce’s coral necklace on Marguerite. The red line made, on her marble neck, the mark of the scaffold.
Marguerite was vaguely aware of this thought of Stéphane’s. He saw her put her hand to her neck, as if to a wound. An intuition of the crime passed through him, at the same time that a sudden fear invaded the unfortunate.
Fear gripped him to remain alone with her.
“I would really like,” she said, “to go to the theatre. Tonight at the Comic Opera they’re performing The Woman in the Red Necklace.
Stéphane glaucous eyes were filled with a rapid gleam.
“Ah!” he said, “it is the role of the ghost; a costume all of black crêpe, that makes the illusion of a cloud with a red line at the neck. It is the murdered woman!”
He blushed saying this: it was then, no doubt, that he had had a first impression. Marguerite blushed equally, as their thoughts met.
The square of the Roquette Prison where, soon, he would see the condemned man who waited, appeared to Stéphane, sending a bit of blood to his pale face.
“It is too late! he responded, “to go to the theater.”
“We will see the fifth act.”
He did not respond—both had become pale again. He had just considered killing her. She, thought of the fate that had made her, on this night, grant a leave to her maid.
They were absolutely alone—all the noises outside were extinguished.
The hallucination held them, the one like the serpent, and the other like the bird. He began to watch her. The idiot had evolved into a monster.
Seated on the bed, in a white peignoir, the coral necklace on her neck, she already appeared to him as a ghost. The crime was accomplished before the victim was struck.
Some empty words escaped their lips. Marguerite felt lost; Stéphane explained the scene, which would be relentlessly repeated, and touched her neck.
“You see! It is here that Gaspard struck.” (This was the name of the presumed murderer.) “An axe-blow on the name of the neck. The blood spurted like a shower. The robe was soaked in it!”
Marguerite thought that there was no axe there; he regretted not being able to have Lucrèce’s tunic, which remained with the pieces of evidence. “I will have Marguerite’s,” he said to himself, and his idea stopped there, suddenly, brutally.
There was silence for a few minutes.
Stéphane broke it suddenly.
“We will reconstruct the scene.”
The obsession enveloped them; on her part, Marguerite felt faint; she only wondered if it would be over soon; her mind was already failing.
In the dark night outside, the silence was interrupted by a loud cry rending the air; the wail of a man or beast whose throat is being slit.
At that cry, like a plea, Marguerite dashed towards the door: death gave warning.
That flight was the signal for Stéphane, he launched himself in pursuit.
Perhaps, if she had not moved, he would have watched her until daylight without killing her; now that she wanted to escape, the man became a wild beast pursuing its prey.
Crossing the room, Stéphane snatched from a display of weapons a hatchet embellished with arabesques. Its steel edge made stars in the shadows. He threw a hand on the shoulder of his victim, and drew her back towards the bed, where he slaughtered her, and on the red line of the necklace his neurotic arm struck a terrible blow.
There was one single cry, to which no one responded: they heard some much of that sort of thing from that apartment!
Then, quietly, with the calm of cataleptic sleep, Stéphane washed his hands, collected the jewelry, took the gold in the drawer, and walked toward the door.
On the threshold, he turned back toward Marguerite, and looked at her for a long time, filling his eyes with that horrible sight, nourishing his imbecile being on the odor of the blood, and setting a lighted candle at the foot of the bed, he descended the stairs, returned home, and slept soundly. The light was still burning in Marguerite’s apartment, in the morning when the bookseller’s shop opened, across from her windows.
“There is one,” he said, “who passes some merry nights.”

III

Old Hermann went straight ahead, hardly knowing where he would stop.
His house had long since been passed, when he began to notice fatigue. So, regardless of eyes fixed on him, the old man made himself at home on a heap of stones piled up by workers at a street corner.
The veil hung in the old man's hands as he had entirely forgotten all that had happened, he wiped his brow with it, taking it for his handkerchief.
Sylvestre followed constantly—Old Hermann’s appearance gave him the shudders and he was quite wrong, for the old man hardly thought of him, his mind floated uncertainly, his open eyes did not see.
A policemen, struck by the strange look of the musician, approached him.
“Are you waiting for something there, my good man?”
“Yes,” he said, without knowing.
At that moment, a terrible explosion spread terror up and down the street
It was a box, harmless a short time later, with which some practical joker had made the attempt. It was January, and at that time those sorts of toys are very easy to purchase.
The alarm was so great that the police stopped everyone, thinking they saw dynamiters everywhere.
A youngster being caught making a reproduction of the explosion with the aid of a paper sack, all the shops closed and the street was swept by a swarm of guardians of the peace whose little cloaks fluttered like wings and whose tall boots gave the appearance of birds’ feet, one would have said a flock of crows.
There were a few arrests; Old Hermann, without knowing what he did, followed those arrested, and equally without knowing why he was swallowed up with the others at the station.
Sylvestre had left him there, not caring to risk an inquiry; although they are usually against the truth, he could have bad luck.
“This old man,” he thought,gives me the impression of being a clever one. I will keep an eye on him from my side.” Sylvestre, the man with the soft eyes, with the angelic face, waiting for the opportune time to slay his victims and the right time to cover his tracks, did not hurry in the present circumstances, although he had to ward off two dangers, the one that seemed to come from Old Hermann, and the other, coming from the circumstances; he had felt obliged, in order to follow the old man, to abandon to the care of the Hôtel des Ventes the purchases he had made.
But on these occasions, the fewer obvious precautions one takes, the better—papers left in plain view, attached to a nail in the wall with notes for the milkman or baker, folded as bookmarks in novels, escape police searches. Sylvestre, moreover, was above these simple principles, he had an enormous experience with all the procedures, not engaging in any act before making a reconnaissance, after which he followed or ignored the tracks.
Sometimes he became lost, and he wandered still, but he found himself in the twists and turns of his lies, and thought that he would always find himself. Sylvestre went peacefully in his circle; those who saw him pass followed him with a trusting regard, and he, from time to time, before the grim face of some rebel dreaming of egalitarian justice, before the blazing eye of one dying of hunger, said to himself: There is a rogue’s mien! a sinister face! Perhaps he even thought so.
After a night passed in the cells, jumbled up with the vermin and the extraordinary gossip of the starving, desperate and miserable of all sorts, some delirious, and the others glazed over.
The good Hermann was completely delirious.
It is under this impression that he confessed to the investigating judge Mancastel to being the author of the second explosion (that of the paper bag), whose real author still ran around laughing at the fright caused by his childish prank.
This is why the father Hermann, accused of plotting against the security of the state, was held in the utmost secrecy.
In the end, he identified so strongly with a character from the Opéra for which he had played the harmonic part, that he began, by way of response, to recite the role of conspirator in the piece, a man named Noirel who planned the death of tyrants.
Mancastel, having a tinge of literature was sometimes surprised to find a rhythm in the revelations by Old Hermann of his black intrigues, but as this rhythm was disfigured by the cock and bull stories and the orthographic fantasies of the clerk, he paid no heed, already thinking of the glory and the profit that could come from him from his skill at uncovering all that he was told by the old musician.

IV

There are two little-known islands on the coast of Morbihan.
From a distance, Hœdik has the appearance of a seahorse; some bits of land, one having the appearance of bagpipes, the others stamped in the shape of the tail, surround it. Houat is a double star; reefs, where the waves and wind roar, border Hœdik and Houat.
On these islands, and on their constellations of islets, live a population of fisher-folk who only know the sea.
On the horizon, eating into the coasts of Quiberon and Penmarch, is the sea; between the two harbors, a first foundation of granite from the times before history, the rocks of Morbihan.
Opposite, Belle-Isle.
Houat was one of the first human stations, the Siata of the ancients; the customs have hardly changed since then.
The armor braz (as the Bretons call the great sea), is everything for the boys who live there.
Little Louïk, that day, going in the morning to gather periwinkles for the owner of his boat, found, under a tuft of broom, a tiny infant, so well wrapped that it did not cry.
Louïk his song, which had not been translated from the old language of the Kernevotes of the coast into our own.

Monte, monte, monte en chantant,
Monte, allouette de Gaule !
Chantel voici fleurir le saule.
Monte, allouette au firmament.

Rise, rise, rise up shinging,
Rise, skylark of Gaul!
Sing, her the willow flowers.
Rise, skylark, in the firmament.

The birds in the thickets who kept time with the sound of the waves, did not interrupt their own—it was for want of the maternal song the harmony of nature cradling with the other nests that of the little abandoned being. In the  rustic basket that contained the child, Louïk saw nothing extraordinary. Can’t one be born beneath the broom like the little flowers that sprout from the earth?
Louïk was not astonished by all this. He did not have a little sister, and this was unquestionably one;—he had no doubt that his mother would happily adopt the child, she had been a widow for two years already, raising the child would distract her, and he would help with the expenses: wasn’t he employed by the owner of the great barque Nidelek? What one is eight years old and earns one’s living, one is a man.
Rolling his ideas around in his big blond head, Louïk rocked gently in his arms the child, who, being awakened, cried horribly. Delicately, to sooth her, Louïk offered her a hunk of brown bread, when the two old women, Margareth and Guilleke, their big black scarves flapping in the wind like the wings of ospreys, rushed toward the desperate cries of the little abandoned one.
“What is it, Jésus Dieu?”
“What are you doing to that child, Louïk?”
“It is mine. It is my little sister.” His little sister! The two old women exchanged a look that Louïk did not even see.
“You lie,” Louïk, “you have taken that little one somewhere to amuse yourself, among the Mariennik perhaps.
He protested indignantly: “It is mine! It is my little sister!” And as the old women advanced to take the child, he drew back, hugging her so tightly that she started to cry again.
Louïk, desperate, between the cries of the child and the old women who besieged him, held out one hand to defend himself, and the basket fell.
The old women swooped down on the little one, and, followed by Louïk, who did not want to give up the little sister he had so fortunately found, made off towards the hamlet of fishers where they had their shelter.
The whole island, or everyone who was not at sea, came to see the infant that the old women, to defend her from the bad sort, had brought to the chapel.
Wasn’t the main thing to insure against the surprises of the goblins and poulpiquets, which a daughter of the night could be.[3]

V

Louïk, weeping, demanded his sister so furiously that the old women retained one last doubt whether that the little one did belong to the widow, although this one came like the others, in the most natural of ways.
After having said the prayers of Saint-Goulvent over the infant, someone thought to give it a little milk.
Louïk’s discovery was a real event. After having considered the strangest hypotheses, the Madonna of the chapel making no unfavorable manifestation, they decided to raise it.
As Louïk had still not stopped howling and demanding his sister, the widow asked that she be entrusted to him, which inspired a new exchange of defiant glances between Margareth and Guilleke.
That little one should go to her; for if they had known anything outside the island, the riddle would have given up its mystery, for at Groix, the Isle of Witches, among the wreckage of a ship, was an empty cradle.
‘How many sailors? How many captains,” said Victor Hugo.[4] And how many of the poor people of the coast who go out in their frail boats to aid the shipwrecks and like them never return!
The old beggar Joël had, before Louïk, found the child attached to a board found on the shore, had taken off its wet diapers, had laid it in an old basket well wrapped in a warm bit of wool and, believing that one would think of him as the wrong hands and that coming from him the little one would not be adopted by anyone, he had left it for others to find.
The ship, which was wrecked by the black night, thought it was in the harbor of Quiberon; it was the Pointe du Raz.
The old women had their idea, and old Joël had his own in putting in the basket two branches of broom, good luck, he believed.
She was named Fleur de Genêts. The sound of the waves and the wind, the rough language of nature, was all that the little foundling learned between Louïk, who adored her, and her adoptive mother, a bit harsh; one gave him so little in the hamlet to help with the needs of the child, and the old women darting their forked tongues at her, loaded with bad words, because of the demand they had made to take charge of her—as they did every time that they had nothing to do.
About fifteen years after this event there was a Pardon[5] on the island of Houat. Among the foreigners who attended, a lady of respectable age and demeanor came to seek, on the coasts of Brittany, a young girl piously raised, in order to make her a servant. Louïk was a soldier; her mother, tired of the wicked remarks, overcome by poverty and illness, consented to the departure of her adoptive daughter, as she had consented to the departure of Louïk, who had enlisted so that she could have bread.
Could she feel anxiety about giving her to such a holy person as Hélène Saint-Madulphe?
Thus the little one came to Paris, where Louïk was with his regiment, a day when one had fetched as reinforcements some gendarmes from Versailles and some companies of Breton soldiers. Mme Hélène de Saint-Madulphe had been for several weeks an object of reverence for the little Mariennik, often she very nearly showed it by bowing to her; but despite her profound ignorance, or rather because of that ignorance, the child was gripped by an unreasoning fear before the preparations for a reception given by Madame de Saint-Madulphe for some friends, doubtless as respectable as she, but whose manners had frightened the little girl.
That is why, hastily putting on again the coarse clothes that her boss had made her give up for more modern ones, she fled through the deep night in the big city that she did not know, and which she feared, though less than Madame de Saint-Madulphe.
Fleur de Genêts first ran straight before her—one moment the railroad passing over an arched bridge gave the illusion of the sea, she breathed full into her lungs the handfuls of dust raised by the wind, thinking she smelled the fresh and powerful scent of the tides.
The idea of reality returned to her quickly, because behind her, following in her footsteps, his words resonating in her ears, a drunk for whom the road was not wide enough said to her: “Hey! beautiful, will you have a drink with me?” the child took flight so rapidly that, deflected, he went heavily to ground under an arch of the railway bridge.
It was near Montrouge. Without knowing it the child had left Paris.
No longer feeling under the control of Mme de Saint-Madulphe, delivered from the drunk who snored under his pillar, Fleur de Genêts asked herself where she was.
She had no idea!
A few flakes of snow, swirling in the air, had made the noxious dust disappear. It was fresh and seemed pure. Fleur de Genêts had not breathed so freely in a long time.
She stopped for a moment and like an untied spray scattered around her the dark flowers of her life, already long with sorrows. A rising tide of memories cast up, in strange groups, all that she had encountered along her way.
The soft, cold face of the widow, pale under her white cap, he brother Louïk constantly protecting her, so well that she believed him an occult power.
At the thought of those years gone by, there rose like ghosts all the misunderstood sorrows, all the mysterious shame that clung to the lost child.
The world seemed large to her, and she felt alone in it. Between her and the adoptive brother who had been so good to her, she seemed to see an abyss. Poor little Fleur-de-Genêts!
Where was she? She had not idea. What would become of her? She knew still less.
She was so cold, that she thought of the pretty white sheet, that the year before little Annie had taken under the ground.
The snow fell thick;—unconscious of the hour, or the place, Fleur de Genêts set off walking again.
From time to time a shout passing through the air stopped her short, a cry of distress or of madness, which passed unanswered.
Thus roars the beast at the slaughterhouse; thus beat the wings of the bird who will be caught in the trap. Suddenly, a frightened flight of shadows, scattering before some hunters, filled the silent street.
The dream, a dream that was a horrible nightmare enveloped the poor child.
Without knowing, borne by the current of fear which carried the beings in flight, she ran with them.
The nets were spread, so well that among the girls arrested for she knew not what, Fleur de Genêts was taken to the station, fluttering like a wounded dove.
At the station, there was the section from men and that for women. The two heaps were equally sinister.
Sometimes, in the midst of the poignant miseries that are found amassed there, some strange commercial affairs take shape.
Such with the combinations destined to put into the hands of a respectable old man and a charming young man—the first named Saint-Léger, the second known by his familiar name Mr. Alphonse—the wealth of the world. Both arrested by chance, they said, made such eloquent and worthy complaints that the administration, afraid of having incurred the resentment of these illustrious personages offered to let them pass the rest of the night in a cell for two where they could finish in entire safety the conversation commenced by words prudently veiled.
Saint-Léger and Alphonse knew each other; they belonged to the same world, and they had reason to expect to be promptly released since they took part in a business rather foreign to their character.
The [police] had, to spice up the talk of plots against the security of the State, arrested all the orators at the rostrum of the Salle Octobre—Saint-Léger and Alphonse had just gone up to argue—the dragnet was too quick to allow them to explain.
That situated them well, besides, but they were afraid, by loudly denying their solidarity, of attracting some future danger to themselves.
“There are some brave men!” said the student Pierre Christophe to his friend Cristel, “they do not think like the speakers, but they support the struggle alongside them. It is good!”
“Yes,” said the tall blond, Cristel, who was said to be very accomplished in the art of knowing men, “we must judge people on their acts and not their words.”
It was an act indeed; many lasting judgments do not have a more solid basis. But plans were laid in the cell where Saint-Léger and the young Alphonse awaited freedom which could not delay after the inquest demanded by them on their social position! Sketch of a constitution for a distant island, of which they would traffic the lands which did not belong to them—which would bring them millions easy to secure, while the colonists, poor devils, would await, to plant it and live, help from the Company which would never be sent, and later to return, ships which would never come.
Projects for the hoarding of grain, coal, and metals, allowing them to borrow double what they would put out to discount. The bold idea of a single bank leading to the coming collapse of all the banks, preventing them from sinking with paper-money based, as capital, on the wealth of their colony.
Never were they so well understood. Never had they had so vivid an imagination. The nights appeared short to them, hardly had they had time to begin a light sleep, when the chief of the station revoked their arrest. By the same information which set the two rastaquouères at liberty, the examining judge assigned to the plot linked to it the case of Fleur de Genêts.
That child, who could reveal nothing, for the simple reason that she knew nothing, seemed to the magistrates precociously and abominably depraved.

VI

Before he worked with gold, the Jew Eléazar had worked with the pen; his fingers, now crooked, bent inward like talons, had feverishly taken possession or the keyboards or strings from which he drew plaints or songs of love.
Now that he had an immense fortune, Baron Eléazar left in the mists of dreams these aspirations of the past, without however being able to forget them completely; this was the period when he had married for the first time. The Bride of the Canticles advancing from the desert, leaning on her beloved, was no more beautiful than the first wife of Eléazar. Dying, she had taken with her the heart of her spouse.
She died, and Eléazar became somber for a long time, seeing no one but his son and daughter.
He signed without reading the commercial documents which he cashier presented to him, and went with his children without knowing where, following their whims.
For him, the beloved lived forever; he was the ghost. One day, however, he had to enter into communication with the world again, his son was old enough to enter college, his daughter to have a primary school teacher.
Wild as young fawns, Esther and Marius resisted at first, then reason dawned, the brother entered the Lycee Charlemagne where Eléazar had been educated; the sister was confided to the care of Gertrude Nathan, a tall woman, with dry, hard features, who scared her.
How, little by little, the teacher gained an empire over the mind of Eléazar was more astonishing as he saw her very little, it is one of those events when reasoning fails.
At the moment when we encounter the banker, he had just married in second nuptials this strange creature.
Charged with electricity like a torpedo, implacable, haughty, coldly cruel, Gertrude stripped the unfortunate Jew of all he had that was human; it was she who galvanized him, and from the poet David made the money-lender Shylock.
It was she who presided over the destinies of the family, is such a manner as to promptly free herself from the son and daughter of her husband. She wanted to be along to manage the fortune and to squeeze it like a bunch of grapes.
In that end of an era, when the rottenness of society was so deep, she sowed, sowed without ceasing; for her, it was the germinal of gold, she hoped, before Frimaire whitened her hair, to have brought prodigious harvests to shelter.
Sometimes Baroness Eléazar is anxious, her thick eyebrows contract, her face is covered with shadows. It is because she thinks of her first husband, the old rogue that we have met at the station, in the company of the young scoundrel Alphonse.
M. de Saint-Léger, who was called more simply Nathan, looked forward to seeing his wife again, and making her pay so dearly for his silence about her first marriage, that he would have the means to equip the first ship for the New Atlantis, which was the name of the island, situated in the credulity of the suckers, but for which it was necessary to depart regardless.
The baroness, that evening, passing her narrow, white hand thought the tawny gold of her hair, chatted in her salon with some personal guests, the young Wilhelm, from Vienna in Austria, and his mother, much older, but just as full of life as the baroness Eleaza.
It was necessary not to rely on hopes from that side. But one could count them; no matter, as long as the marriage of Esther was not delayed.
To give her time for reflection was dangerous in these circumstances. She had quickly realized that the young Wilhelm was a perfect imbecile, and that little Esther had some stupid obstinacies.
Making nice, giving to her sweet words a serpent’s fascination, she was in the process of mastering Wilhelm, and perhaps his mother. Have you seen the blue fly, with savage eyes, which places itself before the cockroach and magnetizes it, and, marching in reverse, attracts it to its hole, where it devours it?
That’s how Madame Gertrude worked.
The mother was recalcitrant.—These two powerful organizations struggled inevitably as the elements collide, shattering with their tremendous spark all that surrounded them.
As for the young Wilhelm, he felt an even more complete heaviness than usual.
There was something terrible in that silent battle of unknown forces—to each of these women, finding the world cramped for her, the other seemed a thief who sought to steal her treasure, with that difference that Wilhelm’s mother wanted to make a nest for her family, the other, her own nest.
As for the young man, beardless, pomaded, frizzy, gloved in costly fashion who felt himself in this atmosphere completely atrophied, he stood motionless, even more stupid than usual.
Suddenly, deep in thought, Wilhelm's mother remembered a terrible scene from her previous life of poverty.
She had, for her young son, sold her long, black hair to a woman trading in second-hand goods, half lady of charity, half negotiator of all sort of things.—That woman, whose hard conditions saved for a moment, was the baroness.
How many characters in this story, more horribly true than one could imagine, trailing thus a past more sinister than the corpses attached to the croup of the Valkyries’ chargers.
The private soirée followed the evening gathering, when a murmur in the hive, crossing the courtyard, reached the salon of the baroness. Marguerite’s maid, returning at a late hour of the morning, found herself facing the corpse, lying in her blood-soaked gown on the bed, of which the stained lace had not been raised.
She fled from it, shouting so loud that a whole crowd rushed in before the police superintendent made the first findings.
A bit pale, under his elegant grey hat, Sylvestre, his appearance as impeccable his life, was one of the first to enter.
He gallantly presented his respects to the baroness, and casting under his lowered eyelids a venomous glance at Wilhelm, he took his usual place.
An incident which had the proportions of an enormous danger for the baroness occurred at that apparently peaceful soirée.
The young Alphonse, one of the most constant regular at the soirées of Madame Eléazar, thinking the he should not lose the brilliant idea that he had worked out with Saint-Léger, enlisted him to confide it to the baroness—they thought that they would find, in the person of Madame Gertrude, an eager backer for the excellent plan of monopolization elaborated the night before in their cell. They were not at her level—this plan was for her only hackneyed and even trichinous; for ten years she had been recognized for her dowry, a complete system of capitalist royalty in the same sense, but contrived with more genius, a true work of art in this genre, a spider web for the sons of silver and gold in which even the wasps could be taken. Here first husband, the Jew Nathan, could claim a part in this grandiose project, for he had initiated his young wife into roguery, but the student had long since surpassed the master.
In a painting, in a stanza, in a pattern, those who have an artistic nature often find that they vaguely glimpse in these moments where one does not know if one thinks with sounds, with a rhythm, with words or with colors; thus in the monstrous plan of the earth given over to famine to gorge a few financial ghouls, the baroness Eléazar encountered the two scoundrels whose entry struck her a massive blow inside. Saint-Léger was the Jew Nathan, the first husband of Madame Gertrude, of whom she had had no news for the fifteen years that she had been separating, both being so afraid of being slain or poisoned, that they had taken flight, hiding their tracks with the skill of Redskins.
Because of changing names and trails, they had never met, and suddenly there they were, face to face.
One could not harm the other by informing, without attracting the dangers on themselves; but there were other means of security.
Those who sleep with the fishes or underground are no longer to be feared, they knew it by experience, and it was this experience that each in particular had to dread.
Neither the baroness nor Saint-Léger let a gesture, or a word escape them. Neither even knew if the other had recognized them.
Their conversation, banal at first, was filled with those thousand trifles that the world of the salons always finds.
Mountains, says a proverb, do not meet.—But they had just met and many destinies should collapse in the gulf hollowed by their impact.
It was good policy to come to some agreement; that is why, among the shady matters that were discussed in the salon of the Baroness Eléazar, the hungry network where she worked so well, received two new members.
However, two fancies expressed delicately by Saint-Léger would cause a disagreeable surprise to the baroness; he asked her to kindly to contribute to the fund the negligible sum of one hundred thousand francs, and to make for him, she who was all-powerful, a place as attaché to the embassy for Brazil, where he needed, in the interest of the expedition, to make a reconnaissance.
The first move of the baroness, to that second proposition, was not favorable to Saint-Léger; the affability of his manners, like clear water, showed so many things! But she thought that it would not do to play with the memory of Saint-Léger, that, moreover, that the reefs were profound, the waters deaf, and that the finger of God always shows itself in these occasions.

VII

Limited company with a capital of eight hundred million.

The capital stock for shares at one hundred francs, of the Colony the new Atlantis, has just, with the endorsement of the Colonial Administration, been déposé au siège social of the Company.
Mode of subscription, 25 francs per subscriber.

One of the charter members of the Group, charged with
consolidating the subscriptions,
Sylvestre.

Such was the announcement reproduced by all the papers, towards the end of January, while the trial shaped by Mancastel enthralled the crowd.
A number of defendants faced, on what is called the bench of infamy, the public prosecutor Mancastel. First there was Old Hermann, whose completely hallucinatory responses found a rhythm according to the mad measure of his brain.
One remarked among the prosecution’s exhibits the veil of what gauze, which had served, said the prosecutor, to make the signal for the explosions; the paper bag with which the detonation of a projectile had been imitated so well was not found, but it had been replaced with advantage by a discharged weapon, found on the ground, near a discount bazaar, that one could suppose came directly from the hoaxers. They knew that Old Hermann would confess to the second explosion (that of the paper bag): they could not, said the prosecution, find the debris from the bomb, doubtless thrown a long distance!—someone having picked up some old nails in a nearby street, the prosecution demonstrated that the bomb had been loaded with shrapnel.
The second and third defendants were the speakers from the Salle Octobre: a small, young man with black hair, and an energetic face, whose imprisonment prevented the labor that sustained his mother, the poor old woman was on the way to dying of hunger; the other was a Breton who seemed built of granite. We again in the courtroom several characters from the auction room and the salon of the Baroness Eléazar, this group gravitates around human misery—from which these raptors would fatten themselves if that if they did not search living flesh.
Madame Héléne de Saint-Madulphe, draped in her majesty and in a velvet coat, had one of the first places.
Modest and charming in the soft shadow of his gray hat (the one that he had not worn on the night he killed Lucrèce) Sylvestre, placed close to young Alphonse and old Saint-Léger, chatted with them about all the social dangers; of the excess of freedom granted to speech in the public meetings or in the papers; the incredible development in the intelligence of workers, without adding the understanding that speeches and newspaper articles lead to the Caledonian prison.
The little Muscadet who barely survived now on some false notes; the young Madulphe who thought to realize the expectations for which no one would lend him any longer; the old Griffus who always stole with the same luck; the other young gentleman Stéphane, still a bit fatigued, and always weighed down by a sinister dream, were part of the audience.
Close to Wilhelm, as stupid as usual, and his mother, who looked inwardly in her memories, is Saint-Léger who had invited the baroness to come amuse herself at the court of assizes, which she had politely refused, of course. Saint-Léger and Madame Wilhelm felt themselves drawn towards one another, or rather these two jackals pursued the same prey, the Baroness Eléazar.
Some good folks, arrested by decorative necessity, completed the staging: it suddenly found itself embellished by the skillfully delayed entrance of a very young, pale child, with a naive and charming face, who was seated next to Old Hermann, the first of the accused, whose revelations on the subject of the second explosion had terrified the gullible of Paris.
The little Fleur de Genêts, who, for fear of Madame Hélêne, had never wanted to make known her place of residence, must have a precocious perversity, since neither threats nor promises had been able to make her confess where she was from.
Unknown to the vice squad, as well as to all the all the unfortunates arrested with her, Fleur de Genets, giving neither name nor address, could only belong to the great conspiracy brought like a pile of branches cut here and there but whose trunk was nowhere. At the sight of Fleur de Genêts, Madame Hélène de Saint-Madulphe felt some anxiety. Security had inspired in her the idea of searching for the young girl herself, with the aid of some accomplices.
Seeing her in the dock, she had some concern at first, soon dissipated by the stubborn silence of the child.
The safest course was not to recognize her. Who then would ask what had become of Fleur de Genêts? Her adoptive mother was too poor to make the journey, she would accuse the little one of ingratitude. And that would be that.
No one would ever know what part the poulpiquets of the moors in the finding of Fleur de Genêts.
The summary speech of the public minister was of a dazzling clarity, proving exultantly that the old musician Hermann set the tone for the conspiracy, that the veil of white gauze had been the first signal, of which the bomb was the second, and that the young woman, doubtless arrived from Russia with a mission from the nihilists, brought the general watchword.
Monsieur Mancastel, imperial prosecutor of the Republic, spoke with a terrible eloquence. The whole room trembled.
His great grandfather, advisor of King Louis XVI, in his Court of Aides, was more honest, it is true, but all the skill of the race took refuge in this last son of the honest magistrates, as one said in those times; for him, it was the equivalent of imbeciles, as mad as the revolutionaries from which he made his daily bread.
At that first audience, after the speech, from which the room still trembled, the interrogation of the first defendant took place.
After the customary findings on the civil status of the accused (investigations to which Fleur de Genêts alone did not respond, which caused a great indignation in the hall) the first of the accused, Hermann, musician, born at Nancy in 1828, was called to the bar of the court.
“Defendant Hermann, you admit to being the author of the second explosion.
“I think that… yes!”
“Speak more respectfully to the court! You premeditated this attack.”
“It seems to me… yes!
“Defendant Hermann, we remind you for the second time to respect the Court. Why are you acting like this?”
The old man rose, galvanized, he saw the whole terrible mise en scène, with which he had identified.
His hands searched the void for his absent violin, eyes blazing, looking in the heart of the invisible, and he began to recite:

I am the one who is not:
The terrible toll of the bell,
The wind passing over the rooftops,
The wandering breath of the storm.

Reminded for the third time to respect the Court, he could have continued without knowing just what he said, if the president had not had him expelled from the room.
“There,” said the big blond Cristel to his friend Pierre, “is a brave man who should avoid responding in verse like the high priest Calchas, but is none the less a chic individual.
“It is true,” said Pierre, “this is not that old man’s first time it court.” This time they were right, Old Hermann having played before some roles as conspirators. Another thing that they got right was that the notorious scheme seemed a forgery, that it was the counterfeit currency of revolt.
On the other hand, the characters of Old Hermann, who mocked the magistracy so audaciously, and that of the young unknown, who must be some nihilist, made the inventers of the plot think that by chance they had been right
They had already had some unforeseen luck, and with the rage of rabbit hunters who have raised a stag, they launched their most excellent bloodhounds in various directions.
There were requests for extraditions, new arrests, which shook the world! So much that in the public gatherings, while holding back on a trial of which no one knew the source, the militants said: These are some tough guys all the same.
A few hours before the second session, some young people sent packets of cigars to the men accused, as a testament of sympathy; to the woman they sent a big bouquet of red roses.
The bailiffs having at first refused the entry of these suspect presents, the public prosecutor thought that it was a new trail, perhaps fertile; one has seen some nightingales taken in a trap for robins.
The cigars and flowers were handed over. Cristel and Pierre, who brought them, were arrested, and the surprise caused among the defendants by the reinforcement of accused passed, with a bit of good will, for signs of gratitude.
Cristel, invited to make some revelations, declared that what had happened was horrendously stupid—he added, with the approbation of his friend, that he would doubtless not have to respond to the questioning preceeded by such fantastic arrests, which classified them right away...
While this was happening in court, a scene of a different kind took place in front of the courthouse itself. One of the one of the soldiers brought from Brittany to forcibly maintain order was in the process of disturbing it no less vigorously.
Some dense groups had gathered around him, and he, imagining that justice is sometimes rendered, told, in a voice full of emotion, that his adopted sister, the little Fleur de Genêts, had done nothing wrong, and yet she was there where they put the murderers and revolutionaries: the two were, for him, the same thing.
Someone had taken advantage of his absence to take her, he knew not how. But it would only take two or three days to get a response from his mother, who would clear everything up!
It is truly a miracle that he found himself at the court—and the poor Fleur de Genêts would be promptly put at liberty.
The soldier found some sympathy among the crowd—many wanted to aid in his liberating demands, but discipline not being on his side, especially in the street, he was first taken to the guardhouse.
The resistance of the Breton was so terrible that the crime of rebellion was added to his violation of order; it was more than enough to make him appear before the military court, and to be shot.
Fleur de Genêts had also seen Louïk. But, for fear of involving him in her bad luck, she had not responded to the sign that he made; there would still have been no means of learning anything from her if pressing her with questions before the examining judge—not in court, since he must not make things public without knowing if it would be useful to keep them hidden,—they had not ended by informing her of the indictment against Louïk, assuring her that the greater or lesser leniency of the judges depended on her honesty.
So the young girl told the whole truth; the way that she was found under the broom, her childhood, the poverty of her adoptive mother, the departure of Louïk for the army,—although he was the son of a widow, he had not asserted his rights: “You will be less miserable!” she had said; the Breton lad, for his part, figuring that he would make his way to the grade of officer, and that this would mean ease for him mother and sister, had departed.
She told of her arrival at the home of Madame Hélène de Saint-Madulphe, her fear, her flight, everything finally. At the name of Madame Hélène the judge paled.
It is because she belonged to that terrible secret police that no one touched without peril.

VIII

Madame Hélène de Saint-Madulphe was no longer called Hélène, nor Saint-Madulphe, but Cornélie or Thérèse. She changed her name and appearance so often that she left them in tatters behind her, sometimes mixing the pile when she needed a change of identity.
Everything in her, everything around her was second-hand. One day she was a poor widow, another day a rich capitalise; sometimes she received the aristocracy most enamored of the past, sometimes the most ardent revolutionaries; when she had cast the net, Madame de Saint-Madulphe disappeared into another transformation, leaving to the international police who swarmed around her the care of bringing in the net.
Capital, power, and superstition paid handsomely from one end of the world to the other.
She had with her viper’s teeth, poured poison in open wounds, fanned the hatred among sectarians, spread mistrust in all the groups capable of fighting for justice; she had done so much evil that riches had come to her in floods.
With her, as in the infernal tower of the Scandinavian mythologies, the venom fell in flakes like snow, one was covered with it. That creature had not suffered changes in her character; she was born a viper, and she had lived as a viper—there are some like that, but fortunately they are rare. 
The male individuals of her entourage gravitated around her, some with anger, without being able to avoid that powerful will.
The baroness Eléazar dreamed of the royalty of gold, the Jewish banks absorbing the others and consolidating in her hands, which she felt grow into monstrous talons in order to choke the world. Madame Hélène passed without even dreaming. She was a will, did evil, and that was all—an unconscious and terrible force.
The mother of Wilhelm, she was the eagle who gorges her young, so that they are big and strong, opens before them panting breasts that they probe childishly with their feeble beaks.
These three she-wolves will pass in this tale, engaging differently in a similar work: destruction.
They had some similar points, a serpent’s prudence, and the greed of a ghoul.
Having recognized on the benches of the court of assizes the little Mariennik named Fleur de Genêts, whose innocence she had thought to exploit, her first care was silence, the second was an inquiry that taught her nothing; she was not simple enough to believed in the conspiracy, the child must have been carried off for some necessity of stage-dressing or that she had fled on her own; in these two suppositions, silence was necessary.
The visit of Mancastel did not surprise Madame Hélène.
She had waited for him to come. When he had related very succinctly the confession of the child, Madame de Saint-Madulphe contented herself with saying: “Please continue, Monsieur!”
They challenged one another; who could know if the deference of the magistrate would not be taken as an insult? He should not have the shadow of a doubt.
“I think, madame,” he said with deep respect, “that if that child had truly spent a few days with you, she should not be charged without your approval of any conviction and I have come to put her fate back into your hands.”
“If you desire, she will be brought back to you, although the trial has begun, and some clever explanation will be given to the public.”
The two soothsayers of an espionage stronger than that of Rome looked at each other without laughing. They did not tremble either, although one was faced with revelations which were disagreeable, to say the least, and the other fulfilled a mission incompatible with his position as a judge.
Both had done more.
“That little one,” said Madame Hélène, “was entrusted to me by pious people; I was, at the moment when you entered, going to write to try to soften her situation.”
“She can be returned to you.”
And so Fleur de Genêts was returned to the home of her guardian.
The child’s fright was so great that it made her cautious.
The girl admitted, as she had to the judge, that she had run away in fear, she thought that he had recounted it, but she seemed this time so much reasured that she thought more of fleeing again.
She was worried about Louïk, but to commend him to this women whom she feared so much seemed like betrayal; perhaps when she was outside of the house some saint from the heaths of Brittany would come to her aid.
She would have to learn, the poor child, that the heavens were as deaf as the earth to the cries of the unfortunate.
A few days later, Louïk’s received from Paris a basket of food that she supposed had come from Fleur de Genêts; she was wrong, and they had come from Madame de Saint Madulphe.
While filling herself with this delicate nourishment, the poor woman reproached herself for her lack of affection for the little foundling who still thought of her.
As for Louïk, she did not know that he was in Paris, and even had that fellow been able to write, he would have been careful not to tell his mother that he had passed before the military tribunal.
The agony of the old Breton woman was not long; and she was not the only one to pass from life to death by way of such appetizing provisions: the poor share, so she had divided them.
A few days later, one read in the Etoile de la Bretagne:
“Three cases of sudden death have taken place at Houat; an old woman and two young girls, her neighbors, have been found dead in their beds.”
“Perhaps it is a case of poisoning by mussels or other shellfish.”
That was not a sensational bit of news, and such things recur so often that no one paid it any attention.
Louïk was going to appear before the military tribunal; Fleur de Genêts was in her power; Madame de Saint-Madulphe no longer had anything to fear but a detail of her life awakening indiscreet curiosities.
Sometimes a tiger is spared; it finds itself with merciful judges; such were those who would acquit Louïk despite the mysterious influences that tried to weigh on them.
Perhaps even because of that. Someone wanted to buy their conscience, and they sensed it. Their conscience revolted so much that Louïk was acquitted.
His mother—the little Fleur de Genêts, such were the two thoughts which together made his heart beat.
Mad with joy and anxiety, Louik rushed out.
He was, in addition to his acquittal, granted a leave of forty-eight hours so he could write to his mother.
Entering the office of a public scribe, dictating a letter of a monumental naivety in which he recounted the luck by which he was acquitted, his astonishment and worry at recognizing Fleur de Genêts in the dock in the court of assizes. Such was the first care of Louïk.
Then he went to the Palace of Justice, but the trial had finished the night before.
Someone sold him a dramatized account of the affair of the conspiracy against the security of the state.
Louïk bought it, and then set to thinking about how he would get it read.
The best means was to return to the office of the scribe.
He wiped the lenses of his glasses, addressed some gracious words about the concern that made him return so quickly and began the reading of the account whose title made his heart beat.
“Judgement on the affair of the coup d’État, nine accused, five death sentences, four to forced labor.”
Louïk trembled, seeing as many condemnations as there were accused, so Fleur de Genêts had not been, like him, set at liberty.
Yet she could not be guilty; that’s how it stood, poor Louïk!
The scribe continued his reading.

“The tribunal in its justice
“Has, in order to find heaven’s favor
“Condemned all the accused;
“The days of forgiveness have passed,
“Five to death are destined.

The rest of the piece was worthy of the beginning. Louïk, with large tears in his eyes, listened; among the names, which he made him start again, never appeared that of Fleur de Genêts. In the dismal list of those condemned to death appeared Hermann, Jean, Paul called the Breton, Edme Pascal, Cristel, Pierre Christophe; then those condemned to death in perpetual forced labor: André, Jean-Marie, Etienne and Jacques Nicole.
These four last had been, like Cristel and Pierre Christophe, arrested since the beginning of the trial and stuffed in as if by chance.
Louik was not wrong in understanding nothing; some facts of our era would pass for hallucinatory dreams, and this was one of that number.
“Can you confide,” said the scribe, “the question that concerns you? I have followed the trial and perhaps I can help you.”
He could indeed tell Louïk that the young woman who appeared during the first days in the court of assizes had been claimed by some people so highly placed and so respectable that the error had been recognized and she had been put at liberty immediately.
Louïk went away bewildered, not knowing what path to take to save the poor child that he felt was in danger.
Handfuls of sand swirling in the same storm, such are the characters in this story.


[in progress...]


[1] The Hôtel des Ventes is an auction house.
[2] Which, according to legend, contained gold dust from Midas.
[3] A “fille de la nuit” is a foundling, and the concern is that the child might be a changling left by goblins.
[4] From his poem “Oceano Nox.”
[5] A type of religious pilgrimage practiced in Brittany.

No comments:

Post a Comment