Chapter 107 The Lions' Den
DIVISION of La Force, in which the most dangerous and desperate prisoners
are confined, is called the court of Saint-Bernard. The prisoners, in
their expressive language, have named it the "Lions' Den,"
probably because the captives possess teeth which frequently gnaw the
bars, and sometimes the keepers also. It is a prison within a prison; the
walls are double the thickness of the rest. The gratings are every day
carefully examined by jailers, whose herculean proportions and cold
pitiless expression prove them to have been chosen to reign over their
subjects for their superior activity and intelligence. The court-yard of
this quarter is enclosed by enormous walls, over which the sun glances
obliquely, when it deigns to penetrate into this gulf of moral and
physical deformity. On this paved yard are to be seen,--pacing to and fro
from morning till night, pale, careworn, and haggard, like so many
shadows,--the men whom justice holds beneath the steel she is sharpening.
There, crouched against the side of the wall which attracts and retains
the most heat, they may be seen sometimes talking to one another, but more
frequently alone, watching the door, which sometimes opens to call forth
one from the gloomy assemblage, or to throw in another outcast from
court of Saint-Bernard has its own particular apartment for the reception
of guests; it is a long rectangle, divided by two upright gratings placed
at a distance of three feet from one another to prevent a visitor from
shaking hands with or passing anything to the prisoners. It is a wretched,
damp, nay, even horrible spot, more especially when we consider the
agonizing conferences which have taken place between those iron bars. And
yet, frightful though this spot may be, it is looked upon as a kind of
paradise by the men whose days are numbered; it is so rare for them to
leave the Lions' Den for any other place than the barrier Saint-Jacques or
the court which we have attempted to describe, and from which a damp vapor
was rising, a young man with his hands in his pockets, who had excited
much curiosity among the inhabitants of the "Den," might be seen
walking. The cut of his clothes would have made him pass for an elegant
man, if those clothes had not been torn to shreds; still they did not show
signs of wear, and the fine cloth, beneath the careful hands of the
prisoner, soon recovered its gloss in the parts which were still perfect,
for the wearer tried his best to make it assume the appearance of a new
coat. He bestowed the same attention upon the cambric front of a shirt,
which had considerably changed in color since his entrance into the
prison, and he polished his varnished boots with the corner of a
handkerchief embroidered with initials surmounted by a coronet. Some of
the inmates of the "Lions' Den" were watching the operations of
the prisoner's toilet with considerable interest. "See, the prince is
pluming himself," said one of the thieves. "He's a fine looking
fellow," said another; "if he had only a comb and hair-grease,
he'd take the shine off the gentlemen in white kids."
coat looks almost new, and his boots shine like a nigger's face. It's
pleasant to have such well-dressed comrades; but didn't those gendarmes
behave shameful?--must 'a been jealous, to tear such clothes!"
looks like a big-bug," said another; "dresses in fine style.
And, then, to be here so young! Oh, what larks!" Meanwhile the object
of this hideous admiration approached the wicket, against which one of the
keepers was leaning. "Come, sir," he said, "lend me twenty
francs; you will soon be paid; you run no risks with me. Remember, I have
relations who possess more millions than you have deniers. Come, I beseech
you, lend me twenty francs, so that I may buy a dressing-gown; it is
intolerable always to be in a coat and boots! And what a coat, sir, for a
prince of the Cavalcanti!" The keeper turned his back, and shrugged
his shoulders; he did not even laugh at what would have caused any one
else to do so; he had heard so many utter the same things,--indeed, he
heard nothing else.
said Andrea, "you are a man void of compassion; I'll have you turned
out." This made the keeper turn around, and he burst into a loud
laugh. The prisoners then approached and formed a circle. "I tell you
that with that wretched sum," continued Andrea, "I could obtain
a coat, and a room in which to receive the illustrious visitor I am daily
course--of course," said the prisoners;--"any one can see he's a
then, lend him the twenty francs," said the keeper, leaning on the
other shoulder; "surely you will not refuse a comrade!"
am no comrade of these people," said the young man, proudly,
"you have no right to insult me thus."
thieves looked at one another with low murmurs, and a storm gathered over
the head of the aristocratic prisoner, raised less by his own words than
by the manner of the keeper. The latter, sure of quelling the tempest when
the waves became too violent, allowed them to rise to a certain pitch that
he might be revenged on the importunate Andrea, and besides it would
afford him some recreation during the long day. The thieves had already
approached Andrea, some screaming, "La savate--La savate!" a
cruel operation, which consists in cuffing a comrade who may have fallen
into disgrace, not with an old shoe, but with an iron-heeled one. Others
proposed the anguille, another kind of recreation, in which a handkerchief
is filled with sand, pebbles, and two-sous pieces, when they have them,
which the wretches beat like a flail over the head and shoulders of the
unhappy sufferer. "Let us horsewhip the fine gentleman!" said
Andrea, turning towards them, winked his eyes, rolled his tongue around
his cheeks, and smacked his lips in a manner equivalent to a hundred words
among the bandits when forced to be silent. It was a Masonic sign
Caderousse had taught him. He was immediately recognized as one of them;
the handkerchief was thrown down, and the iron-heeled shoe replaced on the
foot of the wretch to whom it belonged. Some voices were heard to say that
the gentleman was right; that he intended to be civil, in his way, and
that they would set the example of liberty of conscience,--and the mob
retired. The keeper was so stupefied at this scene that he took Andrea by
the hands and began examining his person, attributing the sudden
submission of the inmates of the Lions' Den to something more substantial
than mere fascination. Andrea made no resistance, although he protested
against it. Suddenly a voice was heard at the wicket. "Benedetto!"
exclaimed an inspector. The keeper relaxed his hold. "I am
called," said Andrea. "To the visitors' room!" said the
see some one pays me a visit. Ah, my dear sir, you will see whether a
Cavalcanti is to be treated like a common person!" And Andrea,
gliding through the court like a black shadow, rushed out through the
wicket, leaving his comrades, and even the keeper, lost in wonder.
Certainly a call to the visitors' room had scarcely astonished Andrea less
than themselves, for the wily youth, instead of making use of his
privilege of waiting to be claimed on his entry into La Force, had
maintained a rigid silence.
he said, "proves me to be under the protection of some powerful
person,--this sudden fortune, the facility with which I have overcome all
obstacles, an unexpected family and an illustrious name awarded to me,
gold showered down upon me, and the most splendid alliances about to be
entered into. An unhappy lapse of fortune and the absence of my protector
have cast me down, certainly, but not forever. The hand which has
retreated for a while will be again stretched forth to save me at the very
moment when I shall think myself sinking into the abyss. Why should I risk
an imprudent step? It might alienate my protector. He has two means of
extricating me from this dilemma,--the one by a mysterious escape, managed
through bribery; the other by buying off my judges with gold. I will say
and do nothing until I am convinced that he has quite abandoned me, and
had formed a plan which was tolerably clever. The unfortunate youth was
intrepid in the attack, and rude in the defence. He had borne with the
public prison, and with privations of all sorts; still, by degrees nature,
or rather custom, had prevailed, and he suffered from being naked, dirty,
and hungry. It was at this moment of discomfort that the inspector's voice
called him to the visiting-room. Andrea felt his heart leap with joy. It
was too soon for a visit from the examining magistrate, and too late for
one from the director of the prison, or the doctor; it must, then, be the
visitor he hoped for. Behind the grating of the room into which Andrea had
been led, he saw, while his eyes dilated with surprise, the dark and
intelligent face of M. Bertuccio, who was also gazing with sad
astonishment upon the iron bars, the bolted doors, and the shadow which
moved behind the other grating.
said Andrea, deeply affected.
morning, Benedetto," said Bertuccio, with his deep, hollow voice.
said the young man, looking fearfully around him.
you not recognize me, unhappy child?"
silent!" said Andrea, who knew the delicate sense of hearing
possessed by the walls; "for heaven's sake, do not speak so
wish to speak with me alone, do you not?" said Bertuccio.
is well." And Bertuccio, feeling in his pocket, signed to a keeper
whom he saw through the window of the wicket.
is that?" asked Andrea.
order to conduct you to a room, and to leave you there to talk to
cried Andrea, leaping with joy. Then he mentally added,--"Still my
unknown protector! I am not forgotten. They wish for secrecy, since we are
to converse in a private room. I understand, Bertuccio has been sent by my
keeper spoke for a moment with an official, then opened the iron gates and
conducted Andrea to a room on the first floor. The room was whitewashed,
as is the custom in prisons, but it looked quite brilliant to a prisoner,
though a stove, a bed, a chair, and a table formed the whole of its
sumptuous furniture. Bertuccio sat down upon the chair, Andrea threw
himself upon the bed; the keeper retired.
said the steward, "what have you to tell me?"
you?" said Andrea.
no. You must have much to tell me, since you have come to seek me."
be it so. You have continued your course of villany; you have robbed--you
I should say! If you had me taken to a private room only to tell me this,
you might have saved yourself the trouble. I know all these things. But
there are some with which, on the contrary, I am not acquainted. Let us
talk of those, if you please. Who sent you?"
come, you are going on quickly, M. Benedetto!"
and to the point. Let us dispense with useless words. Who sends you?"
did you know I was in prison?"
recognized you, some time since, as the insolent dandy who so gracefully
mounted his horse in the Champs Elysées."
the Champs Elysées?
Ah, yes; we burn, as they say at the game of pincette. The Champs Elysées? Come, let us talk a little
about my father."
then, am I?"
sir?--you are my adopted father. But it was not you, I presume, who placed
at my disposal 100,000 francs, which I spent in four or five months; it
was not you who manufactured an Italian gentleman for my father; it was
not you who introduced me into the world, and had me invited to a certain
dinner at Auteuil, which I fancy I am eating at this moment, in company
with the most distinguished people in Paris--amongst the rest with a
certain procureur, whose acquaintance I did very wrong not to cultivate,
for he would have been very useful to me just now;--it was not you, in
fact, who bailed me for one or two millions, when the fatal discovery of
my little secret took place. Come, speak, my worthy Corsican, speak!"
do you wish me to say?"
will help you. You were speaking of the Champs Elysées just now, worthy
in the Champs Elysées
there resides a very rich gentleman."
whose house you robbed and murdered, did you not?"
believe I did."
Count of Monte Cristo?"
you who have named him, as M. Racine says. Well, am I to rush into his
arms, and strain him to my heart, crying, 'My father, my father!' like
not let us jest," gravely replied Bertuccio, "and dare not to
utter that name again as you have pronounced it."
Guilbert de Pixerecourt, French dramatist (1775-1844).
said Andrea, a little overcome, by the solemnity of Bertuccio's manner,
the person who bears it is too highly favored by heaven to be the father
of such a wretch as you."
these are fine words."
there will be fine doings, if you do not take care."
do not fear them. I will say"--
you think you are engaged with a pygmy like yourself?" said Bertuccio,
in so calm a tone, and with so steadfast a look, that Andrea was moved to
the very soul. "Do you think you have to do with galley-slaves, or
novices in the world? Benedetto, you are fallen into terrible hands; they
are ready to open for you--make use of them. Do not play with the
thunderbolt they have laid aside for a moment, but which they can take up
again instantly, if you attempt to intercept their movements."
father--I will know who my father is," said the obstinate youth;
"I will perish if I must, but I will know it. What does scandal
signify to me? What possessions, what reputation, what 'pull,' as
Beauchamp says,--have I? You great people always lose something by
scandal, notwithstanding your millions. Come, who is my father?"
came to tell you."
cried Benedetto, his eyes sparkling with joy. Just then the door opened,
and the jailer, addressing himself to Bertuccio, said,--"Excuse me,
sir, but the examining magistrate is waiting for the prisoner."
so closes our interview," said Andrea to the worthy steward; "I
wish the troublesome fellow were at the devil!"
will return to-morrow," said Bertuccio.
Gendarmes, I am at your service. Ah, sir, do leave a few crowns for me at
the gate that I may have some things I am in need of!"
shall be done," replied Bertuccio. Andrea extended his hand;
Bertuccio kept his own in his pocket, and merely jingled a few pieces of
money. "That's what I mean," said Andrea, endeavoring to smile,
quite overcome by the strange tranquillity of Bertuccio. "Can I be
deceived?" he murmured, as he stepped into the oblong and grated
vehicle which they call "the salad basket." "Never mind, we
shall see! To-morrow, then!" he added, turning towards Bertuccio.
"To-morrow!" replied the steward.