Memoirs of Vidocq, Volume II/Chapter XVII
The camp at Boulogne—The rencontre—The recruiters of the ancien regime—M. Belle Rose.
I travelled through Picardy towards Boulogne. At this period, Napoleon had abandoned his intention of a descent on England, and was about to make war against Austria with his vast army, but had left many battalions on the shores of the British channel. There were in the two camps, that on the left and that on the right, depôts of almost every corps, and soldiers of every nation in Europe; Italians, Germans, Piedmontese, Dutch, Swiss, and even Irish.
The uniforms were various, and this variety might be useful in concealing me; but I thought that it would be bad policy to disguise myself by only borrowing a military garb. I thought for a moment of becoming actually a soldier, but then to enter a regiment it would have been necessary to have certain papers, which I had not. I then gave up the intention, and yet my abode at Boulogne was dangerous, until I should decide on something.
One day that I was more embarrassed and more unquiet than usual, I met on the walks a serjeant of marine-artillery, whom I had met at Paris, and who was, as well as myself, a native of Arras; but having embarked when very young in a ship of war, he had passed the greater portion of his life in the colonies, and on his return to his native country had learnt nothing of my doings. He only looked on me as a bon vivant; and a public-house row, in which I energetically espoused his cause, had given him a high opinion of my courage.
"What, is it you," said he, "Roger Bontemps; and what are you doing at Boulogne?" "What am I doing! why, seeking employment in the train of the army." "Oh, you want employment; do you know that it is devilish difficult to get a berth now? But, if you will listen to my advice—though this is not the place for such conversation; let us go to Galand's."
We then went to a sort of suttler's booth, which was modestly stationed in one of the angles of the street. "Ah! good day, Parisian," said the serjeant to the host "Good day, father Dufailli—What will you have this morning?—a dram?—mixed or plain." "Five-and-twenty gods! papa Galand, do you take us for blackguards? It is the best pullet and super-excellent wine that we want, do you hear?" Then addressing me,—"Is it not true, old boy, that the friends of our friends are our friends? That you must agree to;" and, taking my hand, he led me into a small room, where M. Galand admitted his favorite customers.
I was very hungry, and saw with lively satisfaction the preparations for a repast, of which I was to partake. A waiting-maid, from twenty-five to thirty years, well made, and with a face and good humour which such girls have, who can constitute the felicity of a whole regiment brought in the dishes. She was a native of Liege; lively, agreeable, chattering her patois, and uttering every moment such low witticisms as excited greatly the mirth of the serjeant, who was delighted with her. "She is the sister-in-law of our host," said he to me; "what cat-heads she has; she is as plump as a ball, and as round as a buoy—a dainty lass, upon my faith." At the same time, Dufailli, pulling her about, began to play all sorts of naval tricks; sometimes drawing her on his knees, sometimes applying to her shining cheeks one of those hearty smacks which bespeaks more love than discretion.
I confess I was annoyed at this coquetry, which delayed our meal, when mademoiselle Jeannette (so was the nymph called), having abruptly broken from the arms of my Amphitryon, returned with part of a devilled turkey and two bottles, which she placed before us.
"Well done," said the serjeant; "here is wherewithal to moisten our food, and increase the juices. I shall play my part. After that we shall see; for here, my boy, it is all as I wish. I have only to make a signal. Is it not so, Jeannette? Yes, my comrade," continued he, "I am master here."
I congratulated him on so much good fortune, and we began to eat and drink with might and main. It was long since I had been at such a festival, and I played my part manfully. Abundance of bottles were emptied; and we were about, I believe, to uncork the seventh, when the serjeant went out, and soon returned, bringing with him two new guests, a forager and a serjeant-major, "Five and twenty gods! I like good fellowship," cried Dufailli. "By Jove, I have made two recruits. I know how to go recruiting; ask these gentlemen."
"Oh yes," said the forager, "he is the cock, father Dufailli, to invent plots to seduce conscripts; when I think of them, I remember my own adventure."—"Ah you still remember that!"—"Yes, yes, my old lad, I remember it, and the major also, when you were deep enough to enlist him as secretary to the regiment."
"Well! has he not done well? A thousand thunders! Is it not better to be the first accountable man in an artillery company then sit scratching away on paper in a study? What say you, forager?"—"I agree with you; but"—"But, but, you will tell me perhaps, you, that you were happier, when with your old dog of a master, your were obliged to lay hold of the watering-pot, and make yourself dripping wet with throwing frogs' spawn over your tulips. We were going to embark at Brest, on board 'l'Invincible;' and you would only go out as a flower-gardener.—Well then," said I, "go as flower-gardener; the captain likes flowers; every man to his taste, but also every man to his trade; and I carried on mine. I think I see you now; you were rather disappointed when, instead of employing yourself in cultivating marine plants, as you expected, you were sent to man the shrouds of a thirty-six: and when you were ordered to fire a bomb-shell! that was a nosegay for you! But no more of that; and let us drink a measure of wine. Come, lads, here's to our comrades."
I filled all the glasses, and the serjeant continued—"You see that I am not wanted now, therefore let us make of all of us but a pair of friends. This is easily done; I have caught these nicely in my snare, but that is nothing; we recruiters of the marines are but fools to the recruiters of earlier days; you are still but green-horns—Ah, you never knew Belle-Rose; he was the lad for taking in the knowing ones! Such as I am, I was not a thorough noodle, and yet he twisted me completely round his finger. I think I have already told you the tale; but at all events I will give it you again for the general good.
"Under the ancient regime, do you see, we had colonies, the isle of France, Bourbon, Martinique, Guadaloupe, Senegal, Guyana, Louisiana, St Domingo &c.; now they are ours no longer; we have only the isle of Oleron left; it is little more than nothing; or, as somebody said, it is a foot of earth whilst we wait for the rest. The descent would have restored us all the others; but bah, the descent—we must no longer think of that, that is settled; the flotilla will rot in the port, and they will make fire-wood of the hulls. But I am getting out my latitude, steering seaward, instead of landward; now then for Belle-Rose! for I believe it was of Belle-Rose that I was speaking.
"As I told you, he was a spark who had cut his wisdom-teeth, and in his time young fellows were not of the same kidney with those of the present day.
"I had left Arras at fourteen, and been at Paris for six months, apprentice to a gunsmith, when, one morning, my master desired me to carry to the colonel of the carabineers, who lived in the Place Royale, a pair of pistols which he had been repairing. I soon performed this commission, and unfortunately these cursed pistols should return eighteen francs to the shop, and the colonel counted out the money, adding a trifle for myself. So far, so good; but, lo and behold, in crossing the Rue du Pelican I heard somebody knock at a window; I raised my eyes, supposing that I should see some acquaintance, when what should I see but a madame de Pompadour, who, with all her charms displayed, was tapping at a window, and who, by an inclination of her head, accompanied with a charming smile, invited me to go up to her. She might have been called a picture moving in its frame. A magnificent neck, a skin white as snow, a wide chest, and above all a delightful countenance, combined to enflame me. I went up the stairs four at a time, and on introducing myself to my princess, I found her a divinity. 'Approach, my little one,' said she to me, tapping my cheek lightly; 'you are going to make me a little present, are you not?'
"I put my trembling hand into my pocket, and taking out the piece of money given me by the colonel—'Well, my child,' continued she, 'I think you are a Picardy lad, and I am your country-woman—Oh you wish to treat your townswoman to a glass of wine.'
"The request was urged so sweetly, that I had no power of denial left, and the eighteen francs of the colonel were trenched upon. One glass produced another, that generated a third, which begot a fourth, and so on, until I was drunk with wine and delight. Night arrived, and I know not how, but I awoke in the street on a heap of stones at the gate of the hotel des Fermes.
"My surprise was great on looking about me, and still more when on looking in my purse, the birds were flown.
"How could I return to my master's? Where sleep? I determined to walk about till day-break, I had only to kill time, or rather torment myself about the consequences of a first fault. I turned mechanically towards the market of the Innocents. Mind how you trust your country-women! said I to myself; I am nicely fleeced! If I had only some money left—
"I confess that at this moment some droll ideas crossed my brain. I had often seen pasted up on the walls of Paris—"Pocket-book Lost," with one thousand, two thousand or even three thousand francs reward for the person who would bring it back. I thought I might find one of these, and looking carefully about me on the pavement, and walking like a man who is looking for something, I was seriously intent on the probability of finding so good a windfall, when I was aroused from my reverie by a blow of a fist, which encountered my back. 'What! my boy, you out so early this morning?'—'Ah! is it you, Fanfan; and by what chance in this quarter at this hour?'
"Fanfan was a pastry-cook's apprentice, whom I knew, and in a moment he told me that he had left the oven for the last six weeks; that he had a mistress who fitted him out; that, for a short time, he was from home, because the intimate friend of his mistress had chosen to sleep with her. 'As for the rest,' said he, 'I wink at it. If I pass a night at the Sourcière, I return to my haunt next morning, and recover myself during the day. Fanfan the pastry-cook appeared to me a keen fellow; and thinking that he might devise some plan to extricate me from my embarrassment, I told him the whole of it.
"'Is that all?' said he. 'Come to me at mid-day at the public-house at the Barriere des Sergents; and I may give you some useful counsel: under any circumstances we'll dine together.'
"I was punctual at the rendezvous, and Fanfan did not keep me waiting; he was there before me, and on my entrance, I was led into a small room, where I found him seated before a tub of oysters, with a female on each side of him, one of whom, on perceiving me, burst out into a loud fit of laughter. 'Ah, what is that for?' said Fanfan. 'Oh heaven, it is my towns-man.'—'It is my towns-woman,' said I confused. 'Yes, my little one, it is your towns-woman.' I was going to complain of the trick she had served me on the previous evening, but embracing Fanfan, whom she called her pet, she laughed more heartily than before, and I saw that the best thing I could do was to join the laugh like a jolly fellow.
"'Well,' said Fanfan, pouring out a glass of white wine, and helping me to a dozen oysters, 'you see, you must never despair of Providence. We have some pigs'-feet on the gridiron, do you like pigs'-feet?' And before I could answer his question, they were put on the table. The appetite I displayed was so much in the affirmative, that Fanfan had no further occasion to ask my opinion of them. The Chablis soon put me in spirits, and I forgot the disagreeables which had given me such cause of dreading my master; and, as the companion of my towns-woman had cast a gracious eye on me, I did not hesitate to make desperate love to her. By the honour of Dufailli! she was soon won, and gave me her hand.
"'You really love me then,' said Fanchette—so was my damsel named:—'Love you?' said I. 'Why, if you like we will be married.' 'That is right,' said Fanfan. 'Marry; and to commence, I will wed you at once. I marry you, my boy; do you understand? so, embrace;' and at the same time, he united our hands and drew our faces towards each other. 'Poor child,' said Fanchette, giving me a second kiss without the aid of my friend. 'Be easy; I will instruct you.'
"I was in paradise, and spent a delightful day. In the evening I went to bed with Fanchette, and we were mutually pleased with each other.
"My education was soon perfected. Fanchette was delighted at having met with a pupil who profited so well from her instructions, and recompensed me generously.
"At this period the Notables had just assembled, and they were good pigeons. Fanchette plucked them, and we shared the spoil. Each day we banquetted without limit. These Notables supplied our throats as well as exerting their own! And I had always a well-supplied purse.
"Fanchette and I denied ourselves nothing; but how brief are the moments of happiness! Oh, how brief!
"Scarcely had a month of this charming life elapsed, when Fanchette and my towns-woman were apprehended and taken to prison. What had they done? I do not know, but evil tongues said something about the abstraction of a repeating-watch. I, who had no particular wish to make acquaintance with the lieutenant-general of police, thought it best to make as few enquiries as possible.
"This arrest was a blow which we had not looked for. Fanfan and I were overwhelmed at it. Fanchette was such a dear girl! and then how was I to carry on the war? My kettle was upset; farewell oysters, farewell chablis, farewell hours of love! I should have stuck to my anvil; and Fanfan reproached himself for having quitted his patty-pans.
"We were walking sorrowfully on the Quai de la Ferraille, when we were suddenly aroused by a sound of military music, two clarionets, a large drum and cymbals. The crowd had gathered round this band, stationed in a car, above which floated colours and plumes of all colours. I think they were playing the air 'Où peut on être mieux qu'au sein de sa famille?' (Where can we find joys equal to those at home?) When the musicians had finished, the drums beat a roll, and a gentleman covered with gold lace, got up and spoke, showing a large representation of a soldier in full uniform.. 'By the authority of his majesty,' said he, 'I am here to explain to the subjects of the king of France the advantages which he offers in admitting them to his colonies. Young men who are round me, you must have heard of the land of Cocagne, and it is to India that we must go to find this fortunate country. There we must go, if we would live in clover.'
"'Would you have gold, pearls, or diamonds? the roads are paved with them; you have only to stoop and pick them up, and not even that, for the savages will collect them for you.
"'Do you love women? There they are for all tastes; negresses, who belong to all the world; then creoles, white as you or I, and who dote to madness on white men, which is natural enough in a country where the men are all black; and note particularly, that every one of them is as rich as Crœsus; which, between ourselves, is very advantageous in marriage.
"'Do you love wine? It is like the women, of all sorts; Malaga, Bourdeaux, Champagne, &c. For instance,—you must not often expect to meet with Burgundy, I will not deceive you, it will not bear sea carriage; but ask for any other that is made throughout the world, at sixpence a bottle, and believe me, you will find them but too happy to procure it for you. Yes, gentlemen, for sixpence; and that cannot surprise you, when you learn that sometimes one, two, or three hundred ships, loaded with wines, arrive at the same time in one single harbour. Picture to yourself the embarrassment of the captains; in haste to return, they quickly unload, and announce that they shall esteem it a favour from any who will empty the casks gratis.
"'That is not all. Do not you think it would be a sweet life always to have sugar in plenty? I have not mentioned come, lemons, pomegranates, oranges, pineapples, and the millions ot delicious fruits which grow here as wild as they did in Paradise; I say nothing of the liqueurs of these islands, which are so much in esteem, and which are so agreeable, that, saving your presence, they may be called the emanations of the good God and the holy angels.
"'If I were addressing women or children, I might expatiate on all these delicacies, but I am speaking to men.
"'Sons of family, I am not ignorant of the efforts usually made by parents to restrain young people from the path which must lead to fortune; but be more rational than the papas, and particularly the mammas.
"'Do not listen to them, when they tell you that the savages eat the Europeans with only a little salt: that was all very well in the days of Christopher Columbus and Robinson Crusoe.
"'Do not listen to them, when they endeavour to terrify you about the yellow fever. The yellow fever? Gentlemen, if it was as terrible as people say, there would be nothing but hospitals in the country, and God knows that there is not a single one.
"'Doubtless they will frighten you about the climate, I am too frank not to confess it; the climate is warm, but nature is so prodigal in giving refreshments, that, in truth, we must attend to the thing, or we should not perceive it.
"'They will alarm you about the sting of the musquitoes, and the bite of rattle-snakes. But have you not slaves always about you, expressly to drive away the former; and does not the noise, of the latter sufficiently inform you of its approach?
"'They will talk to you of shipwrecks. Know that I have crossed the sea fifty-seven times; that I have again and again crossed the line; that I look on going from one pole to the other, like drinking a glass of water; and although on the ocean, there is neither wooden sledges nor nurses, I think myself more secure on board a seventy-four, than in the inside of the coach to Auxerre, or on the conveyance from Paris to St Cloud. That must be enough to dissipate all fears. I might add a variety of delights; I might talk of the chase, sporting, fishing; imagine to yourself forests, where the game is so tame that it never thinks of running away, and so timid that if you only call to it, it falls down; imagine rivers and lakes, where fish are so abundant that they choke the waters. This is all very wonderful, but perfectly true.
"'I had nearly forgotten to talk to you of horses. Horses, gentlemen; you cannot take a step without meeting with thousands of them; you might call them flocks of sheep, only that they are larger; are you fond of them? do you like riding? Only take a rope in your pocket, which should be rather long, and you must make a running knot in it; you seize the moment when the animals are grazing, and afraid of nothing, you then approach quietly, and make your choice; and when your choice is made, you throw the cord, the horse is your's, you have only to back him and lead him where you please and think proper; for, remember, that here every man is uncontrolled in his actions.
"'Yes, gentlemen, I repeat it, it is all true, very true; the proof is, that the king of France, his majesty Louis XVI, who can almost hear me in his palace, authorizes me on his part to offer you these advantages. Should I dare to he so near to him?
"'The king desires to clothe you, the king wishes to support you, he wishes to make you rich men; in return, he asks but little from you; no labour, and good pay; good nourishment; to rise up and lie down at pleasure; exercise once a month, at the parade of St Louis; this, for I will conceal nothing, cannot be dispensed with, unless you get leave, which is never refused. These obligations done, your time is your own. What more can you desire? a good engagement? you shall have it: but hasten, I advise you, tomorrow will perhaps be too late, the ships are about to start, and only wait for a fair wind to set sail. Hasten, then near to Paris; hasten. If, perchance, you should grow tired of doing well, you shall have dismissal when you please; a bark is always in port, ready to conduct to Europe those who are home sick; it is expressly used for that purpose. Let those who desire to have further particulars, come to me; I have no occasion to tell my name; I am very well known; my residence is only a few paces distant, at the first lamp, at the house of a wine-merchant. Ask for M. Belle-Rose.'
"My situation made me attentive to this harangue, which I have remembered, although it is twenty years since I heard it, and I do not think that I forget a single word.
"It made no less impression on Fanfan, and we were consulting together, when a shabby-looking fellow, whom we had not at all offended, gave Fanfan a blow, which knocked his hat off. 'I will teach you,' said he, 'you puppy, to grin at me.' Fanfan was bewildered by the blow, and I defended him, when the blackguard raised his hand against me; we were soon surrounded, end the quarrel was growing warm, and the people flocked round, trying who should see most of it. Suddenly, some one separated the crowd; it was M. Belle-Rose. 'What is all this?' said he; and looking at Fanfan, who was crying, 'I think this gentleman has been struck—that cannot be put up with; but the gentleman is brave, and that will settle the business.' Fanfan was desirous of showing that he had done nothing wrong, and then that he had not been struck. 'It is all the same, my friend,' replied Belle-Rose; 'it cannot be settled that way.' 'Certainly,' said the bully, 'it cannot be decided in this way. The gentleman insulted me, and shall give me satisfaction; one of us must fall.'
"'Well, well, be it so; he will give you satisfaction,' replied Belle-Rose: 'I will answer for these gentlemen; what is your hour?'—'Your's.'—'Five in the morning, behind the bishop's palace;—I will bring weapons.'
"Upon this, the blackguard retired; and Belle-Rose striking Fanfan on the stomach, heard some pieces chink in the waistcoat pocket, where he carried his money, the last relics of our former splendour. 'Really, my lad, I take an interest in you,' said he; 'you must come with me; our friend here must go with us:' and so saying, he gave me a poke, similar to that he had bestowed on Fanfan.
"M. Belle-Rose conducted us into the Rue de la Juiverie, to a wine-merchant's, where he made us enter. 'I will not enter with you,' said he to us; 'a man like me must preserve decorum: I am going to pull off my uniform, and will join you in a minute. Ask for a red seal and three glasses.' He left us. 'A red seal,' said he, turning round; 'mind the red seal.'
"We executed the orders of M. Belle-Rose, who was not long in returning, and whom we received cap-in-hand. 'Ah! my boys,' said he, 'put on your hats; no ceremonies between us; I am going to sit down: where is my glass? the first come, the first served. (He drank it down at a gulp.) I am devilish thirsty, and the dust sticks in my throat.'
"M. Belle-Rose poured out a second, whilst he spoke, and then wiping his forehead with a handkerchief, he leant his two elbows on the table, and assumed a mysterious air, which began to disquiet us.
"'Ah! my young friends, it is tomorrow that we are to have the brush. Do you know,' said he to Fanfan, 'that you have a devil to meet?—one of the best fencers in France: he pinked St George.' 'He pinked St George,' repeated Fanfan, looking most piteously at me. 'Ah! indeed, he pinked St George; but that is not all,—he has a most unlucky hand.' 'And so have I,' said Fanfan. 'What you, too?'—'By Jove, I think a day never passed, when I was at my master's, that I old not break something, if only a plate or two.' 'Oh, you misunderstand me, my boy,' said Belle-Rose; 'we say that a man has an unlucky hand, when he always kills his man when he fights.'
"The explanation was but too clear. Fanfan trembled in every limb, the sweat ran down his forehead in large drops, white and blue clouds pervaded the red cheeks of the pastrycook's apprentice, his face lengthened, his heart beat, and he would have suffocated, had he not heaved an enormous sigh.
"'Bravo!' cried Belle-Rose, taking his hand in his own, 'I like men who have no fear. You are not afraid.' Then, striking the table, 'Waiter, another bottle of the same; mind you, my friend, here pays. Get up a little, my friend; move yourself—stir about—stretch out your arm—circulate your blood—thrust out: that's it,—splendid! admirable! superb!' And during this time Belle-Rose emptied his glass. 'On the honour of Belle-Rose I could make a fencer of you. Do you know you have an excellent idea of it? You would do well at it; there are more than four of our masters not so well made for it as you. What a pity you were never taught; but nothing is impossible, you have frequented the schools?'—'Oh, I swear not,' replied Fanfan. 'Come, confess that you fight well.'—'No, not at all.'—'No modesty; why conceal your talent that way, I can easily perceive it.'—'I protest to you,' said I, 'that he never handled a foil in his life.'—'Since you attest it, sir, I must believe; but, ah! you are two deep fellows;, you must not teach old apes how to grin; tell me the truth, and do not fear that I would betray you: am not I your friend? If you have no confidence in me, I may as well go. Farewell, gentlemen,' continued Belle-Rose, with a provoked air, going towards the door, as if about to depart.
"'Oh, M. Belle-Rose, do not forsake us,' cried Fanfan. 'Rather ask my friend if I have deceived you. I am a pastrycook by trade, and I cannot help my fate. I have handled the rolling pin, but—’
"'I saw you had handled something,' said Belle-Rose. 'I like sincerity, such sincerity as yours; it is the chief of military virtues; with that we may go to any extent. I am sure you would make an admirable soldier. But that is not our present business. Waiter, a bottle of wine. Since you tell me you never did fight, I will believe nothing again—(after a moment's silence)—Never mind, my delight is to confer happiness on young people. I will teach you a thrust—a single thrust. (Fanfan stared.) You must promise me not to show it to anybody.'—'I swear it,' said Fanfan. 'Well, you will be the first to whom I ever showed it. I must love you! It is a thrust unequalled; one which I kept only to myself. Never mind, I will initiate you at daylight tomorrow.'
"From this moment Fanfan appeared less alarmed, and overpowered M. Belle-Rose with thanks. We drank a few more glasses, during a multitude of protestations on one side and gratitude on the other; and then as it was growing late, M. Belle-Rose took leave of us like a man who knew the world. Before he left us he showed us a place where we could sleep. 'Say that you come from me,' said he, 'at Griffon's, in the Rue de la Mortellerie; sleep in peace, and you shall find all go well.' Fanfan paid the bill, and then Belle-Rose said, 'Good night, tomorrow I shall come and wake you.'
"We went to Griffon's, where we procured beds. Fanfan could not close an eye, and was perhaps impatient to learn the thrust which M. Belle-Rose had promised to teach him; or he might be frightened; perhaps he was.
"At the first peep of day the key turned in the lock, and some one entered. It was Belle-Rose. 'Come, boys; what, still asleep? Hear the muster-call, my lads,' cried he. In a moment we jumped up. When we were ready, he went out a moment with Fanfan, and they soon afterwards returned. 'Let us go,' said Belle-Rose: 'mind, no nonsense; you have nothing to do but give the twisting thrust, and he will pink himself.'
"In spite of his lesson, Fanfan was not quite tranquil; and having reached the ground, he was more dead than alive. The adversary and his second had arrived already. 'Here we are,' said Belle-Rose, taking the foils which he had given to me; and breaking off the buttons, he measured the blades. 'Neither of them is six inches longer than the other. Come, take this,' said he to M. Fanfan, giving him one of the foils.
"Fanfan hesitated; and on the second offer, seized the handle so clumsily that he let it fall. 'That is nothing,' said Belle-Rose, picking it up, and putting it in Fanfan's hand: he then placed him opposite his adversary. 'Mind, guard! We shall see who will tickle his man.'
"'One moment,' said the second of the opponent; 'I have a question to ask first, sir,' said he, addressing Fanfan, who could scarcely support himself, 'are you either master or provost?'—'What do you say,' replied Fanfan, with the voice of a man half dead. 'According to the laws of duelling,' responded the second, 'my duty compels me to summon you to declare on your honour, are you master or provost?' Fanfan was silent, and looked at Belle-Rose as if to ask him what he should say. 'Speak, sir,' said the second to Fanfan. 'I am—I am—I am only an apprentice,' stammered Fanfan. 'Apprentice means amateur,' added Belle-Rose. 'In this case,' continued the second, 'the gentleman amateur must undress; for our business is with his skin.'—'That is just,' said Belle-Rose, 'I did not think of that; he will undress himself: quick, quick, M. Fanfan, off with coat and shirt.'
"Fanfan cut a scurvy figure; the sleeves of his doublet were very tight, and he unbuttoned at one end and buttoned up at the other. When he had taken off his waistcoat, he could not undo the strings of the neck of his shirt, and was compelled to cut them; and at last, except his breeches, was as naked as a worm. Belle-Rose again gave him the foil. 'Now, my friend,' said he, 'mind your guard!'—'Defend yourself,' cried his adversary; swords were crossed. Fanfan's blade shook and trembled; the other weapon was motionless. Fanfan seemed about to faint.
"'Enough,' suddenly cried Belle-Rose and the second, 'you are two brave fellows; enough, you must not cut each other's throats; be friends, embrace, and let there be no further dispute. Good God! all that is good need not be killed. But he is a gallant young lad. Be appeased, M. Fanfan.'
"Fanfan breathed again, and plucked up when his courage was mentioned; his opponent made some difficulties about consenting to an arrangement, but at length was softened; and they embraced, whilst it was agreed that the reconciliation should be completed by breakfasting at a drinking house, near Notre Dame, where there was good wine to be had.
"When we reached the place, the breakfast was spread and ready.
"Before we sat down, M. Belle-Rose took Fanfan and myself aside. 'Well,' said he, 'you know now what a duel is; it is not an out of the way matter; I am content with you, my dear Fanfan, you behaved like an angel. But you must be great throughout: you understand me—you must not allow him to pay.'
"At these words Fanfan turned very red; for he knew the depth of our purse. 'Oh, good Lord, let the mutton boil,' added Belle-Rose, who saw his embarrassment. 'If you are out of cash I will take care of all that; here, do you want money? Will you have thirty francs?—or sixty? Amongst friends, that is nothing.' And so saying, he drew a dozen crowns from his pocket—'With you they are in good keeping, and will bring good luck.'
"Fanfan hesitated. 'Accept them, and pay me when you can. On these terms there can be no hesitation in borrowing,' I jogged Fanfan's elbow, as much as to say, 'Take it.' He obeyed; and we pocketed the crowns, touched at the kindness of Belle-Rose.
"He was soon, however, to skin us of them. Experience is a great teacher, and M. Belle-Rose was a deep fellow!
"Breakfast went off with spirit; we talked much of the avarice of parents—the brutalities of apprentices' masters—of the blessings of independence—the immense wealth amassed in the Indies: the names of the Cape, Chandernagor, Calcutta, Pondicherry, and Tipoo-Saib were adroitly introduced; examples were quoted of the vast fortunes made by the young men whom Belle-Rose had recently engaged. 'It is not to boast,' said he, 'but I am not an unlucky fellow: it was I who enlisted little Martin; and now he is a nabob, rolling in gold and silver. I will bet that he has grown proud; and perhaps if he saw me would not recognise me. Oh, I have found many ingrates in my time! But what of that? It is the fate of man!'
"Our sitting was a long one. At the dessert, M. Belle-Rose again brought on the carpet the fine fruits of the Antilles: whilst he drank the wine, 'Cape wine for ever,' said he; 'how delicious that is:' with the coffee he expatiated on the Martinique: when they brought the cognac, 'Ah! ah!' said he, making a grimace, 'this is not equal to the rum, and still less the excellent pine-apple of Jamaica:' they poured out some parfait amour: 'This is drinkable,' said he, 'but still it is not even small beer in comparison with the liqueurs of the celebrated madame Anfous.'
"Belle-Rose was seated between Fanfan and myself and during the whole repast took great care of us. He kept up the incessant song of 'Empty your glasses,' and he filled them incessantly. 'Who made you such half-wet birds,' said he at intervals, 'Come, another glass, look at me, and do as I do.'
"These phrases, and many others, had due effect. Fanfan and I were pretty well done up; he particularly. 'M. Belle-Rose, is it very far to the colonies, Chanbernagor, Seringapatam? Are they very far off?' he repeated, from time to time, and he imagined himself already embarked, so completely was he imbued with the flourishing accounts. 'Patience,' said Belle-Rose, at length, 'and we shall get there; and in the mean time I am going to tell you a story. One day, when I was on guard at the governor's——'—'One day, when he was governor,' said Fanfan. 'Hold your peace,' said Belle-Rose, putting his hand upon his mouth—'it was only when I was a private,' he continued. 'I was quietly seated in front of my sentry-box, reposing on a sofa, when my negro, who carried my gun,—you must know that in the colonies every soldier has his male and female slave, as we might here have domestics of both sexes; only that you may do with them what you please; and if it be your pleasure, you may kill them as you would a fly; for you have power of life and death over them. As for the woman, you do what you please with her;—I was on guard, as I just told you, and my negro was carrying my gun——'
"M. Belle-Rose had scarcely got so far, when a soldier in full dress entered the room, and gave him a letter, which he opened with haste. 'It is from the minister of the marine,' said he; 'M. de Sartine tells me, that the service of the king summons me to Surinam. The devil!' added he, addressing Fanfan and me, 'how awkward it is; I did not think of quitting so soon; but as they say, he who reckons without his host, reckons twice: never mind.'
"Belle-Rose then taking his glass in his right hand, knocked several times on the table, and whilst the other guests withdrew, a waiting-maid entered. 'The bill, and send your master;' and the master came with the bill of our expenses. 'Astonishing how soon it mounts up,' observed Belle-Rose: 'one hundred and ninety livres, twelve sous, six deniers! Ah! M. Nivet, do you want to skin us alive? Here is an item I will not pass by—four lemons, twenty-four sous. We only had three—reduction the first. Peste, papa Nivet, I am not surprised at your making a fortune. Seven half-glasses, that is very fine; but how do you make it out, when there were only six of us? I shall find other mistakes, I am convinced. Asparagus, eighteen livres; that is too much.'—'In April,' said M. Nivet, 'and so early!'—'Well, that is right; young peas, artichokes, fish, lettuces, strawberries, twenty-four livres—that is correct. The wine is fair enough: now I will add it up. Put down nought and carry one—the total is correct, deducting the twelve sous and the six deniers there remains one hundred and ninety livres. Well, will you give me credit for the amount, papa Nivet?'—'Oh!' replied the landlord, 'yesterday, yes; today, no; credit on land as long as you please, but once at sea, how am I be repaid? at Surinam? Devil take the sea-going creditors. I tell you money I want, and you shall not go out till I am satisfied; otherwise I shall send for the watch, and we shall then see——'
"M. Nivet went out in an apparent rage.
"'He is a man of his word,' said Belle-Rose to us. 'But an idea strikes me, in great distresses, great remedies. Doubtlessly you have no greater wish than myself to be led before M. Lenoir between four guards. The king gives 100 francs a man for recruits; there are two of you, that makes 200 francs: sign your enrolment; I will go and get the cash, then return and free you. What say you?'
"Fanfan and I looked at each other in silence. 'What! do you hesitate? I had a better opinion of you. I, who would cut myself in quarters—and then I do not ask you to do an unpleasant thing. Heavens! that I was of your age, and knew what I know! We have always resources whilst we are young. Come,' he added, presenting the paper to us, 'now is your time to coin money: put your name at the bottom of this paper.'
"The persuasions of Belle-Rose were so pressing, and we were so fearful of the watch, that we signed. 'That is right,' said he, 'now I will go and pay; if you are vexed there is always time: you will have nothing to do but return the money; but we shall not come to that. Patience, my friends, I will soon return.'
"Belle-Rose soon went out and quickly returned.
"'The embargo is removed,' said he, 'and now we are free to go or stay; but you have not yet seen madame Belle-Rose yet, I wish to introduce you to her: she is a woman with wit to the end of her nails.'
"M. Belle-Rose conducted us to his house, his lodging was not over brilliant; two rooms on the back of a mean-looking house a little distance from the Arch-Marion. Madame Belle-Rose was in a recess at the end of the second room, her head resting on a heap of pillows. Near her bed were two crutches: and at a little distance, a night table, a spitting-box, a shell snuff-box, a silver goblet, and a bottle of brandy nearly emptied. Madame Belle-Rose was about forty-five or fifty: she was attired in a stylish morning gown, with top-knot and head-dress of lace. Her face was distorted as we entered by a violent fit of coughing. 'Wait till she has done,' said Belle-Rose to us: and at length, her cough ceasing, 'Can you talk, my duck?'—'Yes, my precious,' she answered.—'Well, you will oblige me by informing my friends here what fortunes are made in the colonies.'—'Immense! M. Belle-Rose, immense!'—'What alliances?'—'What alliances? Superb! M. Belle-Rose, superb! the meanest heiress has millions of piastres.'—'What life do they lead?'—'The life of a prince, M. Belle-Rose.'
"'You see,' said the husband, 'I did not make her say so.'
"'The farce was thus performed. M. Belle-Rose offered us the refreshment of a glass of rum: we drank to his wife, and she drank to our good voyage. 'For I suppose,' she added, 'that these gentlemen are ours. My dear fellow,' said she to Fanfan, 'you have the face they like in those parts; square shoulders, wide chest, well-made leg, nose à la Bourbon.' Then turning to me, 'And you too; oh! you are well-limbed fellows.'—'And lads too, who will not allow themselves to be trampled on,' added Belle-Rose; 'this gentleman has been at it already this morning.' 'What, already! I congratulate him. Come here, my dear sir, and let me kiss you; I always liked young fellows, that is my taste: every one has their inclination. Do not be jealous, Belle-Rose.'—'Jealous of what? My friend behaved like a second Bayard, as I shall tell the regiment; the colonel shall know it, and advancement must follow—corporal at least, if not an officer. Ah, when you have the epaulette on your shoulders you will be a noted brave man!' Fanfan jumped for joy. As for me, sure that I was no less brave than him, I said to myself, 'If he advances, I shall not hang back.' We were both very happy.
"'I ought to tell you one thing,' pursued the recruiter: 'recommended as you are, you must excite jealousy; there are envious people everywhere, in regiments as well as elsewhere; but remember that if they use a word of abuse I shall take it up—once under my protection—enough. Write to me.'—'What!' said Fanfan, 'do not you go with us?'—'No,' replied Belle-Rose, 'to my great regret: the minister has need of me. I shall join you at Brest. Tomorrow at eight o'clock I expect you here, not later: today I have no leisure to remain longer with you; duty must be done. Adieu till tomorrow.'
We took leave of madame Belle-Rose, who embraced us. Next day we were, at half-past seven, aroused by the bugs which lodged with us at Griffon's. 'Give me punctual men!' said Belle-Rose, when he saw us. 'I am one myself.' Then assuming a more serious air: 'If you have any friends and acquaintances, you have the rest of the day for leave-taking. Now this is your route; your allowance is three sous per league, with lodging, firing, and candle. You may start as soon as you like; that is no affair of mine; but do not forget, that, if you are found in the streets of Paris tomorrow evening, the police will conduct you to your place of destination.'
"This threat cut us up root and branch; but as we had baked, so we must brew; and we started. From Paris to Brest is a famous long walk, but, in spite of blisters, we made ten leagues a day. We arrived at last, but not without having a thousand times cursed Belle-Rose. A month afterwards we embarked. Ten years afterwards, day for day, I was made corporal, and Fanfan also promoted; he was knocked on the head at St Domingo, during Leclerc's expedition. He was a devil amongst the negro women. As for me, I have yet a steady foot and good eye; my chest is well lined, and I may have the luck to bury you all. I have passed many rough days in my life; been thrown from one colony to another; I have rolled my ball as I went, and I have not been a loser; never mind, the children of glee will never die;—and then, when they are no more here, they are to be found elsewhere," continued the serjeant Dufailli, striking the pockets of his uniform; and then lifting up his waistcoat, exposed a leather belt, apparently well lined. "I say, there is yet butter in the churn, and yellow enough too, without counting what we may chance to borrow from the English. The India-Company owe me a balance still, which some three-masters will bring."—"In the meantime, all goes well with you, father Dufailli," said the forager. "Very well," said the serjeant-major. Yes, very well, indeed, thought I; determining to cultivate an acquaintance which chance rendered so propitious for me.