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Auguste assisted him. At one corner of the square table
Lisa and Augustine sat mending linen, whilst opposite to them, on the
other side, with his face turned towards the fireplace, was Florent.
Leon was mincing some sausage-meat on the oak block in a slow,
rhythmical fashion.

Auguste first of all went out into the yard to fetch a couple of
jug-like cans full of pigs' blood. It was he who stuck the animals in
the slaughter house. He himself would carry away the blood and interior
portions of the pigs, leaving the men who scalded the carcasses to bring
them home completely dressed in their carts. Quenu asserted that no
assistant in all Paris was Auguste' equal as a pig-sticker. The truth
was that Auguste was a wonderfully keen judge of the quality of the
blood; and the black-pudding proved good every time that he said such
would be the case.

"Well, will the black-pudding be good this time?" asked Lisa.

August put down the two cans and slowly answered: "I believe so, Madame
Quenu; yes, I believe so. I tell it at first by the way the blood flows.
If it spurts out very gently when I pull out the knife, that's a bad
sign, and shows that the blood is poor."

"But doesn't that depend on how far the knife has been stuck in?" asked
Quenu.

A smile came over Auguste's pale face. "No," he replied; "I always let
four digits of the blade go in; that's the right way to measure. But the
best sign of all is when the blood runs out and I beat it with my
hand when it pours into the pail; it ought to be of a good warmth, and
creamy, without being too thick."

Augustine had put down her needle, and with her eyes raised was now
gazing at Auguste. On her ruddy face, crowned by wiry chestnut hair,
there was an expression of profound attention. Lisa and even little
Pauline were also listening with deep interest.

"Well, I beat it, and beat it, and beat it," continued the young man,
whisking his hand about as though he were whipping cream. "And then,
when I take my hand out and look at it, it ought to be greased, as it
were, by the blood and equally coated all over. And if that's the case,
anyone can say without fear of mistake that the black-puddings will be
good."

He remained for a moment in an easy attitude, complacently holding his
hand in the air. This hand, which spent so much of its time in pails of
blood, had brightly gleaming nails, and looked very rosy above his white
sleeve. Quenu had nodded his head in approbation, and an interval
of silence followed. Leon was still mincing. Pauline, however, after
remaining thoughtful for a little while, mounted upon Florent's feet
again, and in her clear voice exclaimed: "I say, cousin, tell me the
story of the gentleman who was eaten by the wild beasts!"

It was probably the mention of the pig's blood which had aroused in the
child's mind the recollection of "the gentleman who had been eaten by
the wild beasts." Florent did not at first understand what she referred
to, and asked her what gentleman she meant. Lisa began to smile.

"She wants you to tell her," she said, "the story of that unfortunate
man--you know whom I mean--which you told to Gavard one evening. She
must have heard you."

At this Florent grew very grave. The little girl got up, and taking the
big cat in her arms, placed it on his knees, saying that Mouton also
would like to hear the story. Mouton, however, leapt on to the table,
where, with rounded back, he remained contemplating the tall, scraggy
individual who for the last fortnight had apparently afforded him matter
for deep reflection. Pauline meantime began to grow impatient, stamping
her feet and insisting on hearing the story.

"Oh, tell her what she wants," said Lisa, as the child persisted and
became quite unbearable; "she'll leave us in peace then."

Florent remained silent for a moment longer, with his eyes turned
towards the floor. Then slowly raising his head he let his gaze rest
first on the two women who were plying their needles, and next on Quenu
and Auguste, who were preparing the pot for the black-puddings. The gas
was burning quietly, the stove diffused a gentle warmth, and all the
grease of the kitchen glistened in an atmosphere of comfort such as
attends good digestion

Then, taking little Pauline upon his knee, and smiling a sad smile,
Florent addressed himself to the child as follows[*]:--

[*] Florent's narrative is not romance, but is based on the
statements of several of the innocent victims whom the third
Napoleon transported to Cayenne when wading through blood to
the power which he so misused.--Translator.

"Once upon a time there was a poor man who was sent away, a long, long
way off, right across the sea. On the ship which carried him were four
hundred convicts, and he was thrown among them. He was forced to live
for five weeks amidst all those scoundrels, dressed like them in coarse
canvas, and feeding at their mess. Foul insects preyed on him, and
terrible sweats robbed him of all his strength. The kitchen, the
bakehouse, and the engine-room made the orlop deck so terribly hot that
ten of the convicts died from it. In the daytime they were sent up in
batches of fifty to get a little fresh air from the sea; and as the crew
of the ship feared them, a couple of cannons were pointed at the little
bit of deck where they took exercise. The poor fellow was very glad
indeed when his turn to go up came. His terrible perspiration then
abated somewhat; still, he could not eat, and felt very ill. During the
night, when he was manacled again, and the rolling of the ship in the
rough sea kept knocking him against his companions, he quite broke down,
and began to cry, glad to be able to do so without being seen."

Pauline was listening with dilated eyes, and her little hands crossed
primly in front of her.

"But this isn't the story of the gentleman who was eaten by the wild
beasts," she interrupted. "This is quite a different story; isn't it
now, cousin?"

"Wait a bit, and you'll see," replied Florent gently. "I shall come
to the gentleman presently. I'm telling you the whole story from the
beginning."

"Oh, thank you," murmured the child, with a delighted expression.
However, she remained thoughtful, evidently struggling with some great
difficulty to which she could find no explanation. At last she spoke.

"But what had the poor man done," she asked, "that he was sent away and
put in the ship?"

Lisa and Augustine smiled. They were quite charmed with the child's
intelligence; and Lisa, without giving the little one a direct reply,
took advantage of the opportunity to teach her a lesson by telling her
that naughty children were also sent away in boats like that.

"Oh, then," remarked Pauline judiciously, "perhaps it served my cousin's
poor man quite right if he cried all night long."

Lisa resumed her sewing, bending over her work. Quenu had not listened.
He had been cutting some little rounds of onion over a pot placed on the
fire; and almost at once the onions began to crackle, raising a clear
shrill chirrup like that of grasshoppers basking in the heat. They gave
out a pleasant odour too, and when Quenu plunged his great wooden spoon
into the pot the chirruping became yet louder, and the whole kitchen was
filled with the penetrating perfume of the onions. Auguste meantime was
preparing some bacon fat in a dish, and Leon's chopper fell faster
and faster, and every now and then scraped the block so as to gather
together the sausage-meat, now almost a paste.

"When they got across the sea," Florent continued, "they took the man to
an island called the Devil's Island,[*] where he found himself amongst
others who had been carried away from their own country. They were
all very unhappy. At first they were kept to hard labour, just like
convicts. The gendarme who had charge of them counted them three times
every day, so as to be sure that none were missing. Later on, they were
left free to do as they liked, being merely locked up at night in a big
wooden hut, where they slept in hammocks stretched between two bars.
At the end of the year they went about barefooted, as their boots were
quite worn out, and their clothes had become so ragged that their flesh
showed through them. They had built themselves some huts with trunks
of trees as a shelter against the sun, which is terribly hot in those
parts; but these huts did not shield them against the mosquitoes, which
covered them with pimples and swellings during the night. Many of them
died, and the others turned quite yellow, so shrunken and wretched,
with their long, unkempt beards, that one could not behold them without
pity."

[*] The Ile du Diable. This spot was selected as the place
of detention of Captain Dreyfus, the French officer
convicted in 1894 of having divulged important military
documents to foreign powers.--Translator.

"Auguste, give me the fat," cried Quenu; and when the apprentice had
handed him the dish he let the pieces of bacon-fat slide gently into the
pot, and then stirred them with his spoon. A yet denser steam now rose
from the fireplace.

"What did they give them to eat?" asked little Pauline, who seemed
deeply interested.

"They gave them maggoty rice and foul meat," answered Florent, whose
voice grew lower as he spoke. "The rice could scarcely be eaten. When
the meat was roasted and very well done it was just possible to swallow
it; but if it was boiled, it smelt so dreadfully that the men had nausea
and stomach ache."

"I'd rather have lived upon dry bread," said the child, after thinking
the matter carefully over.

Leon, having finished the mincing, now placed the sausage-meat upon the
square table in a dish. Mouton, who had remained seated with his eyes
fixed upon Florent, as though filled with amazement by his story, was
obliged to retreat a few steps, which he did with a very bad grace. Then
he rolled himself up, with his nose close to the sausage-meat, and began
to purr.

Lisa was unable to conceal her disgust and amazement. That foul
rice, that evil-smelling meat, seemed to her to be scarcely credible
abominations, which disgraced those who had eaten them as much as it did
those who had provided them; and her calm, handsome face and round neck
quivered with vague fear of the man who had lived upon such horrid food.

"No, indeed, it was not a land of delights," Florent resumed, forgetting
all about little Pauline, and fixing his dreamy eyes upon the steaming
pot.



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