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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. "Every day brought fresh annoyances--perpetual grinding tyranny,
the violation of every principle of justice, contempt for all human
charity, which exasperated the prisoners, and slowly consumed them with
a fever of sickly rancour. They lived like wild beasts, with the lash
ceaselessly raised over their backs. Those torturers would have liked to
kill the poor man--Oh, no; it can never be forgotten; it is impossible!
Such sufferings will some day claim vengeance."

His voice had fallen, and the pieces of fat hissing merrily in the pot
drowned it with the sound of their boiling. Lisa, however, heard him,
and was frightened by the implacable expression which had suddenly come
over his face; and, recollecting the gentle look which he habitually
wore, she judged him to be a hypocrite.

Florent's hollow voice had brought Pauline's interest and delight to the
highest pitch, and she fidgeted with pleasure on his knee.

"But the man?" she exclaimed. "Go on about the man!"

Florent looked at her, and then appeared to remember, and smiled his sad
smile again.

"The man," he continued, "was weary of remaining on the island, and
had but one thought--that of making his escape by crossing the sea
and reaching the mainland, whose white coast line could be seen on the
horizon in clear weather. But it was no easy matter to escape. It was
necessary that a raft should be built, and as several of the prisoners
had already made their escape, all the trees on the island had been
felled to prevent the others from obtaining timber. The island was,
indeed, so bare and naked, so scorched by the blazing sun, that life in
it had become yet more perilous and terrible. However, it occurred to
the man and two of his companions to employ the timbers of which their
huts were built; and one evening they put out to sea on some rotten
beams, which they had fastened together with dry branches. The wind
carried them towards the coast. Just as daylight was about to appear,
the raft struck on a sandbank with such violence that the beams were
severed from their lashings and carried out to sea. The three poor
fellows were almost engulfed in the sand. Two of them sank in it to
their waists, while the third disappeared up to his chin, and his
companions were obliged to pull him out. At last they reached a rock,
so small that there was scarcely room for them to sit down upon it. When
the sun rose they could see the coast in front of them, a bar of grey
cliffs stretching all along the horizon. Two, who knew how to swim,
determined to reach those cliffs. They preferred to run the risk of
being drowned at once to that of slowly starving on the rock. But they
promised their companion that they would return for him when they had
reached land and had been able to procure a boat."

"Ah, I know now!" cried little Pauline, clapping her hands with glee.
"It's the story of the gentleman who was eaten by the crabs!"

"They succeeded in reaching the coast," continued Florent, "but it was
quite deserted; and it was only at the end of four days that they were
able to get a boat. When they returned to the rock, they found their
companion lying on his back, dead, and half-eaten by crabs, which were
still swarming over what remained of his body."[*]

[*] In deference to the easily shocked feelings of the
average English reader I have somewhat modified this
passage. In the original M. Zola fully describes the awful
appearance of the body.--Translator.
A murmur of disgust escaped Lisa and Augustine, and a horrified grimace
passed over the face of Leon, who was preparing the skins for the
black-puddings. Quenu stopped in the midst of his work and looked
at Auguste, who seemed to have turned faint. Only little Pauline
was smiling. In imagination the others could picture those swarming,
ravenous crabs crawling all over the kitchen, and mingling gruesome
odours with the aroma of the bacon-fat and onions.

"Give me the blood," cried Quenu, who had not been following the story.

Auguste came up to him with the two cans, from which he slowly
poured the blood, while Quenu, as it fell, vigorously stirred the
now thickening contents of the pot. When the cans were emptied, Quenu
reached up to one of the drawers above the range, and took out some
pinches of spice. Then he added a plentiful seasoning of pepper.

"They left him there, didn't they," Lisa now asked of Florent, "and
returned themselves in safety?"

"As they were going back," continued Florent, "the wind changed, and
they were driven out into the open sea. A wave carried away one of their
oars, and the water swept so furiously into the boat that their whole
time was taken up in baling it out with their hands. They tossed about
in this way in sight of the coast, carried away by squalls and then
brought back again by the tide, without a mouthful of bread to eat, for
their scanty stock of provisions had been consumed. This went on for
three days."

"Three days!" cried Lisa in stupefaction; "three days without food!"

"Yes, three days without food. When the east wind at last brought them
to shore, one of them was so weak that he lay on the beach the whole
day. In the evening he died. His companion had vainly attempted to get
him to chew some leaves which he gathered from the trees."

At this point Augustine broke into a slight laugh. Then, ashamed at
having done so and not wishing to be considered heartless, she stammered
out in confusion: "Oh! I wasn't laughing at that. It was Mouton. Do just
look at Mouton, madame."

Then Lisa in her turn began to smile. Mouton, who had been lying all
this time with his nose close to the dish of sausage-meat, had probably
begun to feel distressed and disgusted by the presence of all this food,
for he had risen and was rapidly scratching the table with his paws as
though he wanted to bury the dish and its contents. At last, however,
turning his back to it and lying down on his side, he stretched himself
out, half closing his eyes and rubbing his head against the table with
languid pleasure. Then they all began to compliment Mouton. He never
stole anything, they said, and could be safely left with the meat.
Pauline related that he licked her fingers and washed her face after
dinner without trying to bite her.

However, Lisa now came back to the question as to whether it were
possible to live for three days without food. In her opinion it was not.
"No," she said, "I can't believe it. No one ever goes three days
without food. When people talk of a person dying of hunger, it is a mere
expression. They always get something to eat, more or less. It is only
the most abandoned wretches, people who are utterly lost----"

She was doubtless going to add, "vagrant rogues," but she stopped short
and looked at Florent. The scornful pout of her lips and the expression
of her bright eyes plainly signified that in her belief only villains
made such prolonged fasts. It seemed to her that a man able to remain
without food for three days must necessarily be a very dangerous
character. For, indeed, honest folks never placed themselves in such a
position.

Florent was now almost stifling. In front of him the stove, into which
Leon had just thrown several shovelfuls of coal, was snoring like a lay
clerk asleep in the sun; and the heat was very great. Auguste, who had
taken charge of the lard melting in the pots, was watching over it in a
state of perspiration, and Quenu wiped his brow with his sleeve whilst
waiting for the blood to mix. A drowsiness such as follows gross
feeding, an atmosphere heavy with indigestion, pervaded the kitchen.

"When the man had buried his comrade in the sand," Florent continued
slowly, "he walked off alone straight in front of him. Dutch Guiana, in
which country he now was, is a land of forests intermingled with rivers
and swamps. The man walked on for more than a week without coming across
a single human dwelling-place. All around, death seemed to be lurking
and lying in wait for him. Though his stomach was racked by hunger, he
often did not dare to eat the bright-coloured fruits which hung from the
trees; he was afraid to touch the glittering berries, fearing lest they
should be poisonous. For whole days he did not see a patch of sky, but
tramped on beneath a canopy of branches, amidst a greenish gloom that
swarmed with horrible living creatures. Great birds flew over his head
with a terrible flapping of wings and sudden strange calls resembling
death groans; apes sprang, wild animals rushed through the thickets
around him, bending the saplings and bringing down a rain of leaves, as
though a gale were passing. But it was particularly the serpents that
turned his blood cold when, stepping upon a matting of moving, withered
leaves, he caught sight of their slim heads gliding amidst a horrid maze
of roots. In certain nooks, nooks of dank shadow, swarming colonies
of reptiles--some black, some yellow, some purple, some striped, some
spotted, and some resembling withered reeds--suddenly awakened into life
and wriggled away. At such times the man would stop and look about for
a stone on which he might take refuge from the soft yielding ground
into which his feet sank; and there he would remain for hours,
terror-stricken on espying in some open space near by a boa, who,
with tail coiled and head erect, swayed like the trunk of a big tree
splotched with gold.

"At night he used to sleep in the trees, alarmed by the slightest
rustling of the branches, and fancying that he could hear endless swarms
of serpents gliding through the gloom.



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