Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Exploits of Ravachol — I

 
THE EXPLOITS OF RAVACHOL

The Man with the Dynamite



PART ONE


THE CRIME OF CHAMBLES

_______________


I


THE INN OF THE GROTTO



In these Exploits of Ravachol, the Man with the Dynamite, we will not write a novel, but a history.

Why would we take the trouble to invent, when it is enough for us, in order to make the most riveting, original and dramatic narrative that could be imagined, to let speak only the facts, so strange and so striking, the completely unknown facts that we are going to make known,—and to simply recount the life of the man who, after having been a counterfeiter and assassin in Saint Étienne, has acquired a horrible celebrity in Paris.

No, we will invent nothing, but we will try as much as possible to bring to full light the strange personality of this already legendary bandit.

That said, we enter upon our subject.

On June 21, 1891, a bit before nightfall, a young man and young woman, very properly dressed, almost elegant even, disembarked at Unieux, a large and wealthy village, not far from Firminy and in one of the most picturesque parts of the department of the Loire.

We say that our personages disembarked, for no one in the country seemed to know them, and yet, strangely enough, these voyagers did not carry with them any baggage, not even the lightest bag.

The man, slightly above average in size, could have been thirty or thirty-two years old.

Very thin, with a bony face, he had a long, strong nose, a sallow complexion and sickly appearance, his hair dark brown like the full beard that he wore.

His expression was bold and cunning, and his brow, marked with a large scar, indicated intelligence and will.

As to the woman who accompanied him, it would have been quite difficult to give her exact age.

Whether she was only twenty-five years old or was already more than thirty, it would have been impossible to say.

Though quite petite, tiny really, with a very dark complexion and thick lips, she had beautiful eyes, magnificent eyes, but her expression was perhaps even more bold, and let’s say it, even more cynical than that of her companion.

Yet, while moving slowly through the streets of the village, the man seemed to search around him, and what he sought was doubtless an inn, for as soon as he saw one, he walked quickly up to the door, hesitated for some seconds, and then set off again.

— Hey! Why don’t we go in there? the woman said quickly, seeing him stop again.

But he had already resumed his way.

— No, no, not far! He responded brusquely. I know what I’m doing.

And he had not traveled more than fifty paces, when once again he stopped short.

Then, indicating the house that stood in front of him:

— Hello! That’s what I wanted!... That’s what I was looking for! he repeated.

— That room there?

— Don’t joke!... I know what I said... The best inn in the country!...

Then, looking up at the sign, he read aloud:



THIBAULT THE ELDER

INN OF THE GROTTO

Carriages available. —Excursions to Notre-Dame-de-Gràce.




We don't know what thought these last words gave rise to in the mind of the unknown, but he gave, in pronouncing them, a very strange and singular smile.

— Let's go. Come on! he cried. And they entered.

Since the inn was empty, the stranger knocked his fist on the table:

— Well! Is there nobody here?

And at the same instant the patron appeared, all smiles and eager.

— Here! Here I am!... How can I serve you? he said.

— Dinner first! the young man replied. But, sacrebleu! hurry, for I'm as hungry as a wolf...

But master Thibaut had already disappeared with the speed of lightning, and the young man and the little woman remained alone, seated opposite each other.

Then the latter, leaning towards her companion, her voice very low:

— Come, now, speak! she said. Why have we left Saint-Etienne? Why the devil have you brought me here?...

— I have already told you that I have had an idea, he responded, and an excellent idea, an idea worth its weight in gold, I must say...

The young man, whose eyes sparkled, had yet another smile at least as strange, at least as singular as he had earlier.

— And that idea, my little Ravachol? asked the woman keenly and curiously.

But at that name, she had said almost aloud, the other had a violent start, and then quickly putting a finger on his mouth, said:

— Shh! he said imperiously. I've already warned you that I don't want you to shout my name from the roofs!...

— In Saint-Etienne!

— In Saint-Etienne as here... at Saint-Etienne as elsewhere...

And he added:

— Since my first name hurts your mouth...

— No, my Léon! she said, laughing.

— Call me Léger, if you want, it's still one of my names.

— Or Kœningstein, like your wretched German father?

— Or Kœningstein, if your must... But Ravachol, never! his voice was sharp, almost furious.

And he fell suddenly silent, for the landlord returned carrying the dinner ordered.

Then, when he had left them alone again, it was Ravachol who in his turn leaned towards his companion.

— You see, my girl, he said, there’s no denying it, the counterfeiting doesn’t go well, it no longer goes!... At first, when I had entered Fachard’s gang,—which brought me the pleasure of making your acquaintance,— we could still make out and do his little jobs...

— Yes, that is true! she interrupted with a sigh of regret. In those days, we raked in some nice dough!

— Well! yes, but we have been too hasty and let the cat out of the bag, so that today, — and I don’t just speak of Saint-Etienne, nor only of Saint-Chamond, but also of Montbrison, of everywhere, — the stuff is no longer worth anything and we can only pass a miserable five-franc piece.

— You’re telling me! she sighed again. Wasn’t it just the other day I was nearly put away?

— Well! He said fiercely, if I have led you here, it is because I dream of a big job... it is because I dream of a grand strike which will enrich us immediately, and quite simply.

— Immediately?

— Right now!... Pronto!

-— So! You’re not crazy?

— Look at me closely! Is that how I look?... No, I am not crazy, and I’m speaking to you very seriously…

“Yes, tomorrow. Yes, in a few hours perhaps, my dear Julie, we will have our pockets filled with gold, and of the good, true sort!... not the gold counterfeited by Fachard!...

And they both started to laugh.

Then, as there was a moment of silence, Ravachol abruptly turned to look around, as if he was afraid that someone had heard his words.

And suddenly a made a movement of surprise, for his gaze had just by chance encountered, hung in front of him, a rather crude painting, a portrait which depicted a white-haired man, dressed in a long monk’s habit.

Ah bah! He cried in a low voice. But that must be him!... That must be my man!...

— Your man? That calotin there?... What do you mean? Asked Julie sharply, following his glance.

— Yes, that is him, I would say!... Yes, that must be the holy hermit of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce! cried Ravachol.

Then, as at that moment the innkeeper appeared in the doorway of his kitchen, he called:

— Hey! Say there, boss?... a little information, if you please?

— At your service.

— Who is that fellow there?

— That fellow?... Why, that is Jacques Brunel, our hermit, our holy man.

— He has a good face! sniggered Ravachol anew.

— A rogue. Off with you! said the innkeeper, with a wink, a cunning sort who understood life and didn’t need to go to so much trouble as the camarades in order to make his little pile...

— Ah! Is he rich?

— Heh! You make me laugh!... A sly dog who receives money from everyone and never spends anything... Have you seen his grotto? his hermitage?

— No, but I would certainly like to see that...

— Well! When you go, I would be really astonished if you find yourself alone. There are always a bunch of idiots up there who come to ask him for prayers, and miracles, and who never neglect, when they do, to grease his palm with pretty pieces of silver...

— Could you drive me there? Ravachol asked excitedly.

-— But certainly. Haven’t you read my sign: Excursions to Notre-Dame-de-Gràce!...

— But here’s the thing! the young man said, the devil of it is that I don’t have much time... Is there someone who could that me there this evening? . .

— Indeed, you are in a real hurry, responded the innkeeper. But why not? I will tell you exactly very soon, when my boy has returned.

However the night had long since tout à fait venue, and it was now perhaps a little after nine o’clock.

Ravachol, who had without thinking drawn the curtain from the window beside which he found himself, looked out at the street, and was astonished to find it so somber and black.

In fact, save at the Inn of the Grotto, there were no lights anywhere, no light at all.

The counterfeiter wondered aloud:

— Your country, it is not gay, he said. It goes to sleep with the chickens...

But the hotelkeeper’s face had become very serious all of a sudden.

— Yes, isn’t that so? he responded. But it has not always been the same; and it is only for awhile that as soon as night comes each hastens to play dead and to double-lock themselves at home...

— For how long?

— Yes, since all these crimes, all these murders which have bloodied the region. So it started with the case of Varizelle...

Ravachol had become suddenly very pale and he could not prevent a sudden shudder

— Varizelle? he said, his voice a bit low.

— Yes, yes... Haven’t you heard about that crime?

— Faith, no.

— Oh! An atrocious crime, horrible, dreadful, which, sadly, remains unpunished.

— Tell us, then! cried Julie. What has happened over there, at Varizelle?

Ravachol, always pale, shot a furious glance at his mistress, a terrible look that she did not notice.

— Oh! My god, madame, here is the story in a few words, said the innkeeper.

“There was a man in Varizelle, an old man that everyone loved, that everyone adored.

“That man was able to amass a small fortune, and as he was not a selfish man, he used it to do the greatest possible good around him. So there was not much misfortune around “the Little God”....

— “The Little God”? asked Julie, astonished.

— Yes, that was what, in the village, they called the old man that I told you about.

“That was the nickname they had given him, and it should suffice to portray the goodness of that man.

“But, one day, they were surprised to find his house remained shut up.

“They banged on the day: Nothing!

“They called: Nothing!

“A sinister premonition seized everyone. Finally, weary of knocking and of calling, they placed a ladder up to one of the windows and entered the home of “the Little God.”

— And then?

— And then, madame, everyone recoiled, with a cry of horror, with a cry of fright. The “Little God” was there, his skull opened by hatchet blows, and close by him, in a sea of blood, his maid, his old maid of eighty-eight years, her head equally cracked, equally smashed...

— And the guilty party has not been arrested?

— Non, madame, the guilty one is still at large…

— And do they suspect no one?... Have they found no clue? no trace?

 — How silly you are! cried Ravachol with a forced laugh. Since the gentleman informs us that the crime remains unpunished... Is that clear?

— Then, some time after that, continued the innkeeper, there was yet another crime as atrocious and as horrible…

— Where was that? asked Julie.

— At Granay.

— A Granay? I don’t know it!

— It is close to Rive-de-Gier.

—Ah! And what happened there?

— Well! There, it was a farmer who suffered in the same way a the “Little God,” And like the “Little God” he was not the sole victim of the assassins, for his young wife was also found at his side, riddled with God knows how many stab wounds.

— But that is dreadful! cried Julie.

— And was justice more fortunate that time? Ravachol asked quietly. Were they finally able to get their hands on the murderers?

But the innkeeper just shook his head, while a wry smile glided over his lips.

— No, no, he responded, this time as well the guilty still roams free... Ah! Between us, those murdering gentlemen can boast of having good luck!

“But that is not all,” he added fiercely. “After the double crime at Varizelle and the double crime at Granay, we have still the murder at Côte-Bois...”

— Côte-Bois!... But that is where I am from! cried Julie, looking at Ravachol.

— Indeed, was all he said, quietly, in response.

— I’m talking about the Côte-Bois, in the suburbs of Saint-Chamond, said the innkeeper.

— Yes, yes...

— Well! There again, it was an old man who was murdered in order to rob him. But since you are from that country, he added, you should doubtless know that affaire much better than I...

—- That is possible... I have perhaps heard talk of it... But I do not recall it, said Ravachol swiftly.

Then, abruptly changing his tone:

— Anyway, boss, time is passing, and if it continues, I won’t be able to make my pilgrimage. Isn’t your boy back yet?

— Yes, I believe I hear him.

And taking a few steps towards the kitchen, he cried:

— Hey! Germain, are you there?... We’ve waited for you more than an hour.

Then Germain, a large, young lad, with a slightly vacuous air about him, came in, advancing slowly and heavily.

— Go hitch up, you, and be nimble about it! said the innkeeper.

— Hitch up?

— Yes, yes... And be sure not to drag your feet. Monsieur wants to make a visit to our hermit. Go, scoot, off with you!... I give you five minutes.

And five minutes later, indeed, the carriage that carried Ravachol and his mistress flew at a full gallop on the road to Chambles, that is, in the direction of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

— Oh! The beautiful night! exclaimed Julie suddenly, snuggling up still more closely, more amorously against her lover.

But that gentleman did not respond.

[Continued in Chapter II

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