THE EXPLOITS OF RAVACHOL
The Man with the Dynamite
[continued from Chapter I]
Arms crossed, brows knit, eyes fixed, he seemed sunk in who-knows-what somber and sinister thoughts. Then Julie looked at him, taking him by the hand:
— What will you do over there?... Come on, tell me all, she whispered in his ear.
— Haven’t you caught on yet?
— I’m afraid to catch on!
He shrugged his shoulders.
— Come on!... didn’t you just hear that good innkeeper?... Didn’t he say, in telling you those stories: “Among us, messieurs the murderers can boast of being in luck?”
But Julie could not prevent herself from shivering.
— And if you had not! she said sharply. If you had been pinched!... And if one day or the other I had been condemned as your accomplice!
But Ravachol snickered. She was insistent.
— No, no, listen to me, she said, listen to me while there is still time... Let us go no further... Let’s return to Saint-Etienne...
— Without the loot! said the bandit. Not on your life! And in a strong voice, he cried:
— Coachman, faster!... You’re hardly moving!
The coachman lashed his horses, and Ravachol, drawing Julie closer to him, said:
— And you, he said, you listen to me as well, listen to me in turn, and try to be more calm, to keep your cool... If I pull this off, there is not only a bit of profit for me, but for you as well... Isn’t that true?
— Well! I rather think it is not you who will denounce me... And why would I be pinched? One more time, he added with a strange emphasis, have they pinched those from Varizelle?... those from Granay?... have they nabbed those from Côte-Bois?...
— But that was not the same thing! cried Julie.
— Not the same thing?
— Without doubt. There was no witness to their crime; no one saw them, no one could testify against them, while you would have to point you out to the police, you would have to ruin you first that innkeeper that you have questioned at such length about the hermit, then this young man here, this coachman who drives us.
“And then, how could you get away with it?... Tell me, do you understand?
But Ravachol had no time to respond.
The coach had slowed down and the driver turned towards them.
— We are at the foot of the mountain, he said. A few more minutes and we will be there.
Then, designating with the end of his whip a black spot which rose against the luminous heavens, he added:
— Hold on, look... There is the hermitage.
— Good! Good! said Ravachol. But there is no need to weary the horses... Wait for us here.
He had already stepped down from the coach and, followed by his mistress, he rapidly disappeared across the folds of the mountain.
Julie was very pale, shivering and trembling all over, but Ravachol already showed that extraordinary sang-froid that, later, would astonish those who knew him.
A few minutes later, they had indeed arrived before the abode of the hermit.
Julie trembled, shivered more and more.
— Let’s go!... Let’s go!... Listen to me! she still begged.
But Ravachol grabbed her brusquely by the wrist and spoke to her in a very low voice, as if, in that solitude, he still feared that someone could hear him.
And he added, very quickly:
— Do you understand?
— Yes, yes.
— That man could perhaps be overzealous. He could perhaps come to seek us here. In that case you must warn me. Is that clear?
— Yes, she said, her voice still more faint.
And before she had finished Ravachol was already gone.
The hermit’s grotto, tapestried with greenery, had for a door only a very thin partition which always remained ajar and through the cracks of which it was very easy, especially on a bright, starry night, to distinguish what was happening inside.
Ravachol put his eye to one of these cracks and looked.
Then, so close to committing a crime, so close to risking his hide, he laughed.
— Ah! The animal! he murmured. If the pilgrims could see him!..,
And always immobile, with his cocky smile always on his lips, he continued to look into the grotto.
His face flushed, his eyes shining brightly, the hermit remained seated before the remains of a meal which seemed to have been sufficiently hearty.
From time to time he poured himself another bumper, and drank it in one gulp; then, a gourmand’s smile, a smile full of beatitude on his lips, he crossed his hands on his belly and resumed the slightly sleepy pose in which Ravachol had found him.
And now the bandit seemed to measure his victim with his regard. And old man and half-asleep, half-drunk perhaps... Oh! The struggle would not be long and the job would be rapidly done!...
“And the pile for me!... For me, the savings of the holy man!” he said to himself.
Then, all at once, a very long, broad knife flashed in his hand.
He looked around.
Julie was at her post.
No noise in this deserted place.
“Let’s go!” he said.
And very softly, very slowly, he pushed open the door, poked his head in, and looked.
The hermit, now with eyes closed, and hands still crossed on his belly, had not flinched or stirred.
Standing now on the threshold, and even so a little pale, Ravachol took a surprised look around him.
The furnishings of the grotto, needless to say, were of the most rough and ready sort.
A little table table, a stool; in a corner, a sort of pallet; against the wall, some dried plants suspended, and some rosaries, some pious images hung up, and that was all.
So where then did the holy personage lock up his money? In what corner? In what hole? In what hiding place? That began to intrigue and also to worry Ravachol a bit, as he feared would could not do the deed swiftly enough.
“Is it perhaps on him?” he said to himself. “Pshaw! We shall see! And he spring, fast as lightning.
Throat slit, the hermit fell without a cry, without a gasp, without a moan. [Ravachol's own account was that he accidentally strangled the hermit.—Translator.]
Yet he still moved, fists clenched, face livid, a bloody foam on his lips.
Ravachol threw down his knife and crouched over him.
He felt around him, seeking the money, but nothing...
In the pockets of the dead man there was only an old prayer-book and a little snuff box.
Ravachol rose up furious, shocked, and again his gaze searched, rummaged around him.
Suddenly he ran to the pallet, believing that there would doubtless find the treasure. But no!
There again there was nothing! It was discouraging.
Ravachol took up the small iron lamp that burned on the table, then, bent over, on his knees, he inspected the ground, looking for a hole...
But there was none!
The anger of the bandit increased, becoming rage. Ah! Had he killed for nothing!
Would he be obliged to return to Saint-Etienne with empty pockets!
“And yet this joker should have money!” he said aloud. “But where the devil could it be?... Where the hell has he buried it?
And as he returned to the dead man, he shook him furiously, as if he could talk.
“Come on, then, answer me!” he cried out. “What have you done with your money?”
And as he now, his lamp raised, felt the walls, he suddenly made a surprised gesture, and a cry of joy.
He had just noticed a loose stone, a stone which concealed a hole.
To remove that stone, to push his arms into this large, deep hole, wa for Ravachol only the work of a second.
Finally, he held the loot!
Finally, he held the money from the offerings, the money of the half-wit pilgrims!
In the end, he had not burdened his conscience with the crime for nothing! But with his joy the bandit still felt some disappointment. Yes, there was a very fine, a very great sum, a small fortune, but except for a few louis and crowns, with which he began to stuff his pockets, all the rest were coins of billon, gros sous, and there were so many of them, so heavy in weight, so huge, that it was impossible that a man could carry it.
And Ravachol thought, reflecting.
What to do?
Which way to turn?
He could not, however, be so stupid, so foolish, as to leave that money, that money which others, who had gone to less trouble than him, would profit when the murder was discovered.
But Ravachol was not only an energetic man, full of resolution, he was also an ingenious and inventive spirit.
The only thing to do then, was to return immediately to Saint-Étienne...
There, he would hire a car in which he would come back to load the treasure, and he would also see his friend Fachard, the leader of a band of counterfeiters, who would certainly not refuse to give him a hand.
But the was no a minute, not a second to lose, if he wanted to return here bright and early, that is, before the crime could be discovered.
Already Ravachol had rushed out of the grotto and ran to rejoin his mistress.
It is done!” he said.
“Ah!” said Julie, stricken.
“Yes, he is done in... But there was a hitch!”
The bandit jingled his pockets:
“I have some beautiful, brand new crowns, some fine, shiny gold pieces, but it is impossible to take the pile...
“It is all small change!”
“Yes, gros sous!... And there was... There was... I’ll just say this!... Oh! It is a good business!... But it is not finished and we’ll have to stretch a bit... we have to return quickly to Saint-Étienne and come back here pronto... I have my plan... Be bold, come on!”
And five minutes later, Ravachol and Julie had returned to the foot of the mountain.
Then the bandit had another idea.
Why not propose to the innkeeper’s boy to take them back to Saint-Etienne?
“And you know,” he said to him, “I do not skimp!... There will be a good tip for you... OK?...
“Yes, that’s fine,” responded the other, delighted by the windfall.
“But I’m in a hurry... it is a question of burning up the pavement...”
“Oh! Calm down. You will be satisfied.”
And the carriage did indeed sash towards Saint-Etienne at a breathtaking gallop.
Some hours later, a bit after sunrise, Ravachol returned to the hermit’s dwelling.
Plunging his arm into the hole, the bandit tumbled out the small change, which Fachard and another fellow, who was also part of the band of counterfeiters, piled up in sacks that they had carried.
As soon as a sack was full, one of the men loaded it on a cart which was parked by the door.
“Well! Is there no end to it?” said Fachard, suddenly. “There is still more?”
“Yes, yes!... Oh! You can slave away!” responded Ravachol, laughing. “Hold on! I would rather listen to this pretty little shower... Here now, catch!...
And plunging his arm back into the hole, he made it stream coins...
However, despite his cheek and all his sang-froid, there were moments when the murderer was not without apprehension and anxiety.
Then he interrupted his work and ran to plant himself at the door.
Sometimes he even took a few steps outside, watching out and listening for the slightest noise that he could hear, the least sound that could reach him.
Then, abruptly, he reentered and returned to his task.
And always the small change, always the sous tumbled and rained down, and while the two others, exhausted, backs aching, continued to fill the sacks swiftly, he, full of joy, let out a great burst of cynical laughter.
“Oh! The pig!... he had some savings!..."
But, finally, now it was finished.
Ravachol’s hand found nothing more in the hole.
Now, the three companions crawled on the floor, searching for coins that had got loose.
“My children, do not lose anything,” said the bandit, jeering. And first there were two coins, then two more, which makes four, then two more which makes six.
“Search well!... Money is so hard to gain!...”
And as they found nothing more, Ravachol himself loaded the last sack on his shoulder and went to throw it into the carriage.
They had laid out the corpse of the hermit on his pallet, and his assassin, always laughing, always snickering, went and took one of the rosaries hanging on the wall and wound it around his fingers.
“This way,” he said, “he will pray for the rest of his soul!”
But the sun rose, rose more and more, and if they did not want to risk being discovered, it was time to head back to Saint-Etienne.
So they hurried to throw a tarp over the cart, in a manner that concealed the sacks that contained the dead man’s money, the three men climbed onto the seat, and they left.
[To be continued...]
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]