THIS is the name of the second Delectable Mountain. Zulu is he called, partly because he looks like what I have never seen, partly because the sounds somehow relate to his personality and partly because they seemed to please him.
He is, of all the indescribables whom I have known, definitely the most completely or entirely indescribable. Then (quoth my reader) you will not attempt to describe him, I trust.---Alas, in the medium which I am now using a certain amount or at least quality of description is disgustingly necessary. 'Were I free with a canvas and some colours ... but I am not free. And so I will buck the impossible to the best of my ability. Which, after all, is one way of wasting your time.
He did not come and he did not go. He drifted.
His angular anatomy expended and collected itself with an effortless spontaneity which is the prerogative of perhaps fairies, or at any rate of those things in which we no longer believe. But he was more. There are certain things in which one is unable to believe for the simple reason that he never ceases to feel them. Things of this sort---things which are always inside of us and in fact are us and which consequently will not be pushed off or away where we can begin thinking about them---are no longer things; they, and the us which they are, equals A Verb; an IS. The Zulu, then, I must perforce call an IS.
In this chapter I shall pretend briefly to describe certain aspects and attributes of an IS. Which IS we have called The Zulu, who Himself intrinsically and indubitably escapes analysis. Allons!
Let me first describe a Sunday morning when we lifted our heads to the fight of the stove-pipes.
I was awakened by a roar, a human roar, a roar such as only a Hollander can make when a Hollander is honestly angry. As I rose from the domain of the subconscious, the idea that the roar belonged to Bill the Hollander became conviction. Bill the Hollander, alias America Lakes, slept next to The Young Pole (by whom I refer to that young stupid-looking farmer with that peaches-and-cream complexion and those black puttees who had formed the rear rank, with the aid of The Zulu Himself, upon the arrival of Baby-snatcher, Bill, Box, Zulu, and Young Pole aforesaid). Now this same Young Pole was a case. Insufferably vain and self-confident was he. Monsieur Auguste palliated most of his conceited offensiveness on the ground that he was un garçon; we, on the ground that he was obviously and unmistakably The Zulu's friend. This Young Pole, I remember, had me design upon the wall over his paillasse (shortly after his arrival) a virile soldat clutching a somewhat dubious flag---I made the latter from descriptions furnished by Monsieur Auguste and The Young Pole himself---intended, I may add, to be the flag of Poland. Underneath which beautiful picture I was instructed to perpetrate the flourishing inscription:
'Vive la Pologne,' which I did to the best of my limited ability and for Monsieur Auguste's sake. No sooner was the pbotographie complete than The Young Pole, patriotically elated, set out to demonstrate the superiority of his race and nation by making himself obnoxious. I will give him this credit: he was pas méchant, he was in fact a stupid boy. The Fighting Sheeney temporarily took him down a peg by flooring him in the nightly 'Boxe' which The Fighting Sheeney instituted immediately upon the arrival of The Trick Raincoat---a previous acquaintance of The Sheeney's at La Santé; the similarity of occupations (or nonoccupation; I refer to the profession of pimp) having cemented a friendship between these two. But, for all that The Young Pole's Sunday-best clothes were covered with filth, and for all that his polished puttees were soiled and scratched by the splintery floor of The Enormous Room (he having rolled well off the blanket upon which the wrestling was supposed to occur), his spirit was dashed but for the moment. He set about cleaning and polishing himself, combing his hair, smoothing his cap---and was as cocky as ever next morning. In fact I think he was cockier; for he took to guying Bill the Hollander in French, with which tongue Bill was only faintly familiar and of which, consequently, he was doubly suspicious. As The Young Pole lay in bed of an evening after lumières éteintes, he would guy his somewhat massive neighbour in a childish, almost girlish voice, shouting with laughter when The Triangle rose on one arm and volleyed Dutch at him, pausing whenever The Triangle's good-nature threatened to approach the breaking-point, resuming after a minute or two when The Triangle appeared to be on the point of falling into the arms of Morpheus. This sort of blaguing had gone on for several nights without dangerous results. It was, however, inevitable that sooner or later something would happen---and as we lifted our heads on this particular Sunday morn we were not surprised to see The Hollander himself standing over The Young Pole, with clenched paws, wringing shoulders, and an apocalyptic face whiter than Death's horse.
The Young Pole seemed incapable of realizing that the climax had come. He lay on his back, cringing a little and laughing foolishly. The Zulu (who slept next to him on our side) had, apparently, just lighted a cigarette which projected upward from a slender bolder. The Zulu's face was as always, absolutely expressionless. His chin, with a goodly growth of beard, protruded tranquilly from the blanket which concealed the rest of him with the exception of his feet---feet which were ensconced in large, somewhat clumsy leather boots. As The Zulu wore no socks, the X's of the rawhide lacings on his bare flesh (blue, of course, with cold) presented a rather fascinating kinesis. The Zulu was, to all intents and purposes, gazing at the ceiling ...
Bill the Hollander, clad only in his shirt, his long, lean, muscled legs planted far apart, shook one fist after another at the recumbent Young Pole, thundering (curiously enough in English):
'Come on, you Gottverdummer son-of-a-bitch of a Polak bastard, and fight! Get up out o' there, you Polak boor, and I'll kill you, you Gottverdummer bastard you! I stood enough o' your Gottverdummer nonsense, you Gottverdummer,' etc.
As Bill the Hollander's thunder crescendoed steadily, cramming the utmost corners of The Enormous Room with Gottverdummers which echoingly telescoped one another, producing a dim, huge, shaggy mass of vocal anger, The Young Pole began to laugh less and less; began to plead and excuse and palliate and remonstrate---and all the while the triangular tower in its naked legs and its palpitating chemise brandished its vast fists nearer and nearer, its ghastly yellow lips hurling cumulative volumes of rhythmic profanity, its blue eyes snapping like fire-crackers, its enormous hairy chest heaving and tumbling like a monstrous hunk of sea-weed, its flat soiled feet curling and uncurling their ten sour mutilated toes.
The Zulu puffed gently as he lay.
Bill the Hollander's jaw, sticking into the direction of The Young Pole's helpless gestures, looked (with the pitiless scorching face behind it) like some square house carried in the fore of a white cyclone. The Zulu depressed his chin; his eyes (poking slowly from beneath the visor of the cap which he always wore, in bed or out of it) regarded the vomiting tower with an abstracted interest. He allowed one hand delicately to escape from the blanket and quietly to remove from his lips the holder with its gently-burning cigarette
'You won't, eh? You bloody Polak coward!' and with a speed in comparison to which lightning is snail-like the tower reached twice for the peaches-and-cream cheeks of the prone victim, who set up a tragic bellowing of his own, writhed upon his somewhat dislocated paillasse, raised his elbows shieldingly, and started to get to his feet by way of his trembling knees---to be promptly knocked flat. Such a howling as The Young Pole set up I have rarely heard: he crawled sideways; he got on one knee; he made a dart forward---and was caught cleanly by an uppercut, lifted through the air a yard, and spread-eagled against the stove which collapsed with an unearthly crash, yielding an inky shower of soot upon the combatants and almost crowning The Hollander simultaneously with three four-foot sections of pipe. The Young Pole hit the floor, shouting, on his head at the apogee of a neatly executed back-somersault, collapsed; rose yelling, and with flashing eyes picked up a length of the ruined tuyau which be lifted high in air---at which the Hollander seized in both fists a similar piece, brought it instantly forward and sideways with incognizable velocity and delivered such an immense wallop as smoothed The Young Pole horizontally to a distance of six feet; where he suddenly landed, stove-pipe and all, in a crash of entire collapse, having passed clear over The Zulu's bed. The Zulu, remarking:
floated hingingly to a sitting position and was saluted by 'Lie down, you Gottverdummer Polaker, I'll get you next'---in spite of which he gathered himself to rise upward, catching as he did so a swish of The Hollander's pipe-length which made his cigarette leap neatly, holder and all, upward and outward. The Young Pole had by this time recovered sufficiently to get upon his hands and knees behind The Zulu, who was hurriedly but calmly propelling himself in the direction of the cherished cigarette-holder, which had rolled under the remains of the stove. Bill the Hollander made for his enemy, raising perpendicularly ten feet in air the unrecognizably dented summit of the pipe which his colossal fists easily encompassed, the muscles in his tree-like arms rolling beneath the chemise like balloons. The Young Pole with a shriek of fear climbed The Zulu---receiving just as he had compassed this human hurdle a crack on the seat of his black pants that stood him directly upon his head. Pivoting slightly for an instant he fell loosely at full length on his own paillasse, and lay sobbing and roaring, one elbow protectingly raised, interspersing the inarticulations of woe with a number of sincerely uttered Assez!'s. Meanwhile The Zulu had discovered the whereabouts of his treasure, had driftingly resumed his original position; and was quietly inserting the also-captured cigarette which appeared somewhat confused by its violent aerial journey. Over The Young Pole stood toweringly Bill the Hollander, his shirt almost in ribbons about his thick, bulging neck, thundering as only Hollanders thunder:
'Have you got enough, you Gottverdummer Polak?' and The Young Pole, alternating nursing the mutilated pulp where his face had been and guarding it with futile and helpless and almost infantile gestures of his quivering hands, was sobbing:
'Oui, Oui, Oui, Assez!'
And Bill the Hollander hugely turned to The Zulu, stepping accurately to the paillasse of that individual, and demanded:
'And you, you Gottverdummer Polaker, do you want t' fight?'
at which The Zulu gently waved in recognition of the compliment and delicately and hastily replied, between slow puffs:
Whereat Bill the Hollander registered a disgusted kick in The Young Pole's direction and swearingly resumed his paillasse.
All this, the reader understands, having taken place in the terribly cold darkness of the half-dawn.
That very day, after a great deal of examination (on the part of the Surveillant) of the participants in this Homeric struggle---said examination failing to reveal the particular guilt or the particular innocence of either---Judas, immaculately attired in a white coat, arrived from downstairs with a step-ladder and proceeded with everyone's assistance to reconstruct the original tuyau. And a pretty picture Judas made. And a pretty bum job he made. But anyway the stove-pipe drew; and every one thanked God and fought for places about le poêle. And Monsieur Pet-airs hoped there would be no more fights for awhile.
One might think that The Young Pole had learned a lesson. But no. He had learned (it is true) to leave his immediate neighbour, America Lakes, to himself; but that is all he had learned. In a few days he was up and about, as full de la blague as ever. The Zulu seemed at times almost worried about him. They spoke together in Polish frequently and---on The Zulu's part---earnestly. As subsequent events proved, whatever counsel The Zulu imparted was wasted upon his youthful friend. But let us turn for a moment to The Zulu himself.
He could not, of course, write any language whatever. Two words of French he knew: they were fromage and chapeau. The former he pronounced 'grumidge.' In English his vocabulary was even more simple, consisting of the single word 'po-lees-man.' Neither B. nor myself understood a syllable of Polish (though we subsequently learned jin-dobri, nima-zatz, zampni-pisk and shimay pisk, and used to delight The Zulu hugely by giving him
every morning, also by asking him if be had a 'papierosa'); consequently in that direction the path of communication was to all intents shut. And withal---I say this not to astonish my reader but merely in the interests of truth---I have never in my life so perfectly understood (even to the most exquisite nuances) whatever idea another human being desired at any moment to communicate to me, as I have in the case of The Zulu. And I had one-third the command over the written word that he had over the unwritten and the unspoken---not merely that; over the unspeakable and the unwritable God knows this history would rank with the deep art of all time.
It may be supposed that he was master of an intricate and delicate system whereby ideas were conveyed through signs of various sorts. On the contrary. He employed signs more or less, but they were in every case extraordinarily simple. The secret of his means of complete and unutterable communication lay in that very essence which I have only defined as an IS; ended and began with an innate and unlearnable control over all which one can only describe as the homogeneously tactile. The Zulu, for example, communicated the following facts in a very few minutes, with unspeakable case, one day shortly after his arrival:
He had been formerly a Polish farmer, with a wife and four children. He had left Poland to come to France, where one earned more money. His friend (The Young Pole) accompanied him. They were enjoying life placidly in it may have been Brest---I forget---when one night the gendarmes suddenly broke into their room, raided it, turned it bottom-side up, handcuffed the two archcriminals wrist to wrist, and said, 'Come with us.' Neither The Zulu nor The Young Pole had the ghost of an idea what all this meant or where they were going. They had no choice but to obey, and obey they did. Every one boarded a train. Every one got out. Bill the Hollander and The Baby-snatcher appeared under escort, handcuffed to each other. They were immediately re-handcuffed to the Polish delegation. The four culprits were hustled, by rapid stages, through several small prisons to La Ferté Macé. During this journey (which consumed several nights and days) the handcuffs were not once removed. The prisoners slept sitting up or falling over one another. They urinated and defecated with the handcuffs on, all of them hitched together. At various times they complained to their captors that the agony caused by the swelling of their wrists was unbearable---this agony, being the result of over-tightness of the handcuffs, might easily have been relieved by one of the plantons without loss of time or prestige. Their complaints were greeted by commands to keep their mouths shut or they'd get it worse than they had it. Finally they hove in sight of La Ferté and the handcuffs were removed in order to enable two of the prisoners to escort The Zulu's box upon their shoulders, which said prisoners were only too happy to do under the circumstances. This box, containing not only The Zulu's personal effects but also a great array of cartridges, knives and heaven knows what extraordinary souvenirs which he had gathered from God knows where, was a strong point in the disfavour of The Zulu from the beginning; and was consequently brought along as evidence. Upon arriving all had been searched, the box included, and sent to The Enormous Room. The Zulu (at the conclusion of this dumb and eloquent recital) slipped his sleeve gently above his wrist and exhibited a bluish ring, at whose persistence upon the flesh he evinced great surprise and pleasure, winking happily to us. Several days later I got the same story from The Young Pole in French; but after some little difficulty due to linguistic misunderstandings, and only after a half hour's intensive conversation. So far as directness, accuracy and speed are concerned, between the method of language and the method of The Zulu there was not the slightest comparison.
Not long after The Zulu arrived I witnessed a mystery: it was toward the second Soupe, and B. and I were proceeding (our spoons in our hands) in the direction of the door, when beside us suddenly appeared The Zulu ---who took us by the shoulders gently and (after carefully looking about him) produced from, as nearly as one could see, his right ear a twenty-franc note, asking us in a few well-chosen silences to purchase with it confiture, fromage, and chocolat at the canteen. He silently apologized for encumbering us with these errands, averring that he had been found when he arrived to have no money upon him and consequently wished to keep intact this little tradition. We were only too delighted to assist so remarkable a prestidigitator---we scarcely knew him at that time and après la soupe we bought as requested, conveying the treasures to our bunks and keeping guard over them. About fifteen minutes after the planton had locked every one in The Zulu driftingly arrived before us; whereupon we attempted to give him his purchases---but be winked and told us wordlessly that we should (if we would be so kind) keep them for him, immediately following this suggestion by a request that we open the marmalade or jam or whatever it might be called---preserve is perhaps the best word. 'We complied with alacrity. Now (he said soundlessly), you may if you like offer me a little. We did. Now have some yourselves, The Zulu commanded. So we attacked the confiture with a will, spreading it on pieces, or rather chunks, of the brownish bread, whose faintly rotten odour is one element of the life at La Ferté which I, for one, find it easier to remember than to forget. And next, in similar fashion, we opened the cheese and offered some to our visitor; and finally the chocolate. Whereupon The Zulu rose up, thanked us tremendously for our gifts, and---winking solemnly---floated off.
Next day he told us that he wanted us to eat all we could of the delicacies we had purchased, whether or no he happened to be in the vicinity. He also informed us that when they were gone we should buy more until the twenty francs gave out. And, so generous were our appetites, it was not more than two or three weeks later that The Zulu, having discovered that our supplies were exhausted, produced from his back hair a neatly folded twenty-franc note; wherewith we invaded the canteen with renewed violence. About this time The Spy got busy and The Zulu, with The Young Pole for interpreter, was summoned to Monsieur le Directeur, who stripped The Zulu and searched every wrinkle and crevice of his tranquil anatomy for money (so The Zulu vividly informed us) ---finding not a sou. The Zulu, who vastly enjoyed the discomfiture of Monsieur, cautiously extracted (shortly after this) a twenty-franc note from the back of his neck, and presented it to us with extreme care. I may say that most of his money went for cheese, of which The Zulu was almost abnormally fond. Nothing more suddenly delightful has happened to me than happened, one day, when I was leaning from the next to the last window---the last being the property of users of the cabinet---of The Enormous Room, contemplating the muddy expanse below, and wondering how the Hollanders had ever allowed the last two windows to be opened. Margherite passed from the door of the building proper to the little washing shed. As the sentinel's back was turned I saluted her,' and she looked up and smiled pleasantly. And then---a hand leapt quietly outward from the wall, just to my right; the fingers clenched gently upon one half a newly-broken cheese; the hand moved silently in my direction cheese and all, pausing when perhaps six inches from my nose. I took the cheese from the hand, which departed as if by magic; and a little later had the pleasure of being joined at my window by The Zulu, who was brushing cheese crumbs from his long slender Mandarin moustaches, and who expressed profound astonishment and equally profound satisfaction upon noting that I too had been enjoying the pleasures of cheese. Not once, but several times, this Excalibur appearance startled myself and B.: in fact the extreme modesty and incomparable shyness of The Zulu found only in this procedure a satisfactory method of bestowing presents upon his two friends ... I would I could see that long hand once more, the sensitive fingers poised upon a half-Camembert; the bodiless arm swinging gently and surely with a derrick-like grace and certainty in my direction....
Not very long after The Zulu's arrival occurred an incident which I give with pleasure because it shows the dauntless and indomitable, not to say intrepid, stuff of which plantons are made. The single seau which supplied the (at this time) sixty-odd inhabitants of The Enormous Room with drinking water had done its duty, shortly after our arrival from the first Soupe, with such thoroughness as to leave a number of unfortunates (among whom I was one) waterless. The interval between soupe and promenade loomed darkly and thirstily before said unfortunates. As the minutes passed, it loomed with greater and greater distinctness. At the end of twenty minutes our thirst-stimulated by an especially salty dose of luke-warm water for lunch-attained truly desperate proportions. Several of the bolder thirsters leaned from the various windows of the room and cried
'De l'eau, planton; de l'eau, s'il vous plait'
upon which the guardian of the law looked up suspiciously; pausing a moment as if to identify the scoundrels whose temerity had so far got the better of their understanding as to lead them to address him, a planton, in familiar terms-and then grimly resumed his walk, gun on shoulder, revolver on hip, the picture of simple and unaffected majesty. Whereat, seeing that entreaties were of no avail, we put our seditious and dangerous heads together and formulated a very great scheme: to wit, the lowering of an empty tin-pail about eight inches high, which tin-pail had formerly contained confiture, which confiture had long since passed into the guts of Monsieur Auguste, The Zulu, B., myself, and---as The Zulu's friend---The Young Pole. Now this fiendish imitation of The Old Oaken Bucket That Hung In The Well was to be lowered to the good-hearted Margherite (who went to and fro from the door of the building to the washing-shed) ; who was to fill it for us at the pump situated directly under us in a cavernous chilly cave on the ground-floor, then re-hitch it to the rope, and guide its upward beginning. The rest was in the hands of Fate.
Bold might the planton be; we were no fainéants. We made a little speech to everyone in general desiring them to lend us their belts. The Zulu, the immensity of whose pleasure in this venture cannot be even indicated, stripped off his belt with unearthly agility---Monsieur Auguste gave his, which we tongue-holed to The Zulu's---somebody else contributed a necktie---another a shoe-string---The Young Pole his scarf, of which he was impossibly proud---etc. The extraordinary rope so constructed was now tried out in The Enormous Room, and found to be about thirty-eight feet long; or in other words of ample length, considering that the window itself was only three stories above terra firma. Margherite was put on her guard by signs, executed when the planton's back was turned (which it was exactly half the time, as the planton's patrol stretched at right angles to the wing of the building whose troisième étage we occupied). Having attached the minute bucket to one end (the stronger looking end, the end which had more belts and less neckties and handkerchiefs) of our improvised rope, B., Harree, myself and The Zulu bided our time at la fenêtre---then seizing a favourable opportunity, in enormous haste began paying out the infernal contrivance. Down went the sinful tin-pail, safely past the window-ledge just below us, straight and true into the waiting hands of the faithful Margherite---who had just received it and was on the point of undoing the bucket from the first belt when, lo! who should come in sight around the corner but the pimply faced, brilliantly-uniformed, glitteringly-putteed sergent de plantons lui-même. Such amazement as dominated his puny features I have rarely seen equalled. He stopped dead in his tracks; for one second stupidly contemplated the window, ourselves, the wall, seven neckties, five belts, three handkerchiefs, a scarf, two shoe-strings, the jam-pail, and Margherite---then, wheeling, noticed the planton (who peacefully and with dignity was pursuing a course which carried him further and further from the zone of operations) and finally, spinning around again, cried shrilly:
'Qu'est-ce que vous avez foutu avec cette machine-là? At which cry the planton staggered, rotated, brought his gun clumsily off his shoulder, and stared, trembling all over with emotion, at his superior.
'Là-bas!' screamed the pimply sergent de plantons, pointing fiercely in our direction.
Margherite, at his first command, had let go the jam-pail and sought shelter in the building. Simultaneously with her flight we all began pulling on the rope for dear life, making the bucket bound against the wall.
Upon hearing the dreadful exclamation 'Là-bas!' the planton almost fell down. With a supreme effort he turned toward the wing of the building. The sight which greeted his eyes caused him to excrete a single mouthful of vivid profanity, made him grip his gun like a hero, set every nerve in his noble and faithful body tingling. Apparently, however, he had forgotten completely his gun, which lay faithfully and expectingly in his two noble hands.
'Attention!' screamed the sergeant.
The planton did something to his gun very aimlessly and rapidly.
'FIRE!' shrieked the sergeant, scarlet with rage and mortification.
The planton, cool as steel, raised his gun.
'NOM DE DIEU TIREZ!'
The bucket, in big merry sounding jumps, was approaching the window below us.
The planton took aim, falling fearlessly on one knee, and closing both eyes. I confess that my blood stood on tip-toe; but what was death to the loss of that jam-bucket, let alone everyone's apparel which everyone had so generously lent? We kept on hauling silently. Out of the corner of my eye I beheld the planton---now on both knees, musket held to his shoulder by his left arm and pointing unflinchingly at us one and all---hunting with his right arm and hand in his belt for cartridges! A few seconds after this fleeting glimpse of heroic devotion had penetrated my considerably heightened sensitivity---up suddenly came the bucket and over backwards we all went together on the floor of The Enormous Room. And as we fell I beard a cry like the cry of a boiler announcing noon
I recollect that I lay on the floor for some minutes, half on top of The Zulu and three-quarters smothered by Monsieur Auguste, shaking with laughter ...
Then we all took to our hands and knees, and made for our bunks.
I believe no one (curiously enough) got punished for this atrocious misdemeanour---except the planton; who was punished for not shooting us, although God knows he had done his very best.
And now I must chronicle the famous duel which took place between The Zulu's compatriot, The Young Pole, and that herebefore introduced pimp, The Fighting Sheeney; a duel which came as a climax to a vast deal of teasing on the part of The Young Pole---who, as previously remarked, had not learned his lesson from Bill the Hollander with the thoroughness which one might have expected of him.
In addition to a bit of French and considerable Spanish, Rockyfeller's valet spoke Russian very (I did not have to be told) badly. The Young Pole, perhaps sore at being rolled on the floor of The Enormous Room by the worthy Sheeney, set about nagging him just as he had done in the case of neighbour Bill. His favourite epithet for the conqueror was 'moshki' or 'moski,' I never was sure which. Whatever it meant (The Young Pole and Monsieur Auguste informed me that it meant 'Jew' in a highly derogatory sense) its effect upon the noble Sheeney was definitely unpleasant. But when coupled with the word 'moskosi,' accent on the second syllable or long o, its effect was more than unpleasant---it was really disagreeable. At intervals throughout the day, on promenade, of an evening, the ugly phrase
resounded through The Enormous Room. The Fighting Sheeney, then rapidly convalescing from syphilis, bided his time. The Young Pole, moreover, had a way of jesting upon the subject of The Sheeney's infirmity. He would, particularly during the afternoon promenade, shout various none too subtle allusions to Moshki's physical condition for the benefit of les femmes. And in response would come peals of laughter from the girls' windows, shrill peals and deep guttural peals intersecting and breaking joints like overlapping shingles on the roof of Craziness. So hearty did these responses become one afternoon that, in answer to loud pleas from the injured Moshki, the pimply sergent de plantons himself came to the gate in the barbed-wire fence and delivered a lecture upon the seriousness of venereal ailments (heart-felt, I should judge by the looks of him) as follows:
'Il ne faut pas rigoler de ça. Savez-vous? C'est une maladie, ça,' which little sermon contrasted agreeably with his usual remarks concerning and in the presence of les femmes, whereof the essence lay in a single phrase of prepositional significance:
'bonne pour coucher avec'
he would say shrilly, his puny eyes assuming an expression of amorous wisdom which was most becoming.... The Sheeney looked sheepish, and waited.
One day we were all upon afternoon promenade, it being beau temps (for that part of the world), under the auspices of by all odds one of the littlest and mildest and most delicate specimens of mankind that ever donned the high and dangerous duties of a planton. As B. says: 'He always looked like a June bride.' This mannikin could not have been five feet high, was perfectly proportioned (unless we except the musket upon his shoulder and the bayonet at his belt), and minced to and fro with a feminine grace which suggested---at least to les deux citoyens of These United States---the extremely authentic epithet 'fairy.' He had such a pretty face! and so cute a moustache! and such darling legs! and such a wonderful smile! For plantonic purposes the smile---which brought two little dimples into his pink cheeks---was for the most part suppressed. However, it was impossible for this little thing to look stern: the best he could do was to look poignantly sad. Which he did with great success, standing like a tragic last piece of uneaten candy in his big box at the end of the cour, and eyeing the sinful hommes with sad eyes. 'Won't anyone eat me?---he seemed to ask.---I'm really delicious, you know, perfectly delicious, really I am.
To resume, everyone being in the cour the cour was well filled, not only from the point of view of space but of sound. A barn-yard crammed with pigs, cows, horses, ducks, geese, hens, cats and dogs could not possibly have produced one-fifth of the racket that emanated, spontaneously and inevitably, from the cour. Above which racket I heard tout à coup a roar of pain and surprise; and looking up, with some interest and also in some alarm, beheld The Young Pole backing and filling and slipping in the deep ooze under the strenuous jolts, jabs and even haymakers of The Fighting Sheeney; who, with his coat off and his cap off and his shirt open at the neck, was swatting luxuriously and for all he was worth that round helpless face and that peaches-and-cream complexion. From where I stood, at a distance of six or eight yards, the impact of The Sheeney's fist on The Young Pole's jaw and cheeks was disconcertingly audible. The latter made not the slightest attempt to defend himself, let alone retaliate; he merely skidded about, roaring, and clutching desperately out of harm's way his long white scarf, of which (as I have mentioned) he was extremely proud. But for the sheer brutality of the scene it would have been highly ludicrous. The Sheeney was swinging like a windmill and hammering like a blacksmith. His ugly head lowered, the chin protruding, lips drawn back in a snarl, teeth sticking forth like a gorilla's, he banged and smote that moon-shaped physiognomy as if his life depended upon utterly annihilating it. And annihilate it he doubtless would have, but for the prompt (not to say punctual) heroism of The June Bride---who, lowering his huge gun, made a rush for the fight; stopped at a safe distance; and began squeaking at the very top and even summit of his faint girlish voice:
'Aux armes! Aux armes!'
which plaintive and intrepid utterance by virtue of its very fragility penetrated the building and released The Black Holster---who bounded through the gate, roaring a salutation as he bounded, and in a jiffy had cuffed the participants apart. 'All right, whose fault is this!' he roared. And a number of highly reputable spectators such as Judas and The Fighting Sheeney himself said it was The Young Pole's fault. 'Allez! Au cabinot! De suite!' ---and off trickled the sobbing Young Pole, winding his great scarf comfortingly about him, to the dungeon.
Some few minutes later we encountered The Zulu speaking with Monsieur Auguste. Monsieur Auguste was very sorry. He admitted that The Young Pole had brought his punishment upon himself. But he was only a boy. The Zulu's reaction to the affair was absolutely profound: he indicated les femmes with one eye, his trousers with another, and converted his utterly plastic personality into an amorous machine for several seconds, thereby vividly indicating the root of the difficulty---then drifting softly off began playing hide-and-seek with the much delighted Little Man In The Orange Cap. That the stupidity of his friend The Young Pole hurt The Zulu deeply I discovered by looking at him as he lay in bed the next morning, limply and sorrowfully prone; beside him the empty paillasse which meant cabinot ... his perfectly extraordinary face (a face perfectly at once fluent and angular, expressionless and sensitive) told me many things whereof even The Zulu might not speak, things which in order entirely to suffer he kept carefully and thoroughly ensconced behind his rigid and mobile eyes.
From the day that The Young Pole emerged from cabinot he was our friend. The blague had been at last knocked out of him, thanks to Un Mangeur de Blanc, as the little Machine-Fixer expressively called The Fighting Sheeney. Which mangeur, by the way (having been exonerated from all blame by the more enlightened spectators of the unequal battle) strode immediately and ferociously over to B. and me, a hideous grin crackling upon the coarse surface of his mug, and demanded---hiking at the front of his trousers
'Bon, eh? Bien fait, eh?
and a few days later asked us for money, even hinting that he would be pleased to become our special protector. I think, as a matter of fact, we 'lent' him one-eighth of what he wanted (perhaps we lent him five cents) in order to avoid trouble and get rid of him. At any rate he didn't bother us particularly afterwards; and if a nickel could accomplish that a nickel should be proud of itself.
And always, through the falling greyness of the desolate Autumn, The Zulu was beside us, or wrapped around a tree in the cour, or melting in a post after tapping Mexique, or suffering from toothache---God, I wish I could see him expressing for us the wickedness of toothache or losing his shoes and finding them under Garibaldi's bed (with a huge perpendicular wink which told tomes about Garibaldi's fatal propensities for ownership), or marvelling silently at the power of les femmes à propos his young friend---who, occasionally resuming his former bravado, would stand in the black evil rain with his white warm scarf twined about him, singing as of old:
'Je suis content
pour mettre dedans
suis pas pressé
ah-la-la-la. . .'
... And The Zulu came out of la commission with identically the expressionless expression which he had carried into it; and God knows what the Three Wise Men found out about him, but (whatever it was) they never found and never will find that Something whose discovery was worth to me more than all the round and powerless money of the world---limbs' tin grace, wooden wink, shoulder-less, unhurried body, velocity of a grasshopper, soul up under his arm-pits, mysteriously falling over the ownness of two feet, floating fish of his slimness half a bird....
Gentlemen, I am inexorably grateful for the gift of these ignorant and indivisible things.
LET us ascend the third Delectable Mountain, which is called Surplice.
I will admit, in the beginning, that I never knew Surplice. This for the simple reason that I am unwilling to know except as a last resource. And it is by contrast with Harree the Hollander, whom I knew, and Judas, whom I knew, that I shall be able to give you (perhaps) a little of Surplice, whom I did not know. For that matter I think Monsieur Auguste was the only person who might possibly have known him; and I doubt whether Monsieur Auguste was capable of descending to such depths in the case of so fine a person as Surplice.
Take a sheer animal of a man. Take the incredible Hollander with cobalt-blue breeches, shock of orange hair, pasted over forehead, pink long face, twenty-six years old, had been in all the countries of all the world: 'Australia girl fine girl---Japanese girl cleanest girl of the world---Spanish girl all right---English girl no good, no face---everywhere these things: Norway sailors, German girls, Swedisher matches, Holland candles'. . . had been to Philadelphia, worked on a yacht for a millionaire; knew and had worked in the Krupp factories; was on two boats torpedoed and one which struck a mine when in sight of shore through the 'looking-glass': 'Holland almost no soldier---India' (the Dutch Indies) 'nice place; always warm there, I was in cavalry; if you kill a man or steal one hundred franc or anything, in prison twenty-four hours; every week black girl sleep with you because government want white children, black girl fine girl, always doing something, your finger-nails or clean your cars or make wind because it's hot.... No one can beat German people; if Kaiser tell man to kill his father and mother he do it quick!'---the tall, strong, coarse vital youth who remarked:
'I sleep with black girl who smoke a pipe in the night.'
Take this animal. You hear him, you are afraid of him, you smell and you see him and you know him---but you do not touch him.
Or a man who makes us thank God for animals, Judas as we called him: who keeps his moustaches in press during the night (by means of a kind of transparent frame which is held in place by a band over his head); who grows the nails of his two little fingers with infinite care; has two girls with both of whom he flirts carefully and wisely, without ever once getting into trouble; talks in French; converses in Belgian; can speak eight languages, and is therefore always useful to Monsieur le Surveillant ---Judas with his shining horrible forehead, pecked with little indentures; with his Reynard full-face---Judas with his pale almost putrescent fatty body in the douche---Judas with whom I talked one night about Russia, he wearing my pelisse---the frightful and impeccable Judas: take this man. You see him, you smell the hot stale odour of Judas's body; you are not afraid of him, in fact you hate him; you hear him and you know him. But you do not touch him.
And now take Surplice, whom I see and hear and smell and touch and even taste, and whom I do not know.
Take him in dawn's soft squareness, gently stooping to pick chewed cigarette-ends from the spitty floor ... hear him, all night; retchings which light into the dark ... see him all day and all days, collecting his soaked ends and stuffing them gently into his round pipe (when he can find none he smokes tranquilly little splinters of wood) ... watch him scratching his back (exactly like a bear) on the wall ... or in the cour, speaking to no one, sunning his soul....
He is, we think, Polish. Monsieur Auguste is very kind to him, Monsieur Auguste can understand a few words of his language and thinks they mean to be Polish. That they are trying hard to be and never can be Polish.
Everyone else roars at him, Judas refers to him before his face as a dirty pig, Monsieur Peters cries angrily:
'Il ne faut pas cracher par terre,'
eliciting a humble not to say abject apology; the Belgians spit on him; the Hollanders chaff him and bulldoze him now and then, crying 'Syph'lis'---at which he corrects them with offended majesty
'Pas syph'lis, Surplice'
causing shouts of laughter from everyone---of nobody can he say My Friend, of no one has he ever said or will he ever say My Enemy.
'When there is labour to do he works like a dog ... the day we had nettoyage de chambre, for instance, and Surplice and The Hat did most of the work; and B. and I were caught by the planton trying to stroll out into the cour ... every morning he takes the pail of solid excrement down, without anyone's suggesting that he take it; takes it as if it were his, empties it in the sewer just beyond the cour des femmes, or pours a little (just a little) very delicately on the garden where Monsieur le Directeur is growing a flower for his daughter---he has, in fact, an unobstreperous affinity for excrement; he lives in it; he is shaggy and spotted and blotched with it; he sleeps in it; he puts it in his pipe and says it is delicious....
And he is intensely religious, religious with a terrible and exceedingly beautiful and absurd intensity ... every Friday he will be found sitting on a little kind of stool by his paillasse, reading his prayer-book upside down; turning with enormous delicacy the thin difficult leaves, smiling to himself as he sees and does not read. Surplice is actually religious, and so are Garibaldi, and I think The Woodchuck (a little dark sad man who spits blood with regularity) ; by which I mean they go to la messe for la messe, whereas everyone else goes pour voir les femmes. And I don't know for certain why The Woodchuck goes, but I think it's because he feels entirely sure he will die. And Garibaldi is afraid, immensely afraid. And Surplice goes in order to be surprised, surprised by the amazing gentleness and delicacy of God---Who put him, Surplice, upon his knees in La Ferté Macé, knowing that Surplice would appreciate His so doing.
He is utterly ignorant. He thinks America is out of a particular window on your left as you enter The Enormous Room. He cannot understand the submarine. He does not know that there is a war. On being informed upon these subjects he is unutterably surprised, he is inexpressibly astonished. He derives huge pleasure from this astonishment. His filthy rather proudly noble face radiates the pleasure he receives upon being informed that people are killing people for nobody knows what reason, that boats go under water and fire six-foot-long bullets at ships, that America is not really just outside this window close to which we are talking, that America is in fact over the sea. The sea: is that water?---'c'est de l'eau, monsieur?'
Ah: a great quantity of water; enormous amounts of water, water and then water; water and water and water and water and water. 'Ah! You cannot see the other side of this water, monsieur? Wonderful, monsieur!'---He meditates it, smiling quietly; its wonder, how wonderful it is, no other side, and yet---the sea. In which fish swim. Wonderful.
He is utterly curious. He is utterly hungry. We have bought cheese with The Zulu's money. Surplice comes up, bows timidly and ingratiatingly with the demeanour of a million-times whipped but somewhat proud dog. He smiles. He says nothing, being terribly embarrassed. To help his embarrassment, we pretend we do not see him. That makes things better:
'Oui, c'est du fromage.'
'Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h....' his astonishment is supreme. C'est du fromage. He ponders this. After a little
'Monsieur, c'est bon, monsieur?' asking the question as if his very life depended on the answer---'Yes, it is good,' we tell him reassuringly.
He is once more superlatively happy. It is good, le fromage. Could anything be more superbly amazing? After perhaps a minute:
'Monsieur---monsieur---c'est cher le fromage?'
'Very,' we tell him truthfully. He smiles, blissfully astonished. Then, with extreme delicacy and the utmost timidity conceivable:
'Monsieur, combien ça coute, monsieur?'
'We tell him. He totters with astonishment and happiness.
Only now, as if we had just conceived the idea, we say carelessly:
He straightens, thrilled from the top of his rather beautiful filthy head to the soleless slippers with which he promenades in rain and frost:
We cut him a piece. He takes it quiveringly, holds it a second as a king might hold and contemplate the best and biggest jewel of his realm, turns with profuse thanks to us---and disappears....
He is perhaps most curious of this pleasantly sounding thing which everyone around him, everyone who curses and spits upon and bullies him, desires with a terrible desire---Liberté. When anyone departs Surplice is in an ecstasy of quiet excitement. The lucky man may be Fritz; for whom Bathhouse John is taking up a collection as if he, Fritz, were a Hollander and not a Dane---for whom Bathhouse John is striding hither and thither, shaking a hat into which we drop coins for Fritz; Bathhouse John, chipmunk-cheeked, who talks Belgian, French, English and Dutch in his dreams, who has been two years in La Ferté (and they say he declined to leave, once, when given the chance), who cries 'baigneur de femmes, moi,' and every night hoists himself into his wooden bunk crying 'goo-dni-te'; whose favourite joke is 'une section pour les femmes'; which he shouts occasionally in the cour as he lifts his paper-soled slippers and stamps in the freezing mud, chuckling and blowing his nose on the Union Jack and now Fritz, beaming with joy, shakes hands and thanks us all and says to me, 'Good-bye, Johnny,' and waves and is gone for ever---and behind me I hear a timid voice:
'Monsieur, Liberté?' and I say Yes, feeling that Yes in my belly and in my head at the same instant; and Surplice stands beside me, quietly marvelling, extremely happy, uncaring that le parti did not think to say good-bye to him. Or it may be Harree and Pom-Pom, who are running to and fro shaking bands with everybody in the wildest state of excitement, and I hear a voice behind me:
'Liberté, monsieur? Liberté?' and I say No, Précigné, feeling weirdly depressed, and Surplice is standing to my left, contemplating the departure of the incorrigibles with interested disappointment---Surplice of whom no man takes any notice when that man leaves, be it for Hell or Paradise....
And once a week the maître de chambre throws soap on the paillasses, and I hear a voice:
'Monsieur, voulez pas?' and Surplice is asking that we give him our soap to wash with.
Sometimes, when he has made que1ques sous by washing for others, he stalks quietly to The Butcher's chair (everyone else who wants a shave having been served) and receives with shut eyes and a patient expression the blade of The Butcher's dullest razor---for The Butcher is not the man to waste a good razor on Surplice; he, The Butcher as we call him, the successor of the Frog (who one day somehow managed to disappear like his predecessor The Barber), being a thug and a burglar fond of telling us pleasantly about German towns and prisons, prisons where men are not allowed to smoke, clean prisons where there is a daily medical inspection, where anyone who thinks he has a grievance of any sort has the right of immediate and direct appeal; he, The Butcher, being perhaps happiest when he can spend an evening showing us little parlour-tricks fit for children of four and three years old; quite at his best when he remarks:
'Sickness doesn't exist in France,' meaning that one is either well or dead; or
'If they (the French) get an inventor they put him in prison.'
---So The Butcher is stooping heavily upon Surplice and slicing and gashing busily and carelessly, his thick lips stuck a little pursewise, his buried pig's eyes glistening---and in a moment he cries 'Fini!' and poor Surplice rises unsteadily, horribly slashed, bleeding from at least three two-inch cuts and a dozen large scratches; totters over to his couch holding on to his face as if he were afraid it would fall off any moment; and lies down gently at full length, sighing with pleasurable surprise, cogitating the inestimable delights of cleanness....
It struck me at the time as intensely interesting that, in the case of a certain type of human being, the more cruel are the miseries inflicted upon him the more cruel does he become toward anyone who is so unfortunate as to be weaker or more miserable than himself. Or perhaps I should say that nearly every human being, given sufficiently miserable circumstances, will from time to time react to those very circumstances (whereby his own personality is mutilated) through a deliberate mutilation on his own part of a weaker or already more mutilated personality. I daresay that this is perfectly obvious. I do not pretend to have made a discovery. On the contrary, I merely state what interested me peculiarly in the course of my sojourn at La Ferté: I mention that I was extremely moved to find that, however busy sixty men may be kept suffering in common, there is always one man or two or three men who can always find time to make certain of their comrades enjoying a little extra suffering. In the case of Surplice, to be the butt of everyone's ridicule could not be called precisely suffering; inasmuch as Surplice, being unspeakably lonely, enjoyed any and all insults for the simple reason that they constituted or at least implied a recognition of his existence. To be made a fool of was, to this otherwise completely neglected individual, a mark of distinction; something to take pleasure in; to be proud of. The inhabitants of The Enormous Room had given to Surplice a small but essential part in the drama of La Misère: he would play that part to the utmost of his ability; the cap-and-bells should not grace a head unworthy of their high significance. He would be a great fool, since that was his function; a supreme entertainer, since his duty was to amuse. After all, men in La Misère as well as anywhere else rightly demand a certain amount of amusement; amusement is, indeed, peculiarly essential to suffering; in proportion as we are able to be amused we are able to suffer; I, Surplice, am a very necessary creature after all.
I recall one day when Surplice beautifully demonstrated his ability to play the fool. Someone had crept up behind him as he was stalking to and fro, head in air proudly, hands in pockets, pipe in teeth, and had (after several heart-breaking failures) succeeded in attaching to the back of his jacket by means of a pin a huge placard carefully prepared beforehand, bearing the numerical inscription in vast writing. The attacher, having accomplished his difficult feat, crept away. So soon as he reached his paillasse a volley of shouts went up from all directions, shouts in which all nationalities joined, shouts or rather jeers which made the pillars tremble and the windows rattle
'SIX CENT SIX! SYPH'LIS!'
Surplice started from his reverie, removed his pipe from his lips, drew himself up proudly, and---facing one after another the sides of The Enormous Room---blustered in his bad and rapid French accent:
'Pas syph'lis! Pas syph'lis!'
at which, rocking with mirth, everyone responded at the top of his voice
'SIX CENT SIX!'
Whereat, enraged, Surplice made a dash at Pete the Shadow and was greeted by:
'Get away, you bloody Polak, or I'll give you something you'll be sorry for'---this from the lips of America Lakes. Cowed, but as majestic as ever, Surplice attempted to resume his promenade and his composure together. The din bulged:
'Six cent six! Syph'lis! Six cent six!'
---increasing in volume with every instant. Surplice, beside himself with rage, rushed another of his fellow-captives (a little old man, who fled under the table) and elicited threats of:
'Come on now, you Polak hoor, and quit that business or I'll kill you,' upon which he dug his hands into, the pockets of his almost transparent pantaloons and marched away in a fury, literally frothing at the mouth.
'Six cent six!'
everyone cried. Surplice stamped with wrath and mortification. 'C'est dommage,' Monsieur Auguste said gently beside me. 'C'est un bon-homme, le pauvre, il ne faut pas l'em-merd-er.'
'Look behind you!' somebody yelled. Surplice wheeled, exactly like a kitten trying to catch its own tail, and provoked thunders of laughter. Nor could anything at once more pitiful and ridiculous, more ludicrous and horrible, be imagined.
'On your coat!' 'Look on your jacket!'
Surplice bent backward, staring over his left then his right shoulder, pulled at his jacket first one way then the other---thereby making his improvised tail to wag, which sent The Enormous Room into spasms of merriment---finally caught sight of the incriminating appendage, pulled his coat to the left, seized the paper, tore it off, threw it fiercely down, and stamped on the crumpled 606; spluttering and blustering and waving his arms; slavvering like a mad dog. Then he faced the most prominently vociferous corner and muttered thickly and crazily:
Then he strode rapidly to his paillasse and lay down; in which position I caught him, a few minutes later, smiling and even chuckling ... very happy ... as only an actor is happy whose efforts have been greeted with universal applause....
In addition to being called 'Syph'lis' he was popularly known as 'Chaude-Pisse, the Pole.' If there is anything particularly terrifying about prisons, or at least imitations of prisons such as La Ferté, it is possibly the utter obviousness with which (quite unknown to themselves) the prisoners demonstrate willy-nilly certain fundamental psychological laws. The case of Surplice is a very exquisite example: everyone, of course, is afraid of les maladies vénériennes---accordingly all pick an individual (of whose inner life they know and desire to know nothing, whose external appearance satisfies the requirements of the mind à propos what is foul and disgusting) and, having tacitly agreed upon this individual as a Symbol of all that is evil, proceed to heap insults upon him and enjoy his very natural discomfiture ... but I shall remember Surplice on his both knees sweeping sacredly together the spilled sawdust from a spittoon-box knocked over by the heel of the omnipotent planton; and smiling as he smiled at la messe when Monsieur le Curé told him that there was always Hell....
He told us one day a great and huge story of an important incident in his life, as follows n:
'Monsieur, réformé moi---oui monsieur-réformé---travaille, beaucoup de monde, maison, très haute, troisième étage, tout le monde, planches, en haut---planches pas bonnes---chancelle, tout'--(here he began to stagger and rotate before us) 'commence à tomber---tombe, tombe, tout, tous, vingt-sept hommes-briques-planches-brouettes-tous---dix mètres---zuhzuhzuhzubzuh POOM!---tout le monde blessé, tout le monde tué, pas moi, réformé---oui monsieur'---and he smiled, rubbing his head foolishly. Twenty-seven men, bricks, planks and wheelbarrows....
Also he told us, one night, in his gentle, crazy, shrugging voice, that once upon a time he played the fiddle with a big woman in Alsace-Lorraine for fifty francs a night; 'C'est la misère'---adding quietly, 'I can play well, I can play anything, I can play n'importe quoi.'
Which I suppose and guess I scarcely believed---until one afternoon a man brought up a harmonica which he had purchased en ville; and the man tried it; and everyone tried it; and it was perhaps the cheapest instrument and the poorest that money can buy, even in the fair country of France; and everyone was disgusted---but, about six o'clock in the evening, a voice came from behind the last experimenter; a timid hasty voice:
'Monsieur, monsieur, permettez?' the last experimenter turned, and to his amazement saw Chaude-Pisse the Pole, whom everyone had (of course) forgotten
The man tossed the harmonica on the table with a scornful look (a menacingly scornful look) at the object of universal execration; and turned his back. Surplice, trembling from the summit of his filthy and beautiful bead to the naked soles of his filthy and beautiful feet, covered the harmonica delicately and surely with one shaking paw; seated himself with a surprisingly deliberate and graceful gesture; closed his eyes, upon whose lashes there were big filthy tears ...
... and suddenly:
He put the harmonica softly upon the table. He rose. He went quickly to his paillasse. He neither moved nor spoke nor responded to the calls for more music, to the cries of 'Bis!'---'Bien joué!'---'Allez!'---'Va-z-y!' He was crying, quietly and carefully, to himself ... quietly and carefully crying, not wishing to annoy anyone.. . hoping that people could not see that Their Fool had temporarily failed in his part.
The following day he was up as usual before anyone else, hunting for chewed cigarette-ends on the spitty, slippery floor of The Enormous Room; ready for insult, ready for ridicule, for buffets, for curses.
One evening, some days after everyone who was fit for la commission had enjoyed the privilege of examination by that inexorable and delightful body---one evening very late., in fact just before lumières éteintes, a strange planton arrived in The Enormous Room and hurriedly read a list of five names, adding:
'Partir demain de bonne heure,' and shut the door behind him. Surplice was, as usual, very interested, enormously interested. So were we: for the names respectively belonged to Monsieur Auguste, Monsieur Pet-airs, The Wanderer, Surplice, and The Spoonman. These men had been judged. These men were going to Précigné. These men would be prisonniers pour la durée de la guerre.
I have already told how Monsieur Pet-airs sat with the frantically weeping Wanderer writing letters, and sniffing with his big red nose, and saying from time to time: 'Be a man, Demestre, don't cry, crying does no good.'---Monsieur Auguste was broken-hearted. We did our best to cheer him; we gave him a sort of Last Supper at our bedside, we heated some red wine in, the tin-cup and he drank with us. We presented him with certain tokens of our love and friendship, including---I remember---a huge cheese ... and then, before us, trembling with excitement, stood Surplice---
We asked him to sit down. The onlookers (there were always onlookers at every function, however personal, which involved Food or Drink) scowled and laughed. Le con, Surplice, chaude-pisse---how could he sit with men and gentlemen? Surplice sat down gracefully and lightly on one of our beds, taking care not to strain the somewhat capricious mechanism thereof; sat very proudly; erect; modest but unfearful. We offered him a cup of wine. A kind of huge convulsion gripped, for an instant, fiercely his entire face: then he said in a whisper of sheer and unspeakable wonderment, leaning a little toward us with out in any way suggesting that the question might have an affirmative answer:
"Pour moi, monsieur?'
We smiled at him and said, 'Prenez, monsieur.' His eyes opened. I have never seen eyes since. He remarked quietly, extending one hand with majestic delicacy:
... Before he left B. gave him some socks and I presented him with a flannel shirt, which he took softly and slowly and simply and otherwise not as an American would take a million dollars.
'I will not forget you,' he said to us, as if in his own country he were a more than very great king ... and I think I know where that country is, I think I know this; I, who never knew Surplice, know.
For he has the territory of harmonicas, the acres of flutes, the meadows of clarinets, the domain of violins. And God says: Why did they put you in prison? What did you do to the people? 'I made them dance and they put me in prison. The soot-people hopped; and to twinkle like sparks on a chimney-back and I made 80 francs every dimanche, and beer and wine, and to eat well. Maintenant . . . c'est fini.... Et tout de suite' (gesture of cutting himself in two) 'la tête.' And He says: O you who put the jerk into joys, come up hither. There's a man up here called Christ who likes the violin.
ON a certain day, the ringing of the bell and accompanying rush of men to the window facing the entrance gate was supplemented by an unparalleled volley of enthusiastic exclamations in all the languages of La Ferté Macé---provoking in me a certainty that the queen of fair women had arrived. This certainly thrillingly withered when I heard the cry: 'Il y a un noir!' Fritz was at the best peep-hole, resisting successfully the onslaughts of a dozen fellow-prisoners, and of him I demanded in English, 'Who's come?'---'Oh, a lot of girls,' he yelled, 'and there's a NIGGER too'---hereupon writhing with laughter.
I attempted to get a look, but in vain; for by this at least two dozen men were at the peep-hole, fighting and gesticulating and slapping each other's backs with joy. However, my curiosity was not long in being answered. I heard on the stairs the sound of mounting feet, and knew that a couple of plantons would before many minutes arrive at the door with their new prey. So did everyone else and from the farthest beds uncouth figures sprang and rushed to the door, eager for the first glimpse of the nouveau: which was very significant, as the ordinary procedure on arrival of prisoners was for everybody to rush to his own bed and stand guard over it.
Even as the plantons fumbled with the locks I heard the inimitable, unmistakable divine laugh of a negro. The door opened at last. Entered a beautiful pillar of black strutting muscle topped with a tremendous display of the whitest teeth on earth. The muscle bowed politely in our direction, the grin remarked musically; 'Bo'jour, tou't'monde'; then came a cascade of laughter. Its effect on the spectators was instantaneous: they roared and danced with joy. 'Comment vous appelez-vous?' was fired from the hubbub.---'J'mappelle Jean, moi,' the muscle rapidly answered with sudden solemnity, proudly gazing to left and right as if expecting a challenge to this statement: but when none appeared, it relapsed as suddenly into laughter---as if hugely amused at itself and everyone else including a little and tough boy, whom I had not previously noted, although his entrance had coincided with the muscle's.
Thus into the misère of La Ferté Macé stepped lightly and proudly Jean Le Nègre.
Of all the fine people in La Ferté, Monsieur Jean ('le noir' as he was entitled by his enemies) swaggers in my memory as the finest.
Jean's first act was to complete the distribution (begun, he announced, among the plantons who had escorted him upstairs) of two pockets full of Cubebs. Right and left he gave them up to the last, remarking carelessly, 'J'ne veux, moi.'
Après la soupe (which occurred a few minutes after le noir's entry) B. and I and the greater number of prisoners descended to the cour for our afternoon promenade. The cook spotted us immediately, and desired us to 'catch water'; which we did, three cartfulls of it, earning our usual café sucré. On quitting the cuisine after this delicious repast (which as usual mitigated somewhat the effects of the swill that was our official nutriment) we entered the cour. And we noticed at once a well-made figure standing conspicuously by itself, and poring with extraordinary intentness over the pages of a London Daily Mail which it was holding upside-down. The reader was culling choice bits of news of a highly sensational nature, and exclaiming from time to time---'Est-ce vrai! V'la, le roi d'Angleterre est malade. Quelque chose!---Comment? La reine aussi? Bon Dieu! Qu'est-ce que c'est? ---Mon père est mort! Merde!---Eh, b'en! La guerre est fini. Bon.'---It was Jean Le Nègre, playing a little game with himself to beguile the time.
When we had mounted à la chambre, two or three tried to talk with this extraordinary personage in French; at which he became very superior and announced: 'J'suis anglais, moi. Parlez anglais. Comprends pas français, moi.' At this a crowd escorted him over to B. and me anticipating great deeds in the English language. Jean looked at us critically and said, 'Vous parlez anglais? Moi parlez anglais.'---'We are Americans, and speak English,' I answered.---'Moi anglais,' Jean said. 'Mon père, capitaine de gendarmerie, Londres. Comprends pas français, moi. SPEE-Kingliss;---he laughed all over himself.
At this display of English on Jean's part the English-speaking Hollanders began laughing. 'The son of a bitch is crazy,' one said.
And from that moment B. and I got on famously with Jean.
His mind was a child's. His use of language was sometimes exalted fibbing, sometimes the purely picturesque. He courted above all the sound of words, more or less disdaining their meaning. He told us immediately (in pidgin-French) that he was born without a mother because his mother died when he was born, that his father was (first) sixteen (then) sixty years old, that his father gagnait cinq cent francs par jour (later, par année), that he was born in London and not in England, that he was in the French army and had never been in any army.
He did not, however, contradict himself in one statement: 'Les français sont des cochons'---to which we heartily agreed, and which won him the approval of the Hollanders.
The next day I had my hands full acting as interpreter for 'le noir qui comprend pas français! I was summoned from the cour to elucidate a great grief which Jean had been unable to explain to the Gestionnaire. I mounted with a planton to find Jean in hysterics; speechless; his eyes starting out of his head. As nearly as I could make out, Jean had had sixty francs when he arrived, which money he had given to a planton upon his arrival, the planton having told Jean that he would deposit the money with the Gestionnaire in Jean's name (Jean could not write). The planton in question, who looked particularly innocent, denied this charge upon my explaining Jean's version; while the Gestionnaire puffed and grumbled, disclaiming any connection with the alleged theft and protesting sonorously that he was hearing about Jean's sixty francs for the first time. The Gestionnaire shook his thick piggish finger at the book wherein all financial transactions were to be found---from the year one to the present year, month, day, hour and minute (or words to that effect) . 'Mais c'est pas là,' he kept repeating stupidly. The Surveillant was uh-ahing at a great rate and attempting to pacify Jean in French. I myself was somewhat fearful for Jean's sanity and highly indignant at the planton. The matter ended with the planton's being sent about his business; simultaneously with Jean's dismissal to the cour, whither I accompanied him. My best efforts to comfort Jean in this matter were quite futile. Like a child who has been unjustly punished he was inconsolable. Great tears welled in his eyes. He kept repeating 'Sees-tee franc -planton voleur,' and-absolutely like a child who in anguish calls itself by the name which has been given itself by grown-ups---'steel Jean munee.' To no avail I called the planton a menteur, a voleur, a fils de chienne and various other names. Jean felt the wrong itself too keenly to be interested in my denunciation of the mere agent through whom injustice had (as it happened) been consummated.
But---again like an inconsolable child who weeps his heart out when no human comfort avails and wakes the next day without an apparent trace of the recent grief---Jean Le Nègre, in the course of the next twenty-four hours, had completely recovered his normal buoyancy of spirit. The sees-tee franc were gone. A wrong had been done. But that was yesterday. To-day---
And he wandered up and down, joking, laughing, singing:
'après la guerre fini? ...
In the cour Jean was the mecca of all female eyes. Handkerchiefs were waved to him; phrases of the most amorous nature greeted his every appearance. To all these demonstrations he by no means turned a deaf ear; on the contrary, Jean was irrevocably vain. He boasted of having been enormously popular with the girls wherever he went and of having never disdained their admiration. In Paris one day--- (and thus it happened that we discovered why le gouvernement français had arrested Jean)---
One afternoon, having rien à faire, and being flush (owing to his success as a thief, of which vocation he made a great deal, adding as many ciphers to the amounts as fancy dictated) Jean happened to cast his eyes in a store window where were displayed all possible appurtenances for the militaire. Vanity was rooted deeply in Jean's soul. The uniform of an English captain met his eyes. Without a moment's hesitation he entered the store, bought the entire uniform, including leather puttees and belt (of the latter purchase he was especially proud), and departed. The next store contained a display of medals of all descriptions. It struck Jean at once that a uniform would be incomplete without medals. He entered this store, bought one of every decoration---not forgetting the Colonial, nor yet the Belgian Cross (which on account of its size and colour particularly appealed to him) ---and went to his room. There he adjusted the decorations on the chest of his blouse, donned the uniform, and sallied importantly forth to capture Paris.
Everywhere he met with success. He was frantically pursued by women of all stations from les putains to les princesses. The police salaamed to him. His arm was wearied with the returning of innumerable salutes. So far did his medals carry him that, although on one occasion a gendarme dared to arrest him for beating in the head of a fellow English officer (who being a mere lieutenant, should not have objected to Captain Jean's stealing the affections of his lady), the sergent de gendarmerie before whom Jean was arraigned on a charge of attempting to kill refused to even hear the evidence, and dismissed the case with profuse apologies to the heroic Captain. '"Le gouvernement français, Monsieur, extends to you through me its profound apology for the insult which your honour has received." Ils sont des cochons, les français,' said Jean, and laughed throughout his entire body.
Having had the most blue-blooded ladies of the capital cooing upon his heroic chest, having completely beaten up with the full support of the law whosoever of lesser rank attempted to cross his path or refused him the salute---having had 'great fun' saluting generals on les grands boulevards and being in turn saluted ('tous les généraux, tous, salute me, Jean have more medal'), and this state of affairs having lasted for about three months---Jean began to be very bored ('me très ennuyé). A fit of temper ('me très fâché') arising from this ennui led to a rixe with the police, in consequence of which (Jean, though outnumbered three to one, having almost killed one of his assailants) our hero was a second time arrested. This time the authorities went so far as to ask the heroic captain to what branch of the English army he was at present attached; to which Jean first replied, 'Parle pas français, moi,' and immediately after announced that he was a Lord of the Admiralty, that he had committed robberies in Paris to the tune of sees-meel-i-own franc, that he was a son of the Lord Mayor of London by the Queen, that he had lost a leg in Algeria, and that the French were cochons. All of which assertions being duly disproved, Jean was remanded to La Ferté for psychopathic observation and safe keeping on the technical charge of wearing an English officer's uniform.
Jean's particular girl at La Ferté was 'LOO-Loo. "With Lulu it was the same as with les princesses in Paris---'me no travaille, ja MAIS. Les femmes travaillent, geev Jean mun-ee, sees, sees-tee, see-cent francs. jamais travaille, moi.' Lulu smuggled Jean money; and not for some time did the woman who slept next Lulu miss it. Lulu also sent Jean a lace embroidered handkerchief, which Jean would squeeze and press to his lips with a beatific smile of perfect contentment. The affair with Lulu kept Mexique and Pete the Hollander busy writing letters; which Jean dictated, rolling his eyes and scratching his head for words.
At this time Jean was immensely happy. He was continually playing practical jokes on one of the Hollanders, or Mexique, or the Wanderer, or in fact anyone of whom he was particularly fond. At intervals between these demonstrations of irrepressibility (which kept everyone in a state of laughter) he would stride up and down the filth-sprinkled floor with his hands in the pockets of his stylish jacket, singing at the top of his lungs his own version of the famous song of songs:
après la guerre fini,
soldat anglais parti
mademoiselle que je laissai en France
avec des pickaninee. PLENTY!
and laughing till he shook and had to lean against a wall.
B. and Mexique made some dominoes. Jean had not the least idea of how to play, but when we three had gathered for a game he was always to be found leaning over our shoulders, completely absorbed, once in a while offering us sage advice, laughing utterly when some one made a cinque or a multiple thereof.
One afternoon, in the interval between la soupe and promenade, Jean was in especially high spirits. I was lying down on my collapsible bed when he came up to my end of the room and began showing off exactly like a child.
This time it was the game of l'armée française which Jean was playing.---'Jamais soldat, moi. Connais toute l'armée française.' John the Bathman, stretched comfortably in his bunk near me, grunted. 'Tous,' Jean repeated.---And he stood in front of us; stiff as a stick in imitation of a French lieutenant with an imaginary company in front of him. First he would be the lieutenant giving commands, then he would be the Army executing them. He began with the manual of arms.
'Com-pag-nie. ..'then, as he went through the manual holding his imaginary gun---'htt, htt, htt.'---Then as the officer commending his troops: 'Bon. Très bon. Très bien fait'---laughing with head thrown back and teeth aglitter at his own success. John Le Baigneur was so tremendously amused that he gave up sleeping to watch. L'armée drew a crowd of admirers from every side. For at least three-quarters of an hour this game went on....
Another day Jean, being angry at the weather and having eaten a huge amount of soupe, began yelling at the top of his voice 'MERDE à la France,' and laughing heartily. No one paying especial attention to him, be continued (happy in this new game with himself) for about fifteen minutes. Then The Sheeney With The Trick Raincoat (that undersized specimen, clad in feminine-fitting raiment with flashy shoes), who was by trade a pimp, being about half Jean's height and a tenth of his physique, strolled up to Jean---who had by this time got as far as my bed---and, sticking his sallow face as near Jean's as the neck could reach, said in a solemn voice: 'Il ne faut pas dire ça.' Jean, astounded, gazed at the intruder for a moment; then demanded, 'Qui dit ça? Moi? Jean? Jamais, ja-MAIS. MERDE à la France!' nor would he yield a point, backed up as he was by the moral support of every one present except the Sheeney---who found discretion the better part of valour and retired with a few dark threats; leaving Jean master of the situation and yelling for the Sheeney's particular delectation: 'MAY-RRR-DE à la France!' more loudly than ever.
A little after the epic battle with stovepipes between The Young Pole and Bill the Hollander, the wrecked poêle (which was patiently waiting to be repaired) furnished Jean with perhaps his most brilliant inspiration. The final section of pipe (which conducted the smoke through a hole in the wall to the outer air) remained in place all by itself, projecting about six feet into the room at a height of seven or eight feet from the floor. Jean noticed this; got a chair; mounted on it, and by applying alternately his ear and his mouth to the end of the pipe created for himself a telephone, with the aid of which he carried on a conversation with The Wanderer (at that moment visiting his family on the floor below) to this effect:
---Jean, grasping the pipe and speaking angrily into it, being evidently nettled at the poor connection---'Hehloh, hello, hello, hello'---surveying the pipe in consternation---'Merde. Ça marche pas---trying again with a deep frown---'heh-LOH!'---tremendously agitated---'HEHLOH!'---a beatific smile supplanting the frown---'hello Barbu. Est-ce que tu es là? Qui? Bon!'---evincing tremendous pleasure at having succeeded in establishing the connection satisfactorily---'Barbu? Est-ce que tu m'écoutes? Qui? Qu'est-ce que c'est Barbu? Comment? Moi? Qui, MOI? JEAN? jaMAIS! jamais, jaMAIS, Barbu. ---J'ai jamais dit que vous avez des puces. C'était pas moi, tu sais. JaMAIS, c'était un autre. Peut-être c'était Mexique---turning his head in Mexique's direction and roaring with laughter---'Hello, HEH-LOH. Barbu? Tu sais, Barbu, j'ai jamais dit ça. Au contraire, Barbu. J'ai dit que vous avez des totos'---another roar of laughter---'Comment? C'est pas vrai? Bon. Alors. Qu'est-ce que vous avez, Barbu? Des poux--OHHHHHHHHH. je comprends. C'est mieux'---shaking with laughter, then suddenly tremendously serious---'Hellohellohellohello, HEHLOH!'---addressing the stovepipe--'C'est une mauvaise machine, ça -speaking into it with the greatest distinctness---'HEL- L-LOH. Barbu? Liberté, Barbu. Oui. Comment? C'est ça. Liberté pour tou'l'monde. Quand? Après la soupe. Oui. Liberté pour tou'l'monde après la soupe!'---to which jest astonishingly reacted a certain old man known as the West Indian Negro (a stocky, credulous creature with whom Jean would have nothing to do, and whose tales of Brooklyn were indeed outclassed by Jean's histoires d'amour) who leaped rheumatically from his paillasse at the word 'Liberté' and rushed limpingly hither and thither inquiring Was it true?---to the enormous and excruciating amusement of The Enormous Room in general.
After which Jean, exhausted with laughter, descended from the chair and lay down on his bed to read a letter from Lulu (not knowing a syllable of it). A little later he came rushing up to my bed in the most terrific state of excitement, the whites of his eyes gleaming, his teeth bared, his kinky hair fairly standing on end, and cried:
'You f---- me, me f---- you? Pas bon. You f---- you, me f---me:---bon. Me f---- me, you f---you!' and went away capering and shouting with laughter, dancing with great grace and as great agility and with an imaginary partner the entire length of the room.
There was another game---a pure child's game---which Jean played. It was the name game. He amused himself for hours together by lying on his paillasse, tilting his head back, rolling up his eyes, and crying in a high quavering voice---'JAW-neeeeeee.' After a repetition or two of his own name in English, he would demand sharply 'Qui m'appelle? Mexique? Est-ce que tu m'appelle, Mexique?' and if Mexique happened to be asleep, Jean would rush over and cry in his ear shaking him thoroughly---'Est-ce tu m'appelle, toi?' Or it might be Barbu, or Pete the Hollander, or B. or myself, of whom he sternly asked the question---which was always followed by quantities of laughter on Jean's part. He was never perfectly happy unless exercising his inexhaustible imagination....
Of all Jean's extraordinary selves, the moral one was at once the most rare and most unreasonable. In the matter of les femmes he could hardly have been accused by his bitterest enemy of being a Puritan. Yet the Puritan streak came out one day, in a discussion which lasted for several hours. Jean, as in the case of France, spoke in dogma. His contention was very simple: 'La femme qui fume n'est pas une femme.' He defended it hotly against the attacks of all the nations represented; in vain did Belgian and Hollander, Russian and Pole, Spaniard and Alsatian, charge and counter-charge---Jean remained unshaken. A woman could do anything but smoke---if she smoked she ceased automatically to be a woman and became something unspeakable. As Jean was at this time sitting alternately on B.'s bed and mine, and as the alternations became increasingly frequent as the discussion waxed hotter, we were not sorry when the planton's shout, 'A la promenade les hommes!' scattered the opposing warriors. Then up leaped Jean (who had almost come to blows innumerable times) and rushed laughing to the door, having already forgotten the whole thing.
Now we come to the story of Jean's undoing, and may the gods which made Jean Le Nègre give me grace to tell it as it was.
The trouble started with Lulu. One afternoon, shortly after the telephoning, Jean was sick at heart and couldn't be induced either to leave his couch or to utter a word.
Every one guessed the reason---Lulu had left for another camp that morning. The planton told Jean to come down with the rest and get soupe. No answer. Was Jean sick? 'Oui, me seek.' And steadfastly he refused to eat, till the disgusted planton gave it up and locked Jean in alone. When we ascended after la soupe we found Jean as we had left him, stretched on his couch, big tears on his cheeks. I asked him if I could do anything for him; he shook his head. We offered him cigarettes---no, he did not wish to smoke. As B. and I went away we heard him moaning to himself, 'Jawnee no see Loo-Loo no more.' With the exception of ourselves, the inhabitants of La Ferté Macé took Jean's desolation as a great joke. Shouts of Lulu! rent the welkin on all sides. Jean stood it for an hour; then he leaped up, furious; and demanded (confronting the man from whose lips the cry had last issued) ---'Feeneesh Loo-Loo?" The latter coolly referred him to the man next to him; he in turn to some one else; and round and round the room Jean stalked, seeking the offender, followed by louder and louder shouts of Lulu! and Jawnee! the authors of which (so soon as he challenged them) denied with innocent faces their guilt and recommended that Jean look closer next time. At last Jean took to his couch in utter misery and disgust.---The rest of les hommes descended as usual for the promenade---not so Jean. He ate nothing for supper. That evening not a sound issued from his bed.
Next morning he awoke with a broad grin, and to the salutations of Lulu! replied, laughing heartily at himself, 'Feeneesh LooLoo.' Upon which the tormentors (finding in him no longer a victim) desisted; and things resumed their normal course. If an occasional Lulu! upraised itself, Jean merely laughed, and repeated (with a wave of his arm) 'FEENEESH.' Finished Lulu seemed to be.
But un jour I had remained upstairs during the promenade, both because I wanted to, write and because the weather was worse than usual. Ordinarily, no matter how deep the mud in the cour, Jean and I would trot back and forth, resting from time to time under the little shelter out of the drizzle, talking of all things under the sun. I remember on one occasion we were the only ones to brave the rain and slough---Jean in paper-thin soled slippers (which he had recently succeeded in drawing from the Gestionnaire) and I in my huge sabots-hurrying back and forth with the rain pouring on us, and he very proud. On this day, however, I refused the challenge of the boue.
The promenaders had been singularly noisy, I thought. Now they were mounting to the room making a truly tremendous racket. No sooner were the doors opened than in rushed half a dozen frenzied friends, who began telling me all at once about a terrific thing which my friend the noir had just done. It seems that The Sheeney With The Trick Raincoat had pulled at Jean's handkerchief (Lulu's gift in other days) which Jean wore always conspicuously in his outside breast pocket; that Jean had taken the Sheeney's head in his two hands, held it steady, abased his own head, and rammed the helpless Sheeney as a bull would do---the impact of Jean's head upon the Sheeney's nose causing that well-known feature to occupy a new position in the neighbourhood of the right ear. B. corroborated this description, adding the Sheeney's nose was broken and that everyone was down on Jean for fighting in an unsportsmanlike way. I found Jean still very angry, and moreover very hurt because every one was now shunning him. I told him that I personally was glad of what he'd done; but nothing would cheer him up. The Sheeney now entered, very terrible to see, having been patched up, by Monsieur Richard with copious plasters. His nose was not broken, he said thickly, but only bent. He hinted darkly of trouble in store for le noir; and received the commiserations of everyone present except Mexique, The Zulu, B. and me. The Zulu, I remember, pointed to his own nose (which was not unimportant), then to Jean, then made a moue of excruciating anguish, and winked audibly.
Jean's spirit was broken. The well-nigh unanimous verdict against him had convinced his minutely sensitive soul that it had done wrong. He lay quietly, and would say nothing to anyone.
Some time after the soup, about eight o'clock, The Fighting Sheeney and The Trick Raincoat suddenly set upon Jean Le Nègre à propos nothing; and began pommelling him cruelly. The conscience-stricken pillar of beautiful muscle---who could have easily killed both his assailants at one blow---not only offered no reciprocatory violence but refused even to defend himself. Unresistingly, wincing with pain, his arms mechanically raised and his head bent, he was battered frightfully to the window by his bed, thence into the corner (upsetting the stool in the pissoir), thence along the wall to the door. As the punishment increased he cried out like a child: 'Laissez moi tranquille!'---again and again; and in his voice the insane element gained rapidly. Finally, shrieking in agony, be rushed to the nearest window; and while the Sheeneys together pommelled him yelled for help to the planton beneath.
The unparalleled consternation and applause produced by this one-sided battle had long since alarmed the authorities. I was still trying to break through the five-deep ring of spectators---among whom was The Messenger Boy, who advised me to desist and got a piece of advice in return---when with a tremendous crash open burst the door, and in stepped four plantons with drawn revolvers, looking frightened to death, followed by the Surveillant who carried a sort of baton and was crying faintly: 'Qu'est-ce que c'est!'
At the first sound of the door the two Sheeneys had fled, and were now playing the part of innocent spectators. Jean alone occupied the stage. His lips were parted. His eyes were enormous. He was panting as if his heart would break. He still kept his arms raised as if seeing everywhere before him fresh enemies. Blood spotted here and there the wonderful chocolate carpet of his skin, and his whole body glistened with sweat. His shirt was in ribbons over his beautiful muscles.
Seven or eight persons at once began explaining the fight to the Surveillant, who could make nothing out of their accounts and therefore called aside a trusted older man in order to get his version. The two retired from the room. The plantons, finding the expected wolf a lamb, flourished their revolvers about Jean and threatened him in the insignificant and vile language which plantons use to anyone whom they can bully. Jean kept repeating dully, 'Laissez-moi tranquille. Ils voulaient me tuer.' His chest shook terribly with vast sobs.
Now the Surveillant returned and made a speech, to the effect that he had received independently of each other the stories of four men, that by all counts le nègre was absolutely to blame, that le nègre had caused an inexcusable trouble to the authorities and to his fellow-prisoners by this wholly unjustified conflict, and that as a punishment the nègre would now suffer the consequences of his guilt in the cabinot.---Jean had dropped his arms to his sides. His face was twisted with anguish. He made a child's gesture, a pitiful hopeless movement with his slender hands. Sobbing, he protested: 'C'est pas ma faute, monsieur le surveillant! Ils m'attaquaient! J'ai rien fait! Ils voulaient me tuer! Demandez à lui!---he pointed to me desperately. Before I could utter a syllable the Surveillant raised his hand for silence: le nègre had done wrong. He should be placed in the cabinot.
---Like a flash, with a horrible tearing sob, Jean leaped from the surrounding plantons and rushed for the coat which lay on his bed screaming---'AHHHHH---mon couteau!'--'Look out or he'll get his knife and kill himself!' someone yelled; and the four plantons seized Jean by both arms just as he made a grab for his jacket. Thwarted in this hope and burning with the ignominy of his situation, Jean cast his enormous eyes up at the nearest pillar, crying hysterically: 'Tout le monde me fout au cabinot parce que je suis noir.'---In a second, by a single movement of his arms, he sent the four plantons reeling to a distance of ten feet; leaped at the pillar: seized it in both hands like a Samson, and (gazing for another second with a smile of absolute beatitude at its length) dashed his head against it. Once, twice, thrice be smote himself, before the plantons seized him---and suddenly his whole strength wilted; he allowed himself to be overpowered by them and stood with bowed head, tears streaming from his eyes---while the smallest pointed a revolver at his heart.
This was a little more than the Surveillant had counted on. Now that Jean's might was no more, the bearer of the croix de guerre stepped forward and in a mild placating voice endeavoured to soothe the victim of his injustice. It was also slightly more than I could stand, and slamming aside the spectators I shoved myself under his honour's nose. 'Do you know,' I asked, 'whom you are dealing with in this man? A child. There are a lot of Jeans where I come from. You heard what he said? He is black, is he not, and gets no justice from you. You heard that. I saw the whole affair. He was attacked, he put up no resistance whatever, he was beaten by two cowards. He is no more to blame than I am.---The Surveillant was waving his wand and cooing, 'je comprends, je comprends, c'est malheureux.'---'You're god damn right it's malheureux,' I said, forgetting my French. 'Quand même, he has resisted authority.' The Surveillant gently continued: 'Now, Jean, be quiet, you will be taken to the cabinot. You may as well go quietly and behave yourself like a good boy.'
At this I am sure my eyes started out of my head. All
I could think of to say was: 'Attends, un petit moment.'
To reach my own bed took but a second. In another second I was back, bearing my great and sacred pelisse. I marched up to Jean. 'Jean,' I remarked with a smile, 'tu vas au cabinot, mais tu vas revenir tout de suite. Je sais bien que tu as parfaitement raison. Mets cela'-and I pushed him gently into my coat. 'Voici mes cigarettes, Jean; tu peux fumer comme tu veux'---I pulled out all I had, one full paquet jaune of Marylands and half a dozen loose ones, and deposited them carefully in the right-hand, pocket of the pelisse. Then I patted him on the shoulder and gave him the immortal salutation---'Bonne chance, mon ami!'
He straightened proudly. He stalked like a king through the doorway. The astounded plantons and the embarrassed Surveillant followed, the latter closing the doors behind him. I was left with a cloud of angry witnesses.
An hour later the doors opened, Jean entered quietly, and the doors shut. As I lay on my bed I could see him perfectly. He was almost naked. He laid my pelisse on his mattress, then walked calmly up to a neighbouring bed and skilfully and unerringly extracted a brush from under it. Back to his own bed he tiptoed, sat down on it, and began brushing my coat. He brushed it for a half-hour, speaking to no one, spoken to by no one. Finally he put the brush back, disposed the pelisse carefully on his arm, came to my bed, and as carefully laid it down. Then he took from the right-hand outside pocket a full paquet jaune and six loose cigarettes, showed them for my approval, and returned them to their place. 'Merci,' was his sole remark. B. got Jean to sit down beside him on his bed and we talked for a few minutes, avoiding the subject of the recent struggle. Then Jean went back to his own bed and lay down.
It was not till later that we learned the climax--not till le petit belge avec le bras cassé, le petit balayeur, came hurrying to our end of the room and sat down with us. He was bursting with excitement, his well arm jerked and his sick one stumped about and he seemed incapable of speech. At length words came.
'Monsieur Jean' (now that I think of it, I believe some one had told him that all male children in America are named Jean at their birth) 'j'ai vu QUELQUE CHOSE! le nègre, vous savez?---il est FORT! Monsieur Jean, c'est un GÉANT, croyez moi! C'est pas un homme, tu sais? Je l'ai vu, moi'---and he indicated his eyes.
We pricked our ears.
The balayeur, stuffing a pipe nervously with his tiny thumb said: 'You saw the fight up here? So did I. The whole of it. Le noir avait raison. Well, when they took him downstairs, I slipped out too---Je suis le balayeur, savez-vous? and the balayeur can go where other people can't.'
---I gave him a match, and he thanked me. He struck it on his trousers with a quick pompous gesture, drew heavily on his squeaky pipe, and at last shot a minute puff of smoke into the air; then another, and another. Satisfied, he went on; his good hand grasping the pipe between its index and second fingers and resting on one little knee, his legs crossed, his small body hunched forward, wee unshaven face close to mine---went on in the confidential tone of one who relates an unbelievable miracle to a couple of intimate friends:
'Monsieur Jean, I followed. They got him to the cabinot. The door stood open. At this moment les femmes descendaient, it was their corvée d'eau, vous savez. He saw them, le noir. One of them cried from the stairs, Is a Frenchman stronger than you, Jean? The plantons were standing around him, the Surveillant was behind. He took the nearest planton, and tossed him down the corridor so that he struck against the door at the end of it. He picked up two more, one in each arm, and threw them away. They fell on top of the first. The last tried to take hold of Jean, and so Jean took him by the neck'--- (the balayeur strangled himself for our benefit)---'and that planton knocked down the other three, who had got on their feet by this time. You should have seen the Surveillant. He had run away and was saying, "Capture him, capture him." The plantons rushed Jean; all four of them. He caught them as they came and threw them about. One knocked down the Surveillant. The fe-mmes cried "Vive, Jean," and clapped their hands. The Surveillant called to the plantons to take Jean, but they wouldn't go near Jean; they said he was a black devil. The women kidded them. They were so sore. And they could do nothing. Jean was laughing. His shirt was almost off him. He asked the plantons to come and take him, please. He asked the Surveillant, too. The women had set down their pails and were dancing up and down and yelling. The Directeur came down and sent them flying. The Surveillant and his plantons were as helpless as if they had been children. Monsieur Jean---quelque chose.'
I gave him another match. 'Merci, Monsieur Jean.' He struck it, drew on his pipe, lowered it, and went on:
'They were helpless, and men. I am little. I have only one arm, tu sais. I walked up to Jean and said, "Jean, you know me, I am your friend." He said, "Yes." I said to the plantons, "Give me that rope." They gave me the rope that they would have bound him with. He put out his wrists for me. I tied his hands behind his back. He was like a lamb. The plantons rushed up and tied his feet together. Then they tied his hands and feet together. They took the lacings out of his shoes for fear he would use them to strangle himself. They stood him up in an angle between two walls in the cabinot. They left him there for an hour. He was supposed to have been in there all night; but The Surveillant knew that he would have died, for he was almost naked, and vous savez, Monsieur Jean, it was cold in there. And damp. A fully-clothed man would have been dead in the morning. And he was naked . . . Monsieur Jean---un géant!'
---This same petit belge had frequently protested to me that Il est fou, le noir. He is always playing when sensible men try to sleep. The last few hours (which had made of the fou a géant) made of the scoffer a worshipper. Nor did 'le bras cassé' ever from that time forth desert his divinity. If as balayeur he could lay hands on a morceau de pain or de viande, he bore it as before to our beds; but Jean was always called over to partake of the forbidden pleasure.
As for Jean, one would hardly have recognized him. It was as if the child had fled into the deeps of his soul, never to reappear. Day after day went by, and Jean (instead of courting excitement as before) cloistered himself in solitude; or at most sought the company of B. and me and Le Petit Belge for a quiet chat or a cigarette. The morning after the three fights he did not appear in the cour for early promenade along with the rest of us (including The Sheeneys). In vain did les femmes strain their necks and eyes to find the noir qui était plus fort que six français. And B. and I noticed our bed-clothing airing upon the windowsills. When we mounted, Jean was patting and straightening our blankets, and looking for the first time in his life guilty of some enormous crime. Nothing however had disappeared. Jean said, 'Me feeks, lits tous les jours.' And every morning he aired and made our beds for us, and we mounted to find him smoothing affectionately some final ruffle, obliterating with enormous solemnity some microscopic crease. We gave him cigarettes when he asked for them (which was almost never) and offered them when we knew he had none or when we saw him borrowing from some one else whom his spirit held in less esteem. Of us he asked no favours. He liked us too well.
When B. went away, Jean was almost as desolate as I.
About a fortnight later, when the grey dirty snowslush hid the black filthy world which we saw from our windows, and when people lived in their ill-smelling beds, it came to pass that my particular amis---The Zulu, Jean, Mexique and I and all the remaining miserables of La Ferté descended at the decree of Cæsar Augustus to endure our bi-weekly bain. I remember gazing stupidly at Jean's chocolate-coloured nakedness as it strode to the tub, a rippling texture of muscular miracle. Tout le monde had baigné (including The Zulu, who tried to escape at the last minute and was nabbed by the planton whose business it was to count heads and see that none escaped the ordeal) and now tout le monde was shivering all together in the ante-room, begging to be allowed to go upstairs and get into bed---when Le Baigneur, Monsieur Richard's strenuous successor that is, set up a hue and cry that one serviette was lacking. The Fencer was sent for. He entered; heard the case; and made a speech. If the guilty party would immediately return the stolen towel, he, The Fencer, would guarantee that party pardon; if not, everyone present should be searched, and the man on whose person the serviette was found va attraper quinze jours de cabinot. This eloquence yielding no results, The Fencer exhorted the culprit to act like a man and render to Cæsar what is Cæsar's. Nothing happened. Everyone was told to get in single file and make ready to pass out the door. One after one we were searched; but so general was the curiosity that as fast as they were inspected the erstwhile bed-enthusiasts, myself included, gathered on the side-lines to watch their fellows instead of availing themselves of the opportunity to go upstairs. One after one we came opposite The Fencer, held up our arms, had our pockets run through and our clothing felt over from head to heel, and were exonerated. 'When Cæsar came to Jean, Cæsar's eyes lighted, and Cæsar's hitherto perfunctory proddings and pokings became inspired and methodical. Twice he went over Jean's entire body, while Jean, his arms raised in a bored gesture, his face completely expressionless, suffered loftily the examination of his person. A third time the desperate Fencer tried; his hands, starting at Jean's neck, reached the calf of his leg ---and stopped. The hands rolled up Jean's right trouser leg to the knee. They rolled up the underwear on his leg ---and there, placed perfectly flat to the skin, appeared the missing serviette. As The Fencer seized it, Jean laughed---the utter laughter of old days---and the onlookers cackled uproariously, while with a broad smile The Fencer proclaimed: 'I thought I knew where I should find it.' And he added, more pleased with himself than anyone had ever seen him---'Maintenant, vous pouvez tous monter à la chambre.' We mounted, happy to get back to bed; but none so happy as Jean le Nègre. It was not that the cabinot threat had failed to materialize---at any minute a planton might call Jean to his punishment: indeed, this was what everyone expected. It was that the incident had absolutely removed that inhibition which (from the day when Jean le noir became Jean le géant) had held the child, which was Jean's soul and destiny, prisoner. From that instant till the day I left him he was the old Jean---joking, fibbing, laughing, and always playing---Jean L'Enfant.
And I think of Jean Le Nègre . .. you are something to dream over, Jean; summer and winter (birds and darkness) you go walking into my head; you are a sudden and chocolate-coloured thing, in your hands you have a habit of holding six or eight plantons (which you are about to throw away) and the flesh of your body is like the flesh of a very deep cigar. Which I am still and always quietly smoking: always and still I am inhaling its very fragrant and remarkable muscles. But I doubt if ever I am quite through with you, if ever I will toss you out of my heart into the sawdust of forgetfulness. Kid, Boy, I'd like to tell you: la guerrre est finie.
O yes, Jean: I do not forget, I remember Plenty; the snow's coming, the snow will throw again a very big and gentle shadow into The Enormous Room and into the eyes of you and me walking always and wonderfully up and down....
---Boy, Kid, Nigger with the strutting muscles---take me up into your mind once or twice before I die (you know why: just because the eyes of me and you will be full of dirt some day). Quickly take me up into the bright child of your mind, before we both go suddenly all loose and silly (you know how it will feel). Take me up (carefully; as if I were a toy) and play carefully with me, once or twice, before I and you go suddenly all limp and foolish. Once or twice before you go into great Jack roses and ivory--- (once or twice Boy before we together go wonderfully down into the Big Dirt laughing, bumped with the last darkness).
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