The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2019

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NOV 2019 Issue

inSerial: part twelve
The Mysteries of Paris

Part II

1. L’Île-Adam

One month had passed since the events we last spoke of. The reader’s attention is now drawn to the small village of L’Île-Adam, which occupies a delightful vantage point along the Oise river, at the edge of a forest. Here, in the countryside, the smallest events assume importance. And that morning the idlers of L’Île-Adam, as they strolled across the square before the church, were greatly occupied with the arrival of the new owner of the town’s finest butcher shop, recently sold by the Widow Dumont.

Certainly the buyer was rich, for the shop had been painted and decorated with lavish attention. For three weeks, workers had been there day and night. A beautiful bronze gate, highlighted with gold leaf, extended across the entire front of the shop, enclosing the interior while allowing air to circulate within. On either side of the gate rose two broad pilasters, surmounted by large bull heads with gilt horns, which supported the wide entablature that would display the shop’s name. The remainder of the building consisted of a single story, painted the color of stone; the shutters were light gray. The work had been completed, all but the placement of the sign, which was impatiently awaited by the local idlers, eager to learn the name of the widow’s successor.

At last the workers appeared with a large panel, and the curious were able to read, in large gold letters against a black background, “Francoeur, marchand boucher.”

The curiosity of the idlers of L’Île-Adam was only partly satisfied by this information. For who was this Monsieur Francoeur? One of the more impatient among them went to ask the young butcher, who, with an air of confidence and contentment, was busily occupied putting the finishing touches on the display case. The young butcher, when questioned about his employer, replied that he did not yet know the man, for he had purchased the shop through an intermediary; but the boy did not doubt that his employer would do all in his power to merit the patronage of the local gentry of L’Île-Adam. This small compliment, made in a manner both welcoming and cordial, coupled with the excellent appearance of the shop, disposed the curious in favor of Monsieur Francoeur; several of them even promising their business to the boy at that very instant.

Two hours after the shop opened, a brand new wicker cariole, hitched to a sturdy percheron, entered the shop courtyard through a gateway that opened onto the Rue de l’Église. Two men stepped out of the carriage. One of them was Murph, his injury now fully healed, although he was still pale; the other was Chourineur. At the risk of repeating a cliché, we can state that the illusion of dress is so powerful, that the guest of the taverns of La Cité was nearly unrecognizable beneath his vestments. His physiognomy had undergone a similar metamorphosis: together with his rags he had rid himself of his wild, brutal, and turbulent air. Watching him as he walked, his two hands in the pockets of a long, warm, buff-colored redingote of beaver cloth, his freshly shaved chin swathed in a white neckcloth with embroidered corners, he could have been mistaken for a harmless bourgeois.

Murph attached the horse’s bridle to an iron ring anchored in the wall and gestured to Chourineur to follow. They entered a pleasant, low-ceilinged room, furnished in walnut, which served as the back office for the shop. Two windows overlooked the courtyard, where the horse pawed the ground impatiently. Murph appeared very much at his ease here, for he opened a cupboard, grabbed a bottle of spirits, a glass, and said to Chourineur, “There’s a chill in the air this morning, my boy, how about a glass of brandy?”

“If it’s all the same to you Monsieur Murph, I don’t drink.”

“Nothing for you?”

“No, I’m fine just as I am; my joy keeps me warm. Later, when I say I’m satisfied, maybe.”

“How’s that?”

“Yesterday, you came to get me at Port Saint-Nicolas, where I was working hard to keep warm. I hadn’t seen you since the night before, when the white-haired doctor had blinded the Schoolmaster. That may have been the only thing he didn’t steal—but all the same. Confound it, that turned me inside out. And Monsieur Rodolphe! The expression on his face. He always seemed like such a good-natured fellow. He gave me a fright back there.”

“Go on.”

“You said, ‘Hello, Chourineur.’ I said ‘Hello, Monsieur Murph. Are you up? So much the better, damn, so much the better. And Monsieur Rodolphe?’ ‘He had to leave for a few days after that business in the Allée des Veuves, and he forgot you, my boy.’ Very well, Monsieur Murph, very well, if Monsieur Rodolphe has really forgotten about me, well, I’m sorry to hear it.”

“I was about to say, my good man, that he had forgotten to compensate you for your services, but will remember you always.”

“Well, in that case, Monsieur Murph, I feel much better already. Confound it, I won’t forget him, not a chance, not after what he said to me about my big heart and honor. That was enough for me.”

“Unfortunately, his highness left without leaving any instructions concerning you, and all I have is what his highness gives me. I’m unable to thank you as much as I’d like for everything I owe you.”

“Oh, please, Monsieur Murph, you’re joking.”

“Why the devil didn’t you return to the Allée des Veuves after that dreadful night? His Excellency would never have left without thanking you.”

“Because Monsieur Rodolphe didn’t ask me to return. I thought he had no further need of me.”

“Certainly you should realize that he would at least have wanted to show his gratitude.”

“But you said that Monsieur Rodolphe hadn’t forgotten me, Monsieur Murph!”

“Very well, very well, let’s not discuss it further. But I had a hard time finding you. You’re no longer patronizing the Abbess?”


“Why not?”

“I’ve gotten to thinking. Nothing serious, really.”

“Very well. But let’s get back to what you were saying.”

“About what?”

“You were saying that you were glad to have run into me; even quite satisfied perhaps.”

“Yesterday, coming back from my timber raft, you said to me, ‘My boy, I’m not rich, but I can find you a position where you’ll be better off than at the port. You’ll earn four francs a day.’ Four francs a day! Long live the Charter! I couldn’t believe it. The salary of a sergeant major! So I said, ‘That’s fine with me, Monsieur Murph.’ But then you said, ‘You can’t go around dressed like a beggar, you’ll frighten the good burghers.’ I said ‘This is all I have.’ And you said ‘Let’s go to the Rue du Temple.’ I followed and picked out the newest and finest from Mother Hubart’s. You advanced me the money for the clothes and fifteen minutes later I’m wrapped up like a shopkeeper or a dentist. You told me to meet you this morning at daybreak at Porte Saint-Denis. You picked me up in your carriage and here we are.”

“Very well, so why the regrets?”

“It’s just that, you see, Monsieur Murph, dressed the way I am is going to spoil me. How am I going to feel when I go back to my old shirt and my old rags? And if I were to make four francs a day when I’ve only been making two, in the wink of an eye, why that would be too good to be true; it couldn’t last. I’d prefer to sleep my whole life long on that pile of cheap straw in my room than get five or six nights sleep in a good bed. That’s how I am.”

“That’s not unreasonable. But it would be better to sleep in a good bed all the time.”

“Obviously. And it would be better to have all the food you want than to die of hunger. Aha! So it’s a butcher shop we have here?” Chourineur remarked as he listened to the young butcher’s cleaver and caught sight of the quarters of beef through the curtains.

“Yes, my good man, it belongs to a friend of mine. Would you care to have a look while my horse rests?”

“I would, indeed. It reminds me of my youth, even though it was spent at Montfaucon slaughtering old nags instead of cattle. It’s strange, had it been within my power, I would have liked being a butcher. Ride out to the fairs on a good horse to buy cattle; return home to sit by the fire, warm yourself when you’re cold, dry yourself when you’re wet, and be greeted by your housekeeper, a ne, plump woman, pink-cheeked and gay, and a crowd of children digging in your pockets to see what you’ve brought them. And in the morning, at the slaughterhouse, you’d grab a bullock by the horns—especially when it’s mean—and they must be mean—get the ring on it, kill it, cut and trim it. Confound it! That would be my ambition in life, just like Goualeuse wanted to eat barley sugar when she was a girl. Speaking of Goualeuse, Monsieur Murph, since I haven’t seen her at the Abbess’s, I assume Monsieur Rodolphe has taken her away. That would be a fine thing, Monsieur Murph, a fine thing. Poor girl. She never asked to do wrong. Young as she was. And then, it becomes routine. Well, Monsieur Rodolphe did a good thing.”

“I share your opinion. But shall we go inside?”

Chourineur and Murph entered the shop and walked back to the cattle shed, where three magnificent bullocks and twenty sheep were kept. They then toured the stable, the tool shed, the abattoir, the storerooms and outbuildings of the main house, which was maintained with a sense of care and cleanliness that presaged order and comfort. When they had seen everything but the upper storey, Murph said: “You must admit my friend is a happy rogue. The house and business are his, and he has a thousand ecus in cash for operations. He’s only thirty-eight and strong as an ox, has an iron constitution, and enjoys his work. The good, honest lad downstairs takes his place with considerable ability when he’s off to the market to buy cattle. He’s a happy man, wouldn’t you say?”

“Ahh, he certainly is, Monsieur Murph. But what do you expect? Some men are fortunate, and some are not. When I think that I’ll be making four francs a day, when some earn half that, or less.”

“Would you like to go up and see the rest of the house?”

“Certainly would, Monsieur Murph.”

“Yes, your employer is upstairs.”

“My employer?”


“Why didn’t you tell me that before?”

“I’ll explain later.”

“Just a minute,” said Chourineur, looking crestfallen and embarrassed, as he held Murph by the arm. “I have to tell you something. Maybe Monsieur Rodolphe didn’t tell you but I can’t keep it from the man who’s going to hire me, because if it disturbs him, he should know now rather than later.”

“What are you getting at?”

“It’s that . . .”


“I’m an ex-convict, I was in prison,” Chourineur remarked in a hollow voice.


“But I’ve never wronged anyone” cried Chourineur, “and I’d rather die of hunger than steal. But I did worse than steal,” he added, lowering his head, “I killed a man; I was angry. But that’s not the whole reason,” he added after a moment’s silence. “No bourgeois would ever hire a convict; and they’re right, you don’t win any prizes for virtue in jail. That’s why I could never find work except at the dock, unloading logs. Whenever I went to get a job, I always said, ‘Here I am. Interested? Not interested?’ I prefer to be turned down right away than found out later. Just so you understand that I’m going to tell him everything. You know the man. If he’s going to turn me down, tell me now, and I’ll go back.”

“Come on up,” said Murph.

Chourineur followed Murph up the stairs. A door opened and they found themselves facing Rodolphe.

“Murph, please excuse us,” he said.

2. The Recompense

“Long live the Charter! I’m very happy to see you again, Monsieur Rodolphe, I mean, Your Highness,” cried Chourineur. His joy at seeing Rodolphe again was genuine, for generous hearts are as deeply affected by the services they render as those they receive.

“Hello, my boy, I’m equally delighted to see you.”

“What a practical joker that Murph is, telling me you had left. But, Highness. . . “

“I’d prefer it if you called me Rodolphe.”

“Well, Monsieur Rodolphe, forgive me for not coming back that evening after I left with the Schoolmaster. I realize now that it was rude of me; you’re not angry, are you?”

“I forgive you,” said Rodolphe, smiling. And he added, “Did Murph show you around the house?”

“Yes, Monsieur Rodolphe; a fine home, a fine shop; it’s comfortable and well maintained. But I’m the one that’s going to be comfortable, Monsieur Rodolphe—four francs a day, Monsieur Murph told me I’ll be making four francs!”

“I’ve something better to offer.”

“Oh! Better than that? I don’t mean to contradict you but that will be difficult. Four francs a day!”

“Like I said, I have something better to offer you. This house and all it contains, the shop and the thousand ecus here in this wallet, all of it is yours.”

Chourineur smiled dumbly, smoothed the fabric of his coat between his knees, which he was squeezing convulsively, and failed to comprehend what Rodolphe had said to him, although his words were quite clear.

“I can understand your surprise, but once again, this house and the money are yours, they belong to you.”

Chourineur turned purple, passed his calloused hand over his sweaty forehead, and stammered in an altered voice, “Oh! You mean. You mean, mine?”

“Yes, yours, since I’m giving them to you. Do you understand what I’m saying. I’m giving them to you.”

Chourineur shifted in his seat, scratched his head, coughed, lowered his eyes and remained silent. He felt the thread of his ideas escaping him. He heard what Rodolphe was saying quite clearly but for that very reason was unable to believe what he had heard. Between his dire poverty, the destitution in which he had always lived, and the position promised him by Rodolphe lay an abyss, which the services he had rendered to Rodolphe could never requite. Not wishing to accelerate the moment in which his protégé finally opened his eyes to reality, Rodolphe delighted in his amazement, the shock of happiness. He realized, with a mixture of inexpressible joy and bitterness, that for certain men the habit of suffering and misfortune is such that their reason refuses to admit the possibility of a future that, for many people, would hardly be enviable. Certainly, he thought, if man, like Prometheus, had ever stolen some divine spark, it is during such moments that he accomplishes (may he be forgiven such blasphemy!) what Providence should do from time to time for the world’s edification: demonstrate to the good and the bad that some are rewarded and others punished.

He allowed himself to enjoy Chourineur’s perplexity a while longer, then went on: “Does all of this seem beyond your expectations?”

Suddenly Chourineur stood. “Highness, you are offering me this house and a great deal of money to—you’re trying to tempt me. But I can’t do it.”

“Can’t do what?” asked Rodolphe with astonishment.

Chourineur’s face grew animated, his shame vanished, and he declaimed in a strong voice: “I know you’re not offering me all that money because you want me to steal. I’ve never stolen anything in my life. Maybe you want me to kill someone, but I have enough bad dreams as it is.”

“Such misery!” Rodolphe cried with bitterness. “Do we have so little compassion that we can only justify our generosity with crime?”

Then, turning to Chourineur, “You judge me harshly, but wrongly. I ask nothing of you that is not honorable. What I am offering you, I offer because you deserve it.”

“Me!” cried Chourineur, whose shock had returned, “In what way do I deserve it?”

“I’ll tell you how. Though you have no notion of good and evil, abandoned to your savage instincts, shut up in prison for 15 years with the worst criminals, driven by poverty and hunger, forced by your own weakness and the recriminations of honest men to continue to frequent the dregs of society, not only have you remained honest, but your remorse for your crime has endured beyond the penalty human justice imposed on you.”

This simple and noble language was a new source of astonishment for Chourineur. His expression was one of respect mixed with fear and gratitude. But he was still unable to fully comprehend what was happening.

“What, Monsieur Rodolphe? Because you beat me in a fight, and thinking you were a worker like me and spoke like one of us, I told you about my life over a glass of wine, and because after that, I saved you from drowning. How is it that you . . . ? Well, I mean, me . . . a house . . . money . . . like some ordinary bourgeois. Monsieur Rodolphe, this cannot be possible.”

“When you thought I was no different than you, you told me about yourself naturally and without pretense, without hiding anything about your past, your generosity and your guilt. I judged you, judged you carefully, and I want to reward you.”

“But Monsieur Rodolphe, this cannot be. No. You realize, there are poor laborers who have been honest all their life.”

“I know that, and I may have done more for them than I’m doing for you. But if a man who lives honestly among honest men, encouraged by their esteem, deserves our concern and our support, what of the man who, shunned by good men, remains honest in the midst of the most hardened criminals on earth? He too deserves our concern and our support. But that is not all. You saved my life. You also saved Murph’s, and he is my dearest friend. What I do for you is as much dictated by my personal thanks as by the desire to pull from the muck a strong, honest man who has wandered, but is not lost. But those are not the only reasons.”

“What else did I do, Monsieur Rodolphe?”

Rodolphe took his hand cordially. “You took pity on a man who had tried to kill you and offered him your assistance. You even let him stay with you—number 9, Impasse Notre-Dame.”

“You know where I live, Monsieur?”

“You may have forgotten the help you’ve given me but I haven’t. When you left my house, I had you followed. You were seen entering your home with the Schoolmaster.”

“But Monsieur Murph told me you didn’t know where I live.”

“It was my final test; I wanted to find out if you acted out of true disinterest. You acted with generosity and simply returned to your old job. You asked nothing, hoped for nothing. There was not a trace of bitterness concerning the apparent ingratitude with which I rewarded your services. And yesterday, when Murph offered you a position that was better remunerated than the one you had, you accepted with joy, indeed with gratitude.”

“Listen, Monsieur Rodolphe, about the money, four francs a day is still four francs a day. As for my services, I’m the one who should be thanking you.”

“How’s that?”

“Yes, yes, Monsieur Rodolphe,” Chourineur added with a crestfallen air, “I’ve been thinking. Ever since I’ve known you and you told me I had ‘heart’ and ‘honor,’ you have no idea how that affected me. How strange that two words, just two words, could do that. But, in fact, from two small seeds in the ground, tall stalks will sprout.”

Chourineur’s comparison, which was not merely appropriate but poetic in its way, struck Rodolphe forcefully. For those two words, but words that possessed power and magic for those who understood them, had suddenly brought forth in this energetic nature the good and generous instincts that had remained unrealized.

“You see, Highness,” Chourineur resumed, “it’s true I saved Monsieur Rodolphe and Monsieur Murph perhaps, but I would save hundreds, thousands more, but that wouldn’t restore life to …”

And with an air of somber despair, he lowered his head.

“Your remorse is salutary, but a good deed is always worthwhile.”

“And what you said to the Schoolmaster about murderers—would apply to me as well, for better or worse.”

Wishing to break Chourineur’s train of thought, Rodolphe asked, “Is it you who brought the Schoolmaster to Saint-Mandé?”

“Yes, Monsieur. He had me exchange his cash for gold and buy him a money belt, which I sewed onto him. We put his quibus inside and bon voyage! Room and board for 30 sous a day with some very decent folks who were happy to have him.”

“There’s one more favor I need to ask of you.”

“Speak, Monsieur.”

“In a few days, I’d like you to go to him—bring this paper with you. It’s the title to a permanent place at the Hospice des Bons-Pauvres. I’ve made it out for 4,500 francs and he will be admitted for life upon its presentation. Everything’s been arranged. I’ve thought about it and this will be the best solution. He’ll have a roof over his head and food for the remainder of his life, and he can spend his time reflecting on his guilt. I regret not having given this to him at once rather than cash, which would either be quickly spent or stolen. But the man filled me with such horror that I wanted him out of my sight as quickly as possible. You’ll take this to him and conduct him to the hospice. Should he refuse, we’ll have to make other arrangements. So, are we agreed that you’ll do this?”

“With pleasure, Monsieur, just as you say. But I don’t know if I’ll have the time. Monsieur Murph has found me a job at four francs a day.”

Rodolphe looked at Chourineur with astonishment. “What! And the store, the house?”

“Please, Monsieur, please don’t make fun of a poor devil. You’ve already tested me enough, as you say. Your house and shop—the same sort of pipe dream. You said to yourself, ‘Let’s see if this brute is dumb enough to fall for it.’ Well, Monsieur Rodolphe, you’re a great joker, you are.”

“But didn’t I just explain to you. . .”

“You wanted to spice it up a bit, that’s all. And you had me hooked there for a moment, you did. I’d have to be a ninny!”

“But, are you mad?”

“No, no, Highness. Let’s talk about Murph. Even though that’s quite amazing, his four francs a day, it’s still within reason. But a house, a shop, a pile of money—what a farce. But a good one.” And he laughed with his broad, honest laugh.

“But, look here . . .”

“Frankly, you had me fooled for a moment. That’s when I said to myself, ‘Monsieur Rodolphe, he’s one of a kind. I suppose he wants me to get something from the baker, some errand he wants me to run, and he wants to grease my palm so I don’t suspect something. But when I considered the matter further, I realized I was wrong to think that, and that’s when it struck me you were playing a joke. Because, if I were fool enough to believe that you were going to give me a fortune for nothing, why, Highness, you would have said to yourself, ‘Poor Chourineur. I’m surprised at you. Are you ill?’”

Rodolphe was at a loss as to how he might convince Chourineur. Finally, he said to him in a tone both grave and imposing, almost severe: “I never joke about the gratitude and solicitude such decency inspires in me. I told you, this house, this money, they are yours; I’m giving them to you. And since you still refuse to believe me, and you force me to swear, well, then I swear on my honor that all of this belongs to you, and that it’s yours for the reasons I’ve given you already.”

Rodolphe’s firm, dignified tone of voice and the serious expression on his face finally convinced Chourineur, who no longer doubted the truth. For several moments he stared at Rodolphe in silence, then, without emphasis and in a voice that expressed profound emotion, said: “I believe you, Highness. Thank you. A poor fellow like me isn’t very good with words. Thank you. All I can tell you is that I’ll never refuse help to the unfortunate, because hunger and poverty, why, they’re as bad as the trolls who took in that poor Goualeuse, and once in the gutter, not everyone has the strength to pull themselves out.”

“That’s the best thanks you can give me, my boy. Here in this secretary you’ll find the deeds to the property, which I purchased for you in the name of Monsieur Francoeur.”


“Since you don’t have a name, I’ve given you one. It’s a hopeful portent, and I’m certain you’ll honor it.”

“I give you my word.”

“Courage, my boy! You can help me in an important task.”

“Me, Highness?”

“You. In the eyes of the world, you will be a living example, a salutary one. The good fortune Providence has given you demonstrates that even the fallen can rise up and hope—providing they repent and are able to preserve the purity of certain salient features of their nature. You have committed a crime and paid a terrible price. But seeing you a happy man, one who has remained honest, courageous, and disinterested, those who have gone astray will seek to better themselves. No part of your past must be hidden. Sooner or later, all will be discovered, and it is better to be ahead of such disclosure. In a short while, you and I shall visit the mayor of this commune. I’ve made inquiries about him and he’s someone worthy of contributing to my work. I shall stand as your guarantor, and so that we may establish honorable relations between yourself and the two persons who morally represent the people of this town, for two years I shall provide a monthly stipend of a thousand francs for the poor. Each month I shall send this amount to you, and its use shall be determined by yourself, the mayor, and the curé. If either of them harbors the slightest doubt about having dealings with you, such scruples will vanish in the face of the needs of charity. Once these relationships have been established, it shall be your responsibility to merit the esteem of these excellent people, and in this you shall not fail.”

“I understand, Highness. It’s not for me, Chourineur, that you’re doing such good deeds, but for the unfortunate, who, like me, find themselves in difficulty, resorted to crime, but have put it all behind them, as you say, with courage and honor. Begging your pardon, it’s like the army. When the whole battalion’s been to the slaughter, you can’t decorate everyone, there are only four or five crosses for five hundred brave men. So the ones who don’t get a medal say to themselves, ‘Very well, I’ll get it some other time,’ and the next time they’ll lead the charge once more.”

Rodolphe listened to his protégé with delight. By giving this man a sense of self-esteem, by raising him up in his own eyes, by making him aware of his worth, he had managed to develop in his heart and mind, almost at once, considerations filled with good sense and, one might add, almost with tact.

Rodolphe resumed. “What you’re telling me, Francoeur, is a new way of showing me your gratitude. I appreciate that.”

“So much the better, Your Highness, for I’d be embarrassed to show it otherwise.”

“Now, let’s have a look at the house. My dear old Murph has already done so and I’d like to do so myself.”

Rodolphe and Chourineur went downstairs. As they entered the courtyard, the young butcher, addressing Chourineur, said to him respectfully: “Since you’re the owner, Monsieur Francoeur, I want to let you know that the business is doing very well. We’re out of cutlets, out of roasts, and we’ll need one or two sheep right away.”

“Well, well!” Rodolphe exclaimed to Chourineur, “Here’s a fine opportunity to exercise your talent. And I want to be the first. The open air has given me an appetite, and I’d like to try one of your cutlets, although a bit tough I fear.”

“You are most kind, Monsieur Rodolphe. You flatter me. I’ll do my best.”

“Shall I bring the sheep to the abattoir, boss?” asked the boy.

“Yes, and a sharp knife. A strong one. And make sure the edge isn’t too fine.”

“I have everything you need, rest assured. You could shave yourself with it. Here.”

“Confound it! Monsieur Rodolphe,” exclaimed Chourineur as he hastened to remove his redingote and roll up his sleeves. “This reminds me of my youth and the slaughterhouse. Now I’ll show you how I work. Damn it, let’s get to work. Your knife, boy, your knife. That’s it. Do you hear it. Now that’s a blade! Who wants a piece? Why, with a blade like this, I could finish off an angry bull.”

Chourineur brandished the knife. His eyes began to redden; the animal within was taking over. Instinct, the thirst for blood, reappeared in all its terrifying energy. The shop’s abattoir was in the courtyard. The room was vaulted, dark, with a stone floor, lit from above by a narrow opening. The boy led a sheep to the doorway.

“Shall I put the ring on, boss?”

“Tie him up, damn it! And the knees! Don’t worry about it, I’ll tie him up tight as a vice. Give me the animal and go back to the shop.”

The boy left. Rodolphe remained alone with Chourineur. He examined him closely, almost with anxiety.

“Let’s see how you work.”

“It won’t be long. Now you’ll see how I handle a knife. My hands are burning, my ears are buzzing. I can feel my temples pounding, it’s like when everything used to turn red. Get over here, you . . . Madelon, and prepare to meet your maker!”

His eyes alight with savage brilliance, no longer even aware of Rodolphe’s presence, he grabbed the lamb and carried it to the abattoir with a fierce joy. He resembled a wolf hurrying to his lair with his prey. Rodolphe followed him and leaned against one of the planks of the door, which he closed behind him. The room was dark except for a harsh beam of light falling from above that cast the unkempt figure of Chourineur, with his pale blond hair and red sideburns, into a Rembrandtesque chiaroscuro. Bent over, holding between his teeth a long knife that glittered in the half-light, he held the lamb between his knees. When the animal was firmly in his grip, he grabbed it by the head and, pulling back to expose its neck, slit its throat. As soon as the lamb felt the blade, it uttered a soft, plaintive bleat and turned its dying gaze upon Chourineur as two streams of blood struck the butcher in the face.

The animal’s cry, its gaze, the blood he so reviled, created a terrifying impression on the man. The knife fell from his hands, his face grew pale, contracted, and with the blood upon it, assumed a horrifying expression. His eyes widened and his hair stood on end, then, stepping back in horror, he gasped: “Oh! The sergeant! The sergeant!”

Rodolphe ran to him.

“Come to your senses, my boy.”

“The . . . the sergeant,” Chourineur repeated, stepping back, his eyes fixed, haggard, as he pointed at some invisible phantom. Then, with a terrifying cry, as if the specter had touched him, he ran to the back of the abattoir, into the darkest part of the room, and there, falling forward, his hands against the wall, as if he wanted to push it down and escape the terrifying vision, he repeated in a low, convulsive voice: “The sergeant . . . the sergeant . . . the sergeant.”

This work received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States through their publishing assistance program.


Eugène Sue

French author, Eugène Sue (1804 – 1857) was born near the city of Cannes in southern France and came from a distinguished family of doctors. Like his father, Sue also studied medicine. He began his career as a naval doctor but retired in 1829 to write.

In 1842 he began writing Les Mystères de Paris, a novel in parts published serially in Le Journal des Débats. It was the first time in a novel that readers had been exposed to the social agitation and mixing of classes experienced in the bars and cabarets of Paris’s dense core on Ile de la Cité.

His complete works, depending on the edition, run to 78 volumes.

Robert Bononno

ROBERT BONONNO is credited with the translation of over two dozen full-length works of fiction and nonfiction and numerous shorter pieces. These include René Crevel’s My Body and I—a finalist for the 2005 French-American Foundation Prize—Hervé Guibert’s Ghost Image, and Henri Raczymo’s Swan’s Way. In 2002 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to complete a translation of the non-fiction work of Isabelle Eberhardt and in 2010 he received an NEA grant for the retranslation of Eugène Sue’s classic crime novel, The Mysteries of Paris. Mr. Bononno’s latest translation, Pascal Kramer’s Autopsy of a Father, was recently published by Bellevue Literary Press.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2019

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