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- Mysteries of Paris, V3 - 30/89 -
are so many like him on the streets of Paris, little starved-to-deaths."
"They ought to begin to learn that trade young," replied Pique-Vinaigre, bitterly; "so that they can become used to it."
"Come, go on then, make haste," said Skeleton, gruffly; "the keeper is impatient, his soup is growing cold."
"Oh, bah! never mind," answered the keeper; "I wish to make a little more acquaintance with Gringalet. It is amusing."
"Really, it is very interesting," added Germain, attentive to the story.
"Oh, thank you for what you say, my capitalist; that gives me more pleasure than your ten sous."
"Thunder! you sluggard!" cried the Skeleton. "Will you have done keeping us waiting?"
"Here goes!" answered Pique-Vinaigre.
"One day Cut-in-half had picked up Gringalet in the street, dying with cold and hunger; he would have done just as well to let him alone to die. As Gringalet was feeble, he was afraid; and as he was cowardly, he became the laughing-stock and scapegoat of his companions, who beat him, and caused him so much misery, that he would have been very wicked if strength and courage had not failed him. But no; when they beat him, he cried, saying, 'I have done no harm to any one, yet every one harms me--it is unjust. Oh! if I were strong and bold!' You think, perhaps, that Gringalet was going to add, 'I would return to others the evil they did me.' Well, no! not at all: he said, 'Oh! if I were strong and bold, I would defend the weak against the strong; for I am weak, and the strong make me suffer.' In the mean time, as he was too much of a pigmy to prevent the strong from molesting the weak, he prevented the larger beasts from injuring the smaller ones.
"There's a funny idea!" said the prisoner in the blue cap.
"And what is still more funny," replied the patterer, "is that, with this idea, one would have said that Gringalet consoled himself for being beaten; and that proves that, at bottom, he had not a bad heart."
"I think so--on the contrary," said the keeper, "Pique-Vinaigre is jolly amusing."
At this moment the clock struck half-past three. The Skeleton and Big Cripple exchanged significant glances. The hour advanced, the keeper did not retire, and some of the least hardened prisoners seemed almost to forget the sinister projects against Germain, who listened with eagerness to the recital. "When I say," Pique-Vinaigre resumed, "that Gringalet prevented the larger beasts from eating the smaller ones, you will please understand that Gringalet did not go and interfere in the affairs of the tigers, lions, wolves, or even the foxes and apes of the menagerie; he was too cowardly for that. But as soon as he saw, for example, a spider concealed in his web, to catch a poor foolish fly that was buzzing about gayly in the sun, without harming any one, crack! Gringalet gave a sweep into the web, delivered the fly, and crushed the spider, like a real Cæsar! Yes, like a real Cæsar! for he became as white as chalk at even touching these villainous creatures; he needed, then, resolution. He was afraid of a lady-bug, and had taken a very long time to become familiar with the turtle which Cut-in-half handed over to him every morning. Thus Gringalet, overcoming the alarm which spiders caused him, to prevent the flies from being eaten, showed himself--"
"Showed himself as bold, in his way, as a man who would have attacked a wolf, to take from him a lamb of the fold," said Blue Cap.
"Or as a man who would have attacked Cut-in-half, to drag Gringalet from his claws," added Barbillon, also much interested.
"As you say," replied Pique-Yinaigre. "Accordingly, after these doings, Gringalet did not feel so very unfortunate. He who never laughed, smiled, looked wise, put on his cap sideways, when he had a cap, and sung the Marseillaise with a trumpet air. At such times, there was not a spider that dared to look him in the face! Another time it was a cricket that was drowning and struggling in a gutter; quickly Gringalet bravely plunged two of his fingers into the waves and caught the cricket, which he afterward placed on a blade of grass; a champion swimmer with a medal, who should have fished up his tenth drowned person, at fifty francs the head, could not have been more proud than Gringalet, when he saw his cricket kick and run away. And yet the cricket gave him neither money nor a medal, and did not even say thank you, nor did the fly. 'But then, Pique-Vinaigre, my friend,' will the honorable society say, 'what kind of pleasure could Gringalet, whom every one beats, find in being the deliverer of crickets and the executioner of spiders? Since others injured him, why did he not revenge himself in doing harm according to his strength; for instance, by causing the flies to be eaten by spiders, or in letting the crickets drown themselves, or even drowning them himself.'"
"Yes; exactly; why did he not revenge himself in that way?" said Nicholas.
"What good would that have done him?" said another.
"Why, to do harm because others harmed him!"
"No! I can comprehend why the poor little kid liked to save the flies," answered Blue Cap. "He thought, perhaps, 'Who knows that some one will not save me in the same way?'"
"Pal, you're right," cried Pique-Vinaigre; "you have read in your heart what I was about to explain to the honorable company. Gringalet was not malicious; he saw no further than the end of his nose; but he said to himself, 'Cut-in-half is my spider; perhaps one day somebody will do for me what I do for the flies; they will break up his web, and snatch me from his claws.' For until then, on no account would he have dared to run away from his master; he would have thought himself stone dead. Yet, one day, when neither he nor his turtle had had any luck, and they had only earned two or three sous, Cut-in-half began to whip the child so hard, so hard, that, hang it! Gringalet could stand it no longer. Tired of being the butt and martyr of everybody, he watched the moment when the trap-door of the garret was open, and while the padrone was feeding his beasts, he slipped down the ladder."
"Hooray! so much the better!" said a prisoner.
"But why did he not go and complain to the Alderman?" said Blue Cap; "he would have given Cut-in-half his token!"
"Yes, but he did not dare; he was too much afraid, he preferred to run away. Unfortunately, Cut-in-half had seen him; he caught him by the throat, and carried him back to the garret; this time Gringalet, thinking of what he had to expect, shuddered from head to foot, for he was not at the end of his troubles. Speaking of the troubles of Gringalet, it is necessary that I should tell you of Gargousse, the favorite ape. This wicked animal was larger than Gringalet; judge what a size for an ape! Now I am going to tell you why they did not lead him as a show through the streets, like the other beasts of the menagerie; it was because Gargousse was so wicked and so strong that, among all the children, there was only one, Auvergnat, fourteen years old, a resolute fellow, who, after having several times collared and fought with Gargousse, had succeeded in mastering him, and leading him by a chain; and even then, there were often battles between them, and bloody ones too, you may bet! Tired of this, the little Auvergnat said one day, 'Well, well, I will revenge myself on you, you lubberly baboon!' So one morning he set off with his beast as usual; to decoy him he bought a sheep's heart. While Gargousse was eating, he passed a cord through the end of his chain, and fastened it to a tree; and when he had the scoundrel of an ape once tied fast, he poured on him such a torrent of blows! a torrent that fire could not have extinguished."
"Hit him again, he's got no friends."
"Break his back for him, the rascally Gargousse," said the prisoners.
"And he did lay it on with a good heart," answered Pique-Vinaigre. "You should have heard how Gargousse yelled, seen how he gnashed his teeth, jumped, danced here and there; but Auvergnat trimmed him up with his club, saying, 'Do you like it? then here is some more!' Unfortunately, apes are like cats, they have nine lives. Gargousse was as cunning as he was wicked. When he saw, as I may say, what kind of wood was burning for him, at the very thickest moment of the torrent, he cut a last caper, fell flat down at the foot of the tree, kicked a moment, and then shammed dead, not budging any more than a log. The Auvergnat wished nothing more; believing the ape done for, he cleared out, never to put his feet in Cut-in-half's drum again. But the vagabond Gargousse watched him out of the corner of his eye, all wounded as he was, and as soon as he saw himself alone and Auvergnat at a distance, he gnawed the cord with his teeth. The Boulevard Monceau, where he had had his dance, was very near Little Poland; the ape knew the road as well as he did his prayers. He slowly went off then, crawling along, and arrived at his master's, who swore and foamed to see his pet ape thus served out. But this is not all; from that moment Gargousse had preserved such furious spite against all children in general, that Cut-in-half, though not very tender-hearted, had not dared to let any of them lead him out, for fear of an accident; for Gargousse would have been capable of strangling or devouring a child, and the little fellows would rather have allowed themselves to be slashed by their master than approach the ape."
"I must most decidedly go and eat my soup," said the keeper, making a movement toward the door; "Pique-Vinaigre would make the birds come down from the trees to hear him. I do not know wherever he has fished up this story."
"At length the keeper is off," whispered Skeleton to the Cripple; "I am in a fever, so much do I burn. Only attend to making the ring around the spy, I'll take care of the rest."
"Be good boys," said the keeper, going toward the door.
"Good as pictures," answered Skeleton, drawing near Germain, while the Big Cripple and Nicholas, at a concerted signal, made two steps in the same direction.
"Oh! respectable warder, you are going away at the finest moment," said Pique-Yinaigre, with an air of reproach.
Except for the Cripple, who prevented his movement by seizing his arm, Skeleton would have sprung upon Pique-Vinaigre.
"How at the finest moment?" answered the keeper, turning.
"I think so," said Pique-Vinaigre; "you do not know all you are going to lose; the most charming part of my story is about to commence."
"Do not listen to it, then," said Skeleton, with difficulty restraining his rage; "he is not in the vein to-day: I find his story abominably stupid."
"My story stupid?" cried Pique-Vinaigre, his vanity wounded; "well, keeper, I beg you, I supplicate you, to remain to the end. I have only enough to
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