“To the prison of St. Lazare!”
The head jailer of St. Lazare stood in the outer hall of the prison, two days after the arrest at Trudaine’s lodgings, smoking his morning pipe. Looking toward the courtyard gate, he saw the wicket opened, and a privileged man let in, whom he soon recognized as the chief agent of the second section of Secret Police. “Why, friend Lomaque,” cried the jailer, advancing toward the courtyard, “what brings you here this morning, business or pleasure?”
“Pleasure, this time, citizen. I have an idle hour or two to spare for a walk. I find myself passing the prison, and I can’t resist calling in to see how my friend the head jailer is getting on.” Lomaque spoke in a surprisingly brisk and airy manner. His eyes were suffering under a violent fit of weakness and winking; but he smiled, notwithstanding, with an air of the most inveterate cheerfulness. Those old enemies of his, who always distrusted him most when his eyes were most affected, would have certainly disbelieved every word of the friendly speech he had just made, and would have assumed it as a matter of fact that his visit to the head jailer had some specially underhand business at the bottom of it.
“How am I getting on?” said the jailer, shaking his head. “Overworked, friend—overworked. No idle hours in our department. Even the guillotine is getting too slow for us!”
“Sent off your batch of prisoners for trial this morning?” asked Lomaque, with an appearance of perfect unconcern.
“No; they’re just going,” answered the other. “Come and have a look at them.” He spoke as if the prisoners were a collection of pictures on view, or a set of dresses just made up. Lomaque nodded his head, still with his air of happy, holiday carelessness. The jailer led the way to an inner hall; and, pointing lazily with his pipe-stem, said: “Our morning batch, citizen, just ready for the baking.”
In one corner of the hall were huddled together more than thirty men and women of all ranks and ages; some staring round them with looks of blank despair; some laughing and gossiping recklessly. Near them lounged a guard of “Patriots,” smoking, spitting, and swearing. Between the patriots and the prisoners sat, on a rickety stool, the second jailer—a humpbacked man, with an immense red mustache—finishing his breakfast of broad beans, which he scooped out of a basin with his knife, and washed down with copious draughts of wine from a bottle. Carelessly as Lomaque looked at the shocking scene before him, his quick eyes contrived to take note of every prisoner’s face, and to descry in a few minutes Trudaine and his sister standing together at the back of the group.
“Now then, Apollo!” cried the head jailer, addressing his subordinate by a facetious prison nickname, “don’t be all day starting that trumpery batch of yours. And harkye, friend, I have leave of absence, on business, at my Section this afternoon. So it will be your duty to read the list for the guillotine, and chalk the prisoners’ doors before the cart comes to-morrow morning. ’Ware the bottle, Apollo, to-day; ’ware the bottle, for fear of accidents with the death-list to-morrow.”