STORY OF A GALLEY-SLAVE
The next day Farrabesche and his son came to the chateau with game. The keeper also brought, for Francis, a cocoanut cup, elaborately carved, a genuine work of art, representing a battle. Madame Graslin was walking at the time on the terrace, in the direction which overlooked Les Tascherons. She sat down on a bench, took the cup in her hand and looked earnestly at the deft piece of work. A few tears came into her eyes.
“You must have suffered very much,” she said to Farrabesche, after a few moments’ silence.
“How could I help it, madame?” he replied; “for I was there without the hope of escape, which supports the life of most convicts.”
“An awful life!” she said in a tone of horror, inviting Farrabesche by word and gesture to say more.
Farrabesche took the convulsive trembling and other signs of emotion he saw in Madame Graslin for the powerful interest of compassionate curiosity in himself.
Just then Madame Sauviat appeared, coming down a path as if she meant to join them; but Veronique drew out her handkerchief and made a negative sign; saying, with an asperity she had never before shown to the old woman:—
“Leave me, leave me, mother.”
“Madame,” said Farrabesche, “for ten years I wore there (holding out his leg) a chain fastened to a great iron ring which bound me to another man. During my time I had to live thus with three different convicts. I slept on a wooden bench; I had to work extraordinarily hard to earn a little mattress called a serpentin. Each dormitory contains eight hundred men. Each bed, called a tolard, holds twenty-four men, chained in couples. Every night the chain of each couple is passed round another great chain which is called the filet de ramas. This chain holds all the couples by the feet, and runs along the bottom of the tolard. It took me over two years to get accustomed to that iron clanking, which called out incessantly, ’Thou art a galley-slave!’ If I slept an instant some vile companion moved or quarrelled, reminding me of where I was. There is a terrible apprenticeship to make before a man can learn how to sleep. I myself could not sleep until I had come to the end of my strength and to utter exhaustion. When at last sleep came I had the nights in which to forget. Oh! to forget, madame, that was something! Once there, a man must learn to satisfy his needs, even in the smallest things, according to the ways laid down by pitiless regulations. Imagine, madame, the effect such a life produced on a lad like me, who had lived in the woods with the birds and the squirrels! If I had not already lived for six months within prison-walls, I should, in spite of Monsieur Bonnet’s grand words—for he, I can truly say, is the father of my soul—I should, ah! I must have flung myself into the sea at the mere sight of my