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JLriE GREATEST TRUE STORY OF ESCAPE 
* ND ADVENTURE EVER WRITTEN 


■ Condemned for a murder he had not - 
>mmitted, Henri Charri ere (nicknamed 
apillon) was sent to the penal colony of 
rench Guiana. Forty- tvvo days after his 
nival he made his first break, trav elling a 
Vousand gruelling miles in an open boat. 
Kecaptured, he suffered solitary 
^jufinement and was sent eventually to 
i evil's Island, a hell-hole of disease and 

■ • tality. No one had ever escaped from 
’ Is notorious prison - no one until 
’apillon took to the shark-infested sea 
apported only by a makeshift coconut-sack 
aft. In- thirteen years he made nine daring 
-capes, living through many fantastic 

- ventures while on the run - including a 
ojoum with South American Indians 
vhose women Papillon found welcomely 
ree of European restraints . . . 

APELLON is filled with tension, adventure 

■ d high excitement. It is also one of the 
< ost vivid stories of human endurance 
ver written. 

Top of the bestseller lists all over the world 


>i -BOOK THAT TOOK THE 
VORLD BY STORM 




Henri Charriere 
Papilion 


Translated from the French by Patrick O' Brian 


APANTHERBOOK 


GRANADA 

Londonlbronto Sydney NewYork 



Published by Granada Publishing Limited in 1970 
Reprinted 1971. 1972 (twice), 1973 /five times), 1974 
(eight times), 1975 (five times), 1976 (twice), 1977, 

1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 

ISBN 0 586 03486 2 

First published in Great Britain by 
Rupert Hart-Davies Ltd 1970 
Reprinted twice 

Copyright C Robert Laf font 1969 

Granada Publishing Limited 
Frogmorc, St Albans, Herts AL2 2NF 
and 

3 Upper James Street, London W1R 4BP 

866 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY10017, USA 

117 York Street, Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia 

100 Skyway Avenue, Rexdale, Ontario, M9W 3A6, Canada 

PO Box 84)65, Greenside, 2034 Johannesburg, South Africa 

61 Beach Road. Auckland, New Zealand 

Reproduced, printed and bound in Great Britain by 
Cox & Wyman Ltd, Reading 
Set in Intcrtype Times 

This book is sold subject to the condition that it 
shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, 
re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated 
without the publisher’s prior consent in any 
form of binding or cover other than that in 
which it is published and without a similar 
condition including this condition being imposed 
on the subsequent purchaser 

Granada TO 
Granada Publishing it- 



To the people of Venezuela, to the humble fishermen of the Guli 
of Paria, to all those, intellectuals, soldiers and others who gave 
me my chance to make anew life. 

To Rita, my wife, my best friend. 




Contents 


Translator’s Introduction 11 

First Exercise-Book : Down the Drain 17 

Second Exercise-Book: On the way to Guiana 46 

Third Exercise-Book: First Break 76 

Fourth Exercise-Book : First Break (continued) 118 

Fifth Exercise-Book: Back to Civilization 187 

Sixth Exercise-Book: The Dos du Salut 255 

Seventh Exercise-Book: The lies du Salut (continued) 320 

Eighth Exercise-Book: Back to Royale 362 

Ninth Exercise-Book: Saint-Joseph 397 

Tenth Exercise-Book: Devil’s Island 427 

Eleventh Exercise-Book: Farewell to Penal 483 

Twelfth Exercise-Book: Georgetown 489 

Thirteenth Exercise-Book: Venezuela 532 









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1933-1934 






All this last year France has been talking about Papiilon, 
about the phenomene Papiilon, which is not merely the sell- 
ing of very large numbers of an unusually long book, but the 
discovery of a new world and the rediscovery of a kind of 
direct, intensely living narrative that has scarcely ever been 
seen since literature became self-conscious. 

The new world in question is of course the underworld, seeu 
from within and described with extraordinary’ natural talent 
by one who knows it through and through and who accepts 
its values, which include among others courage, loyalty and 
fortitude. But this is the real underworld, as different from the 
underworld of fiction as the act of love is different from ado- 
lescent imaginings, a world the French have scarcely seen ex- 
cept here and there in the works of Jean Genet and Albertine 
Sarrazin, or the English since Defoe; and its startling fierce 
uncompromising reality, savagely contemptuous of the Estab- 
lishment, has shocked and distressed many a worthy bourge- 
ois. Indeed, we have a minister’s word for it ( a minister, no 
less) that the present hopeless moral decline of France is due 
to the wearing of miniskirts and to the reading of Papiilon. 

Nevertheless all properly equipped young women are still 
wearing miniskirts, in spite pi the cold, and even greater num- 
bers of Frenchmen with properly equipped minds are still 
reading Papiilon, in spite of the uncomfortable feelings it must 
arouse from time to time. And this is one of the most striking 
things about the phenomene Papiilon: the book makes an 
immense appeal to the whole range of men of good will, from 
the Acad&nic franjaise to the cheerful young mason who is 
working on my house. The literary men are the most articulate 
in their, praise, and I will quote from Frangois Mauriac, the 
most literary and articulate of them all, for his praise sums up 
all the rest and expresses it better. This piece comes from his 
Bloc-notcs in the Figaro litteraire. 

I had heard that it was a piece of oral literature, but 5 
not agree at all: no, even on the literary plane 1 t/h'-i 
extraordinarily talented book. I have believed the: ' 

no great success, no overwhelming success, that h 



ved. It always has a deep underlying reason . . . I think that 
Papilhn's immense success , is m exact P r0 P°^J° 
book’s worth and to what the author has lived through. But 
another man who had had the same life and had experienced 
the same adventures would have produced nothing from it 
at all. This is a literary prodigy. Merely having been a trans- 
ported convict and having escaped does not mean a thing: 
you have to have talent to give this tale its ring of truth. It 
is utterly fascinating reading. This new colleague of ours is 


a master! _ 

A thing that struck me very much in the book is that this 
man. sentenced for a killing that he did not commit . . . takes 
a very sanguine view of mankind. At the beginning of his 
first escape he was taken in and given shelter on a lepers’ 
island. The charity these most unfortunate, most forsaken 
of men showed to the convicts is truly wonderful. And it 
was the lepers who saw to it that they were saved. The same 
applies to the way they were' welcomed in Trinidad and at - 
Curasao, not as criminals but as men who deserved admira- 
tion for having made that voyage aboard a nutshell. There 
is this human warmth all round them, and all through the 
book we never forget it. How different from those bitter, 
angry, disgusted books - C&ine’s, for example. 

Man’s highest virtues are to be found in what is called 
the gutter, the underworld; and what gangsters do is some- 
times the same as what heroes do, I have already confessed 
that when I am very low in my mind I read detective stories. 
In these books, where everything is made up, the human 
aspect of the characters, the 'humanity’, is appalling. But in 
Papillon’s tale, which is true, we meet a humanity that we 
love in spite of its revolting side. This book is a good book, 
in the deep meaning of the word. 


When one has read a little way into Papilhn one soon comes 
to recognize the singular truthfulness of the writing, but at 
first some readers, particularly English readers, wonder wheth- 
er such things can be; and so that no time, no pleasure, should 
be lost, a certain amount of authentication may be in place 
Henri Charriere was bom in 1906, in the Ardeche, a some- 
what remote district in the south of France where his father 
was the master of a village school. After doing his military 
service in the navy, Chancre went to Paris, where, having 


12 



acquired the nickname of PapiUon, he soon carved himself out 
a respected place in the underworld : he had an intuitive per- 
ception of its laws and standards, and he respected them scrup- 
ulously. Papillon was not a killer at that time, but he fell foul 
of the police and when he was taken up on the charge of mur- 
dering a ponce he was convicted. The perjury of a witness for 
the prosecution, the thick stupidity of the jury, the utter in- 
humanity of the prosecuting counsel, and the total injustice of 
the sentence maddened him, for like many of his friends he 
had a far more acute sense of justice than is usual in the bour- 
geois world. What is more, the sentence was appallingly sev- 
ere - transportation to the penal settlements in French Guiana 
and imprisonment for life without a hope of remission: and 
all this at the age of twenty-five. He swore he would not serve 
it, and he did not serve if. This book is an account of his as- 
tonishing escapes from an organization that was nevertheless 
accustomed to holding on to thousands of very tough and 
determined men, and of the adventures that were the con- 
sequences of his escapes. But it is also a furious protest against 
a society that can use human beings so, that can reduce them 
to despair and that can for its own convenience shut them up in 
dim concrete cells with bars only at the top, there to live in 
total silence upon a starvation diet until they are tamed, driven 
mad or physically destroyed - killed. The horrible, absolutely 
convincing account of his years in solitary confinement is very 
deeply moving indeed. 

After years on the run, years of being taken and then escap- 
ing again even though he was on the ‘very dangerous T list, Pap- 
illon finally got away from Devil’s Island itself, riding over 
many miles of sea to the mainland on a couple of sacks filled 
with coconuts. He managed to reach Venezuela, and eventu- 
ally the Venezuelans gave him his chance, allowing him to 
become a Venezuelan citizen and to settle down to live in Car- 
acas as quietly as his fantastic vitality would allow. 

It was here that he chanced upon Albertine Sarrazin’s won- 
derful I'As/ragalc in a French bookshop. He read it. The red 
band round the cover said 123rd thousand, and PapiUon said, 
‘It’s pretty good: but if that chick, just going from hideout to 
hideout with that broken bone of hers, could sell 123,000 cop- 
ies, why, with my thirty years of adventures, I'll sell three 
times as many.’ He bought two schoolboys’ exercise books 
with spiral bindings and in two days he filled them. He bought 



eleven more, and in a couple of months they too were ftf • 
It is perhaps thus extraordinary flow that accounts for som 
of the unique living quality of the book. A professional wri e 
who puts down between one and two thousand words a d 3 
is doing very well; Papillon must have written about five thou- 
sand a day, and the result is very like the flow, of a practised 
raconteur - indeed' the book has been called a masterpiece or 
oral literature, and although this is not Mauriac’s view, with 
the utmost diffidence 1 (having lived with Papillon for months) 


venture to agree with it. 

As luck would have it the manuscript was sent '.to lean- 
Pierre Castelnau, the publisher who had discovered Albertine 
Sarraziu ; and here I quote from his preface. 


His manuscript reached me in September. Three weeks 
later Charrifere was in Paris. Jean-Jacques Pauvert and I had 
launched * Albertine: Charrikre entrusted me with his 
book. ... 

I have left this book, poured red-hot from his glowing 
memory and typed by various enthusiastic but not always 
very French hands, virtually untouched. All I have done is 
to put some order into the punctuation, change a few al- 
most incomprehensible Spanish turns of phrase, and straigh- 
ten out certain muddles and inversions that arise from his 
daily use of three or four different languages in Caracas, all 
learnt by ear. 

I can vouch for the basic authenticity of the book. Char- 
riere came to Paris twice and we talked a great deal. Whole 
days: and some nights too. Clearly, in thirty years some de- 
tails may have grown dim and memory may have altered 
others. They are not of any importance. As for the 
background, one has but to glance at Professor Devtee’s 
Cayenne ( Collection Archives, Julliard, 1965) to see that 
Charriere has by no means exaggerated either the way of life 
and morality of the penal settlement or its horror. Far from it. 

As a matter of principle we have changed the names of 
all the convicts, warders and governors of the prison service, 
this book's intention being not to attack individuals but to 
describe given characters and a given community. We have 
done the same with the dates: some are exact, others merely 
give a general notion of the period. That is all that is re- 
quired. 


Perhaps I should add something about the translation of 
the book. To begin with it was one of the hardest I have ever 
undertaken, partly because Papillon could not get into his 
stride, and I had to stumble along with him, for I resent ‘im- 
provements’ in translation - they do not seem to me right. 
(Once, in one of my own novels, an Italian translator unproved 
a difficult poem right out of existence.) And then there was 
the problem of his slang: Papillon does not use very much - 
nothing to compare with Albertine Sarrazin or Celine, for 
example - and it offers no great difficulty from the point of 
view of comprehension; but what he does use is strongly alive, 
far more immediate and personal than the comparatively 
limited vocabulary of the English underworld. So I was obliged 
to draw upon the more copious and vivid American : but then 
Papillon’s prison days were in the thirties and forties, so the 
slang had to belong to that period. Occasionally I have fallen 
into anachronism rather than sacrifice vividness, but on the 
whole I think the language, particularly the dialogue, is a 
reasonably faithful reflection of the original. Then again there 
was the question of obscenities. French of course makes a 
very' free use of expressions such as cot i and merde whose lit- 
eral equivalents are less often heard in English and therefore 
have a rather stronger effect; but on the other hand no one can 
be so simple as to suppose that thousands of ill-treated convicts 
herded together sound anything like a Sunday-school, so I 
have tried to steer between unnecessary grossness and inac- 
curate insipidity. 

By the time I had settled these points Papillon had thoroughly 
hit bis stride, and then I found that the best way of following 
his breakneck pace was to keep up with him. It is a pace that 
I am used to, for I have lived half my fife among the most 
loquacious people in France, and although I could not trans- 
late quite as fast as Papillon wrote, I still finished the book in 
three months, treating it (to -use Jean-Pierre Castlenau’s words) 
as the flow of ’a sunlit, rather husky southern voice that you 
can listen to for hours on end’. And I may say that although 
in places it was tough going, all in all it was one of the most 
full and rewarding experiences in a literary life that has not 
been sparing in delights. 


PATRICK 
Colliour' f* 




r irsi r.xercise-auur. 

Down the Drain 


The Assizes 


The blow was such a stunner tfcstfcwaz thirusm 
I could get back on to my feet agam, lc v.'urxr. . zx zx*-. 
of blow either, and they clubbed tozetzsrmiemnxmvex.. 

This was 26 October 1931. At eight Si rSearcrrzsg :>.? ; >.x 
taken me out of my cell in the Coznermru -’tx :r£' 1' Z-.X 
been living in for the past year. I war weiL ±zveec 'rrx V.' 
dressed: I looked as smooth as they crane m zrr rmLCXsTo- 
measure suit and white shirt with a prji-hini-r rrm-xx _ rr 
the finishing touch. _ 

I was twenty-five and I looked twenty. _nr mruzrrnx;.- 'v:xtt 
rather impressed by my posh cloths, amt dtsw mxc:t?.r me 
civilly. They even took off the handcmfi. Tinerr "wi ’wa-c. dll 
six of us, the five gendarmes and me, srcznir ;rrr nwr ihanahaf in 
a bare room. A dreary sky outside. The carer imjrn3irrm'"nu;sc 
lead into the assize-court, for this bozzaj,. 2hir Tinrir cuiliriinj.;. 
was the Palais de Justice of the Seine. 

In a few moments I was to be indictee 'itrwffri horbuSde. 
My counsel, Maltre Raymond Hubert, cme 2r o see nv-. 
‘There’s no solid evidence against xpu: 1 f~rr meet c:s f?o bc 
acquitted.’ That ‘us’ made me smile. A zy coe wtoIIi ’h't'.ve 
thought that Maitre Hubert was going to mcenr E~ the dock 
too, and that if the verdict was guilty be tic moveri 'hr y,- sr 
serve time. 

An usher opened the door and told us to come in. \Yr. ; h for. 
gendarmes round me and the sergeant to one see. \ ',*•'& <V me 
entrance through the wide-open double doors into x-:\v 
mous court-room. They had done the 'whole place v-.o jh ?iVi, 
blood red, so as to hand me out this crushing bio",' -t 1 J .0 r 
the carpets, the curtains at the big window’s and even '?:• ;v*\ ’ 
of the judges who were going to deal with me in t'VO 0, f^.-h 
minutes' time. 

’Gentlemen, the court! ’ 

In single file set men appeared through 



The president of the court and then five other lawyers with 
fhc/offickd hats, their toques, on their heads, The presiding 
judge stopped at the scat in the middle and his colleagues 
ranged themselves to the right and the left. There was an im- 
pressive silence in the room, and everybody was standing up, 
including me. The court took its seat, and so did everybody 

6 The president was a fat-faced man with pink cheeks and a 
cold eye; he looked straight at me without letting any sort of 
feeling show. His name was Bcvin. When things were under 
way he ran the trial fairly and he made it clear to one and all 
that as a professional lawyer he was not sure that either the 
witnesses or the police were all that straight. No : he had no 
responsibility for the crusher: all he did was to pass it on to 


me. 

The public prosecutor was a Lawyer called Pradel, and all 
the barristers were frightened of him. He had the evil reputa- 
tion of sending more victims to the guillotine and the convict 
prisons in France and overseas than any other man. 

Pradel stood for the vindication of society. He was the offi- 
cial prosecutor and there was nothing human about him. He 
represented the Law, the scales of justice: he was the one who 
handled them, and he did everything he possibly could to make 
them come down on the right side for him. He lowered the 
lids over his vulturish eyes and stared at me piercingly from his 
full height. From the height of his rostrum in the first place, 
which made him tower over me, and then from his own natural 
height, an arrogant six feet. He did not take off his red robe, 
but he put his toque down in front of him, and he leaned on 
his two great ham-sized hands. There was a gold ring to show 
he was married, and a ring on his little finger made of a highly 
polished horseshoe nail. 

He leant over a little so as to dominate me all the more, and 
he looked as though he were saying, ‘If you think you can get 
away from me, young cock, you’ve got it wrong. My hands 
may not look like talons, but there are claws in my heart that 
are going to rip you to pieces. And the reason why all the bar- 
risters are afraid of me, the reason why the judges think the 
world of me as a dangerous prosecutor, is that f never let my 
prey escape. It’s nothing to do with me whether you’re guilty' 
or innocent: all I'm here for is to make use of everything that 
can be said against you - your disreputable, shiftless life in 



Montmartre, the evidence the police have worked up and the 
statements of the police themselves. What I am to do is to take 
hold of all the disgusting filth piled up by the investigating 
magistrate and manage to make you look so revolting that 
the jury will see that you vanish from the community.’ Either 
I was dreaming or I could hear him perfectly distinctly': this 
man-eater really shook me. ’Prisoner at the bar, just you keep 
quiet, and above all don’t you attempt to defend yourself. I’ll 
send you down the drain, all right. And I trust you’ve no faith 
in the jury? Don’t you kid yourself. Those twelve men know 
nothing whatsoever about life. Look at them, lined up there 
opposite you. Twelve bastards brought up to Paris from some 
perishing village in the country: can you see them clearly? 
Small shopkeepers, pensioners, tradesmen. It’s not worth des- 
cribing them to you in detail. Surely you don’t exnect them to 
understand the life- you lead in Montmartre or what it’s like 
to be twenty-five? As far as they’re concerned Pigalle and the 
Place Blanche are exactly the same as hell and all night-birds 
are the natural enemies of society. They are all unspeakably 
proud of being jurymen at the Seine Assizes. And what’s more, 
I can tell you that they loathe their status - they loathe be- 
longing to the pinched, dreary lower middle class. And now 
you make your appearance here, all young and handsome. Do 
you really suppose for a moment that I’m not going to make 
them see you as a night-prowling Montmartre Don Juan? That 
will put them dead against you right away. You’re too well 
dressed: you ought to have come in something very modest 
indeed. That was a huge tactical error of yours. Can’t you see 
how. jealous of your suit they are? They all buy their clothes 
off the peg - they’ve never even dreamt of having a suit made 
to measure by a tailor.’ 

Ten o’clock, and we were all ready for the trial to start. Six 
official lawyers there in front of me, one of them a fierce, driv- 
ing prosecutor who was going to use all his Machiavellian 
strength and all his intelligence to convince these twelve in- 
nocents that in the first place I was guilty and in the second 
that the only proper sentence was either penal servitude or 
the guillotine. 

I was to be tried for the kilfing'of a pimp, a police-informer 
belonging to the Montmartre underworld. There was no proof, 
but the cops (who get credit every time they find out who has 
committed a crime) were going to swear blind that I was guilty. 



Seeing they had no proof, they said they 
information that, left the matter in no doubt. The strongest 
piece of the prosecution’s evidence was a witness they had 
primed, a human gramophone-record manufactured at 36 quai 
des Orfevrcs, their headquarters - a guy by the name of Polein. 
At one point, when Vwas saying over and over again that I did 
not know him, the president very fairly asked me, ‘You say 
this witness is lying. Very well. But why should he want to lie? 

‘Monsieur le President, I’ve had sleepless nights ever since 
I was arrested, but not out of remorse for having killed Roland 
le Petit, because I never did it. It’s because I keep trying to 
make out what kind of motive this witness can have for attack- 
ing me so ferociously and for bringing fresh evidence to sup- 
port the charge every time it seems to weaken. I’ve come to 
the conclusion. Monsieur le Prtsident, that the police picked 
him up in the act of committing some serious crime and that 
they made a bargain with him - we’ll forget it, so long as you 
denounce Papillon.’ 

At the time I didn’t think I was so dose to the truth. A few 
years later this Polein, who had been held up at the assizes as 
an honest man with no criminal record, was arrested and found 


guilty of peddling cocaine. 

Maitrc Hubert tried to defend me, but he was not up to the 
size of the prosecutor. Maitre BouBay, with his warm-hearted 
indignation, was the only one to make Pradel. struggle for a 
while. But it didn’t last, and the prosecutor’s skill soon got him 
on top again. What’s more, he flattered the jury, who swelled 
with pride at being treated as equals and as colleagues by this 
awe-inspiring character. 

By eleven o’clock at night the game of chess was over. It was . 
checkmate for my counsel. And I, an innocent man - I was 
found guilty. 

In the person of Pradel, the public prosecutor, Society wiped 
out a young man of twenty-five for the term of his natural 
life. And none of your reductions, thank you very much! It 
was the president, Bevin, who handed me out this overflowing 
dish. 


Prisoner, stand up, he said in a toneless voice. 

I got to my feet. There was a complete silence in the court* 
people were holding their breath, and my heart beat a little 
faster. Some jurymen watched me; others hung their heads; 
they looked ashamed. 


20 



‘Prisoner, since the jury has answered yes to all the questions 
except for that of premeditation, you are sentenced to undergo 
penal servitude for life. Have you anything to say?’ 

I did not flinch; I stood there naturally; all I did was to grip 
the bar of the dock a little harder. ‘Yes, Monsieur Ie Presi- 
dent: what I have to say is that I am truly innocent and that 
I am the victim of a plot worked up by the police.’ I heard a 
murmur from the place where there were .some fashionably- 
dressed women, distinguished visitors, sitting behind the jud- 
ges. Without raising my voice I said to them, ‘Shut up, you 
rich women who come here for dirty thrills. The farce is over. 
A murder has been solved by your clever police and your sys- 
tem of justice - you’ve had what you came for.’ 

‘Warders,’ said the President, ‘take the prisoner away.’ 

Before I vanished I heard a voice calling out, TJon’t you 
worry, sweetheart. I’ll come out there and find you.’ It was my 
brave, splendid Nenette giving full voice to her love. In the 
body of the court my friends of the underworld applauded. 
They knew perfectly well what to think about this killing, and 
this was their way of showing me that they were proud I had 
not given anything away or put the blame on anybody else. 

Once we were back in the little room where we had been 
before the trial the gendarmes put the handcuffs on me, and 
one of them arranged a short chain, fixing my right wrist to 
his left. Not a word. I asked for a cigarette. The sergeant gave 
me one and lit it for me. Every time I took it out or put it back 
to my mouth the gendarme had to raise his arm or lower it to 
follow my movement. 

I stood there until I had smoked about three-quarters of the 
cigarette. No one uttered a sound. I was the one who looked 
at the sergeant and said, ‘Let’s go.’ 

Down the stairs, surrounded by a dozen gendarmes, and I 
came to the inner yard of the law-courts. Our black maria 
was waiting for us there. It was not the sort with compart- 
ments: we sat on benches, about ten of us. The sergeant said, 
‘Concicrgcrie.’ 



TheConciergerie 


!2 


When we reached this hct . 

gendarmes handed me S to ^f*- An *°inette’ S pa i aces 

Sf wS r *5 e &2? r wcnt off 

' K,eam *»* ny to I2S 

At s not true?' tt p i t 

“r-iSbJSte-- ht **£ and ! 

Gently he took off ^mustbeoutof tW ^ f ,° sa y th 
enough to ° ff ^ handcuffs Ul 0t the,r minds! ’ 
ke Pt specialty^ * t0 the Padded ceSli.'S* good -heart& 
dangerous p n - S on e S C ° ndemned to deT In * ^ ° f tb °* 
servitude. ^ ^ose who have ’ll Unatics . verj 

'Keep your h<** been given pena' 

*£■**' «* * »■•«. w 0% 8 “-•*«•• 
■ZlJ **?• pm '“ s a card 00 ““ 

»%2Kr„ ,*« «* 

»PK?2^%S 


berof years did not count: I remembered what a sentenced 
prisoner had said to an assize judge. ‘Monsieur, how many 
years does penal servitude for life last in France?’ 

I paced up and down my cell. I had sent one wire to comfort 
my wife and another to a sister, who, alone against the world, 
had done her best to defend her brother. It was over: the cur-, 
tain had fallen. My people must suffer more than me, and far 
away in the country my poor father would find it very hard to 
bear so heavy a cross. 

Suddenly my breath stopped: but I was innocent I I was 
indeed; but for whom? Yes, who was I innocent for? I said to 
myself, above all don’t you ever arse about telling people 
you’re innocent: you’ll only get laughed at. Getting life on 
account of a ponce and then saying it was somebody else that 
took him apart would be too bleeding comic. Just you keep 
your trap shut. 

' All the time I had been inside waiting for trial, both at the 
Santd and the Conciergerie, it had never occurred to me that 
I could possibly get a sentence like this, so I had never really ' 
thought about what ‘going down the drain’ might be like. 

All right. The first thing to do was to get in touch with men 
who had already been sentenced, men who might later be com- 
panions in a break. I picked upon Dega, a guy from Marseilles. 
I’d certainly see him at the barber’s. He went there every day 
to get a shave. I asked to go too. Sure enough, when I came in 
I found him standing there with his nose to the wall. I saw him 
just as he was making another man move round him so as to 
have longer to wait for his turn. I got in right next to him, 
shoving someone else aside. Quickly I whispered, ‘You OK, 
Dega?’ 

‘OK, Papi. I got fifteen years. What about you? They say 
you really copped it.’ 

‘Yes: I got life.’ 

‘You’ll appeal?’ 

‘No. The tiling to do is to eat well and to keep fit. Keep your 
strength up, Dega: we’ll certainly need good muscles. Are 
you loaded?’ 

‘Yes. I’ve got ten bags* in pounds sterling. And you?’ 

‘No.’ 

‘Here’s a tip: get loaded quick. Your counsel Mas Hubert, 
wasn’t he? He’s a square and he’d never bring you in your ’ 

* 10,000 francs 



charger Send your wife with it, well filled, to DanteVTeH her 
S give it to Dominique le Riche and I guarantee it’ll reach 


you.’ 

’Ssh. The screw’s watching us. 

‘So we’re having a break for gossip, are we? asked the^crew. 
'Oh, nothing serious,’ said Dega. 'He’s telling me he s sick. 
‘What’s the matter with him? Assizes colic?’ And the lat- 

arsed screw choked with laughter. 

That was life all right. I was on the way down the dram al- 
ready. A place where you howl with laughter, making cracks 
about a boy of twenty-five who has been sentenced for the 
whole of the rest of his life. 

I got the charger. It was a beautifully polished aluminium 
tube that unscrewed exactly in the middle. It had a male half 
and a female half. There was 5,600 francs in new notes inside. 
When it was passed to me I kissed it: yes, I kissed this three- 
and-a-half-inch thumb-thick tube before shoving it into , my 
anus. I drew a deep breath so that it should get right up to my 
colon. It was my safe-deposit. They could strip me, make me 
open my legs, make me cough and bend double, but they could 
never find out whether I had anything. It went up very high 
1 into my big intestine. It was part of me. This was life and free- 
dom that I was carrying inside me - the path to revenge. For 
I was thoroughly determined to have my revenge. Indeed, 
revenge was all I thought of. 


It syas dark outside. I was alone in the cell. A strong ceiling 
light let the screw see me through the little hole in the door. It 
dazzled me. this light. I laid my folded handkerchief over my 
eyes, for it really hurt. I was lying on a mattress on an iron 
bed - no pillow - and all the details of that horrible trial passed 
through my mind. 

Now at this point perhaps I have to be a little tedious, but 
in order to make the rest of this long tale understandable and 
in order to thoroughly explain what kept me going in my strug- 
gle I must fell everything that came into my mind at that point, 
everything I really saw with my mind’s eye during those first 
days when I was a man who had been buried alive. 

How was I going to set about things once T had escaped? 
Because now that I possessed my charger I hadn’t a second’s 
doubt that I was going to escape. In the first place r should get 
back to Paris as fast as possible. The first one to kill would be 



Polein, the false witness. Then the two cops in charge of the 
case. But just two cops was not enough : I ought to kill the lot. 
All the cops. Or at least as many as possible. Ah, I had the right 
idea. Once out, I would get back to Paris. I’d stuff a trunk with 
explosive. As much as it would hold. Ten, twenty, maybe forty 
pounds: I wasn’t sure quite how much. And I bfgan working 
out what it would take to kill a great many people. 

Dynamite? No, cheddite was better. And why not nitro- 
glycerine? Right, I’d get advice from the people inside who 
knew more about it than me. But the cops could really rely 
upon me to provide what was coming to them, and no short 
measure, either. 

I still had my eyes closed, with the handkerchief keeping 
them tight shut. Very clearly I could see the trunk, apparently 
innocent but really crammed with explosives, and the exactly 
set alarm-clock that would fire the detonator. Take care: it 
had to go off at ten in the morning in the assembly room of 
the Police Judiciaire* on the first floor of 36, quai des Orftvrcs. 
At that moment there would be at least a hundred and fifty 
cops gathered to hear the report and to get their orders. How 
many steps to go up? I mustn’t get it wrong. 

I should have to work out the exact time it would take for 
the trunk to get up from the street to the place where it was 
to explode - work it out to the second. And who was going to 
carry it? OK: I’d get it in by bluff. I’d take a cab to the door of 
the Police Judiciaire and in a commanding voice I’d say to the 
two slops on guard, Take this trunk up to the assembly room 
for me: I’ll follow. Tell Commissaire Dupont that it’s from 
Inspecteur chef Dubois, and that I’ll be there right away.’ 

But would they obey? What if I chanced upon the only two 
intelligent types among all those idiots? In that case it was no 
go. I’d have to find something else. Again and again I racked 
my brains. Deep inside I had no doubt that I should succeed 
in finding some hundred per cent certain way of doing it. 

I got up for a drink of water. All that thinking had given me 
a headache. I lay down again without the cloth over my eyes: 
slowly the minutes dropped by. That light, dear God above, 
that light! I wetted the handkerchief and put it on again. The 
cold water felt good, and being heavier now the handkerchief 
fitted better over my eyelids. I would always do it that way 
from now on. 

* The branch of the police particularly concerned with crime. 



Those long hours during which I worked^ cut my future 
revenge were so vivid that 1 could see myself ran ymgrt out 
exactly as though the thing was actually being done. AJ 
through those nights and even during part of every day, mere 
I was, moving about Paris, as though my escape was something 
that had already happened. I was dead certain that I should 
escape and that I should get back to Paris. And of course the 
first thing to do was to square the account with Polein: and 
after him, the cops. And what about the members of the jury? 
Were those bastards to go on living in peace? The poor silly 
bastards must have gone home very pleased with themselves 
for having carried out their duty with a capital D. Stuffed with 
their own importance, they would lord it over their neighbours 
and their drabble-tailed wives, who would have kept supper 
back for them. 


OK. What was I to do about the jurymen? Nothing. They 
were poor dreary half-wits. They were in no way fitted to be 
judges. If one of them was a retired gendarme or a customs- 
man, he would react like a gendarme or a customs-man. And 
if he was a milkman, then he’d act like any other dim-wit pedd- 
lar. They had gone right along with the public prosecutor and 
he had had no sort of difficulty in bowling them over. They 
, t weren’t really answerable. So that was settled: I’d do them no 
harm whatsoever. 


As I write these thoughts that came to me so vividly all those 
years ago and that now come crowding back with such terrible 
clarity, I remember how intensely total silence and complete 
solitariness can stimulate an imaginary life, when it is inflicted 
upon a young man shut up in a cell - how it can stimulate the 
imagination before the whole thing turns to madness. So in- 
tense and vivid a life that a man literally divides himself into 
two people. He takes wing and he quite genuinely wanders 
wherever he feels inclined to go. His home, his father, mother, 
family, his childhood - all the various stages of his life. And 
then even more, there are all those castles in Spam that appear 
in his fertile mind with such an unbelievable vividness that he 
really comes to believe that he is living through everything 
that he dreams. 


Thirty-six years have passed, and yet recording everything 
that came into my head at that moment of my life does not 
need the slightest effort. 

No: I should do the members of the jury no harm: my pen 



races along. But what about the prosecuting counsel? I must 
not miss him, not at any cost. In any case, I had a ready-made 
recipe for him, straight out of Alexandre Dumas. Just like in 
The Count of Monte Christo, and the guy they shoved into 
the cellar and let die of hunger. 

As for that lawyer, yes, he was answerable all right. That 
red-robed vulture - there was everything in favour of putting 
him to death in the most hideous manner possible. Yes, that 
was what I should do : after Polein and the cops, I should de- 
vote my whole time to dealing with this creep. I’d rent a villa. 
It’d have to have a really deep cellar with thick walls and a very 
solid door. If the door wasn’t thick enough I should sound- 
proof it myself with a mattress and tow. Once I had the villa 
I’d work out his movements and then kidnap him. The rings 
would be all ready in the wall, so I’d chain him up straight 
away. And then which of us was going to have fun? 

I had him directly opposite me: under my closed eyelids 
I could see him with extraordinary exactness. Yes, I looked at 
him, just as he had looked at me in court. The scene was so • 
clear and distinct that I could feel the warmth of his breath on 
my face; for I was very close, face to face, almost touching 
him. His hawk’s eyes were dazzled and terrified by the beam 
of a very powerful headlight I had focused on him. Great 
drops of sweat ran down his red, swollen face. I could hear 
ray questions and I listened to his replies. I experienced that 
moment very vividly. 

‘Do you recognize me, you sod? I’m Papillon. Papillon, the 
guy you so cheerfully sent down the line for life. You sweated 
over your books for years and years so as to'be a higldy edu- 
cated man; you spent your nights doing Roman law and all 
that jazz; you learnt Latin and Greek and you sacrificed your 
youth so as to become a great speaker. Do you think it was 
worth it? Where did it get you, you silly bastard? What did it 
help you do? To work out new, decent laws for the commun- 
ity? To persuade the people that peace is the finest thing on 
earth? To preach the philosophy of some terrific religion? Or 
even to use your influence, your superior college education, 
to persuade others to be better people or at least stop being 
wicked? Tell me, have you used your knowledge to pull men 
out of the water or to drown them? You’ve never helped a 
soul: you’ve only had one single motive - ambition 1 Up, up. 
Up the steps of your lousy career. The penal settlements’ best 



provider, the unlimited supplier of the executioner and the 
guillotine - that’s your glory. If Deibler* had any sense of 
gratitude he'd send you a case of the best champagne every 
New Year. Isn’t it thanks to you, you bleeding son of a bitch, 
that he’s been able to lop off five or six more heads in the past 
twelve months? Anyhow, now I’m the one that’s got you, 
chained good and hard to this wall. I can just see the way you 
grinned, yes, 1 can sec your triumphant look when they read 
out my sentence after your speech for the prosecution. It 
seems only yesterday, and yet it was years ago. How .many? 
Ten years? Twenty?’ 

But what was happening to me? Why ten years? Why twen- 
ty? Get a hold on yourself, Papillon; you're young, you're 
strong, and you’ve got five thousand six hundred francs in 
your gut. Two years, yes. I’d do two years out of my life sen- 
tence, and rib more : I swore that to myself. 

Snap out of it, Papillon, you’re going crazy. The silence and 
this cell are driving you out of your mind. I’ve got no cigar- 
ettes. Finished the last yesterday. I’ll start walking. After all, 

I don’t have to have my eyes dosed or my handkerchief over 
them to see what goes on. That's it; I’m on my feet. The cell’s 
four yards long from the door to the wall - this is to say five 
H . short paces. I began walking, my hands behind my back. And 
\ I went on again, r All right. As I was saying, I can see your tri- 
umphant look quite distinctly. Well, I’m going to change it for 
you: into something quite diSerent. In one way it’s easier for 
you than it was for me. 1 couldn’t shout out, but you can. 
Shout just as much as you like; shout as loud as you like. What 
am I goi.ig to do to you? Dumas' recipe7 Let you die of hun- 
ger, you sod? No : that’s not enough. To start with I’ll just put 
out your eyes. Eh? You still look triumphant, do you? You 
think that if I put your eyes out at least you’ll have the advan- 
tage of not seeing me any longer, and that I’ll be deprived of 
the pleasure of seeing the terror in them. Yes, you’re right: 
I mustn’t put them out. At least not right away. That’ll be for 
later. I il cut your tongue out, though, that terrible cutting 
tongue of yours, sharp as a knife; no, sharper - as sharp as a 
razor. The tongue that you prostituted to your splendid car- 
eer. The same tongue that says pretty things to your wife, 
your kids and your girl-friend. Girl-friend? Boy-friend, more 
bkely. Much more likely. You couldn’t be anything but a pas- 
Tkc executioner in 1932, 



sive, flabby pouffe. That’s right; I must begin by doing away 
'with your tongue, because next to your brain that’s what does 
the damage. You see it very well, you know: so well you could 
persuade the jury to answer yes to the questions put to them. 
So well that you could make the cops look like they were 
straight and devoted to their duty : so well that that witness’s 
cock and balls seemed to hold water. So well that those twelve 
bastards thought I was the most dangerous man in Paris. If 
you hadn’t possessed this false, skilful, persuasive tongue, so 
practised at distorting people and facts and things, I should, 
still be sitting there on the terrace of the Grand Cafe in 'the 
Place Blanche, and I’d never have had to stir. So we’re all 
agreed, then, that I’m going to rip this tongue of yours right 
out. But what’ll I do it with?’ 

I paced on and on and on. My head was spinning, but there 
I was, still face to face with him, when suddenly the electricity 
went out and a very faint ray of daylight made its way into the 
ceil through the boarded window. 

What? Morning already? Had I spent the whole night with 
my revenge? What splendid hours they had beenl How that 
long, long night had flown by I 

Sitting on my bed, I listened. Nothing. The mW total sil- 
ence. Now and then a little click at my door. It was the warder, 
wearing slippers so as to make no sound, opening the little * 
metal flap and putting his eye to the peep-hole that let him see 
me without my being able to see him. 

The machinery that the Republic of France had thought 
up was now entering its second phase. It was working splen- 
didly: in its first run it had wiped out a man that might be a 
nuisance to it. But that was not enough. The man was not to 
die too quickly : he mustn’t manage to get out of it by way of 
suicide. He was wanted. Where would the prison service be 
if there weren’t any prisoners? In the shit. So he was to be 
watched. He had to go off alive to the penal settlements, where 
he would provide a living for still more state employees. I 
heard the click again, and it made me smile. 

Don’t you worry, you sod : I shan’t escape. At least not the 
way you’re afraid of - not by suicide. There’s only one thing 
I want, and that’s to keep alive and as fit as possible and to 
leave as soon as I can for that French Guiana where you’re 
sending me, bloody fools that you are : thank God. 

This old warder with, his perpetual clicking was a fairy god- 



mother in comparison with the screws over there; they were 
no choir-boys, not by any means. I’d always known that; tor 
when Napoleon set up the penal settlements and they said to 
him, ‘Who 1 are you going to have to look after these hard 
cases?’ he answered, 'Harder cases still.’ Afterwards I found 
that the inventor of the penal settlements had not lied, • 

Clang clang: an cight-inch-square hole opened in the middle 
of my door. They passed me in coffee and a pound and a half 
of bread. Now I was sentenced I was no longer allowed to have 
things sent in from the restaurant, but if 1 could pay I could 
still buy cigarettes and a certain amount of food from the little 
canteen. That would last a few days more, then after that noth- 
ing. The Conciergerie was the stage just before penal intern- 
ment. I smoked a Lucky Strike, enjoying it enormously : six 
francs sixty a packet they cost. I bought two. I was spending 
my official prison money because soon they would be confis- 
cating it for the costs of the trial. 

Dcga sent a little note in my bread to tell me to go to the 
dc-lousing centre. ‘There arc three lice in the matchbox.’ I took 
out the matches and I found h'ts fine healthy cooties. I knew 
what it meant. I showed them to the warder so that the next 
day he should send me and all my things, including the mat- 
tress, to a steam -room where all the parasites would be killed - 
except us, of course. And there the next day I met Dega. No 
. warder in the steam-room. We were alone. 

‘You’re a good guy, Dega. Thanks to you I’ve got my charger,’ 

'It doesn’t bother you? ’ 

‘No.’ 

'Every time you go to tfr* latrine, wash it well before you 
put it back.’ 

'Yes. I think it’s completely water-tight. The folded notes 
arc perfect, though I've had it in this last week.’ 

‘That means it’s all right, then.’ 

‘What cio you think you’ll do, Dega?’ 

‘I'm going to pretend to be mad. I don’t want to go to Gui- 
ana. I'll do maybe eight or ten years here in France. I've got 
contacts and I can get five years remission at least.’ 

'How old arc you?’ 

‘Forty-two.’ 

Tfien you re out of your mindl If you do ten out of your 
fifteen you 11 come out an old man. Are you scared of penal?' 

‘Yes. I’m not ashamed of saying it to you, Papillon, but I’m 



scared. It’s terrible in Guiana. Eighty per cent mortality every 
year. One convoy takes the place of the last, and each convoy 
has between eighteen hundred and two thousand men. If you 
don’t get leprosy you get yellow fever or one of those kinds of 
dysentery there’s no recovering from, or else consumption or 
malaria. And if you escape all that then it’s very likely you’ll 
get murdered for your charger, or else you’ll die trying to 
make a break. Believe me, Papillon, I’m not trying to dis- 
courage you; but I’ve known a good many lags who’ve come 
back to France after doing short stretches - five to seven years 
- and I know what I’m talking about. They are absolute com- 
plete bleeding wrecks. They spend nine months pf the year 
in hospital; and they say that making a break is nothing like 
v/hat people think - not a piece of cake at all.’ 

‘I believe you, Dcga. But I believe in myself, too. I won’t 
•waste much time there. That’s something you can be sure of. 
I’m a sailor and I understand the sea, and you can trust me 
when I say I shall make a break very soon. And what about 
you? Can you really see yourself doing ten years hard? Even 
if they do give you five oil, which is not at all sure, do you 
really think you could do it without being driven crazy by the 
solitary? Take me now, all alone in that cell with no books, no 
going out, no being able to talk to anyone twenty-four hours 
every god-damned day - it’s not sixty minutes you have to 
count in each hour but six hundred: and even then you’re far 
short of the truth.’ 

‘Maybe. But you’re young and I’m forty-two.’ 

‘Listen, Dega, tell me straight: what is it you’re scared of 
most? The other lags, isn’t it?’ 

‘To tell you straight, Papi, yes it is. Everyone knows I’m a 
millionaire, and there’s no distance between that and cutting 
my throat because they think I’m carrying fifty or a hundred 
thousand on me.’ 

‘Listen, do you want us to make a pact? You promise me not 
to go crazy and I’U promise to keep right next to you all the 
time. Each can support the other. I’m strong and I move 
quick: I learnt how to fight when I was a kid and I’m terrific 
with a knife. So as far as the other lags are concerned you can 
rest easy: we’ll be respected, and more than that we'll be 
feared. As for the break, we don’t need anyone else. You’ve 
got cash, I've got cash : I know how to use a comp&ss and I 
can sail a boat. What more do you want? ' 




scared. It’s terrible in Guiana. Eighty per cent mortality every 
year. One convoy takes the place of the last, and each convoy 
has between eighteen hundred and two thousand men. If you 
don’t get leprosy you get yellow fever or one of those kinds of 
dysentery there’s no recovering from, or else consumption or 
malaria. And if you escape all that then it’s very likely you’ll 
get murdered for your charger, or else you’ll die trying to 
make a break. Believe me, Papillon, I’m not trying to dis- 
courage you; but I’ve known a good many lags who’ve come 
back to France after doing short stretches - five to seven years 
- and I know what I'm talking about. They are absolute com- 
plete bleeding wrecks. They spend nine months of the year 
in hospital; and they say that making a break is nothing like 
what people think - not a piece of cake at all.’ 

‘I believe you, Dega. But I believe in myself, too. I won’t 
waste much time there. That’s something you can be sure of. 
I’m a sailor and I understand the sea, and you can trust me 
when I say I shall make a break very soon. And what about 
you? Can you really see yourself doing ten years hard? Even 
if they do give you five off, which is not at all sure, do you 
really think you could do it without being driven crazy by (he 
solitary? Take me now, all alone in that cell with no books, no 
going out, no being able to talk to anyone twenty-four hours 
every god-damned day - it’s not sixty minutes you have to 
count in each hour but six hundred: and even then you’re far 
short of the truth.’ 

’Maybe. But you’re young and I’m forty-two.' 

‘Listen, Dega, tell me straight: what is it you’re scared of 
most7 The other lags, isn’t it? ’ 

‘To tell you straight, Papi, yes it is. Everyone knows Fra a 
millionaire, and there’s no distance between that and cutting 
my throat because they think I’m carrying fifty or a hundred 
thousand on me.’ 

‘Listen, do you want us to make a pact? You promise n? 
to go crazy and I’ll promise to keep right next to you si 
time. Each can support the other. I’m strong and I 
quick: I learnt how to fight when I was a kid and I’m 
with a knife. So as far as the other lags are concerned yen ^ 
rest easy: we’ll be respected, and more than that 
feared. As for the break, we don’t need anyone r 

got cash, I ve got cash: I know how to use a c mnp*® 

can sail a boat. What more do you want?* 



He looked at me hard, right in the eye . . . We embraced on 

another.The pact was signed. . 

A few moments later the door opened. He went off with hi 
pack in one direction and I in the other. We were not very fa, 
apart and we saw one another from time to time at the barber ; 
or the doctor’s or in chapel on Sundays. 

Dega had been sent down for the business of the phony 
National Defence bonds. A bright forger had produced them 
in a very unusual way: he bleached the five hundred franc 
bonds and overprinted them with the ten thousand franc text, 
absolutely perfectly. As the paper was the same, banks and 
businessmen accepted them just like that. It had been going on 
for years and the government's financial section was all at sea 
until the day they picked up a character named Brioulet - 
caught him red-handed. 

Louis Dega was sitting there calmly, keeping an eye on his 
bar in Marseilles, where the pick of the southern underworld 
came every night and where the really hard guys from all over 
the world met one another - an international rendezvous. That 
was 1929 and he was a millionaire. Then one night a young, 
pretty, well-dressed woman turned up. She asked for Monsieur 
Louis Dega. 

‘That’s me, Madame. What can I do for you? Come into the ‘ 
next room.’ 

’Look, I’m Brioulet’s wife. He’s- in Paris in prison for passing 
forged bonds. I saw him in the visiting-room at the Sant6: he 
gave me the address of this bar and told me to come and ask 
you for twenty thousand francs to pay the lawyer.’ 

It was at this point, faced with the danger of a woman who 
knew his part in the business, that Dega, one of the most es- 
teemed crooks in France, made the one remark he never 
should have made. ‘Listen, Madame, I don’t know your hus- 
band from Adam, and if you need money, go on the streets, 
you’re young and pretty and you’ll make more than you need.’ 
Furious, the poor woman ran out in tears. She told her hus- 
band. Brioulet wax mad and the next day he told the investi- 
gating magistrate everything he knew, directly accusing Deea 
of being the man who produced the forged bonds. A team of 
the most intelligent detectives in the country got on to Dega’s 
trail. One month later Dega. the forger, the engraver and elev- 
en accomplices were all arrested at the same moment in differ- 
;ni places and put behind bars. They came up at the Seine 


2 



Assizes and the trial lasted fourteen days. Each prisoner was 
defended by a famous lawyer. Brioulet would never take back 
a single word. And the result was that for a piddling twenty 
thousand francs and a damn-fool crack the biggest crook in 
France got fifteen years hard labour. There he was, ten years 
older than his age, and completely ruined. And this was the 
man I had just signed a treaty with - a life and death pact. 

Maitre Raymond Hubert came to see me. He wasn’t very 
pleased with himself. I never uttered a word of blame. 

One, two, three, four, five, about turn . . . One, two, three, 
four, five, about-turn. It was a good many hours now that I 
had been walking up and down between the door and the 
window of my cell. I smoked: I felt I was well in control, 
steady-handed and able to cope with anything at all. I promised 
myself not to think about revenge for the time being. Let’s 
leave the prosecuting counsel just there where I left him, 
chained to the rings in the wall, opposite me, without yet 
making up my mind exactly how I’d do him in. 

Suddenly a shriek, a desperate, high-pitched, hideously dy- 
ing shriek made its way through the door .of my cell. What was 
it? It was like the sound of a man under torture. But this was 
not the Police Judiciaire. No way of telling what was going on. 
They turned me right up, thoseshrieks in the- night. And what 
strength they must have had, to pierce through that padded 
door. Maybe it was a lunatic. It’s so easy to go mad in these 
cells where nothing ever gets through to you. I talked aloud 
there all by myself: I said to myself what the hell’s it got to do 
with you? Keep your mind on yourself, nothing but yourself 
and your new side-kick Dega. I bent down, straightened up 
and hit myself hard on the chest. It really hurt: so everything 
was all right - the muscles of my arms were working perfectly. 
And what about your legs, man? You can congratulate them, 
because you’ve been walking more than sixteen hours now and 
you’re not even beginning to feel tired. 

• The Chinese discovered the drop of water that falls on your 
head. The French discovered silence. They do away with 
everything that might occupy your mind. No books, no paper, 
no pencil: the heavily-barred window entirely boarded up: 
only a very little light filtering through a few small holes. 

That piercing- shriek had really shaken me, and I went up 
and dots'll like an animal in a cage. I had the dreadful feeling 
that I had been left there, abandoned by everybody, and that 



I was literally buried alive. 1 was alone, absolutely alone: the 
only thing that could ever get through to me was a shriek. 

The door opened. An old priest appeared. Suddenly you re 
not alone : there’s a priest there, standing m front of you. 

•Good evening, my son. Forgive me for not having come 
before, but I was on holiday. How are you? And the good old 
cur6 walked calmly into the cell and sat right down ion my 
pad. ‘Where do you come from?’ 


•The Ardcche.' 

‘And your people?’ 

‘Mum died when I was eleven. Dad was very good to me.’ 
‘What did he do?' 

‘School-teacher.’ 

‘Is he alive?’ 

‘Yes.’ 


‘Why do you speak of him in the past if he is still alive?’ 

‘Because although he‘s alive all right. I’m dead.’ 

‘Oh, don’t say thatl What did you do?’ 

In a flash I thought how square it would sound to say I was 
innocent: I replied, ‘The police say I killed a man; and if they 
say it, it must be true.’ 

‘Was it a tradesman? ’ 

'No. A ponce.' 

'And they've sentenced you to hard labour for life for some- 
thing that happened in the underworld? I don’t understand. 
Was it murder?’ 

‘No. Manslaughter.’ 


‘My poor boy, it’s unbelievable. What can I do for you? 
Would you like to pray with me? ’ 

‘I never had any religious instruction. I don’t know how to 
pray.’ 


'That doesn’t matter, my son: I'll pray for you. God loves 
all His children, whether they are christened or not. Repeat 
each word as I say it, won’t you?’ His eyes were so gentle, and 
such kindness beamed from his round face that I was ashamed 
to refuse; and as he had gone down on his knees I did the 
same. ‘Our Father which art in heaven . . .’ Tears came into 
my eyes: the dear priest saw them and with his plump finger 
he gathered a big drop as it ran down my cheek. He put it to 
his mouth and drank it. 'My son,’ he said, 'these tears are the 
greatest reward God could ever have sent me today, and it 



comes to me through you. Thank you.’ And as he got up he 
kissed me on the forehead. 

We sat there, side by side on the bed again. ‘How long is it 
since you wept?’ 

‘Fourteen years,’ 

‘Why fourteen years ago? * 

ft was the day Mum died.’ 

He took my hand in his and said, 'Forgive those who have 
made you suffer so.’ 

I snatched it away and sprang into the middle of my cell - 
an instinctive reaction. ‘Not on your life! I’ll never forgive 
them. And I’ll tell you something, Father. There’s not a day, 
not a night, not an hour or minute when I’m not busy working 
out how I’ll kill the guys that sent me here - how, when and 
what with.’ 

‘You say that, my son, and you believe it. You’re young, 
very young. As you grow older you’ll give up the thought of 
punishment and revenge.’ Thirty-four years have passed now, 
and I am of his opinion. ‘What can I do for you?’ asked the 
priest again. ‘ 

‘A crime, Father.’ 

‘What crime? ’ 

‘Going to cell 37 and telling Dega to get his lawyer to ask 
for him to be sent to the central prison at Caen - tell him I’ve 
done the same today. We have to get out of the Conciergerie 
quick and leave for one of the centrals where they make up 
the Guiana convoys. Because if you miss the first boat you 
have to wait another two years in solitary before there’s an- 
other. And when you’ve seen him, Father, will you come back 
here?’ 

‘What reason could I give?’ 

*You could say that you forgot your breviary. I’ll be wait- 
ing for the answer.’ 

‘And why are you in such a hurry to go off to such a hideous 
place as the penal settlement?’ 

I looked at him hard, this great-hearted salesman of the 
good word, and I was certain he would not betray me. ‘So as 
to escape all the sooner. Father.’ 

‘God will help you, my boy, I am sure of it; and I feci that 
you will remake your life. I can see in your eyes that you 2 ~ 
a decent fellow and that your heart is in the right place, f- 
go to cell 37 for you. You can expect an answer.’ 



He was back very soon. Dega agreed. The cure left me his 
breviary until the next day. 

What a ray of sunlight that was! Thanks to that dear good 
man my cell was filled with it - all lit up. If God exists why does 
He allow such different sorts of human being on earth? Creat- 
ures like the prosecuting counsel, the police, Polcin - and then 
this chaplain, the chaplain of the Conciergerie? 

That truly good man’s visit set me up, healed roe: and it 
was useful, too. Our requests went through quickly and a week 
later there we were, seven of us lined up in the corridor ©f the 
Conciergerie at four in the morning. All the screws were there 
too, a full parade. 

‘Strip!’ Everybody slowly took off his clothes. It was cold 
and I had goose-pimples. 

‘Leave your things in front of you. About turn. One pace 
backwards.' And there in front of each of us was a heap of 
clothes. 

‘Dress yourselves.* The good linen shirt I had been wearing 
a few moments earlier was replaced by a rough undyed canvas 
job and my lovely suit by a coarse jacket and trousers. No 
more shoes: instead of them I put my feet into a pair of wood- 
en sabots. Up until then I'd looked like any other ordinary 
type. I glanced at the other six - Jesus, what a shock! No indi- 
viduality left at all: they had turned us into convicts in two . 
minutes. 

‘By the right, dress. Forward march!’ With an escort of 
twenty warders we reached the courtyard and there, one after 
another, each man was shoved into a narrow cupboard in the 
cellular van. All aboard for Beaulieu - Beaulieu being the 
name of the prison at Caen. 


Caen Prison 


The moment tve got there w e were taken into the governor’s 
office. He was sitting m pomp beliind an Empire desk on a 
dais some three feet high. 



'Shun ! Tne governor is going to speak to you.’ 

‘Prisoners, you are here in transit until you can be sent of? 
to the penal settlement. This is not an ordinary prison. Com- 
pulsory silence all the time: no visits: no letters from anyone. 
You obey or you are broken. There are two doors you can go 
cut by.' One leads to the penal settlement, if you behave well. 
Tne other to the graveyard. And just lei me tell you about bad 
behaviour: the slightest error win get you sixty days, in the 
punishment-cell on bread and water. No one has yet survived 
two consecutive sentences to the black-hole. You get my mean- 
ing?’ He turned to Pierrot le Fou, who had been extradited 
from Spain. ‘What was your calling in civil life? ’ 

‘Bullfighter, Monsieur le Directeur.’ 

The reply infuriated the governor and he bawled out ‘Take 
him away! Double-quick time!’ Before you could blink, the 
bullfighter had been knocked down, dubbed by four or five 
screws and hurried away from us. He could be heard shouting 
Won bastards - five against one. With clubs too. you cowardly 
shits 1 ’ Then an ch like an animal given its death-wound : and 
nothing more. Only' the round of something being dragged 
along the concrete Soar. 

If we did not get the governor’s meaning after that per- 
formance we should never get it at aii. Dega was next to me. 
He moved one finger, just one, and touched my trousers. I 
understood his signal: Took out for yourself if you want to 
reach Guiana alive.’ Ten minutes later each one of us was in a 
cell in the punishment block - each one of us except for Pierrot 
le Fou, who had been taken down below ground-level to a 
vile black-hole. 

As luck would have it Dega was in the next cell to mine. 
Before this we had been shown to a kind of red-headed, one- 
eyed ogre, well over six feet tall, with a brand-new buD’s pizzle 
in his right hand. This was the provost a prisoner who acted 
as torturer under the orders of the screws. He was the terror of 
the convicts. With him at hand the warders could beat and 
fiog the prisoners not only without tiring themselves out but 
also without getting blamed by the authorities in case anyone' 
died of it 

Later, when I was doing a short spell in the hospital, I learnt 
the story of this human brute. The governor really ought to 
have been congratulated on choosing his executioner so well. 
This guy was a quarryman by trade. He lived in a little town 



ud in Flanders, and one day he made up his mind to do away 
with himself and to kill his wife at the same tune. He used a 
fair-sized stick of dynamite for the job. He lay down next to , 
his wife, who was in their bedroom on the second floor ot a 
six-storey building. She was asleep. He lit a cigarette and used 
it to light the fuse, holding the stick in his left hand between 
his own head and his wife's. God-almighty bang. Result: wife 
had to be scooped up with a spoon - she was literally mince- 
meat. Part of the house collapsed, killing three children and a 
seventy-year-old woman. And everybody else in it more or less 
dangerously hurt. As for this Tribouilhrd, the guy in question, 
he lost some of his left hand (only his little finger and half his 
thumb remaining) and his left eye and ear. His head, was 
bashed badly enough to need trepanning. After his conviction 
they made him provost in the punishment block of the central 
prison. This half-maniac had complete power over the wret- 
ched prisoners who landed up there. 

One, two, three, four, f\ve, about turn . . . one, two, three, 
four, five, about turn ... the unending to-and-£ro between the 
door of the cell and the wall had begun. 

You were not allowed to lie down during the daytime. At 
five in the morning everyone was woken by a piercing blast on 
a whistle. You had to get up, make your bed, wash, and then 
either walk about or sit on a stool clamped to the wall. You 
were not allowed to lie down all day long. And to put the last 
touch to the penal system the bed was made to fold up against 
the wall and hook there. That way the prisoner was unable to 
stretch himself out and he could be watched all the easier. 


One, two, three, four, five . . . fourteen hours of pacing. To 
get into the way of this unceasing, mechanical rhythm you 
have to learn to keep your head down, your hands behind your 
back, and to walk neither too fast nor too slow, paces all the 
same length, turning automatically at each end of the cell, left 
foot one end, right the other. 

One, two,, three, four, five . . , The cells were better lit than 
at the Conciergerie and noises from outside could be heard - 
some noises from the punishment block and some that reached 
us from the countryside. At night you could make out the 
whistling or the singing as the farm-workers went home, happy 
after their cider. I 11 


I had my Christmas present. There was a crack in the planks 

blocking the wmdow and through it I saw the snowy fields and 



a few tall black trees with the full moon lighting them up. Any- 
one would have said it was one of those cards you send at 
Christmas. The trees had been shaken by the wind and they 
had got rid of their covering of snow, so you could distinguish 
them quite clearly. They stood out as great dark patches 
against all the rest. 

It was Christmas for everybody: it was even Christmas in 
one part of the prison. The authorities had made an effort for 
the convicts in transit - we were allowed to buy two bars of 
chocolate. I really mean two bars and not two slabs. My 1931 
Christmas dinner consisted of these two bits of Aiguebelle 
chocolate. 

One, two, three, four, five ... The Law’s repression had 
turned me into a pendulum : my whole world was this going 
to and fro in a cell. It had been scientifically worked out. 
Nothing, absolutely nothing, was allowed to remain in the cell. 
Above all the prisoner must never be allowed to turn his mind 
to other things. If I were caught lobking through that crack 
in the window planks I should be severely punished. And after 
all, v/eren’t they right, since as far as they were concerned I 
was merely a living corpse? What right had I to delight in the 
landscape? 

There was a butterfly, a pale blue butterfly with a little black 
stripe, flying close to the window, and a bee humming not far 
from the butterfly. What on earth were they looking for in 
this place? They seemed to have gone out of their wits at the 
sight of the winter sun : unless maybe they were cold and wan- 
ted to get into the prison. A butterfly in winter is something 
that has come to life again. How come it wasn’t dead? And 
how come that bee had left its hive? What a nerve - if only 
they had known it - to come here I Fortunately the provost 
had no wings, or they wouldn’t be alive for long. 

This Tribouillard was a bleeding sadist and I had a strong 
feeling there would be trouble with him . I wasn't wrong either, 
more’s the pity. The day after those lovely insects came to see 
me I reported sick. I couldn’t bear it any more - the loneliness 
was smothering me and I had to see a face and hear a voice, 
even an unpleasant one. For it would still be a voice; and 
something I just had to hear. 

Stark naked in the icy corridor I stood there facing the wall, 
my nose three Inches from it: I was the last but one in a line 
of eight, and I was waiting ray turn to go in front of the doc- 


tor. I had wanted to see people: and I succeeded all right! 
The provost caught us just as I was whispering a few words to. 
Julot, the one they called the hammer-man. The red-headed 
maniac's reaction was appalling. He half knocked me out with 
a punch on the back of my head, and as I’d not seen the blow . 
coming my nose went smash against the wall. The blood spur- 
ted out, and as i got up - for I had fallen - 1 shook myself, 
trying to grasp what had happened. I made a faint movement 
of protest. That was the very thing the huge brute had been 
waiting for and with a kick in the belly he flattened me again 
and started flogging me with his bull’s pizrie. Julot couldn’t 
bear this. He jumped on him and a frightful dog-fight began: 
as Julot was getting the worst of it the warders stood calmly 
looking on. I got up. No one took any notice of me. I glanced 
round to see whether I could see anything to use as a weapon. 
Suddenly I saw the doctor leaning over his armchair in his 
surgery, trying to make out what was going on in the corri- 
dor: and at the same moment I caught sight of a saucepan-lid 
rising under the push of the steam. The big enamel saucepan 
was sitting on a stove that warmed the doctor’s room. The 
steam was meant to purify the air, no doubt. 

Then, moving very fast, I caught the pot by the handles - 
it burnt but I didn’t drop it - and in one swing I flung all the 
boiling water into the provost’s face. He was so busy with 
Julot he never saw mp coming. The big bastard uttered a hide- 
ous, tearing shriek. He had realiy copped it. There he was 
writhing on the ground, trying to tear off his three woollen 
vests, oot? after the other. -When at last he got to the "third his 
skin came off with it. It was a narrow-necked vest and as he 
ripped it off the skin of his chest, part of the skin of his neck 
and all on his cheek came too, sticking to the wool. His one 
eye had been scalded as well, and he was blind. At last he got 
up, hideous, oozing with blood, flayed; and Julot took advan- 
tage of it to give him a terrible luck right in the balls. The. huge 
brute went down, vomiting and frothing at the mouth. He was 
finished. As for us, we lost nothing by waiting for what was 
coming to us. The two warders who had been watching this 
performance hadn’t the guts to tackle us. They sounded 
the alarm for reinforcements. They came in from all sides and 
the truncheon-blows rained down on us thick as hail. I had the 
luck to be knocked out very early, which prevented me from 
feeling much. 



I woke up two storeys lower down, stark naked, in a flooded 
black-hole. Slowly I came to. I ran my hand all over my aching 
body. There were at least fourteen or fifteen lumps on my 
head. What was "the time? I couldn’t tell. Down here there was 
neither night nor day: no light of any kind. I heard a knocking 
on the wall, a knocking that came from a great way off. 

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. This knocking was 
how we communicated with each other. I had to knock twice 
if I wanted to answer. Knock: but what with? In the darkness 
I couldn’t make out anything I could use. Fists were no good - 
their blows were not sharp or distinct enough. I moved over to 
where I imagined the door was, for it was a little less dark over 
there. I came up hard against bars I had not seen. Reaching 
out in the darkness I came to understand that the cell was 
closed by a door about a yard from me, and that these bars 
I was touching prevented me from getting to it. This way, when 
anyone wants to go into a dangerous prisoner’s cell he is in no 
danger of being touched, because the prisoner is in a cage. 
You can talk to him, soak him, throw his food in and insult 
him without the least risk. But there’s this advantage - he can’t 
be hit without danger, because in order to hit him you have > 
to open the bars. 

From time to time' the knocking was repeated. Who could 
it be that was calling me? The guy deserved to be answered, 
because he was running a diabolical risk if he was caught. As, 
I moved about I very nearly came down on my face. I had 
trodden on something hard and round. I felt for it: a wooden 
spoon. I grabbed it and got ready to answer. I waited there, 
with my ear hard up against the wall. Thump, thump, thump, 
thump, pause: thump, thump. Thump-thump, I replied. These 
two knocks meant to the man the other end. Go ahead, I’m 
taking the call. The knocking began again: thump, thump, 
thump . . . The alphabet ran by quickly - abcdefghijklmn 
o p: stop. He was stopping at the letter p. I struck one hard 
blow. Thump. So he knew I had got the letter. Then came an 
a, a p, an i, and so on. He was saying, Tapi, you OK? You err 
it bad. I have a broken arm.’ It was Julot. 

We talked to one another in this way for more than rrr 
hours without worrying about being caught. We were rh-- 
lutely delighted, exchanging our messages. I told him - r;" 
nothing broken, that my head was covered with 2 m ~. 
that I was not wounded anywhere. 



He had seen me going down, dragged by one foot, and he 
told me that at each stair my head had bdnged on me step 
before. He had never lost consciousness. He thought that Tn- 
bouillard had been very seriously scalded and that With the 
help of the wool the bums had gone deep - he was not going 
to get over it in a hurry. 

Three very fast, repeated knocks told me there wa3 some- 
thing up. I stopped. And indeed a few moments later the door 
opened. There was a- shout, 'Get to the back, you sodl Get to 
the back of your cell and stand to attention.’ It was the new 
provost speaking. ‘Batton’s my name, my real name. I’ve got 
the name of the job, you see.’ He lit up the black-hole and my 
naked body with a big ship's lantern. ‘Here’s something to put 
on. Don’t you stir from back there. Here’s some bread 
and water.* Don't stuff it all down at one go: you won’t get 
anything more for another twenty-four hours.’ 

He shouted at me like a brute and then he raised the lantern 
to his face. I saw he was smiling, but not wickedly. He laid a 
finger on his lips and pointed at the things he had left. There 
must have been a warder in the passage, but he wanted to make 
me understand be was not an enemy. 

True enough, inside the hunk of bread I found a big piece 
of boiled meat and in the pocket of the trousers - Christ, what 
wealth 1 - a packet of cigarettes and a dry fighter - a tinder 
lighter with a bit of tinderwick in it. Presents like this were 
worth millions here. Two shirts instead of one, and woollen 
drawers that came down to my ankles. I’ll never forget him , 
that Batton. He was rewarding me for having wiped out Tri- 
bouillard. Before the dust-up he had only been assistant- 
provost. Now, thanks to me, he had risen to be the great man 
himself. In a word, he owed his promotion to me and he was 
showing his gratitude. And because we were safe with Batton, 
Julot and I sent one another telegrams all day long. 1 learnt 
from him that our departure for the penal settlement was no 
great way off - three or four months. 

Two days later we were brought out of the punishment cells 
and taken up to the governor’s office, two warders to each of 
us. There were three men sitting there opposite the door, be- 
hind a table. It was a kind of court. The governor acted as 
president, aad the deputy-governor and chief warders as as- 
sessors. 

* 1 lb. of bread and one- and-three- quarter pints of water. 


45 



'Ah-ha, my young friends, so here you are! What have you 
got to say?’ 

Julofwas very white and his eyes were swollen: he certainly 
had a temperature. His arm had been broken three days ago, 
and he must have been in shocking pain. Quietly he said, ‘My 
arm’s broken.’ 

‘You asked for it. That’ll teach you to fly at people. You’ll 
see the doctor when he comes. I hope it will be within a week. 
The waiting will be good for you, because the pain will perhaps 
be a lesson. But you don’t think I’m going to send for a doc- 
tor especially for a fellow like you? You can just wait until 
the prison doctor has time to come, and he will look after you. 
But nevertheless I sentence you both to the black-hole until 
further orders.’ 

Julot looked full at me, right in the eye. He seemed to be 
saying, ‘This well-dressed gent disposes of other people’s lives 
very easily.* 

I turned towards the governor again and looked at him. He 
thought I meant to speak. He said, ‘And what about you? The 
sentence doesn’t seem to be to your liking? Have you anything 
to say against it?’ 

. I said, ‘Absolutely, nothing. Monsieur le Directeur. The only 
thing I feel is an urge to shit in your eye; but I don’t like to do 
so, in case it should dirty my spit.’ 

He was taken aback, he reddened and for a moment he 
couldn’t grasp what I’d said, But the chief warder grasped it 
all right. He roared at the screws, ‘Take him out and look after 
him properly. I want to see him here again in an hour’s time, 
begging pardon on his hands and knees. We’ll tame him! I’ll 
make him polish my boots with his tongue, soles and all. Don’t 
be lenient with him - he’s all yours.’ 

Two warders twisted my right arm, two others my left. I was 
flat on my face with my hands right up against my shoulder- 
blades. They put on handcuffs with a thumb-piece, fixing my 
left forefinger to the thumb of my right hand, and the top 
warder picked me up by the hair like an animal. 

There’s no point telling you what they did to me. I’ll just 
say I had the handcuffs on behind my back for eleven days. 
I owed my life to Batton. Every day he tossed the regulation 
hunk of bread into my cell, but since I couldn’t use my hands 
it was impossible to eat it. Even when I had it wedged u? 
against the bars I couldn’t manage to bite into the lump. 



Batton also tossed in bits the size of a mouthful, and he tossed 
in enough to keep me alive. I heaped them up with my foot 
and flat on my belly I ate them like a dog. I chewed each bit 
verv thoroughly, so as not to lose anything at all. 

When they took the handcuffs off me on the twelfth day the 
steel had eaten in. and in some planes the metal was covered 
with bruised flesh. The head warder got scared, particularly 
as I fainted away with the pain. After- they had brought me 
round they took me to the hospital, where they cleaned me up 
with hydrogen peroxide. The attendant insisted on my being 
given an anti-tetanus shot. My arms had stiffened and could 
not go back to their natural position. It took more than half 
an hour of rubbing them with camphorated oil before I could 
bring them down to my sides. 

I went back to the black-hole, and the chief warder, seeing 
the eleven hunks of bread, said, 'You can have a proper ban- 
quet nowl But it’s funny - you haven’t got all that thin after 
eleven days of starving.’ 

‘I drank plenty of water, chief.’ 

‘Ah, so that’s it. 1 get you. Well, now: eat plenty to get your 
strength back.’ And he went away. 

The poor bloody half-wit I He said that because he was sure 
I hadn’t eaten anything for eleven days and because if I stuffed 
myself all at once I should the of it. Not bleeding likely. To- 
wards nightfall Batton sent me in some tobacco and cigarette- 
paper. I smoked and smoked, breathing out into the central- 
heating pipe - it never worked, of course, but at least it served 
that purpose. 

Later I called up Julot. He too thought I had eaten nothing 
for eleven days and he advised me to go easy. I did not like to 
let him know the truth, because I was afraid of some bastard 
picking up the message. His arm was in plaster; he was in good 
form; he congratulated me on holding out. According to him 
the convoy was dose at hand. The medical orderly had told 
him the shots the convicts were to be given before they left 
had already arrived, Tncy usually came a month before the 
convoy left. Julot wasn’t very cautious, for he also asked me 
whether I had managed to keep my charger. 

Yes, I had kept it all right, but I can’t describe what I had had 
to do not to lose it. There were some cruel wounds in nay anus. 

Three weeks later they took us out of -the punishment cells. 

hat was up? They gave us a marvellous shower with soap and 



hot water. I felt myself coming to life again. Julot was lnurli- 
ing like a child and Pierrot le Fou beamed all over binwlf 
with happiness. 

Since we had come straight out of the black-hole we km-w 
nothing about what was happening. The barber wouldn't an- 
swer when I whispered, ‘What’s up?’ A wicked-looking char- 
acter I didn’t know said, ‘1 think we’re amnestied front the 
punishment cells. Maybe they’re scared of an inspector v/JkjV. 
coming by. The great thing is they have to show in, alive,' ;ii>< If 
of us was taken to an ordinary cell. At noon, as I ?i my lie * 
bowl of hot soup for forty-three days, I found a bit of wood. 
On it I read ‘Leave in a week’s time. Shots tomorrow/ 

Who had sent it? I never knew. It must have been some con- 
vict who was decent enough to give us warning. He know hr--.' T 
one of us knew it we all should. It was just chance the 
message came to me. I called Julot right a way and «olb inn-. 
‘Pass it on,’ I said. 

I heard telephoning all night long. As for me, oroe ,"d 
it out I stopped. I was too comfortable in my bod. \ 
want any sort of trouble. And the prospect of going beer ’.o 
the black-hole didn't attract me at all. Today lev, ri.c-, y 
other time. 



cecona nxercise-Book 
On the way to Guiana 


Saint-Martin-de-R6 


That evening Batton sent me in three cigarettes 'and a piece 'of 
paper that read, ‘Papiilon, I know you’ll remember me kindly 
when you go. I’m provost, but I try to hurt the prisoners as 
little as possible. I took the job because I’ve got nine children 
and I can’t wait for a pardon.T’m going to try to earn it with- 
out doing too much harm. Good-bye, Good luck. The convoy 
is for the day after tomorrow.’ 

And in fact the next day they assembled us in the corridor 
of the punishment-block in groups of thirty. Medical orderlies 
from Caen gave us shqjs against tropical diseases. Three shots 
for each man, and three and a half pints of milk. Dega was 
close to me: he looked thoughtful. We no longer paid any 
attention to the rules of silence for we knew they couldn’t put 
us in the punishment cell just after having our injections. We 
gossiped in an undertone right there in front of the screws, 
who dared hot say anything because of the orderlies from the 
town. . 

Dega said to me, ’Are they going to have enough cellular 
vans to take us all in one go? ’ 

‘I don’t think so.’ 

'It's a good way off, Saint-Martin-de-R6, and if they take 
sixty a day,’ it’ll last ten days, because we’re close on six hun- 
dred here alone.’ 

‘The great thing is to have the injections. That means you’re 
on the list and soon you'll be in Guiana. Keep your chin up, 
Dega: the next stage is beginning now. Count on me, just as 
I count on you.’ 

He looked at me, his eyes shining with pleasure; he put his 
hand on my arm and once again he said, ‘Life or death, Papi.’ 

There was nothing really much to say about the convoy, 
except that each man very nearly stifled in his little cupboard 
in the celiular van. The warders wouldn’t let us have any air, 
not even by letting the doors stand just ajar. When we reached 



La Rochelle two of the people in our van were found dead, 
asphyxiated. 

There were people standing around on the quay - for Saint- 
' Martin-de-R6 is an island and we had- to take a boat to cross - 
and they saw those two poor unfortunate bastards being 
found. Not that they showed feelings of any sort for us, I may 
add. And since the gendarmes had to- hand us over at the cita- 
del, living or dead, they loaded the corpses on to the boat 
along with the rest of us. 

It was not a long crossing, but it gave us a real breath of 
sea-air. I said to Dega, ‘It smells of a break.’ He smiled. And 
Julot, next to us, said, 'Yes. It smells of a break. I’ny on my 

• way back to the place I escaped from five years ago. Like a 
silly bastard I let myself be picked up just as I was on the point 
of carving up the fence who’d done the Judas on me at the 
time of my little trouble ten years ago. Let’s try and stay to- 
gether, because at Saint-Maitin they put you ten to a cell in 

• any old order, just as you come to hand.’ 

He’d got that one wrong, brother Julot. When we got there 
he and two others were called out and set apart from the rest. 
They were three men who had got away from the penal settle- 
ment: they had been retaken in France and now they were 
going back for the second time. 

Grouped ten by ten in our cells, we began a life of waiting. 
We were allowed to talk and smoke, and we were very well 
fed. The only danger during this period was for your charger. 
You could never tell why, but suddenly you would be called 
up, stripped and very carefully searched. The whole of your 
body first, even the soles of your feet, and then all your clothes. 
‘Get dressed again!’ And back you went to where you came 
from. 

Cells: dining-hall: the courtyard where we spent hours and 
hours marching in single file. ‘Left, right! Left, right! Left, 
right!’ We marched in groups of five hundred convicts. A 
long, long crocodile: wooden shoes going clack-clack. Com- 
pulsory total silence. Then, 'Fall out I’ Everyone would sit 
down on the ground, forming groups according to class or 
status. First came the men of the genuine underworld: with 
them it scarcely mattered where you came from, and there 
were Corsicans, men from Marseilles, Toulouse, Brittany, 
Paris and so on. There was even one from the Ardeche, and 
1 that was me. I must say this for the Ardeche — there were only 



two Ardfcbois in the whole convoy of one thousand nine 
hundred men, a gamekeeper who had killed his wife, and me. 
Which proves that the Ard6chois are good guys. The other 
groups came tggether more or less anyhow, because more 
flats than sharps go to the penal settlements, more squares 
than wide boys. These days of waiting were called observation 
days. And it was true enough they observed us from every 
possible angle. 

One afternoon I was sitting in the sun when a man came up 
to me. A little man, spectacled, thin. I tried to place him, but 
with our clothing all being the same it was very difficult. 

‘You’re the one they call Papillon?’ He had a very strong 
Corsican accent. 

‘That’s right. What do you want with me?’ 

'Come to the latrine,’ he said. And he went off. 

■That guy,’ said Dega, ‘he’s some square from Corsica. A 
mountain bandit, for sure. What can he possibly want with 
you?’ 

‘I’m going to find out.* 

I went towards the latrines in the middle of the courtyard 
and when I got there I pretended to piss. The man stood next 
to me. in the same attitude. Without looking round he said, 
‘I’m Pascal Matra’s brother-in-law. In the visiting-room he 
told me to come to you if I needed help - to come in his name.’ 

‘ Yes : Pascal’s a friend o f mine . What do you want? ’ 

'I can’t keep my charger in any more, I’ve got dysentery. 
I don’t know who to trust and I’m afraid it’ll be stolen or the 
screws will find it Please, .Papillon, please cany it for me a few 
days.’ And he showed me a charger much bigger than mine. 
I was afraid he was setting a trap - asking me to find out wheth- 
er I was carrying one myself. If I said I was not sure I could 
hold two, he’d ,know. Without any expression I said, ‘How 
much has it got in it? ’ 

Twenty-five thousand francs.* 

Without another word I took the charger - it was very 
clean, too - and there in front of him I shoved it up, wondering 
whether a man could hold two. I had no idea. I stood up, but- 
toned my trousers ... it was all right. It did not worry me. 

‘My name’s lgna.ee Galgani,’ he said, before going. 'T hanks , 
Papillon.’ r 


I went back to Dega and privately I told him about what 
had happened. 



•It’S not too heavy?’ 

‘No.’ 

‘Let’s forget it then.’ 

We tried to get in touch with men who were being sent back 
after having made a break: Julot or Guittou, if possible. We 
were eager for information - what it was like over there, how 
you were treated, how you ought to set about things so as to 
be left paired with a friend, and so on. As luck would have it 
we chanced upon a very odd guy, a case entirely on his own. 
He was a Corsican who had been bom in the penal settlement. 
His father had been a warder there, living with his mother on 
the lies du Salut. He had been bom oh the lie Royale, one of 
the three - the others are Saint-Joseph and Devil’s Island. And 
(irony of fatel) he was on his way back, not as a warder’s son 
but as a convict. 

He had copped twelve years for housebreaking. Nineteen; 
frank expression and open face. Both Dega and I saw at once 
that he had been sold down the river. He only had a vague 
notion of the underworld; but he would be useful to us be- 
cause he could let us know about what was in store. He told 
us all about life on the islands, where he had lived for fourteen 
years. For example, he told us that his nurse on the islands 
had been a convict, a famous tough guy who had been sent 
down after a knife-fight in Montmartre, a duel for the love of 
the beautiful Casque d’Or. He gave us some very valuable ad- 
vice - you had to make your break on the mainland, because 
on the islands it was no go at all: then again you mustn’t be 
listed dangerous, because with that against your name you 
would scarcely step ashore at Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni before 
they shut you right away - interned you for a certain number 
of years or for life, according to how bad your label was. Gen- 
erally speaking, less than five per cent of the convicts were in- 
terned on the islands. The others stayed on the mainland. The 
islands were healthy, but (as Dega had already told me) the 
mainland was a right mess that gradually ate the heart out of 
you with all sorts of diseases, death, in various shapes, murder, 
etc. 

Dega and I hoped not to be interned on the islands. But 
there was a hell of a feeling there in my throat - what if I had 
been labelled dangerous? What- with my lifer, the business 
with Tribouillard and that other one with the governor, I’d be 
lucky to get away with it. 



One day a rumour ran through the prison - don t go to the 
rick-bay whatever happens, because everybody who is too • 
weak or too ill to stand the voyage is poisoned. It was certainly 
all balls. And indeed a Parisian, Francis la Passe, told us there 
was nothing in it. There had been a type who died o£ poison 
there, but Francis’ own brother, who worked in the sick-bay, 
explained just what had happened. 

• The guy had killed himself. He was one of the top sale- 
breaking specialists, and it seems that during the war he had 
burgled the German embassy in Geneva or Lausanne for the 
French Intelligence. He had taken some very important pap- 
ers and had given them to the French agents. The police had 
brought him out of prison, where he was doing five years, 
specially for this job. And ever since 1920 he had lived quietly, 
just operating once or twice a year. Every time he was picked 
up he brought out his little piece of blackmail and the Intelli- 
gence people hurriedly stepped in. But this time it hadn’t 
worked. He’d got twenty years and he was to go off with us. 
So as to miss the boat he had pretended to be sick and had 
gone into hospital. According to Francis la Passe’s brother a 
tablet of cyanide had put paid to his capers. Safe deposits and 
the Intelligence Service could sleep in peace. 

The courtyard was full of stories, some true, some false. We 
listened to them in cither case - it passed the time. 

Whenever I went to the latrines, either in the courtyard or 
in the cell, Dega had to go with me, on account of the charg- 
ers. He stood in front of me while I was at it and shielded me 
from over-inquisitive eyes. A charger is a bleeding nuisance at 
any time, but I had two of the things still, for Galgani was 
getting sicker and sicker. And there was a mystery about the 
whole affair: the charger I shoved up last always came out 
last, and the first always first. I’ve no idea how they turned 
about in my guts, but that's how it was. ■ 

At the barber’s yesterday someone had a go at murdering 
Ciousiot while he was being shaved. Two knife-stabs right next 
to his heart. By some miracle he didn’t die. I heard about the 
whole thing from a friend of his. It was an odd story and I’ll 
tell it one day. The attack was by way of settling accounts. Hie 
man who nearly got him died six years after this at Cayenne, 
having eaten bichromate of potassium in his lentils. He died 
in frightful agony. The attendant who helped the doctor at 
the post-mortem brought us five inches of gut. It had seven- 



teen holes in it. Two months later this man's murderer was 
found strangled in his hospital bed. We never knew who by. 

It was twelve days now that we had been at Saint-Martin-de- 
R6. The fortress was crammed to oversowing. Sentries pat- 
rolled on the ramparts night and day. 

A fight broke out between two brothers, in the showers. 
They fought like wild-cats and one of them was put into our 
cell. Andr6 Baillard was his name. He couldn’t be punished, 
he told me, because it was the authorities’ fault: the screws 
had been ordered not to let the brothers meet on any account 
whatsoever. When you knew their story, you could see why. 

Andrd had murdered an old woman with some money, and 
his brother Emile hid the proceeds. Emile was shopped for 
theft and got thrfee years. One day, when he was in the punish- 
ment cell with some other men, he let the whole thing out: 
he was mad with his brother for not sending him in money for 
cigarettes and he told them everything - he’d get Andr6, he 
said; and he explained how it was Andrd who had done the 
old woman in and how it was be, Emile, who had hidden the 
monfey. What’s more, he said, when he got out he wouldn’t 
give Andr6 a sou. A prisoner hurried off to tell the governor 
what he had heard. Things moved fast. Andrfe was arrested 
and the two brothers were sentenced to death. In death alley 
at the Sant6 their condemned cells were next door to one 
another. Each put in for a reprieve. Emile’s was granted the 
forty-third day, but Andrd’s was turned down. Yet out of 
consideration for Andr6’s feelings Emile was kept in the con- 
demned cell and the two brothers did their daily exercise to- 
gether, the one behind the other, with chains on their legs. 

On the forty-sixth day at half -past four in the morning An- 
dre’s door opened. They were all there, the governor, the 
registrar and the prosecuting counsel who had asked for his 
head. This was the execution. But just as the governor stepped 
forward to speak Andr6’s lawyer appeared, running, followed 
by someone else who handed the prosecutor a paper. Every- 
one went back into the corridor. Andr6’s throat was so tight 
and stiff he couldn't swallow his spit. This wasn’t possible - 
executions were never interrupted once they had begun. And 
yet this one was. Not until the next day, after hours of dreadful 
doubt, did he hear from his lawyer that just before bis execu- 
tion President Doumer had been murdered by Gorguloff. But 
Doumer hadn’t died right away. The lawyer had * a there 



all night outside the hospital, having told .the Minister of Jus* 
tice that if the President died before the time of the execution 
(between half past four and five in the morning) he would call 
for a postponement on the grounds that there was no head of 
state. Doumer died at two minutes past four. Just time to warn 
the ministry, jump into a cab, followed by the man with the 
order for putting it off; but he got there three minutes too late 
to stop them opening Andre’s door. The two brothers’ sen* 
tenccs were commuted to transportation and hard labour for 
life: for on the day of the new president’s election the lawyer 
went to Versailles, and as soon as Albert Lebrun was chosen, 
the lawyer handed him the petition for a reprieve. No presi- 
dent ever refuses the first reprieve he is asked for. “Lebrun 
signed,’ said Andrfc, ‘and here I am, mate, alive and well, on 
my way to Guiana.’ I looked at this character who had escaped 
the 'guillotine and 1 said to myself that in spite of all I had 
gone through it was nothing to what he must have suffered. 

Yet I never made friends with him. The idea of his killing 
a poor old 4 woman to rob her made me feel sick. This Andr£ 
was always a very lucky man. He murdered his brother on the 
lie Saint-Joseph some time later. Several convicts saw him. 
Enule was fishing, standing there on a rock and thinking about 
nothing but his rod. The noise of the heavy waves drowned 
every otter sound. Andrt crept up on his brother from be- 
hrad witt a thick ten-foot bamboo in his hand and shoved him 
off his balance with a single push. The place was stiff with 
sharks and precious soon Emile had become their lunch He 
wasn t mere at the evening roll-call and he was put down as 
having disappeared during an attempt to escape. No one talked 
more. Only four or five convicts gathering coco- 
nuts high up on the island had seen what happened. Everyone 

"" A ”“ “"" <i Mv “ 

a 0f . i “ terament for W conduct’ and he had 

^privileged status at Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. They gave him 

and o n ^ C \ He ^ d,sa Ereement wTttTnothe" ' 
ST them J m A he cherousl y him into this 

worn his plea otX&SSS StSt^S S* 3Z 

. he - 

Samt-Martm-de-RS was stuffed with prisoner Two quite 



different sorts: eight hundred or a thousand real convicts and 
nine relegues - men in preventive detention. To be a con- 
vict you have to have done something serious or at least to 
have been accused of an important crime. The mildest sen- 
tence is seven years hard labour and then it goes up by stages 
to life, or perpetuity, as they say. A commuted death-sentence 
automatically means perpetuity. Preventive detention, or rele- 
gation, that’s something quite different. If he’s sentenced 
from three to seven times, a man can be relegated. It’s true 
they’re all incorrigible thieves and you can see that society has 
to protect itself. But still it’s shameful that a civilized nation 
should have this extra sentence of preventive detention. They 
are small-time thieves - clumsy operators, since they are shop- 
ped so often - who get relegation (and in my time that meant 
the same as life) and who have never stolen as much as ten 
thousand francs in their whole career as thieves. That’s the 
greatest bit of meaningless balls.French civilization has to 
offer. A nation has no right to revenge itself nor to wipe out 
the people who hinder the workings of society. They are 
people who ought to be treated rather than be punished in 
such an inhuman way. 

Now we had been seventeen days at Saint-Martin-de-Rd. 
We knew the name of the ship that was to carry us to the settle- 
ment: she was the Martiniere. She was going to take one thou- 
sand eight hundred and seventy prisoners aboard. That mor- 
ning eight or nine hundred convicts were assembled in the 
inner court of the fortress. We had been standing there for 
about an hour, lined up in ranks of ten, filling the square. A 
gate opened and in came men who were not dressed like the 
warders we were used to. They wore good, military kind of 
clothes: sky-blue. It wasn’t the same as a gendarme and it 
wasn’t the same as a soldier. They each had a broad belt with 
a holster; the revolver grip showed. There were about eighty 
of them. Some had stripes. They were all sunburnt and they 
were of any age between thirty-five and fifty. The old ones 
looked pleasanter than the young, who threw a chest and 
looked important - gave themselves airs. Along with these 
men’s officers there came the governor of Saint-Martin-di-^ 
a gendarmerie colonel, three or four quacks in overseas sz? 
uniform and two priests in white cassocks. The 
colonel picked up a speaking-trumpet and put it to*' 

We expected shun\ but nothing of the kind. He s 


carefully, all of you. From this moment on you are token over 
by the authorities of the Ministry of Justice, representing the 
penitentiary administration of French Guiana, whose admm- 
istrative centre is the town of Cayenne. Major Barrot, I hereby 
hand over to you the eight hundred and sixteen convicts now 
present, and this is the list of their names. Be so good as to 
check that they are all here.’ 

The roll-call began straight away. ‘So-and-so, present. So- 
and-so . . .’ etc. It lasted two hours and everything was cor- 
rect. Then we watched the two authorities exchanging sig- 
natures on a little table brought for the purpose. 

Major Barrot had as many stripes . as the colonel, but they 
were gold and not the gendarmerie’s silver: he took his turn 
at the megaphone. 

‘Transportees, from now on that is the name ycru’II always 
be' called by - transportee so-and-so or transportee such-and- 
such a number,- the number that will be allotted to you. From 
now on you are under the special penal settlement laws and 
regulations: you come under its own particular tribunals 
which will take the necessary decision with regard to you as the 
case arises. For crimes committed: in the penal settlement 
these courts cap condemn you to anything from imprisonment 
to death. These disciplinary sentences, such as prison or soli- 
tary confinement, are of course served in different establish- 
ments that belong to the administration. The officers you sec 
opposite you are called supervisors. When you speak to them 
you will say ‘Monsieur le surveiliant’. After you have eater 
you will be given a kitbag containing the settlement uniform 
Everything has been provided for and you will not need any- 
thing but what is in the bag. Tomorrow you will go aboard the 
Marliniere. We shall travel together. Don’t lose heart at leav- 
ing this country: you will be better off in the settlement that 
in solitary confinement in France. You can talk, amuse your- 
selves, sing and smoke; and you needn’t be afraid of bein£ 
treated roughly so long as you behave yourselves. I ask yoi 
to leave the settling of your private disagreements until w« 
reach Guiana. During the voyage discipline has to’ be veiy 
strict, as I hope you will understand. If there are any met 
among you who don't feel up to making the voyage, they maj 
report to the infirmary, where they will be examined by tht 
medical officers who are accompanying the convoy. I wish yoi 
all a pleasant trip.’ The ceremony was over. 


‘Well, Dega, what do you think about it? * 

‘Papillon, old cock, I see I was right when I told you that the 
other convicts were the worst danger we’d have to cope with. 
That piece of his about “leave the settling of your private 
disagreements until we reach Guiana” meant plenty. Christ, 
what killings and murdering must go on therel ’ 

‘Never worry about that : just rely on me.’ 

I found Francis la Passe and said, ‘Is your brother still a 
medical attendant? * 

‘Yes. He’s not a real convict, only a bleeding relfigud.’ 

‘Get into touch with him as quick as possible: ask him to 
give you a scalpel. If he wants money for it, tell me how much. 
I'll pay.’ 

Two hours later I had a very strong steel-handled scalpel. 
Its only fault was that it was rather big; but it was a formidable 
weapon. 

I went and sat very near the latrines in the middle of the 
courtyard and I sent for Galgani to give him back his char- 
ger; but it was going to be very hard to find him in that milling 
crowd - a huge yard crammed with eight hundred men. We 
had never caught sight of Julot, Guittou or Suzini since we got 
there. 

The advantage of communal life is that you belong to a new 
society, if this could be called a society - you live in it, talk in 
it, become part of it. There are so many things to say, to hear 
and to do that you no longer have any time to think. And it 
seemed to me, as I saw how the past faded away, growing less 
important in comparison with everyday life, it seemed to mo 
that once you got to the penal settlement you must almost 
forget what you have been, how or why you had landed up 
there, and concentrate upon one thing alone - escape. I was 
wrong, because the most important and most engrossing thing 
is above all to keep yourself alive. 

Where were the cops, the members of the jury, the assizes, 
the judges, my wife, my father, my friends? They were there 
all right, thoroughly alive, each one in his place in my heart; 
but what with the intense excitement of leaving, of this great 
leap into the unknown, these new friendships and new aspects 
of life, they seemed to have less importance than before. But 
that was only a mere impression. When I wanted, and When- 
ever my mind chose to open each one’s file, they were all in- 
stantly alive once more. 


55 



Now here was Galgani. being led towards me, for even wi 
his thick pebble-lenses he could scarcely see.' He looked belt/ 
He came up to me and shook my hand without a word. 

I said, ‘I want to give you back your charger. Now you’ 
well you can carry it yourself. It’s too much responsibili 
for me during the voyage; and then who knows whether wc 
be in touch at the settlement, or whether we’ll even see or 
another? So it’s better you should have it back.’ Galgai 
looked at me unhappily. ‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Come into the la 
rine and I’ll give it back to you.’ 

‘No, I don’t want it You keep it - I give it to yoi 
It’s yours.’ 

•Why do you say that?’ 

‘I don’t want to get myself murdered for ray charger. I’< 
rather live without money than have my throat slit for it. j 
give it to you, for after all there’s no reason why you shoulc 
risk your life, looking after my lolly for me. If you run the 
risk it might as well be for your own sake.’ 

‘Y ou’re scared, Galgani. Have you been threatened already? 
Does anyone suspect you’re loaded? ’ 

‘Yes: there are three Arabs who follow me all the time. 
That’s why I’ve never come to see you, so they won’t suspect 
i w&’re in touch. Every time I go to the latrine, day or night, 
one of these three comes and puts himself next to me. Without 
making it obvious I’ve shown them absolutely plain that I’m 
not loaded, but in spite of all I can do they never let up. They 
think someone else has my charger; they don’t know who; 
and they keep behind met o see when I’ll get it back again.’ 

.. I looked hard at Galgani and I saw he was terror-stricken, 
really persecuted. I said, ‘What part of the courtyard do they 
keep to?’ 

He said, ‘Over towards the kitchen and the laundry.’ 

‘Right, you stay here. I’ll be back. But no, now I come to 
think of it, you come with me.’ With Galgani at my side I went 
over towards the Arabs. I’d taken the scalpel out of my cap 
and I had the blade up my right sleeve, with the handle in my 
palm.,Wheri we had crossed the court, sure enough I saw them. 
Four of them. Three Arabs and a Corsican, a character by the 
‘ name of Giraudo. I grasped the situation right away. It was 
the Corsican who had been cold-shouldered by the real hard 
men and. who had put the Arabs up to this job. He must have 



known that Galgani was Pascal .Matra’s brother-in-law and 
that it wasn’t possible for him not to have a charger. 

‘Hi, Mokrane. OK?’ 

'OK, Papillon. You OK too?’ 

‘Hell, no. Far from it. I’ve come to see yon guys to tell you 
Galgani is my friend. If anything happens to him, it’s you who 
cop it first Girando. And then the rest of you. And you can 
take that just how you like.' 

Mokrane stood up. He was as tall as me - about five foot 
eight - and as broad-shouldered. The words had needled him 
and he was on the point of moving in to start things when I 
flashed the scalpel and with it right there shining-new in my 
hand I said, ‘If you stir I’ll kill you like a dog.’ 

He was knocked sideways by seeing me armed in a place 
where everybody was searched all the time, and he was shaken 
by my attitude and the length of the blade. He said, ‘I got up 
to talk, not to fight.’ 

I knew it was not true, but it was to my advantage to save 
his face in front of his friends. I left the door open for him 
wide and handsome. ‘OK, since you just got up to talk . . 

‘I didn't know Galgani was your friend. I thought he was a 
square. And you know very w’ell, Papillon, that when you’re 
skint you have to find cash somewhere to make a break.' 

‘Fair enough. You certainly have the right to struggle for 
your life, Mokrane, like anyone else. Only keep away from 
Galgani, see? You’ve got to look somewhere else.’ 

He held out his hand: I shook it hard. Jesus, I was well out 
of that one; for looking at it rightly, if I had killed that guy, 
I should never have left the next day. A little later I realized 
I had made a bleeding error. Galgani and I walked away. I 
said, ‘Don’t tell anyone about.this caper. I don’t want to have 
old Dega bawling me out.’ 

I tried to persuade Galgani to take the charger. He said. 
Tomorrow, before we leave.’ The next day he lay so low that 
I set out for penal with two chargers aboard. 

That night not one of us - and we were about eleven in the 
cell - not one of us said a word. For we all had more or less the 
same thought in our minds - this was the last day we-should 
pass on French soil. Each of us tvas more or less filled with, 
homesickness at the idea of leaving France for ever, with an 
unknown land and an unknown way of life at the end of our 
journey. 



Dega did not speak. He sat next to me close to the barred 
door on to the corridor, where the air was a little fresher. I felt 
completely at sea. The information we had about what was 
coming was so contradictory that I did not know whether to 

be pleased or wretched or downright hopeless. 

The other men.in the cell were all genuine underworld char- 
acters. The only one who did not belong was the little Corsi- 
can who had been bom in the settlement. All these men were 
in a grey, floating state of mind. The seriousness of the mo- 
ment and its importance had made them almost entirely dumb. 
The cigarette-smoke wafted out of the cell into the corridor 
like a cloud, and if you didn’t want your eyes to sting you had 
to sit lower than the heavy fog-blanket. No one slept except 
for Andrfe Baillaxd; it was natural enough for him, since his 
life had already been lost, as it were, As far as he was con- 
cerned everything else could only be unlooked-for heaven. 

My life passed before my eyes like a film.- childhood in a 
family filled with love, affectionate discipline, decent ways and 
good-heartedness; the wild flowers, the murmur of streams, the 
taste of the walnuts, peaches and plums that our garden gave 
us in -such quantities; the smell of the mimosa that flowered 
every spring in front of our door; the outside of our house, 
and the inside with my family there - all this ran by before my 
eyes. It was a talking picture, one in which I heard the voice 
oE my mother (she had loved me so), and then my father’s — 
always affectionate and kind - and the barking of Clara, his 
gun-dog, calling me into the garden to play. The boys and 
girls of my childhood, the ones I had played with during the 
happiest days of my life. All this - this film I was watching 
without ever having meant to see it, this magic lantern that my 
subconscious had lit against my will - all this filled the night 
of waiting before the leap into the great unknown with sweet, 
gentle memories and emotions. 

Now was the time to get things clear in my mind. Let's sec: 
I was twenty-six and very fit; I had five thousand sue hundred 
francs belonging to me in my gut and twenty-five thousand 
belonging to Galgani. Dega, there. beside me, had ten thou- 
sand. It seemed to me I could count on forty thousand francs, 
for if Galgani couldn’t look after his dough here he’d be even 
less capable of doing so aboard the ship or in Guiana. What’s 
more, he knew it: and that’s why he never came to ask for his 
charger. So I could count on that money - taking Galgani 



with me, of course. He’d have to profit by it - it was his cash, 
not mine. I’d use it for his good; but I should gain by it too. 
Forty thousand francs was a lot of money, so I should find it 
easy to buy helpers - convicts serving their time, men who had 
.been let out, warders. 

The conclusion was positive. As soon as I got there I must 
escape together with Dega and Galgani, and that was the only 
tiling I was to concentrate upon at this point. I touched the 
.scalpel, and the feel of the cold steel handle pleased me. It 
gave me confidence, having such a formidable weapon as that 
upon me. I had already proved how useful it coul'd be in that 
business with the Arabs. 

About three o’clock in the morning the men for solitary 
piled up eleven kitbags in front of the bars of the cell: they 
were all crammed full and each had a big label on it. I could 
read one that hung in through the bars. C Pierre, thirty years 
old, five foot eight and a half, waist size forty-two, shoes eight 
and a half, number x. This Pierre C - was Pierrot le Fou, a 
guy from Bordeaux who had got twenty years hard in Paris 
for homicide. 

He was a good type, a decent, straightforward member of 
the underworld, .and I knew him well. The label showed me 
how precise and well-organized the authorities in charge of 
the penal settlement were. It was better than the army, where 
they make you try your things on by guesswork. Here every- 
thing was written down and so each man would get things his 
own size. I could see from a bit of canvas at the top of the bag 
that the uniform was white with vertical red stripes. Dressed 
like that, you could scarcely pass unnoticed. 

I tried to force my mind to make pictures of the assizes, the 
jurymen, the prosecuting counsel, etc. It flatly refused to obey 
me, and I could only get it to produce ordinary images, ll 
came to me that if you want to live through anything imagin- 
ary as vividly as I did at the Conciergerie pr at Beaulieu you 
have to be alone, utterly alone. It was a relief to understand 
this, and I saw that the communal life that was coming would 
bring other needs with it, other reactions and other plans, 

Pierrot le Fou came up to the bars and said, ‘OK , PapiV* 

‘What about you?’ 

‘Well, as far as I’m concerned, I’d always dreamed of goinr 
to America; but I was a gambler, so I could never save ernr-rr 
for the trip. The cops had the idea of making id-, a press.': ct 


it. You can’t deny it was kind of them, Papilion'.’ He was speak- 
ing naturally. There was no bragging about what he said. You 
could feel that right down he was sure of himself. ‘The cops 
free trip to America has something to be said for it, you know. 
I’d much rather go to Guiana than sweat out fifteen years of 
solitary in France.’ 

• ‘As I sec it going crazy in a cell or just falling apart in some 
solitary confinement hole in France is even worse than dying 
of leprosy or yellow fever.’ , 

‘That’s how I see it too,’ he said. 

‘Look, Pierrot, this label is yours.’ 

He bent down, looking very close to read it, and slowly he 
made out the words. ‘I can’t wait to put these clothes on. I’ve 
a mind to open the bag - no one will say anything. After all, 
they're meant for me,* 

‘You leave it alone and wait till they tell you. This isn’t the 
time to ask for trouble, Pierre. I need some peace and quiet.’ 
He grasped what I meant and moved away from the bars. 

Louis Dega looked at me and said, ‘This is our last night, 
boy. Tomorrow they’re taking us far away from our beautiful 
country.’ 

‘Our beautiful country hasn't got such a very beautiful sys- 
tem of justice, Dega. Maybe we’ll come to know countries 
that aren’t so beautiful but that have a slightly more human 
way of treating people who have slipped up.’ I didn’t think I 
was so near the truth: the future was to show me that I was 
dead right. Total silence fell again. 


Leaving for Guiana 


eVer ything was in motion; Convicts can 
round with coffee and then four warders appeared. Tod; 
they were m white; they still carried their revolvers. Spotle 
white tunes and buttons that, shone like gold. One had thr 
gold chevrons on his left sleeve : nothing on his shoulders’, 



‘Transport ees, come out into the corridor in twos. Each man 
will find the bag with his name on the label. Take the bag and 
move back against the wall, facing the corridor with your bag 
in front of you.’ 

It took twenty minutes before we were all lined up with our 
kitbags at our feet. 

‘Strip: roll up your things, put them into the jacket, bundle 
it all up and tie the sleeves . . . right. You over there, pick up 
wie rolls and put them into the cell. Now dress. Put on vest, 
drawers, striped drill trousers, drill jacket, shoes and socks 
... You’re all dressed?’ 

‘Yes, Monsieur le surveillant.’ 

‘Right. Keep the woollen jersey out of the bag in case it 
rains or turns cold. Bags on your left shoulder. In double file, 
follow me.’ 

v With the sergeant in front, two warders at the sides and the 
fourth behind, our little column moved out to the courtyard. 
In under two hours eight hundred and ten convicts were fined 
up there. Forty men were called out, including Dega and me 
and the three who were being sent back after their escape - 
Julot, Galgani and Santini. These forty men were fined up in 
rows of ten. Each rank of the column that was talon g shape 
had a warder beside it. No chains, no handcuffs. Three yards 
in front of us, walking backwards, ten gendarmes. They faced 
us, rifle in hand, and they marched like that all the way, each 
steered by another gendarme holding his shoulder-belt. 

. The great gale of the citadel opened, and slowly the column 
began to move. As the fine emerged from the fortress so more 
gendarmes, carrying rifles or light machine-guns, joined the 
cofivoy, staying a couple of yards from it and keeping pace. 
Other gendarmes held back a huge crowd that had come to 
watch us leaving for the penal settlements. Half way to the 
quay I heard a quiet whistle from the windows of a house. I 
looked up and saw Nenette, my wife, and my friend. Antoine 
D - at one window: Paula, Dega’s wife, and his friend An- 
toine Giletti were at the other. Dega saw them too, and we 
marched with our eyes fixed on those windows as long as we 
could see them. That was the last time I ever set eyes on my 
wife: or my friend Antoine, who died much later in an air- 
raid on Marseilles. No one spoke. There was a total silence. 
No prisoner, no warder, no gendarme, no person in the crowd 
disturbed that truly heart-rending moment when everyth- 



knew that one thousand eight hundred met) ■were about to 
vanish from ordinary life for ever . 

We went aboard. The forty in front - that is to say us - were 
sent to the bottom of the hold, into a cage with thick bars. 
There was a marker on it. I read ‘Hall no. 1 . 40 men top special 
category. Strict, continual surveillance.’ Each mail was given 
a rohed-up hammock. There were quantities of rings to hang 
them by. Someone seized me in his arms: it was Julot. He 
knew all about this, because he had already madethe voyage 
ten years before. He knew how to cope. He said, ‘This way, 
quick. Hang your bag where you're going to hang your ham- 
mock. This place is near two closed port-holes, but they’ll be 
opened when we're at sea, and we’ll be able to breathe better 
here than anywhere else in the cage.' . 

1 introduced Dega. We were talking when a man came our 
way. Julot put out his arm and blocked the path. He said, 
‘Never come over this side if you want to reach penal alive. 
Get it?’ ‘Yes,’ said the other man. ‘You know why?’ ‘Yes’ 
‘Then bugger off.’ The guy went. Dega was delighted with this 
show of strength and he didn’t hide it. ‘With you two. I’ll be 
able to sleep easy.’ Julot said, ‘With us, you’re safer here than 
in any villa on the coast that has a single window open.’ 

The voyage lasted eighteen days. Only one piece of excite- 
ment. Everyone was woken by an enormous shriek in the 
night. A character was found dead with a long knife deep be- 
tween his shoulders. The knife had been driven from below 
upwards and it had passed through the hammock before 
reaching him. A really dangerous weapon, a good eight inches 
long in the blade. Immediately twenty-five or thirty warders 
turned their revolvers or rifles on us, shouting, ‘Everyone strip. 
Double quick time!’. , 

Everyone stripped. I saw there was going to be a search and 
I put my bare right foot over the scalpel, taking my weight on 
the left, because the blade was cutting into me. Nevertheless 
my foot covered the scalpel. Four warders came inside the 
rage and began rummaging through the shoes and clothes. 
Before they came in they left their weapons outside and the 
door was closed on them, but those who were the other side 
of the bars kept watch on us, keeping us covered. ‘The first 
man to stir is a goner,’ said a head screw’s voice. During the 
search they found three knives, two long roofing-nails, sharp- 



ened, a corkscrew, and a gold charger. Six men were brought 
out on to the deck, still naked. Major Barrot, the officer in 
command of the convoy, appeared together with two colonial 
anny doctors and the captain of the. ship. When the screws 
left , our cage everyone dressed again, without waiting for the 
order. I picked up my scalpel. 

The warders moved back to the far end of the deck. In the 
middle there was Barrot, just by the companion-way, with the 
other officers. The six naked men were lined up opposite them, 
standing to attention. 

‘This is his,' said the screw who had conducted the search, 
picking up a knife and pointing to its owner. 

‘Fair enough. It’s mine.’ 

‘Right,’ said Barrot. ‘He’ll make the rest of the voyage in a 
cell over the engines.’ 

Each man was pointed out as responsible either for the nails, 
or the corkscrew or -the knives, and each acknowledged that 
the weapon that had been found belonged to him. Each one, 
still naked, went up the ladder, accompanied by two screws. 
Lying there on the floor there was still one knife and the gold 
charger: and only one man for both of them. He was young - 
twenty-three or twenty-five - well-built, at least five foot ten, 
athletic, blue eyes. 

‘This is yours, isn’t it?’ said the screw, holding out the gold 
charger. 

‘Yes, it’s mine.’ 

‘What’s in it? ’ asked Major Barrot, taking it. 

‘Three hundred pounds sterling, two hundred dollars and 
two five-carat diamonds. 1 

‘Right. We’ll have a look.’ He opened it. The major was 
surrounded by other people and we couldn’t see a thing. But 
we heard him say, ‘Just so. What’s your name?’ 

‘Salvidia Romeo.’ 

’You’reItaltan7’ 

Wes, sir.’ 

‘You’ll not be punished for the charger: but you will be for 
the knife.* 

. ‘Excuse me, but the knife isn’t mine.’ 

‘Don’t talk balls,’ said the screw, ‘I found it in your shoe.’ 

‘I say again the knife isn’t mine.’ 

‘So I’m lying, am I?’ 

*No, you’re just mistaken.* 


‘Whose is the knife, then?' asked Major Barrot. ‘If it’s not 

yours, it must be somebody’s.’ 

‘It’s not mine, that’s all.’ 

‘If you don’t want to be put in the punishment cell — ana 
you’ll fry there? because it’s over the boiler - just tell me whose 
the knife is.’ 

‘I don’t know.’- . . 

* Are you trying to make a fool of me? A knife s found in 
your shoe and you don’t know whose it is? Do you think I’m 
a fool? Either it’s yours or you know whose it is. Speak up.’ 

‘It’s not mine and it’s not for me to say whose it is. I’m not 
an informer. You don’t by any chance think I look like a bleed- 
ing prison officer, do you?’ 

‘ ‘Warder, put on the handcuffs. This kind of undisciplined 
conduct costs a packet, my friend.’ 

The two commanding officers, the captain of the ship and 
the head of the convoy, talked privately. The captain gave an 
order to a quartermaster, who went up on deck. A few mo- 
ments later a Breton sailor appeared, a giant of a man, with a 
wooden bucket of sea water and a rope as thick as your wrist. 
The convict was tied to the bottom step of the ladder, on his 
knees. The sailor wetted the rope in the bucket and then de- 
liberately, with all his strength, he set about flogging the poor 
devil’s back and buttocks. Not a sound came from the con- 
vict: blood flowed from his buttocks and his sides. A shout 
from our cage broke the graveyard ■ silence. ‘You bloody, 
sods ! ’ 

That was all that was needed to start everybody roaring. 
‘Murderers! Swine! Bastards! ’ The more they threatened to 
fire if we did not shut up the more we bellowed until suddenly 
the captain shouted, ‘Turn on the steam I ’ 

. Sailors turned various wheels and jets of steam shot out at 
us with such force that in a split second everyone was flat on 
his belly. The jets came at chest-height. We were all struck with 
panic. The men who had been scalded dared not cry out. The 
whole thing lasted under a minute, but It terrified every man 
there. 

‘I hope you obstinate brutes have grasped what I mean. The 
slightest trouble, and I turn on the steam. You get me? Stand 
up!’ 

Only three men had been seriously scalded. They were taken 
to the sick-bay. The man who had been flogged .was put back 


with us. Six years later he died while making a break with me. 

During those eighteen days of the .voyage we had plenty of 
time to try to leaJn about what was coming or to get at least 
some notion of the penal settlement. Yet when we got there 
nothing turned out quite as we had expected, although Julot 
had done his very best to pass on his knowledge. 

We did know that Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni was a village 
seventy-five miles from the sea on a river called the Maroni. 
Julot told us about it. ‘That’s the village that has the prison, 
the one that's the centre of the penal settlement. That’s where 
they sort you out according to your category. The preventive 
detentions go straight to a prison called Saint-Jean, about 
ninety miles away. The right convicts are separated into three 
groups. First the ones labelled very dangerous : as -soon as 
they arrive they're called out and shoved into cells in the 
punishment-block until they can be transferred to the lies du 
Salut. There they are interned either for a given number of 
years or for life. These islands are three hundred miles and 
more from Saint-Laurent and sixty from Cayenne. There are 
three of them. Royale, the biggest; Saint-Joseph, which has 
the settlement’s solitary-confinement prison; and Devil's Is- 
land, the smallest of them all. Apart from a very few excep- 
tions, convicts don’t go to Devil’s Island. The people there 
are politicals. Then comes dangerous, second category: they 
stay at the Saint-Laurent camp, and they’re put to gardening 
and working on the land. Whenever there’s a need for men 
they’re sent to the very tough camps - Camp Forestier, Char- 
vin, Cascade, Clique Rouge and Kilometre 42, the one they 
call the death camp. Then there’s the ordinary category: 
they’re given jobs in the offices and kitchens, or put to clean- 
ing in the village and the camp, or they’re sent to the different 
workshops - carpentry, painting, blacksmith’s shop, electric- 
ity, mattress-making, tailor’s shop, laundry and so on. So zero 
hour is the moment you get there. If you’re called out J 
taken to a cell, that means you’re going to be interned on the 
islands, so good-bye to any hope of escape. There’s only one 
chance, and that’s to mutilate yourself quick - open your knee 
or your belly so as to get into the hospital and escape from 
there. At all costs you have to avoid going to the islands. 
There’s one other hope: if the ship that’s to take the internees 
to the islands isn’t ready you can bring out your money and 
offer it to the medical orderly. He’ll «dve you a shot of turpen- 



tine in a joint or draw a urine-soaked hair through a cut so 
that it’ll go bad. Or he’ll give you sulphur to inhale and then 
tell the doctor you’ve got a temperature of 102. During those 
few days of waiting you have to get into hospital, no matter 
what it costs. 

‘If you’re not called out but left with the others in the huts 
at the camp, then you have time to get working. If this hap- 
pens, you mustn’t look for a job inside the camp. What you 
want to do is to pay the clerk to be given a scavenger’s or a 
sweeper’s job in the village, or else to get taken on at an outside 
firm's sawmills. Going out of the prison to work and coming 
back into the camp every night gives you time to get in touch 
with the time-espired convicts who live in the village or with 
the Chinese, so that they can get your break ready for you. 
Avoid the camps outside the village. Everybody dies quickly 
in them - there are some where no one has been able to stand 
it for three months. Out there in the deep bush, men are forced 
to cut a cubic yard of wood every day.* 

Throughout the voyage Julot had gone over and over all 
uus valuable information. For his part, he was quite ready. He 
knew that he was. going straight to the punishment cell, be- 
cause he was an escaped man who had been retaken. So he 
had a very small blade, not much more than a penknife, in bis 
charger; When we got there he was going to take it out and 
t' P I„ ^5° °P® n - As w r c came d own the gangway he was going 

,. ;;" Bh ere m u front of everyone. lie thought he’d be 

™ r ,o ^ ,tai “" d 


Saint-Laurent-Du-Maroni 


The warders had gone off in rplpir* *_ «. _ . 


see the bush. So we were in the Maroni. The water was muddy. 
Untouched virgin forest, green and impressive. Disturbed by 
the ship’s siren, birds rose and flew across the sky. We went 
very slowly, and that allowed us to pay close attention to the 
thick, dark-green, overflowing vegetation. We saw the first 
wooden houses, with their corrugated iron roofs. Black men 
and women stood at their doors, watching the ship go by. They 
were quite used to seeing it unload its human cargo, and so 
they never even bothered to wave as it passed. Three blasts 
on the siren and the churning of the propeller told us that we 
were there, and then the engines stopped entirely. Not a 
sound : you could have heard the buzzing of a fly. 

Nobody spoke. Julot had his knife open and he was cutting 
his trousers at the knee, making the edges of the slash look 
like a tear. It was only on deck that he was going to cut his 
knee, so as not to leave a trail of blood. The warders opened 
the door of the cage and lined us up in threes. We were in the 
fourth rank, with Julot between Dega and me. Up on deck. It 
was two o’clock in the aftemon and suddenly the blazing sun 
hit my cropped head and my eyes. We were formed up on the 
deck and then we moved towards the gangway. When the 
column hesitated for a moment, just as the first man stepped 
on to the gangway, I held Julot’s kitbag in place on his shoul- 
der while he used both hands to stretch the skin of his knee, 
drive the knif e in and slash through three or four inches of 
flesh in one sweep. He passed me the knife and held the kitbag 
himself. The moment we set foot on the gangway he fell and 
rolled right down to the bottom. They picked him up, and 
finding that he was, hurt they called the stretcher-bearers. 
Everything ran just as he had worked it out, and he disap- 
peared, carried by two men on a stretcher. ' . ~: 

A motley, crowd watched Us ‘with some curiosity. Negroes, 
half-castes, Indians, Chinese and wrecks -of white 'men (they 
were certainly freed convicts) stared at each one ot -us as he 
set foot on land and lined up behind the others'. .Oh the other 
side there were warders, well-dressed civilians, woihen in sum- 
mer dresses and' children, all with sun-helmets on. They too 
watched the new arrivals. When there were two.hundred of v* 
ashore, the column moved off. We marched for some ten zni- 
“tcs and came. to_a very high gate made of massive bear* 
wnti the words Penitentiary of Saini-Laurent-du-MaronL 
acity, 3,000 men. The gate opened and we went " ‘ 


of ten. *Left, right. Left, right. Left, rightl ’ A good many con- 
viets'watched us come in. They had climbed up on the win- 
dows or on big stones to see us better. 

When we reached the middle of the court a voice shouted, 
‘Halt. Put your bags down in front of you. You there, hand 
out the hats.’ They gave us each a straw hat, and we needed it 
- two or three men had already dropped from sunstroke. Dega . 
and I exchanged a glance, for a screw with stripes had a list in 
his hand. We thought of what Julot had told us. Guittou was 
called. ‘Here!’ he said. Two warders took him away, Suzuni, 
the same: Girasol likewise. 


‘Jules Pignard I’ 

•‘Jules Pignard (that was our Julot) has been hurt. He’s gone 
to hospital.’ . 

‘Right.’ Those were the internees for the islands. Then the 
warder went on, ‘Listen carefully. Each man whose name I call 
is to stfcp from the ranks with his kitbag on his shoulder and 
go and line up in front of that yellow hut, number one.’ 

The roll-aill went on, with So-and-so - Present, etc., and 
uega. Carrier and I ended up with the others, in line over 
against the hut. They opened the door and we went into a 
^ f me tw ? ttly Iong - Down the middle ran 

the whol i 1 r^ rdS Wide With 311 iron bar 011 either side, 
Si 1 °* * e room ‘ hammocks were slung 

between the bar and the wall, and each held a blanket. Every 

dS and I ieJ f, Pl r Dega ’ Pierrot le Fou ’ Santori ’ Gram 

began to take shanp at next T t0 one anotber > and little group's 
gan to take shape at once. I went down to the far end of the 

stowm on U* debt, tato, j» no dSJS 

m ' H-“ ** ns bsgan to am»e, and 

Lo»i, Degn, Pierrai fc S and'l ™ dows ' 
were in an ordinary barrack ml » flighted - smce we 
to be interned SS w^lTl!^! 11 ^ WereQ,t « oiDg 1 
ceU, as Julot had explained Pvdu f y ^ been put into a ‘ 
about five o’clock u-h™ > ' Fvei Tbody was very pleased until ! 

■it-, for^bu, b ?‘ ,h “ Gn ““ i « “A > 

in this wholly ™ S S ffl! * ™ 8 '' ?“ f “ ' 

far as r ra concemad? oLdn m ',b° m “ d ’ ,be bettcr ' “ 1 
safe from one of the central a,-- TOS tbe man wbo stole the H 
whole country laugh. P IS0ns ’ a that had made the 


68 


In the tropics day and night come without any sort of twi- 
light. You go straight from the one to the other, and at the 
same time all through the year. Suddenly, at half -past six, it’s 
night. And at half past six two old convicts brought two oil 
lamps that they hung on a hook in the ceiling and that gave a 
very little light. Three-quarters of the room was perfectly 
dark. By nine o’clock everybody was asleep, for now that the 
excitement of our arrival was over, we were quite overcame 
by the heat. Not a breath of air, and everyone was strippedlo 
his drawers. My hammock was between Dega and Pierrot le 
Fou: we whispered a while and then went-back to sleep. 

It was still dark the next morning when the bugle blew. 
Everyone got up, washed and dressed. They gave us coffee and 
a hunk of bread. There was a plank fixed to the wall for your 
bread, mug and other belongings. At nine o’clock two warders 
came in, together with a young convict dressed in white with- 
out stripes. The two screws were Corsicans, and they talked 
Corsican to the convicts from their country. Meanwhile the 
medical orderly walked about the room. When he reached me 
he said, ‘How goes it, Papi? Don’t you recognize me?’ 

‘No.’ 

‘I’m Sierra l’Alg6rois : I knew you in Paris, at Dante’s.’ 

‘Oh, yes, I recognize you now. But you were sent down in 
’29. It’s ’33 now : how come you^re still here? * 

‘Yes. There’s no getting out of here in a hurry. You report 
sick, will you? Who’s this guy?’ 

■He’s Dega, a friend of mine.’ 

‘Ill put you down for the doctor too, Dega. Papi, you’ve got 
dysentery. And you, dad, you've got fits of asthma. I’ll see you 
at the medical at eleven o’clock. There’s something I’ve got to 
tell you.’ He went on iris way, calling out ‘Who’s sick there?’, 
going over to those who held up their hands, and writing down 
their names. When he came back he had a warder with him, 
an elderly sunburnt man. ‘Papillon, let me introduce my boss, 
Medical-Warder Bartiloni. Monsieur Bartiloni, these two are 
the friends I told you about.’ 

‘OK, Sierra, we’U see to that at the medical : rely on me.’ 

At eleven they came for us. There were nine men going 
sick. We walked through the camp among the hutments. When 
we reached a newer building than the rest, the only one pain- 
ted white with a red cross on it, we went in and found a waiting- 
room with about sixty men in it. Two warders in each comer. 


Sierra appeared, in spotless medical overalls. He said, ‘You, 
you and you: go in,’ We went into a room that was obviously 
the doctor’s. He talked to the three older men in Spanish. 
There was one Spaniard there I recognized straight away: 
he was Fernandez, 'the one who killed the three Argentines at 
the Caf6 de Madrid in Paris. After they had exchanged a few 
words Sierra showed him to a little room co mmuni cating with 
the main hall and then came back to us. ‘Papi, let me embrace 
you. Pm delighted to be able to do you and your friend a very 
good turn. You’re both of you down for internment . . . No, 
let me finish. You’re down for life, Papillon; and Dega, you’re 
down for five years. You go t any cash? ’ 

‘Yes.’ 


Then give five hundred francs apiece and tomorrow mor- 
ning you 11 be sent to hospital. You for dysentery. And you, 
Dega, you must bang on the door during the night - or better 
still, let someone call the screw and ask for the orderly, be- 
cause Dega s asthma’s killing him. I’ll look after the rest of it. 
There s just one thing I ask of you, Papillon, and that is to give 
me fair warning if you clear out: 111 be there when you say. 

P^ , b f able t0 kt fP y° u in tbe hospital for a month, at a 
hundred francs a week each. You must move fast ’ 

. F , e ™ an ^“. came ° ut ‘he little room and in front of us 

when I 1 T dred francs - 1 went in. and 

dred fi^HW l "T’*? not a thousand but fifteen hum 
hkf k C ^ ve hundred,- 1 did not like to press 

nun. He said. This dough you’re giving me’s for the screw I 

We’ re fnhnds,aren-twe?’ * 
cellk*fhosDitS C n, Fernandcz md 1 w ore in an enormous 


that would make me Iookhke i ^ f * show . a 15 
bas Ten minute ^ was falling apart with amoe- 

StetoSS and mat- 6 0n he was t0 bum a httle 

over his head FemaudJh.S™ brCathe the »» with a towel 

he had pierced the skinS^he^Sd Wow" ^ 
as he cou d for an , ; ” and had blown as hard 


as he could for an h^. He Ld d^e it ^ tad bI ° Wn aS hard 
the swelling dosed one eye The cefi wL c °?f cianti ous!y that 
there were about seventy t^fnT tbe / lrst floor and 
-ty cases. I ^ aSJSSsSi SRg 5?&E 


building just over the way. You want me to tell him some- 
thing? ' 

'Yes. Tell him Papillon and Dega are here: ask him to show 
himself at the window.’ 

The attendant could come and go as he liked. All he had to 
do was to knock at the ward door and an Arab would open it. 
The Arab was a turnkey, a convict acting as an auxiliary to the 
warders. There were chairs on the right and the left of the 
door, and three warders sat there, rifles on their knees. The 
bars over the windows were lengths of railway line: I won- 
dered how one could ever get through them. I sat there at the 
window. 

Between our building and Julot’s there was a garden full of 
pretty flowers. Julot appeared at a window: he had a slate in 
his hand, and he had chalked BRAVO on it. An hour later the 
attendant brought me a letter from him. It said, ‘I’m trying to 
get into your ward. If I fail, try to get into mine. The reason is 
you’vegot enemies in your ward. So it seems you’re interned? 
Keep your heart up : we’ll do them In the eye yet’ 

Julot and I were very close to one another because of that 
business at Beaulieu, where we had suffered together. Julot 
specialized in the use of a wooden 'mallet, and that was why 
.they called him the hammerman. He would drive up to a jewel- 
ler’s shop in the middle of the day, when all the finest jewels 
were on show in their cases. Someone else would be at the 
wheel, and they’d pull up with the engine running. Julot bop- 
ped out with his mallet, smashed the window with one blow, 
grabbed as many jewel-cases as he could hold and darted back 
into the car, which shot away with a scream of tyres. He 
brought it off in Lyons, Angers, Tours and Le Havre, and then 
he had a go at a big Paris shop, at three in the afternoon, get- 
ting away with jewels to the value of close on a m il l ion. He 
never told me how or why he was identified. He was sentenced 
to twenty years and he escaped at the end of four. And as he 
told us, it was in coining back to Paris that he was arrested : 
he was looking for his fence, so as to kill him. for the fence 
had never given Julot’s sister the large sum he owed him. The 
fence saw him prowling in the street where he lived and tipped 
off the police. Julot was picked up and he went back to Guiana 
with us. 

It was a week now that we had been in hospital. Yesterday 
I Dave Chatal two hundred francs: that was the weekly price 



for keeping both of us. By way. of making ourselves popular 
we gave tobacco to the people who had nothing to smoke. 
A sixty-year-old tough guy from Marseilles, one Carora, had 
made friends with Deg3. He was his adviser. Many times a day 
he told him that if he had plenty of money and it was khown 
in the village (the French papers gave the news about all the 
important cases), then it was much better for lu'm not to es- 
cape, because the freed convicts would kill him for his charger. 
Old Dega told me about his conversations with old Carora. It 
was in vain that I said the antique was certainly no sort of use, 
since he had stayed here for twenty years: he paid no atten- 
tion. The old man’s tales made a great impression on Dega, 
and although I kept his courage up as well as 1 could it was 
heavy going. 

I sent a note to Sierra asking him to let me see Galgani. It 
didn’t take long. Galgani was in hospital the next day, but in 
an unbarred ward. How was I to set about giving him back his 
charger? I told Chatal it was absolutely necessary for me to 
. talk to Galgani: I let him imagine we were preparing -a break. 
He told me he could bring him at five, to twelve on the nose. 
Just as the guard was being changed he would bring him up 
on to the verandah to talk to me through the window; and he’d 
do it for nothing. Galgani was brought to me at the window 
at noon: straight away I put his charger into his hands. He 
stood there before me and wept. Two days later I' had a maga- 
zine from him with five thousand-franc notes in it and the 
single word, Thanks. 

Chatal passed me the magazine; and he had seen the money. 
He did not mention it, but ! wanted to give him some: he 
would not take it. I said, *Wc want to get out. Would you like 
to come with us?’. 


No, Papillon, I m fixed elsewhere. I don’t want to try to 
escape for five months, when my mate will be free. The break 
will be better prepared that way, and it’ll be more certain. 
Being down for internment, I know you’re in a hurry: but 
getting out of here, with all these bars, is going to be very diffi- 
cult. Don t count on me to help you - I don’t want to risk my 
wa,t !n P^ce until my friend comes out/ 

OK, Chatal. It’s better to speak straight. I won’t ever talk 
to you about this again.’ 

c ,l^. StiIV he Said ’ ,ra carry notes £or y° u and deliver mes- 



Thanks, Cfaatal.’ 

That night we heard hursts of machine-gun fire. Next day 
we heard it was the hammer-man who had got away. God be 
with him : he was a good friend. He must have seen a chance 
and made the most of it. So much the better for him. 

Fifteen years later, in 1948, I was in Haiti, and there, to- 
gether with a Venezuelan millionaire, I was working out a deal 
with the chief of the casino for a contract to ran the gambling 
in those parts. One night I came out of a club where we had 
been drinking champagne, and one of the girls who was with 
us - coal-black, but as well brought up as the daughter of a 
good French provincial family - said to me, ‘My grandmoth- 
er’s a voodoo priestess, and she lives with an old Frenchman. 
He escaped from Cayenne. He’s been with us now for fifteen 
years, and he’s almost always drunk. Jules Marteau is his 
name.’ 

I sobered up instantly. ‘Chick, you take me to your grand- 
ma’s right away.’ 

She spoke to the cab-driver in Haitian patois and he drove 
off at full speed. We passed a night-bar, still open and all lit 
up. ‘Stop.’ I went in, bought a bottle of Pernod, two of cham- 
pagne and two of local ram. ‘Let’s go.’ Wc reached a pretty 
little red tiled white -house on the beach. The sea almost lapped 
its steps. The girl knocked and knocked, and first there came 
out a big black woman with completely white hair. She was 
wearing a wrapper that came down to her ankles. The two 
women spoke in patois and then she said, ‘Come in, Monsieur: 
the house is all yours.’ An acetylene lamp lit up a very clean 
room, filled with birds and fishes. ‘Would you like to see Julot? 
He's just coming. Jules 1 Jules ! Here’s someone who wants to 
see you.’ 

An old man appeared, barefoot and wearing striped blue 
pyjamas that reminded me of our prison uniform. 'Why, Snow- 
ball, who can be coming to see me at this time of night? PapiJ- 
lon! No! It can’t be true! ’ He clasped me in his arms. He said, 
’Bring the lamp closer, Snowball, so that I can see my old 
friend’s face. It’s you all right, mate! It’s certainly you! Wel- 
come, welcome, welcome ! This kip, what little dough I’ve got, 
and my old woman’s grand-daughter - they’re all yours. You 
only haye to say theVord.’ 

We drank the Pernod, the champagne and the rum; and 
from time to time Julot sang. 'So we did them in the eye *!««■ 



an didn’t we, Papi? There’s nothing like bashing around. Take , 
me I came through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Jam- 
aica; and then, about fifteen years ago now, I reached here, 
and I’m happy -with Snowball - she’s the best woman a man 
could ask for. When are you leaving? Are you here for long l 

•No. A week.’ 

•What did you come for?’- . 

To take over the casino, with a contract between us and the 


president himself.’ - 

‘Brother, I’d love you to spend the rest of your life here with 
me in this bleeding wilderness; but if it’s the president you’re 
in touch with, don’t you fix any sort of deal at all. He’ll have 
you killed the minute he sees your joint is making a go of it.’ 


‘Thanks for the advice.’ 

•Hey there, Snowball 1 Get ready for your not-for-tourists 
voodoo dance. The one and only genuine article for my 
friend.’ Another time HI tell you about this terrific not-for- 
tourists voodoo dance. 


So Julot escaped, and here were we, Dega, Fernandez and me, 
still hanging about. Now and then, without seeming to, I 
looked at the bars over the windows. They were lengths of 
genuine railway line and there was nothing to be done about 
them. The only possibility was the door. It was guarded night 
and day by three armed warders. Since Julot’s escape the 
watch had been much sharper. The patrols came round at 
shorter intervals and the doctor was not so friendly. Chatal 
only came into the ward twice a day, to give the injections and 
to take the temperatures. A second week went by and once 
more I paid two hundred francs. Dega talked about everything 
except escape. Yesterday he saw my scalpel and he said, 
‘You're still got that? What for?’ 

Angrily I replied, ‘To look after myself, and you too if nec- 
essary.’ 

Fernandez was not a Spaniard ; he was an Argentine. He 
was a fine sort of a rnan, a genuine high-flier; but old Carora’s. 
crap had left its mark on him too. One day I heard him say 
to Dega, It seems the islands are very healthy, not like here; 
and its not hot over there. You can. catch dysentery in this 
ward just going to the lavatory’, because you may pick up 
germs.’ In this ward of seventy men, one or. two died of dysen- 
tery every day. It was an odd thing, but thev all died at low 



tide in the afternoon or the evening. No sick man ever died in 
the morning. Why? One of nature’s mysteries. 

Tonight I had an argument with Dega. I told him that some- 
times the Arab turnkey was stupid enough to come in at night 
and pull the sheet off the faces of the very sick men who had 
covered themselves up. We could knock him out and put on 
his clothes (we wore shirt and sandals - that was all). Once 
dressed I’d go out, suddenly snatch a rifle from one of the 
screws, cover them, make them go into a cell and close the 
door. Then we’d jump the hospital wall on the Maroni side, 
drop into the water and let ourselves go with the current. After 
that we’d make up our minds what to do next. Since we had 
money, we could buy a boat and provisions to get away by 
sea. Both of them turned my plan down flat, and they even 
criticized it. I felt they’d quite lost their guts: I was bitterly 
disappointed: and the days dropped by. 

Now it was three weeks all but two days we had been here. 
There were ten left to try making a dash for it, or fifteen at the 
most. Today, 21 November 1933, a day not to be forgotten, 
Joanes Clousiot came into, the ward - the man they had tried 
to murder at Saint-Martin, in the barber’s. His eyes were 
closed and almost sightless: they were full of pus. As soon as 
Chatal had gone I went over to him. Quickly he told me that 
the other men for internment bad gone off to the islands more 
than a fortnight ago, but he had been overlooked. Three days 
back a clerk had given him the word. He had put a castor-oil 
seed in each eye, and all.this pus had got him into hospital. He 
was dead keen to escape. He told me he was ready for any- 
thing, Cven killing if need be: he would get out, come what 
may. He had three thousand francs. When his eyes were 
washed with warm water he could see properly right away. I 
told him my plan for a break : he liked it, but he said that to 
catch the warders by surprise two of us would have to go out, 
or if possible three. We could undo the legs of the beds, and 
with an iron bed-leg apiece, we could knock them cold. Ac- 
cording to him they wouldn't believe you would fire even if 
you had a gun in your hands, and they might call the other 
screws on guard in the building Julot escaped from, not twenty 
yards away. 




Escape from the Hospital 

't 

■ s gag: « ™TbS‘iS r ?«■ >« 

si ?^S“« *»S fe if "““SJ • 

if was on the ol had be ™ tested!, ffie to wife 

fought bacfc hjg ^^ Cani «i fte note that Wiefbl 
having V on r e answer. ‘Don’t n ,r, f hatsam e dav an 

f£-SSs|SS^s 

s h s ,o ”““i <”»**? ™»is- 

he sent tr> n ^yand°tol^° te f° Si^a 


J 


he looked at you. A wrong *un’s face: a wrong ’un’s eye. I 
didn’t have much confidence in him and as things turned out 
I was dead right. We. talked fast. ‘I can get a boat ready for 
you: it’ll hold four - five at the outside. A barrel of water, 
victuals, coffee, tobacco; three paddles, empty flour sacks and 
a needle and thread for you to make the mainsail and jib your- 
self; a compass, an axe, a knife, five bottles of tafia [the local 
rum]. Two thousand five hundred francs the lot. It’s the dark 
of the moon in three days. If it’s a deal, in four days time I’ll be 
there in the boat on the river every night for a week from 
eleven till three in the morning. After the first quarter i shan’t 
wait any longer. The boat will be exactly opposite the lower 
comer of the hospital wall. Guide yourself by the wall, because 
until you’re right on top of the boat you won’t be able to see 
it, not even at two yards.' I didn’t trust him, but even so I said 
yes. 

‘And the cash?’ said Jesus. 

TH send it you by Sierra.’ We parted without shaking hands. 
Not so hot. 

At three o’clock Chatal went off to the camp, taking the 
money to Sierra: two thousand five hundred francs. I 
thought: ‘I can afford this bet thanks to Galgani; but it’s an 
outside chance, all right. I hope to God he doesn’t drink the 
whole bleeding lot in tafia.’ 

Clousiot was overjoyed: he was full of confidence in him- 
self, in me and in the plan. There was only one thing that wor- 
ried him: although the Arab turnkey did come very often it 
Was not every night that he came into the ward itself; and when 
he did it was rare that he came in very late. Another question: 
who could we have as a third? There was. a Corsican belonging 
to the Nice underworld, a man called Biaggi. He had been in 
penal since 1929 and he was in this high-security ward be- 
cause he had recently killed a guy — he was being held while 
that charge was investigated. Clousiot and I wondered whether 
we ought to put it up to him, and if so, when. While we were 
talking about this in an undertone an eighteen-year-old fairy 
came towards us, as pretty as a girl. Maturette was his name, 
and he had been condemned to death but reprieved because of 
his youth - seventeen when he murdered this taxi-driver. There 
were these two kids of sixteen and seventeen in the dock at 
the assizes, and instead of the one Laying the blame on the 
other, each claimed that he had killed the man. But the taxi- 



driver had only one bullet in him. The kids’ attitude at the 
time of the trial had won them the convicts’ esteem. . 

Very much the young lady, Maturette came up to us and 
speaking in a girlish voice he asked us for a light. We gave him 
one; and more than that, I made him a present of four cigar- 
ettes and a box of matches. He thanked me with a languishing, 
come-on smile and we let him go. All at once Clousiot said, 
‘Papi, we’re saved. The Arab’s going to -come in as often as 
' we like and when we like. It’s in the bag.’ 

•‘How come?’ 


‘It’s simple. We’ll tell this little "Maturette to make the Arab 
fall for him. Arabs love boys - everyone knows that. Once 
that s done, there’s no great difficulty in getting him to come 
by night to have a swig at the boy. All the kid has to do is to 
go coy and say he’s afraid of being seen, for the Arab to come 
just when it suits us.’ 

‘Leave it to me.’ 


I went over to Maturette, who welcomed me with a winning 
.f e th0 ^ he ted aroused me with his first simper. 
Ho wrntT? I , Said ’ ‘ You ’ ve sot h wrong. Go to the lavatory.’ 
53? »V d Wh0n we were therc I said, ‘If you repeat a word 
an 3n 1 f e0m ® 10 ^ ru y °»- Listen: will you do so- 

' Asa raid fob°f3 ,d ' S ° ‘3 d so ' and ' so for m °ney? How much? 
-ru vi d i b f - :° r do you want t0 S° with us?’ 

Id like to go with you. OK?’ Done. We shook hands 

tod' a? S ht a f6W WOrds with aousiot 1 went 

h2'4ndow He S’t 3 eV , eams Ma turette went and sat at 
ll,e winaow. tie aiaa t have to call the Ar=.v.. . 

since nine The Arah ■ been , e down ' one eye open, 

able. The next day, advised bv ?? qUlte reason ' 

Arab at eleven. When the time ^ MatUrette fixed to see the 
p eared, passed in front of third’s S n°Xd J e , tUmkey ap ' 
him up, and went off towards theZavatn!Xu ? S foot *° wake 
Wm. A quarter of an hom?laS f ° U0Wed 

straight to the door and out through ifXSf 3 3^X1 ou t* went 
e«e returned to his bed without sp^kingt us To cuU^E 


the next day was the same, only at midnight. Everything was 
set up : the Arab would come exactly when the kid said. 

On 27 November 1933 there were two bed-legs ready to be 
removed and used as dubs, and at four o'clock in the after- 
noon I was waiting for a note from Sierra. Chatal, the attend- 
ant, appeared: he had nothing in writing: he just said to me, 
‘Fran?ois Sierra told me to say Jesus is waiting for you at the 
place you know. Good luck.’ 

At eight that night Maturette said to the Arab, 'Come after 
midnight, because that way we can stay longer together.’ 

The Arab said he’d come after midnight. Dead on midnight 
we were ready. The Arab came in at about a quarter past 
twelve; he went straight to Maturette’s bed, tweaked his foot 
and went on to the lavatory. Maturette went in after him. I 
wrenched the leg off my bed: it wade a littlenoisc as it lurched 
over. No sound from Clousiot’s. I was to stand behind the 
lavatory door and Clousiot was to walk towards it to attract 
the Arab’s attention. There was a twenty-minutes’ wait and 
then everything moved very fast. The Arab came out of the 
.lavatory and, surprised at seeing Clousiot, said, ‘What are you 
doing here in the middle of the ward at this time of night? Get 
back to bed.’ 

At that moment I hit him on the back of the neck and he 
dropped without a sound. Quickly I put on ins clothes and 
shoes: we dragged him under a bed, and before shoving him 
completely out of sight I gave him another crack on the nape. 
That put paid to him. 

Not a single one of the eighty men in the ward had stirred. 

I went quickly towards the door, followed by Clousiot and 
Maturette, both of them in their shirts. I knocked. The warder 
opened. I brought my iron down on his head. The other, op- 
posite him, dropped his rifle: he’d certainly been asleep.- Be- 
fore he could move I knocked him out. My two never uttered : 
Ciousiot’s went ‘Ah ! ’ before he dropped. My two stayed there 
in their chairs, stunned. The third was stretched out on the 
floor. Wc held our breath. It seemed to us that everybody must 
have heard that ‘AhP It had indeed been pretty loud; and yet 
nobody moved. 

We didn’t heave them into the ward: we went straight off 
with. the three rifles. Clousiot first, then the kid, then me: 
down the stairs, half-lit by a lantern. Clousiot had dropped his 
.iron; I still had mine in my left hand, and in my right the rifle. 



At the bottom of the stairs, nothing. Ink-black night all round 
us. We had to look hard to make out the wall over on the river 
side. We hurried towards it. Once wo were there, I bent down. 
Clousiot climbed up, straddled the top, hauled Maturette up 
and then me. We let ourselves drop into the darkness on the 
far side. Clousiot fell badly into a hole, twisting his foot. Mat- 
urette and I landed properly. We two got up: we had left the 
rifles before we went over. Clousiot tried to get to his feet but 
couldn’t: he said his leg was broken. I left Maturette with 
Clousiot and ran towards the comer of the wall, feeling it all 
the way with my hand. It was so dark that when I got to the end 
of the wall 1 didn’t know it, and with my hand reaching out 
into emptiness I fell flat on my face. Over on the river side I 
heard a voice saying. ‘Is that you? * 

‘Yes. That Jesus?’ 

Wes.' He flicked a match for half a second. I fixed his posi- 
tion, plunged in and swam to him. There were two of them in 
the boat. 

‘You in first. Which are you?’ 

‘Papillon.' 

‘Good.’ 


‘Jesus, we must pull upstream. My friend’s broken his leg 
jumping off the wall.’ i 

‘Take this paddle, then, and shove.’ 

The three paddles dug into the water aud the light boat shot 
across the hundred yards between us and the place where .1 
supposed the others were you could see nothing. I called, 
‘Clousiotl’ 

‘For Clirist’s sake shut up! Fatgut, flick your lighter/ Sparks 
flashed: they saw it, Clousiot whistled between Ids teeth the 
way they do in Lyons; it’s a whistle that makes no noise at all 
but that you hear very clearly. You’d say it was a snake hissing.- 
He kept up this whistling all the time, and it led us to him* 
Fatgut got out, took Clousiot in his arms and put him into the 
boat. Then Maturette got in and then Fatgut. There were five 
of us and the water came to within two inches of the gunwale. 

Don t anyone move without saying,’ said Jesus. ‘Papillon, 
stop paddling. Put the [laddie across your knees. Fatgut, 
shovel And quickly, helped by the'eurrent, the boat plunged 
into the night. 

Half a mile lower down, when we passed the prison, ill-lit by ‘ 
the current from a third-rate dynamo, we were in the middle of 



he river and the tide was tearing us along at an unbelievable 
ate. Fatgut had stopped paddling. Only Jesus had his out, 
vith its handle tight against his thigh, just to keep the boat 
;teady. He was not rowing at all, only steering. 

Jesus said, ‘Now we can talk and have a smoke. I think we’ve 
nought it off. Are you certain you didn’t kill anyone? ’ 

*1 don’t think so.* 

' ‘Christ, Jesus, you’ve double-crossed me!’ said Fatgut. ‘Yon 
old me it was a harmless little break and no fuss,, and now it 
urns out to be an internees’ break, from what I can gather.’ 

‘Yes, they’re internees. I didn’t feel like telling you, Fatgut, 
)r you wouldn’t have helped me: and I needed someone. But 
svhy should you worry? If we’re shopped I’ll take it all on 
nyself.’ 

. ‘That's the right way of looking at it, Jesus. I don’t want to 
risk my head for the hundred francs you’ve paid me; nor a 
lifer if there’s anyone wounded.’ 

I said, ‘Fatgut, I’ll give you a present of a thousand francs 
between you.’ 

‘OK, then, brother. That sounds like a square deal to me. 
Thanks, because we starve to death there in the village. It’s 
Worse being outside than in. If you’re in, at least you can fill 
your belly every day; and they find you in clothes.’ 

‘It doesn’t hurt you too much, mate? ’ said Jesus to Oousiot 
‘It’s all right,’ said Clousiot. ‘But what are we going to do, 
PapiUon, with my leg broken? ’ 

‘We’ll see. Where we going, Jesus? ’ 

‘I’m going to hide you in a creek twenty miles from the 
mouth of the river. There you can lie up for a week and let the 
worst of the warders’ and trackers’ hunt blow over. You must 
give them the Idea you went right down the Maroni and out to 
sea this very night. The trackers go in boats with no motor, 
and they’re the most dangerous. If they’re on the watchv it can 
be fatal to you to talk or cough or have a fire. As for the screws, 
they’re in motor-boats that are too big to go up the creeks 
- they’d run aground.’ 

The darkness was lessening. For a long time we searched 
for a landmark known only to Jesus, and it was almost four 
o clock before we found it: then we literally went right into 
Iho bush. The boat flattened the small .undergrowth, which 
straightened un acratn Hphinri nc making a verv thick orotec- 


tive curtain. You had to be a wizard to know whether there 
was enough water to float a boat. We went in, pushing aside the 
branches that barred our passage and thrusting into the bush 
for more than an hour. Ail at once we were there, in a kind of 
. canal, and we stopped. There was clean grass on the bank; and 
now, at six o’clock, the light did not penetrate the leaves of the 
huge trees. Beneath this impressive roof there were the sounds 
of hundreds of creatures quite unknown to us. Jesus said, ‘Here 
is where you have to wait for a week. I’ll come on the seventh 
day and bring you food.' From under the thick vegetation he 
pulled a very small canoe, about six feet long. Two paddles in 
it. This was the craft he was going back to Saint-Laurent in, 
on the flood-tide. 

Now we took care of Clousiot, who was lying there on the 
bank. He was still in his shirt, so his legs were bare. We trim- 
med dry branches with the axe, making splints of them. Fatgut 
heaved on his foot; Clousiot sweated hard and then at a given 
moment he cried, ‘Stop! It hurts less in this position, so the 
bone must be in its right place.’ We put on the splints and tied 
them with new hemp cord from the boat. His pain was eased. 
Jesus had bought four pairs of trousers, four shirts and four 
relSgufe’ woollen lumber-jackets. Maturette and Clousiot put 
them on: I stayed in the Arab’s clothes. We had a tot of rum. 
This was the second bottle since we left - it wanned us, which 
was a good thing. The mosquitoes did not give us a moment’s 
peace: we had to sacrifice a packet of tobacco. We put it to 
soak in a calabash and smeared the nicotine- juice over our. 
faces, hands and feet. The woollen jackets were splendid; they' 
kept us warm in spite of this penetrating damp. 

Fatgut said, ‘We’re off. What about this thousand francs 
you promised?’ I went behind a bush and came back with a 
brand-new thousand note. 

Be seeing you. Don’t stir from here for eight days’ said 
Jesus. Well come on the seventh. The eighth you can get out 
to sea. Meanwhile make the mainsail and jib; put the boat to 
rights,, everything in its place. Fix the pintle - the rudder’s 
not shipped. If we don’t come within ten days, it means we’ve 

een arrested in the village. As there was an attack on a war- . 
der, which adds some spice to the break, there will surely be 
themost God-almighty bleeding rampage about it all .’ 

uousiot had told us he didn’t leave the rifle at the bottom, 
of the wall. He had flung it over, and the water was so close 


(which he hadn’t known) that it must certainly have gone into 
the river. Jesus said that was line, because if it was not found 
the trackers were going to think we were armed. And since 
they were the really dangerous ones, we should therefore have 
nothing to be afraid of. Because they only had a revolver and 
a jungle-knife and if they thought we had rifles, they would 
never risk it. 

. Good-bye. Good-bye. If we were found and we had to leave 
the boat, we should go up the little stream as far as the dry 
bush and then steer by compass, always keeping north. In two 
or three days’ march we were likely to come across the death- 
camp called Charvin. There we should have to pay someone 
to tell Jesus we were in such and such a place. The two old lags 
pushed off. A few moments later their canoe had vanished: 
we neither heard nor saw anything more at all. 

Daylight comes into the bush in a very special way. You 
would think you were in an arcade whose top caught the sun 
and never let a single ray make its way down to the bottom. 
It began to grow hot. And now here we were, Maturette, Clou- 
siot and me, quite alone. Our first reaction was to laugh - the 
whole thing had run on oiled wheels. The only hitch was Clou- 
siot’s broken leg, though he said himself that now it was held 
between flat pieces of wood, it was all right. We could brew 
the coffee straight away. This we did very quickly, making a 
fire and drinking a great mug of black coffee apiece, sweetened 
with brown sugar. It was marvellous. We had used ourselves 
up so much since the evening before that we hadn’t the energy 
to. look at the things or to inspect the boat. We’d see to all that 
later. We were free, free, free. Exactly thirty-seven days had 
passed since I reached Guiana. If we brought this break off, 
my lifer wouldn’t have been a very long one. I said aloud, 
‘Monsieur le President, how many years does penal servitude 
for life last in France?’ and I burst out laughing. So did Matur- 
ette - he had a lifer too. Clousiot said, ‘Don’t crow too soon. 
Colombia’s a long way off, and this hollowed-out tree-trunk 
doesn’t seem to me much of a thing to go to sea in.’ 

I did not reply, because to tell the truth until the last mo- 
ment I had thought it was just the canoe meant to take us to 
the real boat, the boat for the sea voyage. When I found I was 
tvrong, I did not like to say anything, so as not to discourage 
my friends in the first place, and in the second not to give 
Jesus the idea that I didn’t know what kind of boats were usu- 



ally used for a break — he seemed to think it perfectly natural. 

We spent the first day talking and getting to know a little 
about the bush - it was completely strange to us. Monkeys 
and squirrels of some kind flung themselves about overhead in 
the most astonishing way. A herd of peccaries came down to 
drink: they are a kind of small wild pig. There were at least , 
two thousand of them.. They plunged into the creek and swam 
about, tearing off the hanging roots. An alligator emerged 
from God knows where and caught one pig by the foot: it 
started to shriek and squeal like a steam-engine, and all the 
others rushed at the alligator, clambering on to it and trying 
to bite the comers of its enormous mouth., At every blow of 
the alligator’s tail a pig flew into the air, one to the left, the 
next to the right. One pig was stunned and it floated there, 
belly up. Instantly its companions ate it. The creek was red 
with blood. This scene lasted twenty minutes and then the 
alligator escaped into the water. We never saw it again. 

' We slept well, and in the morning we made our coffee. I 
took off my jacket so as to wash with a big bar of common 
soap we found in the boat. Using my scalpel, Maturette shaved' 
me, more or less, and then he shaved Clousiot. He himself had 
no’ beard. When I picked up my jacket to put it on again, a 
huge, hairy, blackish-purple spider fell out. Its hairs were very 
long and each ended in a little shining ball. The monstrous 
thing must have weighed at least a pound: I squashed it, feel- 
ing disgusted.'’ Wc took everything out of the boat, including 
the little water-barrel. The water was violet, and it seemed to 
me Jesus had put in too much permanganate to make it keep. 
There were well-corked bottles with matches and strikers. The 
com’pass was only a schoolboy’s job - it just gave north; south, 
east and west: no graduations. The mast was no more than 
eight feet long, so we sewed the flour-sacks into a lug-sail with 
a border of rope to strengthen it. And I made a little trian- 
gular jib to help make the boat lie close. 

When we stepped the mast I -found the boat’s bottom was 
not sound: the slot for the mast was eaten away and badly 
worn. When I put in the spikes for the hinges that were to hold 
the rudder, they went in as if the hull were butter. The boat 
was rotten. That sod Jesus was sending us to our death. Very 
unwittingly I explained all this to the others: I had no right to 
hide it from them. What were we going to do about it? Make 
Jesus find us a sounder boat when he came, that’s what. We’d 



take his weapons from him, and carrying a knife and the axe 
I’d go to the village with him and look for another boat. It was 
a great risk to take; but not so great as putting to sea in a coffin. 
The stores were ail right: there was a wicker-covered bottle 
of oil and some tins full of manioc flour. We could go a long 
way on that. 

That morning we saw a wonderfully strange sight: a troop 
of grey-faced monkeys had a battle with monkeys whose faces 
were black and woolly. During the struggle Maturette came 
in for a piece of wood on the head that gave him a lump the 
size of a walnut. 

Now we had been there five days and four nights. Last night 
rain fell in torrents. We sheltered ourselves under wild banana 
leaves. Their shiny sides poured -with water, but we were not 
wetted at all, only our feet. This morning, as we drank our 
coffee, I thought about Jesus’s wickedness. Taking advantage 
of our lack of experience to palm off this rotting boat on us! 
Just to save five hundred or a thousand francs he was sending 
three men to certain death. I wondered whether I shouldn’t 
kill him once I had forced him to get us another boat. 

Suddenly we were startled by a noise like jays, a shrieking 
so harsh and unpleasant that I told Maturette to take the 
jungle-knife and go and see what was up. Five minutes later 
he came back, beckoning. I followed him and we 'reached a 
spot about a hundred and fifty yards from the boat: hanging 
there I saw a great pheasant or wild-foWl, twice the size of a 
cock. It was caught in a noose and it was hanging by its foot 
from a branch. With one blow of the jungle-knife I took off 
its head, to stop its ghastly shrieks. I felt its weight: it must 
have been at least ten pounds. It had spurs like a cock. We 
decided to eat it, but while we were thinking it over, it occurred 
to us that somebody must have set that snare and that there 
might be others. We went to have a look. When we were back 
there we found something very odd - a positive fence or wall 
about a foot high, made of woven leaves and creepers, some 
ten yards from the creek. This barrier ran parallel with the 
water. Every now and then there was a gap, and in this gap, 
hidden by twigs, the end of a noose of brass wire fixed to a 
bent-over whippy branch. I saw at once that the creature must 
come up against this hedge and then go along it, trying to get 
past. On finding the gap, it would pass through, but its feet 
would catch in the wire and spring the branch. Then there.it 



■would be, hanging in the air until the owner of the snares came 
to take it. 

This discovery worried us badly. The hedge seemed to be 
well kept, so it wasn’t old; and we were in danger of being 
found. We mustn’t light a fire in the daytime; but at night 
the hunter wouldn’t come. We decided to take it in turns to 
keep watch in the direction of the traps. We hid the boat under 
branches and ail the stores in the bush. 

The next day at ten o’clock I was on guard. For supper we 
had eaten that pheasant or cock or whatever it was. The soup 
had done us an enormous amount of good, and although the 
meat was only boiled it was still delicious. We had each eaten 
two bowls full. So I was on guard: but I was so taken up with 
the goings-on of the huge black manioc ants, each carrying a 
piece of leaf to the enormous ant-hill, that I forgot to keep 
watch. These ants were close on an inch long and they stood 
high on their legs. Each one was carrying this enormous piece 
of leaf. 1 followed them to the plant they were stripping and I 
discovered the whole thing was thoroughly organized. First 
there were the cutters, who did nothing but get the pieces 
ready: they were working away on a gigantic leaf something 
like the ones qn a banana palm, very skilfully and very quickly 
cutting off pieces all the same size, which they dropped to the 
ground. Down below there were ants of the same sort but 
slightly different. These ones had a grey stripe on the side of 
their jaws: and they stood in a half circle, supervising the 
carriers. The carriers came fifing in from the right and they 
went off towards the left in the direction of the ant-bill. They 
snatched up their loads before getting into line, but sometimes, 
what with their hurry in trying to load and to get into position, 
there was a jam. Then the police-ants would step in and shove 
the workers into their proper places. 1 couldn’t understand 
the crime one worker had committed, but she was brought 
out of the ranks and one police-ant bit off her head while an- 
other divided her body in two in the middle. The police-ants 
stopped two workers; they put down their loads, scratched a 
hole, buried the three parts of the ant - head, chest, bottom 
piece - and covered them over with earth. 



Pigeon Island 


I was so taken up with watching these creatures and following 
the soldiers to see whether their policing went as far as fee 
entrance to the ant-hill, that I was taken utterly by surprise 
when a voice said, ‘Don’t move or you’re a dead man, Turn 
round.’ 

It was a man bare from the waist up, wearing khaki shorts 
and long red leather boots. He had a double-barrelled gun in 
his hands. Medium-sized and thickset: sunburnt. He was bald 
and his eyes and nose were covered with a bright blue tattooed 
mask. And in the middle of his forehead there was a tattooed 
black-beetle. 

•You armed?.* 

•No.’ 

‘Alone?* 

‘No.’ 

*How many of you are there?’ 

Three.’ 

‘Take me to your friends.’ 

‘I, wouldn’t like to do that: one has a rifle, and I wouldn’t 
like to get you killed before I know what you mean to do.’ 

‘Ah? Don’t you move an inch, then; and just you talk quiet, 
You’re the three guys that escaped from the hospital?’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘Which is Papfflon?’ 

That’s me.’ 

‘Well then, I can tell you you’ve stirred things up good and 
proper in the village, with your escape! Half- fee time-expired 
men are under arrest at the gendarmerie.’ He came towards 
me, and lowering his gun he stretched out his band. Tm the 
Masked Breton,’ he said. ‘You've heard of me?’ 

'No, but I can see you’re not a tracker.’ 

'You’re right there. I set traps round about here to catch 
hoccos. A jaguar must have eaten one for me, unless it was you 
guys.’ 

‘Itwasus.’ 

‘You want some coffee?’ He had a thermos in a knapsack:' 
he gave me a little and drank some himself, 1 said, ‘Come 
see my friends.’ He came and sat down with us. He was 


at ray having pulled the rifle trick with him. He said, *1 fell for 
it, parti cular ly as everyone knows you left carrying a gun, and 
there’s no tracker who’ll go after you.* 

He told us he had been in Guiana twenty years and that he’d 
been free these last five. He was forty-five. Because of the silly 
caper of having had that mask tattooed on his face, life in 
France didn’t mean anything to him. He worshipped the bush 
and lived ofi it entirely - snakes’ and jaguars’ skins, butterfly 
collections, and above all catching live hoccos, the bird we’d 
eaten. He could sell them for two hundred or two hundred and 
fifty francs. I suggested paying for it, but he refused indig- 
nantly. This is what he told us : ‘The bird is a sort of wild bush 
cock. Of course, it’s never so.much as seen an ordinary hen or a 
cock or a human being. Well, 1 catch one, I take it to the vil- 
lage and I sell it to someone who has a hen-run' - they’re always 
in demand.. Right. You don’t have to clip his wings, you don’t 
have to do anything at all: at nightfall you put him into the 
henhouse and when you open the door in the morning there 
he is, standing by, looking like he was counting the cocks and, 
hens as they come out. He comes out after them, and although 
. he eats alongside of them, all the time he’s watching - he looks 
up, he looks sideways and he looks into the bushes all round. 
There’s no watchdog to touch him. In the evening he stands 
there at the door and although no one can tell how, be. knows 
if there’s a hen of two missing, and he goes and finds them. 
And whether it’s a cock or whether it's a hen, he drives them 
in, pecking them like mad to teach them to keep an eye on the 
clock. He kills rats, snakes, shrews, -spiders and centipedes; and 
a bird of prey has hardly appeared in the sky before he sends 
everyone off to hide in the grass while he stands there defying 
it. He never quits the hen-run for a moment.’ And this was the 
wonderful bird we had eaten like any common barnyard cock. 

The; Masked Breton told us that Jesus, Fatgut and some 
thirty other freed men were in prison in the Saint-Laurent 
gendarmerie, being investigated to see whether any of them 
could be recognized as having been seen prowling about the 
building we escaped from. The Arab was in the black-hole of 
the gendarmerie. He was in solitary, accused of having helped 
us. The two blows that knocked him out had left no mark, 
whereas each of the screws had a little lump on the head. ‘For 
my part, I wasn t interfered with at all, because everybody 
knows I never have anything to do with preparing a break.’ He 


told us Jesus was a sod. When I spoke to him about the boat 
he asked to see it. He’d scarcely caught sight of it before he 
cried, ‘But the bastard was sending you to your death 1 This 
canoe could never live for an hour in the sea. The first wave of 
any size, and it’d split in two as it came down. Don’t go off in 
that thing - it’d be suicide.’ 

‘What can we do, then? ’ 

‘Got any money?’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘Then I’ll tell you what to do : and what’s more, I’ll help you. 
Ypu deserve it. You mustn’t go anywhere near the village - 
not at any price. To get hold of a decent boat you have to go 
to Pigeon Island. There are about two hundred lepers there. 
There’s no warder, and no healthy man ever goes, not even 
the doctor. At eight o’clock every day a boat takes food for 
twenty-four hours: uncooked food. A hospital orderly hands 
over a case of medicine to the two attendants, lepers them- 
selves, who look after the patients. No one sets foot on the 
island, whether he's warder, tracker or priest. The lepers live in 
little straw huts they make themselves. They have a central 
building where they meet. They raise hens and ducks, and that 
helps them out with their rations. Officially they aren’t allowed 
to sell anything off the island, so they have an illicit trade with 
Saint-Laurent, Saint-Jean and the Chinese of Albina in Dutch 
Guiana. They’re all dangerous murderers. They don’t often 
kill one another but they do a fair amount of villainy when 
they get out of the island on the quiet - they go back and hide 
there when it’s over. They have some boats stolen from the 
nearby village for these excursions. Possessing a boat is the 
worst crime they can commit. The warders fire on any canoe 
that comes or goes from Pigeon Island. So the lepers sink their 
boats, filling them with stones : when they need one they dive 
down, take out the stones, and the boat comes up. There are 
all kinds on the island, every colour and nation and from every 
part of France. What it comes to is this - your canoe is only 
any use to you on the Maroni, and without much in it, at that. 
To get out to sea, you’ve got to find another boat, and the best 
place for that is Pigeon Island.’ 

‘How are we to set about it?’ ; 

This is how. I’ll come with you up the river until we’re in 
sight of the island. You wouldn’t find it, or at any rate you 
might go wrong. It’s about a hundred miles from the mouth. 



so you have to go upstream again. It’s about thirty miles from 
Saint-Laurent. I’ll guide you in as close as I can and then 1 11 
get into my canoe — we’ll tow it behind. Then, once on the 
island, it’s all up to you.’ 

‘Why won’t you come on to the island with us c . _ 

‘Ma Dou6,’ said the Breton, ‘I just set foot on the landing 
stage one day, the jetty where the official boats come in. Just 
once. It was in full daylight, but even so, what I saw was quite 
enough for me. No, Papi: I’ll never set foot on that island 
again in my life. Anyhow, I’d never be able to hide my disgust 
at being near them, talking to them, dealing with them. I’d do 


more harm than good.’ 

‘When do we go?’ 

‘At nightfall.' 

.‘What’s the time now, Breton? ’ 

‘Three o’clock.’ 

‘OK. I’ll get a little sleep.’ 

‘No. You’ve got to load everything properly aboard your 
canoe.’ 

‘Nothing of the sort. I’ll go with the empty canoe and then 
come back for Clousiot. He can stay here with the things.’ 

‘Impossible. You’d never be able to find the place again, 
even in the middle of the day. And you must never, never be 
on the river in daylight. The search for you isn’t over, so don’t 
think that. The river is still very dangerous.’ 

Evening came. He brought his canoe and we tied it behind 
ours. Clousiot lay next to the Breton, who took the steering 
paddle, and then came Maturette, and then me in front. We 
made our slow way out of the creek and when we came into 
the river, night was just about to come down. Over towards 
the sea a huge brownish-red sun lit up the horizon. The count- 
less fireworks of an enormous display fought to be the most 
brilliant, redder than the red, yellower than the yellow, more 
fantastically striped where the colours were mixed. Ten miles 
away, we could distinctly make out the estuary of the splendid 
river as it ran gleaming pink and silver into the sea. 

The Breton said, ‘It’s the last of the ebb. In an hour we 
should feel the flood-tide: we’ll make use of it to run up the 
Maroni: the current will take us up without any effort, and 
we 11 reach the island pretty soon.’ The darkness came down 
in a single sweep. 


Give way, said the Breton. ‘Paddle hard and get into the 


middle of the stream. Don't smoke.’ The paddles dug into the 
water and we moved quite fast across the current. Shoo, shoo, 
shoo. The Breton and I kept stroke beautifully; Maturette did 
his best. The nearer we got to the middle of the river the more 
we felt the thrust of the tide. We slid on rapidly, and every 
half hour we 1 felt the difference. The tide grew in strength, 
pushing us faster and faster. Six hours later we were very dose 
to the island and heading straight for it - a great patch of dark- , 
ness almost in the middle of the river, slightly to the right. 
‘That’s it,' said the Breton in a low voice. The night was not 
very dark, but it would have been almost impossible to see 
us from any distance because of the mist over the face of the 
water. We came closer. When the outline of the rocks was 
clearer, the Breton got into his canoe and cast off quickly, just 
murmuring, ‘Good luck, you guys.’ 

‘Thanks.’ 

‘Think nothing of it.’ 

As the boat no longer had the Breton steering it, we went 
straight for the island, drifting sideways. I tried to straighten 
out, turning it right round, but I made a mess of it and the 
current thrust us deep into the vegetation overhanging the 
water. We came in with such force, in spite of my braking with 
my paddle, that if we had hit a rock instead of leaves and 
branches the canoe would have been smashed and everything 
lost - stores, food, the lot. Maturette jumped into the water 
and heaved; we slid under a huge clump of bushes. He pulled 
and pulled and we tied the boat to a branch. We had a shot of 
, rum and then I climbed the bank alone, leaving my two friends 
in the boat. 

I went along with the compass in my hand, breaking several 
branches as I went, tying on scraps of flour-sack that I had put 
aside before we left. I saw a lighter patch in the darkness and 
then all at once I made out three huts and heard the sound of 
voices. I went forward, and as I had no idea how to make my- 
self known, I decided to let them find me. I lit a cigarette. The 
moment the match sparked a little dog rushed out, barking 
and jumping up to bite my legs. ‘Christ, I hope it’s not a leper,’ 
I thought. ‘Don’t be a fool : dogs don’t get leprosy.’ 

‘Who’s there? Who is it? Marcel, is that you?’ 

‘It’s a guy on the run.’ 

‘What are you doing here? Trying to knock something off? 
Do you think we’ve got anything to spare? ’ 



‘No. I want help.’ 

‘For free or for cash?' 

‘You shut your bloody trap, La Chouette. Four shadows 
came out of the hut. ‘Come forward slowly, brother. I’ll bet 
any money you’re the character with the rifle. If you’ve^got 
it with you, put it down: there’s nothing to be afraid of here.’ 

‘Yes, that’s me. But the rifle's not here.’ I walked forward; 
I was close to them; it was dark and I could not make out their 
faces. Like a fool I held out my hand: nobody took it. Too 
late I grasped that this was the wrong move here - they didn’t 
want to infect me. 

‘Let’s go into the hut,’ said La- Chouette. It was lit by an oil 
lamp standing on the able. ‘Sit down.’ 

I took a straw chair without a back. La Chouette lit three 
other lamps and set one on the table just in front of me. The 
wick gave off a sickening reek - the smell of coconut-oil. I sat 
there: the five others stood. I couldn't make out their faces. 
Mine was lit up by the lamp, which was what they-had wanted. 
The voice that had told La Chouette to shut up said, ‘L’An- 
guille, go to the house and ask if they want us to take him 
there. Come back with the answer quick, particularly if Tous- 
saint says yes. We can't give you anything to drink here, mate, 
unless you'd like a raw egg.’ He pushed a plaited basket full of 
eggs towards me. 

‘Ho, thanks.’ 

Very close to me on my right one of them sat down and it 
was then that I saw my first leper’s face. It was horrible and 
I made an effort not to firm away or show what I felt. His nose, 
flesh and bone, was entirely eaten away: a hole right in the 
middle of his face. I mean a hole, not two. Just one hole, as big 
as a two-franc piece. On the right-hand side his lower lip was 
eaten away, and three very long yellow teeth showed in the 
shrunken gum: you could see them go into the naked bone of 
the upper jaw. Only one ear. He put his bandaged hand on the 
table. It was his right hand. In the two fingers that he still had 
on the other he held a long, fat cigar: he must certainly have rol- 
led it himself from a half-cured leaf, for it was greenish. He had 
an eyelid only on his left eye: the right had none, and a deep 
wound ran upwards from the eye into his thick grey hair. In a 
hoarse voice he said, ‘We’ll help you, mate: you mustn’t stay in 
Guiana long enough to get the way I am. I don’t want that* 

Thanks.’ 



’They call me Jean sans Peur: I'm from Paris. I -was better- 
looking, healthier and stronger than you when! reached the 
settlement. Ten years, and now look at me.* 

‘Don’t they give you any treatment?’ 

‘Yes, they do. I’ve been better since I started chaulmoogra 
oil injections. Look.’ He turned his head and showed me the 
left side. ‘It’s drying up here.’ 

I had an overwhelming feeling of pity and to show my 
friendliness I put my hand up towards his left cheek. He star- 
ted back and said, ‘Thanks for meaning to touch me. But don’t 
ever touch a sick man, and don’t eat or drink out of his bowl.’ 
This was still the only leper’s face I had seen - the only one 
who had the courage to bear my looking at him. 

‘Where’s this character you’re talking about?’ The shadow 
of a man only just bigger than a dwarf appeared in the door- 
way. ‘Toussaint and the others want to see him. Bring him 
over.’ 

Jean sans Peur stood up and said, ‘Follow me.’ We all went 
out into the darkness, four or five in front, me next to Jean 
sans Peur,. the rest behind. In three minutes we reached a 
broad open place, a sort of square, which was lit by a scrap of 
moon. This was the flat topmost point of the island. A house 
in the middle. Light coming out of two windows. About twenty 
men waiting for us in front of the door: we went towards 
them. As we reached the door they stood aside to let us go 
through. It was a room some thirty feet long and twelve wide 
with a log fire burning in a kind of fireplace made of four huge 
stones all the same height. The place was lit by two big hurri- 
cane lamps. An ageless man with a white face sat there on a 
stool. Five or six others on a bench behind him. He had black 
eyes and he said to me. ‘I’m Toussaint the Corsican: and you 
must be Papillon.’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘News travels fast in the settlement; as fast as you move 
yourself. Where have you put the rifle?’ 

We tossed it into the river.’ 

’Where?’ 

‘Opposite the hospital wall, just where we jumped." 

‘So it could be got at?’ 

‘I think so; the water’s not deep there.’ 

’How do you know? ’ 

‘We had to get in to carry my wounded friend into the boat,’ 



‘What’s wrong -with him?’ , 

‘A broken leg.’ . 

‘What have you done about it? . 

Tve split branches down the middle and put a kind of cage 
round his leg.’ 

‘Does it hurt?’ 

•Yes.’ 

'Where is he?' 

‘In the canoe.’ 

‘You said you’d come for help. What sort of help?’ 

‘A boat.’ 

‘You want us to let you have a boat? ' 

‘Yes. I’ve got money to pay for it.* 

‘OK. I'll sell you mine. It’s a splendid boat, quite new - I 
stole it only last week in Albina. Boat? It’s not a boat: it’s a 
liner. There's only one thing it lacks, and that’s a keel. It hasn’t 
got one: but we’ll put one on for you in a couple of hours. 
There’s everything there - a rudder and its tiller, a thirteen- 
foot iron-wood mast and a brand-new canvas sail. What’ll you 
give me?’ 

‘You name a price. I don’t know the value of things here.’ 
'Three thousand francs, if you can pay it: if not, go and 
fetch the rifle tomorrow night and we’ll do a swap.’ 

‘No. I’d rather pay.’ 

'OK, it’s a deal. La Puce, let’s have some coffee.’ 

La Puce, the near-dwarf who had come for me, went to a 
plank fixed to the wall over the fire, took down a mess-tin 
shining with cleanliness and newness, poured coffee into it 
from a bottle and set it on the fire. After a while he took it off, 
poured coffee into various mugs standing by the stones for 
Toussaint to pass to . the men behind him, and gave me the 
. mess-tin, saying ‘Don’t be afraid of drinking. This one’s for 
visitors only. No sick man ever uses it.’ 

I took the bowl, drank, and then rested it on my knee. As 
I did so I noticed a finger sticking to its side. I was beginning 
to grasp the situation when La Puce said, ‘Hell,- I've lost an- 
other finger. Where the devil can it have got to?’ 

‘Here it is,’ I said, showing him the tin. He picked off the 
finger, threw it in the fire and gave me back the bowl. 

‘It’s all right to drink,’ he said, ‘because I’ve only got dry 
leprosy. I come to pieces spare part by spare part, but I don’t 
rot - I’m not catching.’ 



I smelt burning meat. I thought. That must be the finger.’ 
Toussaint said, ‘You’ll ,have to spend the whole day here 
until the evening ebb. You must go and tell your friends. Cany 
the one with the broken leg up to a hut, empty the canoe and 
sink it. There’s no one here can give you a hand - you know 
why, of course.’ 

I hurried back to the others. We lifted Clousiot out and then 
carried him to a hut. An hour later everything was out of the 
canoe and carefully arranged on the ground. La Puce asked 
for the canoe and a paddle as a present. I gave it to him and 
he went off to sink it in a place he knew. The night passed 
quickly. We were all three of us in the hut, lying on new blan- 
kets sent by Toussaint. They reached us still wrapped in their _ 
strong backing paper. Stretched out there at my ease. I told 
Clousiot and Maturette the details of what had happened since 
I went ashore and about the deal I had made with Toussaint. 
Then, without thinking, Clousiot said a stupid thing. ‘So the 
break’s costing six thousand five hundred. I’ll give you half, 
Papillon - I mean the three thousand francs that I have.’ 

‘We don’t want to muck about with accounts like a bunch 
of bank-clerks. So long as I’ve got the cash, I pay. After that - 
well, we’ll see.’ . 

None of the lepers came into the hut. Day broke, and 
Toussaint appeared. ‘Good morning. You can go out without 
worrying. No one can come on you unexpectedly here. Up a 
coconut-palm on the top of the island there’s a guy watching to 
see if there are any screws’ boats on the river. There’s none in 
sight. So long as that bit of white cloth is up there, it means 
no boats. If he sees anything he’ll come down and say. You 
. can pick papayas yourselves and eat them, if you like.’ 

I said, Toussaint, what about the keel?’ 

'We’ll make it out of a plank from the infirmary door. That’s 
heavy snake-wood. Two planks will do the job. We took ad- 
vantage of the night to haul the boat up to the top. Come and 
have a look.’ We went. It was a splendid sixteen-foot boat, 
quite new, with two thwarts - one had a hole for the mast. It 
was so heavy that Maturette and I had a job turning it over. 
The sail and rigging were brand-new. There were rings in the 
sides to lash things to, such as the water-barrel. Wc set to work- 
By noon a keel, deepening as it ran aft, was firmly fixed v,i~ 
long screws and the four spikes I had with me. 

Standing there in a ring, the lepers silently watched us wm?-- 


Toussaint told us how to set about it and we followed his in- 
structions. Toussaint's face looked natural enough - no bad 
places on it. But when he spoke you noticed that only one half 
of his face mated, the left half. He told me that; and he also 
told me he had dry leprosy. His chest and his right arm were 
paralysed too, and he was expecting his right leg to go present- 
ly. His right eye was as set as one made of glass: it could see, 
but not move. I won’t give any of the lepers’ names. Maybe 
those who knew or loved them were never told the hideous 
way they rotted alive. 

As I worked I talked to Toussaint. No one else said a word. 
Except once, when I was just going to pick up some hinges 
they had wenched off a piece of furniture in the infirmary to 
strengthen the hold of the keel: one said, ‘Don’t take them 
yet. Leave them there. I cut myself getting one off, and al- 
though I wiped it there’s still a little, blood.’ Another leper 
poured rum over the hinge and lit it twice. ‘Now you can use 
it,’ he said. 

During our work Toussaint said to one of the lepers , 4 You’ve 
escaped a good many times : tell Papillon just what he ought to 
do, since none of these three has ever made a break.’ j 

Straight away the leper began, ‘The ebb will start very early 
this afternoon. The tide’ll change at three. By nightfall, about 
six o’clock, you’ll have a very strong run. that’ll take you to 
about sixty miles from the mouth of the river in less than 
three hours. When you have to pull in, it’ll be about nine. 
You inust tie up good and solid to a tree in the bush during 
the six hours of flood: that brings you to three in the morning. 
Don’t set off' then, though, because the ebb doesn’t run fast 
enough. Get out into the middle at say half past four. You’ll 
have an hour and a half to cover the thirty odd miles before 
sunrise. Everything depends on that hour and a half. At six 
o’clock, when the sun comes up, you have to be out at sea. 
Even if the screws do see you, they can’t follow, because they’d 
reach the bar at the mouth of the river just as the flood begins. 
They can’t get over it, and you’ll already be across. You’ve got 
to have that lead of half a mile when they see you — it’s life' or 
death. There’s only one sail here. What did you have on the 
canoe?’ 

‘Mainsail and jib.’ 

This is a heavy boat: it’ll stand two jibs — a staysail and an 
outer jib to keep her bows well up. Go out of the river with 
everything set. There are always heavy seas at the mouth there. 



and you want to take them head on. Make your frktuh Ik 
down in the bottom to keep her steady and get a good g rip on 
the tiller. Don’t tie the sheet to your leg, but paw it through 
that fairlead and hold it with a turn round your wrist, If you 
see that the wind and a heavy sea are going to lay you right 
over, let everything go and you’ll straighten up right av/ay. 
If that happens, don’t you stop, but let the mainsail spill the 
wind and carry right on with the jib and staysail full. When 
you’re out in the blue water you’ll have time enough to pvt it 
all to rights - not before that. Do you know your course? ' 

‘No. All I know is that Venezuela and Colombia lie north' 
west.’ 

‘That’s right; but take care net to be forced back on shore, 
Dutch Guiana, on the other side of the river, hands escaped 
men back, and so does British Guiana, Trinidad doesn’t, but 
they make you leave in a fortnight. Venezuela returns you, 
after youVe worked on the roads for a year or two/ 

I listened as hard as I could. He told me he went off from 
time to tea, cut since he was a leper everybody sent him 
away at ones. Ee admitted he had never been farther than 
Georgetown, in Errrish Guiana. Kh leprosy could only be seen 
on his fem. tech had Inst all their tees. He was barefoot, T ouv 
saint told me tr recent aZ tk e advice I had been given, and I 
did so wkhetm r-stey a mhtaie. At this point Tear, sans Best? 
said. Hew leer anghn he tr sail ont tr sea? ' 

I answered frsrn TZ steer nr.-theicnth-east for three day-*?. 
Reckoning the. leeway tkanZ make dead north. Then tire 
fourth cay F£ head nnr±-wxr, which whi cnr.se hs true v- »f/ 
‘That’s right' said die leper. Tart thsse I nrly iris/sd end ?w-v 
days, sc I ended up in Eririhit Galana. Turii tssrea days dand'-sa; 
on, yccZ ^ - r ,7-ii part Trinidad cr Saricaddc,. and risen ype 
go right hy y r.sr.aa wkssccr ncririny it and -and sp hs C-srS' 

?ao crCdnuniaJ 

Jte sane Terr mid. Thnmairits. whan did vpc: red yen cdsri 
for?’ 


‘Tree Gmci’ wddTrr.'terim^ m riistdearT 


■Nc 


you pajT-acfteri' 

Terri 


T-teT added. 


’No. l aa: T r a:T -Z 
fneah Clcurc? - *■ 




‘Toussaint/ said Jean sans Peur, Til let you have my revol- 
ver. I'd like to help these guys. What’ll you give me for it? ’ 

‘A thousand francs/ said Toussaint. ‘I’d like to help them 

t00 -' ... , _ 

‘Thanks for everything/ said Maturette. looking at Jean 

sans Peur. 

‘Thanks/ said Clousiot. 

Now I was ashamed of having lied and I said, ‘No. I can’t 
take it. There’s po reason why you should give us anything.’ 

He looked at me and said, ‘Yes, there is a reason all right. 
Three thousand francs is a lot of money; but even so, Tous- 
saint’s dropping two thousand at least on the deal, because it’s 
a hell of a good boat he’s letting you have. There’s no reason 
why I shouldn’t do something for you too.’ 

And then something very moving happened. La Chouette 
put a hat on the ground and the lepers began throwing notes 
or coins into it. Lepers appeared from everywhere, and every 
one of them put something in. I was overcome with shame. 
Yet it just wasn’t possible to say I still had money left. Christ, 
what was I to do? Here was this great-hearted conduct and I 
- was behaving like a shit. I said, ‘Please, please don’t sacrifice 
all this.’ A coal-black Negro, terribly mutilated - two stumps 
for hands, no fingers at all - said, ‘We don’t use the money 
for living. Don’t be ashamed to take it. We only use it for 
gambling or for stuffing the leper-women who come over from 
Albina now and then.’ What he said was a relief to me and it 
stopped me confessing I still had some money. 

The lepers had. boiled two hundred eggs. They brought them 
in a wooden box with a red cross on it. It was the box they bad 
bad that morning with the day’s medicines. They also brought 
two five turtles weighing at least half a hundredweight each, 
carefully laid on their backs, tobacco in leaves and two bottles 
full of matches and strikers; a sack of at least a hundredweight 
of rice, two bags of charcoal; the Primus from the infirmary 
and a wicker bottle of paraffin. The whole community, all 
these terribly unfortunate men, felt for us; they all wanted to 
help us succeed. Anyone would have said this, was their escape 
rather than ours. We hauled the boat down near to the place 
where we had landed. They counted the money in the hat: 
eight hundred and ten francs. I only had to give Toussaint one 
thousand two hundred. Clousiot passed me his charger. I op- 
ened it there in front of everybody. It held a thousand-franc 


98 



note and four five hundreds. I gave Toussaint one thousand 
five hundred. He gave me three hundred change and then he 
said, “Here. Take the revolver - it’s a present. You’re staking 
everything you’ve got, and it mustn’t go wrong at the last 
moment just for want of a weapon. I hope you won’t have to 
use it.’ 

I didn’t know how to say thank you, to Toussaint first and 
then to all the others. The medical orderly had put up a little 
tin with cotton-wool, alcohol, aspirin, bandages, iodine, a pair 
of scissors and some sticking-plaster. Another leper brought 
two slim, well-planed pieces of wood and two strips of anti- 
septic binding still in its packet, perfectly new. They were a 
present so that I could change Clousiot’s splints. 

. About five it began to rain. Jean sans Peur said, ‘You’re 
lucky. There’s no danger of your being seen, so you can get off 
right away and gain at least half an hour. That way you’ll be 
nearer the mouth when you start again at half-past four in the 
morning.’ 

‘How shall I know the time? ’ I asked him. 

‘The tide’ll tell you, coming in or out.’ 

We launched the boat. It was not like the canoe at all. Even 
with us and all our things aboard, the gunwale was a good 
eighteen inches from the water. The mast, wrapped in the sail, 
lay fiat fore and aft, because we were not to put it up until we 
were about to run out of the river. We shipped the rudder, with 
its safety-bar and tiller, and put a pad of creepers for me to sit 
on. We made a comfortable place in the bottom of the boat 
with the blankets for Clousiot, who had not wanted to have 
his bandages changed. He lay at my feet, between me and the 
water-barrel. Maturette was in the bottom too, but up for- 
ward. Straight away I had a feeling of safety and solidity that 
I had never had in the canoe. 

It was stili raining. I was to go down the middle of the river, 
but rather to the left, over on the Dutch side. Jean sans Peur 
said, 'Good-bye. Push off quick.’ 

‘Good luck,' said Toussaint, and he gave the boat a great 
shove with his foot. 

‘Thanks, Toussaint. Thanks, Jean. Thanks, everybody, 
thanks a thousand times over!’ And we vanished at great 
speed, swept along by the ebb-tide that had begun quite two 
and a half hours ago and that was now running at an unbe- 
lievable pace. 



It rained steadily: we couldn’t see ten yards in front of us. 
There were two little islands lower down, so Maturette leant 
out over the bows, staring ahead so we shouldn’t run on their 
rocks. Night fell. For a moment we were half caught in the 
branches of a big tree that was going down the river with us, 
but fortunately not quite so fast. We quickly got free and 
carried on at something like twenty miles an hour. We smo- 
ked: we drank rum. The lepers had given us half a dozen of 
those straw-covered Chianti bottles, but filled with tafia. It 
was odd, but not one of us mentioned the hideous mutilations 
we had seen among the lepers. The only thing we talked about 
was their kindness, their generosity, their straightness and our 
good luck in having met the Masked Breton, who took us to 
Pigeon Island. It rained harder and harder and I was wet 
through; but those woolien jackets were such good quality 
they kept you warm even when they were soaked. We were not 
cold. The only filing was my hand on the tiller - the rain made 
it go stiff. 

‘We’re running at more than twenty-five miles an hour now,’ 
, said Maturette. ‘How long do you think we’ve been gone for? 1 

‘I’U tell you,’ said Clousiot. ‘Just a moment. Three and a 
quarter hours.’ 

‘Are you crazy, man? How can youpossibly tell? ’ 

‘I’ve been counting ever since we left and at each three hun- 
dred seconds I've tom off a piece of cardboard. There’re 
thirty-nine bits now. At five minutes a go, that makes three 
hours and a quarter. Unless I’ve got it wrong, in fifteen or 
twenty minutes we . shan't be running down any more, but 
going back to where we came from.’ 

I thrust the tiller over to my right to slant across the stream 
and get into the bank on the Dutch side. Before we reached 
the shore the current had stopped. We were no longer going 
down; and we weren’t going up, either. It was still raining. We 
no longer smoked; we no longer talked - we whispered. ‘Take 
the paddle and shove.’ I paddled too, holding the tiller wedged 
under my right leg. Gently we came up against the bush : we 
seized branches and pulled, sheltering beneath them. We were 
in the darkness of the vegetation. The river was grey, quite 
covered with thick mist. If we had not been able to rely upon 
the ebb and flow of the tides, it would have been impossible to 
tell where the sea lay and where the landward river. 



Right Out and Away 


The flood-tide would last six hours. Then there was the hour 
and a half to wait for the ebb. I should be able to sleep for 
seven hours, although I was very much on edge. I had to get 
some sleep, because once out at sea, when should I be able to 
lie down? I stretched out between the barrel and the mast; 
Maturette laid a blanket over the thwart and the barrel by way 
of a cover, and there in the shelter I slept and slept. Dreams, 
rain, cramped position - nothing disturbed that deep, heavy 
sleep. 

I slept and slept until Maturette woke me. ‘Papi, we think 
it’s time, or just about. The ebb has been running a good while.’ 

The boat had turned towards the sea and under my fingers 
the current raced by. It was no longer raining, and by the light 
of a quarter moon we could distinctly see the river a hundred 
yards in front of us, carrying trees, vegetation and dark shapes 
upon its surface. { tried to distinguish the exact place where the 
sea and river met. Where we were lying there was no wind. Was 
there any out in the middle? Was it strong? We pushed out 
from under the bush, the boat still hitched to a big root. Look- 
ing at the sky I could just make out the coast, where the river 
ended and the sea began. We had run much farther down than 
we had thought, and it seemed to me that we were under six 
miles from the mouth. We had a stiff tot of rum. Should we 
step the mast now? Yes, said the others. It was up, very strong- 
ly held in its heel and the hole in the thwart. I hoisted the sail 
without unfurling it, keeping it tight to the mast. Maturette 
was ready to haul up the staysail and jib when I said. All that 
was needed to fill the sail was to cast loose the line holding it 
close to the mast, and I’d be able to do that from where I sat. 
Maturette had one paddle in the bows and I had another in 
the stem: we should have to shove out very strong and fast, 
for the current was pressing us tight against the bank. 

'Everybody ready. Shove away. In the name of God.’ 

'In the name of God,’ repeated Clousiot. 

'Into Thy hands I entrust myself,’ said Maturette. 

And we shoved. Both together we shoved on the water with 
our blades — I thrust deep and I pulled hard: so did Maturette. 
We got under way as easy as kiss my hand. We weren’t a 



stone’s throw from the bank before the tide had swept us down 
a good hundred yards. Suddenly there was the breeze, pushing 
us out towards the middle. 

‘Hoist the staysail and jib - make all fast. They filled: the 
boat reared like a horse and shot away. It must have been later 
than the time we’d planned, because all of a sudden the river 
was as light as though the sun was up. About a mile away on 
our right we could see the French bank clearly, and perhaps 
half a mile on the left, the Dutch. .Right ahead, and perfectly 
distinct the white crests of the breaking ocean waves. 

‘Christ, we got the time wrong,’ said Clousiot. ‘Do you think 
we’ll have long enough to get out? ’ 

‘I don’t know.' 

‘Look how high the waves are, and how they break so white) 
Can the flood have started?’ 

‘Impossible. I can see things going down.’ 

Maturette said, ‘We shan’t be able to get out. We shan’t be 
there in time.’ 

‘You shut your bloody mouth and sit there by the jib and 
staysail sheets. You shut up too, Clousiot.’ 

Bang. Bang. Rifles, shooting at us. I distinctly spotted the 
second. It was not screws firing at all: the shots were coming 
from Dutch Guiana. I hoisted the mainsail and it filled with 
such strength that the sheet tearing at my wrist nearly had me 
in the water. The boat lay over at more than forty-five degrees. 
I bore away as fast as I could — it wasn’t bard, for there was 
wind and to spare. Bang, bang, bang, and then’ no more. We 
had run farther towards the French side than the Dutch, and 
that was certainly why the firing stopped. 

We tore along at a blinding speed, with a wind fit to carry 
everything away. We were going so fast that we shot across 
the middle of the estuary, and I could see that in a few min- 
utes’ time we should be right up against the French bank. I 
could see men running towards the shore. Gently, as gently as 
possible, ' I came about, heaving on the sheet with all my 
strength. We came up into the wind: the jib went over all by 
itself and so did the staysail. The boat turned, turned, I let go 
the sheet and we ran out of the river straight before the wind. 
Christ, we’d done itl It was over! Ten minutes later a sea-wave 
tried to stop us; we rode over it smooth and easy, and the 
shwit shwit .that the boat had made in the river changed to 
thumpo-thumpo-thump. The waves were high, but we went over 



them as easy as a kid playing leap-frog. Tbump-o-thump, the 
boat went up and down the slopes without a shake or a tremble, 
only that thud of her hull striking the water as it came down. 

‘Hurray, hurray! We’re out!’ roared Clousiot with the full 
strength of his lungs. 

And to light up our victory over the elements the Lord sent 
us an astonishing sunrise. The waves came in a steady rhythm. 
Their height grew less the farther we went from the shore. The 
water was filthy - full of mud. Over towards the north it 
looked black; but later on it was blue. I had no need to look at 
my compass; with the sun there on my right shoulder I steered 
straight ahead going large but with the boat lying over less, for 
I had slackened off the sheet until the sail was just drawing 
pleasantly. The great adventure had begun. 

• Clousiot heaved himself up. He wanted to get his head and 
shoulders out to see properly. Maturctte came and gave him 
a hand, sitting him up there opposite me with his back against 
the barrel; he rolled me a cigarette,' lit it and passed it. We 
all three of us smoked. 

'Give me the tafia,’ said Clousiot. ‘This crossing of the bar 
calls for a drink.’ Maturette poured an elegant tot into three 
tin mugs; we clinked and drank to one another. Maturette 
was sitting next to me on my left: we all looked at one an- 
other. Their faces were shining with happiness, and mine must 
have been the same. Then Clousiot said to me, ‘Captain, sir, 
where are you heading for, if you please?’ 

'Colombia, if God permits.’ 

‘God will permit all right, Christ above ! ’ said Clousiot. 

The sun rose fast and we dried out with no difficulty at all. 
I turned the hospital shirt into a kind of Arab burnous. Wetted, 
it kept my head cool and prevented sunstroke. The sea was an 
opal blue; the ten-foot waves were very wide apart, and that 
made sailing comfortable. The breeze was still strong and we 
moved fast away from the shore; from time to time I looked 
back and saw it fading on the horizon. The farther we raz 
from that vast green mass, the mbre we could make out the & 
of the land. I was gazing back, when a vague uneasiness calec 
me to order and reminded be of my responsibility for 
companions’ lives and my own. 

‘I’ll cook some rice,’ said Maturette. 

Til hold the stoveand you hold the pot,’ said dourirt- ^ 

The bottle of paraffin was made fast right up fcrwnd 


no one was allowed to smoke. The fried rice smelt good. We 
ate it hot, with two tins of sardines stirred into it. On top of 
that we had a good cup of coffee. 'Some rum?’ I refused: it 
was too hot. Besides, I was no drinker. Clousiot rolled me 
cigarette after cigarette and lit them for me. The first meal, 
aboard had gone off well. Judging from the sun, we thought 
it was ten o’clock in the morning. We had had only five hours 
of running out to sea and yet you could already feel that the 
water beneath us was very deep. The waves were not so high 
now, and as we ran across them the boat no longer thumped. 
The weather was quite splendid. 1 realized that . during day- 
light I should not have to be looking at the compass all the 
time. Now and then I fixed the sun in relation to the needle 
and I steered by that - it was very simple. The glare tired my 
eyes and I was sorry I had not thought to get myself a pair of 
dark glasses. 

Out of the blue Clousiot said, “What luck I had, finding you 
in hospital I* 

‘It was just as lucky for me - you’re not the only one.’ I 
thought of Dega and Fernandez ... if they’d said yes, they 
would have been here with us. 

'That’s not so certain,’ said Clousiot. ‘But it might have been 
tricky for you to get the Arab into the ward just at the right 
moment’ 

‘Yes, Maturette has been a great help to us. I’m very glad 
we brought him, he’s as reliable as they come, brave and 
clever.’ 

‘Thanks,’ said Maturette. ‘And thank you both 'for believing 
in me, although I’m so young and although I’m you knoW 
what. I’ll do my best not to let you down.’ 

Then after a while I said, 'Francois Sierra too, the guy I’d 
so much wanted to have with us ; and Galgani . . 

‘As things turned out Papillon, it just wasn’t on. If Jesus 
had been a decent type and if he had given us a decent boat 
we could have lain up and waited for them - we could have 
waited for Jesus to get them out and bring them. Anyhow, they 
know you, and they know that if you didn’t send for them, it 

was on account of it just wasn’t possible.’ 

‘By the way, Maturette, how come you were- in the high- 
security ward?’ 

I never knew I was to be interned. I reported sick because 
I had a sore throat and because I wanted the walk, and when 



the doctor saw me he said, “I see from your card that you’re 
for internment on the islands, Why?” “I don’t know anything 
about it. Doctor. What’s internment mean?” "All right. Never 
mind. Hospital for you.” And there I Was: that’s all there was 
to it.’ 

‘He meant to do you a good turn,’ said Clousiot. 

‘What on earth did the quack want, sending me to hospital? 
Now he must be saying “My angel-faced boy wasn’t such a 
wet after all, seeing he’s got out - he’s on the run”.’ 

We talked and laughed. I said, ‘Who knows but we may 
come across Julot, the hammer-man. He’ll be far oil by now, 
unless he’s still lying up in the bush.’ Clousiot said, ‘When I left 
I put a note under my pillow saying, “Gone without leaving 
an address”.' That made us roar with laughter. 

Five days we sailed on with nothing happening. The east- 
west passage of the sun acted as my compass by day: by night 
I used the compass itself. On the morning of the sixth day we 
were greeted by a brilliant sun; the sea had suddenly calmed, 
and flying-fishes went by not far away. I was destroyed with 
fatigue. During the night Maturette had kept wiping my face 
with a wet cloth to keep me from sleeping; but even so I went 
off, and Clousiot had had to burn me with his cigarette. Now 
it was dead calm, so I decided to get some sleep. We lowered 
.the mainsail and the jib, keeping just the staysail, and I slept 
like a log in the bottom of the boat, the sail spread to keep me 
from the sun. 

I woke up with Maturette shaking me. He said, ‘It’s noon 
or one o’clock, but I’m waking you because the wind is getting 
stronger and oh the horizon where it’s coming from, every- 
thing’s black.' I got up and went to my post. The one sail we 
had set was carrying us over the unruffled sea. In the cast, be- 
hind me, all was black, and the breeze was strengthening stead- 
ily. The staysail and the jib were enough to make the boat run 
very fast. I furled the mainsail against the mast, carefully, and 
made all tight. ‘Look out for yourselves, because what’s com- 
ing is a storm.’ 

Heavy drops began to fall on us. The darkness came rushing 
forwards at an astonishing speed, and in a quarter of an hour 
it had spread, from the horizon almost as far as us. Now here 
d came: an incredibly strong wind drove straight at us. As - 
by magic the sea got up faster, waves with foaming while top?- 
th» sun was wiped right out, rain poured dov/n in torrents 



could see nothing, and as the seas hit the boat so they sent 
packets of water stinging into my face. It was a storm all right, 
my first storm, with all the terrific splendour of nature unre- 
strained - thunder, lightning, rain, waves, the howling of the 
wind over and all around us. 

The boat was carried along like a straw; she climbed un- 
believable .heights and ran down into hollows so deep you felt 
she could never rise up again. Yet in spite of these astonishing 
depths she did climb up the side of the next wave, go over the 
crest, and so begin once more - right up and down again and 
again. I held the tiller with both hands; and once, when I saw 
an even bigger wave coming I thought I should steer a little 
against it. No doubt I moved too fast, because just as we cut it, 

I shipped a great deal of water. The whole boat was aswim. 
There must have been about three foot of water aboard. With- 
out meaning to I wrenched the boat strongly across the next 
wave - a very dangerous thing to do - and she leant over so 
much, almost to the point of turning turtle, that she flung out 
most of the water we had shipped. 

‘Bravo 1’ cried Clousiot. ‘You’re a real expert, Papillon! 
You emptied her straightaway.’ 

I said, ‘You see now how it’s done, don’t you?’ 

If only he’d known that my lack of experience had very 
nearly turned us upside down, right out in the open seal I ' 
decided not to struggle against the thrust of the waves any 
more, not to worry about what course to steer, but just to keep 
the boat as steady as possible. I took the waves three-quarters 
on; I let the boat run down and rise just as the sea would have 
it. Very soon I realized that this was an important discovery 
and that I’d done away with ninety per cent of the danger. The 
rain stopped : the wind was still blowing furiously, but now I 
could see clearly in front and behind. Behind, the sky was 
clear; in front it was black. We were in the middle of the two. 

By about five it was all over. The sun was shining on us 
again, the breeze was its usual self, the sea had gone down: I 
hoisted the mainsail and we set off once more, pleased with 
ourselves. We baled the boat with the saucepans ’and we 
brought. out the blankets to dry them by hanging them to the 
mast. Rice, flour, oil and double-strength coffee: a comforting 
shot of rum. The sun was about to set, lighting up the blue sea 
and making an unforgettable picture - reddish-brown sky, 
great yellow rays leaping up from the half-sunk orb and light- 



ing the sky, and the few white clouds, and the sea itself. As the 
waves rose they were blue at the bottom, then green; and their 
crests were red, pink or yellow, according to the colour of the 
rays that hit them. 

I was filled with a wonderfully gentle peace; and together 
with the peace a feeling that I could rely upon myself. I had 
stuck it out pretty well; this short stonfi had been very valu- 
able to me. All by myself I had learnt how to handle the boat 
in such circumstances. I’d look forward to the night with a 
completely easy mind. 

‘So you saw how to empty a boat, Clousiot, did you? You 
saw how it was done? ’ 

‘Listen, brother, if you hadn’t brought it off, and if another 
wave had caught us sideways, we’d have sunk. You’re all right.’ 

‘You learnt all that in the navy? ’ said Maturette. 

‘Yes. There’s something to be said for a naval training, after 
all; 

We must have made a great deal of leeway. Who could tell 
Low far we had drifted during those four hours, with a wind 
and waves like that? I’d steer north-west to make it up: that’s 
what I’d do. The sun vanished into the sea, sending up the last 
flashes of its firework display - violet this time - and then at 
.once it was night. 

For six more days we sailed on with nothing to worry us 
except for a few squalls and showers - none ever lasted more 
than three hours and none were anything like that first ever- 
lasting storm. 

Ten o’clock in the morning and not a breath of wind: a 
dead calm. I slept for nearly four hours. When I woke my lips 
were on fire. They had no skin left; nor had my nose either; 
and my right hand was quite raw. Maturette was the same; so 
was Clousiot. Twice a day we rubbed our faces and hands with 
"oil, but that was not enough - the tropical sun soon dried it. 

By the sun it must have been two o’clock in the afternoon. 
I ate, and then, seeing it was dead calm, we rigged the sail as 
an awning. Fish came round the boat where Maturette h2d 
done the washing-up. I took the jungle-knife and told Matur- 
ate to throw in some rice - anyhow it had begun to ferment 
since the water had got at it. The fish all gathered where the 
•rice struck the water, all on the surface; and as one of th=r 
had his head almost out of the water I hit at him very 
The next moment there he was, belly up. He weighed 


pounds: we gutted him and cooked him in salt water. We ate 
him that evening with manioc flour. , 

Now it was eleven days since we had set out .to sea. In all 
that time we had only seen one ship, very far away on the hori- 
zon. I began to wonder where the hell we were. Far out, that 
was for sure; but how did we lie in relation to Trinidad or any 
of the other English islands? Speak of the devil . . . and indeed 
there, right ahead, we' saw a dark speck that gradually grew 
larger and larger. Would it be a ship or a deep-sea fishing boat? 
We’d got it all wrong: it was not coming towards us. It was a 
ship : we could see it clearly now, but going across. It was com- 
ing nearer, true enough, but its slanting course was not going 
to bring us together. There was no wind, so our sails drooped 
miserably: the ship would surely not have seen us. Suddenly 
there was the' howl of a siren and then three short blasts. The 
ship changed course and stood straight for our boat. 

‘I hope she doesn’t come too close,’ said Clousiot. 

There’s no danger : it’s as calm as a millpond.’ 

She was a tanker. The nearer she came, the more clearly we 
could make out the people on deck. They must have been won- 
. dering what this nutshell of a boat was doing there, right out 
at sea. Slowlyshe approached, and now we could see the offi- 
cers and the men of the crew. And the cook. Then women in 
striped dresses appeared oh deck, and men in coloured shirts. ‘ 
We took it these were passengers. Passengers on a tanker - 
that struck me as odd. Slowly the ship came close and the cap- 
tain hailed us in English, ’Where do you come from?’ 

'French Guiana.’ 

’Do you speak French7 ’ asked a woman. 

‘Oui, Madame.’ 

‘What are you doing so far out at sea?’ 

‘We go where God’s wind blows us.’ ■ 

The lady spoke to the captain and then said, ‘The captain 
says to come aboard. He’ll haul your little boat on deck.’ 

‘Tell him we say thank you very much but we’re quite hap- 
py in our boat.’ 

.‘Why don’t you want help? ’ 

Because we are oh the run and we aren’t going in your di- 
rection.’ 

‘Where are you going? ’ * 

‘Martinique or even farther. Where are we?’ 

‘Far out in the ocean.’ 





had to wait another hour and more before we could distin- 
guish people running towards the beach where we were going 
to land. In under twenty minutes a highly-coloured crowd 
had gathered. The entire little village had come out on to the 
shore to welcome us. Later we learnt that it was called San 

Fernando. . . 

Three hundred yards from the beach I dropped the anchor: 
it bit at once. I did so partly to see how the people would take 
it and partly so as not to damage my boat when it grounded, 
supposing the bottom was coral. We furled the sails and wai- 
ted. A little boat came towards us. Two blacks p'.ddling and 
one white man with a sun-helmet on. . 

‘Welcome to Trinidad,’ said the . white man in perfect 
French. The black men laughed, showing all their teeth. 

‘Thank you for your kind words. Monsieur. Is the bottom 
coral or sand7’ 

‘It’s sand. You can run in without any danger.’ 

We hauled up the anchor, and the waves gently pushed us in 
towards the beach. We had scarcely touched before ten men 
waded in and with a single heave they ran the boat up out of 
the water. They gazed at us and stroked us, and Negro or In- 
dian coolie women beckoned to invite us in. The white man 
who spoke French explained that they all wanted us to stay 
with them. Maturette caught up a handful of sand and kissed 
it. Great enthusiasm. I had told the white man about Clous : 
iot’s condition and he had him carried to his house, which was 
very close to the beach. He told us we could leave all our be- 
longings in the boat until tomorrow - no one would touch any- 
thing. They all called out, ‘Good captain, long ride in little 
boat.’ ■ 

Night fell, and when I had asked them to heave the boat a 
little higher up I tied it to a much bigger one lying on the 
beach; then I followed the Englishman and Maturette came 
after me. There I saw Clousiot looking very pleased with him- 
self in an armchair, with a lady and a girl beside him and his 
wounded leg stretched out on a chair. 

‘My wife and my daughter,’ said the gentleman. T have a 
son at the university in England.’ 

‘You are very welcome in this house.’ said the ladv in 
French. 

Sit down, gentlemen,’ said the girl, placing us two wicker 
armchairs. 



‘Thank you, ladies, but please don’t put yourselves out- for 
os.’ 

‘Why? We know where you come from, so be easy; and I 
say again, you are very welcome in this house.’ 

The Englishman was a barrister. Mr. Bowen was his name, 
and he had his office in Port of Spain, the capital, twenty-five 
miles away. They brought us tea with milk, toast, butter and 
jam. This was our first evening as free men, and I shall never 
forget it. Not a word about the past, no untimely questions: 
only how many days had we been at sea and what kind of 
voyage we had had. Whether Clousiot was in much pain and 
whether we should like them to -tell the police tomorrow or 
wait for another day: whether we had any living relations, 
such as wives or children. If we should like to write to them, 
they would post the letters. What can I say? It was a wonderful 
welcome, both from the people on the shore and from this 
family with their extraordinary kindness to three men on the 
run. 

Mr. Bowen telephoned a doctor, who told him to bring the 
wounded man in to his nursing-home tomorrow afternoon 
so that he could X-ray him and see what needed doing. Mr. 
Bowen also telephoned the head of the Salvation Army in Port 
of Spain. He said this man would have a room ready for us in 
the Salvation Army hostel and that we could go whenever wc 
liked; he said we should keep our boat if it was any good, 
because we’d need it for leaving again. He asked if wc were 
convicts or reldgufe and we told him convicts. He seemed 
pleased we ware convicts. 


'Would you like to have a bath and a shave?’ asked the girl. 
‘Don’t feel awkward, whatever you do - it doesn’t worry us in 
the'leasL You’ll find some things in the bathroom that I hope 
will fit you.’ 

I went into the bathroom, had a bath, shaved and came nut 
again with my hair combed, wearing grey trousers, a white 
shirt, tennis shoes and white socks. 


An Indian knocked on the door: he was carrying a parcel 
which he gave to MaiureSte, teSisg him the doctor had noticed 
■ that as I was roughly the tame vjj-. as the lawyer 1 won ids'; 
need anything; az t little Kature&e wouldn’t find anythin? 5? 
W, because there war so one as small a* him in Mr. 
house. He bowed in the Modern way m A went out. 
there ! css say about such kindness ? There k no 


the feelings in my heart. Clousiot went to bed first, then the 
five of us talked about a great number of things. What inter- 
ested those charming women most was how we thought of 
remaking a life'for ourselves. Not a word about the past: only 
the present and the future. Mr. Bowen said how sorry he was 
Trinidad wouldn’t permit escaped men to settle on the island. 
He’d often tried to get permission for various people to stay, 
he told us, but it had never been allowed. 

The girl spoke very good French, like her father, with no 
accent or faulty pronunciation. She had fair hair and she was 
covered with freckles; she was between seventeen and twenty 

- I did not like to ask her age. She said, ‘You’re very young 
and your life is ahead of you: I don’t know what you were 
sentenced for and I don’t want to know, but the fact of having 
taken i to sea in such a small boat for this long, dangerous voy- 
age proves thaf you’re willing to pay absolutely anything /or 
your freedom ; and that is something I admire very much.* 

We slept until eight the next morning. When we got up we 
found the table laid. The two ladies calmly lold'us that Mr. 
Bowen had left for Port of Spain and would only be back that 
afternoon, bringing the information he needed to see what 
could be done for us. 

By leaving his house to three escaped convicts like this he 
gave us a lesson that couldn’t have been bettered : it was as 
though he were saying, 'You are normal decent human beings; 
you, can see for yourselves how much I trust you, since I am 
leaving you alone in my house with my wife and daughter.’ We 
were very deeply moved by this silent way of saying, 'Now that 
I’ve talked to you, I see that you are perfectly trustworthy - 
so much so that I leave you here in my home like old friends, 
not supposing for a moment that you could possibly do or say 
anything wrong.’ 

Reader - supposing this book has readers some day - I am 
not clever and I don’t possess the vivid style, the living power, 
that is reeded to describe this immense feeling of self-respect 

- no, of rehabilitation, or even of a new life. This figurative 
baptism, this bath of cleanliness, this raising of me above the 
filth I had sunk in, this way of bringing me overnight face to 
face with true responsibility, quite simply changed my whole 
being. I had been a convict, a man who could hear his chains 
even when he was free and who always felt that someone was 
watching over him; I had been all the things I had seen, ex- 



perienced, undergone, suffered; all the things that had urged 
me to become a marked, evil man, dangerous at all times, sup- 
erficially docile yet terribly dangerous when he broke out: 
but all this had vanished - disappeared as though by magic. 
Thank you, Mr. Bowen, barrister in H is Majesty’s courts of 
law, thank you for having made another man of me in so short 
a time! 

The very fair-haired girl with eyes as blue as the sea around 
us was sitting with me under the coconut-palms in her father’s 
garden. Red, yellow and mauve bougainvilleas were all in 
flower, and they gave the garden the touch of poetry that the 
moment called for. ‘Monsieur Henri, [she called me Mon- 
sieur! How many years had it been since anyone called me 
Monsieur?] as Papa told you yesterday, the British authorities 
are so unfair, so devoid of understanding, that unfortunately 
you can’t stay here. They only give you a fortnight to rest and 
then you must go off to sea again. I went to have a look at your 
boat early this morning: it looks very small and frail for such 
a long voyage as you have to make. Let’s hope you reach a 
more hospitable, understanding country than ours. All the 
English islands do the same in these cases. If you have a horrid 
time in the voyage ahead of you, I do ask you not to hold it 
against the people who live in these islands. They are not res- 
ponsible for this way of looking at things: these are orders 
that come from England, from people who don’t know you. 
Papa’s address is 101 Queen Street, Port of Spain, Trinidad. If 
it’s God’s will that you can do so, I beg you to send us just a 
line to tell us what happens to you.’ 

I was so' moved I didn’t know what to say. Mrs. Bowen came 
towards us. She was a very beautiful woman of about forty' 
with chestnut hair and green eyes. She was wearing a very 
simple white dress with a white belt, and a pair of light-green 
sandals. ‘Monsieur, my husband won’t be borne till five. He’s 
getting them to allow you to go to Port of Spain in his car 
without a police escort. He also wants to prevent your having 
to spend the first night in the Port of Spain police-station. Your 
wounded friend will go straight to a nursing-home belonging 
to a friend of ours, a doctor; and you two will go to the Sal- 
vation Army hostel.’ 

Maturette joined us in the garden: he’d been to see the boat, 
and he told us it was surrounded by an interested crowd. Noth- 
ing had been touched. The people looking at it had found a 




by the captain of the Salvation Army together with ail his 
staff, both men and women. He spoke a little French and all 
the others said things to us in English, which we did not under- 
stand; but their faces were so cheerful and their eyes so wel- 
coming that we were sure the words were kind. 

We were taken to a room on the second floor with three 
beds in it - the third being laid on for Clousiot. There was a 
bathroom just at hand, with towels and soap for us. When he 
had shown us our room, the captain said, ‘If you would like to 
eat, we all have supper together at seven o’clock, that is to say 
in half an hour’s time.' 

‘No. We’re not hungry.’ 

‘If you’d like to waik about the town, here are two West 
Indies dollars to have some tea or coffee, or an ice. Take great 
care not to get lost. When you want to come back just ask your 
way by saying “Salvation Army, please”.’ 

Ten minutes later we were in the street. We walked along 
.the pavements; we pushed our way among other people; no- 
body looked at us or paid any attention to us: we breathed 
deeply, appreciating these first steps, free in a town, to the full. 
This continual trust in us, letting us go free in a fair-sized city, 
wanned our hearts: it not only gave us self-confidence but 
made us aware that we must wholly deserve this trust. Matur- 
ette and I walked slowly along in the midst of the throng. We 
needed to be among people, to be jostled, to sink into the 
crowd and form part of it. We went into a bar and asked for 
two beers. It seems nothing much just to say ‘Two beers, 
please.’ It’s so natural, after all. Yet still to us it seemed abso- 
lutely extraordinary when the Indian girl with the gold shell in 
her nose served us and then said, ‘Half a dollar, sir.’ Her pearly 
smile, her big dark violet eyes a little turned up at the comers, 
her shoulder-long black hair, her low-cut dress that showed 
the beginning of her breasts and let one guess the rest was 
splendid - all these things that were so trifling and natural for 
everybody else seemed to us to belong to some unheard-of 
fairyland. Hold it, Papi: this can’t be true. It can’t be true 
that you are turning from a convict with a life sentence, a liv- 
ing corpse, into a free man so quickly! 

It was Maturctte who paid : he had only half a dollar left. 
The beer was beautifully cool and he said, 'What about an- 
other?’ It seemed to me that this second round was something 
we shouldn’t do. .‘Hell,' I said, ‘it’s not an hour since you’ve 



beea really free and you're already thinking of getting 

dr SJ easy now, Papii Having two beers and getting drunk, 
those are two very different things.* 


•Maybe so. But it seems to me that rightly speaking, we 
Wouldn’t fling ourselves on the first pleasures that come to 
hand I think we ought to just taste them little by little and 
not stuff ourselves like hogs. Anyhow, to begin with' this mon- 


cv*$ not ours, 

‘Fair enough: you’re right. We must leam how to be free 
in slow stages - that’s more our mark.’ 

We went out and walked down Watters Street, the main 
avenue that runs clean through the town; and we were so won- 
derstruck by the trams going by, the donkeys with their little 
car is, the cars, the lurid cinema and dance-hall advertisements, 
the eyes of the young black or Indian girls, who looked smil- 
ingly at us, that we went all the way to' the harbour without 
noticing it. There in front of us were ships all lit up - tourist 
ships with bewitching names, Panama, Los Angeles, Boston, 
Quebec; cargo-ships from Hamburg, Amsterdam and London. 
And side by side all along the quay there were bars, pubs and 
restaurants, all crammed with men and women jammed to- 
gether, drinking, singing, bawling one another out. Suddenly 
I felt an irresistible urge to mingle with this crowd - common 
maybe, but so full of life. On the terrace of one bar there were 
oysters, sea-eggs, shrimps, solens and mussels arranged on ice, 
a whole display of sea-food to excite the appetite of the passer- 
by. There were tables with red-and-white checked cloths to 
invite us to sit down - most of them were occupied. And there 
were coffee-coloured girls 'with delicate profiles, mulattoes 
without a single negroid' feature, tight in their many-coloured, 
low-cut blouses, to make you feel even more eager to make the 
• most of what was going. 


I went up to one of them and said, ‘French money good?’ 
showing her a thousand-franc note. ‘Yes, I change for you.’ 
OK.’ She took the note and vanished into a room crammed 
with people. She came back. ‘Come here.’ And she led me to 
the cash desk, where there was a Chinese sitting. 

, 'You French?’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘Change thousand francs? ’ 

‘Yes/ 


'AH West Indies dollars?’ 

•Yes.’ 

‘Passport?’ 

‘Got none.’ 

‘Sailor’s card?' 

‘Got none.’ 

‘Immigration papers?’ 

‘Got none.’ 

Tine.’ He said something to the girl: she looked over the 
room, went up to a nautical character with a cap like mine - 
gold band and anchor - and brought him to the cash desk. The 
Chinese said, ‘Your identity card?’ 

‘Here.’ 

And calmly the Chinese wrote out an exchange-form for a 
thousand francs in the stranger’s name and made him sign it; 
then the girl took him by the arm and led him away. He cer- 
tainly never knew what had happened. I got two hundred and 
fifty West Indies dollars, fifty of them in one and two-dollar 
notes. I gave the girl one dollar; we went outside, and sitting 
there at a table we treated ourselves to an orgy of sea-food, 
washed down with a delightful dry white wine. 



Fourth Exercisc-Book 
First Break (continued) 


Trinidad 


I can still see our first night of freedom in that English town 
as clearly as though it was yesterday. We went everywhere, 
drunk with the light and the warmth in our hearts, and we 
plunged deep into the very being of the jolly, laughing crowd, 
overflowing with happiness. A bar, full of sailors and the trop- 
ical girls who were waiting there to pluck them. But there was 
nothing squalid about these girls; they were nothing like the 
women of the gutters of Paris, Le Havre or Marseilles. It was 
something else again - quite different. Instead of those over- 
made-up, vice-marked faces with their avid, cunning eyes, 
these were girls of every colour from Chinese yellow to Af- 
rican black, from light chocolate with smooth hair to the Hin- 
du or Javanese whose parents had come together in the cocoa 
or sugar plantations, and so on to the Chinese-Indian girl with 
the gold shell in her nose and to the Llapane with her Roman 
profile and her copper-coloured face lit by two huge shining 
black eyes with long lashes, pushing out her half-covered bos- 
om as though to say, ‘Look how perfect they are, my breasts’ 
Each girl had different coloured flowers in her hair, and they 
were all of them the outward show of love; they made you 
long for women, without anything dirty or commercial about 
it. You didn't feel they were doing a job - they were realty 
having fun and you felt that money was not the main thing in 
.their lives. 

Like a couple of moths drawn by the light, Maturctte and 
I Went blundering along from bar to bar. It was as we were 
coming out into a little brightly-lit square that I noticed the 
time on a church clock. Two. It was two o’clock in the mor- 
ning 1 Quick, quick, we must hurry back. We bad been behav- 
ing badly. The Salvation Army captain would have a pretty 
low opinion of ns. We must get back at once. I hailed a taxi, 
which took us there. Two dollars. I paid and we walked into 
the hostel, very much ashamed of ourselves. A really v oung 



blonde woman-soldier of the Salvation Army, twenty-five 
or thirty years old, welcomed us pleasantly in the hall. She 
seemed neither astonished nor vexed at our coming home so 
late. After a few words in English - we felt they were good- 
natured and kind - she gave us the key of our room and said 
good night. We went to bed. In the suitcase I found a pair of 
pyjamas. As we were putting out the light, Maturette said, ‘Still, 
I think we might say thank you to God for having given us so 
much so quickly. What do you think, Papi? ’ 

‘You thank Him for me - he’s a great guy, your God. And 
you’re dead right. He’s been really generous with us. Good 
' night.’ And I turned the light out. 

* This rising from the dead, this breaking out from the grave- 
yard in which I had been buried, these emotions all crowding 
one upon another, this night of bathing in humanity, reinte- 
grating myself with life and mankind - all these things had been 
so exciting that I could not get off to sleep. I closed my eyes, 
and in a kind of kaleidoscope all sorts of pictures, things and 
feelings appeared, but in no order at all; they were sharp and 
clear, but they came without any regard for time - the assizes, 
the Conciergerie, then the lepers, then Saint-Martin-de-Rd, 
Tribouillard, Jesus, the storm ... It was as though everything 
I had lived through for the past year was trying to appear at 
the same moment before the eye of memory in a wild, night- 
marish dance. I tried to brush these pictures aside, but it was 
no good. And the strangest part of it was that they were all 
mixed up with the noise of the pigs, the shrieks of the hocco, 
the howling of the wind and the crash of waves, the whole 
wrapped in the sound of the one-stringed fiddles the Indians 
had been playing just a little while ago in the various bars we 
had visited. 

Finally, at dawn, I dropped off. Towards ten o’clock there 
was a knock on the door. Mr. Bowen came in, smiling. ‘Good 
morning, friends. Still in bed? You must have come home late. 
Did you have a good time?’ 

‘Good morning. Yes, we came in late. We’re sorry.’ 

‘Come, come: not at all. It’s natural enough, after all you’ve 
been through. You certainly had to make the most of your 
first night as free men. I’ve come so as to go to the police-station 
with you.' You have to appear before them to make an official 
declaration of having entered the country illegally. When that 
formality’s over we’ll go and see your friend. They X-rayed 



him very early this morning. They will know the results later 
on.’ 

We washed quickly and went down to the room below, 
where Bowen was waiting for us with the captain. 

•Good morning, my friends,* said the captain in bad French. 

•Good morning, everybody.’ 

A woman officer of the Salvation Army said, T)rd you like 
Port of Spain?' 

‘Oh yes, Madame ! It was quite a treat for us.* 

•After a quick cup of coffee we went to the police-station. We 
walked - it was only about two hundred yards. All the police- 
men greeted us; they looked at us without any particular curi- 
osity. Having passed two ebony sentries in khaki uniform we 
went into an impressive, sparsely-furnished office. An officer 
of about fifty stood up: he wore shorts, a khaki shirt and tie, 
and he was covered with badges and medals. Speaking French 
he said, ‘Good morning. Sit down. I should like to talk to you 
for a while before officially taking your statement. How old 
are you?’ 

‘Twenty-six and nineteen.’ 

‘What were you sentenced for?’ 

‘Manslaughter.’ 

‘What was your sentence?’ 

‘Transportation and hard labour for life.’ 

Then it was for murder, not manslaughter?’ 

'No, Monsieur, in my case it was manslaughter.’ 

‘It was murder in mine,’ said Maturette. ‘I was seventeen.’ 

'At seventeen you know what you’re doing,’ said the officer. 
‘In England, if it had been proved, you would have hanged. 
Right. The British authorities are not here to judge the French 
penal system. But there’s one thing we don’t agree with, and 
that’s the sending of criminals to French Guiana. We know 
it’s an inhuman punishment and one quite unworthy of a civil- 
ized nation like France. But unfortunately you can’t stay in 
Trinidad, nor on any other British island. It’s impossible. So 
I ask you to play it straight and not try to find any excuse — 
sickness or anything like that — to delay your departure. You 
may stay here quite freely in Port of Spain for from fifteen to 
eighteen days. It seems that your boat is a good one. I’ll have it 
brought round to the harbour for you. If there are any repairs 
needed the Royal Navy shipwrights will carry them out for 
you. On leaving you will be given the necessary stores, a good 




with him. He said to Clousiot, ‘Who reduced the fracture, for 

you, before splinting your leg?’ ' 

‘Me and another guy who’s not here,’ 

‘You did it so well there’s no need to break the. leg again. 
The broken fibula was put back very neatly. We’ll just plaster 
it and give you an iron so that you can walk a little. Would you 
rather stay here or go with your friends?’ ' 

‘Go with them.* , ■ 

‘Well, tomorrow you’ll be able to join them.’ ' 

We poured out our thanks. Mr. Bowen and the doctor left 
and we spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon 
with our friend. The next day we were delighted to find our- 
selves all together once more, the three, of us in our hostel 
bedroom, with the window wide open and the fans going full 
blast to cool the air. We congratulated one another upon how 
fit we looked, and we. said what fine fellows we were in out 
new clothes. When I saw the talk was going back over the pasl 
I said, ‘Now let’s forget the past as soon as possible and con- 
centrate on the present and the future. Where shall we go? 
Colombia? Panama? Costa Rica? We ought to ask Boweo 
about the countries where we’re likely to be admitted.’ .- 

I called Bowen at his chambers: he wasn’t there., I called his 
house at San Fernando, and it was his daughter, who answered 
After some pleasant words she said, ‘Monsieur Henri, in the 
Fish Market near the hostel there are. buses for San .Fer- 
nando. Why don’t you come and spend the afternoon- with 
us? Do come: I’ll be expecting you.’ And there we' were, al 
three of us on the way to San Fernando. Clousiot was particu- 
larly splendid in his snuff-coloured semi-military uniform. 

We were all three deeply moved by this return to the house 
that had taken us in with such kindness. It seemed asdhougli 
the ladies understood our emotion, for both speaking togethei 
they said, 'So here you are, home again! Sit yourselves dowr 
comfortably.’ And now, instead of saying Monsieur each time 
they spoke to us, they called us by our Oiristian names - ‘Hen- 
ri, please may I have the sugar? Andre {Maturette’s name 
was Andrf], a little more pudding?’ - 

Mrs. Bowen and Miss Bowen, I hope that God has rewar 
ded you for ail the great kindness you showed us, and tha 
your noble hearts — hearts that gave us so much joy — have 
never known anything but perfect happiness all your lives; 

With a map spread out on the table, .we asked 'their advice 


The distances were very great; seven hundred and fifty miles 
to reach Santa Marta, the nearest Colombian port, thirteen 
hundred miles to Panama; one thousand four hundred and 
fifty to Costa Rica, Mr. Bowen came home. 'I’ve telephoned 
all the consulates, and I’ve one piece of good news - you can 
stay a few' days at Curasao to rest. Colombia has no set rules 
about escaped prisoners. As far as the consul knows no one 
has ever reached Colombia by sea. Nor Panama nor anywhere 
else, either.’ 

‘I know a safe place for you,’ said Margaret, Mr. Bowen’s 
daughter. ‘But it’s a great way off - one thousand eight hun- 
dred miles at least.’ 

‘Where’s that?’ asked her father. 

‘British Honduras. The governor is my godfather.’ 

I looked at my friends and said, ‘All aboard for British Hon- 
duras.’ It was a British possession with the Republic of Hon- 
duras on the south and Mexico on the north. Helped by Mar- 
garet and her mother we spent the afternoon working out the 
course. First leg, Trinidad to Curasao, six hundred and 
twenty-five miles : second leg, Curasao to some island or other 
on our route : third leg, British Honduras. 

As you' can never tell what will happen at sea, we decided 
that in addition to the stores the police would give us, we 
should have a special case of tinned things to fall back on - 
meat, vegetables, jam, fish, etc. Margaret told us that the Sal- 
vatori Supermarket would be delighted to make us a present 
of them. ‘And if they won’t,’ she said simply, ‘Mama and I will 
buy them for you.’ 

‘No, Mademoiselle,’ 

‘Hush, Henri.’ 

’No, it’s really not possible, because we have money and it 
wouldn’t be right to profit by your kindness when we can per- 
fectly well buy these stores ourselves.’ 

The boat was at Port of Spain, afloat in a Royal Navy dock. 
We left our friends, promising to see one another again before 
we finally sailed away. Every evening we went out punctually 
at eleven o’clock. Clousiot sat on a bench in the liveliest 
square and Maturette and I took it in turns to stay with him 
while the other wandered about the town. We had been here 
now for ten days. Thanks to the iron set in lu's plaster, Clousiot 
could walk without too much difficulty. We had learnt to get 
to the harbour by taking a tram. We often went in the after- 



noons and always at night. We were know? and adopted in 
some of the bars down there. The police on guard saluted us 
and everybody knew who we were and where we came from, 
though there was never the slightest allusion to anything what- 
soever. But we noticed that in the bars where we were known 
they charged us less for what we ate or drank than the sailors. 
It was the same with the tarts. Generally speaking, whenever 
they sat down at a table with sailors or officers or tourists they 
drank non-stop and always tried to make them spend as much 
as possible. In the bars where there. was dancing, they would 
never dance with anyone unless he stood them a good many 
drinks first. But they all behaved quite differently with us. They 
would stay with us for quite a time and we had to press them 
before they’d drink anything at all: and then it wasn’t their 
notorious tiny glass, but a beer or a genuine whiskey and soda. 
All this pleased us very much, because it was ah indirect way 
of saying that they knew how we were fixed and that they were 
on our side. 

The boat had been repainted and the gunwale raised six 
inches. The keel had been strengthened. None of her ribs had 
suffered, and' the boat was quite sound. The mast had been 
replaced by a longer but lighter spar, and the flour-sack jib 
and staysail by good ochre-coloured canvas. At the naval 
basin a captain gave me a fully-graduated compass and showed 
me how I could find roughly where I was by using the chart. 
Our course for Curasao was marked out - west by north. 

The captain introduced me to a naval officer in command of 
the training-ship Tarpon, and he asked me if I would be so 
good as to go to sea at about eight the next morning and run a 
little way out of the harbour. I did not understand why, but 
I promised to do so. I was at the basin next day at the appoin- 
ted time, with Maturette. A sailor came aboard with us and 
I sailed out of the harbour with, a fair wind. Two hours later, 
as we were tacking in and out of the port, a man-of-war came 
towards us. The officers and crew, all in white, were lined up 
on the deck, They went by close to us and -shouted ‘Hurrah 1’ 
They turned about and dipped their ensign twice. It was an 
official salute whose meaning I didn’t grasp. We went back to 
the naval basin, where the man-of-war was already tied Up at 
the landing-stage. As for us, we moored alongside the quay. 
The sailor made sighs to us to follow him; we went aboard and 
the captain of the ship welcomed us at the top of the gangway. 



The bosun’s pipe saluted our coming aboard, and when we bad 
been introduced to the officers they led us past the cadets and 
petty-officers lined up and standing to attention. The captain 
said a few words to them in English an'd then they fell out. A 
young officer explained that the captain had just told the cad- 
ets we deserved a sailor’s respect for having made such a long 
voyage in that little boat; he also told them we were about to 
make an even longer and more dangerous trip. We thanked the 
officer for the honour we had been paid. He made us a present 
of three oilskins - they were very useful to us afterwards. They 
were black, and they fastened with a long zip : they had hoods. 

Two days before we left, Mr. Bowen came to see us with a 
message from the police superintendent asking us to take three 
rel£gu£s with us - they had been picked up a week before. 
These reldguds had been landed on the island and according 
to them their companions had gone on to Venezuela. I didn’t 
much care for the idea, but we had been treated too handsom- 
ely to be able to refuse to take the three men aboard. I asked 
to see them before giving my answer. A police-car came to 
fetch me. I went to see the superintendent, the high-ranking 
officer who had questioned us when we first came. Sergeant 
Willy acted as interpreter. 

‘How are you?’ 

‘Very well, thanks. We should like you to do us a favour.’ 

‘With pleasure, if it’s possible.’ 

‘There are three French releguds in our prison. They were 
on the island illegally for some weeks and they claim that their 
friends marooned them here and then sailed away. We believe 
it’s a trick to get us to provide them with another boat. We 
have to get them off the island: it would be a pity if I were 
forced to hand them over to the purser of the first French 
ship that goes by.’ 

‘Well, sir. I’ll do the very best I possibly can; but Fd like to 
talk to them first. It’s a risky thing to take three unknown men 
aboard, as you will certainly understand.’ 

‘I understand. Willy, give orders to have the three French- 
men brought out into the courtyard.’ 

I wanted to see them alone and I asked the sergeant to leave 
us to ourselves. ‘You’re rel&gufcs?’ 

‘No. We’re convicts.’ 

'What did you say. you were relfgufa for, then?’ 

‘We thought they’d rather have a man who'd done small 



crimes rather than big ones. We got it wrong: we see that 
now. And whataboutyou? What are you?’ 

‘Convict.’ 

‘Don’t know you.’ 

‘I came on the last convoy. When did you?* 

'The 1929 shipment.’ 

‘Me on the ’27,’ said the third man. 

‘Listen: the superintendent sent for me to ask me to take 
you aboard - there are three of us already. He said that if I 
won’t and that as there’s not one of you who knows how to 
handle a boat, he'll be forced to put you aboard the first 
French ship that goes by. What have you got to say about it?’ 

Tor reasons of our own we don’t want to take to the sea 
again. We could pretend to leave with you and then you could 
drop.us at the end of the island and carry on with your own 
break.’ 

T can’t do that.’ 

. % Whynot?’ 

‘Because they’ve been good to us here and I’m not going to 
pay them back with a kick in the teeth.’ 

‘Listen, brother, it seems to me you ought to put a convict 
. before a rosbif.’ 

‘Why 7’ 

‘Because you’re a convict yourself.’ 

‘Yes. But there are so many different kinds of convict that 
maybe there’s more difference between you and me than there 
is between me and the rosbifs. It all depends on where you 
sit.’ 

‘So you’re going to let us be handed over to the French 
authorities?’ 

No. But 1 m not going to put you ashore before Curapao, 
either.’ . , 

I don t think I've the heart to begin all over again,’ said one 
of them. 

Listen, have a look at the boat first. Perhaps the one you 
came in was no good.' , 

Tight. Let’s have a go,’ said the two others. ' 

OK. I’ll ask the superintendent to let you come and have a 
look at the boat.’ 

Together with Sergeant Willy we all went down to the har- 
bour. The three guys seemed more confident once they had 
seen the boat. 



Setting off Again . 


Two days later we and the three strangers left Trinidad. I can’t 
tell how they knew about it, but a dozen girls from the b 2 rs 
came down to see us go, as well as the Bowens and the Salva- 
tion Army captain. When one of the girls kissed me, Margaret 
laughed, and said, ‘Why, Henri, engaged so soon? You are a 
quick worker.’ 

- 'Au revoir, everybody 1 No: good-bye! But just let me say 
what a great place you have in our hearts - nothing’ll ever 
change that.’ 

And at four in the afternoon we set out, towed by a tug. We 
were soon out of harbour, but we did not leave without wiping 
away a tear and gazing until the last moment at the people 
who had come to say good-bye and who were waving their 
white handkerchiefs. The moment the tug cast us off we set all 
• our sails and headed into the first of the countless waves that 
we were to cross before we reached the end of our voyage. 

There were two knives aboard : I wore one and Maturettc the 
other. The axe was next to Clousiot, and so was the jiingle- 
knife. We were certain that none of the others had any 
weapon. We arranged it so that only one of us should ever be 
asleep during the passage. Towards sunset the training-ship 
came and sailed along with us for half an hour. Then she dip- 
ped her ensign and parted company. 

‘What’s your name? ’ 

’Leblond.’ 

‘Which convoy?’ 

”27.’ 

‘What sentence?’ 

‘Twenty years.’ 

'What about you?’ 

'Kargueret. 1929 convoy: fifteen years. I’m a Breton.’ 

‘You’re a Breton and you can’t sail a boat?’ 

‘That’s right.’ 

The third said, ‘My name’s Dufh's and I come from Angers. 
I got life for a silly crack I made in court; otherwise it’d have 
• been ten years at the outside. 1929 convoy,’ 


‘Wbatwas the crack?’ 

‘Well, I’d killed my wife with a flat-iron, you see. Dunng the 
trial a juryman asked me why the flat-iron. I don’t know what 
possessed me but I told him I’d used a flat-iron on account, of 
she needed smoothing out. According to my lawyer it was that 

bloody-fool remark that made them give me such a dose.’ . ■ 

‘Where did you all make your break from? ’ 

- ‘A logging camp they call Cascade, fifty miles from Saint- 
Laurent. It wasn’t hard to get out - they give you a lot of free- 
dom there. We just walked off, the five of us - nothing simpler.’ 

' How come, five? Where are the other two?’ 

An awkward silence. Clousiot said, 'Man, there are only 
straight guys here, and since we’re together we’ve got to know. 
Tell.’ • . : • 


Til tell you, then,’ said the Breton. ‘We were five when we 
left, all right: but the two missing guys who aren’t here now 
were from Cannes and they’d told us they were fishermen back 
at home. They paid nothing for the break because they said 
their work in the boat would be worth more than any money. 
Well, on the way we saw that neither the one nor the other 
knew the first thing about the sea. We were on the edge of 
drowning twenty times. We went creeping along the shore - 
first the coast of Dutch Guiana, then British Guiana, and then 
finally Trinidad. Between Georgetown and Trinidad I killed 
the one who said he would act as leader of the break. The guy 
had It coming to him, because to get off not paying he had lied 
-to everyone about what a seaman he was. The other thought 
he was going to be killed too and he threw himself 'into the 
sea during a squall, letting go the tiller. We managed. as best 
we could. We let the boat fill with water a good many times 
and in the end we smashed against a rock — it was a miracle 
we got out alive. I give you my word of honour everything 
I ve said is the exact truth.’ 


Tt s true, said the two others. That’s just how it happened, 
and we all three of us agreed about killing the guy. What do 
you say about it, Papiflon?’ 

Tm in no position to judge.’ 

’But what would you have done in our place?’ insisted the 
creton. 


tbDk A, ove . r - You want t0 Uve through things, 
hkc that to know what’s right and what’s not: otherwise you 
just can t tell where the truth lies.’ 



Clousiot said, ‘I’d have killed him, all right. That lie might 
have caused the death of everyone aboard.’ 

‘OK. Let’s scrub it. But I’ve got a hunch you were scared 
through and through. You’re still scared, and you’re only at 
sea because there’s no choice. Is that right?’ 

‘Bleeding right,’ they answered all together. 

‘Well then, there’s not got to be any panic here, whatever 
happens. Whatever happens nobody’s got to show he’s afraid. 
If anyone’s scared, just let him keep his trap shut. This is a 
good boat: it's proved that. We’re heavier laden than we were, 
but then she’s been raised six inches all round. That more than 
compensates.’ 

We smoked; we drank coffee. We had had a good meal be- 
fore leaving and we decided not to have another before next 
morning. 

This was 9 December 1933, forty-two days since the break 
had started in the high security ward of the hospital at Saint- 
Laurent. It was Clousiot, die company’s accountant, who told 
us that. I had three very valuable things that we lacked when 
we set out - a waterproof steel watch bought in. Trinidad, a 
real good compass in gimbals, and a pair of celluloid sunglas- 
ses. Clousiot and Maturette each had a cap. 

Three days passed with nothing much happening, apart 
from our twice meeting with schools of dolphins. They made 
our blood run cold, because one band of eight started playing 
with the boat. First they’d run under it longways and come up 
•just in front - sometimes one of them would touch us. But 
what really made us quake was the next caper. Three dolphins 
in a triangle, one in front and then two abreast, would race 
straight for our bows, tearing through the water. When they 
were within a hair’s breadth of us they would dive and then 
come up on the right and the left of the boat. Although we had 
a good breeze and we were running right before it they went 
still faster than we did. The game lasted for hours: it was 
ghastly. The slightest mistake on their part and they would 
have tipped us over. The three newcomers said nothing, but 
you should have seen their miserable faces 1 

In the middle of the night of the fourth day a perfectly 
horrible storm broke out. It really was something quite terrify- 
ing. The worst part of it was that the waves didn’t follow one 
another in the same direction. As often as not they collided 
and broke against one another. Some were long and deep, 



others choppy - there was no understanding it. Nobody ut- 
tered a word except for Clousiot: from time to time he called 
out,- ‘Go it, matcl You’ll do this one, just like the rest.’ Or 
‘Keep an eye out for the one behind I ’ 

A very curious thing was that sometimes they would come 
three-quarters on, roaring and capped with foam. Fine: I'd 
have plenty of time to judge their speed and work out the 
right angle to take them. Then suddenly, unreasonably, there’d 
be . one roaring right up over the .boat’s stern, ' immedi- 
ately behind. Many a time they broke over my shoulders and 
then of course a good deal came into the boat. The five men 
baled non : stop with tins and saucepans. Still, I never filled her 
more than a quarter, full and so we were never in danger of 
sinking. This party lasted a good half of the night, close on 
seven hours. Because of the rain we never saw the sun at all 
until eight. ' 

We were all of us, including me, heartily glad to see this sun 
shining away with all its might after the storm. Before any- 
thing else, coffee. Scalding hot coffee with Nestlfe’s milk and 
ship’s biscuits: they were as hard as iron, but once they were 
dunked in coffee they were wonderful. The night’s struggle 
against the storm had worn me right out, and although there 
was still a strong wind and a heavy, uneven sea, I asked Matur- 
ette to take over for a while. I just had to sleep. I hadn’t been 
lying down ten minutes before Maturette took a wave the 
wrong way and the boat was three quarters swamped. Every- 
thing was afloat - tins, stove, blankets, the lot. I reached the 
■ tiller with the water up to my waist and Tjust had time to avoid 
a breaking wave coming right down upon us. With a heave of 
the tiller I put us stem-on: the sea did not come in but thrust 
us forward for a good ten yards. 

Everyone baled. With the big saucepan Maturette flung out 
three gallons at a time. No one bothered about saving anything 
at all - there was only one idea and that was to empty the boat 
of all this water that was making her so heavy that she could 
not struggle against the sea, I must admit the three newcomers 
behaved well; and when the Breton’s tin was swept away, alone 
he took the quick decision to ease the boat by letting go the 
water-cas.., which he heaved overboard. Two hours later 
everything was dry, but we had lost our blankets, primus, 
. charcoal stove and charcoal, the wicker bottle of paraffin and 
the water-cask, the last on purpose. 


At midday I went to put on another pair of trousers, and it 
was then that I noticed that my little suitcase had gone over- 
board too, together with two of the three oilskins. Right at the 
bottom of the boat we found two bottles of rum. All the to- 
bacco was either gone or soaked: the leaves and their water- 
tight tin had disappeared. I said, ‘Brothers, let's have a good 
solid tot of rum to begin with, and then open the reserves and 
see what we can reckon on. Here’s fruit juice: good. We’U 
ration ourselves for what we can drink. Here are some tins of 
biscuits: let’s empty one and make a stove of it. We’ll stow 
the other tins in the bottom of the boat and make a fixe with 
the wood of the box. A little while ago we were all pretty 
scared, but the danger's over now: we’ve just got to get over 
it and not let the others down. From this moment on, no one 
must say “I’m thirsty”, no one must say “I’m hungry"; and 
no one must say “I feel like a smoke". OK.7 ' 

‘OK.Papi.’ 

Everyone behaved well and providentially the wind dropped 
so that we could make a soup with bully-beef for a basis. A 
mess tin full of this with ship’s biscuits soaked in it gave us a 
comfortable lining, quite enough until tomorrow. We brewed 
a very little green tea for each man. And in an unbroken box 
we found a carton of cigarettes: they were little packets of 
eight, and there were twenty-four of them. The other five de- 
cided that I alone should smoke, to help me keep awake; and 
so there should be no ill-feeling, Clousiot refused to light them 
for me, but he did pass me the match. What with this good 
understanding aboard, nothing unpleasant happened at any 
time. 

Now it was six days since we had sailed, and I had not yet 
been able to sleep. But this afternoon I did sleep, the sea being 
as smooth as glass : I slept, flat out, for nearly five hours. It 
was ten in the .evening •when I woke. A flat calm still. They had 
had a meal without me and I found a very well cooked kind of 
polenta made of maize flour - tinned, of course - and I ate it 
with a few smoked sausages. It was delicious. The tea was al- 
most cold, but that didn’t matter in the least. I smoked, waiting 
for the wind to make up its mind to blow. 

The night was wonderfully starlit. The pole star shone with 
all its full brilliance and only the Southern Cross outdid it in 
splendour. The Great and the Little Bear were-particularly clear. 
Not a cloud, and already the full moon was well up in the 



starry sky. The Breton was shivering. He had lost his jacket 
and he was down to his shirt. I lent him the oilskin. 

We began the seventh day. ‘Mates, we can’t be very far from 
Curasao. I have a hunch I made a little too much northing, so 
now I’ll steer due west, because we mustn’t miss the Dutch 
West Indies. That would be serious, now we’ve no fresh water 
left and all the food’s gone except for the reserve.’ 

‘We leave it to you, PapiUon,’ said the Breton. 

‘Yes, we leave it to you,’ said all the others together. ‘You 
do what you think right.’ 

‘Thanks.* 

It seemed to me that what I had said was best. All night long 
the wind had failed us and it was only about'four in the mor- 
ning that a breeze set us moving again. This breeze strength- 
ened during the forenoon, and for thirty -six hours it blew 
strong enough to carry us along at a fair rate, but the waves 
were so gentle we never thumped at all. 


Curasao 


Gulls. First, their cries, because it was still dark, and then the 
birds themselves, wheeling above the boat. One settled on the 
mast, lifted off, then settled again. All this flying around lasted 
three hours and more until the dawn came up, with a brilliant 
sun. Nothing on the horizon showed any hint of land. Where 
the hell did all these gulls and sea-birds come from? Our eyes 
searched throughout the day, and searched in vain. Not the 
least sign of land anywhere near. The full moon rose just as 
the sun was setting; and this tropical moon was so strong that 
its glare hurt my eyes. I no longer had my dark glasses — they 
had gone with that diabolical old wave, as well as all our caps. 
At about, eight o’clock, very far away in this lunar daylight, 
we saw a dark line on the horizon. 

‘That’s land all right,’ said I, the first of us all to say it 

‘Yes, so it is.’ 



In short, everybody agreed that they could see a dark line 
that must be land of some sort AH through the rest of the 
night I kept my bows pointed towards this shadow, which 
grew clearer and clearer. We were getting there. No clouds, 
a strong wind and tall but regular waves, and we were running 
in as fast as we could go. The dark mass did not rise high over 
the water, and there was no way of telling whether the coast 
was cliffs, rocks or beach. The moon was setting on the far 
side of the land, and it cast a shadow that prevented me from 
seeing anything except a line of lights at sea-level, continuous 
at first and then broken. I came closer and closer, and then, 
about half a mile from the shore, I dropped anchor. The wind 
was strong, the boat swung round and faced the waves, which 
it took head-on every time. It tossed us around a great deal 
and indeed it was very uncomfortable. The sails were lowered 
and furled, of course. We might have waited until daylight in 
this unpleasant but safe position, but unhappily the anchor 
suddenly lost its hold. To steer a boat, it has to be moving: 
otherwise the rudder has no bite. We hoisted the jib and 'Stay- 
sail, but then a strange thing happened - the anchor would not 
get a grip again. The others hauled the rope aboard: it came 
in without any anchor. We had lost it. In spite of everything 
I could do the waves kept heaving us in towards the rocks of 
this land in such a dangerous way that I decided to hoist the 
mainsail and run in on purpose - run in fast. This I carried out 
so successfully that there we were, wedged between two rocks, 
with the boat absolutely shattered. No one bawled out in pan- 
ic, but when the next wave came rolling in we all plunged into 
it and ended up on shore, battered, tumbled, soaked, but alive. 
Only Clousiot, with his plastered leg, had a worse time than 
the rest of us. His arm, face and hands were badly scraped. We 
others. bad a few bangs on the knees, bands and ankles. My 
ear had come up against a rock a little too hard, and it was 
dripping with blood. 

Still, there we were, alive on dry land, out of the reach of 
the waves. When day 'broke we picked up the oilskin and I 
turned the boat over — it was beginning to go to pieces. I man- 
aged to wrench the compass from its place in the stem-sheets. 
There was no one where we had been cast up, nor anywhere 
around. We looked at the line of lights, and later we learned 
that they were there to warn fishermen that the place was dan- 
gerous. We walked away, going inland; and we saw nothing. 



only cactuses, huge cactuses, and donkeys. We reached a well 
tired out, for we had had to carry Clousiot, taking turns with 
two of us making a kind of chair with joined hands. Round 
the well there were the dried carcasses of goats and asses. The 
well was empty, and the windmill that had once worked it was 
now turning idly, bringing nothing up. Not a, soul; only these 
goats and donkeys. _ 

We went on to a little house whose open doors invited us 
to walk in. We called out ‘Halool Halool’ Nobody. On the 
chimney-piece a canvas bag with its neck tied by a siring; I 
took it and opened it. As I opened it the string broke - it was 
full of florins, the Dutch currency. So we were on Dutch terri- 
tory : Bonaire, Cura? ao or Aruba. We put the bag back with- 
out touching anything; we found water and each drank in 
turn out of a ladle. No one in the house, no one anywhere near. 
We left, and we were going along very slowly, because of Clou- 
siot, when an old Ford blocked our path. 

'Are you Frenchmen? ’ 

‘Yes, M6nsieur.’ 

‘Get into the car, will you?’ Three got in behind and we 
settled Clousiot on their knees; I sat next to the driver and 
Maturelte next to me. 

‘You've been wrecked?’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘Anyone drowned?’ 

‘No.’ • 

‘Where do you come from?’ 

‘Trinidad.’ 

'And before that?’ 

‘French Guiana.’ 

‘Convicts or relegues?’ 

‘Convicts.’ 


I m Dr. Naal, the owner of this property; it’s a peninsul: 
running out from Curasao. They call it Ass’s Island. Goat 
f” d asses live here, feeding on the cactuses, in spite of the Ion; 
thorns. The common nickname for those thorns is the younj 
ladies of Curagao.’ 

n °u- VC u’ flattering for the real young ladle; 
!l e b!g ’ heavy man !aug hed noisily. With ai 
: gas P th e worn-out Ford stopped of its own accord 
I pointed to a herd of asses and said, ‘if the car can’t managi 
it any more, we can easily have ourselves pulled.’ 




house and then come out of It again. Hes an employee of 

mine - he looks after some of my asses.’ 

‘And just because we went into the house does that mean 
we’re thieves? What you say doesn't make sense, Monsieur; 
all we did was to take some water - you don’t call that theft, 
do you?’ 

‘And what about the bag of florins? ’ 

‘Yes, I did open that bag; and in fact I broke the string as 
I did so. But I most certainly didn’t do anything but look to 
see what kind of money it had in it, and so to find out what 
country we had reached. I scrupulously put the money and the 
bag back where they were, on the chimney-piece.’ . 

The policeman looked me right in the eye, and then turning 
he spoke, to the character on the bicycle very severely. Dr. 
Naal made as though to speak. Harshly, in the German style, 
the superintendent cut him short. Then he made the newcomer 
get into the open car next to the chauffeur, got in himself with 
two policemen and drove off. Naal and the other man who 
had come with him walked into the house with us, 

‘I must explain,’ he said. ‘That man had told me the bag had 
vanished. Before- having - you searched, the superintendent 
questioned him, because he thought he was lying. If you’re 
innocent, I’m very sorry about the whole thing; but it wasn’t 
my fault.' 

Less than a quarter of an hour later the car came back and 
the superintendent said to me, ‘You told the truth: that 
man was a disgusting liar. He will be punished for having tried 
■ to damage you like this.’ Meanwhile the fellow was being 
loaded aboard the black maria: the five others got in too and 
I was about to follow when the superintendent held me back 
and said, ‘Get’ into my car next to the driver.’ We set out ahead, 
of the van and veiy quickly we lost sight of it. We took proper 
macadamed roads and then came to the town with its Dutch- 
looking houses. Everything was very clean,- and most of the 
people were on bicycles — there were hundreds of them coming 
and gbing in every direction. We reached the police-station. 
We went through a big office with a good many policemen in 
it, all dressed in white and each at his own desk, and we came 
to an inner room. It had air-conditioning,- and it was cool. A 
big fat fair-haired man of about forty was sitting there in an 
armchair. He got up and spoke in Dutch. When their first re- 
marks were over the superintendent, speaking French, saii 



This is the chief of police of Curasao. Chief, this Frenchman 
is the leader of the band of six -we’ve just picked up.’ 

‘Very good, Superintendent. As shipwrecked men, you are 
welcome to Curasao. What’s your name?’ 

‘Henri.’ 

‘Well, Henri, you have had a very unpleasant time with this 
business of the bag of money, but from your point of view it’s 
all for the best, because it certainly proves you are an honest 
man. I’ll give you a sunny room with a hunk in it so you can 
get some rest. Your case will be put before the governor and 
he will take appropriate measures. The superintendent and I 
will speak in your favour.’ He shook hands and we left. In the 
courtyard Dr. Naal apologized and promised to use his influ- 
ence on our behalf. Two hours later we were all shut up in a 
very large kind of ward with a dozen beds in it and a long table 
and benches down the middle. Through the open window we 
asked a policeman to buy us tobacco, cigarette-paper and 
matches, with Trinidad dollars. He did not take the money 
and we didn’t understand his reply. 

‘That coal-black character seems too devoted to his duty 
by half,’ said Clousiot. ‘We still haven’t got that tobacco.’ 

I was just about to knock on the door when it opened. A 
little man looking something like a coolie and wearing prison 
uniform with a number on the chest so that there should be no 
mistake, said, ‘Money, cigarettes.’ ‘No. Tobacco, matches and 
paper.’ A few minutes later he came back with all these things 
and with a big steaming pot - chocolate or cocoa. He brought 
bowls too, and we each of us drank one full. 

I was sent for in the afternoon, and I went to the chief of 
police’s office again. 'The governor has given me orders to let 
you walk about in the prison courtyard. Tell your companions 
not to try. to escape, for that would lead to very serious con- 
sequences for all of you. Since you are the leader, you may go 
into the town for two hours every morning, from ten until 
twelve, and then in the afternoon from three until five. Have 
you any money?’ 

‘Yes. English and French.’ 

‘A plain-clothes policeman will go with you wherever you 
choose during your outings.' 

‘What are they going to do to us?’ 

‘1 think we'll try to get you aboard tankers one by one- 
tankers of different nationalities. Curasao has one of the big- 


gest oil refineries In the world: it treats oil from Venezuela, 
and so there are twenty or twenty-five tankers from all coun- 
tries coming and going every day. That would be the ideal 
solution for you, because then you would reach file other 
countries without any sort of difficulty.’ 

. ‘What countries, for example? Panama, Costa Rica, Guate- 
mala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Canada, Cuba, the United State* 
or the countries which have English laws? ’ 

‘Impossible. Europe's just as impossible too. Don’t you 
worry: just you rely on us and let us do our best to help you 
- make a new start in life.’ 

‘Thank you, Chief.’ 

I repeated all this very exactly to my companions. Clousiot, 
the sharpest crook of us all, said, ‘What do you thinV 0 f it, 
Papillon?’ • 


I don t know yet. I m atraid it may be a piece of soap so 
we’ll keep quiet and not escape.’ 

‘I’m afraid you may be right,’ he said. 

The Breton believed in this wonderful scheme. The flat-iron 
gtty was dejghted; he said, ‘No more boats, no more adven- 
tures, and that s for sure. We each of us land up in some coun- 
° ab f °,f d a blg tanker md then we fade right away.’ 

Leblond was of the same opinion. 

'What about you, Maturette? ’ 

demal!v h fiLlf d t„ 0f n j n . eteen - this «ttle wet-leg who had acci- 
finer than a m i iato a convict, this boy with features 

people rcahf fh;^ Se i h ' S gentle voice and sai A ‘And do you 
produce bent r Ke sffuare-headed cops are going to 

forge them? T rinS’f/ 0 ! one °*. us ? Or even actually 
we went off one hv 1 tbe tbey m >sht close their eyes if 
its way oS but nnta- e ’ and ****** sot aboard a tanker on 
so to get rid S ? 0r f -' Md eve ° then they’d only do 
don’t bSeveawK? * headach * « thii.I 

buy things^We^ad^beerf'here 0 ^ and , then in the mornings, to 
happened. We were a Wee ^ now > and nothing had 

we saw three P riS ^T 6 . 10 feeI anxious - One evening 
the cells and wards Thev^nn'^ t Y going round 

nearest to us, where a nL 0pped for a Ion S while in the cell 
thought they might come^to ^ ° f rape was shut up ‘ We 
ward and sat there each n if- 6 H”’ so we vvent back into the 

re, each on hts bed. And indeed afi three of ‘ 



them did come in, together with Dr, Naal, the chief of police 
and someone in a white uniform I took to be a naval officer. 

‘Monseigneur, here are the Frenchmen,’ said the chic/ of 
police in French. ‘Their behaviour has been excellent.’ 

‘I congratulate you, my sons. Let us sit down on the benches 
round this table; we shall be able to talk better like that.’ 
Everyone sat down, including the people who were with the 
bishop. They brought a stool that stood by the door in the 
courtyard and put it at the head of the table. That way the 
bishop could see everybody. ‘Nearly all Frenchmen are Catho- 
lics: is there any one among you who is not?’ Nobody put up 
his hand. It seemed to me that I too ought to look upon myself 
as a Catholic. ‘My friends, ! descend from a French family. 
My name is Ir£n6e de Bruyne. My people were Huguenots, 
Protestants who fled to Holland at the time Catherine de Medi- 
a's was hunting them down. So I am a Frenchman by blood. 
I am the bishop of Curasao, a town where there are more Pro- 
testants than Catholics, but where the Catholics are very zeal- 
ous and attentive to their duties. What is your position?’ 

‘We are waiting to be put aboard tankers, one by one.' 

‘How many of you have left in this way?’ 

‘None, so far.’ 

'Hmm. What have you to say to that. Chief? Be so kind as 
to answer in French - you speak it so well.’ 

‘Monseigneur, the governor really did have the idea of help- 
ing these men in this way, but in all frankness I must tell you 
that so far not a single captain has agreed to take one, princi- 
pally because they have no passports.’ 

‘That’s where we must start, then. Couldn’t the governor 
give each one a special passport for the occasion?’ 

‘I don’t know. He’s never talked to me about that.’ 

‘The day after tomorrow I shall say a mass for you. Would 
you like to come to confession tomorrow afternoon? T’H con- 
fess you myself - I’ll do all T can for you so that the good Lord 
will forgive your sins. Is it possible for you to have these men 
sent to the cathedral at three o’clock?’ 

‘Yes.’ 

T should like them to come in a taxi or a private car.’ 

‘I’ll bring them myself. Monseigneur,’ said Dr. Naal. 

‘Thank you. My sons. I promise you nothing. Just one per- 
fectly true word - from now on I shall try to be as useful to 
you as I possibly can.’ 



When we saw Naal kiss his ring and then the Breton do the 
same we all touched it with our lips and went with him as far 
as his car, which was parked in the' courtyard. _ 

The next day everybody went to the bishop for confession. 
I was the last. . . 

'Come, my son, let us begin with the gravest sin.’ 

. ‘Father, to begin with I’m not baptized; but a priest in the 
prison in France told me that whether you were baptized or 
not, everyone was God’s child.’ 

■He was right. Very well. Let.us leave the confessional and 
you can tell me all about it.’ 

I told him the story of my life in detail. At great length, 
patiently and very attentively this prince of the Church list- 
ened to me without interrupting. He took my hands in his and 
often he looked me full in the face; and then sometimes, when 
I came to massages that were hard to bring out, he lowered his 
eyes to help me in my confession. This sixty-year-old priest’s 
eyes and face were so pure that there was an almost child-like 
'■eflection. in them. The transparent cleanliness of his soul 
(full of boundless kindness, I was sure) shone in all his feat- 
ures; and the gaze of his pale grey eyes entered into me, as 
soothing as balm to a wound. Gently, very gently, and still 
holding my hands in his, he spoke to me in so quiet a voice 
tiiat it was almost a whisper. ‘God sometimes requires His 
children to bear with human wickedness so that the one He 
has chosen as a victim may emerge stronger and nobler than 
before. Reflect, my son : if you had not been forced to under- 
go this calvary you would never have been able to raise your- 
self to such heights or to bring yourself so close to divine 
truth. I will go even farther. The people, the system, the work- 
ings of this horrible machine that has ground you down, and 
the fundamentally evil beings who in their different ways have 
tormented and harmed you, have in fact done you the greatest 
service they possibly could. They have brought a new person 
into being inside you, better than the first; and it is to .them 
that you owe it that now you possess a sense of honour, kind- 
ness and charity, as well as the will-power needed to conquer 
all these difficulties and to become a finer man. In a person like 
you these notions of revenge cannot prosper: nor can the idea 
of punishing each one according to the harm he has done you. 
You must be a saver of men. You must not live to hurt others, 
even though you may think it justified. God has been open- 



handed towards you; He has said to you “Help yourself, and 
I will help you”. He has helped you in everything, and He has 
even allowed you to save others and to bring them to freedom. 
Above all, do not suppose that the sins you have committed 
are so very grave. There are plenty of highly-placed people 
who are guilty of much more serious misconduct than yours. 
Yet the punishment inflicted by human justice has not given 
them the opportunity of rising above themselves as you have 
done,’ 

‘Thank you, Father. You have done me an enormous 
amount of good : it will last me all my life. I shall never forget 
it.’ And I kissed his hands. 

*You must set off again, my son, and come face to face with 
other perils. I should like to christen you before you go. What 
do you say?’ 

Tather, leave me like this for a moment. My father brought 
me up without any religion. He has a heart of gold. When 
Maman died he somehow managed to take her place, with all 
the things a mother would say or do, and all a mother’s affec- 
tion. It seems to me that if I let myself be christened, I should 
somehow be betraying him. Just let me be completely free for 
a while, with a proper set of papers and an ordinary way of 
earning my living, so that when I write to him I can ask wheth- 
er I can leave his philosophy - whether I can be christened 
without grieving him.’ 

‘I understand, my son, and I am sure God is with you. I give 
you myblessing and I beg that God will protect you.' 

‘There, 1 said Dr. Naal, *you see how Monseigneur Tr6n6e de 
Bruyne’s sermon shows you the whole man himself?’ 

‘Certainly I do. Tell me, what are you thinking of doing 
now?’ 

‘I am going to ask the governor to give orders for me to 
have the preference in the next sale of confiscated smuggling 
boats. You will come with me to tell me your opinion and 
pick the one you think most suitable. For the rest, stores and 
clothes, it will be easy. 1 

From the day of the bishop’s sermon we had a constant 
flow of visitors, particularly at about six in the evening. They 
Xvcrc people who wanted to know us. They sat on the benches 
by the table and each brought something that he would put 
down on a bed and leave, without saying anything about it. 



About two in the afternoon the Little Sisters of the Poor would 
appear, accompanied by their Superior, they spoke French 
very well. .Their basket was always full of good things they 
had cooked themselves. The Mother Superior was very young 
- less than forty. You could not see her hair, because it was 
hidden under her white coif, but her eyes were blue and her 
eyebrows fair. She belonged to a great family in Holland (Dr. 
Naal told us) and she had written home to see whether some- 
thing could be done for us instead .of our being sent off to sea 
again. We spent some pleasant, hours together and she would 
ask me to tell the story of our escape. Sometimes she would 
ask me to tell the nuns who came with her and who spoke 
French. And if I forgot a detail or skipped it she would gently 
call me to order. ‘Henri, not so fast. You have skipped the 
story of the hocco . . . Why are you forgetting the ants today? 
The^ are very important, since it was because of the ants that 
the Masked Breton came upon you by surprise.' T tell all this, 
because those were such gentle, kindly moments and so wholly 
unlike everything we had lived through that our horrible rot- 
ting former life seemed to be lit up by a heavenly light and to 
become unreal. 

I saw the boat, a splendid twenty-five-foot craft with a deep 
keel, a very long mast and a hugd spread of sail. It.was per- ' 
fectly designed for smuggling. It was fully equipped, but there 
were wax customs seals all over it. At the auction someone 
began the bidding at six thousand florins, or round about a 
thousand dollars. To cut the story short, after a few whispered 
words between this man and Dr. Naal they let us have it for 
six thousand and one florins. 

In five days we were ready. Newly painted and crammed 
with stores all carefully stowed below, this half-decked boat 
was a kingly gift. A suitcase for each man, six suitcases filled 
with new clothes, .shoes and everything necessary, were lined 
. U P in a waterproof tarpaulin and then stowed on the deck. 



The Prison at Rio Hacha 


We left at dawn. The doctor and the nuns came to say good- 
bye. We slipped our moorings easily; the wind took us right 
away and we sailed out of the. harbour. A brilliant sun came 
up and we had an untroubled day before us. In no time I found 
that the boat had too much in the way of sail and not enough 
ballast. I made-up my mind to be very cautious. We raced 
along: from the point of view of speed this boat was a 
thoroughbred but she was both touchy and nervous. I steered 
due west. 

It had been decided that we should land our three passen- 
gers from Trinidad illegally on the coast of Colombia. They 
wouldn’t have anything whatever to do with a long voyage; 
they said they trusted in me all right, but not in the weather. 
And in fact the forecasts in the papers we had read in prison 
spoke of storms and even hurricanes.' I acknowledged they 
were within their rights and it was agreed we should land them 
on a barren, uninhabited peninsula called Goajira. As for us, 
-we should set off again for British Honduras. 

The weather was magnificent, and the starlit night with a 
brilliant half moon made our scheme for landing them all the 
easier. We ran straight for the Colombian coast: I dropped 
anchor and foot by foot we sounded to see when they could 
go ashore. Unhappily the water was very deep and we had to 
go dangerously close to the rocky coast before we had less 
than five feet. We shook hands: each of them got out, stood 
there in the sea with his suitcase on his head, and waded to the 
land. We watched them closely and rather sadly. They were 
companions who had faced up to things w'ell; they had never 
let us down at any time. It was a pity they were leaving the 
boat. While they were making their way ashore the wind drop- 
ped entirely. Hell! What if we were seen from the village 
shown on the map - the village called Rio Hacha? That was 
the nearest port- with police in it. Let’s hope not. I had the 
feeling we were much nearer than we had meant to be, because 
of that lighthouse on the headland we had just passed. 

Wait, wait . . . The three men had disappeared, having waved 
good-bye with a white handkerchief. A breeze, for God’s sake! 
A breeze to carry us away from this Colombian coast: for as 



far as we were concerned the country was one big question 
mark. No one knew whether they handed escaped prisoners 
back or not. All three of us would rather have the certainty 
of British Honduras than this unknown Colombia, ft was not 
until three in the afternoon that there was a wind and we were 
able to get under way. I set everything, and with perhaps too 
much aboard we sailed along for a couple of hours: then a 
launch filled with men appeared, steering straight for us and 
firing shots in the air to make us stop. I ran on without obey- 
ing, trying to get out to sea, out of territorial waters. Impos- 
sible. The powerful launch caught up with us in less than an 
hour and a half’s chase, and with ten rifles pointing at us we 
were forced to surrender. 

The soldiers or maybe policemen who had arrested us all 
had much the same look: they all wore dirty trousers that had 
once been white and ragged singlets that had never been 
washed at any time, and they were all of them, except for. the 
‘captain’, barefoot - be was better dressed and cleaner. But 
although they were badly dressed they were very well armed: 
a full cartridge-belt round their waists, well-kept rifles and a 
long sheathed dagger into the bargain, the hilt just at hand. 
The one they called captain looked like a half-caste and a 
murderer. He had a heavy revolver, and he too wore it with a 
well-filled bandolier. As they only spoke Spanish we could not 
make out their meaning, but neither their looks nor their mo- 
tions nor their tone of voice were friendly: far from it. 

We walked from the harbour to the prison, going through 
the village, which was indeed Rio Hacha, escorted by six 
toughs with three more a couple of paces .behind, their guns 
trained on us. It was not the most friendly of welcomes. 

We reached the courtyard .of a prison with a little wall round 
it. There were about twenty dirty, bearded prisoners sitting 
about or standing, and they looked at us with hostile eyes. 
Vamos, vamos'.’ We understood the soldiers to mean. ‘Come 
on, come on,’ which was hard for us, because although Clou- 
siot was a good deal better he still had to walk on the iron in ■ 
his plastered leg and he could not go fast. The ‘captain’ had 
stayed behind and now he caught us up with the compass and 
the oilskin under his arm. He was eating our biscuits and 
chocolate and we instantly grasped that we were going to be 
stripped bare. And we weren’t mistaken, either. They shut us 
up in a filthy room with heavy bars over the window. There 



were some planks on the ground with a kind of wooden pillow 
beside them; those were the beds. A prisoner came to the win- 
dow after the police had left and called to us, ‘Frenchmen, 
Frenchmen!’ 

'What do you want?* 

Trenchmen, no good, no good.* 

*Who do you mean, no good?’ 

‘Police.’ 

'Police?* 

‘Yes, police are no good.’ 

And he disappeared. Night fell; the room was lit by a bulb 
that must have been of a very low voltage, for it gave hardly 
any light. Mosquitoes buzzed round our ears and got into our 
noses. 

■Well, a fine mess we’re ini It’s going to cost us a packet, 
having landed those guys.’ 

That’s how it is : we couldn’t tell. The real thing was there 
W 2 s no wind.’ 

Wou went in too close,* said Clousiot. 

‘lust you shut your trap, will you? This is no time for 
blame: this is when we’ve got to back one another up. We’ve 
got to hold together now more than ever.’ 

‘Sorry: you're right, Papi. It was nobody’s fault.’ 

Oh, it would be too unfair if the break were to come to an 
end here, so wretchedly, after we’d had such a struggle. They 
had not searched us. I had my charger in my pocket and I 
hurriedly stuffed it up. So did Clousiot. We had been wise not 
to throw them away. In any case they were watertight wallets, 
^7 to carry, and they took up very little room. According to 
m y wa{ ch it was eight in the evening. They brought us some 
darfc brown sugar, a lump the size of your fist for each man, 
and three what you might call gobs of boiled and salted rice, 
fiuenas r.oches.’ “That must mean good night,’ said Maturette. 

At seven the next day they gave us very good coffee in woo- 
den bowls out there in the courtyard. At about eight the cap- 
kin came by. I asked him for permission to go to the boat to 
wtch our things. He either didn’t understand or be pretended 
no * to. The more I saw him the more he seemed to me to have 
l murdering kind of a face. On the left-hand side of bit Wt 
.f j ^ a f-'ttle bottle in a leather case : he took it out unco* 
ft .rcoathfuU spat and offered it to me. Tte 
ner *dT' gesture we had seen, so I took it && 



tunately I had only poured a very little into my mouth - it was 
liquid fire and it tasted like methylated spirits. Quickly I swal- 
lowed and began to cough, which made this half-black half- 
Indian laugh very cheerfully. 

At ten o’clock several civilians appeared, dressed in white 
and wearing ties. There were six or seven of them, and they 
went into a building that seemed to be the prison’s adminis- 
trative centre. We were sent for. They were all sitting there in 
a semicircle in a room dominated by the picture of a very much 
decorated white officer - President Alfonso Lopez of Colom- 
bia. One of these gentlemen made Clousiot sit down, speaking 
to him in French; the rest of us remained standing. A thin, 
hook-nosed party in the middle who wore half-glasses began 
questioning me. The interpreter interpreted none of it but 
said to me, ‘The man who has just spoken and who is going to 
interrogate you is the magistrate of the town of Rio Hacha; 
the others are prominent citizens, friends of his. I’m a Haitian, 
and I look after the electricity in these parts; I act as inter- 
preter. I believe some of the people here understand a little 
French, though they don’t say so. Maybe even the magistrate.’ 

This preamble made the magistrate impatient, and he broke 
in with his interrogation in Spanish. The Haitian translated the 
questions and answers as they came. 

’Are you French?’ ‘ 

’Yes.’ , 

•Where do you come from?’- 

‘Curafao.’ 

'And before that?’ 

‘Trinidad.’ 

‘And before that? ’ 


‘Martinique.’ , - 

T> j c Y ° u ’ re If" 8 ' f f ore 111311 a week ago our consul in Curasao 
™" a " led tll3 t the coast should be watched because six men 

to trv to i Cs j H . pe ^ rom ^ e F renc h penal settlement were going 
to try to land in our country.’ 

*AU right. We did escape from the penal settlement.’ 

You re a Cayenero, then? ’ 

•Yes.’ 


If so noble a country as France sent you so far and du 

SiSSST* k — be T. y °° » %*£ 


‘Maybe.’ 


14/1 



Theft or murder?’ 

'Manslaughter/ 

'Killing - it’s all one. So you are matadors, then? Where are 
the other three?’ 

‘They stayed in Curasao/ 

•You’re lying again. You landed them thirty-five miles from 
here in a region called Castillette. Fortunately they have been 
arrested and 'they’ll be here in a few hours. Did you steal the 
boat?’ 

‘No. The Bishop of Curasao gave it us as a present,’ 

'All right. You’ll stay in prison here untfl the governor has 
made up his mind what is to be done with you. For the crime 
of landing three of your accomplices on Colombian territory 
and then trying to put out to sea again, I sentence you, the 
captain of the vessel, to three months imprisonment, and the 
other two to one month. You had better behave, if you don’t 
want the police to inflict corporal punishment - they are very 
severe men. Have you anything to say?’ 

*No. I should just like to collect my belongings and the stores 
aboard the boat.’ 

'That’s all confiscated by the customs, except for one pair 
of trousers, one shirt, one jacket and a pair of shoes for each 
man. All the rest is confiscated, so don’t make a fuss. There’s 
nothing to be said - it’s the law.’ 

Everyone went out into the courtyard. The wretched local 
prisoners clustered round the magistrate, clamouring T)octor, 
Doctor!’ He pushed right through them, swollen with his own 
importance, neither replying nor stopping. They walked out 
of the prison and disappeared. 

At one o’clock our three friends arrived in a lorry, with 
seven or eight armed men. They got out, carrying their suit- 
cases and looking thoroughly downcast. We went back indoors 
with them. 

‘What a bloody awful mistake we made - and made you 
make/ said the Breton. There’s nothing to be said for us, 
Papillon. If you want to kill me, go right ahead: I shan’t raise 
a finger. We aren’t men: we’re a set of pouffes. We did it be- 
cause we were afraid of the sea. Well, after the glimpse I’ve had 
of Colombia and the Colombians, the perils of the sea are a 
fun-fair compared with the perils of being in the hands of these 
buggers. Was it because there was no wind thev copped you?' 

'That’s right, Breton. There’s no call for me to kill anyone: 



we all got it wrong. All I had to do was to refuse to land you 

and nothing would have happened.’ 

‘You're too good, Papi.’ 

‘No. I’m fair, that’s all.’ I told them about the interrogation. 
'So in the end maybe the governor will let us go.’ 

'Bloody likely. Still,' let’s hope, since hope is what keeps you 
going, as the guy said in the story.’ • - ‘ 

As l saw it the authorities of this half-civilized hole could 
not decide upon our case. It was only much higher up that it 
would be laid down whether wc could 'stay in Colombia, or 
whether we were to be handed back to France, or whether we 
should be put back in our boat to go farther off. It would be 
hellish unjust if these people were to take the worst decision, 
for after all we had done them no barm and we hadn’t com- 
mitted the slightest crime in their country. 

Wc had been here a week now. No change of any kind apart 
from some talk of sending us under strong guard to. a larger 
town called Santa Marta, a hundred and twenty -five miles 
away. These savage, piratical-looking police had not changed 
their attitude towards us. Yesterday I was on the very edge of 
being shot by one, just for having snatched my soap back 
from him in the wash-house. We were still in this room stiff 
with mosquitoes, but fortunately it was riithcr cleaner than 
the way we found it, thanks to Maturettc and the Breton 
scrubbing -it out every day. I began to despair, to lose confi- 
dence. These Colombians, this mixed race of Indians and Neg- 
roes, and Indians and the Spaniards who were once masters 
here, made me feel like giving up. A Colombian prisoner lent 
me an old Santa Marta paper. On the front page there were 
photos of us six and the police-captain underneath, wearing 
his huge felt hat and with a cigar in his mouth. And there was 
a picture of nine or ten police all armed with their rifles too. 
I gathered that the whole thing had been jazzed up and their 
part in it made much more dramatic. Anyone would have 
thought the whole of Colombia had been preserved from some 
terrible danger by our arrest.' And yet the picture of the vil- 
lains was pleasanter to look at than the one of the police. The 
villains really looked quite like decent people, whereas the 
police - oh. pardon me! You had only to look at the captain 
and your ramd was made up. What were we to do? I began to 



learn a few words of Spanish. Escape, fugarse; prisoner, preso; 
kill, matar, chain , cadcncr, handcuffs, esposas , man, Itombrr, 
woman, mujer. 


The Break from Rio Hacha 


I made friends with a guy in the courtyard who wore hand- 
cuffs all the time. We smoked the same cigar; it was long, thin 
and terribly strong, but at least it was a smoke. I gathered he 
was a smuggler working between Venezuela and the island of 
Aruba. He was accused of having killed some coastguards and 
he was awaiting his trial. Some days he was wonderfully calm 
and then on others he would be all on edge and nervous. 
Finally I noticed that the calm days were when he chewed 
some leaves he was brought. One day he gave me half of one 
of these leaves and straight -away I understood what it was all 
about. My. tongue, palate and lips lost all feeling. These were 
the leaves of the coca plant. He was a man of thirty-five; his 
arms were hairy and his chest was covered with a mat of very 
black curly fur; he must have been most uncommonly strong. 
There was such a layer of thick horny skin on the soles of his 
bare feet that I often saw him pull out bits of glass or a nail 
which had gone right in without reaching the flesh. 

*Fuga, you and me,’ I said to the smuggler one afternoon. 
Once when the Haitian had come to see me I had asked him 
for a French-Spanish dictionary. The smuggler got my mean- 
ing and with a gesture he showed me he’d certainly like to 
escape, but what about the handcuffs? They were American 
handcuffs with a ratchet. They had a slot for the key, and the 
key must certainly be of the flat sort. With a piece of wire, 
flattened at the end, the Breton made me a hook. After several 
tries l could open my new friend’s handcuffs whenever I wan- 
ted. He spent the night by himself in a calabozo (cell) wkc-=. 
bars were fairly thick. In ours they were thin, and they 



be bent for sure. So there would be only one bar to saw 
through - one of those in Antonio’s cell (the Colombian was 
called Antonio); ‘How can we get a sacette (saw)?’ 'Plata 
(money).’ 'Cuanto (how much)?’ ‘A hundred pesos.’ ‘Dollars?’ 
Ten.’ To cut it short, he got two hacksaw blades with the ten 
dollars 1 gave him. Drawing on the ground in the yard I 
showed him how he was to mix the metal sawdust with the 
cooked rice they gave us and carefully cover up the slit every 
time he had sawed any depth. At the last moment, just before 
we all went in for the night, I used to open one of his hand- 
cuffs. In case they were checked, all he had to do was to push 
on it for it to shut automatically. He took three nights to saw 
through the bar. He told me he could finish the cut in under a 
minute and that he was sure he could bend it' over with his 
hands. He was to come and fetch me. 

. It often rained, and he said that the 'primera noche de 
lluvia (the first rainy night)’ he would come. That very night it 
started pouring down. My friends knew what I was up to : not 
one of them wanted to accompany me, because they thought 
, the region I meant to go to was too far. I wanted to reach the 
tip of the Colombian peninsula on the Venezuelan frontier. 

. ' Our map showed this part under the name of Goajira, and 
said it was disputed territory, neither Colombian nor Venezue- 
lan. The Colombian said that 'eso es la tierra de los Indios 
*' (this was Indian country)’ and that there' were no police in 
those parts, neither Colombian nor Venezuelan. Just a few 
smugglers passed through. It was dangerous, because the Goa- 
jira Indians would not allow a civilized man into their coun- 
try. The farther inland, the more dangerous they were. There 
were fishing Indians on the coast, and these ones traded with 
the village of Castillette and a hamlet called La Vela through 
some rather more civilized Indians. Antonio himself didn’t 
.want to go there. Either he or his friends had killed some In- 
dians during a battle that was fought when a boat filled with 
contraband took refuge on their coast by force one day. But 
Antonio undertook to lead me very near to Goajira, and after 
that I was to go on alone. I don’t have to tell you how tedious 
it was, working all this out, because he used words that weren’t 
in the dictionary. 

So that night it was pouring with rain. There I was, standing 
near the window. Long before this a plank had been wrenched 
free from the bed-platform: we were going to use it as a lever 



to force the bars apart. We had made a trial two nights be- 
fore, and we had seen they gave easily. 

‘Listo (ready).’ Antonio’s face appeared, stuck between the 
bars. Helped by Maturette and the Breton, I not only wren- 
ched the bar aside with a single heave, but even unseated its 
bottom end. They shoved me up, and before I vanished they 
slapped my buttocks hard. This was my friends' good-bye. 
We were in the yard. The torrential rain made a hellish din as 
it thundered down on the corrugated iron roofs. Antonio 
took me by the hand and led me to the wall. Getting over it 
was child’s play - it was. only six feet high. Nevertheless I cut 
my hand on ope of the bits of glass on top: it was nothing - 
let’s go. Antonio, that phenomenon, could somehow guide 
himself through the downpour that prevented us from seeing 
anything ten feet away. He made the most of it and went right 
through the village itself; then we took a road between the 
bush and the coast. Very late that night we saw a light. We had 
to make a long detour through the bush before coming back 
to the road - fortunately it was not very thick. We walked on 
through the rain until daybreak. When we set out he had 
given me a coca-leaf and I chewed on it just as I had seen him 
do in prison. I was not at all tired when daylight came. Was it 
the leaf? It certainly was. We went on walking in spite of the 
light. From time to time he lay down and set his ear to the 
streaming ground. And then we’d go on again. 

He had an odd way of getting along. It was neither running 
nor walking, but in a series of little jumps one after another, 
all the same length, with his arms out as though he was rowing 
through the air. He must have heard something, because he 
pulled me into the bush. It was still raining. And true enough, 
before our eyes there appeared a roller pulled by a tractor, 
to flatten the earth on the road, no doubt. 

Half past ten in the morning. The rain had stopped and the 
sun had come out. We went into the bush after having walked 
nearly a mile on the grass and not on the road. We lay there 
under a very thick tuft, surrounded by dense, thorny vegeta- 
tion : it seemed to me we had nothing to fear, and yet Antonio 
wouldn’t let me smoke or even talk in a whisper. As Antonio 
swallowed the juice of his leaves all the time, I did the same, 
only rather less. He had a bag with more than twenty in it, 
and he showed it to me. His splendid teeth shone in the 
shadow as he laughed. There were mosquitoes everywhere, 



he chewed a cigar and with spit full of nicotine we daubed our 
faces and hands. After that they left us in peace. Seven in the 
evening. Night had fallen but there was too much moon light- 
ing the road. He pointed to nine o’clock on my‘ watch and 
said ‘lluvia (rain).’ I grasped that at nine o’clock it was going 
to rain. And in fact at nine o’clock it did rain and we set off 
again. So as not to keep him back I learnt the knack of skip- 
ping along and rowing with my arms. It was not difficult, and 
without actually running I still got along faster than a quick 
walk. During the night we had to go into the bush three times 
to let a car, a lorry and a little cart pulled by two asses go by. 
Thanks to the coca-leaves I did not fee] at all tired when day 
broke. The rain stopped at eight o’clock and then we did the 
same thing all over again - about a mile on the grass and then 
into the bush to hide. The awkward thing about these leaves 
was that they prevented you from sleeping. We had not had a 
wink since the beginning of the break. Antonio’s pupils were 
so dilated that there was no iris left. No doubt mine were the 
same. 

Nine in the evening. It was raining. Anyone would have 
said the rain waited for this time of night to start. Later on I 
learnt that in the tropics, when it starts raining at such and 
such a time, it’ll go on doing so until the change of the moon 
- it’ll start at that time and- stop at just thesame time too. 
When we began walking that night we heard voices and we 
saw lights. ‘Castillette,’ said Antonio. Without any hesitation 
this phenomenon took me by the hand; we went back into 
the bush, and after more than two hours of hard going we 
hit the road once more. We marched, or rather bounded 
along all the rest of that night and a good deal of the next 
morning. The sun dried our clothes on us. It was three days 
now that we had been soaked, and three days since we had 
eaten anything apart from a lump of brown sugar the first 
day. Antonio seemed almost certain we shouldn’t meet with 
any evilly-disposed people now. He went along quite care- 
free, and it was hours since he had put his ear to the ground. 
Here the road ran along by the shore. Antonio cut himself a 
branch, we left the road and walked along the wet sand. An- 
tonio stopped to look closely at a broad flattened track on 
the beach; it was about two feet wide and it ran up out of the 
sea to the dry sand. We followed it and. reached a place 
where the track spread out into a circle. Antonio thrust his 



stick in. When he pulled It out there was something yellow 
sticking to it, like the yolk of an egg. 1 helped him make a 
hole, digging the sand away with our hands, and there indeed 
were eggs, three or four hundred - I can’t tell how many. 
They were turtle eggs. They had no shells, only a skin. An- 
tonio took off his shirt and we filled it full, maybe a hundred of 
them. We left the beach and crossed the road to hide in the 
bush. When we were quite hidden we began eating - the yelks 
only, as Antonio showed me. He ripped the skin with his wolf- 
ish'tceth, let the white run out and then swallowed the yolk: 
one for him,' one for me. He opened a great many, always one 
for him and one for me. When we had eaten to the point of 
• bursting we both lay down, rolling up our jackets for pillows. 
Antonio said, ‘ Manana tu sigues solo dos dias mas. De mahana 
cn adelante no hay policias (Tomorrow you go on by your- 
self for two more days. From tomorrow on there will be no 
more police).’ 

At ten that evening, the last frontier post. We recognized 
it by the barking of the dogs and by a little house stuffed with 
lights. Antonio avoided it all with wonderful skill. Then we 
went on all night without taking any precautions whatsoever. 
It was not a wide road; indeed it was not much more than a 
track; but you felt it was quite well used, because there was 
absolutely no grass growing on it. This path was about two 
feet across, and it ran along the edge of the bush, some six 
feet above the shore; and here and there you could see the 
marks of horses’ or asses’ hoofs. Antonio sat down on a broad 
root and motioned to me to sit down too. The sun was beat- 
ing down good and hard. According to my watch it was eleven 
o’clock, but by the sun it must have been noon - a twig 
pushed into the ground made no shadow at all. So noon it 
was, and I altered my watch accordingly. Antonio emptied 
bis bag of coca-leaves. There were seven of them. He gave me 
four and kept .three. I went a little way into the bush and came 
back with a hundred and fifty Trinidad dollars and sixty 
florins and held them out to him. He stared at ms with great 
astonishment and touched the notes: he couldn’t understand 
how they could look so new or how they bad never got wet, 
since he had never seen me drying them. He thanked me, hold- 
ing all the notes in his hand: he thought for a long while and 
then took six five-florin notes - that is thirty florins altogether 
~ a nd gave me back the rest. I pressed him, but he would not 


accept any more. At this point something changed in his mind. 
It had been decided that we were going to part here, but now 
he looked as though he was going to stay with me for another 
day. I understood him to say that after that he would turn , 
back. Right. When we had swallowed a few -more egg-yolks 
and lit a cigar - it took more than half an hour of beating two 
stones together to kindle a little dry moss - we set off once 

more. ' . , 

We had been going three hours when we reached a long 
straight piece of path, and there, coming directly towards us, 
was a man on a horse. He was wearing a huge straw hat and 
long boots, no trousers, but a kind of leather slip, a green 
shirt and a faded jacket, a more or less military jacket; and 
that was green too. For weapons he had a very fine rifle and 
an enormous revolver in his belt. 

'Caramba! Antonio, Mjo mio (my son) 1 * Antonio had re- 
cognized the horseman from a great way off; he hadn’t said 
anything to me, but it was perfectly obvious. The big copper- 
coloured guy - he was at least forty - got down from his horse 
and they thumped one another’s shoulders. Later I often came 
across this way of embracing. 

•Who’s this?’ 

'Companero de fuga (fellow-escaper). A Frenchman.’ 

Where are you going?’ 

'As near as possible to the fishing Indians. He wants to go 
through the Indian country so as to get into Venezuela. There 
he means to find some way of going back to Curapao or 
Aruba.’ 

‘Goajira Indian bad,’ said the man. 'You are not armed. 
Toma (take this).’ He gave me a dagger with a polished horn ' 
handle and its leather sheath. We sat down at the edge of the 
path. I took off my shoes : my feet were all bloody. Antonio 
and the horeeman spoke fast; it was clear they didn’t like my 
idea, of going through Goajira. Antonio made a sign that I 
was to get on to the horse : with my shoes hung over my shoul- 
der my feet could stay bare and my wounds would dry. He 
conveyed all this to me by gestures. The horseman mounted, 
Antonio shook my hand, and before - 1 had grasped what was 
happening there I was astride the horse, galloping off behind 
Antonio’s friend. We galloped all that day and all that night. 
From time to time we stopped and he would pass me a bottle 
of anis: each time I drank a little. At daybreak he reined in. 



The sun rose: he gave me a piece of cheese as hard as a stone 
»nd two biscuits, six leaves of coca and (as a present) a special 
waterproof bag to carry them in, hung from one’s belt. He 
clasped me in his arms, thumping my shoulders as I had seen 
him do with Antonio, got on to' his horse again and galloped 
oil at full speed. 


The Indians 


I walked until one in the afternoon. There was no more bush, 
not so much as a single tree on the horizon. The brilliant sea 
glittered under a blazing sun. I walked barefoot with my shoes 
still slung over my left shoulder. Just when I had made up 
my mind to lie down it seemed to me that I could make out 
five or six trees or perhaps rocks, lying well back from the 
shore. I tried to judge the distance: six miles, maybe. I picked 
/out a large half -leaf, and chewing it I set off again, going quite 
fast. An hour later I could see what these things were for sure 
- huts with roofs thatched either with straw or light-brown 
leaves. Smoke was coming out of one of them. Then I saw 
people. They had seen me. One group was waving and calling 
out in the direction of the sea : I could hear and see them 
plainly. And now I saw four boats coming in fast and about 
ten men getting out of them. Everybody was gathered in front 
of the huts, looking towards me. I could clearly see that the 
men and women were naked, wearing only something that 
filing down to hide their private parts. I walked slowly to- 
wards them. There were three men leaning on their bows, 
and they had arrows in their hands. Not a movement, either 
of friendship or of enmity. A barking dog came rushing furi- 
ously out at me. It bit me low down on the calf, carrying away 
, ? P ,cce of my, trousers. As it was coming in to attack me 
it was hit behind by a little arrow that came from I cow-^ 

‘ Jell where (later I leamt it was a blow-pipe); it fled 




cere of the hovecs, I came nearer,, hnp- 


*"• - " *x 

■;. -vj.3 brrcr. ne hadly. Nw I vss no more than tea 

„ J_l— "■^-;. prOSO-Not O'C Cl them had StiTted Ot Spoken? 
X ^vy. a^- sxc behind them mothers. They had splendid 
^ar^ir raked bodies, the colour of copper. The wsa had 
juror, e-out breasts with huge tips. Only one had * 


*~“rr*- T" 


bsrvw.s^cmgbcsom. . , 

Tbs athrede of one o: the men was so nohit, his features 
■ -SssKSt and he was so obviously of a superior 


tr*““£ S3 


bit I went 


towards him. He had neither bow nov 


amoves. Ke was the same height ns me; his hair was carefully 
cut with * heavy fringe st the level of his eyebrows. His hair 

V5« VI' — •*■.-».*» fho h »> .•'l- ?♦ ■>»••** .4 * .0 . „ _ _ V ».v .... 


i fits ears, for at the back it came down as far as their lobes; 
it was as black as jet. almost purple. Iron-trey eyes. No hair on 


«*-* **• >«' — ’ — *# i ■ r *• >.i vj v > vo> ixv ttivii x m 

his chest nor on hts arms nor on his leys. Strony, muscular 
thighs and well-turned, delicate, copper-coloured leys. His feet 
were bare. Three yards from him, 1 stopped. He took two 
pares forward and looked me full in the. face, lire inspection 
lasted two minutes. Not the least movement on his visage - it 
was like a copper statue with almond eyes. Then lie smiled «ml 
touched me on the shoulder. And now everybody came end 

In l Su!f I « dian Wmat » took me by the ham 
im d the w Vf rnv^ shadc ° nc of 1hc hu,s - There she puxhet 
m An n held n ?*v E \' cryonc s «t ‘town in a circle raum 
Mv ww of lmnl ;! a !! c '® an 1 ,ook h began to smoke 
with them both m / tlCm a " burst out laughing; to 
their mout^ ^ 1? / 0mcn smokc with the lit end inskh 
.X u lnK .lu ^ n ° ,0n! -' cr bleeding, but a piect 

Tlm ounr von fn m ' ,icce '«nd been taken out 

thimt wis Quim b,r? ? ,! bc hairs - hud when every 
that n little Indian rir) i* . Was ' c{1 the place with sen WAtCI 
She 4.Sd £ 2£V bLTZur 0 fCtCh - At ibe.aamc time 

£*& t££& u T, c , oC sh » ot CS 2SJ& 

s r ttStT s\ *rr swas " 

;t‘ 155 

ffiS-3^" , SS5S 

* s,0 “’ i»‘ “ » •■> “» SZLtZZZS! X 


15 r. 



tom from my trousers. She was pleased with her work, and 
she motioned me to get up. 

I rose, taking off my jacket. As I did so, she saw the butter- 
fly tattooed low on my back - it showed in the opening of my 
shirt. She looked closely, and then finding other tattooes she 
took my shirt off herself to see them better. All of them, men 
and women too, were deeply interested in the designs on my 
chest: on the right, a soldier of a punishment-battalion: on 
the left, a woman’s face; on my stomach, a tiger’s head; on 
my backbone, a big crucified sailor, and right across the 
lower part of my back, a tiger-hunt with hunters, palm-trees, 
elephants and tigers. When they saw these tattooes the men 
pushed the women aside, and carefully, slowly, they touched 
and inspected each design. When the chief had spoken, all the 
others gave their opinion. From that moment on the men 
adopted me for good. The women had done so from the mo- 
ment the chief smiled and touched my shoulder. 

We went into the biggest of the huts, and at the sight of it 
I was completely taken aback. The hut was made of brick-rcd 
beaten earth. It had eight doors; it was round, and in an inner 
comer brilliantly striped pure wool hammocks were hanging 
from the beams. In the middle there was a round, flat, brown, 
polished stone, and round it, other flat stones for sitting on. 
Againsf the wall, several double-barrelled guns, a military 
sword, and bows' of every size hanging all over the place. I also 
noticed a turtle-shell so huge that a man could lie down in it; 
and a very well-built dry-stone chimney - ho mortar at all. 
A table with half a calabash standing on it, and in the calabash 
two or three handfuls of pearls. They gave me a drink in a 
wooden bowl - it was fermented fruit-juice, bitter-sweet and 
very good. Then, on a banana leaf, they brought me a big 
fish; it must have weighed at least five pounds, and it had been 
cooked on the embers. I was invited to eat, and I ate slowly. 
When I had finished the delicious fish the young woman took 
me and led me to the beach, where I washed my hands and 
rinsed my mouth with sca-watcr. Then we went back again. 
We sat in a circle, the young woman next to me with her hand 
on my thigh, and with gestures and words we tried to ex- 
change a certain amount of information about ourselves. 

AH at once the chief got up, went to the back of the hut, 
returned with a piece of white stone and drew* on the table. 
First the naked Indians and their village, and then the sea. On 


the right of the Indian village, houses with windows and men 
and women wearing clothes. The men had either a rifle or a 
stick in their hands. On the left, another village, and ugly- 
looking brutes with rifles and hats: women in dresses. When 
I had carefully looked at the drawings he noticed he had for- 
gotten something and he drew a road leading to the other vil- 
lage on the left. To show me how they lay with regard to his 
own village, he drew a sun oh the Venezuelan side, on the 
right, a round circle with rays coming out of it all over; and 
on the side of the Colombian village another sun with a wavy 
line cutting it at the horizon. There was no mistaking him - 
on one side the sun was rising and on the other it was setting. 
The young chief gazed proudly at his work, and everybody 
looked at it in turn. When he saw that I had thoroughly under- 
stood what he meant, he took the chalk and drew criss-cross 
lines all over the two villages: only his own remained un- 
touched. I understood that he meant to convey that people 
of the other villages were wicked, that he wanted to have 
nothing to do with them, and that only his village was good. 
As if he had to tell me that! 

' He wiped the table with a wet rag. When it was dry he put 
the piece of chalk into my hand, and now it was up to me to 
tell my story in pictures. It was harder than his. I drew a man 
with his hands tied and two armed men looking at him: then 
the same man running and the two others chasing him and aim- 
ing with their guns. I drew the same scene three times, but 
each time I was a little farther away from the men after me; 
and in the last drawing the police had stopped and I was still 
running in the direction of their village, which I drew with the 
Indians and the dog, and in front of them all the chief holding 
out his arms towards me. 

My drawing can’t have been so bad, because after a good 
deal of talking among the men the chief held out his arms like 
in the drawing. They had got my meaning. 

. same night the Indian girl took me to her hut, where 
six women and four men were living. She slung a splendid 
striped woollen hammock, so broad that two could easily lie 
in it sideways. I got into it, but long-ways; and seeing that she 
got into another crossways, I did the same and she came and' 
lay down next to me. She felt my body, ears, eyes and mouth 
with her long, thin but very rough-skinned fingers, all scarred 
- delicate, but wrinkled. They were the cuts from the coral 



when she dived for pearl-oysters. When in my turn I stroked 
her face she took my hand, and she was amazed to find it 
smooth and unhomy. After this hour in the hammock we got 
up and went back to the chiefs great hut They gave me the 
guns to look at - twelve and sixteen bores from Saint-Eticnne. 
They had six boxes of cartridges. 

The Indian girl was medium-sized and she had the same 
grey eyes as the chief; she bad a very clean-cut profile and her 
plaited hair, parted in the middle, came down to her hips. 
She had beautifully-formed breasts, high and pear-shaped. 
Their tips were darker than her copper skin, and very long. By 
way of kissing, she nibbled: she didn’t know how to kiss. I 
very soon taught her how it was done in the civilized world. 
When we walked, she would not go at my side: there was 
nothing to be done about it - she insisted on walking behind. 
One of the huts had nobody in it, and' it was in poor repair. 
With the other women to help her, she fixed the coconut-leaf 
roof and patched the walls with dollops of very sticky red 
earth. The men had all kinds of edged tools and weapons - 
knives, daggers, machetes, axes, hoes and an iron-pronged 
fork. They had copper and aluminium saucepans, watering- 
caas, iron pots, a grindstone, an oven, and metal and wooden 
barrels. Extraordinarily big hammocks made of. pure wool 
and decorated with plaited fringes and with very strongly col- 
oured patterns - blood-red, Prussian blue, shining black and 
canary-yellow. Presently the house was finished and she began 
bringing in the things the other Indians gave her, such as an 
iron tripod to go over the fire, a hammock big enough for 
four grown-ups lying sideways, glasses, tin pots, saucepans and 
even an ass’s harness. 

We had been caressing one another for the fortnight I had 
been there, but she savagely refused to go all the way. I 
couldn’t understand, for it was she who excited me and then 
just when everything was" set up she wouldn’t She never put 
on a stitch of clothing apart from her loincloth, which had a 
very thin string round her slender waist, leaving her bottom 
quite bare. We set up house in the hut without the least cere- 
mony: it had three doors, the main one in the middle of the 
round and the other two opposite one another. In the circle 
of the round house, these doors formed an isosceles triangle. 
Each had its own function : I was always supposed to come in 
and go out of the northern one. And she was always supposed 



to go out and come ia by the southern one. I was not to go in 
or out of hers, and she was not to use mine. Friends came in 
or went out by the main door, and neither she nor I could 

come in by it unless we had visitors with us. 

It was only when wc had settled in the house that she gave 
herself to me. I don’t want to go into the details, but by instinct 
she made fiery and wonderfully skilful love, winding round 
me like a tropical creeper. When we were by ourselves, abso- 
lutely alone, I combed and plaited her hair: She was very 
happy when I did this; her face showed the most wonderful 
delight and yet at the same time fear in case anyone should 
see us. For I gathered that a man was not supposed to comb 
his woman’s hair, nor smooth her hands with a stone like 
pumice, nor kiss her ou the mouth or breasts in a certain way. 

So there we were, Lali and me (Lali was her name), settled 
in this house. One thing surprised me. very much, and that 
was that she never used iron or aluminium saucepans or fry- 
ing-pans nor ever drank out of a glass; she did everything in 
the earthenware pots they made themselves. The watering-can 
was used for washing with, under the rose. The ocean was our 
lavatory. 

I was there when the oysters were opened to be searched 
for pearls. The oldest of the women did this job. Every girl 
who went pearl-diving had her own bag. The pearls they found 
were divided like this - one share for the chief as the repre- 
sentative of the tribe; one for the fisherman; half a share for 
the oyster-opener; and a share and a half for the diving-girl. 
If she lived with her family, she gave her pearls to her uncle, 
her father’s brother. I never understood why it was that it 
was also the uncle who first came into the house of a couple 
about to be married, took the girl’s arm and put it round the 
man’s waist and then the man's right arm, wrapping it round 
the girl’s waist so that the forefinger went into her navel. Then, 
once that was done, he would go away. 

So I was there when the oysters were opened; but I didn’t go 
out fishing, because I had not been directly asked to get into 
a boat. They fished quite far from the shore, perhaps five hun- 
dred yards out, Some days Lali would come back with her ribs 
and thighs all scratched from the coral. The wounds bled 
sometimes, and then she would crush seaweed and rub it on 
the places. I never did anything unless they made signs, invit- 
ing me. I never went into the chiefs house unless he or some- 



one else led* me in by .the band. Lali suspected that three 
Indian girls of her own age came and lay in the grass as near 
as possible to our door to try and see or hear what wc did 
when wc were alone. 

Yesterday I saw the Indian who travelled between our vil- 
lage and the nearest Colombian settlement, about a mile from 
the frontier post. This village was called La Vela. The Indian 
had two donkeys and he carried a Winchester repeater, he 
never put on a stitch, apart from the Join-cloth everybody 
wore. He did not speak a word of Spanish: so how did he 
carry out his trade, then? With the help of the dictionary I 
wrote on a piece of paper agujas (needles), red and blue Indian 
ink, and sewing cotton, because the chief often asked me to 
tattoo him. This travelling Indian was small and wizened. He 
had a terrible wound on the upper part of his body that 
started at his lower ribs, went clean across and ended up on 
his right shoulder. In healing the wound had made a rolled 
scar as thick as your finger. The pearls were put into a cigar- 
box. The box was divided into compartments and the pearls 
went into them according to size. When the Indian left, the 
chief gave me permission to go a little way with him. So as 
to make me come back, in his simple-minded fashion he lent 
me a double-barrelled gun .and six cartridges. That way he was 
sure I’d be forced to return, because he was quite certain I’d 
never carry off anything that didn’t belong to me. As the asses 
were not loaded the Indian got on to one and I got on to the 
other. All day wc travelled along the same path I had taken to 
come; but at about a mile or two from the frontier post the 
Indian turned his back to the sea and plunged inland. 

Towards five o’clock we reached the edge of a stream where 
there stood five Indian houses. They all came out to look at 
me. The Indian talked and talked and talked until at last 
there appeared a character who had everything of an Indian 
- eyes, hair, features - except the colour. He was dead white, 
and he had the red eyes of an albino. He wore khaki trousers. 
And at this point I grasped that the Indian from my village 
never went farther than this place. The white Indian 
said to me, ‘Buenos dias (good day). Tit arcs cl matador que 
se fttgd con Antonio? (arc you the killer who escaped with 
Antonio?) Antonio cs compadrc mio dc sangre (Antonio is 
my blood-brother).’ To be blood-brothers two men tic their 
arms togther, the one to the other, and then each runs his 


.. TUen each smeam 

sssgagiSS^. 

Um (V"«™ w ° t ”"° 


'u lo tenui** — i,t, P moonu uu . ; t had the ro>v 1 ^'- 

fenextq^SeTthan I did civilized men 

bf^:r^s%sS5E 

eTnecklace made of , said the white 

^SdVlf W «f5SS or P'fg.'SS »< ■* '“- 

si f“ “rfylSc “ V V C S bteSto 

Sfes^saSss 

ofi. Suddenly she e behind) ro y arm r°n ^ aa 0 wl. I fire .^ 
donkey and village- On die way dicsc eyes glowing 
•went back to the was, just seeing d s hc hung it 

When they bodx earn it on to have a n T neve 
f0 r the water t° f ^ere happened something „ 
sugar drink- And no ^ pushed her s ^ ^ si 

understood unbl long ^ her thc nc ckla 

* legs and put my and that she was this delics 

next to her sister an 


Lali had thought I had been finding out how to get away be- 
cause maybe I wasn’t happy with her, and she had thought 
that perhaps her sister would be able to keep me there. When 
I woke up there were Lali’s hands over my eyes. The little sis- 
ter wasn’t there any more: it was very late - eleven in the 
morning. Lali gazed lovingly at me with her big grey eyes and 
gently nibbled the comer of my mouth. She was happy to 
make me understand that she knew I loved her and that I was 
not going to leave just because she couldn’t hold me. 

The Indian who usually paddled Lali’s canoe was sitting 
there in front of the house. I saw that he was waiting for her. 
He smiled at me and closed his eyes in very well-acted panto- 
mime - his way of telling me he knew Lali was asleep. I sat 
down next to him; he said a good many things I couldn’t 
understand. He was a young man, athletic and wonderfully 
muscular. He gazed at my tattooes for a long while, ex- 
amining them, and then by. signs he showed he’d like me to 
tattoo him. I nodded to say yes, but it seemed to me he 
thought I didn’t know how. Lali appeared. She had covered 
herself all over with oil. She knew I didn’t care for it, but she 
made me understand that in this cloudy weather the water 
would be very cold. Her mimicry, half laughing and half ser- 
ious, was so pretty that I made her go through it several times, 
pretending not to be able to follow. When I made a sign that 
she was to begin again she put on a face that saidas clearly as 
could be, ‘Are you stupid, or is it that I’m torpe (dull) at ex- 
plaining why I put on this oil?’ 

The chief went by with two Indian women. They were 
carrying a huge green lizard weighing at least ten or twelve 
pounds and he had his bow and arrows. He had just killed the 
lizard, and he invited me to come and cat it with him later. 
Lali spoke to him; he touched my shoulder, pointing to the 
sea. I gathered that I could go with Lali if I wanted to. We 
went off all three of 'us, Lali,' her usual fishing companion and 
me. It was a very light little boat made of balsa wood, and it 
was easy to launch. They waded down carrying it on their 
shoulders and then plunged in. Getting it out to sea was an 
odd business: the man got in first, in the stern, holding a huge 
paddie. Lali, with the water up to her bosom, held the canoe 
steady and prevented it from being pushed back on shore; 
i got in and sat in the middle; and then in one movement then- 
"•as Lali aboard and at the same instant the Indian dug i- 



his paddle and sent us out. The rollers were higher and higher 
the farther we went from the shore. Five or six hundred yards 
out we found a kind of channel where two other boats were 
already fishing. T-ali had tied her plaits close to her head with 
five red leather thongs, three across and two. lengthways; the 
thongs themselves went round her neck. Carrying a stout knife 
in her hand, she went down the anchor, a thick iron bar weigh- 
ing about thirty pounds that the man had lowered to the bot- 
tom. The boat stayed there at anchor,' but it was never still, 
for it rose and fell with every roller. 

For three hours and more Lali went up and down between 
the canoe and the bottom of the sea. The bottom could not be 
seen-, but judging from the time she took, it must have been 
fifty and sixty feet down. Every time she brought oysters up 
in the sack the man emptied them into the canoe. During 
these three hours Lali never once got into the canoe. To rest, 
she clung to the side for five or ten minutes. We changed 
places twice without her getting in. In the second place the 
sack came up with more and bigger oysters. We turned 
back for the shore. Lali had got into the boat and the rollers 
soon ran us back to the beach. The old Indian woman was 
waiting there. Lali and I let her and the man cany the oysters 
up to the dry sand. When they were all ashore, Lali stopped 
the old woman from opening them: it was Lali herself who 
began. She quickly opened about thirty with the point of her 
knife before she found a pearl. I swallowed at least two dozen 
— that goes without saying: the water must have been cold 
down there, because their flesh was chilled. Gently she brought 
out a pearl, the size of one’s little finger nail. It was a pearl 
nearer the larger than the medium size. How it gleamed! 
'Nature had given it a wonderful variety of changing colours, 
none of them too pronounced. Lali took the pearl in her fin- 
gers, put it into her mouth, kept it there .for a moment, and 
then, bringing it out, she put it into mine. With a mimic chew- 
ing she showed that she wanted me to crush it with my teeth 
and swallow it. At my first refusal she begged so prettily that 
I did what she wanted : I crushed the pearl between my tfeeth 
and I swallowed the fragments. She opened four or five oys- 
ters and gave them me to swallow, meaning the whole of the 
pearl to go down inside me. She pushed me back on the sand, 
and like a little girl she opened my mouth and looked to see 
whether there were any crumbs still there between my teeth. 


We walked off, leaving the two others to get on with the work. 

I had been here a month now. I couldn’t get that wrong, 
because I noted the day and the date on a piece of paper 
every morning. I had had the needles for some time, as well 
as red, blue and violet Indian ink. In the chief's hut I found 
three Solingen razors. They were never used for shaving, since 
the Indians had no beard. One came in useful for the even 
trimming of their hair. I tattooed Zato, the chief, on the arm. 
I did him an Indian with different-coloured feathers in his 
hair. He was delighted, and he made me understand that I was 
not to tattoo anyone else until I had done him a big picture 
on the chest. He wanted the same tiger’s head that I had, with 
long teeth.T laughed: I wasn’t good enough at -drawing to do 
such fine work. Lali took all the hair off my whole body. She 
could scarcely see a hair before she would pluck it out and 
rub me with seaweed, crushed and mixed with ash. It seemed 
to me the hairs did not grow so strongly after this. 

This Indian tribe was called Goajira. They lived on the 
coast and on the inland plain as far as the beginning of the 
mountains. In the mountains there were other tribes called 
Motilones. Years afterwards, I came into contact with them. 
As I said, the Goajiras were in indirect touch with civilization 
through their barter. The ones on the coast gave the white 
Indian their pearls and also turtles. The turtles were supplied 
alive, and sometimes they reached a weight of three hundred 
and fifty pounds. They never came up to the weight and size of 
the Orinoco or Maroni turtles, which reached nearly nine hun- 
dred pounds and whose shell could be as much as six feet long 
and more than three across. Once they arc turned on their 
hacks, these turtles cannot get up again. I’ve seen them carried 
off still alive after having lain there on their backs for three 
weeks without eating or drinking. As for the big green lizards, 
they are very good to cat. Their white, tender flesh is deli- 
cious; and their eggs, cooked by the sun in the sand, arc very 
good too. Only their appearance puts you off a little. 

Every lime Lali went fishing she brought back her share of 
the pearls and gave them to me. I put them into a wooden 
bowl without sorting them - big, medium and small all mixed. 
The only ones I set aside, putting them in an empty matchbox, 
were two pink pearls, three black, and seven of a wonderfully 
beautiful mctalic grey. 1 also had a big irregular bean-shaped 
pearl, the size of one of our white or red haricots at home. 



This baroque pearl had three colours one on top of the other, 
and accor ding to the weather one would show more than the 
others - the black layer, the gunmetal or the silvery layer with 
its pinkish sheen; Thanks to these pearls and a few turtles, the 
tribe lacked for nothing. But they possessed some objects that 
were no use to them, while others they might have found 
valuable were not there. For example, there wasn’t a single 
mirror in the whole tribe..! had to find a square of nickel- 
plated metal, about eighteen inches across that no doubt came 
from a wreck, before I could shave or see myself. 

My policy towards my friends was simple: I did nothing 
that could lessen the chiefs authority or wisdom, still less that 
of a very old Indian who lived by himself two miles away ■ 
inland, together with various snakes, two goats and a dozen 
sheep. He was the medicine-man for certain Goajira villages. 
This behaviour of mine meant that no one felt jealous of me 
or wished me away. By the end of two months I. was com- 
pletely adopted by one and all. The medicine-man also had a 
score of hens. Seeing that in the two hamlets I knew there 
were no goats nor hens nor sheep, it occurred to me that own- 
ing domestic animals must be a medicine-man’s privilege. 
Every morning, each taking her turn, an Indian woman would 
set off with a plaited basket on her head.to carry him freshly- 
caught fish and seafood. They, also took him maize cakes 
made that morning and roasted on stones in the fire. Some- 
times, but not always, she would come back with eggs or sour 
milk. When the medicine-man wanted me to go and see him 
he sent three eggs for me personally and a highly-polished 
wooden knife. Lali went half of the way with me and then 
waited in the shade of a huge cactus. The first time she put the 
wooden knife in my hand and showed me I was to go in the 
direction she pointed out. 

The old Indian lived in disgusting filth in a tent made of 
stretched cow-hides, the hairy side in. There were three stones 
in the middle with a fire that you felt must always be alight. 
He didn’t sleep in a hammock but on a kind of bed made of 
branches, standing more than three feet high. It was quite a 
large tent - it must have covered twenty square yards. It had 
no walls, apart from a few branches on the windy side. I saw 
two snakes, the one ten feet long and as thick as you r arm, 
and the other about three feet with a yellow V on its head; 
and ! said to myself, ‘Think of what those snakes must put 



away in eggs and chickens ! * I could not understand how |;ont», 
hens, sheep and even the ass could nil shelter hi this one tent, 
The old Indian examined me from nil sides, lie mnde me tide 
oil the trousers Lali had turned into nhorta, nnd when 1 was 
mothefjnaked he made me sit down on n Mono nrnt the (he, 
He* put green leaves on to it; they made n great deal of Miiofn 
and they smelt of mint. The smoke nil round iieinly siuotlo 
ered me, but I scarcely coughed at nil nnd for < lose, on ten 
minutes I sat it out, waiting for it to finish, 71ien lie. Inuiil toy 
trousers and gave me two Indian loin-cloths, one mnde, of 
sheepskin and the other of snake-din, ns sop pie ns n glove, 
He put a bracelet of goat, sheep and snake-tkin tUfjA round 
my arm. It was four or five inch tn bread and it v/ns field fiy n 
snakeskin thong that could be tightened or loosened. 

The medicine-man had an nicer on hh left a;,kfe the r fio, of 
a two-franc piece, covered yr.'h fifes, Trot/? tf.v.e fo tin,'. /,/, 
whisked at them, and when they both ered f.f.es <//, r.-.vt fit 
dusted the place with ash, Vn.tr. the. r.ced/.fr.e?:'.*'. fiid fin- 
ished my adoption I was about to go, b-d first b* g> /' re> i 
smaller wooden knife than the ore be bid */.*/ roe vAr ■•. fir, 
wanted to see me. Later La!: fold r.se -'fiat ,-fi f •/, ma 

him, I was to send him the little knifes asd if *'</'// to >s 
me come, he would send me the big one, / toe?/ >a/*. // r e 
verv old Trdran rctfdnr the wsederfi./ O'd-rS-'V. vs ?. - r - - 



leave. Lali kept watch on me all the time: she would have 
liked to see me enter more thoroughly into the life of the 
tribe. For example, she had seen me go out to catch fish, and 
she knew I could paddle well and handle the little light canoe 
with great skill; so it was no time before she wanted me to be 
the ono who managed the canoe for the pearl fishing. But the 
idea didn’t' suit me at all. Lali was, the best diving-girl in the 
whole village. It was always her boat that brought back the 
best and biggest oysters - that is to say, those that had been 
found in the deepest water. I also knew that the young Indian 
who paddled ‘her canoe was the chief’s brother. If I were to 
go with Lali, it would be against his interests; so that was some- 
thing I shouldn’t Jo. When Lali saw I was pensive she went off 
to fetch her sister again. She came running, quite delighted, 
and used my door to come in by. This must have had an im- 
portant meaning. That is to say, they both appeared together 
in front of the main door, the one facing the sea, and there 
they separated, Lali going round to her door and Zoraima, the 
little one, to mine. Zoralma’s breasts were hardly the size of 
tangerines and her hair was quite short. It was cut square at 
chin level, and her fringe came down lower than her brows - 
almost to her eyes. Every time her sister brought her like this, 
they both bathed and when they came in they took off their 
loin-cloths and hung them up on the hammock. The younger 
one always went off very sad because I wouldn’t have her. One 
day, when we were all three lying there, with Lali in the middle, 
she got up and then got in again leaving me pressed tight 
against Zoraima’s naked body. 

Lali’s fishing companion hurt his knee - a very deep, wide 
gash. He was carried to the medicine-man and came back 
with a white clay plaster over it. So that morning I went fishing 
with Lah. Wc launched the canoe just as usual, and every- 
thing went very well. I took her out rather farther than she 
generally went. Lali was perfectly delighted at having me in 
the canoe with her. Before diving she rubbed herself all over 
with oil. I reOected that down there - and the bottom was black 
as far as I could see - it must be very cold. Three sharks’ fins 
passed quite close to us and I pointed them out; she didn't 
think they mattered in the least. It was ten o’clock in the morn- 
ing, and the sun was shining. With her bag rolled round her 
left arm and her sheathed knife tight in her belt, she dived; and 
she did so without pushing the boat with her feet as an ordin- 



ry person would have done. She vanished downwards, to- 
wards the dark bottom, with extraordinary speed. Her first 
ivc must have been just to explore, because there were few 
ysters in the sack when she came up. An idea occurred to 
nc. There was a bundle of leather thongs aboard: I put a 
itch round the sack, handed it back to Lali and paid out the 
hongs as she went down, taking the line with her. She must 
lave understood the operation, because after a longish pause 
;he came up again without the sack. She hung there to rest 
after this long dive and she made a sign that I was to pull it 
up. I heaved, steadily, but at one point it caught, having fouled 
Lhe coral. She dived and disentangled it: it came up half full 
and I emptied it into the canoe. In the course of that morning 
in eight fifty-foot dives we almost filled the canoe. When she 
got in again the gunwale was only two inches above the sur- 
face. We were so full of oysters that hauling up the anchor 
put us in danger of sinking. So I untied the anchor-rope and 
made it fast to the paddle, which would float there until we 
went back for it. We landed without any trouble. 

The old woman was waiting for us and Lali’s Indian was 
sitting there on the dry sand just where they always opened 
the oysters they had fished up. To begin with he was pleased 
vve had brought in so many. Lali seemed to be explaining how 
I had tied the sack to the line, which made it easier for her to 
come up and also allowed her to put more oysters in. He 
looked carefully at my double hitch for holding the sack, and 
at the first try he tied it again perfectly. Then he looked at me, 
very proud of himself. 

When the old woman opened the oysters, she found thirteen 
pearls. Usually .Lali never stayed for this part of the job but 
■waited for her share' to be brought to her at home; but today 
she stayed until the la.t one was finished. I ate at least three 
dozen, and Lali ate five or six. The old woman divided cut 
thc shares. The pearls were all more or less the same sma, 
about as big as a good pea. She put three aside for the cheer, 
then three for me, two for her, and five for Lali. Lab iooz me 
three and gave them to me. I took them and handed teem ~ 
the wounded Indian. He didn’t want to take them, but I cpecsc 
bls hand and closed it over the pearls. Then he accepted 
His wife and daughter had been silently watching fres 
tjsnce; at this they burst out laughing and cams tr. - 


' This scene was repeated for close.on a fortnight. Every time, 
I handed over the pearls to the fisherman. Yesterday I kept 
one for myself, one out of the six that came to my share; When 
we got home I made Lali eat it. She was wild with delight and 
she sang all that afternoon. From time to time I went to -see. 
the white Indian. He told me to call him Zorrillo, which means 
little fox in Spanish. He told me the chief had asked him to 
ask me why I didn’t tattoo the tiger’s head for him, and I ex- 
plained it was because I couldn't draw well enough. With the 
help of the dictionary I asked him to bring me a minor with 
a surface as big as my chest, some transparent paper, a fine 
brush and a bottle of ink, and some carbon paper. Or if he 
couldn’t get carbon paper, then a thick, very soft pencil. I also 
told him to bring me clothes of my size and to leave them at 
his place, together with three khaki shirts. I learnt that the 
police had questioned him about Antonio and me. He’d told 
them that I had crossed the mountains into Venezuela and • 
that Antonio had died of a snake bite. Zorrillo also knew that 
the Frenchmen were in prison at Santa Marta. 

In Zorrillo’s house there was just the same mixture of things 
as I had seen in the chief’s hut - a whole pile of. earthenware 
pots decorated with the patterns the Indians loved, very artis- 
tic pots, both in their shapes and in their patterns and col- 
ours; splendid pure Vool hammocks; some quite white and 
others coloured and fringed; the tanned skins of snakes, 
lizards and huge bull-frogs; baskets, some woven of white 
creepers and others of coloured. He told me that all these 
things were made by Indians of the same race as my tribe, 
but living in the forest, far inland, twenty-five days’ march 
into the bush from here. That was where the coca-leaves that 
he gave me came from. He gave me more than twenty: when- 
ever I felt low I was to chew one. When I left Zorrillo I asked 
him to get me all the things I had written down, and if he could 
some papers and magazines in Spanish, for with my diction- 
ary I had learnt a lot in these two months. He had no news of 
Antonio: he only knew there had been another clash between 
coastguards and smugglers. Five coastguards and one smug- 
gler had been killed and the boat had not been taken. I had 
never seen a drop of alcohol in the village, apart from that 
fermented fruit-juice stuff. Noticing a bottle of anis I asked 
him to give it to me. He wouldn’t. If I liked I could drink it 
there, but not take it away. He was a wise man, thjtt albino. 



I left Zorrillo and went off on an. ass he’d lent me - it would 
>o homo of its own accord the nest day. The only things I 
ook with me were a big bag of different-coloured sweets, 
:ach wrapped in thin paper, and sixty packets of cigarettes, 
^ali was waiting for me about two miles from the village, 
vith her sister, she made no scene of any kind and consented 
o walk beside me. arm in arm. Now and then she stopped and 
asset! me on the lips in the civilized way. When we got there 
[ went to see the chief and gave him the sweets and the cigar- 
:ttes. We sat in front of the door, facing the sea. We drank the 
fermented stuff, cool out of its earthenware jars. Lali sat on 
my right with her arms round my thigh, and her sister in the 
same position on my left They sucked away at the sweets. 
The bag was open there in front of us, and the women and 
children quietly helped themselves. The chief pushed Zcrai- 
ma’s head towards mine and made me understand that she 


wanted to be my woman like Lali. Lali held her breasts in her 
hands and then pointed to Zorahna’s little bosom to show that 
that was the reason I didn’t want her. I shrugged and every- 
body laughed. I could see Zcraima was very mkarable. I 
smoked a few cigarettes: the Indians tried them but seen 
threw them away and returned to their cigars., the lighted end 
inside their mouths. When I had said gec-d-bve to everyone I 


went, taking T-zff by the arm. But ~~ a would walk cechtc me 
and Zoraima followed. We cooked some Larre nsh c'-ur ore 
embers - that was arwam a treat And I buried a fve-oonnd 


crayfish in the hot ashen it ■ 
I received the mirrer. f 
tube of glu» that I r r- 
bandy, several meemm-m 
brush. I hang the mimoo 



sitting dowii. 
all its details, kc 

watched ne. I faD 

*nk ran I tamed t 
then on everythka 

* managed to fe 
facing-glass, 
fa'i went to fet 
h: ~ 



W! 

US 


of the hot. She groaned a little hot her body, all taut 'with 
pleasure, clasped me tight and would not let me go. Gently I 
disentangled myself and went to bathe in the sea, for I was 
all covered with earth: she came after me and we bathed to-, 
gether. I washed her hack and she washed my legs and arms, 
and then we returned to the house together. Lali was sitting 
just where we had lain and when we came in she understood 
what had happened. She got up, put her arms round my neck 
and kissed me lovingly, and then she took her sister by the 
arm and made her go out by my door. Lali turned round and 
went out by hers. I heard knocking outside and when I went 
out I found Lali, Zoralma and two other women trying to 
'make a hole in the wall with an iron bar. I gathered that they 
were going to make a fourth door. So that it should not crack 
except where they wanted it too, they were wetting it with 
the watering-can. Presently the door was made. Zoralma 
pushed the rubble out: from now on she alone would come 
and go by this opening - never again would she use mine. 

The chief came with three other Indians and his brother, 

' whose leg was almost healed. He looked at the drawing on the 
mirror and he looked at his own reflection. He was astonished 
at seeing the tiger so well drawn and at the sight of his own 
face. He did not understand what I meant to do. When every- 
thing was dry, I put the glass on the table with tracing-paper 
over it and I began copying. This was very easy and it went 
fast — the pencil ran accurately along all the lines. Before the 
interested gaze of all present, I produced a drawing as perfect 
as the original in under half an hour. One after the other they 
all took the sheet and inspected it, comparing the tiger on 
my chest with the one on the paper. I made' Lali lie on the 
table, wetted her just a little wife a damp cloth, put a piece of 
carbon-paper an her belly and then the sheet I had just drawn 
on over it. I drew a few strokes, and when they saw a small 
part of the drawing reproduced on Lali’s skin they were all 
utterly amazed. It was only then that the chief grasped that 
it was for him I was taking all this trouble. 

Human beings who do not have fee hypocrisy of a civilized 
upbringing react naturally, as soon as they understand what 
is going on. It’s in the living present that they’re pleased or 
angry, happy or sad, concerned or indifferent. There is a strik- 
ing superiority about pure-blooded Indians like these Goa- 
jiras. They outdo us in everything, if once they have adopted 



someone, everything they posses is his; and if he docs the 
least thing for them, their very quick feelings arc extraordin- 
arily moved. I decided to trace the main outlines with a razor 
so that from the first sitting the chief features should be there, 
fixed for good in tattoo. I’d go over it all again afterwards! 
with three needles fixed in a little stick. The next day I began 
mv work. 

Zato lay on the table. When I had traced the drawing on a 
stronger piece of white paper I transferred it to his skin, which 
I had already prepared with a white clay wash that had been 
allowed to harden. It all came out quite perfect, and I let it 
dry thoroughly. The chief lay there stretched stifily on the 
table, neither wincing nor even moving his head, so afraid was 
he of spoiling the picture, which I showed him in the mirror. 
I began on the lines with the razor. There was very little blood 
and each time a little showed I wiped it away at once. When 
I had gone over the whole thing very thoroughly, so that the 
drawing was replaced by thin red lines, I daubed his entire 
chest with blue ink. The blood prevented the ink taking only 
in the places where I had gone a little too deep, but almost all 
the picture stood out wonderfully. A week later Zato had his 
open-mouthed tiger’s head with its pink tongue, white teeth 
and black eyes, nose and whiskers. I was pleased with my 
work: it was better than my own tattoo and its colours were, 
livelier. When the scabs came off I went over some places 
again with the needles. Zato was so pleased he asked Zorrillo 
to get six more looking-glasses, one for each hut and two for 
hk. 

Dap, weeks and months went by. We ware in April, and 
now I had been here four months. My health was splendid. I 
'vas strong, and now that I was used to going barefoot T could 
E° great distances without getting tired, hunting the big green 
lizards. I forgot tcS say that after my first visit to the medicine- 
man I asked Zorrillo to bring me iodine, peroxide, cotton- 
wool, bandages, quinine tablets and Stovarsol. I had once seen 
a convict in hospital with an ulcer as big as the medicinc- 
m’n s. Chatal, the orderly, crushed a tablet of Stovarsol and 
on it- 1 sent the medicine-man the little wooden knife 
he answered by sending me his. It was hard work to per- 
t , - h'm to be treated, and it took a long time. But after a 

i cw goes the ulcer was smaller by half: then he continued t c 
; ^ meat on his own, and one fine day he sent me timing 


knife so I should come and see that it was completely healed. 
Nobody ever knew that it was me who had cured him. 

My wives never left me. When Lali was fishing, ZoraTma 
was with me. If Zoraima went off to sea, Lali stayed to keep 
me company. 

Zato had a son. His wife went down to the beach when her 
pains began: she chose a big rock that sheltered her from all 
eyes and another of Zato’s wives took her a large basket with 
maize-cakes, fresh water and papelon, which is unrefined 
brown sugar, in five-pound loaves. She must have had the child 
about four in the afternoon, for at sunset there she was calling 
out as she came towards the village, holding the baby high in 
the air. Before she reached him, Zato knew it was a boy. It 
seemed to me they said that if it had been a girl she wouldn’t 
have raised it in the air and called out happily, but would have 
come quietly, just holding the baby in her arms. Lali explained 
it all in pantomime. Zato’s wife came, forward, then having 
held up her child she stopped. Zato held out his arms, shout- 
ing, but he did not move. Then she got up, came forward an- 
other few yards, held up the child, called out, and stopped - 
again. Once again Zato shouted and held out his arms. This 
happened five or six times during the last thirty or forty yards. 
Still Zato never stirred from the doorway of his hut. He stood 
in front of the main door, with everybody to his right and left. 
The mother stopped no more than five or six paces off : she 
lifted her baby high and cried out. Now Zato stepped forward, 
took the child under the arms and raised it high in his turn: 
he shouted three times, and three times be lifted it up. Then 
he set the child on his right arm, laid it across his chest and 
put its head under his armpit, hiding it with his left arm. He 
walked into his hut by the main door, never turning round. 
Everybody followed him, the mother coming last. We drank 
everything there was in the way of fermented juice. 

All that week they sprinkled the ground in front of Zato’s 
hut, and the men and women pounded the earth by stamping 
it. In this way they formed a very large circle of thoroughly 
tamped red clay. The next day they put up a great tent made 
of bullocks hides and I guessed there was going to be a feast. 
Under the shelter they arranged at least twenty huge jars full 
of their favourite drink. Stones were set out, and all round 
them piles of wood, both green and dry, that mounted every 
day. A good deal of this wood had been cast up long ago by 



the sea; it was dry, white and polished. There were some very 
big .trunks that had been rolled up far from the waves God 
knows how long ago. Upon these stones they set up two forked 
pieces of wood. both the same height; these were the holders 
for an enormous spit. Four turned-over turtles; more than 
thirty live lizards, each as huge as the last and all with their 
feet and claws tied so they could not get away, two sheep: 
all this meat was there waiting to be knocked on the head and 
eaten. And at least two thousand turtle eggs. 

One morning about fifteen horsemen arrived; they were all 
Indians wearing necklaces, very wide straw hats, loin-cloths 
and sleeveless sheepskin jackets with the wool turned in; their 
feet, legs and buttocks were naked. They all carried huge dag- 
gers in their belts, and two of them had double-barrelled guns. 
Their chief had a repeating rifle, a splendid jacket with black 
leather sleeves and a full cartridge-belt. The horses were beau- 
tiful: small, but very muscular, and all dapple grey. They car- 
ried bundles of hay on their cruppers. They announced theit 
coming from a great way off by firing their guns, but as thej 
came on at a full gallop they were with us very soon. The 
chief was wonderfully like a somewhat older version of Zatc 
and his brother. He dismounted from his splendid horse and 
came towards Zato; each touched the other’s shoulder. He 
went into the house alone and came out again holding the 
baby and followed by Zato. He held it out towards every- 
body and then he made the same motion as Zato: when he 
had held it out to the east, where the sun rose, he hid it under 
his left arm and went back into the house. Then all the other 
horsemen dismounted; they hobbled their horses a little way 
off and hung the bundle of hay from their necks. At about 
noon the Indian women arrived, in a huge waggon pulled 
by four horses. The driver was Zorrillo. In the waggon there 
W'erc at least twenty young Indian girls, and seven or eight 
children, all of them little boys. 

Before Zorrillo arrived I had been introduced to all uic 
horsemen, starting with the chief. Zato pointed out that the 
little too of his left foot was bent over the one next to it- his 
brother had the same thing, and so did the chief who bad just 
come. After that he showed me that each of them had the 
same black mark, like a mole, under his arm. I gathered t ia 
the newcomer was his brother. Everyone greatly admire* 
Zato’s tattooing, particularly the tiger's head. All the Indiat 



women who had just come had different-coloured patterns on 
their faces and bodies. Lali put coral necklaces round the 
necks of some of these girls, and strings of shells round others. 
I noticed one lovely Indian girl; she was taller than the rest, 
who were rather on the short side. She had the profile of an 
Italian - you would have said a cameo. Her hair was blue- 
black; her enormous eyes were a perfect jade-green and 
they had very long lashes and beautifully curved brows. She 
wore her hair in the Indian style - fringe, parting in the middle, 
and hair falling each side of her face and covering her ears. It 
was cut short a handsbreadth from the middle of her neck. 
Her very firm breasts started close together and spread most 
beautifully. 

Lali introduced me and carried her off to our house with 
Zora'ima and another young girl who was carrying little pots 
and a-kind of brush. For indeed the visiting Indian girls meant 
to paint those belonging to our village. I was there while the 
very pretty girl carried out a masterpiece on Lali and ZoraT- 
ma. Their brushes were made of a twig with a little piece of 
wool at its tip. She dipped it into various colours to make 
her pictures. Then I took up my brush, and starting at Lali’s 
navel I drew a plant whose two .branches went to the begin- 
ning of her breasts, and then I painted pink petals and put 
yellow on her nipples. It looked like a haif.-open flower with 
its pistil. The three others wanted me to do the same for them. 
I thought I had better ask Zorrillo. He came and told me I 
could paint them however I liked so long as they were willing. 
What did I leave undone! For more than two hours I painted 
alt the visiting girls’ bosoms and all the others’ too. Zoralma 
insisted upon having exactly the same picture as Lali. Mean- 
while the men had been roasting the sheep on the spit, while • 
two turtles, cut up, were cooking on the embers. The meat 
was a fine red - you might have taken it for beef. 

T sat under the awning next to Zato and his father. The men 
ate on one side, and the women, apart from those who served 
us, on the other. Very late that night the feast ended with a 
sort of dance. For . the dancing- an Indian played a wooden 
flute that yielded a sharp, monotonous sound, and beat on 
two sheepskin drums. Many of the men and women were 
drunk, but nothing at all unpleasant happened. The medi- 
cine-man had come on his ass. Everyone looked at the pink 
scar where the ulcer had been - an ulcer known to one and all, 


so they were astonished to see it healed. ZomHo and I were 
the only ones to know what had really happened. Zorrillo 
told me the chief of the visiting tribe was Zato’s father and 
that his name was Justo, which means Just. He was the one 
who judged the disputes that arose between the people of his 
own tribe and the other tribes of the Goajira nation. He also 
told me that when there were difficulties with the Iapus, an- 
other Indian nation, they all met to discuss whether they 
should have a war or whether they should settle things in a 
friendly way. If an Indian was killed by the member of an- 
other tribe and they wanted to avoid war, it would be agreed 
that the killer Bhould pay for the death of the man of the other 
tribe. Sometimes it would go as high as .two hundred head of 
cattle, for in the mountains and the foothills all the tribes 
had a great many cows and steers. Unfortunately they never 
vaccinated against foot-and-mouth disease and the outbreaks 
killed great numbers. From one point of view, said Zorrillo, 
it was a good thing, because if it weren’t for these diseases 
there would be too many of them. The cattle would not offi- 
cially be sold in Colombia or in Venezuela: they must always 
stay in the Indian territory in case they should bring foot- 
and-mouth into the two countries. But, said Zorrillo, there 
was a great deal of smuggling of cattle across the mountains. 

Justo, the visiting chief, told me through Zorrillo to come 
and sec him in his village, where there were more than a hun- 
dred huts, it seemed. He told me to come with Lali and ZoraT- 
ma and he would give me a house for us, and to bring nothing, 
because he would provide all we could need. He said I should 
just bring my tattooing things to do a tiger’s head on him too. 
Ho took off his black leather wrist-band and gave it to me. 
According to Zorrillo this meant a great deal: it was the 
same as saying he was my friend and that he would have no 
strength to refuse anything I asked. He asked me if I should 
like a hone; I said yes, but I couldn’t have one here because 
there was almost no grass. He said Lali and Zoralma could 
go and fetch some whenever it was necessary, half a day’s ride 
off. He said just where and explained that the grass in that 
place was long and good. I accepted the horse and he said he 
would send it presently. 

I took advantage of Zomllo’s long visit to tell him I relied 
upon him and that I hoped he would not betray my idea of 
E°ing off to Venezuela or Colombia. He told me of the dan- 



what to do to show how grateful I felt for Justo’s splendid 
generosity. Through Zortffio he told, me he knew a little about 
my life and that the part he didn't know must be very rich, 
because I was a complete man. He said this was the first time 
in his life he had ever known a white man : he had always con- 
sidered them as enemies before, but now he was going to like 
them and try to find another like mo. 'Think awhile,’ he said, 
'before going off into a land where you have many enemies; 
for here, in tills land where we are, you have nothing but 
friends.' 

Ho told me that Zato and he would watch over Lali and 
Zornlma; and if he was a boy, of course Zoralma’s child would 
always have an honourable place in tho tribe. 'I don’t want to 
see you go. Stay, and I'll givo you that beautiful girl you saw 
- at the feast. She's a virgin, and she likes you. You could'stay 
here with mo. You'll have a big hut and as many cows and 
bullocks as you want.’ 

I left this open-handed, splendid man and went back to my 
village. Lali never said a word the whole journey. She was up 
behind me on the brown horse. The saddlo must have been 
hurting her thighs, but she never once mentioned it. Zoralma 
was behind another Indian on horseback. Zorrilio had' gone 
off to his village by another road. It was rather cold during 
the night, I handed Lali a sheepskin jacket Justo had given 
me. Sho let me put it on her without saying a word or showing 
atiy emotion. Not a single movement. She let the jacket be put 
on her, that’s all. Although the horse trotted rather hard at 
times, she never held me round the middle to stay on. When 
wo reached tire villago and I went off to greet Zato, she took 
tho horse and hitched it to tho wall of the house with a pile of 
grass in front of it, without taking off its saddle and bridle. I 
spent a good hour with Zato and then went home. 

When they are sad, Indian men and even more Indian 
women havo impassive faces - not a muscle stirs; their eyes 
may be overwhelmed with sadness, but they never weep. 
They may groan, but they never weep. As I turned over I hurt 
Zoralma's belly, and tire pain made her cry out. So I got up 
in case it should happen again and went and lay in another 
hammock. It was a very low-slung hammock, and as I was 
lying there I felt someone touch it. I pretended to be asleep, 
L*Ji wax sitting motionless on o. stump of 'wood looking at me 
A moment later I knew that Zornlma was there; she had a 



way of rubbing orange-flowers on her skin by way of scent. 
She got them in little bags, trading with an Indian woman 
who came to the village now and then. When I woke up they 
were still there, immobile. The sun was up, and it was almost 
eight o'clock. I led them down to the beach and I lay there on 
the dry sand. Lali sat down and so did Zoraima, I stroked 
Zoraima’s breasts and belly: she remained quite unmoved. I 
lay Lali down and kissed her: she closed her mouth. The 
fisherman came to wait for Lali. At the first sight of her face 
he understood what was going on and went away. I was really 
grieved, and the only thing I could think of doing was to stroke 
and kiss them to show I loved them. Not a single word did 
they utter. I was deeply upset at the sight of so much pain 
caused by the mere idea of what their life would be v/hen I 
was gone. Lali tried to force herself to make love, giving her- 
self to me with a kind of mad despair. What was her motive? 
There could only be one - to get herself with child by me. 

This morning for the first time I saw her jealous of Zoraima. 
We were lying in a sheltered hollow in the fine sand on the 
beach, and I was stroking Zoraima’s bosom and belly while she 
W 2 is nibbling the lobes of my ear when Lali appeared, took 
her sister by the arm. ran her hand over her rounded belly and 
then over her own. Sat and smooth. Zoraima got up and, as 
though she were saying ‘Yes, you’re right’, she let Lali have 
her place at my side. 

The women gave me my food every day, but they ate noth- 
ing themselves. It was three days now since they had eaten 
anything at all. I took the horse and I very nearly commit- 
ted a serious error, the first in more than five months - 1 went 
to see the medicine-man without asking permission. On the way 
I realized what I was doing, and instead of going to his tent 
I rode to and fro two hundred yards from it. He saw me and 
beckoned to me. As well as I could I made him understand 
that Lali and Zoraima were no longer eating anything. He 
gave me a kind of nut that I was to put in the drinking-water 
at home. I went back and put the nut in the big jar. They 
drank several times, but even so they did not start eating. Lali 
no longer went fishing. Today, after four days of complete 
lasting, she did something very rash: she went nearly two 
hundred yards from the shore - swimming, not in a ennor - 
and came back with thirty oysters for me to cat. Their dumb 
misery upset me so much I could scarcely eat anything cith^- 


It had been going on for six days now,. Lali was in bed feverish 
In six days she had sucked a few lemons, nothing else. Zoral- 
ma ate once a day, at noon. I no longer knew what to do. I sat 
there next to Lali. She was lying on the ground on a hammock 
that I had folded to make a sort of mattress for her: she 
stared steadily at the ceiling of the hut and never moved. I 
looked at her, I looked at Zoraima with her peaked belly; 
and I don’t know why, but I began to weep. For myself may- 
be? Maybe for them? God knows.' I wept, and the heavy tear's 
rolled down my cheeks. Zoraima saw them and began to 
moan*, at this Lali turned her head and saw me crying. With 
one spring she got up and sat between my legs, groaning 
gently. She kissed me and stroked me. Zoraima put an arm 
round my shoulders and Lali began talking - talking on and 
on and moaning at the same time - and Zoraima answered 
her. She seemed to be blaming Lali. Lali took a piece of sugar 
the size of a fist; showed me she was melting it in water, and 
drank it off in two gulps. Then she went out with Zoraima. I 
heard them pulling out the horse and when I came outside 
I found it ready saddled and bitted, with the reins round the 
pommel of the saddle. I took the sheepskin jacket for Zoraima 
and Lali put a folded hammock for her to sit on in front. 
Zoraima mounted first, almost on the horse’s neck, then me 
in the middle and Lali behind. I was so upset Iset off without 
saying anything to anyone or telling the chief. 

I had supposed we were going to see the medicine-man and 
I set off in that direction; but no, Lali pulled the reins and said 
-'Zorrilto’. It was Zomtlo we were going to see. As we went, 
she hetd me tight by the belt and often she kissed the back of 
my neck. I had the reins in my left hand, and with my right I 
stroked ZoraTma, We reached Zorrillo's village just as he was 
coming back from Colombia with three asses and a horse, all 
very heavily laden. We went into the house. Lali spoke first, 
then Zoraima. ' 

And this is what Zorrillo told me: until the moment I wept, 
Lali had thought I was a white man who considered her as of 
no importance whatsoever. Lali knew very well I was going to 
go; but I was as false as a serpent because never had I told 
her or tried to make her understand. She said she "was very, 
very deeply disappointed, because she had imagined an Indian 
girl like her could make a man happy — and a contented man 
did not go away. She thought there was no point in her going 



on living after such a disaster. Zoralma said the same, thing, 
and as well as all that she had been afraid her son would turn 
out like his father - a false man with no word that could be 
relied upon, one who asked his wives, who would give their 
lives for him, things so har'd they could not possibly under- 
stand him. Why was I running away from her as though she 
were the dog that had bitten me the day I arrived? 

I answered, 'Lali, what would you do if your father was ill?’ 

Td walk over thorns to go and lookafter him,’ 

’What would you do, once you could stand up for yourself, 
to someone who had hunted you like an animal, trying to kill 
you?’ 

Td look for my enemy everywhere, so as to bury him so 
far down he’d never even be able to turn in his hole.’ 

'And when you had done all these things, what would you 
do if you had two marvellous wives waiting for you?' 

Td ride back on a horse.’ 


That s what I shall do, and that’s dead certain.’ 

And what if I’m old and ugly when you -come back?’ 

HI he back long before you’re old and ugly.’ 

Tcs: you let water run from your eyes. You could never 
nave done that on purpose. So you may leave when you want 

like m'vTI 50 13 br03d da r B S fet . in front of everybody, not 

X S Y ° U musi g0 ** 85 ^ the same ts~ 

in the afternoon, properly dressed like a white man. Yen r"«t 

ay who is to watch over us eight and day. Zato is th- chW 

X®*™* be mother mac to lock after us. Yes 

that the house is still your Lease ar'* *-'♦ — - 

except for your sou- if it h a ^ Zc^S^'^V-Ttl ^ 

not* single man must ever ccme — ^1" 

the day you g0 . So fet fc . ^ 

We slept at Zorrfflo’s. It was a ' - - 

The murmuring and whined-- ^ 
nature had such moving J*'"" c ~-^'-zn cf 

We rodc back all three, go^ *-3-^ 1 

to leave a week I 

let me know whether it was ~ ~ 

«cn no blood the moon ^ ^ 
mntaken, but if she still he 

Chfld - Zonfflo'^T.'T' ™ - *** ~— 
o wear: I was to dress there h*Z Z 
Goajira, that is to say, navZ-’" 




os- her- 


all three to go and see the medicine-man. There was nothing 
sad about this slow return. They preferred knowing to stay- 
ing there, abandoned and mocked by the men and women of 
the village. When Zoraima had had her child, she would take 
a fisherman to go out and bring up a great many pearls, which 
she would keep for me. Lali too would fish longer every day, 
so as to keep occupied. I was sorry I had not learnt to speak 
more than a dozen words of Goajira. There were so many 
things I wanted to tell them that could not be said through 
an interpreter. We reached the village. The first thing to be 
done was to see Zato and tell him I was sorry I had gone off 
without saying anything to him. Zato was as noble-minded as 
his father. Before 1 could speak he put his hand upon my 
throat and said, ‘Vilu (be quiet).’ The new moon would be in 
ahout twelve days. Together with the eight 1 was to wait after- 
wards, that would make twenty before I left. 

While I was looking at the map again, altering various de- 
tails about getting round the villages, I thought over what 
Justo had said to me. Where could I be happier than here, where 
everybody loved me? Wasn’t I bringing misfortune on myself, 
going back to civilization? The future would show. 

These three weeks flashed by. Lali knew for sure she was 
pregnant, and it -would be two or three children that would be 
watting for me to return. Why three? She told me her mother 
had twice had twins. We went to see the medicine-man. No, 
my door was not to be shut up. There was to be nothing more 
than a branch set across it. The hammock in which we all 
three lay was to be slung from the roof of the hut. They must 
always go to bed in it together, because now they were only 
one being. Then be made us sit close to the fire, put on some 
green leaves and surrounded us with smoke for more than ten 
minutes. We went home and waited for Zorrillo, who arrived 
that same evening. We spent the whole of that night talking 
round a fire in front of my hut. By means of Zorrillo I said 
something friendly to each man of the village and they all 
answered with something of the same kind. At sunrise I went 
in with Lali and Zoraima. We made love all day long. Zoraima 
got on top of me to feel me in her better and Lali wrapped 
herself round me like a creeper, holding me tight inside her 
pulsating body - it beat like a heart. The afternoon brought 
the time for my going. With Zorrillo translating I said, 'Zato, 
great chief of this tribe that took roe in and that gave me every- 




come back, that’s dead certain. When? How? I can’t tell, but 
I promise to come back. 

Towards the end of the afternoon Zorrillo mounted and we 
'' set off for Colombia, I had on a straw hati I walked along, 
holding my horse by the bridle. All the Indians in the tribe, 
every single one, hid his face with his left arm and stretched 
the right out towards me. This meant they didn’t want to see 
me go because ft hurt them too much; and holding out their 
arms with the hand in the air was a gesture to hold me back. 
Lali and Zoraima went with me for a hundred yards. I thought 
they were going to kiss me when suddenly they turned, and 
shrieking they ran to our house, never looking back. 



ufth Exercise-Book 
Jack to Civilization 


Santa Marta Prison 

l 


There was no difficulty in leaving the Indian territory of Goa- 
iira, and wc crossed the La Vela frontier posts without any 
trouble. On horseback we could make the journey which had 
taken me so long with Antonio in no more than two days. But 
it was not only these frontier posts that were extremely^ dan- 
gerous; there was also a seventy-five mile zone as far as Rio 
Hacha, the village I had escaped from. 

In a kind of inn where you could eat and drink I carried 
out my first experiment in conversation with a Colombian 
civilian, Zorrillo at my side. I brought it off fairly well; and as 
ZorriUo had said, a strong stammer did a great deal to dis- 
guise accent and manner of speaking. 

We set off again in the direction of Santa Marta. Zorrillo 
was to leave me when we got half way and go back that morn- 
ing. 


Zorrillo left me. We decided he should take the horse back 
with him. For after all, owning a horse meant having an ad- 
dress, belonging to some given village or other and so running 
the risk of being forced to answer awkward questions. ‘You 
know So-and-So? What's the name of the mayor7 What does 
Madame X do? Who keeps the f onda? ’ 

No: it was better I should carry on on foot, travelling by 
lorry or bus, and then after Santa Marta by train. I was to be 
a jorastcro (stranger) in those parts saying I had just any sort 
o a job and place of work. Zorrillo changed three of the 
hundred-peso gold pieces for me. He gave me a thousand 
pesos. A good workman made eight or ten a day, so just with 
2^"°“ 1 Plenty to keep myself for quite a time. I got 
- °u * at was g0!ng ver >' close to Santa Marta, quite 
wbS z m FT ab ° Ut sevent y*hve miles from the place 

eoi " B *° ** - 

Every six or seven miles there was a tavern Th* 


out and asked me to have a drink. He asked me, but I was the 
one who paid. And every time he drank five of six glasses of 
fiery spirits, I pretended to drink just one. By the time we had 
gone thirty miles he was as drunk as Davy’s sow. He was so 
pissed he took the wrong direction and got into a muddy side 
road where the lorry bogged down and could not get out.. 
The Colombian didn’t worry. He lay down in the. back and 
told me to sleep in the cab. I didn’t know what I ought to do. 
It must still be twenty-five miles to Santa Marta. Being with 
him meant that I was not questioned by people we met, 
and in spite of all these stops, I still got along quicker than on 
foot. . : 

So towards the morning I made up my mind to go to sleep. 
Day was breaking so it must have been about seven o’clock. 
And here was a cart pulled by two horses. The lorry prevented 
it from getting by. Since I was sleeping in the cab they thought 
I was the driver, and they woke me up. I stammered and put 
on the look of a man started out of his sleep not rightly know- 
ing which way up he is. 

The real driver woke and argued with the man of the cart. 
After several tries we still could not manage to get the lorry 
out of the mud. It was in it up to its axles : nothing to be done. 
There were two black-dressed nuns in the cart, with coifs, and 
they had three little girls with them. After a great deal of talk 
the two men agreed to cut a clear space in the bush so the 
cart could get round, one wheel on the road and the other on 
the cleared part, thus avoiding the twenty yards of mud. 

Each had a machete - a -knife for cutting sugar-cane: a. 
tool carried by every man travelling the roads - and they cut 
everything that stood in the way while I laid it on the road to 
make it less deep and also to prevent the cart sinking in. In 
two hours or so the path was ready. It was then that one of 
the nuns, having thanked me, asked me where I was going. I 
said. ‘Santa Marta.’ 

‘But you’re not going in the right direction. You must turn 
back with us. Well take you very close to Santa Marta - only 
five miles from it.’ 

It was impossible for me to refuse: it would have made me 
look conspicuous. I should have liked to be able to say I was 
staying with the driver to give him a hand, but faced with the 
difficulty of bringing all that out, I preferred saying, 'Gracias, 
Gracias’ 



And there I was in the back of the cart with the three little 
rJs: the two nuns sat on the seat next to the driver. 

We set off and quite quickly covered the three or four miles 
ie lorry had taken by mistake. Once we reached the good 
oa d we trotted along, and about noon we stopped at an inn 
o eat. The three little girls and the carter were at one table 
jnd the nuns and 1 ate at another. The nuns were young, be- 
tween twenty-five and thirty. Very white skinned. One was 
Cmnkh the other Irish. Gently the Irish one questioned me. 
'Youkc'not from here, are you?’ § 

‘Oh yes, I come from Baranquilla. 

‘No you’re not a Colombian: your hair is too fair and your ' 
skin is only dark because it’s sunburnt. Where do you come 

from?’ 

‘RioHacha.' 

•What did you do there? ’ 

'Electrician.' 

‘Oh? I’ve a friend in the electricity company. His name’s 
Perez: he’s a Spaniard. Do you know him? ’ 

‘Yes.’ 


TmskLd.' 

At the end of the meal they got up to go and wash then- 
hands and the Irish nun came back alone. She looked at me 
and then in French she said, ‘I shan't, betray you but my com- 
panion says she’s seen your picture in the paper. You’re the 
Frenchman who escaped from the Rio Hacha prison, aren’t 
you?' 

Denying it would have been even worse. *Yes, Sister. I beg 
you not to give me away. I'm not the wicked type they said. I 
love God and respect Him.’ 


The Spanish nun appeared: speaking to her the Irishwoman 
said, ‘Yes.’ There was a very quick reply that I didn’t under- 
stand. They looked as if they were thinking; then they got up 
and went to the lavatory again. I thought fast during the five 
minutes of their absence. Should I get out before they came 
hack? Should I stay? It would come to the same thing if they 
-trayed me, because if I left I’d soon be found. These parts 
a no really thick bush, and it would take no time to put a 

5eading tfee t07ras - 1 decided to trust to 
■t, which so far had not been unkind to 



'Enrique,' 

‘Very well, Enrique: you roust come with us as far as the 
convent we’re going to, which is five miles from Santa Marta. 
You needn't he afraid of anything, travelling with us in the 
cart. Don’t speak, and everybody will thiuk you’re a work- 
man belonging to the convent.’ 

The sisters paid for everybody. I bought a tinder-lighter 
and twelve packets of cigarettes. We set off. All the time we 
travelled the nuns never spoke to me, which I was grateful for. 
Tliis way the driver never realized I spdke badly. Towards 
the end of the afternoon we pulled up at a large inn. A bus 
was standing there and on it I read Rio Hacha - Santa Marta. 
I felt like taking it. I went up to the Irish nun and told her I 
was going to make use of this bus. 

'That would be very' dangerous,’ said she, ’because before wc 
get to Santa Marta there arc at least two police posts where 
they ask passengets for their cedula (identity card); and that 
wouldn’t happen in the cart.’ 

I thanked her heartily, and now the anxiety I’d felt ever 
since they discovered me vanished entirely.- On the contrary, 
it was a stroke of wonderful luck for me, meeting these nuns. 
Just as they said, at nightfall we reached a police post {aka- 
balc in Spanish). A bus, coming from Santa Marta and go- 
ing to Rio Hacha, was being inspected by the police. I was 
lying on my back in the cart with my straw hat over my face, 
pretending to be asleep. A little’ girl of about eight had her 
head on my shoulder, and she really was asleep. When the 
cart went through the driver stopped his horses just between 
the bus and the post. 

'Cdrno esian par aqui? (hoiv are you all here?)’ asked the 
Spanishnum 

'May bien, Hermann (Very well, Sister).’ 

'Me alcgro, vamos, muchachos (I’m glad to hear it; let’s 
go on, children).’ And we drove quietly on. 

At ten at night, another post, very brightly 1st Two lines of 
cars of all kinds .waiting. One line coming from the right and 
ours from the left. The boots of the cars were opened and the 
police looked inside. 1 saw one woman made to get out; she 
was scrabbling in her handbag. She was taken off to the police 
post. She probably had no cidtila . In that case there was noth- 
ing to be done. Tile cars went by one at a time. As there were 
two hues there was no possibility of being let through ns a 


ion 



favour: there was no space, and so we had to resign our- 
selves to waiting. As far as I could see I was lost. In front oi 
us there was a iittle bus crammed with people; on top, lug- 
gage and cases, and behind a kind of big net full of all sorts 
of bundles. Four police made all the passengers get out. ms 
bus had only one door, in front. The men and women all 
filed through it. Some women carrying babies. And one by 
one they all got in again. 'Cedula! Cedula!’ And they all 
brought out a card with a photograph on and showed it 
Zorrillo had never told me about this. If I’d known, maybe 
I could have tried to get myself a forged one. I said to myself 
that if only I could get past this post I’d pay any money at 
all and somehow get hold of a cedula before travelling from 
Santa Marta to Baranquilla, a very large town on the Atlantic 
coast - two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, said my 
book. 

Christ, this bus business was taking a long time. The Irish 
mm turned round. ‘Rest easy, now, Enrique,’ she said. Straight 
away 1 was furious with her for this incautious word - the 
driver must surely have heard. 

Our turn came and the cart moved forward into the bril- 
liant light. I had decided to sit up. It seemed to me it might 
look as though I were trying to hide, lying down like that. I 
leant my back against the slatted tail-board of the cart, facing 
towards the nuns’ backs. I could only be seen from the side 
end my hat was pretty low down, but not exaggeratedly so. 

‘C6mo cstan todos por aqui? (How is everybody here?)’ said 
the Spanish nun rgain. 


‘Mvy bicn, Hcrmanas . Y c 6mo viajan tan tarde? (Yen- well, 
Sisters. Why are you travelling so late?)’ 

Por unci urgcncia, por eso no me detengo. Somos muy 

in, {I ! < i Caar ’\, 0f an - emergency, so do not keep us. We 
arc m a great hurry.)’ 

Vayamc con Dios, Hcrmanas (Go with God, Sisters) ‘ 

P '°' ess ' (Itok yon - my son! - 

•* *** A* TO vm*i quietly on, 
on the rmnl i. n! ’ us A hundred yards farther 

I said to her, Thank you, ^ ^ nan SOt h 



She said, “It was nothing: but we were so frightened it up- 
set our stomachs.’ 4 . 

About midnight we reached the convent. A high wall, a 
great' door. The driver went off to stable the horses and cart 
and the three litOe girls were led into the convent. On the steps 
of the courtyard a heated discussion began between the two 
nuns and the sister in charge of the gate. The Irishwoman 
told me that she wouldn’t wake the Mother. Superior to ask her 
permission for me to sleep in the convent. At this point I was 
stupid - 1 didn’t make my mind up quickly enough. I ought to 
have made the most of this incident to get out and leave for 
Santa Marta - 1 knew there was only five miles to go. 

It was a mistake that cost me seven years of penal servi- 
tude. 

At last the Mother Superior was woken and they gave me a 
'room on the second floor. I could see the lights of the town 
from the window: I could make out the lighthouse and the 
markers in the channel. A big vessel was moving out of the 
harbour. 

I went to sleep, and the sun was up when they knocked on 
my door. I had had a hideous dream. Lali ripped her belly 
open in front of me and our child came out in little pieces. » 

I shaved and washed very quickly. I went downstairs. At 
the bottom the Irish nun greeted me with a faint smile. ‘Good 
morning, Henri. Did you sleep well? | • 

‘Yes, Sister.’ 

“Please come along 'to the Mother Superior’s office: she 
wants to see you.* ' 

We walked in. There was a woman sitting behind a desk. A 
woman of about fifty or even more. with a very severe face: 
her black eyes looked at me without the least tenderness. 
'Setior , sabc usted hablar espanol? (Doyou speak Spanish?)’ 

‘Muy poco (Very little).’ 

'Bueno, la Hermana va servir de interprele (Very well, the 
Sister will interpret for us). They tell me you are French?’ 

“Yes, Mother.’ 

'Did you escape from prison at Rio Hacha?’ 

‘Yes, Mother.’ 

'How long ago?’ 

'About seven months.’ 

“What have you been doing meanwhile?’ 

‘I was with the Indians.’ 



•What? You with the Indians? I can’t accept that. Those * 
savages have never allowed anyone into their .territory. No 
even one single missionary has been able to get in - 
agine thatlcannot have that answer. Where were you? Tell 


me the truth.’ 

*1 was with the Indians, Mother, and I can prove it. 


‘How?* 

‘With these pearls they fished up.’ My bag was pinned to 
the back of my jacket: I undid it and passed it over. She 
* opened it and a handful of pearls spilled out. 

‘How many pearls are there here? ’ 

'I don’t know : maybe five or six hundred. About that.’ 

This is no proof. You might have stolen them somewhere 
else.* 

‘To set your mind at rest, Mother, I’ll stay here until you 
can find out whether there have been any pearls stolen, if you 
like. I’ve got some money. I can pay for my keep. I promise 
I won’t stir from my room until you say.’ 

She looked at me very hard. At the same moment it oc- 
curred to me she would be saying to herself, ‘And what if you 
escape? You’ve already escaped from prison; you’d find it 
easier from here.’ 


i - my v/noie icrrnne. i Know 


‘I’ll leave you my bag of pearls - my 
they’re in good hands.’ 

‘Very well, then. But you don’t have to stay shut up in your 
room. You may come down into the garden in the morning 
and afternoon when my daughters are in chapel. You can eat 
in the kitchen with the staS.’ 

I came away from this interview more or less at ease. I was 
about to go up to my room again, but the Irish nun led me to 
the kitchen. A big bowl of caf6 au lait, very new black bread, 
and butter. The nun watched me breakfast, standing there in 

Sh£ - looked anxious. I said, Thank you, Sister, 
tor all you have done for me,’ 

Hfnri i ikC i° d ? r ! 10re ’ but 1 caQ,t “ nothing more at all, friend 

Henn, and with this she left the kitchen. 

andthVl 1 th L™ ndow and 1 e aze d at the town and the port 

coJld noTgeS a V° Und Was weU culdva ted. I 



^and it wasn't likely I .vas wrong, for how come she, a Catalan, 
the Mother Superior of a convent and therefore an educated 
woman, didn’t speak French? It wasn’t believable. Conclu- 
sion: I’d be off that night. Yes, in the afternoon I’d go down 
into the courtyard and find out where I could get over the 
wall. At about one o’clock there was a knock on my door. 
‘Please come down for your meal, Henri.’ 

‘Yes, I’m coming. Thank you.* 

I was sitting at the kitchen table and I had hardly begun to 
help myself to a dish of meat and boiled potatoes when the 
door opened and in came .four white-uniformed police with 
rifles and an officer with a revolver. 

'No te rnueve, o te rnato (Don’t move or I kill you).’ : He 
handcuffed me. The Irish nun uttered a great shriek and 
fainted. Two kitchen-sisters picked her up. 

'Vamos (Let’s go),’ said the chief. He took me up to my 
room. They searched my bundle and straight away they found 
the thirty-six hundred-peso gold coins I still had, but ,they put 
the case with poisoned arrows aside without looking at it - 
no doubt they thought it was pencils. With a satisfaction he 
didn’t attempt to hide the chief put the gold coins into his 
pocket. We left. An old crock of a car in the courtyard. 

The five police and I crammed ourselves into this contrap- 
tion and set off at full speed, driven by a. chauffeur in police 
uniform, as black as coal. I was completely overwhelmed and 
I' made no sort of a protest. I was doing all I could to hold 
myself together: this was no time to be asking for^pityor 
forgiveness - be a man and remember you must never give up 
hope. All this flashed through my mind. And when I got out 
of the car I was so determined to look like a man and not like 
a mouse, and I succeeded so well that the first thing the officer 
who interrogated me said was, ‘This Frenchman is tough all 
right: he doesn’t seem to give a damn about being caught.’ 
I walked into his office. I took off my hat and I sat down with- 
out being asked, my bundle between my feet. 

'Tit sabes hablar espafiol ? (Can you speak Spanish, man?)’ 

'Llame el zapatero (Call the cobbler).’ A few minutes later 
■ there appeared a little man in a blue apron, carrying a shoe- 
maker’s hammer in his hand. 

‘Are you the Frenchman who escaped from Rio Hacha a 
year ago?’ 



•No.* 

'You’re lying.’ 

‘I’m not lying. I am not the Frenchman who escaped from 
Rio Hacha a year ago. ’ 

‘Undo his handcuffs. Take off your jacket and shirt, man.’ 
(He took up a paper and looked at it. All the tattooings were 
described.) ‘You lack the thumb of your left hand. Yes. So 
it’s you, then.’ 

‘No it’s not mo, because it’u not a year ago that I left. I left 
seven months back.' 

‘It’s all one.’ 

‘Maybe it is for you, man. Not for me.* 

‘I get it: you're the typical killer. French or Colombian, 
you killers ( matadores ) are all the same - un tameable. I’m 
only the deputy-governor of this prison. I don’t know what 
they’ll do with you. For the moment I’ll put you in with your 
companions.’ 


‘What companions? ' 

The Frenchmen you brought to Colombia.’ 

I followed the police, who took me to a cell whose barred 
windows looked out on to the courtyard. Here were all five 
or my friends again. We embraced. ‘We thought you were out 
and away for good, mate,’ said Clousiot. Maturette wept like. 

C <n" bc , was - And the three others were thunderstruck 
°o. The sight of them all gave me back my strength. 

Tell us all about it,’ they said. 

‘Later . What about you? ’ 

TVc ve been here these three months past.’ 

/Jo they treat you good? ’ 

Ba^Sa! 0 whe n re r fh ad - We ’ r ® WaiUng t0 be transferred to 

FrenchauSoriti^itS’ ^ 10 “ * 0Ver * 

‘SuVc ‘ ^ aboutmakin g a break?’ 

out |* y got bere be £ore you’re thinking of getting 

inghjSSc b S Areti ab ° Ut that? Do you tWok I’® giv- 
■Not all fh 9 7i ? 1f e J° U Very strictl y watched? ’ 
guard for us.’ UC y ^ but at “ght there’s a special 

|Howmany?‘ 

‘Three warders.’ 

Uow’syourlegy. 


‘OK. I don’t even limp.’ 

‘Are you always shut in? * 

•No, we can take the sun in the yard, two hours in the morn- 
ing and three in the afternoon.’ 

‘What are the other Colombian prisoners like? ’ 

‘It seems there are some very dangerous types, the thieves 
as bad as the killers.’ 

I was in the yard that afternoon, talking to Clousiot pri- 
vately, when 1 was sent for. I followed the cop into the same 
office as that morning. There I found the governor of the pri- 
son together with the one who’d already questioned me. It was 
a very dark man who was sitting in the place of honour - he 
was almost black. From his colour you would have said more 
black than Indian, and his short curly hair was that of a Negro, 
He was about fifty: black, wicked eyes, A very short-clipped 
moustache over the thick lips of a violent, angry mouth. His 
collar was open - no tie. On the left-hand side title green and 
white ribbon of some decoration or other. The cobbler was 
there too. 

•Frenchman, you have been retaken after an escape of 
seven months. What did you do during that time?’ 

‘I was with the Goajiras.’ 

‘Don’t you presume to make game of me or I’ll have you 
punished.’ 

‘It’s true.’ , 

‘No one’s ever lived with tire Indians. This year alone 
they’ve killed more than twenty-five coastguards.’ 

’No, the coastguards were killed by smugglers.’ 

*How do you know?’ 

'I lived there seven months. The Goajiras never leave their 
own country.’ i 

‘All right, maybe it’s true. Where did you steal these thirty- 
six hundred-peso pieces? ’ 

“They re mine. It was the chief of a mountain tribe called 
Justo who gave them to me.’ 

‘How could an Indian possess a fortune like this and then 
give it to you?’ 

Well, Chief, has there been any robberv with gold hundred- 
peso pieces in it?’ 

‘No: that’s true. There’s been no such theft in the reports. 

But that doesn’t mean we shan’t make inquiries.’ 


196 



Do. It’s to my advantage.’ ... 

Frenchman, you committed a serious crime by escaping 
,m the Rio Hacha gaol, and a still more serious one m 
[ping such a man as Antonio to escape - he was going to be 
3t for having killed several coastguards. Now we know that 
u are wanted by the French and that you've got a life sen- 
ice waiting for you. iTou’re a dangerous killer. So Im not 
ing to leave you with the other Frenchmen and run the 
k of having you escape again. You’re going to be put into 
e black-hole until you leave for Baranquilla. The gold coins 
ill be given back if it is found there’s been no such robbery.’ 

I left *he office and they took me to a staircase that led un- 
irground. After wc had gone down more than twenty-five 
cps we reached a very dimly-lit corridor with cages to the 
iriit and the left. One of the cells was opened and I was 
iioved in. When the door on to the passage closed a smell of 
iecay rose from the slimy earth floor. I was hailed from all 
ides.Eachbarred hole had one, two or three prisoners. 

'Francis, Francis! Que has hecho? For que esta aqui? 

What did you do? What are you in for?) Do you know these 
uc the death cells? ’ 

’You shut upl Let him speak,’ shouted a voice. 

Yes, I’m French. I’m here because I escaped from the pri- 
son at Rio Hacha.’ They understood my pidgin-Spanish per- 
fectly well, 


Tisten to this, Frenchman: I’ll tell you something. There’s 
a plank at the back of your cell. That’s to lie down on. On the 
right you’ll find a tin with water in it. Don’t waste any, be- 
cause they only give you a very little in the morning and you 
can t ask for any more. On the left there’s a latrine bucket. 
Cover it over with your jacket. You won’t need a coat be- 
cause it’s so hot, so cover your bucket so it won’t smell so bad. 
n e all cover our buckets with our clothes, we do.’ 

I went to the bars and tried to make out their faces. I could 
only see the two opposite, right up against the bars with their 
° ut mt ° the corridor. One was the Spanish-Indian type, 
nih»r th0SC 6151 pQlice v,ho nested me at Rio Hacha: the 
fellow V Cr> ' ^ht-coloured Negro, a handsome young 
“ SSfcrJfr Wanied me that ** TOter rose in the cells 
,nv V* u 0t t0 be friEhteaed > because the water 
hold nu p *V gher ^ * our middle. I was not to catch 
of the rats that might climb on to me; I was to hit them. 


Never catch hold of them if you don’t want to be bitten. I 
said, ‘How long have you been in this black-hole? ’ 

‘Two months.’ 

‘What about the others?' 

. TSfever more than three months. If they don’t take you out 
after three months, that means you’re meant to die down 
here.’ 

‘The one who’s been here longest - how long has he had? * 

‘Eight months, but he won’t last much longer now. This last 
month he’s only been able to get up on to his knees. He can’t 
stand. A really high tide and he’ll drown.’ 

They’re savages, then, in this country of yours?’ 

‘I never said we were civilized, did I? Yours is no more 
civilized either, since you’ve got a life sentence. Here in 
Colombia it’s either twenty years or death. But never life.’ 

‘Well, there you are, then. It’s much the same'everywhere.’ 

‘Did you kill many people? ’ 

•No. Only one.’ 

That’s not possible. For just one man you never get a sen- 
tence like that.’ 

‘I give you my word it’s true.’ 

•Well, then, your country’s as savage as mine, don’t you 
see?’ 

‘OK, we won’t argue about our countries. You’re right. 
The police are shits everywhere. And what did you do7’ 

‘I killed a man. his son and his wife.’ 

‘Why?’ 

‘They’d given my little brother to a sow to eat.’ 

‘Christ above ! It’s not possible ! ’ 

‘My little brother - he was five - used to throw stone; 
their boy every day, and he’d hit him on the head a good jr. 
times.' 

‘Still, that’s no reason.’ 

‘That’s what I said when I found out.’ 

‘How did you find out? ’ 

‘My little brother had been gone, missing for th 
and when I was searching for him I found one of hi 
in the dunghill. Tliis dung came from the sow’s stye 
through the muck and I found a bloodstained whit 
knew what that meant. The woman confessed befor 
them. I made them say their prayers before I shot th 
the first shot I broke the father’s legs.’ 


lOO 



get?’ 

Twenty years at the outside.’ 

‘Why are you in the black-hole? ' 

‘I hit a policeman belonging to their family. He was here in 
this prison. They’ve taken him away. He’s not here any more, 
so I’m easy in my mind 

The passage door opened. A warder came in with two pri- 
soners who were carrying a wooden tub on two wooden poles. 
Behind them, right at the back, you couId>just see the shape 
of two more warders with rifles. They went along cell by cell, 
emptying the buckets into the tub. The stench of excrement 
and urine filled the air until you choked. No one spoke. When 
they reached mo the one who took my bucket dropped a little 
packet on the ground. Quickly I shoved it farther into the 
darkness with my foot. When they had gone I found two 
packets of cigarettes in the parcel, a tinder-lighter and a note 
in French. First I lit two cigarettes and tossed them to the 
guys opposite. Then I called my neighbour, who held out his 
hand and caught cigarettes and passed them on to the others. 
When I’d handed them out I lit my own and tried to read the 
note by the corridor light. But I couldn't manage. So then I 
made a roll of the wrapping paper, and after a good many 
tries I got it to light. Quickly I read, ‘Keep your heart up. 
Papillon. Rely on us. Look out for yourself. Tomorrow well 
send you paper and pencil so you can write. Wc’rc with you 
to the death.’ How that note comforted me and warmed my 
hoartl I was not alone any more, since my friends were there 
" and I could count on them. 

No one spoke. Everybody was smoking. Handing out there 
cigarettes showed me there were nineteen of us in these death 
cells. Well, here I was on the way down the drain again; and 
this time I was up to the neck in it. These Little Sisters of the 
Lord were rather sisters to the Devil. And yet it couldn't pos- 
sibly have been the Irishwoman or the Spanish nun who 
betrayed me. Oh what a God-damned fool I had been to 
believe in those nuns I No, not them. Maybe the carter? Two 
or three times we had been careless, tailing French. Might he 
have heard? What did it matter? You’ve copped it Bus 
time cock; and you’ve copped it good and proper. Nuns, 
driver, Mother Superior — it all comes to the same thing in the 
end. 



Fucked is what I am, down here in this stinking cell that 
floods twice a day, it seems. The heat was so stifling I first took 
off my shirt and then my trousers. And my shoes, and I hung 
everything on the bars. 

And to think I had gone fifteen hundred miles just to end 
up here! What a very brilliant success. Dear God. Are You 
going to abandon me now, You who have been so open- 
handed with me? Maybe You’re angry: for after all You did 
give me freedom - the most certain, the most beautiful kind 
of freedom. You had given me a community that took me to 
its heart. You gave me not just one but two splendid wives. 
And You gave me the sun, and the sea. A hut where I was the 
unquestioned master. That primitive, natural life - very sim- 
ple, but Lord how sweet and gentle. What an unrivalled gift 
You gave me - freedom, with no police, no judges, no back- 
biters or evil men around me! And I didn’t know hoW to value 
it at its true worth. The sea so blue that it was almost green 
or black; those sunrises and sunsets, that made everything 
swim in such’gentle, peaceful serenity; that way of living with- 
out money, where I lacked nothing a man really wants - 1 had 
despised it all; I had trampled it underfoot. And all for what? 
For a society that wanted nothing to do with me. For people 
who would not even trouble to, find out whether there was 
some good in me. For a world that rejected me - that would 
not even give me the smallest hope. For a community that 
only thought of one thing : wiping me out at any price. 

When they heard of my recapture, how they’d laugh, those 
twelve bastards on the jury, that lousy Polein, the cops and 
the prosecuting counsel. For there’d certainly be some jour- 
nalist who'd send the news to France. 

And what about my family? They must have been so happy 
when the gendarmes came to tell them their son or brother 
had escaped from his gaolersl Now they would have to suffer 
all over again at the news that I was retaken. 

I’d been wrong to abandon my tribe. Yes, I could certainly 
say ‘my tribe’, because they had all adopted me. I have done 
wrong and I deserve what is happening to me. But still ... I'd 
not escaped just so as to increase the Indian population of 
South America. Dear Lord, You must understand that I just 
have to live in an ordinary civilized society once more and 
prove that I can be a harmless member of it. That’s my real 
destiny -with Your help or without it. 



I must manage to prove that I can be - that I am and shall 
be - an ordinary human being, if indeed not a better one than 
the other members of some given community or some given 
country. 

I was smoking. The water began to rise. It was almost up to 
my ankles. I called, ‘Black, how long does the water stay in 
the cell?’ 

‘That depends on the strength of the tide. One hour: -two 
at the most * 

I heard several prisoners saying, 'Esta llcgcmdo (Here it 
comes)!’ 

Very, very gradually the water rose. The half-caste and the 
Negro had climbed up on their bars: their legs were hanging 
out into the passage and their arms were round the uprights. 
I heard a noise in the water : it was a sewer-rat as big as a cat 
splashing about. It tried to get up the bars. I took hold of one 
of my shoes and when it came towards me I fetched it a great 
swipe on the head. It ran oil down the corridor, squealing. 

The Negro said to me, ‘You’ve started hunting already, 
Frances. You’ve got a lot on your plate if you want to kill 
them all. Climb on to the bars, drape yourself round them 
and take it easy.’ 

I. to ok his advice, but the bars cut into my thighs: I couldn’t 
stand the position for long. I uncovered my bucket-latrine, 
lied my jacket to the irons and then sat on it. It formed a land 
of scat that made the position more bearable, because now I 
was almost sitting down. , 

This coming in of the water, the rats, the centipedes and 
the tiny waterborne crabs, was the most revolting, the most 
depressing thing a human being could possibly have to bear. 
A good hour later, when the water ebbed away, it left half an 
inch of slimy mud. I put on ray shoes, so as not to have to 
paddle in this filth. The black chucked me a four-inch piece of 
wood, telling me to' sweep the mud out into the passage, start- 
ing first by the plank I was to sleep on and then at the back 
of the celt. This took me quite half an hour, and it forced me 
to think of what I was doing and nothing else. That was al- 
ready something. There’d be no more water until the next tide 
that is to say I’d have just eleven hours, since it was only dur- 
ing the last hour that it came in. Before we had it again I 
should have to reckon the six hours of the ebb and the five ‘of 



the flood. A thought came to me -a rather absurd idea. ‘PapH- 
Ion, it’s your fate to be linked to the tides. The moon is very 
important for you and your. life, whether you like it or not. 
It was the floocfand the ebb tides that let you get down the 
Maroni so easily when you escaped from penal. It was by 
working out the time of the tide that you left Trinidad and 
Curasao. And-thereason why you were arrested at Rio Hacha 
was that the tide wasn’t strong enough to sweep you out quick 
enough: and now here you are, at the mercy of this tide for 
goodandalL’ - 

If one day these pages are printed, maybe some of their 
readers will feel a little pity for me when they learn what I 
had to bear in the Colombian black-hole. Those people are 
the good ones. The others, first cousins to the twelve bastards 
who found me guilty, or the prosecuting counsel’s brothers, 
will say, ‘It serves him right: he only had to stay in penal and 
it’d never have happened.’ Well, whether you’re one of the 
good guys or whether you’re one of the bastards, would you 
like me to tell you something? I was not in despair, not at ’ 
all: indeed 171 go farther and say I’d rather have been in the 
cells of that old Colombian fortress, built by the Spanish In- 
quisition, than in the lies du Salut, where I ought to have 
been. Here there was a good deal still that I could try 
for carrying on with my break; and even in this rotting hole 
I was still at least fifteen hundred miles from the penal settle- 
ment. They were really going, to have to take remarkable 
precautions to make me go all those fifteen hundred miles in 
reverse. There was only one thing I regretted - my Goajira 
tribe, Lali and Zoralma, and that freedom in a life of nature. 
Without the comfort a civilized man looks for to be sure, but 
without police or prisons either, still less black-holes. I re- 
flected that it would never occur to my savages to inflict a 
punishment of this land on an enemy, far less' to someone 
like me, who had never done the . Colombians the slightest 
harm. 

I lay down on the plank and I smoked two or three cigar- 
ettes at the back of my celi so the others shouldn’t see. When 
I gave the black back his piece of wood I also tossed him a 
lighted cigarette and he, feeling awkward because of the 
others, did the same. These details may seem to have ncsort 
of importance at nil, but as I see it they meant a great deal. 

It proved that we, the outcasts of society, did at least possess 



the remains of a sense of right behaviour and consideration 
for others. 

This place wasn’t like the Conciergerie. Here I could dream 
and let my mind wander without having to put a handkerchief 
over my eyes to protect them from the glare. 

Who could it have been who told the police I was in the 
convent? Oh, if I were to find out one day, it’d cost him a 
packet. And then I said to myself, TJon’t talk balls, Papillon. 
What with all you’ve got to do in France by way of revenge, 
you’ve not come to this country in the back of beyond to do 
harm to anyone! Life itself will certainly punish the informer, 
and if one day you do come back it won’t be for revenge but 
to bring happiness to Laii and Zcralma. and percaps the chil- 
dren they’ll have had by you. If you do come back to tnk 
God-forsaken place it'll be for them and for all the Goajirat 
viho did you the honour of accentmg you as Gne of them- 
selves. rm still on the way ccwn the drain, but even right 
down in an underwater black-hme Fm stm onj-ne run, -•nether 
they like it or cot - cn the way tc freedom, mads something 
that can’t possibly he denied.’ 

I was brought paper, a pencil, two packets cf cigar enter. 
Three days I had been here rm. Gr rather three nighnn be- 
cause down here it was mart aZ the tb 
cigarette I couldn't but admire the sci 
soners. The Colombian whe gave me 
' a hell of a risk. If he ^=us ■: surer, it w 
same punishment cam frr him. than 
knew it, and aareeinr tn rein me hr : 






only brave but h : 
paper as I had dune bedim I mad . 

bearing up we!L Errml Send m usw~ chucu me r 

her talk' to u, tut a* Grhmhihnim he ha td-hmm 
the Frenchman -as hr m» -p-~ h=ru y>e ru n- ~ 
back.That’s ah.Imra frsmvam meric*' 

It was not easy tc y-m — tf - 

Thanks for eve~.~ — -- r— Hid d'y 

French cornu; - v-- : cruc 'ezr-f^ ^ -- 

handle the messare- u — — .... . - _ _ JFt 
Don’t touch the pchm u -y* V— i..~ u - 


Break at Santa Marta 


It -was not until twenty-eight days later that I was brought out 
of that loathsome hole, and then it was because of the inter- 
vention of the Belgian consul at Santa Marta, a man named 
Klausen. The black, whose name was Palacios and who got 
out three weeks after I first came, had the idea of telling his 
mother, when she came to see him, that she was to warn the 
Belgian consul that there was a Belgian in the black-hole. The 
notion came to him one Sunday when he had seen a Belgian 
prisoner being visited by the consul. 

So one day I was taken up to the governor’s office, and he 
said to me, ‘You’re French, so why do you appeal to the Bel- 
gian consul?’ _ , 

Sitting there in an armchair with a briefcase on his knee 
there was a gentleman of about fifty: dressed in white, fair, 
almost white hair; round, fresh, pink face. I grasped the posi- 
tion at once. 'You’re the one who says I’m French. I admit I 
escaped from a French prison, but for all that I’m Belgian.’ 

There, you seel ' said the little man with a face like a priest. 

‘Why didn’t you say so, then?’ 

‘As far as I could see it had nothing to do with you, because 
I’ve not really committed any serious crime on your terri- 
tory, apart from escaping, which is natural for any prisoner.’ 

‘Bueno. I’ll put you with your friends. But, Sefior Consul, I 
warn you that at the first hint of an escape I put him back 
where be comes from. Take him to the barber and then put 
him in with his friends’ 

‘Thank you, Monsieur le Consul,’ I said in French, ‘thank 
you very much for having taken this trouble forme.’ 

‘God above! How you must have suffered in that horrible 
black-hole. Go quickly before this brute changes his mind. 
I’ll come again and see you. Good-bye.' 

The barber wasn’t there and they took me straight to my 
friends. I must have looked rather old-fashioned because they 
never stopped saying, ‘Is it really you? It’s not possible. What 
have, those swine done to make you look like this? Speak - 
say something. Are you blind? What’s wrong with your eyes? 
Why do you keep blinking them like that?’ 

‘Because I can’t get used to this fight. It’s too bright for me. 



My eyes are used to the dark.’ I sat down, looking towards 
the inner part of the cell. ‘It’s better this way. ■ 

‘You smell of rot. It’s unbelievable. Even your body smells 

r °lTtripped and they put my things over by the door.. My 
anns, back, legs and thighs were covered with red bites, like 
the bites of our bugs at home, and with the places where the 
tiny crabs that came in with the tide had nipped me. I was 
horrible: I didn’t need a mirror to realize that. These five 
convicts had seen a good deal, but now they stopped talking, 
shocked at the state I was in. Clousiot called a warder and 
said although the barber wasn’t there, there was water in the 
yard. The other told him to wait until it was time to go out" 
I went out stark naked. Clousiot brought the clean clothes I 
was going to put on. With Maturette helping me, I washed 
and rewashed myself with the black soap of those parts. The 
more I washed, the more filth came ofi. At last, after several 
soapings and rinsings, I felt clean. The sun dried me in five 
minutes and I put on my clothes. The barber came. He wan- 
ted to crop my head: I said, ‘No. Cut my hair in the ordin- 
ary way and shave me. 111 pay.’ 

‘How much?' 

‘A peso.’ 


‘Do it well,’ said Clousiot, ‘and I’ll give you two.* 
Washed, shaved, with properly cut hair and clean clothes, I 
felt myself coming to life again. My friends never stopped 
questioning me - ‘And how high did the water come? What 
about the rats? What about the centipedes? And the mud? 
And the crabs? And the shit in the pails and the corpses the? 
took out? Were they natural deaths or guys who’d hanced 
themselves? Or were they police suicides? ’ 

The questions never stopped and so much talking cada 
thirsty. There was a coffee-seller in the yard. During the 
hours we stayed there I drank at least ten strong coffee 
ened with papclon (brown sugar). This coffee seemed -- -1 
the world’s finest drink. The Negro of the black-fa ol so— --r~x 
came and talked to me. In an undertone he toH = Vr- — - 
business of his mother and the Belgian consul r ---,7771 
by the hand. He was very proud of having t-777 ~77 71 
out - He went off as faa P ~- ^ ~7 17 7777 

nc 11 have another talk tomorrow. Tea*'* 17 7 JIT 

My friends* cell looked to me like a '^77771 7 



hammock he’d boo^it with his own money. He made me lie in 
it. I stretched out crossways. Ho was amazedi and I told him 
that the reason he lay longways was that he just didn’t know 
how to use a hammock. 

Our days and part o! our nights were filled with eating, 
drinking, playing draughts, playing cards with a Spanish pack, 
talking Spanish between ourselves and with the Colombian 
police and prisoners so as to learn the language well. Having 
to go to bed at nine was not so good. As I lay there all the 
details of the break right the way from the hospital at Saint- 
Laurent to Santa Marta came crowding before my eyes; and 
they called for a continuation. The film, couldn’t stop there; 
it had to go on. It’ll go on all right. Just let me get my strength 
back and believe me there’ll be more of the story. I found my 
little arrows and two coca leaves, one completely dry and the 
other with still a little green. I chewed the green one. They all 
watched me, astonished. I explained that these were the leaves 
cocaine was made of, - 

‘You’re kidding.’ 

Taste.' 

‘Well, yes : it does numb your lips and tongue.’ 

‘Do they sell it here? ' 

‘Don’t know. How do you manage to produce cash, Clou- 
siot?’ 

T changed some in Rio Hacha, and since then Fve always 
had it openly.’ 

‘As far as I’m concerned,’ I said, Tve got thirty-six hundred- 
peso gold pieces with the governor, and each coin’s worth 
three hundred pesos. One of these days ITl bring the matter 
up.’ 

‘Why not offer him a deal? They’re all broke.’ 

‘Yon may have something there.’ 

On Sunday I talked to the Belgian consul and the Belgian 
prisoner. The prisoner had swindled an American banana 
firm. The consul said he’d do all he could to protect us. He 
filled in a form saying I was bom of Belgian parents in Brus- 
sels. I told him about, the nuns and the pearls. But he was a 
Protestant and he knew nothing about priests or nuns: he 
was very slightly acquainted with the bishop. As for the coins, 
he advised me not to ask for them. It was too dangerous. He 
would have to be told twenty-four hours before we left for 
Baranquilla ‘and then you might claim them in my presence,* 



That was my last try. I -was never going 'to talk to anyone 
about escaping again. „ 

That afternoon I saw the prison governor passing by. He 
stopped, looked at me, andsaid, ‘Howareyou?’ 

‘I’m all right r but I'd be better if I had my gold pieces.’ 

‘Why?’ 

‘Because then I could afford to pay a lawyer. 

‘Come with me.’ And he took me into his office. We were 
alone. He gave me a cigar - so far so good - and lit it for me 
- better and better. ‘Can you speak Spanish well enough to 
understand and answer properly if I speak slow? ’ 

*Yes.’ 

‘Good. So you tell me you’d like to sell your twenty-six 
coins?* 

‘No, my thirty - six coins.’ 

‘Ah, yes, yes. And to pay a lawyer with the money? But 
there are only the two of us who know you possess these 
coins.’ 

‘No, there’s the sergeant and the five men who arrested 
me and the deputy-governor who received them before hand- 
ing them over to yon. And then there’s my consul.’ 

‘Ha, ha! Bueno. It’s really better that plenty of people 
should know about it - that way we can act right out in the 
open. You kaow, man, I’ve done you a great favour. I’ve 
kept quiet. I didn’t pass on the requests to the other police 
chiefs asking whether they knew of any theft of gold coins.’ 

‘But you should have* . 

*No. From your point of view it was better not to,’ - ' 

Thank you. Governor.’ 

*You want me to sell them for you?’ 

Tor how much?’ 

'Why, at the price yon told me you’d sold three for - three 
hundred pesos. You can give me one hundred pesos each for 
doing you this sendee. What do you say to that? ’ 

No. You give me back the coins in lots of ten and I’ll give 
you not a hundred pesos apiece, but two hundred. That’ll pay 
back all you’ve done for me.’ - , 

Frenchman, you’re too sharp. As for me, I’m just a poor 
Colombian officer, too trusting and not very bright; but 
you’re really intelligent. And too sharp, as I’ve already said.’ 

OK, mate. What reasonable kind of an offer have you got 
to make, then?’ - 




Cesario. I am sure he will most scrupulously pass them on 
•to me. This letter will be a sufficient receipt. 

Yours, etc. 


As the convent was five miles from Santa Malta the car was 
back in an hour and a half .The governor sent for me. 

‘Here we are. Count them and see if any are missing.’ ~ 

I counted them. Not. to see if any were missing, because I 
didn't know how many there had been in the first place, but to 
know how many there were now, in the hands of this brute. 
Five hundred and seventy-two. 

‘Right?’ 

■ ‘Yes.’ 

‘No faha? (None missing?)’ . 

“No. Now tell me wbat happened* 

‘When I got to the convent, there was the Mother Superior 
in the courtyard. With a policeman on either side of me I said, 
“Madame, I must speak to the Irish nun in your presence 
about a very serious matter whose nature you will guess, no 
doubt.” ’ * 

•What then?’ 

The nun trembled as she read the letter to the Mother 
Superior. The’ Superior said nothing. She bowed her head, 
opened the drawer of her desk and said to me, “Here’s the 
bag and its pearls, untouched. May God forgive the person 
who was guilty of such a crime against that man. Tell him we 
pray for him.” So there you are, hombrel * ended the gover- 
nor, beaming. 

‘When do we sell the pearls?’ 

‘Manana (tomorrow). I don’t ask you where they come 
from: I know you’re a dangerous matador (killer), but now I 
also know you’re a man of your word and that you’re straight. 
Here, take this ham and wine and French bread with you and 
drink to this memorable day with your friends,’ 

, ‘Good night.’ . 

And I came back with a two-litre-bottle of Chianti, a seven- 
pound smoked ham and four long French loaves. It was a 
banquet. The ham, bread and wine shrank fast. Everybody 
ate and drank heartily. 

Do you think the lawyer will be able to do something for 
us?’ 

I bunt out laughing. Poor souls - even they had fallen for 



that crap about the lawyer. *1 don’t know. We must think it 
over and consider before paying.' 

‘The best would be to pay only if it works,’ said Clousiot. 

That’s right. We must find a lawyer who’ll agree to that.* 
And I didn’t talk about it any more. I was slightly ashamed. 

The next day the Lebanese came back. ‘It’s very compli- 
cated,’ he said. ‘To begin with the pearls have to be sorted 
according to size, then by colour, and then by shape - accord- 
ing to whether they’re round or baroque.’ In short it was not 
only complicated, but into the bargain the Lebanese said he’d 
have to bring another possible buyer who knew more about it 
than he did. In four days the business was finished. He paid 
thirty thousand pesos. At the last moment I withdrew one pink 
and two black pearls as a present for the Belgian consul’s wife. 
As good businessmen they at once said that those three pearls 
alone were worth five thousand pesos. I kept them neverthe- 
less. 

.The Belgian consul made a fuss about taking the pearls: 
but he was quite willing to keep the fifteen thousand pesos for 
me. So there I was in possession of twenty-seven thousand 
pesos. Now it was a question of carrying the third deal through. 

How was I to set about it? What was the right angle? In 
Colombia a good workman earned between eight and ten pesos 
a day. So twenty-seven thousand was a lot of money. I must 
strike while the iron was hot. The governor had had twenty- 
three thousand pesos. With this twenty-seven thousand on top 
of it, he’d have fifty thousand, 

’Governor, think of a business that would let a man live 
better than you do - what would it cost?’ 

‘A good business, money down, would cost forty-five to 
.sixty thousand pesos.’ 

’And what would it bring in? Three times what you get? 
Four times?* 

‘More. It’d bring in five or six times my pay.’ 

’Then why don’t you become a businessman?’ 

‘I’d need twice as much capital as I’ve got now. 1 

*Listcn, Governor, I can suggest a third deal.’ 

‘Don’t play the fool with me.’ 

’No: I’m serious. Do you want my twenty-seven thousand 
pesos? They’re yours whenever you like.’ 

‘What do you mean?’ 



LKL me gu. ... . . . 

•Look, Frenchman, I know you dont trust' me. Before, 
maybe you were right. But now I’ve escaped from poverty, or 
close on; and now I can buy a house and send my children to 
a paying school. And it's all thanks to you, so now I’m your 
friend; I don’t want to rob you and I don’t want you to be 
killed; I can’t do anything for you here, not even for a for- 
tune. I can’t help you make a break with any chance of success 
whatsoever.’ ■ > 

‘And what if I prove that that’s not true? ’ 

•Why, then we’ll see : but think about it thoroughly first’ 
'Governor, have you a friend who’s a fisherman? ’ 

*Yes.’ • 

‘Maybe he could take me out to sea and sell me his boat?’ 

*1 don’t know.’ 

.. *What would his boat be worth, roughly?’ 

*Two thousand pesos.’ 

‘Suppose I give him seven thousand and you twenty thou- 
sand, would that be all right? * 

•Frenchman, ten thousand’s enough for me. Keep some- 
thing for yourself.’ 

‘You go ahead and fix it’ 

•You going alone? ’ 

. *No.’ 

How many?’ 

Three altogether.’ 

‘Let me talk to my fisherman friend.’ 

I was astonished at this character’s change towards me. He 
had a villainous murdering face, but there were some fine 
things hidden far down in bis heart. 

In the yard I spoke to Clousiot and Maturette. They said 
for me to do as I thought best: they were ready to follow. 
•This way of putting their lives into my hands gave me an im - 
mense satisfaction. I’d never let them down. I’d be extra- 
ordinarily cautious, for I’d taken a great responsibility on - 
my shoulders. But I had to' tell our other friends. We’d just 
finished a domino tournament. It was close on nine o’clock at 
night. It was the last moment we could still get any coffee. I 
called ‘Cafetero ! ’ and ordered six piping hot coffees. 

There’s something I Ye got to say to you. I think I’m going 
to be able, to make a break again. Unfortunately only three 
of us can go. It’s natural I should take Clousiot and Maturette, 


the ones I escaped from penal with. If any of you have any- 
thing to say against it, let him speak out. I’ll listen.* - 
•No,’ said the Breton. ‘It’s fair enbugh, whichever way you 
look at it. To begin with because you all set off from penal 
together. And then because you’d never have been in this hole 
if we hadn’t wanted to land in Colombia. But still thanks for 
asking what we think about it,,PapilIon. Of course ydu’vc got 
the right to do what you say, and I truly hope to God you 
bring it off, because if you don’t it’s certain death. And with 
very fancy trimmings, too.* 

‘We know that,’ said Clousiot and Maturctte together. 

The governor spoke to me that afternoon. His friend was 
all right. He asked what we wanted to take with us in the boat 
‘A ten-gallon keg of fresh water, fifty pounds of maize flour 
and ten pints of oil. That’s all.’ 

'Carajor exclaimed the governor. ‘You’ll take to the sea 
with no more than that? ’ 

‘Yes.* 

‘You're brave, really brave* 

It was in the bag. He was determined to go through with 
this third deal. Quietly he added, ‘Whether you believe it or 
not, friend, I’m doing this for my children in the first place, 
and then for you. You deserve it for your bravery.* 

I kncw.it was true, and I thanked him. 

*How are you going to manage so that my help doesn’t 
show too much?’ 

*You won’t be involved, ni leave at night, when the deputy- 
governor’s on duty.’ 

’What's your plan?' 

‘You must begin by reducing the night-gnard by one man. 
Then three days later you take off another. When there’s only 
one left you set up a sentry-box opposite the cell door. The 
first rainy night he’ll take shelter in the box and ni get out by 
the window behind. As for the lights round the wall, you’ll 
have to find some way of short-circuiting them yourself. 
That’s all I ask you to do. You can do it by tying-two stones 
to a length of copper wire and tossing it over the two electric 
wires that run from the pole to the row of lights on the top 
of the wall. As for the fisher man , he must moor the boat by a 
padlocked, chain, with the padlock already forced so I shan’t 
lose any time, the sails ready to be hoisted and three big pad- 
dles to get us out into the wind.’ 



. 'But there’s a little motor,’ said the governor. • 

•Ah? So much the better. Let him have it ticking over as 
though he was warming it up and go to the nearest cafe for a 
drink. When he sees us coming, he’s to stand by the boat in a 
black oilskin.’ 

‘What about the money?’ . 

‘I’ll cut your twenty thousand pesos in two - dividing each 
note. I’ll pay the fisherman bis seven thousand in advance. I'll 
give you half the twenty thousand beforehand, and one of 
the Frenchmen that stays behind - I’ll tell you which - will 
give you the other half .’ 

‘You don’t trust me then? That’s bad.’ 

*No, it’s not that I don’t trust you; but you might muck up 
the short-circuiting, and then I shan’t pay, because without 
the short-circuit there’s no getting out.’ 

‘OK.’ . ■ 

Everything was ready. Through the governor I had given 
the fisherman his seven thousand pesos. For the last five days 
there had been no more than a single man on guard. The 
sentry-box was there and we were only waiting for the rain, 
which did not come. The bar had been sawn through with 
blades the governor had supplied and the cut well camou- 
, flaged: what’s more, it was completely hidden by a cage with 
a parrot in it - a bird that was just beginning to say ‘Shit’ in 
French. We were all on hot bricks. The governor had been 
given the half notes. Every night there we were, waiting. It 
would not rain. One hour after the start of a downpour the 
governor was supposed to short-circuit the current from the 
' outside. Not a single drop; at this time of year it was utterly 
unbelievable. The smallest cloud seen through our bars at 
about the right time filled us with hope: but then nothing 
ever came. It was enough to drive you crazy. For sixteen 
days now everything had been ready - sixteen nights of wait- 
ing up, our hearts in our mouth's. One Sunday-moming the 
governor himself came into the yard to fetch me. He took me 
to bis office: there he handed me back the bundle of half notes 
and three thousand uncut pesos. 

‘What’s the matter?’ 

^ ‘Frenchman, my friend, you’ve only got tonight. At six 
- o’clock tomorrow you leave for Baranquilla. I’m only giving 
you back three thousand of the fisherman’s pesos because he 
spent the rest. If God sends rain tonight the fisherman will be 



waiting for you and you can give him the money when you 
take the boat. I trust you: I know there’s nothing to be afraid 
of.' 

It did not rain. 


Breaks at Baranquilla 


At six o’clock in the morning eight soldiers and two corporals, 
commanded by a lieutenant, put handcuffs on us and loaded 
us into an army lorry for Baranquilla. We did the hundred 
and twenty-five miles in three and a half hours. By ten we were 
at the prison they call ‘Eighty’, in the Calle Medellin at 
Baranquilla. Such a great deal of effort not to go to Baran- 
quilla. and yet for all that here we werel It was a big town. 
The chief Atlantic port in Colombia, but lying high up in the 
estuary of the Rio Magdalena. As for the prison, it was a big 
one loo: four hundred prisoners and close on a hundred war- 
ders. It was run just like any European gaol. Two surrounding 
walls, twenty-five feet high and more. 

The top men of the prison welcomed us, with Don Grego- 
rio, the governor, at their head. The prison was organized 
round four courtyards, two one side and two the other. They 
were separated by a long chapel where they had services and 
which also acted as a visiting-room. They put us into the 
'highly dangerous’ yard. When we were searched they found 
the twenty-three thousand pesos and the little arrows. I 
thought it my duty to warn the governor they were poisoned, 
which hardly made us look like model citizens. 

'These Frenchmen even go so far as to carry poisoned ar- 
rows I’ 

Bor us. being in the Baranquilla prison was the most dan- 
gerous point in our whole break. Here we were to be handed 
over to the French authorities. Yes. Baranquilla (and for us 
that just meant its huge prison) was the turning point. We 
must escape whatever it cost - we must stake everything. 



Our cell stood in the middle of the yard. It wasn’t a cell in 
any case, but a cage - a concrete roof sitting on top of thick 
iron bars, with the lavatory in one of the corners. There were 
about a hundred other prisoners; they were housed in cells 
built in the four'walls surrounding this court, which was about 
twenty yards by forty, and they could see into the court 
through their bars. Each set of bars had a kind of metal 
eave to stop the -rain coming into the cell. We six Frenchmen 
were the only ones to be lodged in this central cage, open, day 
and night to the gaze of the prisoners and, even more, of the 
warders. We spent the daytime in the yard, from six in 
the morning until six at night. We could walk in and out of the 
cells as we liked. We could talk, walk and even cat in the yard. 

Two days after we got there we were all six taken into the 
chapel, where we found the governor, a few police and seven 
or eight newspaper photographers. . ' 

‘You escaped from the French penal settlement in Guiana?’ 

‘We’ve never denied it.’ 

'What crime led each ofyou to be punished so severely? ’ 

. ‘That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we’ve com- 
mitted no crime on Colombian territory and that your nation 
is not only refusing us the right to remake our lives but is act- 
ing the part of man-hunters or gendarmes for the French 
government.’ 

‘Colombia feels that she should not accept you on her terri- 
tory.’ ’ - / , 

‘But I myself and two other comrades were and still are per- 
fectly determined not to live in this country. We were all three 
arrested far out at sea, not trying to land here at all. On the 
contrary, we were doing everything we possibly could to get 
away.’ 

‘The French,’ said the journalist belonging to a Catholic 
paper, ‘are almost ail Catholics, like us Colombians.’ 

‘It may well be that -you people are baptized Catholics, but 
y6ur way of carrying on is very far from Christian.’ 

‘What do you have against us? ' 

You collaborate with the gaolers who are hunting us down. 
Even worse, you’re doing their work for them. You’ve taken 
away our boat and everything in it - it all belonged to us, 
being a present from the Catholics of the island of Curasao, 
so magnificently represented by Bishop Irfince de Bruyne. 
We can’t think it right that you should refuse us a chance of 


redeeming ourselves; and even more than that, you stop us 
going to some other country at no expense to anyone else - 
some other country that might perhaps take the risk. That 
we think is really very wrong.’ _ . 

'So you’re angry with us — you’re angry with the Colom- 
bians?’ 

‘Not with the Colombians as such, but with their police and 
legal system.’ 

‘.What do you mean? ’ 

‘I mean that any mistake can be put right with good will. 
Allow us to set off by sea for some other country.’ 

'We’ll try to get you permission.’ 

When we were back in the yard Maturette said to me, ‘Well, 
did you get that? No kidding ourselves this time, man. We’re 
in a hell of a tight corner, and it’s not going to be easy to get 
out of it.’ 

‘Listen,’ I said, *1 don’t know whether we’d be stronger if 
we were united, but what I have to say is each can do what he 
thinks best. As for me, I just have to break out of this Eighty 
of theirs.’ ‘ 

On Thursday I was called into .the visiting-room and there 
I saw a well-dressed man of about forty-five. I looked at him. 
hard. He was curiously like Louis Dega. 

‘You’re PapiUon?* 

‘Yes.’ 

'I’m Joseph, Louis Dega’s brother. I’ve seen the papers and 
I’ve come to visit you.’ 

. ‘Thanks.’ 

‘Did you see my brother in Guiana? Did you know him at 
all?’ 

I told him exactly what had happened to Dega up until the 
day we parted in the hospital. He told me his brother was now 
on the lies du Salut, a piece of news that had reached him 
from Marseilles. Visits took place in thc-chapel, on Tburs- ■ 
days and Sundays. He told me that in Baranquilla there were 
a dozen Frenchmen who had come to seek their fortune with 
their women. They were all ponces. There was a special dis- 
trict in the town, where some eighteen whores kept up the 
■ best French traditions of refined and skilful prostitution ft 
was always the same kind of men and the same kind of women 
trom Cairo to the Lebanon, from England to Australia, from 



Buenos Aires to Caracas, Saigon to Brazzaville, who peddled 
their ancient speciality, the oldest in the world, prostitution 
and how to live off it handsomely, 

Joseph Dega told me something pretty quaint: Baran- 
quilla's French ponces were troubled in their minds. They 
were afraid our coming to the prison here might disturb their 
peace and damage their prosperous trade. And in fact, if one 
of us got out, or several of us, the police would ,go and look 
for them in the French girls’ casetas, even if the escaped man 
had never been there to ask for help. And that might lead in- 
directly to the police finding out plenty - phony papers, out- ' 
of-date or cancelled residence permits, and so on.' If they were 
looking for as they would also check identity-cards and per- 
mits. And if some of the women, and even some of the men, 
were found, it might be very bad for them. 

So now I knew just where I was. He added that as far as he 
was concerned he’d do absolutely anything I asked and he’d 
come arid see me on Thursdays and Sundays. I thanked him: 
he was a decent fellow and subsequent events showed he really 
meant what he said. He also told me that according to the 
papers France had been granted our extradition, 

‘Well, gents, I’ve plenty of news for you.’ 

’What?’ cried all five of them in chorus. 

‘No illusions for us, to begin with. Our extradition is fixed. 
A special boat is coming from French Guiana to take us back 
where we came from. Next, our being here is worrying the 
ponces - French ponces who have settled comfortably in this 
town. Not the one who came to see me. He doesn’t give a 
damn for what happens, but the other members of the union 
are afraid that if one of us escapes it may make things awk- 
ward for them.’ 

They all burst out laughing: they thought I meant to be 
funny. Ciousiot said, 'Please, Monsieur Poncio Pilate, may I 
have your permission to escape?’ 

‘It’s not a joke. If any of the tarts come and visit us we must 
tell them not to come any more. Right? ’ 

‘Right.’ 

As IVe said, there were about a hundred Colombian pri- 
soners in our yard. They were-hy no means fools. There were - 
some really skilful thieves, some elegant forgers, really bright 
confidence-men, hold-up specialists, drug peddlars and a few 
highly trained killers — it is a very commonplace calling in 



America, but these were really practised types. In those parts 
wealthy men and successful adventurers hire them to act on 
their account. 

There were skins of every colour. From the African black 
of the Senegalese to the tea-colour of our Martinique Creoles, 
and from Indian red with blue-black hair to pure white. I 
made contacts. I tried to gauge the powers and the will to es- 
cape of some few picked men. Most were like me - they either 
feared a long sentence or already had one, and they lived in a 
continual state of readiness for a break. 

Along the top of the four walls of this rectangular-court 
there ran a sentinel’s walk that was brilliantly lit by night and 
that had a Little tower at each comer to hold a sentry. So there 
were four of them on duty day and night, with an extra man 
in the yard, by the chapel door. This one had no weapons. 
The food was quite good and many of the prisoners sold things 
to eat or drink - coffee or fruit-juice - orange, pineapple, 
pawpaw, etc. - that came in from outside. Every now and 
then one of these traders would be the victim of an astonish- 
ingly rapid attack. Before he knew what was happening there 
he would be with a big towel wrapped tight round his face to 
slop him crying out and a blade in his back or at his throat 
that was ready to go in deep at the slightest resistance. The 
victim’s takings would be gone before he could say knife. As 
the towel came off so he'd get a crack on the back of the neck. 
Nobody ever said a word, whatever happened. Sometimes 
the trader would put his things away - shutting up shop, as it 
were - and try to find who it was who’d done it. If he did, then 
there was a fight: with the knife, always. 

Two Colombian -thieves came to me with a suggestion. I 
listened very closely. It seemed that -in the town there were 
some police who were also thieves. When they were on duty 
in a given district, they would tell their accomplices so they 
could come out and do business there. 

My two visitors knew them all, and they told me it would 
be very unlucky if one of these men didn’t come during that 
week to stand guard at the chapel door. I’d have to get a re- 
volver brought in to me at visiting time. The pohee-thief 
wouldn’t mind being what he’d call forced to knock on the 
door leading out of the chapel : this gave on to a little guard- 
room with four or at the most six men in it. Surprised by us, 
threatened w'ith the revolver, they couldn’t stop us getting out 



into the street. And then all you’d have to do -would be to lose 
yourself in the traffic, which was pretty dense just there. 

1 didn’t much care for the scheme. If the revolver had to 
be hidden, it couldn’t be a very big one - a 635 at the most. 
With a gun like that there was the danger the guards wouldn’t 
be frightened enough. Or one of them might turn awkward 
and you’d have to kill him. I said no. 

I wasn’t the only one to be on fire to do something: there 
were my friends too. But there was this difference. After a 
few days of being very low they came round to accepting the 
idea that the boat coming for us should find us here in-, tire 
prison. There was no great distance between that and accept- 
ing defeat. They even talked about what we might get in the 
way of punishment back in Guiana, and how we’d be treated 
there. 

The very sound of all this crap makes me sick,’ I said. ‘If 
you want to talk about that sort of future, do it without me: 
go and discuss it somewhere where I’m not. Only a eunuch 
would put up with what you call our fate. Arc you eunuchs? 
Is there one of us who’s had his balls cut ofi? If so, just let 
me know, will you? Because I’ll tell you what, mates: when I 
think of a break out of here, I think of a break for us all. If 
my brain’s bursting with trying to, work out just how to set 
about getting out, it's because I mean us all to get out. And 
six men - it’s not so easy. And I’ll tell, you something more: 
as far as I’m concerned - just me - it’s easy. If I see the date 
coming too close and nothing done, I kill a Colombian cop to 
gain time. They won't hand me back to France if I’ve killed 
one of their cops for them. Then I’ll have time and to spare. 
And as I’ll be alone, a break will be all the easier.’ 

The Colombians worked out another scheme, not at all 
badly put together. At mass on Sunday morning the chapel 
was always full of visitors and prisoners. First everybody 
heard mass together, and then when the service was over the 
prisoners who had visitors stayed on in the chapel. The Colom- 
bians asked me to go to mass on Sunday to get a thorough 
idea of how it was run, so that we could plan our action for 
the following week. They asked me to lead the revolt. But I 
refused the honour: I didn't know the men who were to take 
part well enough. 

I said that of the four Frenchmen, the Breton and the flat- 
iron man didn’t want to join. No difficulty there. All they had 



to do was not to go to church. On Sunday the four of us who 
were in the plot would go to mass. The chapel was rectangu- 
lar: the choir at the far end: a door at either side giving on 
to the two yards. The main door opened into the guard-room: 
it had bars, and behind the bars there were a score of -war- 
ders. And lastly, behind them, there was the gate into the 
street. As the chapel was crammed, the warders. left the bar- 
red door open, and while the service was going on they Stood 
there in a tight-packed line. Two men were .to come in with 
the visitors; and weapons W'ere to be brought in at the same 
time. They were to be brought by women, carrying them be- 
tween their legs: they would pass them on to the men once 
everybody was inside. Two heavy revolvers — 38 or 45. A 
woman would give one to the leader of the plot and then get 
out right away. The moment the choir boy tinkled his little 
bell the second time we were all to attack together. I was to 
put a huge knife to the governor’s throat and say, 'Don Grego- 
rio, da la orden dr. nos dejar pasar, si no, tc mato (give the 
order to let us pass or I will kill you).* 

Another man was to do the same to the priest. From dif- 
ferent angles the three others were to train their guns on the 
warders standing at the barred main door of the chapel. ‘Or- 
ders to shoot the first screw who wouldn’t throw down his 
weapons. The unarmed men were to get out first. The priest 
and the governor would act as a shield for the rearguard. If 
all went well, the warders’ rifles would be on the ground. The 
men with guns were to make the warders go into the chapel. 
We’d get out, first closing the barred door and then the 
wooden one. The guard-room would be empty, because all the 
men were required to be standing there in the chapel, hear- 
ing mass. Fifty yards from the entrance there would be a lorry 
waiting, with a little ladder behind to get in quicker. It would 
set ofT only when the leader had got in. He was to be the last. 
Wien I had seen how the mass went, I agreed. Everything 
had happened just as Fernando had told me. 

Joseph Dega was not to come and see me on Sunday. He 
knew why. lie was to get us a car disguised as a taxi so. we 
shouldn’t have to get into the lorry, and it would take us to 
a hide-out that he was also going to get ready. I was all keyed 
up the whole week, impatient to get moving. Fernando man- 
aged to get a revolver in by another route. It was a 
Colombian Civil Guard 45, a really formidable, weapon. On 



Thursday one of Joseph’s women came to see me. She was very 
sweet; she told me the taxi would be yellow - we couldn’t miss 
it. 

‘OK. Thanks/ ' 

‘Good luck.’ She kissed me prettily on both cheeks and it 

seemed to me she was quite moved. 

‘Entra. enlra. Come in and fill this chapel, to hear God’s word,’ 
said the priest. ; 

Clousiot could scarcely hold himself in. Maturette’s eyes 
were sparkling and the other man kept right there by me, not 
an inch away. I was perfectly calm as I went to my place. Don 
Gregorio, the governor, was there, ■sitting on a chair next to 
a fat woman. I was standing against the wall. Clousiot on my 
right: the two others on my left, dressed so that people 
wouldn’t notice us if we managed to get out into the street. 
My knife was open and ready, lying along my right fore- 
arm. It was held by a strong, rubber band and hidden by the 
sleeve of my khaki shirt, carefully buttoned at the wrist. It is 
at the moment of the elevation, when everyone bends his head 
as though he were looking for something, that the choir-boy, 
having in the first place jangled his little bell, then clinks it 
three distinct times. The second of these was to be our signal. 
Each of us knew just what he was to do. 

First clink: second ... I flung myself upon Don Gregorio 
and clapped the big knife to his long, winkled neck. The priest 
shrieked, 'Misericordia, no me mala (Don’t kill me, for pity’s 
sake).’ Without seeing them, I could hear the three others 
ordering the warders to throw down their rifles. Everything 
was going well. 1 took Don Gregorio by the collar of his fine’ 
suit and said, 'Sigua y no tengas miedo, no te hard dano (Fol- 
low me and don’t be afraid : I’ll do you no harm).’ 

The priest was held there with a razor to his throat, close 
to my group. Fernando said, ‘Vamos, Frances, vamos a la 
salida (Let's go, Frenchman. Let’s get out).’ 

Full of triumph and the joy of success I was shoving all 
my people towards the gate giving on to the street when two 
rifles went off at once. Fernando fell and so did one of the 
other armed men. I still pushed cn for another yard, but the . 
warders had recovered and they barred our way with their 
rifles. Fortunately there were some women between them and 
us - that prevented them from firing. Two other rifle shots, 




into the can. All the sentry had to do was to pull it up by the 
string. Now the box on the far right had a kind of little tower 
that jutted out somewhat over the yard. It occurred to me 
that if 1 could make a fair-sized grapnel and fix it to a plaited 
rope, it should catch there easily. In a few seconds I could get 
over the wall and into the street. Just one problem - coping 
with the sentry. How? 

I saw him get up and take a few steps on the high wall. He 
looked as though he was overcome by the heat - struggling 
to keep awake. God above, that was it! He’d have to be put 
to sleep. First I’d make my rope, and then, if I could find a safe 
hook, I’d dope him and make a dash for it. Two days later I had 
about twenty feet of rope, made from all the strong linen 
shirts we could find, particularly the khaki ones. The hook 
had been fairly easy to come by. It was the thing that held up 
one of the metal eaves sheltering the cell doors from the rain. 
Joseph Dega brought me a bottle of a very strong sleeping- 
draught. The instructions said you were only to take ten drops 
at a time. The bottle held about six big spoonfuls. I got the 
sentry used to me giving him coffee. He would lower the can 
and I would send him up three coffees every time. As all Col- 
ombians love spirits and as the sleeping-draught tasted some- 
thing like anis, I had a bottle of anis sent in. 

I said to the sentry, ‘Would you like a French coffee?’ 

‘What’s it like?’ 

‘It’s got anis in it. ” 

‘I’ll try. Let’s taste it first.’ 

Several of them tasted my coffee with anis in it and now, 
when I offered them a cup, they’d say, ‘French coffee! ’ 

‘All right,’ and slosh, I’d pour in the anis. 

Zero-hour came round. Noon, on a Saturday. A terrible 
heat was beating down. My friends knew it would be impos- 
sible for two to get over in time, but a Colombian with an 
Arabic name. Ah, said he’d come up behind me. I agreed. 
That would prevent any Frenchman from looking like an 
accomplice and therefore being punished. On the other hand, 

I couidn t have the rope and the hook on me, because the 
sentry would have plenty of time to inspect me while I was 
sending him up the coffee. We reckoned he’d be knocked out 
in five minutes. 

Zero-hour less five minutes. I hailed the sentry. ‘OK?’ 

‘Yes.’ 


‘Like a coffee?’ 

‘Yes. French coffee — it’s better.’ 

‘Just a minute. I’ll fetch some.’ I went over to the cafetcro. 
Two coffees.' I’d already poured the whole bottle of sleeping- 
stuff into the can. That’d stretch him out pretty flatl I went to 
the wall just under him, and he saw me pouring the anis in 
with a flourish. *You want it strong? ’ 

‘Yes.* 

I put in a little more and poured the whole lot into his can: 
he hauled it up straight away. 

Five minutes went by. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes! And 
still he wasn’t asleep. Worse still, instead of sitting down he 
took a few paces to and fro, holding his rifle. Yet he had drunk 
the lot. And at ono o’clock the guard would be changed. 

On tenterhooks, I watched his every movement. There was 
nothing to show he was drugged at all. Ha, he’d stumbled! He 
sat down in front of his sentry-box with his rifle between his 
legs. His head drooped on to his shoulder. My friends and 
the two or three Colombians who knew what was up watched 
his motions as intently as I did. 

‘Go ahead,’ I said to the Colombian. The rope ! * 

He was getting ready to throw it when the guard stood up, 
dropped his rifle, stretched, and stamped as though he were 
marking time. The Colombian stopped just before he was seen. 
Eighteen minutes left before the changing of the guard. Now, 
in my mind, I began calling for God’s help. ‘I beg You to help 
me just once more. I beg You not to abandon me! ’ But it was 
in vain I called on this God of the Christians, so awkward 
sometimes, particularly for me, an atheist. 

‘It’s unbelievable,* said Clousiot, coming close. ‘It’s un- 
believable the bloody fool doesn’t go to sleep ! ’ 

The sentry went to pick up h'is rifle, and just as he was bend- 
ing over it he fell his full length on the walk, as though he had 
been struck down. The Colombian flung the hook, but it did 
not take and it fell back again. He threw it up a second time. 
It held. He tugged to sec if it was firm. I checked it and just as 
I got my feet against the wall to take the first heave and start 
climbing Clousiot said, [Hold it! Here’s the new guard.’ 

I just had time to get away before I was seen. With the pro- 
tective instinct and spirit of- solidarity you find amonc -rh- 
oners, a dozen Colombians quickly surrounded me, n±r~ 
me in their crowd. Wc walked away along the wall, Jtsr-r 



the rope hanging there. A man in the new guard caught sight 
of the grapnel and at the same moment the unconscious sentry 
lying over his rifle. He ran two or three yards and pressed .the 
alarm, convinced therc’d been an escape. 

They cam e for the unconscious man with a stretcher. There 
were more than twenty police up there on the walk. There was 
Don Gregorio with them, having the rope hauled up. He had 
the grapnel in his hand. A few moments later the yard was 
surrounded by police, their guns pointing. There was a roll- 
call. After answering to his name, each man had to go back 
into his cell. Surprise! No one missing! Everyone was locked 
in, each in his own cell. 

Second roll-call and check, cell by cell. No. Nobody had 
disappeared. At about three o’clock we were let out into 
the yard again. We heard that the sentry was still -snoring, 
flat out, and nothing they could do would wake him. My 
Colombian accomplice was as shattered as I was. He had been 
so sure it was going to work! He raged against everything 
American, for the sleeping-draught had come from the States. 

‘What’s to be done? ’ 

‘Why, start again, hombrel ’ That’s all I could find to say to 
him. He thought I meant ’start doping another sentry’, where- 
as what I was thinking was, 'Let’s find some other way’. 

He said, ’Do you think these warders are such simpletons 
that you'll find another to drink your French coffee?’ 

Although this was a tragic moment, I could not help laugh- 
ing. ‘Sure, man, sure.’ 

The srntry slept three days and four nights. When at last 
he woke up, of course he said it was certainly me who had put 
him out with my French coffee. Don Gregorio sent for me 
and brought us face to face. The commander of the guard 
went to hit me with his sword. I leapt into a corner and defied 
him. He raised the sabre. Don Gregorio stepped between us, 
took the blow full on his shoulder and went down. His collar- 
bone was broken. He screamed so loud the officer had no 
, time for any one but him. He picked him up. Don Gregorio 
roared for help. All the civilian employees came racing in from 
the nearby offices. The commander, two other policemen and 
the sentry in question had a pitched battle against a dozen 
civilians who were trying to avenge their governor. Several 
men were slightly wounded in this tangana. The only one not 
to be hurt was me. The great thing was, this was no longer my 




The dark of the moon came round. The sergeant and the 
two sentries had received the halves of the note due to each. 
This time I didn’t have to cut them - they were in two already. 
They were to go and fetch the other halves in the Barrio 
Chino, at the house where Joseph Dega’s woman lived. 

The lights went out. We set about the bar. It was sawn 
through in under ten minutes. We left the cell,. wearing dark 
shirts and trousers. As we went the Colombian joined us. Apart 
from a black slip he was completely naked. Reaching the wall, 
I climbed the bars of the gate of the calabozo (cell or prison), 
got round the overhanging cave and threw the grapnel with 
its three yards of rope. In under three minutes I was up on 
the sentry’s walk without having made a sound. Lying there 
flat I waited for Clousiot. The night was pitch dark. Suddenly 
I saw or rather sensed a hand reaching up; I caught hold and 
heaved. Instantly there was a terrifying noise. Clousiot had 
climbed between the eave and the wall and had got caught: 
it was the top of his trousers hooked up in the metal. At the 
sound I stopped pulling, of course. The metallic row stopped. 
Once more I heaved, thinking Clousiot must have got free, 
and in the midst of the shattering din of this zinc sheet I hois- 
ted him up by main force on to the top of the wall. 

Rifle-fire from the other sentries, but not from ours. Badly 
rattled by the shots we jumped in the wrong place, down into 
a street that was thirty feet below whereas to the right there 
was one with a drop of only fifteen. Result: Clousiot broke 
his right leg again. I couldn’t get up either - both my feet 
were broken. Later I was told it was the heel bones. As for the 
Colombian, he put his knee out. The rifle fire brought the 
guard out into the street. We were surrounded with rifles 
pointing at .us, under the light of a big electric torch. I wept 
with fury. To add to it all, the guards wduld not believe I 
couldn’t get up. So it was on my knees, crawling as they banged 
me with thejr bayonets, that I went back into the prison. Clou- 
siot hopped on one foot, and the Colombian did the same. 
My head was bleeding horribly from a blow with a rifle-butt. 

The firing had woken Don Gregorio, who was sleeping in 
his office, being on duty that night, luckily for us. If it hadn’t 
been for him they would have finished us off with their rifle- 
butts and bayonets. The one who battered me most savagely 
was that very sergeant I’d paid for laying on the two sentries. 
Don Gregorio put an end to this massacre. He threatened to 


oring them before the courts if they hurt us seriously. These 
magic words quite took away their strength. 

The next day Clousiot’s leg was put in plaster at the hos- 
pital. A bone-setter doing time with us put the Colombian’s 
knee back and strapped it. During the night my feet swelled 
until they were the size of my head, all red and black with 
blood and extraordinarily puffy: the doctor had my feet 
bathed in Iuke-warm salt water and then put leeches to them 
three times a day. When they were full of blood the leeches 
dropped off of themselves and they were put into vinegar to 
make them bring it up again. The wound in my head needed 
six stitches. 


A journalist who was short of news brought out an article 
about me. He said 7. was the leader of the rising in the church, 
that I had 'poisoned' a sentry, and that now I had organized 
a mass break, with outside accomplices, for sure, since the 
whole district’s light had been cut off by someone tampering 
with the transformer. ‘Let us hope that France will rid us of 
her number one gangster as soon as possible,’ he ended. 

Joseph came , to see me, bringing his wife Annie. The ser- 
gcant and the three guards had all come separately for the 
other halves of their notes. Annie asked me what she ought to 

Smce “ ley had iep ‘ *"* wori O" Mure 
For a week now they had been trundling me about the vard 

lying down. In my ba W ? ZtT 67611 when 1 

after I broke therS thev h J Sf lt ®° mewhat less. A fortnight 
I was X-raycd d0Wn 10 half &eir and 

footed for the rest of iby days! ^ broken ' rd be flat- 

anive at 5h?S f ° r m wouId 

S cc ' Tha paper said she ^ ° f French 

& 0bcr ; Wc had eighteen «E ** *fana. It was 12 


^ober. We* h£ ^ * w£TS 

But 1Vhat c ^ d ^ld we£S WC ? ad t0 oar 

Joseph was in despair When , pIay TOth m Y broken feet? 
all the Frenrtimor. ™ he ^ to see me he told me 


Frenchmen and* She Ca ” 8 t0 see ^ he ToW me 


being handed over to the French authorities, having struggled 
so for my freedom. The whole colony was deeply concerned 
about my fate. It was a great comfort to me to know all these 
men and their women were spiritually with me. 

I’d quite given up my plan of killing a Colombian cop. In 
fact I could not bring myself to do away with the life of a man 
who had not hurt me in any way. It occurred to me he might 
have a father or a mother to keep - a wife and children. I 
smiled at the idea of having to find an evil-natured police- 
man who also had no family. For example, I might have to 
ask, ‘If I murder you, is there really nobody who will miss 
you?’ That morning of 13 October I had the blues very badly. 

I stared at some crystallized picric acid that was supposed to 
give me jaundice if I ate it. If I were sent to hospital maybe 
I could get myself taken out of it by men in Joseph’s pay. The 
next day, the fourteenth, I was yellower than a lemon. Don 
Gregorio came to see me in the yard : I was in the shade, half 
lying in my barrow with my feet in the air. Straight away, 
without any precautions, I went to the point. ‘Have me sent 
to hospital and there’s ten thousand pesos in it for you.’ 

Frenchman, 111 try. No, not so much for the ten thousand 
pesos, but because it really grieves me to see you struggling so 
for your freedom, and all in vain. Only I don’t think they’ll 
keep you there, because of that article in the paper. They 11 be 
afraid.’ 

One hour later the doctor sent me to the hospital. I didn’t • 
even touch the ground there. I was taken out of the ambu- 
lance on a stretcher, and after a very careful examination of 
my body and my urine I went right back to prison two hours 
later, without ever having got off my stretcher. 

Now it was the nineteenth, a Thursday. Joseph’s wife Annie 
came to see me, together with the wife of a Corsican. They 
brought cigarettes and some cakes and sweets. With their ' 
affectionate conversation these women did me an immense 
mount of good The sight of their pure friendship, the love- 
liest of things, really turned this bitter day into a sunlit after- 
noon. I can never say how much good the solidarity of the 
underworld did me during my stay in the prison called Eighty. 
Nor how much I owe Joseph Dega, who went so far as to risk 
his freedom and his position to help me to escape. 

But something Annie said gave me an idea. As we were talk- 
ing she said. ‘Papillon dear, you’ve done everything humanly 


232 



possible to get free. Fate’s been very hard on you. The only 
thing you haven’t done is to blow Eighty sky high!’ 

‘And why not? Why shouldn’t I blow up this old prison? 
It would be doing these Colombians a kindness. If I blow it 
up, perhaps they’ll make up their minds to build a new, more 
sanitary place.’ 

1 said farewell for ever to these charming young women, and 
as I embraced them I said to Annie, Tell Joseph to come .and 
see me on Sunday.’ 

On Sunday the 22nd, Joseph was there. 'Look, you’ve got 
to move heaven and cart!) to get someone to bring me in a 
stick of dynamite, a detonator and a fuse on Thursday. On 
my side I’ll do the necessary to get a drill and three brick- 
piercers.’ 

‘What arc you going to do7’ 

‘I’m going to blow up the prison wall in full daylight. Prom- 
ise the fake cab we talked about five thousand pesos. Let it be 
in the street behind the Caile Medellin every day from eight 
in the morning till six at night. He’ll get five hundred pesos a 
day if nothing happens and five thousand if it does. I’ll come 
with a strong Colombian carrying me on his back, through 
the hole the dynamite makes in the wall as far as the taxi - 
then it’s up to him. If the -fake cab is OK, send in the stick: 
if not, well that’s the end - the very end, and no more hope.’ 

‘Count on me,’ said Joseph. 

At five o’clock I had myself carried into the chapel. I said 
I wanted to pray alone. They took me there. I asked for Don 
Gregorio to come and see me. He came. 

'Hombre, it’s only a week now before you leave me.’ 

That’s why I asked you to come. You are holding fifteen 
thousand pesos of mine. I want to give them to my friend 
before I go so he can send them to my family. Please accept 
three thousand. I offer it to you sincerely, because you've al- 
ways protected me from ill-treatment by the soldiers And it 
would be kind if you gave me the money today, with a roll of 
sticky paper so I can fix them by Thursday and hand them 
over all in one piece.’ 

’Right.’ 

He came back and gave me twelve thousand pesos, still cut 
in halves. He kept three thousand Back in my wheelbarrow 
I called the Colombian over into a quiet corner - the Colom- 
bian who’d gone with me last Umc. I told him my scheme and 



asked If he felt he vm strong enough to carry me piggy-hack 
the twenty or thirty yards to the taxi. He solemnly undertook 
to do so. So that was OK. I was carrying on as though I was 
sure Joseph would succeed. I stationed myself under the 
wash-house early on Monday morning, and Maturette (he and 
Clousiot always acted as chauffeurs for my barrow) went to 
fetch the sergeant Td given the three thousand pesos to and 
who’d bashed me so savagely at the time of the last escape, 

■Sergeant Lopez, I’ve got to talk to you.’ 

‘What do you want? ' 

'For two thousand pesos I want a very strong three-speed 
drill and six brick piercers. Two quarter-inch, two half-inch 
and two three-quarter inch.* 

Tve no money to buy them with.’ 

“Here’s five hundred pesos.* t 

'You’ll have them, tomorrow, Tuesday, at the changing of 
the guard - one o’clock. Get two thousand pesos ready.’ 

At one o’clock on Tuesday I had the lot in an empty tin 
in the yard, a paper bin that was emptied at the changing of 
the guard. Pablo, the tough Colombian, collected them and 
hid them. 

On Thursday the 26th, no Joseph. Just at the end of. the 
visiting hour I was called. It was an old, deeply wrinkled 
Frenchman: Joseph’s messenger. ’What you asked for is in 
this loaf of bread.’ 

■Here’s the taxi’s two thousand pesos. Five hundred for 
each day. ’ 

The driver’s an old Peruvian, as game as a fighting-cock - 
you don’t have to worry about him. Ciao.’ 

‘Ciao.* 

So that the loaf shouldn't attract notice, they’d put cigar- 
ettes, matches, smoked sausage, salami, butter and a bottle of 
black oil into the big paper bag. When it was being searched 
I gave the guard on the door a packet of cigarettes, some 
matches and two little sausages. He said, ’Let’s have a bit of 
that bread.’ 

That really would have been the last straw. ‘No. You’ll have 
to buy bread. Look, here’s five pesos - there wouldn’t be' 
enough here for all six of us.* 

.Christ, that was a near shave. What a fool to have thought 
of sausages 1 The wheelbarrow hurried away from that blun- 


dcring ox of a guard at full speed. His asking for bread had 
so taken me aback I was still in a cold sweat. 

'The fireworks arc for tomorrow. Everything’s here. Pablo, 
The hole’s got to be made just under the overhang of the little 
tower. Then the sentry up there won’t be able to see you.’ 

'But he’ll hear.’ 

‘I've taken care of that. At ten o'clock tomorrow that side 
of the yard will be in the shade. One of the metal-workers must 
flatten a sheet of copper, hammering it against the wall a few 
yards from us, out in the open. If there arc two of them, so 
much the better. I'll give them five hundred pesos each. Find 
me two men for the job.* 

He found them. Two friends of mine arc going to beat 
copper non-stop. The sentry won’t be able to make out the 
sound of the drill. But you’ll have to be there in your barrow 
just beyond the overhang, talking with the other Frenchmen. 
That’ll hide me a little from the sentry in the opposite comer.’ 

In an hour's time the hole was made. Thanks to the ham- 
mering of the copper and the oil an assistant poured on to the 
drill, the sentry never suspected a thing. The stick of dynamite 
was rammed into the hole together with its detonator and 
nine inches of fuse. Tire rest of the hole was stuffed with clay. 
We stood back. If all went well the explosion would blow a 
hole in the wall. The sentry' and his sentry-box would come 
down and I, riding Pablo, would get through the gap and reach 
the taxi. The others would do the best Urey could on their 
own. It was reasonable that even if they came out after us, 
Clousiot and Maturette would reach the taxi first. 

Just before lighting the fuse Pablo said to a group of Colom- 
bians, ’If you want to make a break, there’ll be a hole in tire 
wall in a few moments.’ 

‘Fine. Because the police'll come running and shoot the 
ones behind - the ones that stand out most.’ 

Tire fuse was lit. A shattering crash shook tire whole district. 
The little tower came down with the sentry on top of it. There 
were great cracks all over the wall, so wide you could see tire- 
street through Urem: but not one was wide enough for a man. 
No real gap had been made, and it was then - only then - that 
I admitted I was beaten. It was clearly my fate to go back to 
Guiana. 

An indescribable turmoil followed this explosion. There 
were more than fifty police in tire yard. Don Gregorio knr- 



very well who was responsible. *Bueno, Frances. This time is 
the very last, I believe.’ ... 

The commander of the garrison was out of his mind with 
fury. He couldn’t give orders to strike a wounded man lying 
there in a wheelbarrow; and so as to prevent trouble for any- 
one else I called out that I’d done the whole thing myself, 
quite alone. Six warders in front of the shattered wall, six in 
the yard and six outside in the street: - they stood guard there 
right round the clock until builders had repaired it. The 
sentry who came down with the tower had had the good luck 
not to be hurt. 


Back to Guiana 


Three days later, at eleven o’clock on the morning of 30 Oc- 
tober, twelve French warders, dressed in white, came to take 
possession of us. Before we left there wa3 a little official cere- 
mony - each of us had to be checked and identified. They’d 
brought our measurements, finger-prints, photos and all the 
rest of it. Once the identification was over, the French consul 
came forward to sign a paper for the local judge - he being 
the person who was to officially hand us over to France. All 
the people there were astonished at the friendly way the screws 
treated us. No harshness, no rough words. The three who had 
been there longer than us knew several of them and talked 
and joked with them like old friends. Major Boural, the leader 
of the escort, inquired into ray condition : he looked at my feet® 
and said I’d be taken care of on board — there was a good 
medical orderly in the group that had come to fetch us. 

We travelled right down in the hold, and the voyage in this 
old tub was made really unpleasant by the stifling heat and 
the awkwardness. of being coupled two by two in leg-irons that 
went right back to the days of the Toulon prison-hulks. There 
was only one incident worth recording. The boat had to coal 
at Trinidad: when we were in the harbour an English officer 






so fast My friends did not say a word. Hie 'Prarders were Blad 
to be back. During the voyage the sea had been rough and 
now many of them were happy to get away from it 


16 November 1934 


An extraordinarily dense crowd at the landing-stage. You 
could feel they were full of curiosity to see these men who 
had not been afraid of going such a distance. And as the day 
of our arrival was a Sunday, it also provided a diversion for 
this community that didn't have so very much in that line. I 
heard people say. The wounded one is Papillon. There's 
Clousiot. The one behind is Maturettc . . .’ And so on. 

Inside the prison enclosure, six hundred men were lined up 
in groups in front of their huts. Warders next to each group. 
The first man I recognized was Franjois Sierra. He was weep- 
ing openly, without attempting to hide his tears. He was 
perched up at one of the windows of the infirmary, watching 
me. You could feel that his sorrow was genuine. We stopped 
in the middle of the square. The governor took a megaphone. 
‘Transportees, you sec how pointless it is to escape. Every 
country arrests you and bands you back to France. Nobody 
wants you. So it’s better to stay quietly here and behave prop- 
erly, What have these five men in store for them7 A heavy 
sentence that they’ll have to serve in the solitary-confinement 
prison on the He Saint-Joseph and then, for the rest of their 
time, life internment on the islands. That’s what they have 
gained by escaping. I hope you get the point. Warders, take 
these men to the punishment block.’ 

A few minutes later there we were in a special cell in the 
high-security wing. As soon as we got there I asked for my feet 
to be attended to - they were still very bruised and swollen. 
Clousiot said the plaster on his leg was hurting. We were try- 
ing it on ... if only they’d send us to hospital! Franfols Sierra 
appeared with his warder. 



Here's the orderly,’ said the screw. 

Howarcj'ou.Papi?’ 

‘I’m sick: I want to go to hospital.’ 

‘I'll try and get you in, but after what you did when you 
were tii ere last. I’m afraid it’s almost impossible. The same 
goes for CIousioL* He massaged my feet and put cn ointment : 
fie checked Gousiot’s plaster and then went away. We 
couldn’t cay anything because the screws were tiicrc, but his 
eyes expressed such good will that 1 was deeply moved. 

'No, there’s nothing to be done,' he told me the next day as 
he was massaging me again. ‘Do you want me to get you into 
the big room? Arc you put in irons at night? ' 

‘Yes.’ 

Then it's better you should go into the big room. You'll 
have the irons on still, hut at least you won’t he alone. And 
just now being alone must be horrible for you.’ 

•Right.’ 

Yes, at tin's moment loneliness was even harder to stand than 
before. I was in such a state of mind that f didn’t even have 
to close my eyes to fly away and wander both in the past and 
the present. And as 1 couldn’t walk, the punishment cell was 
even worse forme than it had been formerly. 

Oh, here I was back on the road down the drain all right! 
And yet I had been able to get shot of it quick enough, and 
there I had been, firing over the sea towards freedom, to- 
wards the delight of being a new man, and towards my re- 
venge, too. The debt those three owed me - Polcin, police and 
prosecutor: I mustn’t forget that. As for the trunk, thcre’d be 
no need to hand it to the flats on the gate at die Police Jndi- 
ciairc. I’d go as a Cook's man with the company’s elegant cap 
on my head. A big label on the trunk: Commissionaire Divi- 
sionnairc Benoit, 36, quai dcs Orfevrex & Pari'; (Seine). I’d 
carry the trunk up to die orderly-room myself, and as 1 
should have worked out that the alarm-clock wouldn't go oil 
til! 1 had left, it could not miss. The finding of this solution 
took a great weight off my mind. As for the pro- editing coun- 
sel, I had time and to spare to rip out his tongue. I had nut 
decided quite how I should do it; but it was .;■• good as done. 
That prostituted tongue, I’d tear it out bit by bit 

The %-cry first thing to be done was to get my feet right. 1 
must be able to walk’ as soon as possible. It would be three 
months before I came up for triad, and lots of things could 




Eland you any more. But still, you're welcome hero with us, 
and as you'll certainly mean to have another go, you can 
count on all of us to help you. Isn’t that right, mates? You all 
agree?' 

Every guy there agreed, and I thanked them all. 

They were formidable characters; I could see that right 
away. Since we lived together so closely it was difficult for 
anyone not to let it be known whether he had a charger or 
not. And at night, when everyone was fixed to the same bar, 
it was not hard to kill a man without danger. All you had to 
do was to fa it so that, for a certain amount of cash, the Arab 
turnkey agreed not to close the shackle properly. So you could 
get up in the darkness, do what you intended to do, and then 
go quietly back and lie down in your place, taking care to lock 
the shackle thoroughly. As the Arab was in some degree an 
accomplice, he’d keep his trap shut. 

It was three weeks now since I had been back. They had 
passed pretty briskly. I was starting to walk a little, holding 
the bar in the passage that separated tho two lines of sleeping 
platforms. I was coming on. Last week, at the official inquiry, 
1 saw the three hospital screws we knocked out and dis- 
armed. They were very pleased we had come back and they 
had great hopes that some day we'd land up where they were 
on duty. Because after our break they'd all three been sev- 
erely punished - their six months leave in Europe withheld 
and a year’s colonial allowance on top of their pay withheld 
too. So ours was net the friendliest of meetings. We repeated 
their threats at the inquiry, so that they should be on the 
record. 

The Arab behaved better. He jus* told the truth without any 
exaggeration, leaving cut the part played by Maturcttc. The 
captain in charge of the inquiry pressed U3 very hard to find 
out who had provided the boat. Wo got into his bad books by 
telling unlikely tale;, such as we made raf(3 ourselves, etc. 

He told us that because of the attack on the warders, he'd 
do his very best to get Clousiot and me five years, and Matur- 
cttc three. 'And since they call you Papillon,’ he said, 'I’ll trim 
your wings for you - you can rely on that. You’re not likek 
to fly again for some time.' 

I was very much afraid he was right. More than two £••*“'** 
to wait before coming up in front of the court. I ws* *** 
with myself for net 'having put one or two pohcrrJ 



tips into my charger. If I’d had them I might perhaps have 
been able to make a last dash for it in the punishment wing. 
I was nuking progress every day now: I was walking better 
and better. Franfois Sierra never failed to come and massage 
my feet. with camphorated oil morning and night. These 
massage-visits did an enormous amount of good, both to my 
feet and my spirit How good it is to have a friend in life! 

I noticed that such a long break as this gave us real standing 
with all the convicts. I was certain we were quite safe there 
among them. There was no danger of our being murdered for 
what we had. The great majority would not put up with it 
and it was certain that the guilty men would be killed. Every- 
one, without exception, respected us, and they even had a very 
real admiration for what we had done. And then again, our 
having knocked out the screws classed us as men who would 
6top at nothing. It’s pleasant to feel quite safe. 

Every day I walked a little farther, and the other men would 
often offer to massage not onfy my feet with the oil in a little 
bottle Sierra left me, but also the muscles of my legs, which 
were atrophying nidi such long disuse. 


The Arab and the Ante 


In this room there were two silent men who never spoke to 
anyone. They always kept very close together and they only 
talked between themselves, and even then in a low voice no one 
could hear. One day I offered one of them an American cigar- 
ette from a packet Sierra had brought me. He thanked me and 
then said, Tranpois Sierra’s a friend of yours? ' 

‘Yes. The best I have.’ 

‘Maybe one day, if things go badly, well send you our leg- 
acy through liim.’ 

‘Whatlegacy?’ 

. fnend and I have made up our minds that if they guillo- 
tine U3, well send you our charger so you can use it to mak* 



another break. So -we’ll give it to Sierra to pass it on to you.’ 

‘You think you’ll get death? ’ 

‘It’s pretty nearly sure : there’s very little chance of our get- 
ting off.’ 

‘If it’s so certain you’re going to be condemned to death, 
why are you in this big room? ’ 

‘I think they’re afraid we’ll commit suicide if either of us is 
alone in a cell.’ 

‘Yes. Yes, that’s possible. What did you do? ’ 

‘We gave an Arab to the flesh-eating ants. I tell you this, 
because unfortunately they’ve got certain proof. We were 
caught in the act.’ 

‘And where did it happen? ' 

‘At Kilometre Forty-Two, the death camp after Sparouine 
Creek.’ Hi3 friend had come over to us: he was a man from 
Toulouse. I gave him a cigarette. He sat down next to his 
friend, opposite me. 

‘We’ve never asked anybody’s opinion on the matter,’ said 
the newcomer. ‘But-I’d rather like to know what you think of 
us.’ 

'Without knowing anything about you, how do you expect 
me to say whether you were right or wrong to give a living 
man, even if he was only an Arab, to the ants to eat? To tell 
you my opinion, I’d have to know the whole business from 
AtoZ.’ 

‘I’ll tell you about it said the Toulousian. ‘Kilometre 
Forty-Two is a logging camp forty-two kilometres from 
Saint-Laurent. The convicts there are forced to cut a cubic 
yard of hard-wood a day. You have to be there every evening 
in the bush, standing by the wood you have cut, neatly piled 
up. The warders, with Arab turnkeys with them, come and 
check that you’ve done your stint. When it’s accepted, every 
cubic yard i3 marked with red, green or yellow paint. It’s ac- 
cording to the day of the week. They’ll pass the work if every 
bit is hard-wood. To manage it better, we two teamed up to- 
gether. Pretty often, we couldn’t reach the cubic yard. So then 
in the evening they’d put us in the punishment cell without 
anything to eat, and the next day, still without anything to cat 
they made us go back to work - we had to make up what was 
short the day before as well as cut this day’s yard. We wre 
being worked to death - they were treating us like dogs. 

The longer it went on, the weaker we got and the less "SS. 



could manage the work. On top of that, they’d given us a 
special guard who wasn’t a warder but an Arab. He came to 
the place we were working, sat the'e at his ease with his bull’s 
pizzle between his legs and insulted us all the time. He ate, 
smacking his lips so as tomake us feel really hungry. To put 
it in a word, it was non-stop hell. We had two chargers with 
three thousand francs in each, put by for our escape. One day 
we made up our minds to buy the Arab. That made the posi- 
tion even worse. Fortunately he always believed we only had 
one charger. His system was easy: for fifty francs, say, he’d 
let us go and steal from the heaps that had already been ac- 
cepted the day before - we took the pieces that hadn’t been 
painted and we made up our daily yard. This way he got nearly 
two thousand francs out of us, in goes of fifty or a hundred at 
a time. 

•When we’d got up to date with our work, they took the 
Arab away. And then, thinking he wouldn’t inform since he’d 
robbed us of so much money, we went into the bush to find 
the piles that had been accepted, so as to go on with the same 
manoeuvre. One day the Arab followed us very close, but hid- 
den, to see if we really were stealing wood. Then he came out 
into the open. "Ha, ha I You still steal ’em wood and no pay! 
If you no give five hundred francs, me inform.” 

Thinking it was only a threat, we refused. The next day he 
was back again. “You pay, or you in black-hole tonight.” We 
refused again. In the afternoon he came back with the screws. 
It was horrible, Papillon 1 When they’d stripped us, they took 
us to the heaps where we’d taken wood, and with these savages 
behind us and the Arab flogging us with his pizzle, they forced 
us to undo our heaps at the double and make up each one w’e 
had stolen from. This corrida lasted two days, with nothing to 
eat or drink. Often we fell down. The Arab got us up with a 
kick or with his whip. Finally we just lay there on the ground 
— we couldn’t go on. Do you know how he made us get up? 
He took one of those sort of wasps’ nests, the kind the red 
stingers live in. He cut the branch the nest was hanging from 
and crushed it down on us. The pain was so terrible we not 
only got up, but we tore around as if we were mad. There’s 
just no telling you how agonizing it was. You know how a 
wasp sting hurts? Well, imagine fifty or sixty of them. Those 
red stingers sting far, far worse than wasps. 

*We were still in the black-hole for ten days on bread and 



water, and they never, treated us at all. Even though we rubbed 
urine on the stings, they burnt terribly for three days on end. * 
I lost my left eye - a dozen had attacked it all together. When 
we were sent back to the camp, the other prisoners decided to 
help us. They each gave us a bit of hard-wood cut to the same 
size. That provided us with close on a yard, and it helped us 
a very great deal, because then we only had about one yard 
to cut between us. It was hard, but we just managed it. Little 
by little our strength came back. We ate a great deal. And it 
was just by chance that we had the notion of using the ants 
for our revenge against the Arab, We were looking for hard- 
wood and we came across a huge nest of flesh-eating ants in a 
thicket - they were actually eating a deer the size of a goat. 

‘The Arab was still making his rounds, inspecting the work, 
and one fine day we knocked him out with the handle of an 
axe and dragged him to the ants’ nest We stripped him and 
tied him to a tree, bent backwards on the ground, his hands 
and feet tied with the thick ropes we used for the logs. We 
made a few cuts here and .there on his body with the axe. We 
stuffed his mouth with grass, held in by a gag, so he couldn’t 
shout; and we waited. The ants didn’t go. for him till we’d 
stirred their nest with a stick and sprinkled them on to him. 
Then it didn’t take long. Half an hour later there were thous- 
ands and thousands of ants at work. Have you seen flesh-eating 
ants, Papillon?’ 

‘No, never. I’ve seen the big black ones.’ 

‘These ones are tiny, and as red as blood. They tear out 
microscopic bits of flesh and carry them to their nest. We’d 
suffered from the wasps, all right; but just imagine what he 
roust have gone through, flayed alive by these thousands of 
ants. He took two whole days and one morning to die. In 
twenty-four hours he had no eyes left. 

T admit we had no mercy in our revenge, but then you have 
to think what he did to us. It was a miracle we survived. Of 
course they looked for the Arab everywhere; and the other 
Arab turnkeys, as well as the screws, suspected we had some- 
thing to do with his disappearance. 

'In another thicket we made a hole for what was left of him, 
deepening it a little every day. They’d still not found any trace 
of him when a screw saw this hole was being dug. When we 
went off to work, he followed to see what was up. That was 
what finished us. 



'One morning, as soon as -we had reached our place, we un- 
tied the Arab : he was still covered with ants although he was 
'almost a Skeleton. And just as we were dragging him to the 
hole (you couldn’t carry him without the ants biting till the 
blood came) three Arab turnkeys and two warders came out. 
They had been waiting patiently, well hidden, for us to do just 
that- to bury him. 

‘Well, there you are. Our official version is that we killed 
him first and then gave him to the ants. The prosecution, 
backed by the medical evidence, says there was no mortal 
wound — they say we had him eaten alive. Our defending 
screw [warders there will act as counsel] says we might save 
our heads if they believe what we say. Otherwise we’re for it. 
To tell you the truth, we haven’t much hope. That’s why my 
friend and me chose you as our heir , without saying .’ 

‘Let’s hope I don’t inherit from you: I say that in all sin- 
cerity.’ We had a cigarette and I saw they were looking at me 
as much as to say, 'Well, aren’t you going to say something?’ 

•Look, brothers, I can see you're waiting for what you asked 
to begin with - what I think of your case, judging it as a man. 
One last question - it won’t have any influence on what I’m 
going to say. What do most of the men in this room think of 
it, and why donlt you speak to anybody? ’ 

‘Most of them think we ought to have killed him, but not to 
have had him eaten alive. As for our keeping quiet, we don’t 
talk to anyone because one day we had a chance of rioting 
and making a break, and they wouldn't take it.’ 

‘Well, mates, I’ll tell you how I see it. You did right to pay 
him back a hundred times over for what he did to you: the 
caper with the wasps or red stingers was something that can’t 
be forgiven. If they do guillotine you, at the last moment think 
as hard as ever you can just this one thing, "They’re cutting 
off my head : from the moment of tying me down and shoving 
me into the hole to the dropping of the knife, it’ll last thirty 
seconds. His death agony lasted sixty hours. I come out the 
winner. As for the other men in the. room, I don’t know 
whether you’re right: you might have thought a riot that 
day would have made a mass break possible; and the rest 
might have thought otherwise. Besides; in a rising like that, you 
might always have to kill someone without having meant it 
beforehand. Now of all the people in here, I believe the only 
ones whose heads are in danger are you two and the Graville 



brothers. Friends, it' all necessarily depends on where you sit.’ 

The two poor souls were pleased with our talk: they went 
off, going back to the life of silence they had broken to speak 
tome. 


The Cannibals’ Break 


•Where’s the wooden leg? They ate it.’ ‘One portion of peg- 
leg stew, hot.’ Or a voice pretending to be a woman’s and call- 
ing out, ‘Just a slice of well-grilled gent, chef, with no pepper, 
please.’ 

In the silent darkness of the night it was rare we didn’t hear 
one of these shouts, if not all three. Clousiot and I wondered 
. what they meant, and who they were meant for. 

This afternoon I had the key of the mystery. It was one of 
the chief actors that told me about it, Marius from La Ciotat, 
a specialist in safe-breaking. When he learnt that I’d known 
his father, Titin, he wasn’t afraid of talking to me. 

When I’d told him part of my break, I naturally said to 
him, 'And what about you? ’ 

‘Oh, me,’ he said, 'I’m in a hell of a jam. I’m very much 
afraid I may cop five years, just for an ordinary escape. I be- 
longed to the one they called the cannibals’ break. When you 
hear them call out “Where’s the wooden leg, etc.?” and "One 
stew, etc.,” in the night, that's meant for the Graville brothers. 

‘Six of us left from Kilometre Forty-Two. In the break 
there were Dede and Jean Graville, two brothers of thirty 
and thirty-five from Lyons; a Neapolitan from Marseilles and 
me from La Ciotat; and then a wooden-legged guy from An- 
gers and a kid of twenty-three who' acted as his wife. We got 
out of the Maroni well enough, but at sea we could never 
make our offing, and in a few hours we were forced back on 
to the shore of Dutch Guiana. 

There was nothing we could save from the wreck, no food, 
no stores, nor anything else. So there we were again in the bush 



— luckily we had our clothes. I ought to have said that in this 
part there’s no beach at all and the sea comes right into the 
virgin forest. What with the fallen trees, broken off short at 
the bottom or undermined by the sea and all tangled with one 
another, it’s impossible to get through. 

‘When we had walked for a whole day we reached dry land. 
We split into three groups, the Gravilles, Guesepi and me, and 
peg-leg and his boy-friend. To cut it short, we set off in dif- 
ferent directions and then twelve days later the Gravilles, 
Marius and I met again almost at the place where we’d sepa- 
rated. It was surrounded with mud you sank down in and we 
hadn’t found any way through. I don’t have to tell you how 
browned off we were. We’d been living thirteen days with no 
grub apart from a few roots and the ends of twigs. We were 
dead-beat, dying of hunger - completely done. We decided 
that Marins and me should use what strength we had left to 
go back to the edge of the sea. There we should tie a shirt as 
high as we could in a tree and so give ourselves up to the first 
Dutch coast-guard boat - one would certainly be coming by. 
When the Gravilles had rested a few hours, they svere sup- 
posed to try and find the track of the other two. It ought to 
be easy enough, because on setting out we’d agreed that each 
group should mark where it bad gone with broken branches. 

‘But a few hours later, what did they see but peg-leg coming 
their way, all alone. 

‘ “Where's the kid?" 

‘ “1 left him far behind : he couldn’t walk any more.” 

‘ "You’re a sod for having left him.” 

‘ “He was the one who wanted me to go back to where we’d 
started from,” 

‘At that moment D£de noticed that on his solitary foot he 
was wearing one of the kid’s shoes. “And you left him bare- 
foot into the bargain, so you could put on his shoe? Congratu- 
lations! And you seem pretty fit: you aren’t in the same state 
as us. Anyone can see you’ve had plenty to eat.” 

* ‘‘Yes, I found a big monkey that had been wounded." 

‘ “How lucky for you.” And with this D6de got up, his 
knife in his hand. Seeing peg-leg’s haversack full, he thought 
he knew what had happened. "Open your sack. What’s it got 
inside?” . 

’He opened the bag and a piece of flesh appeared. 

* “What’s that?” 



1 “A bit of monkey.” 

' “You sod, you killed the boy to eat him t” 

‘ “No, D6de, I swear I didn’t. He was so worn out he died, 
and I only ate a little bit of him. Forgive me.” 

‘He hadn’t time to finish before the knife was in his guts. And 
it was then, when they searched him, that they found a leather 
bag with matches and a striker. What with fury because peg- 
leg hadn’t shared the matches before parting, and what with 
hunger - to cut it short, they lit a fire and started in on the 
type. 

‘Guesepi arrived in the middle of the banquet. They asked 
him to join in. Guesepi wouldn’t. On the shore he’d eaten 
crabs and raw fish. So without joining in he watched the Grav- 
ities arranging other pieces of flesh on the embers and even 
making use of the wooden leg to keep up the fire. That day 
and the next, then, he watched the Gravities eat the man; and 
he even noticed what pieces they ate - the skin, the thigh, 
and both buttocks. 

‘As for me,’ went on Marius, ‘I was still there by the sea 
when Guesepi came to fetch me. We filled a hat with little 
fishes and crabs and we went and cooked them at the Grav- 
illes’ fire. But I did see a good many pieces of meat left, lying 
on the ashes to one side of the fire. 

‘Three days later the coast-guards picked us up and handed 
us back to the authorities at Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. Gue- 
sepi couldn’t keep quiet. Everyone in this room knows all 
about it, even the screws. And it’s because everybody knows 
it that I’m telling you. And so - the Gravilles being bad 
characters - that’s why you hear this nonsense in the night. 

‘We’re officially accused of escape aggravated by cannibal- 
ism. The worst of it is, I can only defend myself by accusing 
others; and that’s just not possible. Everybody, including Gue- 
sepi, denied everything at the inquiry. We said they’d vanished 
in the bush. So that’s how I stand, Papillon.’ 

• ‘I pity you, brother: for you can’t defend yourself by blam- 
ing others, and that’s a fact.’ 

A month later Guesepi was murdered, stabbed right in the 
heart by night. There was no sort of question who did it. 

And that is the genuine story of the cannibals who ate the 
man, roasting him over his own wooden leg - the man who had 
himself eaten the kid who went along with him. 

That night I lay farther along the iron bar. I took the lace 


of a mao who had gone, and Clousiot, having asked everybody 
to move up one, was next to me now. From this place, even 
with my left foot shackled to the bar, I could sit up and watch 
what went on in the yard. The security was so tight there was 
no rhy thm in the patrols. They came one after another con- 
tinuously; and different patrols might appear from the other 
direction at any moment. 

My feet were carrying me very well now, and they didn’t 
hurt unless it rained. So I was all set up for fresh action: but 
what was to be done? This room had no windows, only a huge 
set of bars running in one sweep its whole length and going 
up to the roof. It was so placed that the north-east wind (but 
only the wind) could pass freely. I kept watch for a week, but 
even so I couldn’t find the least opening in the warders’ secur- 
ity. For the first time I was close to admitting that they might 
manage to shut me up in the solitary-confinement prison on 
the lie Saint-Joseph. I was told it was horrible: they called it 
the man-eater. Another piece of information - in the eighty 
years it had been in existence, not a single man had ever man- 
aged to escape from it. 

Of course this half-acceptance of having lost the game 
forced me to look towards the future. I was twenty-eight and 
the prosecuting captain was going to ask for. five years of soli- 
tary. It would be hard to get off with less. So I’d be thirty-three 
when I came out. 

I still had plenty of money in my charger. So if I couldn’t 
escape, which, from what I knew, seemed likely, at least I 
should have to keep myself fit. It’s hard to take five years soli- 
tary without going mad. So I should have to eat well, and from 
the first day of my sentence discipline my mind according to 
a carefully laid down and varied programme. Avoid day- 
dreaming about castles in Spain as much as possible; arid even 
more day-dreaming about revenge. So from now on I prepare 
myself for the terrible punishment ahead, and come through 
a winner. Yes, their malice would get them nowhere. I’d come 
out of solitary physically strong and still in full possession of 
my bodily and mental powers . 

It did me good to lay down this plan of conduct and to 
accept what was coming to me with a cairn mind. The gentle 
wind that made its way into the room reached me before any- 
body else, and it was really soothing. 

Clousiot knew when I didn’t want to talk. So he didn’t dis- 



turb my silence: be just smoked a great deal, that’s all. There 
were a few stars showing. I said to him, ‘Can you see the stars 
from where you are? ’ 

’Yes,’ he said, leaning over a little. ‘But I’d rather not look 
at them; they remind me too much of the stars during our 
break.’ 

‘Don’t worry - we’ll see thousands more in our next one.’ 

‘When? In five years time?’ 

‘Clousiot, don’t you think the year we’ve just lived through 
and all the adventures we’ve had and all the people we’ve 
known are worth five years solitary? Would you rather have 
been on the islands from the beginning and not have gone on 
this break? What’s waitipg for us is not all jam; but does it 
make you regret you ever came on the break? Tell me straight, 
do you regret it, yes or no? ' 

‘Papi, you’re forgetting one thing I didn’t have - the seven 
months you spent with the Indians. If I’d been with you, I’d 
think the same: but I was in prison.’ 

‘Forgive me. I’d forgotten - I’m wandering in my mind.* 

‘No, you’re not wandering at all; and in spite of everything 
I’m glad we made our break, because I had some unforgettable 
moments too. Only I do feel rather anxious about what’s wait- 
ing for me in the man-eater. Five years - it’s next to impossible 
to come through.’ 

Then I told him just what I’d determined to do and I felt 
him respond very positively. It made me happy, seeing my 
friend’s morale coming right back. In a fortnight’s time wc 
were to come up before the court. According to certain ru- 
mours the major who was coming to preside over the court- 
mart’al was a hard man, but very just, it seemed. He wouldn’t 
swallow the Administration’s nonsense too easily. So the news 
,was good rather than bad. 

Maturette had been in a cell ever since we got back. But 
Clousiot and I refused to have a warder to act as counsel : we 
decided that I should speak for all three and that I should put 
forward our defence myself. 



The Trial 


That morning, freshly shaved and clipped, dressed in new red- 
striped dungarees and wearing shoes, we were waiting in the 
yard until we should be called before the court. Clousiot had 
had his plaster off a fortnight before. He could walk normally; 
it had not left him with a limp. 

The court-martial had begun on Monday. Now it was Sat- 
urday morning, and so there had been five days taken up with 
the various trials - the business of the fellows with the ants 
had taken up a whole day. They were 'both sentenced to death, 
and I never saw them again. The Graville brothers only copped 
four years (no proof of the act of cannibalism). Their trial 
lasted more than half a day. The other killings got four or five 
years. Looking at the fourteen defendants as a whole, the sen- 
tences were rather on the severe side, but reasonable - not exag- 
gerated. The sittings began at half past seven. We were there 
when a major in the Camel Corps uniform came in, accompan- 
ied by an elderly infantry captain and a lieutenant - his two 
assessors. 

To the right of the court a sergeant warder and a captain - 
the prosecutor representing the Administration. 

‘Case of Charridre, Clousiot, Maturette.’ 

We were about four yards from the judges. I had time to 
look very attentively at the major: he was about forty or 
forty-five; the desert had lined his face, and the hair at his 
temples was silver. Thick eyebrows over splendid black eyes 
that looked straight into our faces. A genuine soldier. There 
was nothing wicked in his gaze. He looked searchingly at us 
and weighed us up in a few seconds. My eyes met his and then 
I lowered them of my own free will. 

The Administration captain knocked us about altogether 
too hard and that was what lost him the game. He called the 
Stunning of the warders attempted murder. He would have it 
that it was a miracle the Arab had not died under our repeated 
blows. He made another error when he said that we were (he 
convicts who had carried France’s dishonour farthest afield 
since the penal settlement was founded. ‘As far as Colombia 1 
Monsieur le President, these men traversed one thousand five 
hundred miles and more. Trinidad, Curasao and Colombia — 


252 



all these countries will certainly have heard the vilest calum* 
nies about the French penal administration. I ask for two 
consecutive sentences, that is to say a total of eight years - 
five for attempted manslaughter on the one hand, and on the 
other three for escaping. This applies to Charrtere and Clou- 
siot. As far as Maturette is concerned, I only ask three years for 
escaping; because at the inquiry it came out that he took no 
part in the attempted murder.’ 

The president: ‘The court would like to hear the shortest 
possible account of this very long odyssey.’ 

Leaving out the Maroni part, I told them about our sea voy- 
age as far as Trinidad. I described the Bowens and their kind- 
ness. I quoted the remark of the Trinidad chief of police, ‘We 
are not here to pass judgment on the French legal system, 
but there’s one thing we don’t agree with, and that’s the send- 
ing of criminals to French Guiana; which is the reason why 
we are helping you.’ I told them about Curasao, Father Ir£n6e 
de Bruyne, the incident of the bag of florins, and then about 
Colombia - how and why we went there. Then, in very’ few 
words, a short account of my life with the Indians. The major 
listened without interrupting. He only asked for a few further 
details about my time with the Indians, which interested him 
immensely. Then I spoke of the Colombian prisons, especially 
the under-water black-hole at Santa Marta. 

‘Thank you : your account has enlightened and at the same 
time interested the court. Now there will be a break for fifteen 
minutes. I do not see your defending counsel; where are they? ’ 

'We haven’t got any. I’m going to ask your permission to 
put forward my friends’ defence and my own.’ 

‘You may do so : it is allowed by the regulations.’ 

Thank you.’ 

A quarter of an hour later the sitting began again. The 
president: ‘Charrifire, the court allows you to put forward 
your friends’ defence and your own. Nevertheless we warn 
you that the court will reduce you to silence if you speak dis- 
respectfully to the representative of the Administration. You 
are quite free to defend yourself, but you must use proper 
language. You may begin.’ 

‘I ask the court to simply ignore the accusation of attempted 
murder - to set it aside. It is completely unbelievable, and I’ll 
show why: I was twenty-seven last year and Clousiot thirty; 



•wc were just out from France and we were fit and strong. One 
of us is five foot seven and the other five foot eight. We hit the 
Arab and the warders with our iron bed-legs. Not one of the 
four was seriously hurt. We had not meant to harm them 
and we hit very carefully, just so as to knock them out, and 
that’s exactly what we managed to do. The prosecuting warder 
forgot to mention — or perhaps he didn’t know it — that the 
lengths of iron were wrapped in cloth so there’d be no danger 
of- killing anyone. The court, made up of regular soldiers, is 
very well aware of what a strong man can do when he hits 
anyone on the head, even if it’s only with the flat of a bay- 
• onet. So just imagine what could be done with an iron bed-leg. 
I’d like to point out to the court that not one of the four men 
who were attacked had to go to hospital. 

‘Seeing we’ve got life sentences, it seems to me that the 
crime of escaping is less serious than it would be for men with 
a short time to serve. At our age it’s very hard to bear the 
thought of never going back into real life again. I ask the 
court’s indulgence for all three of us.’ 

The major whispered with his two colleagues, then he tapped 
his desk with a mallet. ‘Defendants, stand up.’ 

Wc stood there waiting, as stiE as ramrods. 

The president: The court sets aside the accusations of at- 
tempted murder: it therefore has not to pronounce sentence, 
even of acquittal, upon that subject. You axe found guilty of 
the crime of escaping, guilty in the second degree. For this 
crime, the court sentences you to two years of solitary con- 
finement.’ 

Speaking all together, we said, Thank you, Major.’ And I 
added, ‘We thank the court.’ 

The screws who were listening to the trial at the back of the 
room were absolutely thunderstruck. When we went back to 
our companions, everybody was happy about the news - not' 
the least .jealousy. On the contrary. Even those who had 
copped it hard whole-heartedly congratulated us on our luck. 
Francois Sierra came and embraced me. He was wild with 
delight. 


nxth Excrcise-Book 
The lies du Salut 


Dur Arrival at the Islands 


rhe next day we were to take ship for the lies du Salut. This 
time, in spite of all my struggles, here I was within not much 
more than a few hours of life internment. In the first place 
I’d have to do two years of solitary on the lie Saint-Joseph. 
The convicts called that prison the man-eater: I hoped I’d 
be able to prove the nickname false. 

I’d lost the game; but my heart wasn’t that of a loser. 

I ought to be very happy at having only two years to do in 
this prison within a prison. As I’d sworn to myself, I shouldn’t 
allow my mind to go wandering the way it so easily does in 
complete isolation. I had a remedy to keep me away from 
that. From this very moment I must consider myself as a free 
man, already free, healthy and well, like any other ordinary 
convict on the islands. I should be thirty when I came out, 

I knew that escapes from the islands were very rare. They 
could be counted on your fingers; but even so, men had got 
away. Well, I’d get away too : that was for sure. In two years 
I’d escape from the islands : I repeated this to Clousiot, who 
was sitting there next to me. 

‘It’s hard to get you down, Papillon, my old mate; and I 
wish I had your faith in being free one of these days. For a 
year now you’ve been making break after break, and you’ve 
never once given up. No sooner has one gone bad on you but 
you’re preparing another. It astonishes me you’ve tried noth- 
ing here.’ 

‘Here there’s only one possible way of setting about it, mate, 
and' that’s starting a riot. But that means taking all these ex- 
tremely difficult men in hand and I just haven’t got the time 
that it needs. I very nearly started one, but I was afraid it’d 
get out of control. All the forty men in here are old lags. 
They’ve gone pretty well down the drain and they don’t react 
the same as us. Look at the cannibals, for example, and the 
characters with the ants; and then the character who wanted 



to kill a man and didn’t hesitate to put poison in the soup, 
finishing off seven others who’d never done him any harm.’ 

‘But on the islands it’s going to be the same kind of men.’ 

‘Yes, but I’ll. escape from the islands without needing any- 
body’s help. I’ll make my break alone, or with one companion 
at the most. What are you smiling about, Clousiot? ’ 

‘I'm smiling because you never give up. You’re on fire to be 
in Pans, handing' the bill to your three friends there, and that 
keeps you going at such a pitch you just won’t admit that 

what you long for may never happen.’ 

Good-night, Clousiot. See you tomorrow. Yes so we’re 

sas S'ri 0 ^ s r,rz t 

Island, of Salvation.’ I ° £ “ li ! 

- out a little more to the night-wind^ ° Q Clousiot and leant 

TweS-^meJSnlSrd? four f ° r ^ isIands ’ 

Teuton, a coaster that made thp - ndi ed-ton tub called the 

Islands - Saint-Laurent a nd b-ck a Dd " 111(5 

two by two to a chain- and f aga <n. We were shackled 
There were two groups of einht WCre landc ufTed as well, 
guarded by four screws holdinlrffl^'r ° n - fo ’ c ’ slc ' 
and the two leaders of the > c ' Ten aft> With strews 
of this old tramp; she was nhv' ' , eryboc! y was on the deck 
bottom at the first hint of a he* 3, 10usly lon Siug to plunge to the 
I’d made un mv “cavysea. 

I looked round for some wav dun " ng 1116 crossing, and 
-° u . d , and clear to a glum- fL e rf amUs . !D8 “’^elf. So speaking 
jestby way of putting him™? ™ aider ne « to me, I said, 
you ve loaded us with we shnn’+ i?^ al with all these chains 
ing.'f this staggering old wnvt- • ^ aVe muc h chance of escap- 

ewng her condition and how rouiufu,’ wWch secms very finely, 

The screw wasn’t all »w\ ° eh the sea is.’ 
foreseen. ‘Whether you he ™**ed just as I had 1 

We ve had orders to chaiKuS^* ° r not is a!1 one to us. 

P op e who gave the orders ar P ^ al s l ^ ere i s to it. The " 
werecovered.’ 08 arc responsible. In any event, k 


<rrr t * *xuy cvcmt 

M ^y, you’re quite richf 7vr„ - 

way you look at it: because if ^•weillant, whichever 
at . s ^ a ’ waaII C 0 to the bottom ch^t Coatine coffin falls apart 

^.SSl***** *££ESj?+*"r 


v -Oh. She’s bee^ddnre^^nochafeT 
’-now, said the half-wit, ’and nothing^e & ^ 111116 now > yoU 

e s e\ er happened to her.’ 


256 


‘Sure: but it’s just for that reason - just because this boat’s 
been going the round too long that she’s ready to fall to pieces 
at any moment now.’ I had succeeded in doing what I had set 
out to do - I’d stirred the general silence that was getting on 
my nerves. The warders and the convicts at once seized upon 
the subject. ‘Yes, this old tub is dangerous: and on top of that, 
we’re in chains. With no chains, at least we’d stand a chance.’ 
‘Oh, that doesn’t make any difference. With our uniform, 
boots and rifle, we’re not so light, either.’ The rifle doesn’t 
count, because in case of shipwreck you can chuck it away at 
once,’ said another. 

Seeing the thing had caught on, I tossed off another remark. 
‘Where are the life-boats? I can only see one very small job, 
just big enough for eight at the outside. What with the cap- 
tain and the crew, it would be crammed. As for everybody 
else - kiss my hand, farewell.’ 

Now it really got going, and the tone of the discussion rose. 
‘It’s quite true, there’s nothing at all; and this boat’s in such a 
state - it’s a wicked piece of irresponsibility to make family 
men run such a risk, escorting these scum.’ 

As I formed a part of the group aft, the two leaders of the 
convoy were near at hand. One of them looked at me and said, 
‘Are you the one they call Papillon? The man they brought 
back from Colombia?’ 

•Yes.’ 

‘It doesn’t surprise me you went so far: you look as though 
you understood the sea.’ 

Ostentatiously I replied, 'Yes, I do. Thoroughly.’ That cast 
a damp, all right.' What’s more the captain was on deck: he’d 
come down from the bridge to take the wheel as we left the 
estuary of the Maroni, that being the most dangerous place, 
and now he’d handed it over to someone else. This captain, 
then - a very small, fat, coal-black Negro with quite a youth- 
ful face - asked which were the men who’d sailed as far as 
Colombia on a bit of driftwood. 

‘This one here, and him, and the other one over there,’ said 
the head of the convoy. 

'Which was the captain?’ asked the dwarf. 

T was, Monsieur.’ 

■Well, shipmate, as a sailor I congratulate you. You’re no 
ordinary man. Here.’ He put his hand in his jacket pocket. 



Take this tobacco and these cigarette papers! Smoke it and 
wish me good luck.’ 

Thanks, Captain. But I must congratulate you too, for 
having the courage to sail in this death-trap: and to do so once 
or even twice a week, they tell me.’ 

He roared with laughter, terrifying the people I had wanted 
to upset. ‘Oh, you’re right,’ he said. This tub ought to have 
been sent to the breaker’s yard years and years ago, but the 
company’s waiting for it to sink so as to get the insurance.’ 

Then I ended up with a splendid stroke. ‘Luckily there’s a 
life boat for you and the crew.’ 

Wes, isn’t it lucky?’ said the captain without thinking as he 
went down the ladder. 

I’d started this subject of conversation on purpose, and it 
filled more than four hours of my journey. Everyone had his 
bit to say, and somehow - I don’t know how - the argument 
spread as far as the fo’c’sle. 

Towards ten o’clock that morning there wasn’t much of a 
sea, but the wind was unfavourable. We steered north-east, 
that is to say against the sea and against the breeze; so of 
course we rolled and pitched more than usual. Many wardens 
and convicts were seasick. Fortunately the one chained to 
me had his sea-legs, because there’s nothing so unpleasant as 
seeing someone throw up right next to you. This character was 
a genuine Parisian tili - a tough, a wide-boy. He’d come to 
Guiana in 1927. So it was seven years now that he’d been on 
the islands. He was comparatively young — thirty-eight. ‘They 
call me Titi la Belote, because I must admit I’m a wonderful 
player of belote. In any case, that’s what I make my living at, 
on the islands. Belote all night long at two francs the point. 
If you bid, you can go a long way. If you win with the jack 
at two hundred, the type pays out four hundred francs plus 
the small charge for the other points.’ 

‘But do you mean there’s that kind of money on the 
islands?’ 

‘Why, of course there is, my poor PapillonI The islands are 
full of chargers stuffed with cash. Some come across with 
them : others get it in through bent warders, paying fifty per 
cent. Anyone can teli you’re green, mate. You sound as though 
you didn’t know the first thing about it.’ ' 

’No, I know absolutely' nothing about the islands. All I 
know is it’s very' hard to escape from them.’ 



•Escape?’ said Titi. ‘It’s not even worth wasting your breath, 
talking about it. I’ve been on the islands seven years now, and 
in that time thcre’ve been two breaks. And how did they end 
up? Three dead and two retaken : that’s how they ended up, 
brother. Nobody’s succeeded. That’s the reason why there 
aren’t many who want to have a go.’ 

‘Why did you go to the mainland?' 

‘To be X-rayed to see if I had an ulcer or not.' • 

‘And you didn’t try to escape from the hospital?’ 

‘You’re dead right I didn’t try to escape from the hospital! 
You’re the one who mucked all that up, Papillon. And on top 
of that, it was just my luck to be shoved into the very ward 
you escaped from. So just try and imagine the security, will 
you? Every time you went anywhere near a window to get a 
breath of air, they made you stand back. And when you asked 
why they said, “It’s in case you might have the idea of carry- 
ing on like Papillon.” ’ 

‘Tell me, Titi, who’s the big guy sitting next to the convoy 
leader? An informer?’ 

‘Are you crazy? That guy, everybody thinks the world of 
him. He’s a square, but he knows how to behave like a genuine 
crook -.no matinees with the warders, no privileges accepted. 
Knows his place as a convict and keeps to it properly. Can 
give you sound advice: a good sidekick: cold and distant 
with the cops. Not even the priest or the doctor can get him 
to. work for them. And this square who behaves like a right 
tough guy, as you see, is a descendant of Louis XV. He’s a 
count, the genuine article: his name’s Comte Jean de B6rac. 
But still, when he first came it took a very long while for the 
men to come to think anything of him, on account of what 
sent him to penal was a very dirty, messy job indeed.’ 

‘What did he do?’ 

‘Well, he went and tossed his own baby off a bridge into a 
stream, and as the kid fell in where it was very shallow, he 
found it in his heart to go down and chuck it into a deeper 
place.’ 

'ReaJsly? It’s as though he went and killed his own kid twice 
over.’ 

’According to a friend of mine who’s a clerk and who’s seen 
his file, 'this character was terrorized by all his grand people. 
The girl who had had the baby was a servant in the big house, 
and the character’s mother flung her out like a dog. Accord- 



ing to my friend, this young fellow was under his proud old 
shrew" of a mother’s thumb, and she’d so N ground him down 
because he, a count, had had an affair with a servant-girl, that, 
when he tossed the kid into the water, having told the girl he 
was taking it to the Public Assistance, he didn’t know which 
way up he was.’ ' 

‘What did he get?’ 

‘Only ten years. You must realize, Fapillon, he’s not an or- 
dinary type like us. The countess, the guardian of the family’s 
honour, must have made the judges understand that killing a 
servant’s baby wasn't such a very serious crime when it was 
committed by a count - a guy that only, wanted to preserve 
the glory of his house.’ . , 

‘Moral?’ 

•Well,’ as I see it - but I’m just a humble Parisian wide-boy . 
- as I.see it, the moral is this : by and large, this. Comte Jean 
de B6rac was a gent who’d been brought up in such a way that 
nothing counted except blue. blood!- everything else was un- 
important, just not worth bothering about Maybe they 
weren’t serfs in the full meaning of the word, but at all events 
they were people who. didn’t amount to anything at all. His 
mother, that monster of pomp and selfishness, had so put him 
through the mangle that he was like the rest of them - he 
thought he had the hereditary right to any of the girls in the 
neighbourhood. It was only in penal that he became a real 
noble in the right sense of the word. It may sound crazy, but 
it’s only now that he’s the genuine Comte Jean de B6rac.’ 

The Hes du Salut, that unknown quantity for me, were not 
going to remain unknown for more than a few hours • now. 
What I did know was that it was very hard to escape. But not 
Impossible. And as I drew in delightful breaths of the sea wind 
I said to myself, ‘When will this head-wind be turned into a 
. full following breeze for an escape?’ 

We were coming in. Here were the islandst They made a 
triangle with Royale and Saint- Joseph forming the base and 
Devil’s Island the apex. The sun was already low in the sky, 
and it lit them up with that extreme brilliance you only see 
in the tropics. So we had plenty of rime to make out all the 
•details: To begin with there was Royale, with a flat ledge run- 
ning right round a hill about seven hundred feet high. The 
very top was- flat too. The whole thing looked just like a Mexi- 
can hat set down on the sek, with its top cut off. Very tall coco- 


nut palms everywhere; very green, too. The little red-roofed 
houses made the island look particularly attractive, and any- 
one who didn’t know what was on shore might have wanted 
to spend his life there. There was a lighthouse on the plateau, 
and no doubt they lit it up at night in bad weather, so that 
ships shouldn’t run on the rocks. Now that we were close in I 
could make out five long buildings. Titi told me the first two 
were huge barracks with four hundred convicts living in them. 
Then the disciplinary block, with its punishment cells, all sur- 
rounded by a high white wall. The fourth building was the 
hospital and the fifth housed the warders. And scattered all 
over the slopes there were these little red-roofed houses where 
other warders lived. Farther away, but quite close to the tip 
of Royale, there was Saint-Joseph. Fewer palms, less foliage: 
and then, right up on top of the plateau, a huge construction 
that could be seen quite clearly from the sea. I knew what it 
was at once - the solitary-confinement prison. Titi la Belote 
confirmed this. He pointed out the barracks of the camp 
where the prisoners doing ordinary sentences lived. They were 
lower down, near the sea. You could see the watch-towers 
and their crenellations standing out quite clearly. And then 
there were other pretty little houses, with their white walls 
and red roofs. 

As the ship was going into Royale by the southern channel 
we could now no longer see Devil’s Island. In the glimpse I 
had had of it earlier, it had looked like one enormous palm- 
covered rock, with no considerable buildings on it. A few yel- 
low houses along the edge of the sea, with black roofs. I learnt 
later that these were the houses where the political prisoners 
lived. 

We were running into the harbour of Royale, well sheltered 
behind an immense breakwater made of huge blocks. A work 
that must have cost a good many convicts their lives in the 
building. 

Three hoots on the siren, and the Tanon dropped anchor 
about two hundred and fifty yards from the quay. This very 
long jetty, well built of rounded stones and cement, rose 
about ten feet from sea-level. White-painted buildings ran 
parallel with it, some way back*. I read Guard-Room, Boat 
Office, Bakery and Harbour-Master's Office painted in black on 
the white background. 

I could see convicts staring at the boat. They were not 



dressed in the striped uniform: they were all -wearing trousers 
and a kind of white jacket. Titi la Belote told me that on the 
islands the men with money had comfortable and even quite 
decent-looking uniforms made to measure by the tailors, who 
used flour sacks with the lettering removed. He said almost 
no one wore convict’s clothes. ' 

A boat came towards the Tanon. One warder at the tiller, 
two warders with rifles to the right and the left of him: close 
to the steersman’, aft, six convicts. .They, stood there, bare to 
the waist, in white trousers, and they rowed along, plying huge 
oars. They covered the, distance in no time. Behind they towed 
a large craft rather like a ship's lifeboat; it was empty. They 
came alongside. Flrst-the leaders of "the convoy, got into the 
stem. Then two armed warders moved into the bows. Our legs 
were unchained but our handcuffs were left on, and two 
by two we 1 went down into the boat, first the ten in my group 
and then eight from the fo’c’sle. The rowers gave way. They’d 
make another trip for the rest. We got out at the quay, and 
there, lined up in front of the harbour-master’s office, we 
waited. None of us- had any baggage. The transportees, taking 
no notice of the screws, talked to us openly, at a prudent dis- 
tance of five or six yards. Several of the men who had been 
in my convoy called out friendly greetings to me. Cesari and 
„ Essari, two Corsican strong-arm men I’d known at Saint- 
Martin, told me they were boatmen, working in the harbour. 
At this point there appeared" Chapar, of the Marseilles stock- 
exchange business, whom I'd known in Paris, quite apart from 
prison. Without taking any notice at all of the screws he called 
out, T)on’t you worry, Papillon! You can count on your 
friends - you’ll lack for nothing in solitary. What did you 
get?’ 

, Two years.’ 

t 'Fine: that’s soon over. Then you’ll come in with us, and 
you’ll see life's not too bad here.’ 

Thanks, Chapar. How’s Dega?’ 

Tie’s a clerk up there. I’m surprised he hasn’t come. He’ll 
be sorry not to have seen you.’ 

Now here was Galgani. He came towards me, and when 
the guard tried to stop him he pushed past, saying, ‘You’re not 
going to stop me embracing my own brother, are you? What 
the bloody hell?’ Ahd as he embraced me he'said, ‘You can 
count on me.’ . 



He was about to go when I said, “What are you doing? * 

Tm a postman - 1 look after the letters.’ 

‘You OK?’ 

‘It’s a quiet life.’ 

The remaining men had been brought ashore and now they 
joined us. We were all unhandcuffed. Titi la Belote, de Berac 
and some men I didn’t know moved away from the group. A 
warmer said to them, ‘Come on: up to the camp.’ All of them 
had their kitbags with the prison outfit: each swung his bag 
on to his shoulder, and they set off for a road that must lead 
to the top of the island. The governor of the islands appeared, 
accompanied by six warders. There was a roll-call. We were all 
there,’ and he took delivery of us . The escort withdrew. 

‘Where’s the clerk?’ asked the governor. 

•He’s coming, sir.’ 

I saw Dega appear, in good white clothes and a buttoned 
jacket; and with him there came a warder. Each had a big book 
under his arm, they brought the men out of the ranks one by 
one, giving each Ids new number. ‘You, prisoner So-and-so, 
transportee number x, you’ll now be confinee number z.’ 

‘What sentence?’ 

*X years.' 

When it came to my turn, Dega embraced me again and 
again. The governor came over. ‘Is this Papillon?’ 

‘Yes, sir,’ said Dega. 

Take care of yourself in solitary. Two years soon pass.’ 


Solitary Confinement 


A boat was ready. Out of the nineteen for solitary, ten were 
going in this first one. My name was called. Calmly Dega said, 
‘No. This man’s going on the last trip.’ 

Ever since Fd arrived I’d been astonished at the way the 
convicts spoke. There was no feeling of discipline and they 
looked as though they didn’t give a damn for the screws. Dega 



came and stood next to me, and we talked. He already knew 
all about me and about my break. Men who had been with 
me at Saint-Laurent had come to the islands and had told him 
everything. He was too delicate to say he was sorry for me. He 
said just one thing, but very sincerely - ‘You deserved to bring 
it off, boy. It’ll be for the next time.’ He didn’t even tell me to 
keep my heart up : he knew there was no need. 

‘I’m the chief accountant and I’m in with the governor. 
Look after yourself in solitary. I'll send you in tobacco and 
enough to eat. You won’t go short of anything.’ 

‘Papillon, on your way 1 ’ . 

It was my turn. 'Be seeing you all. Thanks for everything.’ 

And I stepped into the boat. Twenty minutes later we came 
alongside at Saint-Joseph. I had time to notice that there were 
only three armed warders aboard for the six convict-boatmen 
who were rowing and die ten men on their way to solitary. 
Working out the taking of this boat would have been a piece 
of cake. Welcoming committee at Saint-Joseph. Two gover- 
nors introduced themselves to us - the governor of the island’s 
ordinary prison establishment and the governor of the Reclu- 
sion - the solitary-confinement prison. With an escort, we 
were marched up the road leading to solitary. Not a single 
convict on our path. As we went in through the big iron gates 
with the words Reclusion Disciplinaire over them I at once 
grasped just how grimly efficient this prison was. Behind the 
iron gate and the four high walls there was a little building 
with the words Administrative Block on it, and three other 
larger ones labelled A, B and C. We were taken into the ad- 
ministration block. A cold great room. The nineteen of us 
lined up in two ranks. The governor of the R6clusion said to 
us, 'Prisoners, as you know, this establishment is a place for 
the- punishment of crimes committed by men who have al- 
ready been sentenced to penal servitude and transportation. 
Here we don’t try to make you mend your ways. We know 
it’s useless. But we do try to bring you to heel. There’s just 
one rule here - keep your mouth shut. Total silence. It’s dan- 
gerous to telephone: if you’re caught, a very severe punish- 
ment. If you’re not seriously ill, don’t go sick. Because if you 
do, and you’re found to be swinging the lead,, that’s another 
punishment. That’s all I have to say to you. Oh, and by the 
way, smoking is strictly forbidden. Right, warders: search 
them thoroughly and put each into his cell. Charriere,- Clousiot 



and Maturette are not to be in the same building. See to it 
yourself. Monsieur Santori.’ 

Ten minutes later I was shut up in cell 234 in block A. Clou- 
siot was in B and Maturette in C. We said good-bye with a 
silent look. The moment we came in, we had all grasped that 
if we wanted to come out alive we should have to obey these 
inhuman rules. I saw my companions go, companions of this 
long, long break, proud, brave comrades who’d gone along 
with me so courageously, never complaining, never regretting 
what we had done together. There was a lump in my throat, 
for these fourteen months of fighting side by side for our lib- 
erty had bound us together in a friendship that had no limits. 

I looked closely at the cell they had put me into. I should 
never have imagined or believed that a country like mine, a 
country like France, the mother of freedom throughout the 
world, a country that had brought forth the Rights of Man 
and of the citizen, could possibly possess an establishment of 
such barbarous repression as the Saint-Joseph solitary-con- 
finement prison - not even in French Guiana, not even in a 
pocket-handkerchief-sized island lost in the Atlantic. Imagine 
a hundred and fifty cells in a line, each one backing on to an- 
other, and each with no opening whatever in its four thick 
walls except a small iron door with a little trap in it. Painted 
on the door over each trap It is forbidden to open this door 
without administrative order. To the left there was a sleeping- 
plank with a wooden pillow - the same system as at Beaulieu - 
the plank was on hinges and it hooked up against the wall. 
One blanket; a block of cement in the far comer, to sit on; a 
brush; an army mug; a wooden spoon; an upright iron plate 
concealing a metal chamber-pot that was fixed to it by a chain. 
(It could be moved outwards into the corridor for emptying 
and inwards, into the cell, when you wanted to use it.) The 
cell was ten feet high. By way of a ceiling, huge iron bars as 
thick as tram-rails running criss-cross so that nothing of any 
size could come through. Then higher still the real roof of the 
building, perhaps twenty feet above the ground. A sentry-walk, 
about a yard wide, with an iron hand-rail, ran high over the 
back-to-back cells. Two warders continuously paced half the 
length of this walk, meeting in the middle and turning about. 
The impression was hideous. A fair amount of daylight came 
in as far as the sentry-walk. But even at midday you could 
hardly see at all right down in the cell. Straight away I began 



walking, waiting for them to blow the whistle or whatever they 
did to say the plank could be let down. So that there shouldn’t 
be the slightest sound, both prisoners and warders were in soft 
slippers. At ondfc there came to me the thought, ‘Here, in cell 
234, Charriere, nicknamed Papillon, is going to try and live 
through a sentence of two years, or seven hundred and thirty 
days, without going mad, It’s up to him to show that this 
prison’s name of man-eater is not entirely true.’ 

One, two, three, four, five, about-turn. One, two, three, four, 
five, about-turn. The screw’s just gone by over my roof. I 
didn’t hear him come — just saw him. Clackl The light was 
on: but it was very high up, hanging from the upper roof, 
twenty feet above. The sentry-walk was lit up, but the cells 
were in the twilight. I walked: the pendulum was swinging 
once more. Sleep in peace, you bastards of jurymen who sent 
me down, sleep in peace: because I believe that if you knew 
what you’d sent me to, you’d refuse to be party to the inflic- 
tion of such a punishment - refuse with horror. It’s going to 
be very hard to stop my imagination wandering. Almost im- 
possible. The best thing to do is to direct it towards ideas that 
aren’t too discouraging - better that than trying to suppress it 
altogether. 

Yes, it was in fact a whistle that said it was time to lower 
the plank. I heard a loud voice saying, 'New men, this is to 
tell you that from now on you can lower your beds and lie 
down if you want to.’ The only part I took notice of was 'if 
you want to’. So I went on walking: this was too'grave a time 
for sleep. I’d have to get used to this cage open at the top. 
One, two, three, four, five: I’d got the pendulum rhythm right 
away: head down, hands behind my back, steps exactly the 
right length - to and fro like a pendulum, as though I were 
walking in my sleep. At the end of the five paces I didn’t even 
see the wall, I just brushed against it in this tireless marathon 
that had neither finishing-post nor any given time in which it 
''had to be run. 

Yes, Papi, this man-eater is no sort of a joke: no sort of joke 
at all. And the shadow of the screw on the wall has a pretty 
quaint effect, too. If you looked up, raising your head, it was 
even more discouraging: you were like a leopard in a pit, 
watched from above by the hunter who’d just caught it. It was 
a hbrrible feeling, and it took months before I could get used 
to it. 



Three hundred and sixty-five days in each year: seven hun- 
dred and thirty in two, unless there was a leap-year. I smiled at 
the notion. Seven hundred and thirty or seven hundred and 
thirty-one, it’s all one, you. know. What do you mean, it’s all 
one? It’s not the same thing at all. One day more is twenty- 
four hours more. And twenty-four hours, that’s a long time. 
Seven hundred and thirty days of twenty-four hours each is 
a good deal longer. How many hours would that make? Could 
I work it out in my head? How could I tackle such a sum? 
Impossible. But why not? It can be done all right. Let’s have 
a bash. A hundred days, that makes two thousand four hun- 
dred hours. Multiplying by seven is easy; it gives sixteen thou- 
sand eight- hundred to begin with plus the remaining thirty 
days at twenty-four hours apiece; which gives seven hundred 
and twenty. Sixteen thousand eight hundred plus seven hun- 
dred and twenty, if I’m not mistaken, ought to give an answer 
of seventeen thousand five hundred and twenty hours. My 
dear Monsieur Papillon, you’v: got seventeen thousand five 
hundred and twenty hours to lull in this cage - a cage care- 
fully designed for wild beasts, with its smooth walls. How 
many minutes have I got to spend here? That’s of no con- 
sequence: horns, fair enough: but minutes, no. Let’s not 
exaggerate. If 'minutes, why not seconds? But whether they 
signify or not, it’s not that I’m interested in. What I really have 
to do is to fill these days, hours, minutes by myself, out of my- 
selfl Who can there be to the right of me? And to the left? 
And behind? If these three cells are filled those three men must 
also be wondering who’s just arrived in 234. 

There was the plop of something falling behind me, inside 
,my cell. What could it be? Had my neighbour been skilful 
enough to toss something in through the bars? I tried to make 
out what it was. I could just distinguish something long and 
thin - 1 sensed it rather than saw it. Just as I was about to pick 
it up it moved and began to hurry towards the wall. At its 
first movement I recoiled. When it reached the wall it climbed 
a little way up and then fell back to the ground. The surface 
,was too smooth for it to get a footing. I let it try to make its 
way up the wall three times and then the fourth time, as it fell, 
I squashed it with my foot. It was soft under my slipper. What 
could it be? Going down on my knees I looked as close as I 
could and at last I made it out - it was a huge centipede, a 
good nine inches long and two fingers thick. I was filled with 



walking, waiting for them to blow the whistle or whatever they 
did to say the plank could be let down. So that there shouldn’t 
be the slightest sound, both prisoners and warders were in soft 
slippers. At ondb there came to me the thought, ‘Here, in cell 
234, Charriere, nicknamed Fapillon, is going to try and live 
through' a sentence of two years, or seven hundred and thirty 
days, without going mad. It's up to him to show that this 
prison’s name of man-eater is not entirely true.’ 

One, two, three, four, five, about-turn. One, two, three, four, 
five, about-turn. The screw’s just gone by over my roof. I 
didn’t hear him come - just saw him. Ciackl The light was 
on: but it was very high up, hanging from the upper roof, 
twenty feet above. The sentry-walk was lit up, but the cells 
were in the twilight. I walked: the pendulum was swinging 
once more. Sleep in peace, you bastards of jurymen who sent 
me down, sleep in peace: because I believe that if you knew 
what you’d sent me to, you’d refuse to be party to the inflic- 
tion of such a punishment - refuse with horror. It’s going to 
be very hard to stop my imagination wandering. Almost im- 
possible. The best thing to do is to direct it towards ideas that 
aren’t too discouraging - better that than trying to suppress it 
altogether. - .• 

Yes, it was in fact a whistle that said it was time to lower 
the plank. I heard a loud voice saying, ‘New men, this is to 
tell yon that from now on you can lower your beds and he 
down if you want to.' The only part I took notice of was 'if 
you want to’. So I went on walking: this was too grave a time 
for sleep. I’d have to get used to this cage open at the top. 
One, two, three, four, five: I’d got the pendulum rhythm right 
away: head down, hands behind my back, steps exactly the 
right length - to and fro like a pendulum, as though I were, 
walking in my sleep. At the end of the five paces I- didn’t even 
see the wall, I just brushed against it in this tireless marathon 
that had neither finishing-post nor any given time in which it 
'had to be run. 

Yes, Papi, this man-eater is no sort of a joke: no sort of joke 
at all. And the shadow of the screw on the wall has a pretty 
quaint effect, too. If you looked up, raising your head,' it was 
even more discouraging: you were like a leopard in a. pit, 
watched from above by the hunter who’d just caught it. It was 
a horrible feeling, and it took months before I could get used 
to it. 



Three hundred and sixty-live days in each year: seven hun- 
dred and thirty in two, unless there was a leap-year. I smiled at 
the notion. Seven hundred and thirty or seven hundred and 
thirty-one, it’s all one, you. know. What do you mean, it’s all 
one? It’s not the same thing at all. One day more is twenty- 
four hours more. And twenty-four hours, that’s a long time. 
Seven hundred and thirty days of twenty-four hours each is 
a good deal longer. How many hours would that make? Could 
I work it out in my head? How could I tackle such a sum? 
Impossible. But why not? It can be done all right. Let’s have 
a bash. A hundred days, that makes two thousand four hun- 
dred hours. Multiplying by seven is easy, it gives sixteen thou- 
sand eight' hundred to begin with plus the remaining thirty 
days at twenty-four hours apiece; which gives seven hundred 
and twenty. Sixteen thousand eight hundred plus seven hun- 
dred and twenty, if I’m not mistaken, ought to give an answer 
of seventeen thousand five hundred and twenty hours. My 
dear Monsieur Papillon, you’vj got seventeen thousand five 
hundred and twenty hours to kill in this cage - a cage care- 
fully designed for wild beasts, with its smooth walls. How 
many minutes have I got to spend here? That’s of no con- 
sequence: hours, fair enough: but minutes, no. Let’s not 
exaggerate. If minutes, why not seconds? But whether they 
signify or not, it’s not that I’m interested in. What I really have 
to do is to fill these days, hours, minutes by myself, out of my- 
self I Who can there he to the right of me? And to the left? 
And behind? If these three cells are filled those three men must 
also be wondering who’s -just arrived in 234. 

There was the plop of something falling behind me, inside 
my cell. What could it be? Had my neighbour been skilful 
enough to toss something in through the bars? I tried to make 
out what it was. I could just distinguish something long and 
thin - 1 sensed it rather than saw it. Just as I was about to pick 
it' up it moved and began to hurry towards the wall. At its 
first movement I recoiled. When it reached the wall .it climbed 
a little way up and then fell back to the ground. The surface 
was too smooth for it to get a footing. I let it try to make its 
way up the wall three times and then the fourth time, as it fell, 

I squashed it with my foot. It was soft under my sb'pper. What 
could it be? Going down on my knees I looked as close as I 
could and at last I made it out - it was a huge centipede, a 
good nine inches long and two fingers thick. I was filled with 



such disgust that I could not pick it up. and put it. in the 
chamber-pot. I kicked it under the bed. I’d look at it tomor- 
row, by daylight. As it happened I had plenty of time to see 
centipedes: they used to fail from the main roof high above. 
I learnt to let them walk about on my naked body, without 
catching hold of them or disturbing them as I lay there. I also 
had occasion to find out just how much a tactical error could 
cost in the way of pain. A sting from one of these revolting 
creatures could give you a raging fever for more than twelve 
hours, and it burnt terribly for close on six. 

However, it was an amusement, too — something to divert 
my thoughts. When a. centipede fell into my cell and I was 
awake, I would torture it as long as possible with the brush; 
or else I’d play with it, letting it hide and then trying to find it 
a few moments later. 

One, two, three, four, five ... Dead silence everywhere. 
Was there nobody here who snored? Nobody who coughed? 
The heat was stifling, true enough. And this was night-timel 
What was it going to be like during the day?.- 1 was fated to 
live with centipedes. When the tide rose in the under-water 
black.-hole of Santa Marta, great numbers, of them used to 
come in: they were smaller, but they were of the same family 
as these. At Santa Marta, to be sure, there was the daily flood- 
ing; but we could talk and call out, we could listen to 
the others singing or the lunatics (temporary or permanent) 
shouting and raving. It wasn’t the same thing at all. If I had 
the choice. I’d take Santa Marta. What you’re saying now 
doesn’t make sense, Papillon. At Santa Marta everyone agreed 
that the very most any man could stand was six months. 
Whereas here there are plenty who have four or five years to 
do, or even more. Sentencing them to do it is one thing: but 
the actual doing of it is something else again. How 'many kill 
themselves? I don’t see how they could manage it. But it is 
possible, though. It wouldn’t be easy, but you could just hang 
yourself. You make a rope with your trousers. You tie one 
end to the brush, stand on the sleeping-plank and push the 
rope round a bar. If you do it right up against the sentry- 
tvalk, it’s probable the screw won’t notice the rope. And just 
when he’s gone by, you launch yourself into the empty, air. By 
the time he comes back, you’ve already had it. In any case, 
he’d be in no hurry to come and open your cell to cut you. 
down. Open the cell? He couldn’t. On the door it’s written 



It is forbidden to open this door without administrative order. 
So don’t you worry: the man who wants to commit suicide 
will have plenty of time before they unhook him ‘by adminis- 
trative order’. 

All this I am writing about is perhaps neither very exciting 
nor very interesting for people who like action and movement. 
They can skip these pages if they find them dull. Yet it seems 
to me I ought to record these first impressions, these reactions 
during the first hours I was laid in the grave and these first 
thoughts that came flooding in upon me as I came into con- 
tact with my new cell - it seems to me I ought to describe them 
as exactly as I can. 

I had been walking for a very long time now. I could hear a 
murmur in the darkness - the guards changing. The first had 
been a big, thin fellow : this one was small and fat. He dragged 
his slippers. You could hear them scuffing along two cells 
before and two cells after. He wasn’t a hundred per cent silent 
like his mate. I went on walking. It must be late. What time 
could it be? Tomorrow I should have something to measure 
the time by. The trap in the door would open four times every 
day, and thanks to that I’d know roughly what o’clock it was. 
And at night, knowing the time the first patrol came on and 
how long it lasted, I’d have a fixed standard to live with - first, 
second, third patrol, etc. 

One, two, three, four, five . . . Mechanically I returned to 
this endless walk, and with tiredness helping, I took off easily 
and travelled back into the past. It must- certainly have been 
by way of contrast to the darkness of my cell, but there I was 
in the full sunlight, sitting on the beach belonging to my tribe. 
The canoe with Lali fishing in it rose and fell on that match- 
less opal-green sea, two hundred yards away. The sand was 
rough under my feet. Zoralma brought me a good-sized fish, 
cooked over the embers and carefully kept hot in a banana 
leaf. I ate with my fingers, of course, and she sat there cross- 
legged opposite me. She wa s very pleased with the way the 
flakes came away from the bone; and my face showed her 
how delighted I was with her dish. 

I was no longer in my cell. I did not yet know anything 
about the Reclusion, nor Saint-Joseph, nor the islands. I 
rolled on the beach, cleaning my hands by rubbing them in 
the coral sand, as fine as flour. Then I went down to the sea 
to rinse my mouth in that brilliantly clear and salty water. I 



scooped it up and splashed my face. As I nibbed it on my 
neck I noticed how long my hair had grown. When Lali came 
back I’d ask her to shave the back of my neck. I spent all that 
night with my tribe. I undid Zoralma’s loin-cloth, and there 
on the beach, under the hot sun, with the sea breeze wafting 
over us, I had her. She uttered amorous groans, as she did 
when she was taking delight in it. Perhaps it was the wind 
that carried this music as far as Lali. In any case she saw us 
clearly enough, and she knew quite well wo were fast together 
- she was too near not to be sure we were making love.' She 
mast certainly have seen us, for the boat came back' to 'the 
land. Smiling, she jumped out. On the way she had undone 
her plaits and combed out her wet hair with her long fingers r 
the wind and the sun of that wonderful day were already dry- 
ing it. I went over to her. She put her right arm round my 
waist and urged me up the beach in the direction of our hut. 
All the way she kept making me understand - ’Me too, me 
too’. When we were indoors she pushed me on to a hammock 
folded on the ground by way of a blanket; and interlaced 
with her I forgot the existence of the world. Zoralma was 
very bright, and she took care not do come back until our 
play was over. When she appeared we v/ere still lying there 
naked on the hammock, destroyed with love. She came and 
sat next to us, patting her sister’s cheek and repeating a word 
that must certainly have meant something like greedy Lali. 
Then, with movements full of modest affection, she fixed my, 
lorn-cloth and then her sister’s.. I spent the whole of that night 
with the Goajiras. I didn’t sleep at any time whatsoever. I did 
not even lie down so that behind my closed eyelids I might 
see the scenes I had lived through. It was during this con- 
tinual pacing up and down in a land of hypnosis that I was 
taken back, without any effort on my part, and set down once 
more in that extraordinarily beautiful day I had experienced 
nearly six months before. . 

The light went out and I could see that daybreak was flood- 
ing into the twilight of my celi, dispelling the land of drifting 
dimness that enveloped everything below, everything around 
me. A blast on a whistle. I heard the planks banging up and 
I even distinguished the sound of my right-hand neighbour 
fastening his with the ring fixed in the wall. My neighbour 
coughed, and I heard the splash of water. How did you wash 
here? <’ ■ 



'Monsieur le Survcillant, bow do you wash here?’ 

‘Confinee, I forgive you for not knowing, but here you’re 
not allowed to speak to a warder on duty without being se- 
verely punished. To wash, you stand over the pot and pour 
from the jug with one hand. You wash yourself with the other. 
Haven’t you unfolded your blanket? ’ 

'No.* 

‘There’ll certainly be a canvas towel inside it.’ 

Can you just imagine that? So you aren’t allowed to speak 
to the warder on duty. Not for any reason at all? And what 
about if you’re in too much pain from some illness? Wbat if 
you’re dying? Heart disease, appendicitis, a mortal go of asth- 
ma? Are you forbidden to call for help here, even though 
you’re dying? That crowns everything! No: not really. It’s 
quite natural. It would be too easy to kick up a row when you 
reach the end of your tether and your nerves give way. Just 
to hear voices, just to be spoken to, even if you were only to 
hear ‘Die then; but shut up.’ Twenty times a day a score out 
of the two hundred and fifty characters there might be here 
would start something so as to get rid of the gas building up 
its ‘pressure inside their heads - get rid of it through a safety- 
valve, as it were. 

It couldn’t have been a psychiatrist who had the notion of 
building these lion cages: no doctor would lower himself so 
far. It wasn’t a doctor who worked out the rules, either. But 
both the architect and the civil servant who did create this 
establishment, the two who laid down the smallest details of 
the carrying out of the sentences, were both of them revolting 
monsters, vicious, evil psychologists full of sadistical hatred 
for the convicts. 

The black-hole of the central prison at Beaulieu, near Caen, 
might be very deep - two storeys beneath the ground - but 
even so, some echo of the tortures and ill-treatment handed 
out to a prisoner might in time make its way up to the rest of 
the world. That’s proved by the fact that when they took off 
my handcuffs and thumb-pieces I really saw fear on the war- 
ders’ faces - fear they might get into trouble, of that there is 
no doubt. 

But here, in the settlement’s solitary-confinement prison, 
where only people belonging to the service could come in, 
they were perfectly easy in their minds. Nothing could ever 
happen to them. 



Clack, clack, clock, clock: nil the traps were being opened. 
I went to mine, took the risk of peeping tint, then leant 
through n little, and then pushed my whole head through into 
the corridor: 1o the left nml right I saw t\ crowd of heads. 
Straight away I grasped that the moment the hatches were 
opened everyone darted Itis head out. Tire man on my right 
looked at me with absolutely no expression whatsoever. His 
brain numbed with masturbation, no doubt. Hi's poor dim 
idiot lace was pale and greasy. The one on the left quickly 
said, 'How long?’ 

'Two years’ 

T got four. Served one. NVhnt’s your name?’ 

Tapillon.’ 

Tm Georges. Jojo l’Anvcrgnat, Where were you copped?’ 

'Paris. And yon?’ 

Tie had no time to answer. The cofTeo, with the hunk of 
bread coming nfter it, was only two cells nway. He pulled In 
bis bead, and I did the same. I held out my mug, which was 
filled with coffee; then they gave me a piece of bread. As l 
didn’t fake It quick enough the hatch came down and my 
bread fell to the ground. Tn less than a quarter of an hour the 
silence had returned. There must bo two separate distribu- 
tions - a party for each corridor. Otherwise it was too quick. 
At noon, soup with a hit of boiled meat in it. tn the evening, 
a dish of lentils. During two years this bill of fare never chan- 
ged except at night, when it might be lentils, red beans, split 
peas, chick-peas, haricots or fried rice. Midday was always 
the same. 

And then every fortnight you put your head out through 
the hatch and a convict took off your beard with fine bar- 
her’s clippers. 

Now l had been there three days. There was one thing that 
preyed on my mind. On Royalc my friends bad said they’d 
send mo in things to smoke and eat. I’d still had nothing nml 
in any case l wondered how they’d ever manage to bring oil 
a miracle like that, So X was not absolutely nmared at having 
received nothing. Smoking must be very dangerous; and any- 
how it was a luxury- Food, yes. that was going to he of the 
best importance, because the midday soup was just hot water 
with two or three bits of greenery in it and n little scrap of 
boiled meat ~ three or four ounces, maybe. In the evening it 
was a ladle of water with a few haricots or other dried veget- 



ables floating about in it. To speak plainly, I didn’t so much 
suspect the administration of not giving us proper rations as 
the other prisoners, who handed out the food or prepared it. 
This idea came to me because it was a little guy from Mar- 
seilles who dealt out the vegetables in the evening. His ladle 
went right down to the bottom of the pail, and when he was 
on duty I had more vegetables than water. With the rest it 
was the other way about: they didn’t push the ladle far in 
but skimmed the top, having stirred a little. So what did you 
get? Plenty of wet, precious few vegetables. This underfeed- 
ing was very dangerous. To have willpower you need a cer- 
tain bodily strength too. 

The corridor was being swept: it seemed to me the broom 
kept going a long while outside my cell. The bristles swished 
again and again against my door. I looked closely and I saw 
a scrap of white paper showing underneath. I instantly under- 
stood that something was being slipped through for me, but-it 
couldn't be pushed farther. He was waiting for me to pull it 
out before going on to sweep somewhere else. I pulled the 
paper in and unfolded it. It was a note written in phosphores- 
cent ink. I waited for the screw to go by and then quickly I 
read, ‘Papi, from tomorrow there’ll be five cigarettes and a 
coconut in your pot every day. Chew the coconut well when 
you eat it if you want it to do you good. Swallow the chewed 
meat. Smoke in the morning when the pots are being emptied. 
Never after coffee in the morning : after soup at twelve the 
minute you’ve finished: and after supper. Enclosed there’s a 
bit of pencil lead. Any time you want anything, ask for it on 
the enclosed scrap of paper. When the sweeper rubs his broom 
against the door, scratch with your fingers. If he scratches, 
shove your paper under. Never pass the note unless he’s an- 
swered your scratching. Put the bit of paper in your ear so 
as not to have to take your charger out, and your pencil lead 
anywhere at the bottom of your cell wall. Thumbs up. Lave. 
Ignace, Louis.’ 

Galgani and Dega had sent me this message. A glow rose 
in my heart: having such faithful, loving friends gave me a 
feeling of warmth. And now I returned to my pacing with a 
.cheerful, lively step, with even more faith in the future and a 
certainty of coming out of this living grave on my feet - one, 
two, three, four, five, about-turn, etc. And as I walked I 
thought ’What noble hearts those two have, what strength ir 



doing good. They must certainly bo running a very serious 
risk: maybe even the risk of losing their jobs as clerk and 
postman. It’s really magnificent, what they’re doing for me, 
quite apart from the fact that it must cost them, a packet. What 
quantities of people they must have to buy to reach out from 
Royale as far as me in my cell in the man-eater.’ 

Reader, you must know that a dry coconut is full of oil. Its 
hard white flesh is so full of it that you only have to grate six 
nuts and put them to soak in hot water to be able to skim off 
nearly two pints' of oil from the surface next morning. The 
thing we missed worst in this diet of ours was oil: and coco- 
nut Ls crammed with vitamins, too. A nut a day was an almost 
certain guarantee of health. To put it at the lowest, with that 
to eat you couldn’t dry out or die of mere want. Today it is 
more than two months that I have been getting food and 
tobacco without anything going wrong. I take a Red Indian’s 
precautions when I smoke, inhaling deeply and then letting it 
out little by little, fanning it away with my right hand. 

An odd thing happened yesterday. I don’t know whether I 
behaved rightly or wrongly. A warder on duty on the sentry 
walk leant on the rail and looked down into my cell. He lit a 
cigarette, took a few drags and then let it drop into my cell. 
When he had done so he moved off. I waited for him to cross 
over again and then I ostentatiously crushed the cigarette with 
my foot. He made a very slight pause: as soon as he realized 
what I had done he went straight on. Had he been sorry for 
me? Was he ashamed of the service he belonged to? Or v/as it 
a trap? I don’t know and it gets me down. When you're having 
a very bad time, you grow over-sensitive. If that warder meant 
to be a decent man for the space of a few seconds I shouldn’t 
have wanted to hurt him by my gesture of contempt. 

Yes, it was in fact more than two months that I’d been here. 
As I saw it, this prison was the only one in which there was 
nothing to be learnt. Because there was no possible line of 
approach. I was thoroughly used to getting out of myself, and 
I had a sure-fire way of taking off for a journey among the 
stars or for an effortless vision of the various stages in my 
life as a child or a man on the run or for a session of building 
wonderfully real castles in Spain. What I had to do was to 
get very tired in the first place. I had to walk for hours with- 
out sitting down, without stopping, and thinking of ordinary 
subjects iirthe usual sort of way. Then when I was absolutely 



all in I’d He down on my plant, rest my head on one half of 
my blanket, and cover my face with the other. Then the al- 
ready stale air of the cell would filter slowly through to my 
mouth and nose. This started ofi a kind of smothering in my 
lungs and my head would begin to burn. I’d stifle with heat and 
lack of air and then suddenly I’d take off. Oh, what indescrib- 
able journeys my spirit made and what sensations I had during 
these voyages! Nights of love truly more vivid and moving 
than when I was free, even more stirring than the real ones, 
the nights I'd actually experienced. Yes: and this power of 
moving through space and time allowed me to sit there with 
my mother, who had died seventeen years before. I played 
with her dress and she fondled my curly hair, which she let 
grow very long when I was about five, as though I was a little 
girl. I stroked her long, delicate fingers, their skin as soft as 
silk. She and I laughed about my daring notion of diving into 
the stream as I’d seen the big boys do, when we were out for a 
walk. The smallest details of the way her hair was done, the 
glowing affection of her brilliant eyes, her gentle, unforget- 
table voice: 'Riri, dear, be good, be very good so that Mamau 
can love you very much. When you’re a little bigger you’ll be 
able to dive into the river from high, high up. Just now you’re 
still too small, darling. But never mind, soon you’ll be quite a 
big boy - all too soon, perhaps.’ And hand in hand we walked 
home along the stream. And now there I was, really there in 
my childhood home. So thoroughly was I there that I placed 
my hand over Maman’s eyes so that she could not see the 
music but would still go on playing to me. I was actually 
there: it wasn’t just imagination. I was there with her, stand- 
ing on a chair behind the music stool she was sitting on, and 
I closed her great eye3 firmly with my little hands. Her nimble 
fingers ran on over the notes, and I heard the Merry Widow 
right through to the end. 

Nobody, neither the merciless prosecutor, nor the shady 
police, nor that vfle Polein, who bought his freedom with 
perjured evidence, nor the twelve bastards who were such 
fools as to accept the prosecutor’s line and his way of seeing 
things, nor the Rtclusion screws, those worthy associates of the 
man-eater - absolutely no person and no thing, not even these 
thick walls or the remoteness of this island lost in the Atlantic 
Ocean, could prevent my exquisitely happy rose-pink journeys, 
when I took off for the stars. 



I got it wrong when I was working out the time that I should 
nave to be by myself: I only talked about time in hours. That 
was a mistake. There are periods you have to measure in nun' 
utes. For example, the emptying of the pots took place 
after the handing out of the coffee and bread, about an hour 
after. It was when the empty pot came back that I found the 
coconut, the five cigarettes and sometimes a note in phos- 
phorescent ink. At those times I would count the minutes. 
Not always, but pretty often. It was easy enough, because I 
regulated each pace so that it took one second, and as I went 
to and fro in my pendulum swing I made a mental reckoning 
at each turn. One, I would say. So twelve made a minute. 
Above all you mustn’t think I was worried about whether I’d 
get that coconut (which was really much the same as my life) 
nor whether I'd get cigarettes and the indescribable pleasure of 
smoking ten times during the next twenty-four hours-in this 
tomb - for I smoked each cigarette in two goes. No : sometimes 
when the coffee came round I was seized with a kind of distress, 
and for no particular reason I’d be afraid that something had 
happened to the men who were helping me so generously, at 
the risk of their own peace and quiet. So I’d wait, and I Was 
* never relieved .from my anxiety until I saw the coconut. There 
it would be, and so everything was all right for tfiem. 

Slowly, very slowly, the hours, days, weeks, months went 
by. Now it was almost a year that I had been here. It was 
exactly eleven months and twenty days that I had not spoken 
to anyone for more than forty seconds, and that in quick, 
muttered rather than spoken words. Though I did have one 
proper conversation aloud. I’d caught a cold and I was 
coughing a great deal. I thought it was enough to justify go- 
ing to see the doctor, so I reported sick. 

Here was the doctor. To my great astonishment the trap 
opened. A head appeared in the opening. ‘What’s the matter 
with you? What are you complaining of? Lungs? Turn round. 
. Cough.’ • 

God above! What was this - a joke? And yet it is the strict 
and literal truth. There did exist a doctor in the colonial ser- 
vice who would consent to examine me through a trap and 
make me turn round a yard away from the door so that he, 
clapping his ear to the hole, could listen to my chest. Then he 
said, ‘Put your arm out.’ I was about to put it out without 


• 276 



thinking, but then a kind of self-respect stopping me, I said 
to this curious medico, ‘Thank you, Doctor, but don’t you 
bother. It’s not worth troubling.' And at least I did have the 
strength of mind to make him see I didn’t take his examina- 
tion seriously. • 

He was brazen enough to say, ‘As you like,’ and then he 
walked off. Just as well, fdr I was on the point of bursting 
with indignation. 

One, two, three, four, five, about-turn. One, two, three, 
four, five, about-turn. Tirelessly on and on, without stopping: 
today I walked furiously, my legs all tense: usually they were 
quite relaxed. It was as though I had to trample something 
underfoot, after what had just happened. What was there I 
could trample underfoot? There was only cement down here. 
No, ’there were plenty of things I could trample in my pacing. 
I trampled the spinelessness of that medico who would lend 
himself to such disgusting conduct merely to be in with the 
authorities. I trampled the total want of feeling of one class 
of men for the sufferings and unhappiness of another class ‘of 
men. I trampled the ignorance of the French nation and its 
want of interest or curiosity about what happened to the hu- 
man cargoes that set off from Saint-Martin-de-R6 every two 
years, or where they went. I trampled the criminal court jour- 
nalists who'd write a scandalous article about a man over 
some given crime and then a few months later would not even 
remember his existence. I trampled the Catholic priests who 
beard confession and knew what happened in the French 
penal settlements but nevertheless kept their mouths shut. I 
trampled the organization of the Ligue des Droits de 1 ’Hom- 
me et du Citoyen that never spoke out and said, ‘Stop lulling 
people as study as if they were guillotined : abolish the mass 
sadism among the employees of the prison service.’ I 
trampled the fact that not a single organization or association 
ever questioned the top men of this system to find but how 
and why eighty per cent of the people who were sent away 
every two years vanished. I trampled on the official doctors’ 
death certificates - suicide, general debility, death from pro- 
longed under-nourishment, scurvy, tuberculosis, raving mad- 
ness, senile decay. What dse did I trample upon? I don’t know, 
but in any case, after what had just happened I certainly 
wasn’t walking ordinarily - I was crushing something at every 
step. 


One, two, three, fear, five . . . and the weariness of the slow 
Sowing hours calmed my silent rebellion. Ten days more and 
1 should have served just half my time of solitary confine- 
ment. This really was an anniversary worth celebrating, for 
apart from my heavy cold I was in good health. I was neither 
mad nor anywhere near going mad. I was sure, a hundred per 
cent sure, that I’d come oat at the end of this coming year 
alive and in my right mind. 

I was woken up by hushed voices. One said. Tie’s com- 
pletely mummified. Monsieur Durand. How can it be you 
didn’t notice earlier? ’ 

‘I don’t know. As he hanged himself in the corner of the 
sentry-walk side, I must have gone by many a time without 
seeing him.’ 

Well, it doesn’t matter: but you must admit it makes no 

sense that you didn’t notice him’ 


My neighbour on the left had lulled himself. That’s what I 
gathered. They carried him away. The door closed. The rules 
had been strictly obeyed, since the door had been opened and 
closed m the presence of an ‘administrative authority’, in this 

S£ thC PrfSOn - 1 had agnized his voice, 

wedcs the fifth man round me who had vanished in ten 


f“ ne round - 1 found a ^ of 

fortune to faro ft ^ fnends were out of their wits. A 
Forme 'T -™ risks gating it*> me. 

mised not to tote nff^ 0 trmm Ph over enemy. So I pro- 
R delusion A vear h ri ° r s0 ™ CT ?i iere e ^ e - Here I was in the 
to make a breK?/ 011 * ^ dnce 1 - Came in and I was fit 
up This was a fine ™ v ^? morrow if the occasion turned 
proud ofu P ° SltlVe ^2 10 able to state and I was 

swlTeSghfmfa^t^ 11 ^ happened: ton afternoon 

«p. Zy s ; s s° to T"w %■ *** >our h “' 


unco. All that day and part of tfie night there I was, with my 
feet firmly on the ground and as fit as I had often promised 
myself I should be. In a year’s time I was going to be sent to 
one of the islands, Royalo or Saint-Joseph? I’d fill myself 
to overflowing with talk, tobacco and schemes for another 
break right away. 

The next day I set about the first of the three hundred and 
sixty-five that I still had to do, and I did so feeling happy 
about my fate. I was right for the eight months that followed. 
But the ninth, things went bad. That morning, when the pots 
were being emptied, the man carrying the coconut was caught 
red-handed just as he was shoving my pot back, with the nut 
and the five cigarettes already in it. 

This was so serious an incident that for some minutes the 
rule of silence was forgotten. You could very distinctly hear 
the blows the unfortunate prisoner received. Then the gasp- 
ing cry like a man given a mortal wound. My flap opened 
and a warder’s furious face bawled at me, 'You’ll lose nothing 
of what’s coming to you by waiting ! ’ 

‘Whenever you like, you fat sod I’ I cried, ready to burst at 
what I’d heard of the way they’d treated the poor bastard. 

Thus happened at seven o'clock. It was only at eleven that a 
group led by the deputy-governor came for me. They opened 
this door that had been closed on me twenty months before 
and had never, been opened in all that time. I was at the back 
of my cell, grasping my mug, ready to defend myself and per- 
fectly determined to hit as hard and as often as I could. This 
was for two reasons: first, so that a handful of warders 
shouldn’t beat me up and get away with it; and secondly, so 
as to be knocked out the quicker. Nothing of the kind hap- 
pened. ‘Confinee, come out.’ 

‘If I’m to come out to be beaten up, you can expect me to 
defend myself. I’m not coming out to be attacked on all sides. 
I’m better placed here to bash the first man that touches me.’ 

‘You’re not going to be hit, Charriere.’ 

‘Who says so?’ 

‘I do. The deputy-governor.’ 

‘Are you to be trusted? ’ 

'Don’t be rude: it’ll get you nowhere. I give you my word 
you won’t be hit. Come on, now, out of it.’ I held on to my 
mug. ‘You can keep that. You won't have to use it.’ 

‘OK.’ I came out, and with the deputy-governor and six 



warders round me I went right along the corridor. The mo- 
ment I reached the courtyard my head spun and my eyes 
closed, stabbed by the light! At last I made out the little build- 
ing where we’d been received. There were a dozen warders 
there. .Without pushing me they took me to the administra- 
tive office. A man, covered with blood, was lying there on the 
ground, groaning. A clock on the wall said eleven and I 
thought, 'They’ve been torturing the poor sod for four hours.’ 
The governor was sitting behind his desk: the deputy took a 
chair next to him. 

‘Charrifere, how long have you been receiving food and 
cigarettes?’ 

‘He must have told you.’ 

Tin asking you.’ 

‘As for me, I’ve got amnesia.. I don’t even know what hap- 
pened yesterday.’ ' 

‘Are you trying to make game of me? ’ 

‘No. I’m astonished it's not in my file. A blow on the head 
and I lost my memory.’ 

The governor was so surprised by this answer that he said, 
‘Ask Royale whether there is any such thing on his record.’ 
While they were telephoning he went on, *You remember 
you’re called Charrifere all right? ’ 

'Oh yes.’ And quickly, so as to unsettle him all the more, 

I said in a mechanical .voice, ’My name’s Charri&re, I was 
born in 1906 in the Ard&cho and I was sentenced to life in 
Paris, Seine.’ His eyes were as round as Saucers, and I sensed 
I had shaken him. 

, ‘Did you have your coffee and your bread this morning? ’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘What vegetable did you have last night?’ 

‘Don’t know.’ 

‘So according to what you say, you’ve no memory at all?’ - 

‘None at all for things that happen. Faces, yes: I remember 
them. For example I know it was you that received me one ' 
time. When? I can’t tell.’ 

‘So you don’t know how much longer you’ve got to serve?’ 

‘Out of my lifer? Why, until I die, I suppose.’ 

‘No, no. Out of your solitary.’ 

‘They’ve' given me solitary? What for?’ 

‘Come, this really is the limit! God above! Don’t put me 
into a rage. You’re not going to tell me you don’t remember 



you’re doing two years for an escape. Don’t you try it on to 
that extent!’ 

Then I finished him off completely. ‘What, me escape? 
Governor, I’m a responsible man and I can answer for all 
my doings. Come with me and have a look at my cell: you’ll 
soon see whether I’ve escaped or not.’ 

At this moment a screw said, ‘Royale on the line, sir.’ 

He took the' telephone. ‘Nothing? Odd: he claims he has 
amnesia. What gave it him? A blow on the head . . . Right, I 
understand. He’s swinging the lead. I’ll find out . . . I’m sorry 
I troubled you, Governor. I’ll check on it. Good-bye. Yes, 
I’ll let you know how it goes. Now then, Charlie Chaplin, just 
let’s have a look at your head. Well, yes; there is quite a long 
scar. How come you remember that you’ve had no memory 
since they gave you this bang, eh? Answer me that one, will 
you?’ 

'I can’t explain it. I just know I remember the blow, that my 
name is Charriere, and a few other things.’ 

‘What are you driving at, when all’s said and done? ’ 

‘That’s just the question. You ask me how long I’ve been 
having food - and tobacco. And this is what I say: I don’t 
know whether it’s the first time or the thousandth. What with 
my loss of memory, I just can’t tell you. That’s all: do what 
you like about it.’ 

‘What I like is easy enough. You’ve been eating too much 
for a long while: well, now you can lose a little weight. No- 
supper till the end of his sentence.’ 

That same day I had a note at the time of the second sweep- 
ing. Unfortunately I couldn’t read it, it not being phosphores- 
cent. At night I lit a cigarette that I still had from the day 
before and that had been so well hidden in the plank they 
had not . found it when they searched. Drawing on it, I 
managed to read, 'Cleaner didn’t blab. He said it was only 
second time he gave you anything to eat. Did it by himself. 
Because he knew you in France. Nobody on Royale will get 
into trouble. Courage.’ 

So there I was, deprived of my coconut and cigarettes, and 
cut off from news of my friends on Royale. As well as that, 
they’d done away with my evening meal. I’d got used to not 
having to feel hungry; and what’s more, those ten periods 
when I could smoke helped fill the day for me and part of the 
night. I wasn’t only thinking of myself, either, but also of the 


poor bastard they’d beaten up. I hoped he 'wouldn't be too 
severely punished. 

One, two, three, four, five, about-turn one, two, three, 
four, five, about-turn. You’re not going to ba abb to stand 
this starvation-diet as easily as all that, cock; and since you’re 
going to eat so little, maybe you’d better change your tactics. 
Lying down as long as possible, for example, so as not to waste 
any strength. The less I move about, the fewer calories I bum, 
up. Sit for hours and hours during the daytime, It was quite 
another kind of life I was going to have to learn. Four 
months: that was one hundred and twenty days to get 
through. With the diet they’d just put me on, how many days 
would it take before I became thoroughly anaemic? Two 
months at least So the two vital months lay ahead of me. If . 
I grew too weak, every kind of illness would have a perfect 
breeding-place in my body, I made up my mind to stay lying 
down from six in the evening until six in the morning. I’d 
walk between coffee and the emptying of the pots, or roughly 
two hours. After the midday soup, about two hours more. 
Four hours walking altogether. All the rest of the time, sit- 
ting or lying down. It would be hard to take off without being 
physically tired. Still, I’d try to do it. 

Today, after I’d spent a long while thinking about my 
friends and the poor bastard who’d been so brutally ill-treated, 

I began to follow this new routine. I did fairly well, although 
the hours seemed to me to take longer to go by and although 
my legs, which hadn’t been in action now for hours on end, . 
kept tingling with a desire to move. 

This way of life had been going on for ten days now. Now 
I was hungry all the time, right round the clock. A continual 
weariness had hold of me and it never let go. I missed xny 
coconut terribly; and to some extent the cigarettes. I went 
to bed very early and as quickly as I could I took off from 
my cell. Yesterday I was in Paris, at the Rat Mort, drinking 
champagne with friends: London Antonio was there - he : 
came from the Balearics in the first place, but he spoke 
French like a Parisian and English like a genuine rosbif. The 
next day, at the Maronnier in the boulevard de Clicby, he 
put five revolver bullets into a friend of his, killing him. In 
the underworld friendship can change into mortal hatred very 
quickly. Yes, I was in Paris yesterday, dancing to an accordion 
at the Petit Jardin in the Avenue de Saint-Oucn, where the 



customers were Corsicans or Marseillais to a man. His friends 
who passed before my eyes during this imaginary journey 
were so utltrlj- convincing that I had no doubt they were 
really there, any more than I doubted my presence in ail those 
night-spots where Fd had such fan. 

So with this very low diet, and without much walking, I 
reached the same result that I used to get from fatigue. These 
pictures of my former life had such a power of taking me 
out of my cel! that I really spent more hours a free man than 
a bonvict in soli tary confinement. 

Only a month to do now. For the last three all I’d had to 
eat was a hunk of bread in the morning and at noon hot thin 
soup with its scrap of boiled meat. I was so continually hun- 
gry that the moment it was given to me I examined the little 
lump to see whether it was just a bit of skin - and often enough 
it was. 

Fd lost a great deal of weight, and I realized just how im- 
portant the coconut had been in keeping me healthy and 
sane in this terrible exclusion from life - the coconut I’d been 
. lucky to have for twenty months. 

I was all on edge this morning, after Fd drank my coffee. 
I allowed myself to eat half my bread, which was something 
I never did. Ordinarily I broke it into four more or less equal 
pieces and ate them at six o’clock, noon, six again and then a 
little bit during the night. 'Why did you do that, man?’ I asked 
myself angrily. Ts it now, near the end, that you’re going to 
' let yourself fall to pieces?’ ‘I’m hungry, and I’ve no strength 
left.’ ‘Don’t be such a fool. How could you have any strength 
left, eating what you eat? You’re weak, fair enough, but you’re 
not ill, and that’s the whole point - you win. Looking at it 
reasonably, and with a little luck, the man-eater ought to 
lose.’ I was sitting there on my concrete block, of a stool, after 
my two hours of walking. Thirty more days, or seven hundred 
and twenty hours, and the door would open and they’d say 
to me, ‘Confinee Charriere, come out. You’ve finished your 
two years of solitary.’ And what should I say? This. ‘Yes, I’ve 
finished my two years of martyrdom.’ Come, nol That 
wouldn’t do.. If it’s the governor you tried the loss-of-memory 
caper with, you must go on with it: quite calmly. You must 
say, ‘What, am I pardoned? Am I going back to France? Is 
my lifer over?’ just so as to see his expression and to convince 
him that the hunger he condemned you to was unjust. an. 



what’s wrong with you?’ Just or unjust,' the governor doesn’t 
give a damn whether he was wrong. What importance could 
it have for a mind like that? You’re not such a fool as to be- 
lieve he’s going to feel remorse just for having punished you 
unjustly? 1 forbid you to suppose, now or at any other time, 
that gaoler can be a normal human being. No man worthy 
of the name could possibly belong to that body. In life you 
get used . to everything, even to being a wicked old sod 
throughout your career. Maybe when he’s close to the grave, 
but only then, the fear of God (if he has any religion) may 
make him anxious and repentant. No, not out of real remorse 
for the stinking things he’s been guilty of; but out of dread 
that his God may send him down too, in his turn. So when 
you come out and you’re sent to one of the islands - it doesn’t 
matter which - you’re never to have any dealings with that 
tribe. Each is on his own side of a dearly marked boundary. 
On the one side mean flabbiness, pettifogging heartless 
authority, instinctive and automatic sadism: and on the other, 
me and men like me. who have committed serious crimes, to 
be sure, but in whom suffering has brought out marvellous 
qualities - compassion, kindness, self-sacrifice, magnanimity, 
courage. In all sincerity. I’d rather be a convict than a gaoler. 

Only twenty days to go. .1 was really weak now. I'd noticed 
that my hunk of bread was always among the smaller bits. 
Who could have sunk so low as to pick out a special piece for ; 
me? For some days my soup had beep nothing but hot water, 
and the meat was always a bone with very little on it, or else 
it was a bit of skin. I was afraid I’d fall si cfa This haunted me 
all the time. I was so weak that without any effort I could 
go into dreams of every kind, wide awake. This deep weariness 
and the really serious depression that came with it. worried 
me badly. I tried to stand up to it and I managed to get 
through the twenty-four hours of every day; but it was bard. 

There was a scratching at my door. I snatched in the note. 
It was phosphorescent and it came from Dega and Galgani. 
’Send a line. Very anxious about your health. Only nineteen 
days left : keep your heart up. Louis, Ignace.’ 

There was a scrap of paper and a bit of lead. I wrote, ‘Hold-' 
ing out: very weak. Thanks. Papi.’ And when the broom 
scraped against my door again I pushed back the note. No 
cigarettes, no coconut, but this note meant more than all . 
those things. The proof of this wonderful, lasting friendship 


gave me the sudden lift I needed. They knew what state I was 
in outside, and if 1 fell ill my friends would certainly go and 
see the doctor and urge him to look after me properly. They 
were right: only nineteen days to go. I was coming towards 
the end of this exhausting race against death and madness. 
I must not faii ill. It was up to me to move as little as possible 
so as to use up oniy the essential calories. I’d do away with 
the morning walk and the one in the afternoon - two hours 
each. That was the only v/ay of holding out So all night, for 
twelve hours on end, I lay down; and the other twelve hours 
I sat on my stone bench, never stirring. From time to time I 
got up and did a few knee-bends and arm movements; then I 
sat down again. Only ten days left. 

I was walking about in Trinidad, lulled by the onc-stringcd 
Javanese fiddles with their plaintive tunes when a hideous, 
inhuman roar brought me back to earth. The shout came 
from the cell behind mine or from another very near to it. I 
beard, 'Come down here into my pit, you bleeding sod. Aren’t 
you tired of watching me from above? Don’t you understand 
you lose half the fun - you can’t see down into this dark hole.’ 

'Shut up, or you’ll cop it really hard.’ 

‘Ha, ha! Just hear me laugh, you silly bastard. Do you think 
you can find anything worse than this silence? Punish me as 
much as you like: knock me about if you feel like it, you ugly 
son of a bitch : but you'll never find anything to come up to 
this silence that you force me to live in. No, no, nol I can’t 
stand it any more, I can’t stand never hearing a word! It was 
three years ago I ought to have said “Shit to you, you bleed- 
ing sod!” And I’ve been such a bloody fool that I’ve waited 
thirty-six months before telling you what I think of you, be- 
cause I was afraid of being punished. What I think of you and 
everybody like you, you lousy rotten set of screws.’ 

A few moments later the door opened and I heard, ‘No, 
not like that! Put it on him backwards - it works better that 
way.’ 

And the poor bastard roared out, 'Put your stinking strait- 
jacket on whichever way you like, you shit! Put it on back- 
wards and tighten it till I can’t breathe. Put your knee in and 
pull hard on the laces. That won’t stop me telling you your 
mother was a bitch and that’s why you’re a heap of shit your- 
self.’ 

They must have gagged him, because I heard nothing more. 



The door dosed again. This same most have shaken the young 
warder, for a few minutes later he stopped in front of my 
cell and said, ‘He must have gone mad.’ 

•You thinV so? Yet everything he raid made very good 
sense.’ s' ~ 

That knocked the screw Cat. He wait off, saying, ‘Well, I 
never expected that from you! ’ 

All this had snatched me away from that island full of kind 
people and from the fiddles, the Hindu girls’ tits, and Port of 
Spain harbour, and it had dumped me down again in the grim 
reality of the Rdclnsion. 

Ten days more: that meant two hundred and forty hours 
to get through. These days were passing by more easily: 
either it was the idea of keeping still that was bearing fruit, 
or it was the lift my friends’ letter had given me. Or more 
likely I felt stronger because of the idea of comparison that 
forced itself upon my mind: here I was within two hundred 
and forty hours of being let out of solitary; I was weak, but 
my brain was all right and my energy only wanted a little 
more bodily strength behind it to be restored. Whereas a 
couple of yards behind me, the other side of the wall, there 
was a poor type who was moving into the first stage of mad- 
ness by what was probably the worst possible door - the one 
. of violence. He’d not live long, because his mutiny would 
provide them with the opportunity of giving him the whole 
satisfying range of treatment they’d carefully worked out so 
as to kill him in the meat scientific manner possible. I blamed 
myself for feeling stronger just because the other chap was 
‘ beaten. I wondered whether I was one of those selfish brutes 
who go out in the winter wearing gpod shoes, good gloves and 
a fur-fined coat and who watch the ordinary people going to 
work, badly dressed and frozen with cold or at least with their 
hands blue from the morning frost - watch than running for 
the underground or the first bns and feel wanner than before 
and take a much livelier pleasure in their fur lining. Quite - 
often in life everything is a matter of comparison. True 
enough. I’ve got tea years: but PapIUon, he’s got life. True 
enough, Fve got a lifer: but I’m twenty-eight, whereas he’s 
fifty, even if he has only got fifteen yearn. 

Right, here I was coming to the end of it, and I was con- 
fident I should be quite fit from every point of view - health, 
spirit and energy - fer a tody outstanding break. The first 



one had been talked about: the second would be carved in 
, the stone of one of the prison wails. There was no question 
about it Td be off before six months- were over, and that was 
for sure. 

This was the last night I was to spend in solitary. Seventeen 
thousand five hundred and eight hours had passed since I 
walked into cell 234. My door had been opened once, for 
me to be taken to the governor for punishment. Apart from 
my neighbour, with whom I exchanged a few monosyllables 
a few seconds every day, I had been spoken to four times. 
Once to tell me that at the whistle you had to lower your 
plank: that was the first day. Once the doctor had said. Turn 
round. Cough.’ There had been a longer, livelier conversation 
with the govern q^-. And then the other day a few words with 
the warder who had been shocked by the poor type going 
mad. It didn’t amount to a very great deal by way of light 
relief. I went calmly to sleep, with just this single thought - 
tomorrow they’ll open my door for good. Tomorrow I’ll see 
the sun, and if they send me to Royale I’ll breathe the sea air. 
Tomorrow IH be free. I burst out laughing. Free7 What 
do you mean7 Tomorrow you’ll officially begin on your sen- 
tence of hard labour for life. Is that what you cal 1 free? I 
know, I know: but there’s no comparison between that and 
the life I’ve bad to bear. What state will I find Clousiot and 
Maturette in? 

At six o’clock they gave me coffee and bread. I felt like 
saying, ‘But I go out today. You’ve got it wrong.’ Then I 
quickly remembered I’d lost my memory, and if I was to go 
and acknowledge I’d been stuffing the governor up like this, 
who knows but he might give me thirty days black-bole to be 
served right away. For whatever happened the law stated 
that I had to leave the solitary confinement prison of Saint- 
Joseph today, 26 June 1936. In four months time I would be 
thirty. 

Eight o’clock. Td eaten my whole hunk of bread. I’d get 
something to eat in the camp. The door opened. The deputy- 
governor and two warders appeared. 

'ChamTre, your sentence is finished. This is 26 June 1936. 
Follow us.’ 

I walked out. In the courtyard the sun was already bright 
enough to dazzle me. 'A kind of general weakness came over 
me. My legs went soft and black spots danced in front of my 


'~X 



eyes. Yet I'd not gone more than fifty yards; and of them 
only thirty were in the sun. * 

When. I reached the administration block I saw Maturette 
and Clousiot. Maturette was skin and bone — hollow cheeks,, 
sunken eyes. Clousiot was lying bn a stretcher. He was grey 
and already he smelt of death. I thought, ‘Brothers, you aren’t 
very pretty. Do. I look like that?’ I longed to see myself in a 
mirror. I said to them, ‘You OK, mates? ’ 

They made no reply. Once more I said, ‘You OK?’ 

‘Yes,’ said Maturette softly. 

I wanted to tell them that now solitary was over we were 
allowed to talk. I kissed Clousiot on the cheek. He looked at 
me with his shining eyes and smiled. ‘Good-bye, Papillon,’ he 
said. 

‘No, no. Don’t say that! 

‘I’ve had it: done for.’ 

He died a few days later in the hospital on Royale. He was 
thirty-two and he had been sent down for twenty years for a 
bicycle theft he hadn’t committed. But here was the .governor 
-coming. 

’Bring them in. Maturette and Clousiot, you’ve behaved 
well. So 111 put Conduct good on your file. As for you. Char- • 
ri&re, you committed a serious crime, so I’ll put wbat you 
deserve - Conduct bad.' 

‘Excuse me, Governor, but what crime did I commit?’ 

‘You really don’t remember the finding of the cigarettes 
and the coconut?] 

‘No. Quite honestly I don’t.’ 

‘Come now, what diet have you been on these last four 
months?’ 

How do you mean? You mean the food? Always the same 
ever since I came in.’ 

Well, that crowns everything! What did you eat yester- 
. day evening?’ 

‘As usual - whatever they gave me. What do I know about , 
it? I don t remember. Maybe beans or fried rice: or some 
other vegetable.’ 

‘So you do have supper then? ’ 

I should bloody tliink I do 1 You don’t imagine I throw 
my bowl out, do you?’ 

*No: it’s no good. I give it up. All right. I’ll withdraw the 



conduct bad . Monsieur X, make out another discharge ticket 
I’ll give you conduct good. All right? ’ 

‘It’s only fair. I’ve done nothing to deserve anything else.’ 
And it was with these last words that we left the office." 

The great gate of the R delusion opened to let us through. 
With just one warder as an escort we walked slowly down the 
road leading to the camp. We were high over the sea - white 
foam, brilliant light. Opposite there was Royale, covered with 
green trees and red roofs. Devil’s Island, grim and harsh. I 
asked the warder for us to be allowed to sit down for a few 
minutes. He said yes. We sat there, one on Cloiisiot’s right 
and the other on his left, and without even noticing it we held 
hands. This contact moved us strangely and without a word 
we embraced. The warder said, ‘Come on, boys. We must get 
moving.’ 

And slowly, very slowly, we went down to the camp; there 
we went in side by side, still holding hands, followed by the 
two stretcher-bearers carrying our dying friend. 


Life on Royale 


The moment we were in the yard we were surrounded by the 
convicts, all full of kindness for us. Once again I saw Pierrot 
le Fou, Jean Sartrou, Colondini and Chissilia. The warder 
told us we were all three to go to the infirmary, and as we 
crossed the yard at least twenty men went with us. In a few 
minutes Maturette and I had a dozen packets of cigarettes 
and tobacco there in front of us, with piping hot caf6 au lait 
and the best chocolate. Everybody wanted to give us some- 
thing. The orderly gave Clousiot a camphor injection and 
some adrenalin for his heart. A very thin Negro said, 'Orderly, 
give him my -vitamin tablets: he needs them more than me.’ 
This display of solidarity and kindness was deeply moving. 

Pierre le Bordelais asked me, ‘Would you like some dourh?^ 



I*ve got tim e to "pass the hat round before you leave for 
Royale.’ 

‘No, thanks very much: I have some. But you know I’m 
going to Royale, then? ’ 

•Yes, the clerk told us. All three of you. Indeed, I th i nk 
you’re all going to hospital.’ 

The orderly was a Corsican strong-arm man from the 
mountains. His name was Essari. I knew him very well later 
on: one day I’ll tell his whole fascinating story. These two 
hours in the infirmary went by very fast. We ate well and we 
drank well. Full and happy, we set off for Royale. Nearly all 
the time Clousiot kept his eyes shut, except when I went 
over and put my hand on his forehead. Then he opened them 
- they were already clouded and said to me, ‘Friend Papi, 
you and I are what you call real friends.’ 

‘We’re more than that; we’re brothers,’ I replied. 

Still with just one warder we went down to the shore. Clou- 
siot’s stretcher in the middle, Maturette and I on each side. 
At the camp gate all the convicts wished us good-bye and 
good luck. We thanked them, in spite of their protests. Pierrot 
le Fou hung a knapsack round my neck: it was full of tobac- 
co, cigarettes, chocolate and tins of Nestl6’s milk. Maturette 
had one too. He didn’t know who had given it to him. 

Fernandez, the medical orderly, and the warder were -the 
only ones to go down to the quay with us. He handed us each 
a paper for the hospital on Royale. I gathered that it was the 
convict orderlies Essari and Fernandez who were sending us 
to hospital, without consulting the medicos. Here - was the 
boat. Six rowers, two armed warders in the stem-sheets and 
another at the tiller. One of the boatmen was Chapar, of the 
Marseilles stock-exchange business. All right, let’s go. The oars 
dipped into the sea, and as he rowed Chapar said to me, 
. ‘OK; Papi? Did you get the coconut all the time? * 

‘No, not the last four months.’ 

*1 know. There was an accident. The chap behaved well 
though. I was the only one he knew, but he didn’t grass,’ 

• ‘What happened to him?’ 

*He’s dead.’ 

‘You don’t say so 1 What of ?’ 

"According to- an orderly, it seems they .burst his liver, kick- 



We landed at the wharf on Royale, the biggest of the three 
islands. The bakery clock said three. The afternoon sun was 
really hot: it dazzled me and warmed me more than I cared 
for. A warder called for two stretcher-bearers. Two strongly 
built convicts, immaculately dressed in white and each wear- 
ing a black leather wrist-band, picked Clousiot up as though 
he weighed.no more than a feather: Maturette and I followed 
behind. A warder came along after us, carrying some papers. 

A cobbled road, about four yards wide: heavy going. For- 
tunately the two stretcher-bearers stopped every now and 
then for us to catch up. When we did so I sat down on the 
shaft of the stretcher, just by Clousiot’s head, and I put my 
hand gently on his forehead. Each time he smiled, opened his 
eyes and said, ‘Good oldPapi* 

Maturette took his hand. ‘Is that you, boy?’ whispered 
Clousiot. He seemed unspeakably happy, having us close to 
him. During one of the last halts, we met a fatigue-party go- 
ing off to work: they were almost all convicts belonging to 
my convoy. All of diem, as they went by, said something 
friendly. Wc reached the plateau, and there we saw the 
island’s highest authorities sitting in the shade in front of a 
square white building. We went up to Major Barrot, nick- 
named Coco sec, and the other heads of the establishment. 
Without getting up and without any formalities the major 
said to us, ‘So it wasn’t too tough in solitary, then? Who’s 
the man on the stretcher? ’ 

‘It’s Clousiot.’ 

• He had a look at him and then said, ‘Take them to hospital. 
When they come out, let me know, so I can see them before 
they’re sent to the camp.’ 

At the hospital they put us to bed - very clean beds with 
sheets and- pillows - in a big, well-lit ward. The first orderly 
I saw was Chatal, who had been in the high-security ward 
at Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. He attended to Clousiot right 
away and told a warder to call the doctor. The doctor came 
at about five o’clock. After a long, careful examination, I saw 
him shake his head, looking concerned. He wrote out a pre- 
scription and then came over to me. He said to Giatal, ‘Papil- 
lon and I arc not very good friends.’ 

‘Well, that’s surprising, Doctor, because he’s a decent type.’ 

‘Maybe. But he doesn’t care for me.’ 

'How come?’ 



‘Because of an examination I carried out in the RSclusic 
- ‘Doctor,’ I said, ‘do you call listening to my chest througl 
trap an examinati on? ’ 

'The service lays down that a convict’s door cannot 
opened-’ 

‘Fine, Doctor, but I hope for your sake you’re only lent 
the service and not a part of it.’ 

‘We’D talk about that some other time. I'M try to set yt 
on your feet again, you and your friend. As for the other or 
I’m afraid it may be too late.’ ' * 

Chatal told me he’d been interned on the islands, und 
suspicion of preparing a break. He also said that Jesus, tl 
character who had swindled me during my escape, had bee 
murdered by a leper. He didn’t know the leper’s name, and 
wondered whether it might have been one of those who ha 
helped us so generously. 

The life of the convicts on the lies du Salut was complete! 
different from what you might suppose. Most of the mei 
were extremely dangerous, dangerous for various reasons. Ii 
the first place, everybody was well fed, because everythin! 
was the subject of some racket - spirits, cigarettes, coffee 
chocolate, sugar, meat, fish, fresh vegetables, coconuts, cray- 
fish, etc. So they were all perfectly fit and the climate was 
very healthy. The men with limited sentences were the only 
ones with any chance of being let out: those with life, those 
with no hope at all, were all dangerous. Everybody, prisoners 
and warders, were involved in the rackets that were going on 
all the time. It was not easy to see the pattern at first. The 
warders’ wives looked out for young convicts to do their 
housework, and quite often took them as lovers, too. These 
ones were called houseboys. Some were gardeners, others 
cooks. It was this class of transportee that acted as the link 
between the convict camp and the warders. The other con- 
victs didn't look upon" the houseboys with disfavour, because 
it was thanks to them that any racket was possible at all. But 
they were not considered altogether clean - not pure. Ho 
real member of the underworld would lower himself to do 
jobs of this sort. Nor to be a turnkey: nor to work in the 
warders' mess. On the other hand, they would pay a great 
deal for jobs that had nothing to do with the screws - cleaners, 
sweepers, buffalo-drivers, hospital orderlies, prison gardeners, 
butchers, bakers, boatmen, postmen, lighthouse keepers. The 



real hard men would accept any of these jobs. A hard man 
would never work on the fatigues of repairing walls or roads 
or flights of steps, nor at planting coconut palms - that is to 
say, work in the full sun or under the supervision of the 
screws. Working hours were from seven until noon and from 
two o’clock till six. This may give you some idea of the atmos- 
phere with all these different, people living together, prisoners 
and warders making up a positive little town in which every- 
thing was discussed and commented upon, and where every- 
body’s activities were known to everybody else. 

Dega and Galgani came to spend Sunday with me in the 
hospital. We had ailloli with fish, fish soup, potatoes, cheese, 
coffee and white wine. We all of us, Chatal, Dega, Galgani, 
Maturette, Grandet and I, ate this meal in Chatal’s room. 
They asked me to tell them about my break in all its smallest 
details. Dega had decided not to make any further attempt 
at escape. He was expecting a pardon from France that would 
shorten his sentence by five years. Counting the three years 
he’d served in France and the three here, that would only 
leave him four to do. He had resigned himself to serving that 
long. As for Galgani, he said a Corsican senator was looking 
after him. 

Now it was my turn. I asked them what were the best places 
here for an escape. There was a general outcry For his part, 
Dega had never even thought of the idea; nor had Galgani. 
Chatal was of the opinion that a garden might be a useful 
place for preparing a raft. Grandet told me he was a black- 
smith in the Public Works. This was a workshop that had 
everything, he said - painters, carpenters, smiths, builders, 
plumbers: close on a hundred and twenty men. Its job was 
looking after the establishment’s buildings. Dega was the head 
accountant and he would put me into any job I wanted. The 
choice was up to me. Grandet offered me half his place as 
head of a gambling table, so that with what I got from the 
men who played I could live decently without having to spend 
what I had in my charger. Later I found that this was a very 
profitable job, but exceedingly dangerous. 

Sunday flashed by. ‘Five o’clock already,’ said Dega, who 
was wearing a handsome watch. ‘We must get back to the 
camp.’ As he left, Dega gave me five hundred francs to play 
poker with, because now and then there were very good games 
in our ward. Grandet gave me a splendid lock-back knife 



that he had tempered himself. It was a formidable weapon. 
‘Keep it on you, day and night.’ 

•What about the searches? ’ 

‘Most of the screws who carry them out are Arab turnkeys. 
When a man is listed dangerous, they never find any weapon, 
even'if they actually put their hands on it.’ 

‘We’ll meet again iri the camp,’ said Grandet. 

Before he left, Galgani told me he’d already reserved me a 
place in his comer and that we’d be in the same gourbi (the 
members of a gourbi all eat together and money that belongs 
to one belongs to all). As for Dega, he did not sleep in the 
camp but in a bedroom in the administration block. 

We had been here three days now, but as I spent my nights 
at Clousiot’s side I had not really gathered how life went on 
in this ward of about sixty men. But then Clousiot took a bad 
turn and he was moved into a room where there was already 
another very sick man. Chatal crammed him with morphia. 
He was afraid he wouldn’t live through the night. 

Thirty beds on each side of a ten-foot passage running down 
the middle of the big ward: almost all the beds occupied. 
The whole room lit by two paraffin lamps. Maturettc said to 
me, ‘They’re playing poker down there.’ I went over to the 
players. There were four of them. 

‘Can I make the fifth? ’ 

'Yes. Sit down. A hundred francs is the minimum raise. 
Three hundred to come in. Here’s three hundred' francs’ worth 
of chips.’ 

I gave two hundred to Maturette to keep. A Parisian named 
Dupont said to me, ‘We play the English game, with no joker. 
You know it?’ 

‘Yes.’ 

' Your deal, then.’ 

The speed these men played at was unbelievable. The raises 
had to be very quick or the head of the table would say, ‘Slow 
raise’ and you had to hold everything. It was here I discovered 
a fresh class of convicts — the gamblers. They lived on gambl- 
ing, amidst gambling. Nothing apart from gambling interested 
them. They forgot everything, what they had been, the length 
of their sentences, all the things they might do to change their, 
lives. Whether their opponent was a decent guy or not, only 

one thing interested them- gambling. 



We played all night long. We stopped when the coffee came 
round. I won one thousand three hundred francs. I was going 
towards my bed when Paulo caught me up and asked me to 
lend him two hundred to go on playing double-handed belote. 
He needed two hundred and he only had one. Here’s three 
hundred. We’ll go splits,’ I said. 

‘Thanks, Papillon: you’re certainly the guy they said you 
were. We’ll be friends.’ He held out his hand, I shook it, and 
he went off beaming with delight. 

Clousiot died that morning. In a moment of clear-minded- 
ness the evening before he had told Chatal not to give him 
any more morphia. ‘I want to die in my right senses, sitting 
up in my bed with my friends beside me,* he said. 

It was strictly forbidden to go into the isolation rooms, but 
Chatal took the responsibility and our friend was able to die 
in onr arms. I closed his eyes. Maturctte was quite shattered 
with grief. 

‘Clousiot’s gone, the friend we went right through our 
splendid break with. They’ve thrown him to. the sharks.’ 

When I heard the words, ‘They’ve thrown him to the 
sharks,' my blood ran cold. On the islands there was in fact no 
graveyard for the convicts. When a prisoner died they went 
out to sea at six o’clock, the time of sunset, and threw him in 
between Saint-Joseph and Royal e, in a place infested by 
sharks. 

My friend’s death made the hospital unbearable for me. I 
sent to tell.Dega I would be going out in two days’ time. He 
sent a note saying, ‘Ask Chatal to get you a fortnight’s rest 
in the camp: that way you'll have time to pick a job you like/ 
Maturctte was going to stay in a little longer. Chatal might 
be able to take him on as an assistant orderly. 

As soon as I left the hospital I was taken up before Major 
Barrot, Coco sec, in the administration block. ‘Papillon,’ be 
said, ‘I wanted to see you before you were sent to the camp. 
You have a very valuable friend here, my chief accountant, 
Louis Dega. He says you don’t deserve the reports that they 
have sent us from France, and that as you look upon your- 
self as an innocent man unjustly condemned, it is natural 
you should be in a state of perpetual revolt. I must tell you I 
don't altogether agree with him on that point. But what I’d 
like to know is what state of mind you’re in at present.’ 

‘In the first place, sir, and so I can give you an answer, 



could you let me know what the notes on my file actually 
say?’ 

‘Look for yourself.’ And he passed me a yellow folder in 
which I read roughly this - 

‘Henri Charriere, nicknamed Papillon, bom 16 November 
1906 at - in the Ardfeche, condemned at the Seine Assizes to 
transportation with hard labour for life for wilful homicide. 
Dangerous from every point of view: to be carefully watched. 
Not to benefit from privileged employment. 

Caen Prison: Incorrigible prisoner. Capable of rousing and 
directing a mutiny. To be kept under constant watch. 

Sain t-Martin-de-Re: Amenable to discipline but undoubt- 
edly has great influence over his companions'. Will attempt to 
escape from any place of confinement whatsoever. 

Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni : Committed a violent assault upon 
three warders and a turnkey to escape from the hospital. 
Brought back from Colombia. Good conduct during inquiry 
period. Given light sentence of two years solitary confine- 
ment 

Riclnsion de Saint- Joseph: Conduct good until release.’ 

What with all this, my dear Papillon,’ said the governor as 
I handed him back the file, ‘we don’t feel altogether com- 
fortable about having you as a boarder. Would you like to 
come to an agreement with me?’ 

‘Why not? It depends on the agreement, though.’ . 

‘There’s no sort of doubt that you’re a man who’ll do every- 
thing possible to escape from the islands in spite of every 
difficulty. You may even succeed. Now from my point of 
view, I still have five months of governing this island. Do you 
know what an escape costs a governor here? One year’s ordin- 
ary pay. That is to say, the total loss of the colonial bonus. 
As well as leave delayed for six months and reduced by three. 
And if the inquiry shows there was negligence on the gover- 
nor’s part, he may lose a stripe. It’s serious, as you see. Now if 
I want to do my job properly I have no right to shut you up in 
a cell or a black-hole just because it’s possible you might es- 
cape. Unless I think up some imaginary crime.' And that’s 
something I don’t choose to do. So I’d like you to give me your 
word not to try to escape until I leave the islands. Five 
months' 

‘Govemdr, I give you my word of honour that I shan’t 



leave while you’re here, so long as it doesn't exceed six 
months.* 

‘I’m leaving in rather under five: that’s certain.’ 

‘All right. You ask Dcga, and he’ll tell you I keep my word.’ 

‘I’m sure you do.’ 

‘But in return, I’ll ask you for something.’ 

‘What?’ 

'That during the five months. I must spend here, I should be 
allowed to have the jobs now that I might have had later, 
and even perhaps be allowed to change islands.’ 

‘All right. Agreed. But this must remain strictly between 
ourselvesd 

‘Yes, Governor.’ 

He sent for Dega, who persuaded him that my place was 
not with the good conducts, but with the crooks in the ‘dan- 
gerous’ building, where all my friends were lodged. I was 
given my full issue of convict’s equipment, and the governor 
added some white trousers and jackets that had been con- 
fiscated in the tailors’ shop. 

So I was carrying two pairs of brand new, perfectly white 
trousers, three jackets and a straw hat as I made my way to 
the central camp, accompanied by a screw. To get there from 
the little administrative block we had to cross the whole plateau. 
We went past the warders’ hospital, going along the outside 
of the thirteen-foot wall that surrounded the entire establish- 
ment. When we had got almost right round the huge rectangle 
we reached the main gate. Pena! Settlement, lie Royale 
Section. The enormous door was made of wood, and it stood 
wide open. It must have been nearly twenty feet high. Two 
guard.-rooms with four warders in each. A sergeant sitting on 
a chair. No rifles: everybody had revolvers. I also saw five or 
six Arab turnkeys. 

When I appeared in the gateway all the warders came out. 
The chief warder, a Corsican, said, ‘Here’s a new one: a big 
boy.’ Tho turnkeys were preparing to search me, but he stop- 
ped them. ‘Don’t bugger about, making him show all his kit. 
Go on inside, Papillon. You've got lots of friends waiting for 
you in the special block, I’m sure. My name’s Soffrani. Good 
luck here on the islands.’ 

‘Thanks, Chief.’ And I walked into a huge yard in which 
there stood three great buildings. I followed the warder to one 
of them. Over the door it said Block A: Special Category. 



Standing in front of the wide-open door the warder shouted, 
‘Leader!’ An aged convict appeared. ‘Here’s a new one,’ said 
the warder, and walked off . 

I made my way into a very large rectangular hall in which 
there lived a hundred and twenty men. An iron bar, like the 
one in that first building at Saint-Laurent, ran down each of 
its longer sides, broken only by the gaps for the door: this 
door was an iron grill, only closed at night. Between the wall 
and the bar were stretched the pieces of very taut canvas that 
were falsely called hammocks and that served as beds. These 
so-called hammocks were very comfortable and hygienic. 
Each had two shelves fixed over it, and on these you could 
put your things : there was one for clothes and one for your 
food, mug, etc. Between the lines of hammocks r&n the alley, 
a passage ten feet wide. Here too the men lived in little groups 
- gourbis. Some of these messes had only two men, but in 
some there were as many as ten. 

I was scarcely inside before convicts dressed in white came 
hurrying from all round. ‘Papi, come over here.’ ‘No, come 
along with us.’ Grandet took my bag and said, ‘He’s going 
to gourbi with me.’. I followed him. They set up the canvas 
I was to lie on and stretched it tight. ‘Catch. Here’s a feather 
pillow, brother,’ said Grandet. I found many friends. A great 
many Corsicans and types from Marseilles, and a few Parisi- 
ans: all acquaintances from back in France or men I’d 
known in the Sant£, the Conciergerie or in the convoy. But 
I was astonished at seeing them and I asked, ‘How come 
you’re not at work, this time of day?’ Everyone laughed very 
heartily. 'Oh, you can write that one out in capitals! The 
characters in this block who work never do more than an . 
hour a day. Then we come back to the gourbi.’ This really 
was a warm welcome. I hoped it would last. But there was one 
thing I noticed in no time at all — a thing I had never expected: 
in spite of these few days spent in hospital I was going to have 
to learn how to live in a group all over again. 

Then something quite extraordinary happened. A fellow 
came in, dressed in white and carrying a tray covered with a 
spotless doth: he called out, 'Steak, steak, who wants beef- 
steak?! Gradually he reached our corner, stopped, lifted the 
linen, and there, in neat rows just like you see them in a 
French butcher’s shop, there was a whole trayful of steaks. 
It was clear, that Grandet was a daily customer, because the 





type didn’t ask whether he wanted any but how many he 
should pick out, 

‘Five.’ 

‘Rump or butt?’ 

‘Rump. What do I owe you? Make out the bill, because now 
there’s one more of us it won’t be the same.’ 

The steak-seller brought out a notebook and began doing 
sums. ‘That makes one hundred and thirty-five francs in all.’ 

‘Take it out of this and then start a clean sheet.’ 

When the man had gone Grandet said to me, ‘You die like 
a dog here if you’ve got no cash. But there’s one way you can 
get it all the time - a racket.’ 

In penal, a racket meant the way each man sets about get- 
ting hold of money. The camp cook sold the meat meant for 
the prisoners - sold it as steaks. When it was issued to him 
at the kitchen he cut off round about half. According to the 
pieces, he prepared joints, steaks or stewing beef. Some was 
sold to the warders through their wives and some to the con- 
victs who had the money to pay for it. Of course the cook 
handed over part of what he made this way to the screw in 
charge of the kitchen. The first block where he peddled his 
' wares was always Block A, Special Category - our building. 

So a racket meant the cook who sold meat and dripping; 
the baker who sold fancy bread and the long thin white 
loaves meant for the warders; the butcher who sold meat too; 
the medical orderly who sold injections; the clerk who was 
paid for getting you any particular job or just for having you 
let off a fatigue; the gardener who sold fresh vegetables and 
fruit; the convict laboratory assistant who sold the results of 
analyses and even went so far as to manufacture phony con- 
sumptives, phony lepers and phony cases of enteritis; the men 
who specialized in stealing from the yards of the warders’ 
houses and who sold eggs, chickens and soap; the houseboys 
who traded with the women they worked for and who brought 
anything they were asked to bring - butter, condensed milk, 
powdered milk, tins of tunny or sardines, cheese, and of course 
wine and spirits (in this way there was always a bottle of 
Ricard in our gourbi, as well as English and American cigar- 
ettes); and also those who were allowed to go fishing and who 
sold what they caught. 

But the best racket, and the most dangerous, was keeping 
a gambling table. The rule was that there could never be more 


than three or four heads of table in. each block of a hundred 
and twenty men. The man who wanted to take a table would 
turn up one night as the game began and say, ‘I want a place 
as a banker.’ 

‘No,’ they would say. 

‘Everybody says no?’ 

‘Everybody.’ 

‘Well then, I name So-and-so : I’ll take his place.* 

The man whose name he said knew what had to be done. 
He would get up, walk to the middle of the room, and there 
they would fight it out with- the knife. The winner took the 
table. The bankers had five per cent of all winnings. 

Gambling provided the occasion for other little rackets or 
at least ways of earning money. There Was the character who 
spread the smoothed blankets on the Soor; the one who hired 
out small stools for the players who couldn’t sit cross-legged; 
and the cigarette seller. He spread out several empty cigar, 
boxes on a blanket, with cigarettes in them - French, Eng- 
lish, American or even hand-made. Each had its price show- 
ing, and the card-player helped himself,, scrupulously putting 
the money in the box. And then there was the man who looked 
after the paraffin lamps and saw to it they didn’t smoke too 
much. These 1 lamps were made out of condensed milk tins 
with a hole in the top for the wick, which had to be snuffed 
frequently. For the ones who didn’t smoke, there were sweets 
and cakes - making them was a separate racket. And each 
block had one or two coffee sellers: they made their coffee 
in the Arab way, and kept it hot all night under two jute sacks. 
From time to time they would go up and down' the room 
peddling coffee or chocolate kept hot in a kind of home- 
made haybox. 

Then lastly there was the stuff they made to sell - the junk. 
This was a kind of handyman’s racket. Some worked the tor- 
toiseshell the fishermen brought in: the right sort of turtle’s 
shell has thirteen scales, and they can weigh as much as five 
pounds apiece. Craftsmen turned them into bracelets, ear- 
rings, necklaces, cigarette-holders, combs and brush backs. I 
even saw a jewel box made of a blond tortoiseshell, a beauti- 
ful piece of work. Others carved coconut shells and cow or 
buffalo horn, or made snakes out of a local hard-wood or of 
ebony. Still others went in for very perfect cabinet-making, all 
put together without a single nail. The most skilful of the lot 



worked in bronze. And of course there were the painters. 

Sometimes several craftsmen would combine to carry out a 
single project. For example, a fisherman would catch a shark. 
He’d prepare its jaws, wide open and with all the teeth pro- 
perly arranged and brightly polished. Then a cabinet-maker 
would make a small-scale anchor out of a hard, cross-grained 
wood, wide enough in tire middle for a painting. The anchor 
would be wedged into the open jaws, and a painter would 
paint the lies du Salut with the sea all round. The most usual 
subject was this: the headland of He Royale, Saint-Joscph be- 
yond and the strait between tbe two ; the setting sun, with its 
rays spreading over the blue sea; on the water a boat, with 
six convicts, bare to the waist, standing and holding tbeir 
oars straight up in the air; in the stem, three warders with 
sub-machine-guns. In the bows two men tilting a coffin with 
the body of a dead convict, swathed in flour sacks, sliding 
out of it: sharks on the surface, waiting open-mouthed for 
the corpse. In the bottom right-band comer the words 
Funeral at Royale, and the date. 

All these different kinds of junk were sold to the warders’ 
houses. The finest pieces were often bought in advance or 
made to order. The others were sold on board the ships that 
touched at the islands. This was the boatmen’s province. And 
then there were the jokers who’d take an old battered mug 
and engrave on it This mug belonged to Dreyfus - lie du 
Diablc and the date. And the same with spoons and bowls. 
There was a sure-fire piece of junk for the Breton sailors - 
anything at all that had the name Sczenac on it. 

This non-stop racketing meant that a great deal of money 
came into the islands, and it was in the warders’ interest to 
let it come. The men were completely absorbed infheir schemes 
- they were easier to handle and they settled down in their new 
lives. 

Homosexuality was officially recognized, or close on. Every- 
body, from the governor downwards, knew that So-and-so 
was So-and-so’s wife, and if one was sent to another island 
the other was soon seat after him - if, indeed, they weren’t 
sent together. 

Out of all these men, there weren’t three in a hundred who 
thought of escaping from the islands. Even those serving life 
sentences. The only way of setting about it was to use every 
possible means of being un-intemed and sent to the main- 



land - to Saint-Laurent, Kourou or Cayenne. But this would 
only work for those with a set number of years. For the lifers, 
it whs impossible except in the case of manslaughter: if you 
killed someone you were sent to Saint-Laurent to be tried. 
But to get there you had to confess; and that meant the risk 
of five years solitary for manslaughter, without any certainty 
of being able to use the short stay in the punishment block at 
Saint-Laurent - three months at the most - for an escape. 

You could also try to be un-intemed for health reasons. If 
you were certified tubercular they would send you to the place 
for consumptives called the Nouveau Camp, fifty miles from 
Saint-Laurent 

Leprosy would work too, or chronic enteritis with dysen- 
tery. It was fairly easy to get the certificate, but it involved 
running a hideous risk - that of living for close on two years in 
a special isolation wing with the patients suffering from the 
disease you had chosen. It was only a step between wanting to 
pass for a leper and actually catching the disease, or going- 
in with lungs like a first-rate pair of bellows and coming out a 
consumptive: and the step was quite often made. As for 
dysentery, it was even harder to escape the infection. 

So here I was, settling down in Block A with my hundred 
and twenty companions. I had to learn how to live in this 
society: it was one in which you were very quickly classified. 

\ In the first place everybody had to know you couldn’t be 
shoved around. And then once you were feared you had to 
earn respect by the way you behaved with the screws, by 
never accepting certain jobs, by refusing certain fatigues, by 
never acknowledging the turnkeys’ authority and by never 
obeying them, even if it meant a row with a warder. If you 
had been gambling all night, you mustn’t even get up for the 
roll-call. The leader, or man in charge of the block, would 
call out, ‘Sick: in bed.’ In the. two other blocks the warders 
would sometimes go in, have a look at the so-called invalid and 
make him come out for the roll-call. Never in the tough boys’ 
block. When all was said and done, what they, were all of 
them looking for, whether they were big or small, was a quiet 
life in this penal settlement. 

My friend Grandet, my messmate, came from Marseilles, 
lie was thirty-five, tall and as thin as a rail, but very strong 
indeed. We had been friends in France. We had gone around 
together at Toulon, as well as in Marseilles and Paris. He was 



a well-known safe breaker. He was good-natured, but he could 
be an exceedingly ugly customer. 

This particular day I was almost alone in the huge room. 
The leader was sweeping and mopping the cement floor. I 
noticed a man busy repairing a watch, with one of those 
wooden things screwed into his left eye. Over his hammock 
there was a shelf with perhaps thirty watches hanging on it. 
His face was that of a man of thirty, but his hair was com- 
pletely white. I went over, watched him working, and then 
tried to get into conversation with him. He never even looked 
up - remained silent. I went off, rather irritated, and walked 
out into the yard. I sat in the wash-house, and there I found 
Titi la Belote practising with a brand-new pack. His nimble 
fingers shuffled and reshuffled the thirty-two cards with in- 
credible speed. His conjuror’s hands went on without a pause, 
as he said to me, ‘Well, brother, how are you getting along? 
You like it on Royale? ' 

‘Yes, but today I’m fed up. Fm going to get myself a little 
job of some sort: that way I’ll get out a bit. Just now I felt like' 
having a natter with a guy that was mending a watch, and he 
wouldn’t even answer.’ 

‘You’re telling me he didn’t, Papi. That character doesn’t 
give a fuck for anyone on God’s earth. His watches, and the 
rest can go to hell. It’s true he has the right to be mental, after 
what happened to him. It would certainly have driven me 
round the bend. Listen: this young chap - you can say young, 
because he’s not thirty - was condemned to death last year 
for the so-called rape of a warder’s wife. All genuine guaran- 
teed crap. He’d been stuffing the woman he worked for, a 
Breton chief warder’s certificated wife, time out of mind. He 
worked there as houseboy, so every time the Breton was on 
day-duty, the watchmaker stuffed the bird. But they made one 
error: the broad wouldn’t let him wash and iron the clothes 
any more. She did it herself, and her cuckold of a husband, 
who knew she was bone-idle, found that very quaint indeed 
and began to have his doubts. But he had no proof of his 
horns. So he worked out a scheme to catch them actually at 
it and kill them both. He reckoned without the woman’s 
presence of mind. One day he left duty two hours after hav- 
ing come on and he asked a warder to go back to his house 
with him, saying he’d give him a ham they’d sent him from 
his village. He walked in through the garden gate without 

A 



making a sound, but the moment he opened the front door 
of the cottage a parrot started bawling out "Here’s the boss!” 
as it always did when the screw came home. The same second 
the woman screeched, “Rape! Rape! Help, help)’’ The two 
screws came into the bedroom just as the woman disentangled 
herself from the convict: he jumped out of the window as 
the cuckold fired at him. He got the bullet in his shoulder 
and at the same time the broad scratched her tits and cheek 
and tore her dressing-gown. The watchmaker fell, and just as 
the Breton was going to finish him oS the other screw took 
his gun away. I must tell you this other screw was a Corsican 
and right away he’d understood his chief’s story was so much 
cock and it was no more a question of rape than it was of 
butter up her arse. But the Corsican couldn’t very well open 
his mind to the Breton on the subject, so he behaved like he 
believed in the rape. The watchmaker was condemned to 
' death. Well, brother, nothing surprising so far. It was after- 
wards it turned interesting. 

'Now here on Royale, in the punishment block, there’s a 
guillotine, with each part carefully put away in a special place. 
In the yard there are the five paving slabs they set it up on, all 
carefuly cemented down and levelled. Every week the exe- 
cutioner and his assistants, a couple of convicts, set it up with 
its knife and all the other fixings, and they slice through two 
banana steins. That way, they know it’s always working 
properly. 

‘So there was this Savoyard, the watchmaker, in a con- 
demned cell with four others who were for it too - three Arabs 
and a Sicilian. All five were waiting for the result of the peti- 
tion for reprieve their defending warders had put in. 

‘One morning the guillotine was set up and suddenly the 
Savoyard’s door burst open. The executioners darted at him 
and hobbled his feet. Then they tied his hands with the some 
line, so it ran down to the hobble. They cut his collar open 
with scissors, and then with little hobbled steps in the dawn 
twilight he walked the twenty yards. As you know', Papillon, 
when you reach a guillotine, you are brought face to face 
with an upright plank, and they tie you to it with ( the straps 
fixed along the edge. So they strapped him on, and they were 
- just going to swing him level, with his head over the edge for 
the knife, when Coco sec, the one who’s governor now, turned 
up — he has to be present at all executions. He was carrying a 


big hurricane-lamp and the moment he lit up the scene he saw 
these bastards of screws had got it wrong - they were going 
to cut off the watchmaker’s head, and that particular day, the 
watchmaker had just not been invited to the party. 

‘ “Stop! Stopl” shouts Barrot. He w T as so shook, it seems 
he couldn’t speak properly. He dropped his hurricane-lamp, 
shoved them aside, screws and executioners, and undid the 
Savoyard himself. At last he managed to give some orders. 
‘Take him back to his cell, orderly. Take care of him - give 
him some rum and stay with him. And you, you bloody fools, 
go and get hold of Rencasseu as quick as you like - he’s the 
one that’s being executed today and not anybody else ! ” 

‘The next day the Savoyard’s hair was snowy white, just 
like you saw it today. Iris defender, a screw from Calvi, wrote 
another petition to the minister of justice, telling him about 
what bad happened. The watchmaker was pardoned and given 
life instead. Ever since, he’s spent his time mending the screws’ 
watches. That’s his one passion. He goes on and on checking 
the time they keep; that’s why there are so many hanging on 
his shelf. So now you understand the guy has a right to be 
a little old-fashioned, am I right or am I wrong?’ 

'Right, Titi: after something like that, he’s certainly al- 
lowed to be what you might call unsociable. I’m genuinely 
sorry for him.’ 

Every day I learnt something more about this new kind of 
life. Block A did indeed contain a rich mixture of formid- 
able men - formidable both where their past was concerned 
and in the way they behaved in everyday life. I was still not 
working: I was waiting for a cleaner’s job that would leave 
me free to wander about the island after three quarters of an 
hour of work; and I should have the right to go fishing. 

That morning, at the roll-call for the coconut planting 
fatigue, Jean Castelli’s name was called. He stepped from the 
ranks and said, ‘What’s all this. You mean I’m being sent to 
work? Me?’ 

‘Yes, you,’ said the screw in charge of the fatigue. 'Here, 
take hold of this mattock.’ 

Castclli stared at him coldly. ‘Man, get this: you have to 
come from some remote hole in the country to know how to 
handle this sort of an object. You have to be a provincial, 
like you. I’m a Marseilles Corsican. In Corsica we throw picks 




‘AH the men who’ve been called out, Btripl Quick march to 
the cells’ As the clothes came off so every now and then you 
heard the clash of a knife ringing on the macadam of the 
yard. At this moment the doctor appeared. 'Right. Haiti 
Here’s the doctor. Doctor, please would you examine these 
men? Those who are not found to be sick, straight to the 
black-hole. The others can stay in their block.’ 

‘Are there sixty reporting sick?* 

‘Yes, Doctor: all except for that man over there - he re- 
fused to work.’ 

‘First man,’ said the doctor. 'Grandet, what’s wrong with 
you?’ 

‘A stomach turned by gaolers, Doctor. We’re all of us men 
sent down for long sentences and most of us for life. Doctor. 
No hope of escape on the islands. So we can only bear this 
life if there’s a certain amount of give and take in the appli- 
cation of the rules. But this morning a warder went so far as to 
try and knock out a comrade we all think highly of - knock 
him out with a mattock handle there in front of us all. It wasn’t 
in self-defence, because the man hadn’t threatened anyone. 
All he’d said was he didn’t want to use a mattock. That’s the 
real reason for our epidemic. I leave it to you.’ 

The doctor bowed his head, thought for a good minute, 
and then said, ‘Orderly, write this: “On account of a mass 
food-poisoning, medical warder So-and-so will take the neces- 
sary steps to purge the transportees who have reported sick 
today: he will give them each twenty grammes of sodium 
sulphate. As for transportec X, please have him placed under 
observation in the hospital so that we can judge whether he 
was in full possession of his faculties when he refused to 
work.’ 

He turned his back on the group and walked off. 

‘Everyone insideP shouted the deputy governor. 'Pick up 
your things, and don’t forget your knives.’ 

That day everybody stayed indoors. No one was allowed 
out, not even the man who fetched the bread. At about noon, 
instead of soup, the medical warder and two convict orderlies 
brought in a wooden pail full of sodium sulphate. Only three 
men were obliged to swallow the purge. The fourth fell on the 
pai! in a wonderfully imitated epileptic fit, and flung the purge, 
the bucket and the spoon in every direction. With this the 



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you were my son. Life here doesn’t interest you. You eat well 
because you have to keep fit; but you’d never settle down to 
live your life here in the islands. I congratulate you. There 
are only half a dozen of us out of all the convicts who think 
that way. Above all, about escaping. Sure, there are quantities 
of men who’d pay a fortune to get themselves un*intemed 
and so go to the mainland to make a break there. But here 
nobody believes in escaping.’ 

Old Castelli advised me to leam English and to talk Span- 
ish with Spaniards whenever I could. He lent me a book to 
learn Spanish in twenty-four lessons. And a French-English 
dictionary. He was close friends with a Marseillais called 
Gardbs, who knew a great deal about escaping. He had made 
two breaks himself. The first was from the Portuguese penal 
settlement; the second from the mainland. He had his own 
ideas about escaping from the islands: so had Castelli. Gra- 
von, the Toulonnais, had his opinions too. None of these ideas 
coincided. From that day on, I made up my mind to take my 
own decisions and not to talk about escaping any more. 

It was rough, but that was how it was. The only thing they 
agreed upon was that there was no sort of point in gambling 
except to make money; and that it was very dangerous. At 
any time you might be called upon to tackle any tough guy 
that challenged you to come out with a knife. They were all 
three men of action and for their age they were really terrific: 
Louis Gravon was forty-five and Gardfcs close on fifty. 

Yesterday evening it so happened that I let almost every 
mail in our block know my point of view and my idea of 
right behaviour. A little guy from Toulouse was challenged 
to fight - with knives of course - by a Nimois. The little guy 
from Toulouse was nicknamed Sardine and the big tough 
from Nimes, Mouton. ‘Either you pay me twenty-five francs 
every poker game, or you don’t play.' 

Sardine said, 'Nobody's ever paid anybody anything for pby- 
ing poker. Why pick on me? Why don’t you go for the men 
at the Marseilles game?’ 

‘That’s none of your business. Either you pay or you don’t 
play: or you fight.’ 

'No, I shan’t fight.’ 

‘You climb down, then?’ 

‘Yes. Because I’m not going to risk getting a stab or being 
killed by a gorilla like you that's never gone off on a break. 



rm,here to make a break: I’m not here to kill or get mysel 

killed.' „ . 

We were all tense to see what would happen. Grandet said 
to me, ‘The little one is a good guy, that’s for sure; and he’s 
a right escaper. What a pity we can’t say anything.’ 

I opened my knife and laid it under my thigh. I was sitting 
in Grandet’s hammock. 

‘Well then, yellow-boy, are you going to pay or are you 
going to stop playing? Speak up.’ He took a step towards 
Sardine. 

Then I called out, ‘You shut your bloody trap, Mouton, 
and leave the guy alone.’ 

‘Are you crazy, Papillon? ’ said Grandet 

Still sitting there motionless with my open knife under my 
thigh and my hand on its hilt I said, ‘No, I’m not crazy, and 
you can all of you listen to what I’ve got to say. Mouton, 
before I fight with you, which IH certainly do if you insist 
upon it even after you’ve heard my piece, just let me tell you 
and all the others that since I’ve been in this block, where 
there are more than a hundred of us, and all genuine crooks, 
I have been ashamed to see that the one right thing - the 
finest, most worthwhile, the one pure thing - the break, is hot 
respected. Now any man who has proved he is a genuine es- 
caper, any man with guts enough to risk his life in a break, 
ought to be respected by one and all, quite apart from any- 
thing else. Does any man contradict me?’ Silence. ‘You got 
laws all right, but you lack the most important one of all, the 
one that says everybody must not only respect an escaper 
but must also help him and back him up. Nobody’s required 
to go off on a break and I quite admit it’s reasonable most of 
you should make up your minds to live your lives here. But 
if you don’t possess the spirit to try and make another life 
for yourselves, do at least pay the breakers the respect they 
deserve. If anyone forgets this natural law, let him expect 
serious consequences. And now, Mouton, if you still want a 
fight, let’s gol ’ And I leapt into the middle of the room, knife 
in hand. Mouton threw his down and said, ‘You’re right, 
Papillon; so I won’t fight you with a knife. But I will with 
fists, to show you I’m not yellow.’ 

I left my knife with Grandet. We went for one another like 
wild cats for about twenty minutes. At last, with a lucky butt, 
I just managed to win. We went off to the latrine together to 



wash the blood off our faces. Monton said, ‘You’re right: 
we grow dull and stupid on the islands. Here I have been 
these fifteen years now, and I haven’t even spent so much as 
a thousand francs on trying to get myself un-intemed. It’s 
shameful.’ 

When I went back to the gourbi Grandet and Galgani 
bawled me out. ‘Are you mental, insulting everybody like 
that? It was a bleeding miracle no one jumped out into the 
alley to have a go at you with the knife.’ 

'No, brothers, there’s nothing surprising about it. Every 
man belonging to our world admits it when somebody else is 
absolutely dead right.’ 

‘Well, maybe so,* said Galgani. ‘But you’d be wise not to 
arse about with dynamite too much.’ 

All that evening men came and spoke to me. They came 
over as if by chance and talked about just anything at all; 
then, before they went, they’d say, ‘I agree with what you 
said, Papi.’ This incident placed me exactly. 

From that time on my companions certainly looked upon 
me as a man belonging to their world, but as one who would 
not bow to accepted notions without analysing them and argu- 
ing about them. I noticed that when I was the one in charge 
of the table there were fewer wrangles; and when I gave an 
order it was obeyed right away. 

The head of the table, as I said, took five per cent on every 
winning bet. He sat on a bench with his back to the wall as a 
protection against murder - a possibility that was always 
there. A rug over his knees hid a wide-open knife. In a circle 
round him, thirty, forty, and even sometimes fifty gamblers 
from every part of France as well as many foreigners, in- 
cluding Arabs. The game was very simple. There was the 
banker and the cutter: every time the bilker lost he passed 
the. cards on to his neighbour. They played with fifty-two 
cards. The cutter cut the pack and left one card face down. 
The banker dealt a card face up on the blanket. Then the bets 
were made. They laid their money cither on the cut or on the 
banker. When the bets were all in little heaps on the table, 
the cards were dealt one by one. Any card of the same value 
as one of the two on the table lost For example, the cutter 
would have a queen hidden and the banker would have turned 
up a five. If a queen came up before a five, then the cut was 
the loser. If it was the other way about and a five came up. 


then it was the bank that lost. The head of the table had to 
kndw the amount of each stake and remember which was the 
cutter and which the banker so as to know which way the 
money was to go. This was not easy. You had to defend the 
weak against the strong, who were always trying to throw 
their weight about. When the head of the table made a deci- 
sion in a tricky case, that decision had to be accepted with- 
out a murmur. 

Last night an Italian named Carlino was murdered. He lived 
with a boy who acted as his wife. They both worked in a gar- 
den. He must have known his life was in danger, because 
when he slept the boy kept watch: and the other wa'y about. 
They’d put empty tins under their hammock so that no one 
could slip under it without making a noise. And yet he was 
murdered, and from below. Immediately after his shriek there 
was a terrible clatter of tins as the killer scattered them. 

Grandet was running the Marseilles game with more than 
thirty players all round him. I was standing near, talking. The 
shriek and the noise of the empty tins stopped the game. 
Everyone sprang up, asking what had happened. Carlino’s 
boy-friend had seen nothing, and Carlino was no longer 
breathing. The block leader asked if he should tell the war- 
ders. No. It would be time to tell them tomorrow, at the roll- 
call : since he was dead, there was nothing to be done for him. 

Grandet spoke up. ‘Nobody heard anything. You didn’t 
hear anything, either, boy,’ he said to Carlino’s friend. ‘When 
they wake us tomorrow, you’ll notice he’s dead.’ 

And before you could say knife the game had begun again. 
As if nothing had happened the players went back to their 
cry of ‘Cutter ! No, banker ! ’ etc. 

I waited impatiently to see what would happen when the 
wardere discovered there’d been a killing. Half past five, first 
bell. Six o’clock, second bell and coffee. Half past six, third 
bell and we went out for the roll-call in the usual way. But 
this time it was different. At the second bell the block leader 
said to the screw who came round with the coffee-man, ‘Chief, 
a man’s been killed.’ 

•Who?’ 

‘Carlino.’ 

‘OK.’ 

Ten minutes later six screws appeared. ‘Where’s the corpse?’ 



‘Over there.’ They saw the dagger driven into Carlino’s back 
through the canvas. They pulled it out. 

‘Stretcher-bearers, take him away.’ Two men carried him 
off. The sun rose. The third hell rang'. Still holding the bloody 
knife, the head warder gave the order, ‘Everyone outside, 
lined up for roll-call. No sick men allowed to stay in bed to- 
day.’ 

Everyone went outside. The governors and the chief war- 
ders were always there for the morning roll-call. The names 
were called. When they reached Carlino’s, the block leader 
replied, ‘Died during the night: has been taken to the 
morgue.’ 

. ‘Right,’ said the screw who was calling the roll. 

When everybody had answered present, the head of the 
camp held up the knife and said, ‘Does anyone recognize this 
knife?’ Nobody replied. ‘Did anyone see the murderer?’ Dead 
silence. ‘So as usual nobody knows anything at all. March past 
in front of me one by one with your hands stretched out: 
then each man to his work. It’s always the same. Major: 
there’s no way of finding out who did it.’ 

'Inquiry closed,’ said the governor. 'Keep the knife: tie a 
label on stating it was the one used to kill Carlino.’ 

That was all. I went back indoors and I lay on my hammock 
to get a little sleep, for I had not had a wink all night. Just 
as I was going off I reflected that a convict didn’t amount to 
much. Even if he was murdered in the most cowardly way, 
they wouldn’t bother to find out who did it. As far as the ad- 
ministration was concerned a convict didn’t count at all. Less 
than a dog. 

I decided to begin work as a cesspitman on Monday. At half 
past four I’d go out with another man and empty the pots in 
Block A - our pots. The rules said you had to take them right 
down to the sea to empty them. But if he was paid, the buffalo- 
driver would wait for us on the plateau at a place where a 
narrow cemented channel ran down to the water. Then 
quickly, in less than twenty minutes, we emptied all the tubs 
into this channel and poured six hundred gallons of sea water 
to carry it all down. This sea water came in a huge barrel and 
we gave the driver, a pleasant Martinique Negro, twenty francs 
a go. We helped the whole lot on its way with a stiff broom. 
As this was my first day of work, carrying the tubs on their 



two wooden handles tired my wrists. But I soon got used to il. 

My new mate was a very kindly, helpful type; yet Galgani 
told me he was an exceedingly dangerous man. It seemed he 
had committed e-even murders on the islands. His own parti- 
cular racket was selling shit. After all, every gardener had to 
have manure. For this, he would dig a pit, and put dried leaves 
and grass into it; then my black man would secretly take one 
or two tub5 of the cess to the garden we pointed out to him. 
Of course, this could not be done alone, so i had to help him. 
But I knew it was very wrong, because by contaminating the 
vegetables it might spread dysentery not only among the war- 
ders but also among the convicts. I made up my mind that one 
day, when I knew him better, I’d stop him. Of course I’d 
pay him so that he wouldn’t be a loser by giving up his racket. 
Apart from this, he also made ornaments out of horn. -As far 
as fishing was concerned, he said he couldn’t tell me any- 
thing; but down on the wharf Chapar or someone else might be 
able to help me. 

So there I was - a cesspit man. Every day when work was 
over I had a good shower, put on a pair of shorts, and went 
fishing wherever I chose. There was only one thing I was re- 
quired to do - be in the camp at noon. Thanks to Chapar I 
was well supplied with rods and hooks. When I went up the 
road carrying red mullet threaded through their gills on a wire, 
the warders’ wives would often call out from their cottages. 
They all knew my name. ‘Papillon, sell me five pounds of 
mullet.’ 

'Are you sick?' 

‘Have you got a sick child? ’ 

‘No.’ 

Then I shan’t sell you my fish.’ 

I made quite large catches and I gave them to friends in the 
camp. I swapped fish for long thin loaves, vegetables or fruit. 
In my gourbi we ate fish at least once a day. I was on my way 
up with a dozen big crayfish and about fifteen pounds of mullet 
one day, and as I passed in front of Major Barrot’s house a 
rather fat woman said to me, ’You’ve had a good catch, Papil- 
lon. Yet the sea's rough and nobody else has caught any. It’s 
at least a fortnight since I’ve eaten any fish. Wbat a pity you 
don't sell them. My husband tells me you won’t let the war- 
ders’ wives buy any.’ 

That s true, Madame. But maybe it’s different with you.’ 


‘Why?’ 

‘Because you’re fat, and perhaps meat is not good for you.’ 

‘That’s quite true. I’ve been told I should only eat vegetables 
and simply-prepared fish. But here it’s not possible.’ 

‘Here, Madame, take these crayfish and mullet.’ And I gave 
her ab out five pounds of fish. 

From that day on, every time I made a good catch, I gave 
her what was needed for a proper diet. She knew very well 
that on the islands everything was bought and sold, and yet 
she never said anything to me but ‘Thank you.’ She was right, 
because she sensed I would take it amiss if she offered me 
money. But she often asked me in. She herself would pour me 
out a pastis or a glass of white wine. If she was sent figatelli 
from Corsica, she gave me some. Madame Barrot never asked 
me a single question about my past. She only let out one thing, 
when we were speaking about the penal settlement one day 
- ‘It’s true you can’t escape from the islands; but it’s better to 
be here in a healthy climate than rotting on the mainland.’ 

It was she who told me about the origin of the name of these 
islands : once when there was an epidemic of yellow fever at 
.Cayenne, the White Fathers and the nuns of a convent took 
refuge there and they were all saved. Hence the name lies du 
Salut. 


Thanks to my fishing, I could go everywhere. It was three 
, months now that I had been cesspit man and I knew the island 
better than anyone. I went and looked at the gardens under 
the pretext of trading my fish for vegetables and fruit. The 
gardener of one that lay at the edge of the warders’ graveyard 
, was Matthieu Carbonieri ; he belonged to my gourbi. He wor- 
ked there by himself and it occurred to me that later on a raft 
could be made or buried in his garden. Two months more and 
the governor would be gone. I should be free to act 
I got things organized: I was officially the cesspit man and 
so I went out as if I were going about my work, but in fa- '' 
was the Martiniquais who did it for me — being paid far — r 
trouble, of course. I began to make friends with two brands-- 
in-law who were serving life sentences, Narric and 
They were called the pram boys. I was told they'd 
cused of turning a debt-collector they’d murdered ir.rr r 
of concrete. It was said that witnesses had seen — rr 


this block in a pram; and they were supposed - ^ " 


it into the Mame or the Seine. The investigation proved that 
the collector had gone to their place, to get the money for a 
bill and that he’d never been seen since. They denied it all 
their lives long. Even in penal they swore they were innocent. 
But although the police never found the body, they did find 
the head, wrapped up in a handkerchief. Now in the brothers’ 
house there were handkerchiefs that ‘according to the ex- 
perts’ were of the same weave and the same thread. But they 
and their lawyers showed that thousands and thousands of 
yards of this same cloth had been turned into handkerchiefs. 
Everybody had them. In the end the two brothers-in-law got 
life and the wife of one, who was the sister of the other, got 
twenty years solitary. 

I managed to get to know them well. They were builders, 
so they could go in and out of the Public Works yard. Maybe 
little by little they would be able to bring me out what was 
needed to make a raft. I’d have to persuade them. 

Yesterday I met the doctor. I was carrying a forty-pound 
fish called a m6rou - very good eating. We walked up towards 
the plateau together. Half way we rested on a low wall. He 
told me you could make a delicious soup with a mCrou’s head. 
I gave it to him, together with a big lump of its flesh. This 
astonished him, and he said, ‘You’re not one for bearing a 
grudge, Papillon.’ 

'Well, Doctor, this wasn’t really for me. I owed it to you 
because you did everything you possibly could for my friend 
Clousiot.’ 

We talked for a while, and then he said, ‘You really would 
like to escape, wouldn’t you? You’re not an ordinary convict. 
You give me the feeling of being quite a different sort of peri 
son.’ 

‘You’re right. Doctor. I don’t belong in penal. I’m only here 
on a passing visit.’ 

He began to laugh, but then I tackled him : ‘Doctor, do you ’ 

believe a man can make himself a new life?’ 

‘Why, yes’ 

‘Would you be prepared to say that I might live in society 
without being a danger to, it, and that I might turn myself 

into a respectable member qf the community?’ 

‘I do sincerely believe thdt that is so.’ 

Then why don’t you help me bring it about? * 

*How?’ 



‘By getting me un-intemed as a consumptive.’ 

Now he confirmed something I’d heard before. It’s not 
possible, and I advise you never to do it. It’s too dangerous. 
The Administration only un-intems a man for health reasons 
after he’s spent at least a year in the wing set apart for that 
particular disease.’ 

‘Why?’ 

‘It’s rather shameful, but I believe it’s so that if the man in 
question is malingering, be shall know he’s got a very fair 
chance of being genuinely infected by being in with the 
other patients, and indeed so that he may catch the disease. So 
I can't do anything for you.' 

From that day on the medico and I were quite friendly. Up 
until the time he nearly killed my friend Carbonieri. Now 
Matthicu Carbonieri, in agreement with me, had accepted the 
job of cook-storekeepcr in the head warders’ mess. It was to 
see whether it would be possible, what with the wine, the oil 
and the vinegar, to steal three barrels that we could fix to- 
gether in order to get out to sea. There were great difficulties, 
because in the course of the same night we’d have to steal the 
barrels, get them down to the sea without being heard or seen 
and lash them together with cables. The only chance would 
be a stormy night with wind and rain. But with wind and rain 
the hardest thing would be launching the raft into the sea, 
which would necessarily be very rough. 

So Carbonieri was cook. The head oE the mess gave him 
three rabbits to prepare for the next day, a Sunday. Luckily 
Carbonieri skinned them before sending one to his brother 
down on the wharf and two to us. Then be killed three fat cats 
and made a splendid dish. 

Unfortunately for Carbonieri, the doctor was invited -the 
next day, and as he was tasting the rabbit he said, 'Monsieur 
Filidori, I congratulate you on your cooking: this cat is de- 
licious.' 

‘Don’t you make game of me, Doctor: these are three fine 
plump rabbits we’re eating.’ 

‘No,’ said the doctor, as obstinate as a mule. ‘This is cat. Do 
you sec these ribs I’m eating now? They’re flat. Rabbits have 
rounded ribs. So there’s no mistake possible: what we’re eat- 
ing is cat.’ 

‘Almighty God in heaven, Cristachol’ cried the Corsican. 
'There’s cat in my stomach!’ He tore into the kitchen, clapped 



his revolver to Matthieu’s nose and said, ‘You may be a 
Napoleonist like me, but I’m going to kill you for having made 
meeatcat.’ 

He was glaring like a! maniac. Carbonieri couldnt under- 
stand how he knew: but he said, 'If you choose to call the' 

things you gave me cats, that’s not my fault.’ 

‘I gave you rabbits, man. ’ 

‘Well, that’s what I cooked. Look, the heads and skins are 
still here.’ 

The screw saw the rabbits’ heads and skins and he was com- 
pletely taken aback. ‘So the doctor doesn’t know what he’s 
talking about?’ 

‘Was it the doctor who said it?’ asked Carbonieri, breathing 
once more. ‘He’s pulling ycur leg. Tell him that kind of joke’s 
not funny.’ 

Quite happy, Filidori went back to the dining-room and 
said to the doctor, ‘Talk away as much as you like. Doc. The 
wine has gone to your head. Round ribs or flat, I know it’s 
rabbit I’ve been eating. I’ve just seen their three jackets and 
their three heads.’ Matthieu had had a narrow squeak. Still, a 
few days later he thought it better to resign his post as a cook. 

The time when I should be free to act was coming nearer. 
Only a few weeks now and Barrot would be off. Yesterday I 
went to see his fat wife, who, by the way, had grown much 
thinner on her diet of plain fish and vegetables. The kind 
woman asked me in to give me a bottle of Quinquina. The 
room was full of half-packed cabin trunks. They were getting 
ready to go. The major’s wife said, ‘Papillon, I don’t know 
how to thank you for your kindness to me during these last 
monthsl I know that some days when you didn’t catch many 
fish you gave me all you had. I thank you most sincerely. 
Thanks to you I feel very much better - I’ve lost thirty pounds. 
What can I do to show you my gratitude?’ 

‘Something you’!! find hard, Madame. I need a good com- 
pass. Accurate, but small.’ 

What you’re asking is not much, Papillon, and yet at the- 
same time it s a great deal. And with only three weeks left, it's 
going to be difficult.’ 

A week before their departure, this great-hearted woman 
had still not been able to get hold of a good compass, so she 
took the boat and went to Cayenne. Four days later she was 



back with a magnificent antimagnetic compass. 

Major Barrot and his wife left this morning. Yesterday he 
handed over the command to an official of the same rank, a 
man called Prouillet, who came from Tunisia. One piece of 
good news : the new governor had confirmed Dega in his place 
as chief accountant. This was very important for everybody, 
above all for me. The new governor addressed the body of 
convicts lined up in the main courtyard, and he gave the im- 
pression of being a very intelligent, very energetic man. 
Among other things, he said to us, ‘From today I take over 
command of the lies du Salut. Having observed that my pre- 
decessor’s methods have produced positive results, I see no 
reason to alter the existing state of affairs. Unless your be- 
haviour forces me to do so, there doesn’t seem to me any neces- 
sity for changing your way of fife.’ 

It was with a very understandable delight that I saw the 
major and his wife sail away, although these five months of 
obligatory waiting had passed with extraordinary speed. What 
with this false liberty almost all the convicts on the islands 
enjoyed, and the gambling, the fishing, the talk, the new ac- 
quaintances, the arguments and the fights, I had not had time 
to get bored - they were all very strong distractions. 

Yet I'd not really let myself be entrapped by this atmo- 
sphere. Every time I made a new friend I wondered, 'Might he 
be the man for a break? Even if he doesn’t want to escape, 
might he help another man to do so?’ 

That’s all I lived for - escape, escape, by myself or with 
others : but in any case to escape, to have it away, to make a 
bleak. It was an obsession: following Jean Castelli’s advice I 
never talked about it, but it haunted me. And I’d accomplish 
my ideal without weakening : I’d break out and away. 




.Book 


es 





•I can’t lie, Papillon. Yes, I’m quite well, but I come from a 
seaport and I just love fish. I’m from Oran. There’s only one 
thing that worries me - I also know you don't sell your Gsh. 
That really is awkward.’ 

To cut it short, wc agreed that I should bring her fish. I was 
just smoking a cigarette, having given her a good sbven pounds 
of mullet and six langoustines, when the governor appeared. 

He saw me and said, ‘Juliette, I’ve told you that apart from 
the houseboy no transportee is to come into the house.' 

I stood up, but she said, ‘Sit down. This transportee is the 
man Madame Barrot told me about before she left. So it’s 
nothing to do with you. No one will come in except for him'. 
Besides, he’s going to bring me fish whenever I need it.’ 

4 All right,’ said the governor. ‘What’s your name? ’ 

I was going to stand up to reply when Juliette put her hand 
on my shoulder and made me sit down again. This is my 
house,’ she said. ‘The governor’s not the governor here: he’s 
my husband, Monsieur Prouillet.’ 

‘Thank you, Madame. My name's Pap ; Hon.’ 

‘Ha! I’ve heard about you and your escape from the hos- 
pital at Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni three years ago and more. 
And it so happens that one of the warders you stunned was 
none other than our nephew.’ At this Juliette laughed - fresh, 
young laughter - and said, ‘So you’re the one who knocked 
Gaston out? That won’t change our relations in the least.’ 

The governor was still standing : he said to me, ’The num- 
ber of killings and murders committed every year on the is- 
lands is unbelievable. Many more than on the mainland. How 
do you account for this, Papillon?’ 

‘Why, Governor, here the men can’t escape, so they’re full 
of ill-temper. They live on top of one another for years on 
end, and it’s natural their friendships and enmities should be 
very, very strong. Besides, less than five per cent of the man- 
slaughters or murders are solved, so the killer is pretty well 
sure of getting away with it.' 

’That’s a reasonable explanation. Since when have you been 
fishing, and what job do you do so that you can fish?’ 

‘I’m a ccsspitman. I finish ray work by six in the morning, 
and that allows me to go off with my rod.’ 

’All the rest of the day?’ asked Juliette, 

‘No. I have to be back in camp at noon, and then p 11 -. 
allowed out again from three to six. It’s a nuisance, beef. X 



•Eight.’ 

Then you take your eight and give the rest to the houseboy 
to put in the refrigerator.’ 

I didn’t know what to say. She’d never said tit to me before, 
above all not in front of another woman who was certainly 
going to talk about it. I was about to go, feeling horribly awk- 
ward, when she said, ‘Sit still ; stay where you are and have a 
pastis. You must be hot.’ 

I was so taken aback by her authoritarian attitude 1 sat 
down. Slowly I drank my pjstis, smoking and watching the 
young woman who was combing the governor’s wife’s hair, 
glancing at me from time to time as she did so. The governor’s 
wife had a glass in her hand and she noticed this. She said, 
‘My boy-friend’s handsome, isn’t he, Simone? All you other 
women are jealous of me, aren’t you?’ And they giggled to- 
gether. I didn’t know which way to look. Stupidly I blurted 
out, ’Fortunately your boy-friend, as you call him, can’t be 
very dangerous: the position he’s in, he can’t be anyone's boy- 
friend.* 

‘You’re not going to tell me you don’t want to be ray boy- 
friend,’ said Juliette. ‘You’re one of these lions nobody’s been 
able to tame,. and yet I can twist you round my little finger. 
There must be some reason for that, don’t you think, Simone?' 

T don’t know what reason there can be,’ &aid Simone. 'But 
you’re a proper old bear for everybody except the governor’s 
wife, Papillon, and that’s a fact. Such a bear that the chief 
warder’s wife told me that last week when you were going by 
with more than thirty pounds of fish you wouldn't let her 
have the two miserable objects she so longed for, there being 
no meat at the butcher’s.’ 

‘Ha, hal That’s a new one to me, Simone! ’ said Juliette. 

’Do you know what he said to Madame ICargueret the other 
day?’ went on Simone. ‘She saw him going along with some 
langoustines and a great big moray cel. “Sell me that moray, 
Papillon, or at least half of it," she says. "You know we Bretons 
cook moray very well.” "It’s not only the Bretons that appreci- 
ate it,” says he. "Plenty of people, including those from the 
lArdcche, have known it was a prime dish since the days of 
the Romans.” And he walked on without selling her anything 
at all.’ They laughed and laughed. 

; I went back to the camp in a rage and that evening I told 
the gourbi the whole story. ‘It’s very serious,’ said Carbonicri. 



that had supposedly been cleared up by me, I had Bourset 
right there in my pocket, where I wanted him to be - he 
trusted me absolutely. For the first time in his life as a convict 
he could breathe easy. At this point I decided to risk it. 

One evening I said to him, ‘I’ve got two thousand francs 
for you if you’ll make the thing I want - a raft big enough for 
two, in sections that’ll fit together.’ 

‘Listen, Papillon, there’s no one else I’d do that for. But for 
you I’m ready to run the risk of two years solitary if 
I’m caught. There’s only one snag - I can’t take wood of 
any size out of the yard.’ 

'I’ve got someone who can.’ 

•Who?’ 

‘The pram boys, Naric and Quenler. How are you going to 
set about it?’. 

‘We must draw a scale plan to begin with and then make the 
pieces one by one, with mortises so that everything’ll fit to- 
gether perfectly. The difficulty will be to find wood that floats, 
because here on the islands everything’s hardwood and sinks.’ 

‘When can you let me know? ’ 

‘In three days.’ 

‘Would you like to go with me?* 

‘No.’ 

•Why not?’ 

‘I’m afraid of the sharks and of drowning.’ 

•Will you promise to help me right through to the end?’ 

‘I swear it on the heads of my children. The only thing is 
it’s going to take a long time.’ 

‘Listen carefully: this very day IH set you up a defence in 
case of anything going wrong. I’ll copy the plan of the raft on 
exercise-book paper myself. Underneath I’ll write, Bourset, if 
you don't Want to be murdered, just you make the raft shown 
above. Later on I’ll give you written orders for the making of 
each section. When each one is finished, you’ll put it in a cer- 
tain place. It’ll be taken away. Don’t try to find out who by 
or when’ (this idea seemed to relieve his mind). ‘In this way 
I prevent you being tortured if you’re taken, and you only 
risk six months at fhc most.’ 

‘And what if you’re the one that’s caught?’ 

‘In that case it’ll be the other way around. I’ll admit I wrote 
the notes. You’ve got to keep these written orders, of course. 
Is it a deal?’ 



“Yes.* 

“You’re not frightened?’ 

‘No, I’m not afraid any more; it’ll'make me happy to help 
ou.’ 

I did not tell anyone. I was waiting for Bourset’s definitive 
tnswer first. It was not until a tedious, endless week had gone 
,y that I was able to talk to him alone, in the library. There 
was no one else there. It was a Sunday morxung. In the yard, 
under the wash-house, the gambling was in full swing. Close 
on eighty players and the same number of men watching. 

Straight away he filled my heart with sunshine. “The hardest 
thing was to make sure of having enough light, dry wood. I 
got round that fay thinking up a kind of wooden frame to be 
filled with dry coconuts - the nuts still in their husks, of course. 
There’s nothing lighter than that fibre, and the water can’t get 
into it When the raft’s ready, it’ll be up to you to get enough 
coconuts to fill it. So tomorrow I’ll start on the first section. 
It’ll take me about three days. Any time after Thursday one 
of the pram boys can take it away during the first lull. I’ll never 
begin another piece before the last has left the yard. Here’s; 
the plan I made: you copy it and write me the letter you pro- 
mised. Have you spoken to the pram boys? ’ 

‘No, not yet : I was waiting for your answer.’ 

‘Well, now you’ve had it. It’s yes.’ 

‘Thanks, Bourset. I don’t know how to thank you. Look, 
here’s five hundred francs.’ 

Looking me straight in the eye, he said, ‘No, keep your 
money. If you get to the mainland you’ll need it for the next 
part of the break. From today on I shan’t gamble until you’ve 
gone. I can always make enough with a few little jobs to earn 
my cigarettes and my steak.* 

‘Why won’t you take it? * 

‘Because I wouldn’t do this even for ten thousand francs. 
The risk is too great, even with all your precautions. But for 
free, that’s something else again. You’ve helped me: you’ve 
been the only one to stand up for me. Although I’m fright 
ened. I’m still happy to help you to be free again.’ 

As I sat there, copying the plan on a sheet tom from ai 
exercise-book, Bourset’s simple, direct greatness of heart fille 
me with shame. It had never even occurred to him that m 
behaviour might have been calculated or insincere. To rise 



little in my own esteem, I had to tell mysdf that I had to es- 
cape, at any cost at ail, even if necessary at the price of trickery 
and not always very pretty situations. That night I spoke to 
Naric, whom they called Bonne BouiUe, and who was to tell 
his brother-in-law later. Without any hesitation he said, ‘You 
can rely on me to get the sections out of the yard for you. Only 
don’t be in too much of a hurry, because we can only get them 
out when we’re taking a good deal of stuff for some building 
job on the island. In any case, I promise we'll not let 
any chance slip by.’ 

Good. Now I only had to talk to Matthieu Carbonieri, for 
he was the man I wanted to make the break with. He agreed 
one hundred per cent. 

‘Matthieu, I’ve found a man who’ll make me Hie raft: I’ve 
found a man who’ll get the sections out of the jard for me. 
It’s up to you to find a place in your garden to bury it in.’ 

‘No, a kitchen-garden would be too dangerous, because 
there are screws that go stealing vegetables at night, and if 
they were to walk on the bed and notice it was hollow under- 
neath, we’d have had it. I’ll hollow out a place in a retaining 
wall - I’ll take out a big stone and make a kind of little cave. 
That way, when a section comes along. I’ll only have to lift 
the stone, hide the wood, and put it back again.’ 

’Should the sections be taken straight to your garden?’ 

’No, that would be too risky. The pram boys couldn’t say 
what they were doing in my garden. The best thing is to work 
out a scheme for them to leave each piece in some different 
place, not too far from the garden/ 

•Right.’ 

Everything seemed to be running smoothly. There were 
still the coconuts. I’d have to find out how I could get a suffi- 
cient number together without drawing attention to myself. 

And now I began to feel as if I were coming to life again. 
All there was left to do was to speak to Galgani and Grandet. 
I had no right to keep quiet, because they might be accused 
of complicity. The normal thing would be to make an open 
breach with them and go and live by myself. When I told 
them I was going to make preparations for an escape and so 
I ought to live apart from them, they bawled me out and 
flatly refused. ‘You go off as soon as ever you can. As for 
us, we’ll manage. Meanwhile, slay with us - we can cope, all 
right/ 



'It was a month now that plans for the break had been on the 
go. I’d already received seven pieces of the raft, two of them 
big ones. I’d been to see the retaining wall in which Matthieu 
had hollowed out the hiding-place. You couldn’t see the stone 
had been moved, because he’d taken care to put moss all round 
it. The hiding-place was perfect, but the hollow seemed to 
me too small to hold everything'. Still, it was big enough for 
the moment. 

The fact that I was getting ready for a break put me in. ter- 
rific spirits. I was eating better than I’d ever eaten before, and 
fishing kept me wonderfully fit. On top of that, I did more 
than two hours of physical training on the rocks every morn- 
ing. It was my legs I concentrated on, because fishing already 
looked after my arms. I discovered a splendid exercise for my 
legs: I waded in deeper than I would for ordinary fishing 
and the waves came breaking against my thighs. To withstand 
their force I kept all my muscles taut. The result was excellent. 

Juliette, the governor’s wife, was still very pleasant with, me, 
but she’d noticed that I only went to her house when her hus- 
band was there. She.told me so frankly, and to make me easy 
in my mind she said she had only been joking, that day when 
her hair was being done. Still, the young woman who had acted 
as hairdresser watched for me often enough when I was com- 
ing back from fishing, and she always had something kind to 
say - was I well? How was I getting along? So everything was 
fine. Bourset never lost a chance to make me a section. It 
was two and a half months now since we had begun. 

The hiding-place was full, as I had foreseen. There were 
only two sections to come now, the longest ones - the first 
over six feet and the other about five. These sections would 
not be able to get into the hiding-place. 

I noticed a fresh grave over in the cemetery: it belonged to 
the wife of one of the warders - she had died last week. A 
miserable withered bunch of flowers lay upon it. The keeper 
of the graveyard was an old, half-blind convict they called 
Papa. He spent all day sitting .in the shade of a coconut palm 
in the opposite corner of the cemetery, and from where he 
was, he couldn’t see the grave nor if anyone was going towards 
it. So I had the idea of making use of this grave for putting 
the raft together and filling the frame with as many coconuts 
as possible. Between thirty and thirty-four - many fewer than 
we had thought. I had more than fifty stored in different.places. 


In Juliette’s yard alone there were twelve. The houseboy 
thought I’d left them there meaning to extract the oil one day. 

When I heard that the dead woman’s husband had left for 
the mainland, I made up my mind to scoop out some of the 
earth from the tomb, going down as far as die coffin. 

Sitting there on bis wall, Matthieu Carbonieri kept watch. 
He had a white handkerchief on his head, tied at the four cor- 
ners. Just by him, there was another handkerchief, also tied 
at the comers, but red this time. So long as there was no dan- 
ger, he kept the white one on. If anyone appeared, whoever it 
might be, Matthieu put on the red handkerchief. 

This very dangerous work took me one afternoon and one 
night: no more. I had to widen the hole to the breadth of the 
raft - four feet plus a little Yoom for play - so it was not neces- 
sary to take the earth away as far down as the coflin. The hours 
seemed endless, and the red handkerchief appeared several 
times. At last this morning it was finished. The hole was 
covered over with plaited palm fronds, making a fairly solid 
kind of floor. Earth scattered over the whole, with a little bor- 
der. It could scarcely be seen. I was at the very end of my 
tether. 

It was three montns now that the preparations for this break 
.had been going on. We had taken all the sections, numbered 
and assembled, out of the hiding-place and now they lay upon 
the good lady’s coflin, well hidden by the earth which covered 
the mats. In the place in the wall we rut three flour-sacks 
and two yards of rope for the sail, a bottle full of matches 
and strikers, and a dozen tins of milk : that was afl. 

Bourset grew more and more wonted up. You would have 
thought it was him who was going rather than me. Naric was 
sorry now that he had not said res to begin with. We’d bar* 
worked on a raft for three rather than two. 

It was the rainy season and ram feu every day; this was ar 
advantage when I went to the ruduig-place, where I had al- 
most finished setting up the rata The only parts unfixed were 
two side pieces in the frame. I had brought ah' the cccnnar 
nearer and nearer to my friends garden. They ware n- re- 
open buffalo-stable, where they could be taken essay 
without risk. My friends never ashed what stage I had 
From time to time they'd jar: say. ‘OK?’ Wes, far.' *7 ’ ~ 
ing rather a long time, isn't ’ We can’t go faster 
its being too risky.’ That was aZ. When I was a-'"’ 



the coconuts I had stored at Juliette’s she sot me and gave me 
a most horrible fright. 

‘Why, Papillon, so you’re going to make that coconut oil. 
Why don’t you do it here in the yard? There's a mallet here 
to open them with and I’ll lend you a big saucepan.* 

‘I’d rather do it at the camp.’ 

‘How odd: it can’t be very convenient there.’ She thought 
for a moment and then said, ‘Do you Imow what? I don’t be- 
lieve you’re going to make coconut oil at all.’ My blood ran 
cold. She went on. ‘In the first place, what would you do with 
it, since you can get all the olive oil you want from me? Those 
nuts are for something else, aren’t they?’ 

The sweat was dripping off me: right from the start I’d been 
expecting the word escape. My breath came short. I said, 
‘Madame, it’s a secret; but as you are so curious - you want 
\ to know about it so much that you’ll spoil the surprise. All I’ll 
tell you is that these big nuts were chosen so that I could make 
you something really pretty out of the shells. That’s the truth 
of it.’ 

Td won, for she replied, ‘Papillon, don’t put yourself out for 
me: and I absolutely forbid you to spend any money on mak- 
ing me anything. I’m truly grateful, I really am, but I ask you 
not to do it.’ 

‘All right: well see.’ Relief, relief. Straight away I asked her 
to give me a pastis, which was something I never did. Luckily, 
she didn't notice my shattered state. The Lord was with me. 

It rained every day, particularly in the afternoon and at 
night. I was afraid the water would wash away the sprinkling 
of earth and uncover the palm-frond mats. Matthieu con- 
tinually kept replacing the earth that was carried away. Un- 
derneath, everything must be quite soaked. With Matthieu’s 
help I pulled the mats off - the water was almost over the 
top of the coffin. Things were growing critical. Not far away 
there was a vault with two children who had died long ago. 
One day we forced off the cover: I got in and with a short 
crowbar I set about the cement, going to work as low as pos- 
sible on the side where the grave with the raft was. Once I was 
through the cement, I had hardly driven the bar any distance 
into the earth before a great jet shot in. It was the water from 
the grave pouring into the vault. I came out when it reached 
my knees. We put the slab back and ran the white putty Naric 
had given me/round the edge. This operation drained off half 



the water in our grave-hiding-place. That evening Carbonieri 
said, ‘There’ll never be an end to the things that go wrong with 
this break.’ 

‘We're almost there, Matthicu.’ 

‘Almost: let's hope so; We were both on hot bricks - very 
hot bricks.’ 

That morning I went down to the harbour. I asked Chapar 
to buy me five pounds of fish - I’d come and fetch it at noon. 
Right. I went up again to Carbonieri's garden. As I got nearer 
I saw three white caps. Why three screws in the garden? Were 
they making a search? It wasn't usual. I’d never seen three 
screws all at once at Carbonieri’s place. I waited for more than 
an hour and then I couldn’t bear it any longer. I made up my 
mind to push on and see what was happening. Quite openly I 
walked up the path leading to the garden. The screws watched 
me coming. When I was about twenty yards from them I was 
exceedingly interested to see Matthieu putting on his v/hite 
handkerchief. I could breathe easy now, and I had time to 
collect myself before I reached them. 

‘Good morning, Messieurs les Survcillants. Good morning, 
Matthieu. I’ve come for the pawpaw you promised me.’ 

‘I’m sorry, Papillon, but it was stolen this morning when I 
went to get sticks for my runner beans. But there’ll be some 
others ripe in four or five days; they are beginning to turn 
yellow already. Well, now, warders, wouldn’t you like a few 
lettuces and tomatoes and radishes for your wives? ’ 

'Your garden’s very well kept, Carbonieri,’ said one of them. 
*1 congratulate you.’ 

They took the tomatoes, lettuces and radishes, and went 
off. I left ostentatiously some little time before them, carrying 
two lettuces. I went by the graveyard. The rain had washed 
half the earth off the grave. Ten yards ofi I could see the mars. 
If we hadn’t been discovered, the Lord really was with us. 

Every night the wind blew like fun, howling madly a* 5 
roaring' over the plateau; and often it brought rain with 
Let’s hope it would last. It was the ideal tune for getting a ;w 
but not for the grave. 

The biggest piece of wood, the six-footer, had beer, derm- ' 
safely. It bad gone, to join the other sections of the ran 
even placed it: it fitted into the morasss exactly. tr 
breadth, without any force. Bourse; ran all the ~ 
camp to find out whether I had receded it - the .'eng - 



wood was of the very first importance, but it -was most uncom- 
monly awkward and bulky. He was delighted to know that 
everything had passed off well. You would have thought he 
wasn’t sure of its getting there. I questioned him. ‘Were you in 
doubt? Do you think someone knows what’s up? Have you 
told anyone in private? Tell me.’ 

‘No. Absolutely no.’ 

‘Yet it seems to me something's worrying you. Tell.’ 

*1 had a nasty feeling because of the way a guy called B6bert 
Ceher watched - curiously interested, he was. I felt he’d seen 
Naric take the piece of wood from under the workbench, put 
it in the lime barrel and then carry it off. He watched Naric 
as far as the gate of the yard. The brothers were going to white- 
wash a building. That’s why I was worried.’ 

I said to Grandet, ‘This Bebert Celier is in our block: so 
he’s not an informer.’ 

He said, ‘That man goes in and out of the Public Works as 
he likes. It’s quite obvious the sort of guy he is - penal bat- 
talion, one of those bad bargains of the Army who’s been 
through all the military prisons of Algeria and Morocco, 
quarrelsome, dangerous with a knife, red-hot after boys, and 
a gambler. He’s never had any life ns a civilian. In a word - 
no bloody good and extremely dangerous. Prison is his life. 
If you feel suspicious, get in first - kill him tonight, and then if 
he means to shop you, he won't have time for it.’ 

'There’s nothing to prove he’s an informer.’ 

That's true,’ said Galgani. ‘But there's nothing to prove he’s 
a decent type, either. Convicts of that kind don’t like breaks, 
as you know. Breaks upset their quiet little well-organized 
lives. There's nothing else on earth they’d inform about, but 
for a break - who can tell?' 

I asked Matthieu Carbonieri’s advice. He was in favour of 
killing him that^night. He wanted to do it himself. I was fool 
enough to stop him. I hated the idea of killing someone on 
mere appearances, or letting him be killed. What if Bourse! 
had only imagined it all? Fear might have made him see things 
that weren’t there, I questioned Naric. ‘Bonne Bouille, did 
you notice anything about BSbert Celier?’ 

‘No: I didn’t. I carried the barrel out on my shoulder so 
the turnkey on the gate shouldn’t see into it. We’d agreed I 
should stand there just in front of him, without putting the 


332 


barrel down, and wait for my brother to catch me up. That 
was so the Arab should see I was in no hurry, and not bother 
to look into the barrel. But afterwards my brother told me 
that he thought he saw B6bert Celier watching us closely.’ 

‘What do you think yourself.?’ 

‘I think my brother was on edge because this piece is so big 
and because you can see straight away it’s meant for a raft: 
and he was afraid, too. He thought he saw more than he really 
did sec.’ 

‘That’s what I think too. Let's leave it at that. For the last 
section, find out just where Bdbert Celier is before you make 
a move. Take the same precautions with him as you would for 
a screw.’ 

All that night 1 played the Marseilles game like crazy. I won 
seven thousand francs. The wilder I played the more I won. At 
half past four I- went out for my so-called fatigue. I let the 
Martiniquais do my work. The rain had stopped and I went, 
though it was still quite dark, to the graveyard. I couldn’t 
find the spade, but I scuffed the earth over the grave with my 
feet: this did the job fairly well. By seven o'clock, when I 
went down to go fishing, a splendid sun was already shining. 
I went in the direction of the southern tip of Royalc, the place 
where I meant to launch the raft. A rough cross-sea was run- 
ning. I couldn’t be sure, but I had the feeling that it was not 
going to be so easy to get away from the islands without being 
picked up by a wave and flung on to the rocks. I began fish- 
ing and straight away I caught a great many mullet. In no 
time at all I had over ten pounds. When I’d cleaned them in 
sea water I stopped. I was uneasy in my mind and tired after 
that- night of wild gambling. I rested, sitting in the shade of 
a rock, and I told myself that this tension I’d been living in 
for three months and more was reaching its end: and when I 
reflected on this business of Celier, I once more came to the 
conclusion that 1 had no right to kill him. 

I went to sec Matthieu. You could sec the grave very well 
from his garden wall. Earth had drifted along the path . Car- 
bonieri was going to go and sweep it off at midday f called in 
at Juliette’s and gave her half my fish She said. ‘Papillon, I 
had a bad dream about you: I saw you covered with blood 
and then chained up. Don’t do anything stupid - if anything 
were to happen to you I’d suffer dreadfully. That dream a- 



set xne so, I’ve neither washed nor done my hair. I took the 
binoculars and tried to see where you were fishing, but I 
couldn’t find you . Where did you catch these? ’ 

‘The other side of the island. That’s why you didn’t see me.’ 

‘Why do you go and fish so far away, where I can’t see you 
even with the binoculars? What if you were swept off by a 
wave? There’d be no one to see you or help you escape from 
the sharks.’ 

‘Oh come, don’t exaggerate.* 

‘You think that’s exaggerating? I forbid you to go fishing 
on the other side of the island, and if you don’t obey. I’ll have 
your pass taken away from you.’ 

‘Let’s be reasonable, Madame. To please you. I’ll let your 
houseboy know where I’m going to'fish.’ 

‘All right. But you look tired.’ 

Yes, Madame. I’m on my way up to the camp to lie down.* 

‘Very well. I’ll expect you at four o'clock for a cup of coffee. 
You'll come?’ 

‘All right, Madame. I’ll be seeing you.’ 

This dream of Juliette’s was just the very thing to make me 
feel perfectly calm, of course! As if I hadn’t enough solid dif- 
ficulties, dreams had to be added to make up the weight. 

Bourset said he really did feel he was being watched. It was 
a fortnight now that we had been waiting for the last four- 
foot section. Naric and Quenier said they noticed nothing out 
of the way, but still Bourset would keep holding up the work 
on this plank. If it hadn’t been for the five mortises that had 
to fit exactly, Matthieu would have ma’de it in the garden: 
but these slots had to take all five ribs. Naric and Quenier 
were repairing the chapel, and so they could move a good 
deal of stuff in and out of the yard quite easily. Even more, 
they sometimes had the use of a cart pulled by a little buf- 
falo. This was something we just had to take advantage of. 

Urged on by us, Bourset made the piece, but against his 
better judgment. One day he said he was sure that when he 
wasn’t there someone moved the plank and then put it back. 
There was still one mortise to be cut at the far end. We de- 
cided he should make it and then hide the wood under the 
top of his workbench. He was to lay a hair on it to see whether 
anyone touched it. He cut the mortise and at six o’clock he 
left the workshop, the last man to go - he had checked to see 
that there was no one there except for the screw. The section 


334 



was there in its place, with the hair over it. At noon I was at 
the camp, waiting for the building yard men, eighty of them, 
to turn up. Naric and Quenier were. there, but not Bourset. A 
German came up to me and gave me a carefully closed, stuck - 
down note. I could see it hadn’t been opened. It read, The 
hair’s no longer there, so someone has touched the section. I’ve 
asked the screw to let me stay during the siesta to finish the 
little rosewood chest I’m working on. I’m going to take the 
section and put it with Naric’s tools. Tell them. At three 
o’clock they must take it out of the yard at once. Maybe we 
can move faster than the bastard who’s watching.’ 

Naric and Quenier agreed. They would get into the front 
rank of the building yard workmen. Just before the column 
went in, two men would have a fight some way outside the 
gate. We asked a couple of Carbonieri’s countrymen to do us 
this favour - two Montmartre Corsicans, Massani and San- 
tini. They didn’t ask for any reason: quite the right way 
to behave. Naric and Quenier were to take advantage of this to 
hurry out with building .material, as though they wanted to 
get to their work fast and the quarrel didn’t interest them. 
We all thought we still had a chance. If we brought it off, then 
I wouldn't stir for. a month or two, 'because it was quite cer- 
tain that at least one man if not more knew a raft was being 
prepared. It was up to them to find out who was doing it, and 
where the hiding.-place was. 

At last half past two came round and the men began to get 
ready. It took thirty minutes from the roll-call to marching 
off to work. They set out. Bebcrt Celicr was in the middle of 
the column of eighty men marching in fours. 

Naric and Quenier were in the front rani:; Massani and San- 
tini inlhc twelfth; Debert Cclicr in the tenth. It seemed to me 
a good arrangement, because when Naric got hold of his ma- 
terial and scaffolding and the piece of raft, a good deal of the 
column wouldn’t yet be inside. Bebert «'ould be nearly at 
the gate or perhaps some way short of it. As the Corsican? 
were going to roar at one another like a couple of maniac- 
everyone, including Bebert, would naturally turn round tc see 
what was going on. 

Four o’clock. Everything had gone off perfectly an: 
section was lying under a heap of builder’s material " 
church. They hadn’t been able to take it further, hr' ' 
perfect there. 



I went to sec Juliette. She wasn’t at home. Going up again, 
I passed the administration block. Massani and Jean San- 
tini were standing there in the shade, waiting to be taken to 
the punishment xells. Everyone had known that was bound 
to happen. I went by close to them and said, ‘Hov, - long? ’ 

‘A week,’ replied Santini. 

A Corsican screw said, ‘What a bleeding shame to see men 
from the same country fighting one another.’ 

I went back to the camp. Sit o’clock: Bourset came back 
delighted. He said, ‘It was as if I’d had cancer and then the 
doctor told me he’d got it wrong - there was nothing the 
matter with me.’ Carbonieri and my other friends exulted 
and they congratulated me on the way I’d organized the 
scheme. Naric and Quenier were pleased, too. Everything was 
fine. I slept all through that night, although in the evening 
the gamblers came and asked me to join their game. I pre- 
tended to have a bad headache. I was in fact dying on my feet; 
but I was satisfied, and I was happy at being on the very edge 
of success. The hardest part was over. 

This morning Matthieu put the section in the hollow of the 
wall just for the time being, because the man who looked after 
the graveyard was sweeping the paths over by the tomb 
hiding-place. It wouldn’t be wise to go to it at present. At dawn 
every morning I hurried there with a wooden shovel and tidied 
the earth on the grave. I swept the path and then, still at the 
double, I went back to my pot-emptying, leaving the shovel 
and the broom in a comer belonging to my job. 

It was four months to the day since the preparations for the 
break had begun and nine days since we had at last received 
the final section of the raft. Now the rain was no longer fall- 
ing every day and sometimes all night long too. All my senses 
were on the stretch for the two D-days - the first when this 
last piece was to be taken out of Matthieu’s garden and fixed 
in its place on the raft, holding all the ribs. This was some- 
thing that could only be done in dhylight. And the second 
D-day would be that of our escape. It could not be directly 
after the first, because once the raft was taken out, the coco- 
nuts and the stores still had to be fitted into it. 

Yesterday I told Jean Castelii all about it: and I told him 
just what point I’d reached. He was happy for me that I was 
so near my goal. He said, 'The moon’s in its first quarter.’ 

‘I know; and so it won’t worry us at midnight. Low tide’s 



at ten, and therefore the right moment for the launch will be 
two in the morning.' 

Carbonieri and I had decided to hurry things. Tomorrow 
morning at nine, the last section to be fitted. And the same 
night, the break. 

The next morning, having carefully planned our move- 
ments, I went from the garden to the graveyard and I jumped 
over the wall with a spade. While I was scooping the earth 
from over the plaited fronds, Matthieu raised his stone and 
brought me the last section. Together we lifted on the mats 
and put them to one side. There was the raft, perfectly pre- 
served. A little earth sticking to it, but perfectly sound. We 
lifted it out, because we needed side-room to fit the last sec- 
tion. We settled the five ribs in their places: to get them right 
home v/c had to hammer them with a stone. Just as we had 
finished and were in the act of putting it back, we looked 
up and saw a warder, holding a gun. 

‘D on’t move, or you’re dead men 1 ’ 

V/c dropped the raft and raised our hands. I recognized the 
screw : he was the building yard chief warder. 

‘Don’t be such bloody fools as to resist. You’re caught. Give 
in and maybe you’U save your skins at least: but J feel so like 
filling you full of lead it’s not all that sure. On your way, now: 
keeping your hands right up in tire air. Get aloDg’to the ad- 
ministration block.’ 

As we went past the cemetery gate we met an Arab turn- 
key, The screw said, ‘Mohamed, thanks for this bit of work. 
Come and sec me tomorrow morning and I’ll give you what 
I promised.’ 

Thanks,’ said the Arab. ‘Ill come for sure. But chief, Btbcrt 
Cclicr has to pay me too, doesn’t he?’ 

‘You fix that with him yourself,’ said the screw. 

Then T said, ‘So it was 136bert Cclicr that shopped us, Chief?’ 

‘It’s not me that said so.’ 

‘That’s all one. I just like to know.’ 

• Still covering us with his rifle, the screw said, ‘Mohamed, 
search them.’ 

The Arab took the knife out of my belt; and he found Mat- 
thicu’s. I said, ‘You’re a sharp lad, Mohamed. How did you 
find out?’ 

’I climbed up a coconut palm every day to set where you 
were hiding the raft.’ 



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‘In the first place Garbonieri has nothing to do with it. The 
raft is planned to carry one man only - me. I merely forced 
him to help take the mats off the grave, a job I couldn't do 
alone. So Carbonieri’s not guilty of misappropriation and theft 
of State material; nor of complicity in an escape. Feeing the 
escape never came off. Bourset is just a poor devil who was 
threatened with death if he didn’t do what he was told. As for 
Naric and Qucnicr, I scarcely even know them. I assert that 
they have nothing whatsoever to do with the matter.' 

‘That’s not what my informer says,’ said the screw. 

‘This B6bert Celicr, your informer, may very well be tak- 
ing Ids revenge by falsely mixing other men up with this busi- 
ness. Who can trust what an informer says?’ 

‘In short,’ said the governor, ‘you are officially accused of 
theft and misappropriation of State material, profanation of 
a grave and attempting to escape. Be so good as to sign the 
record.’ 

T shan’t sign unless my statement about Garbonieri, Bour- 
set and the brothcrs-in-law Naric and Qucnicr is added.’ 

‘I grant that. Draw it up.’ 

I signed. I just can’t express what had been going on inside 
me since this last-moment failure. In the black-hole it was as 
though I was out of my mind: I scarcely ate and I didn’t 
walk; but I smoked on and on, one cigarette after another. 
Lucidly I was well supplied with tobacco by Dega. Every morn- 
ing thcro was an hour’s exercise in the punishment cell yard, 
in the sun. 

This morning the governor came and talked, to me. There 
was one odd thing - if the escape had cOme off, ho would have 
been the one to suffer most; and yet it was he who was the 
least angry with me. 

Smiling," he said his wife had told him it was natural for a 
man to try to escape, unless he had become utterly demoral- 
ized. He very cleverly tried to get me to incriminate Carbon- 
ieri. I. had the feeling that I’d persuaded him of the contrary, 
explaining how impossible it was for Girbonieri to refuse to 
give me a hand for a few moments, puffing off the mats. 

Boursct had shown the threatening note and the plans 
drawn by me. As far as he was concerned the governor was 
quite convinced that that was how things were. I asked him 
what he thought this charge of stealing material might come 
to. He said, ‘Not morc.than eighteen months.’ 


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base creature as this. Fd never acne tins barrack-bird the least 
harm in the world: he didn’t even know me. So be was send- 
ing me down for X years of solitary without having the least 
thing against me. He was trying to burying me alive so that 
he could live again. War- 1 going to put up with that? No: I 
was not. It was inconceivable that I should allow him to pro- 
fit by his sewer rat’s action. Inconceivable. I felt that I was 
done for. Done for: so let him be dene for too, and even 
more so than me. And what if you’re sentenced to death, man? 
It w'ould be a fool’s game to die for such a louse. I readied the 
point of promising myself just this one tiring - if he didn’t 
bring out his knife, I shouldn’t kill him. 

I didn’t sleep at all the whole night, and I smoked right 
through a packet of tobacco. I only had two cigarettes left 
when the coffee came round at six in the morning. I was so on 
edge that although it was forbidden I said to the coffee man, 
with the screw there, ‘Could you let me have a few cigarettes 
or a little tobacco, with the chief’s permission? I’m ali in, 
Monsieur Antartafffia.’ 

‘Yes, give it to him if you’ve got any. I don’t smoke myself. 
I’m really sorry for you, Papillon. I’m a Corsican, so I like 
men who arc men, and I loathe scum.’ 

At a quarter to ten I was in the yard, waiting to go into the 
main room. Naric, Quenier, Bourset and Carbonicri were 
there too. The screw in charge of us was Antartaglia, the one 
who’d been there at coffee time. He was talking to Carbonicri 
in Corsican. I gathered he was saying it was a pit}' for Car- 
bonieri that this bad happened and that he ran the risk of 
three years solitary. At this moment the gate opened and into 
the yard came tire Arab who had climbed the palm tree, the 
Arab in charge of the building yard gate, and B6bcrt Celicr. 
When he saw me he started bade, but the warder with them 
said to him, ‘Go on and keep away from the others - stand 
over there on the right. Antartaglia, don’t let there be any 
communication between them.’ 

Here we were not two yards from one another. Antartaglia 
said, ‘No talking between the two groups.’ 

Carbonicri went on talking Corsican with his fellow-coun- 
tryman, who was watching both sets of men. The screw bent 
to tie his shoelace: I motioned to Matthieu to move forward 
n little. He understood at once, looked towards BCccrt Cclicr 
and spat in his direction. When the screw was upright again 



The door opened. I stepped out. And indeed the muscle 
was deeply cut. , 

'Put the handcuffs on him and take him to hospital. Don’t 
leave him there on any pretext whatsoever. Bring him back 
here as soon as he’s been treated.* 

When we went out there were more than ten screws with the 
governor. The building yard screw said to me, 'Murderer 1 * 

Before I could reply the governor said, 'Be quiet. Warder 
Bruet. The man went for Papillon.* 

‘That’s not very likely,’ said Bruet. 

T saw it and I’ll hear witness,’ said Antartaglia. ‘And get 
this, Monsieur Bruet: Corsicans don’t lie.’ 

When we reached the hospital, Chatal sent for the doctor. 
He sewed me up without gas or a local anaesthetic; then, still 
without speaking to me, he put on eight clip3. 1 let him do it 
without a murmur. When it was done he said, 'I couldn't give 
you a local anaesthetic; I’ve none left.’ Then he added, 'It 
wasn't right, what you've just done.’ 

‘Oh, in any case he wasn’t going to live much longer, you 
know, not with that abscess on his liver.' This unexpected an- 
swer left the medico gaping. 

The inquiry was resumed. Bourset was dismissed from the 
case as having no responsibility whatsoever: it was admitted 
that he was terrorized, and I did all I could to help this point 
of view. Naric and Quenier were set aside too, for want of 
proof. That left Carbonieri and me. The accusations of theft 
and misappropriation against him were withdrawn, leaving 
only compb’city in attempted escape, The most he could get 
for this was six months. But as far as I was concerned, things 
became more complicated. In spite of all the evidence in my 
favour the man in charge of the inquiry would not accept 
that I’d acted in self-defence. Dega saw the whole file, and he 
told me that in spite of the investigator’s zeal I couldn’t pos- 
sibly be condemned to death because of my having been 
wounded. One thing the prosecution used against me was that 
the two Arabs said they’d seen me draw my knife first. 

The inquiry was over. I was waiting to go over to Saint- 
Laurent to appear before a court-martial. I did nothing but 
smoke: I hardly walked at all. They granted me an extra 
hour’s exercise in the afternoon. At no time did the governor 
or any of the warders - apart from the building yard screw 
and the one in charge of the inquiry - show any hostility to- 



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The governor took me back to the punishment block. On 
the way I said to him, 'Governor, you have the noblest wife 
on earth.’ 

‘I know it, Papillon: she's net made for this kind of life here 
- it’s too cruel for her. And yet what can I do about it? Still, 
only four more years and I retire.’ 

‘I’d like to take advantage of our being by ourselves, Gover- 
nor, to thank you for having me treated as well as possible, in 
spite of the difficulties you would have had if I’d brought 
it off.’ 

‘Yes, you might have caused me some very nasty headaches. 
But for all that, I’ll tell you something - you did deserve to 
succeed.’ And as we reached the gate of the punishment 
block he said, ‘Good-bye, Papillon. May God help you: you’ll 
need it.’ 

'Good-bye, Governor.’ 

Yes, I was certainly going to need God’s help, for the court- 
martial, with a four-ring Gendarmerie major presiding, was 
merciless. Three years for theft, misappropriation, violation 
of a grave and attempted escape: and on top of that five years 
for the manslaughter of Cclicr, to run consecutively. Eight 
years solitary in all. If I’d not been wounded, they’d have con- 
demned me to death for sure. 

This court that was so hard on me was more lenient to a 
Pole named Dandosky, who had killed two men. They only 
gave him five years, and yet there was premeditation, without 
a shadow of a doubt. 

Dandosky was a baker who made yeast and nothing else. 
He only worked between three and four in the morning. As 
the bakery was on the wharf, facing the sea, he spent all his 
free time fishing. He was a quiet man and he couldn’t speak 
French well: he made close friends with nobody. This lifer 
kept all his affection for a splcndjd black cat with green eyes 
that lived with him. They slept in the same bed; it followed 
him like a dog and kept him company when he was at work. 
In short, the man and the cat were devoted to one another. 
The cat used to go fishing with him. but if the day was too 
hot and there was no shade, it would walk back by itself to 
the bakery and lie in its friend’s hammock. When the bell 
went for midday, it would go and meet the Pole, who would 
give it little fish, dangling them until. the cat jumped up and 
caught them. 




court-martial, did not feel much sympathy for me, he did for 
Dandosky, who was lucky enough to get away with no more 
than five years for two premeditated murders. 


Second Term of Solitary 


I went back to the islands chained to this Pole. They hadn’t 
kept us hanging about in the punishment cells of Saint-Laurent 1 
It was on a Monday we got there; we were court-nmrtialled 
on the Thursday, and on Friday morning they put us on the 
boat for the islands again. 

So we were on our way hack, sixteen of us : and of the six- 
teen twelve were for solitary. During the crossing the sea was 
very rough, and quite often a larger wave than usual swept 
along the deck. My despair reached the point of hoping the 
old tub would sink. I spoke to no one, and the sea-laden wind 
that stung my face closed me in upon myself. I didn't shelter 
from it at all. I deliberately let my hat blow oil - in eight years 
of solitary 1 shouldn’t have much need of hats. I faced into 
the lashing wind and breathed it in so deep it almost choked 
me. When I’d thought of the ship going down I checked my- 
self, saying, ‘The sharks have eaten Bebert Cclicr: you're thirty, 
and you've got eight years to serve.' But was it possible to do 
eight years inside the walls of the man-eater? 

As far as my experience went, I thought it was not possible. 
Four or five must be the limit of any man’s resistance. If 
I’d not lulled Cclicr I’d only have had three years to serve, 
perhaps only two: because the killing had made everything 
seem worse, including the escape. I shouldn’t have killed the 
rat. My duty as a man, my duty towards myself, was not to 
take the law into my own hands, but in the very first place 
and above all, to live - to live in order to escape. How did I 
come to make such a mistake? Quite apart from the fact 
that it was a very close tiling whether it was me or that bas- 
tard who got lulled. Live, live, live: that ought to have been 
and now must be my one rctigion. 



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»/e reached the 


was scarcely ashore before I saw Juliette’s pale yellow dress, 
at her husband's side. The governor came quickly over to 
me, even, before we had time to line up, and he said, ‘How 
long?’ 

'Eight years.’ 

He went back to his wife and spoke to her. She sat down on 
a stone, no doubt badly upset. Almost entirely overcome. Her 
husband took her arm, she stood up, cast me a meaning, sor- 
rowful look from her huge black eyes, and they both moved 
away without turning back. 

‘Papillon,’ said Dega, ‘how long?’ 

‘Eight years solitary.’ He said nothing and he didn’t cwn 
like to look at me. Galgani came up but before he could speak 
I said to bim, ‘Don't send me anything: don’t write, cither. 
With a sentence this long I can’t risk any punishment.’ 

‘I get you.* 

In a low voice I quickly added, ‘FLr it so they give me as 
much food as possible at noon and evening. If you can man- 
age that maybe we’U sec one another again some day. Good- 
bye.' 

I deliberately stalked towards the first boat of those that 
were to take us across -to Saint-Joscpii. They all watched me 
as people watch a. coffin being lowered into a grave. No one 
spoke. During the short crossing I repeated what I’d said to 
Galgani to Chapar. 

'That should be possible. Keep your hca't up, Papi.’ Then 
he said, ‘And what about Matthieu Carbonieri?’ 

Tra sorry I forgot him. The president of the court-martial 
wanted further inquiries to be made into his case before com- 
ing to a decision : is that good or bad? ’ 

’Good. I think.’ 

I was in the first rank of the little column of twelve climb- 
ing the hill to reach the Reclusion, I went up fast: it was odd, 
but I was in a hurry to be alone in my ceil. I stepped out so 
that the screw said, ‘Not so fact, Papillon. Anyone would 
think you .couldn’t wait to get back to the place you left 
such a little while ago.’ 

We were there. 

‘Strip! Here’s the governor cf the Reclusion.’ 

Ttn sorry you’re back, Papillon.’ he said. Then, ‘Confinecs, 
etc. - his usual piece. ‘Block A. cell 127. It’s the best, Papillon. 
because you’re opposite the door of the passage and that 



gives you more light - and you’re never short of air. I hope 
you’ll behave well. Eight years is a long time: but who knows, 
maybe excellent conduct will earn you one or two years remis- 
sion. I hope so, because you’re a brave man.’ 

So here I was in 127. It was, as he’d said, just opposite a 
big barred gate that opened on to the passage. I could still 
see quite clearly, although by now it was nearly six in the 
evening. And this cell didn’t have the smell and taste of decay 
that had filled my other one. My spirits rose a little. 'Friend 
Papillon, here are the four walls that are going to watch you 
live for the next eight years. Don’t count months and hours - 
there’s no point. If you want a proper yardstick you must 
count by units of six months. Sixteen' times six months and 
you’re free again. In any case there’s one good thing about 
it. If you die here - at least, if you do it during the day - you’ll 
have the satisfaction of dying in the light. That’s very im- 
portant. It can’t be much fun to die in the dark. If you’re ill, 
at least here the doctor can see your face. You don’t have 
to blame yourself for having wanted to escape and make a 
new life; hell, nor for having killed Celier, either. Imagine 
how you would have suffered thinking tbatxvhile you were in 
here, he was off, making a break! Tinfe will tell. Maybe 
there’ll be an amnesty, a war, or an earthquake or typhoon 
that will destroy this place. Why not7 Maybe there’ll be an 
upright, decent man who’ll go back to France and manage 
to stir up French public opinion so that it will force the prison 
service to do away with this manner of guillotining people 
without a guillotine. Maybe a doctor, sickened by it all, will 
tell some journalist or priest all about it - something of that 
kind. At all events, the sharks have digested Celier long ago. 
I’m here: and if I’m up to my own standards, I ought to come 
out of this living grave on my feet.’ 

One, two, three, four, five, about-turn; one, two, three, four, 
five, about-turn. I began walking, going straight back to the 
right position of head and arms and the exact length of pace 
for the pendulum to work perfectly. I determined only to 
walk two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon until 
I should know whether I could rely on more than the regula- 
tion amount of food. Don’t let these first edgy days fool you 
into wasting energy. 

Yes, it was pitiful to have failed at the very end. To be sure, 
it was oniy the first part of the break, and I should still have 



had to bring off a crossing of more than ninety miles on that 
frail raft. And then, according to where we touched the main- 
land, to have started another escape all over again. If the 
launching had worked well, the Hour-sack sail would have 
carried the raft along at a good six miles an hour. We’d have 
reached the mainland in under fifteen hours, perhaps in 
twelve. That is to say if it rained during the daytime, of course; 
since it was only with rain falling that we would have dared 
set the sail. I seemed to remember that it had rained the day 
after I was put into the black-hole. I couldn’t be sure. I tried 
to sec what mistakes or errors I had made. I could only dis- 
cover two. The joiner had insisted on making too good, too 
solid a raft; and then, to hold the coconuts, he had had to 
make a framework that amounted to much the same as two 
rafts one on top of the other. Hence too many pieces to work 
up and too much time needed to be able to work on them 
without danger. 

The second, far. more serious fault was this: when we had 
the first hard suspicion about Celicr, I ought to have killed 
him that same night. If I’d done that, who could tell where 
I’d be now? Even if things had gone sour on the mainland or 
if I’d been arrested at the moment of the launch, I’d only 
have copped tlirce years instead of eight, and I’d have had 
the satisfaction of having done something. And if everything- 
had gone smoothly, where should I be, on the islands or on 
the mainland? No telling. Maybe talking to Bowen in Trini- 
dad: maybe in Curasao, under the protection of Bishop 
Iren6e dc Bruync. And we’d only have gone off from Cura- 
sao if we had been certain that some nation or another would 
allow us'in. If they wouldn’t, it would have been easy enough 
to go back alone, sailing a little boat straight to the Goajira 
and my tribe. 

I went to sleep very late, and I rested quite normally. This 
first night wasn’t so very depressing after all. Live, live, live. 
Every time I was on the point of giving up from despair, I 
Was to repeat ‘While there’s life there's hope’ three times over. 

A week had gone by. Since yesterday I had noticed a change 
in my rations. A splendid lump of boiled meat at midday, 
and in the evening a bowl crammed with lentils - hardly any 
water at all. Like a child I said, ‘Lentils have iron in them; 
they are very good for the health,’ 

If tills went on, I was going to be able to walk ten or twelve 












evening bowl full of dried vegetables, beans, lentils, split peas 
or fried rice, went down very easily. I always ate the lot with- 
out any effort. Walking did me good; the tiredness it pro- 
duced was healthy, and I even managed to take off while I 
was still going to and fro. Yesterday, for example, I spent the 
whole day in the meadows of a little district in the Ardechc 
by the name of Favras. When Maman died I often used to 
go there and spend a few weeks with my aunt, my mother’s 
sister, who was a schoolteacher in the village. Well, yesterday 
I was as good as there, walking about in the chestnut woods, 
finding mushrooms; and then I heard a little friend of mine, 
a shepherd, calling out orders to his dog - orders that the 
dog carried out perfectly, bringing back a lost sheep or 
punishing a straying goat. Even better, there in my mouth 
was the coolness of the iron-bearing spring, and its tiny bub- 
bles tickled my nose. This total recall of a time more than 
fifteen years in the past and this power of experiencing it 
again with such vividness is possible only in a cell, far from 
all noise, in the most profound silence. 

I could even sec the yellow of Auntie Outine’s dress. I heard 
the wind whispering through the chestnut trees, the sound of 
a falling chestnut, sharp when it dropped on dry earth and 
muffled when it came down into a bed of leaves. A huge wild 
boar came out of the tall broom and frightened me so dread- 
fully that I tore away, losing most of the mushrooms I had 
gathered, in my panic. Yes, pacing there in my cell, I spent 
the whole day at Favras with auntie and my little friend 
Julien, the shepherd, a child from the Public Assistance. There 
was no one who could prevent me from delighting in these 
tender memories, so clear and sharp; and no one could pre- 
vent them from giving me the peace my wounded heart so 
called for. 

As far as society was concerned, I was in one of the many 
: punishment cells of the man-eater. In fact I had stolen a whole 
' day from them: I had spent it at Favras, in the meadows and 
>, under the chestnut trees; and I had even drunk at the place they 
’> called the Pcach-trcc Spring. 

•; Now the first six months had gone by. I had said I should 
.•xount by units of six months, and so I had kept my promise. 
It was only this morning that I reduced the sixteen to fifteen 
j. . . Only fifteen lengths of six months left. 

•• Let’s see how things stand. No outstanding personnt"~”-"nt 


fo CP 








ic was guilty? I should have Wiled an innocent man. How 
errible! But it’s unreasonable for you to worry, about 
scruples, you a convict with a lifer - w'orse, a convict whose 
Lifer includes eight years of solitary. 

Who do you think you arc, you drop-out that the commun- 
ity treats like so much dirt? I’d like to know whether the 
twelve bastards on the jury have ever once troubled their 
consciences with wondering if they did right in sending you 
down for so long. And whether the prosecutor (I’d still not 
made up my mind how I’d tear out Iiis tongue) had ever- 
wondered if he hadn’t come it a little strong in his indict- 
ment. I was sure that even my own lawyers didn’t remember 
me. They no doubt talked in general terms about ‘that un- 
fortunate Papillon business’ at the 1932 assizes. ‘That parti- 
cular day I was not on top of my form, you know, 
whereas it eo happened that Pradel, for the prosecution, was 
at his very best. He swung the trial in his own favour in the 
most masterly fashion. He really is an opponent who keeps 
you on your toes.’ I could hear it as though I were next to 
Maitre Raymond Hubert as he was talking to other lawyers, 
or at some party, or in the corridors of the law-courts. 

There was certainly one man who might be set up as a 
straight-dealing, honest judge, and that was Bavin, the pre- 
sident of the court. That fair-minded man, in profession.^! 
conversation or at a dinner, might very well speak about the 
danger of having a man judged by a jury. In proper wo/da of 
course, he might very well say that the twelve bastard?, da 
jurymen, were not prepared for a responsibility of that k'-d 
that they might be too easily swayed by the charm either e: 
the prosecution or the defence, whichever happened ~ 'o' 
getting the better of the rhetorical contest - that tk-v t: ‘ 
quitted too quickly or condemned scarcely knowing ~-. T - ~~ 
according to the positive or negative atmosphere that 
stronger counsel had managed to create. 

The president, and my family too: yes, but 
; family was rather against me because of the disgrace T- - -j* 

,• certainly brought upon them. There was one, only on?- _• 

I was sure would never complain of the cross I bar Td- - 
shoulders, and that was my poor old fr ^ 
i bear this heavy cross without erving cut era 
: ; without blaming him; and this he’d do gltfrr 
■ busier he respected the laws and evec 








Yesterday they made us all poke our heads' out through the 
hole and a doctor went hy raising each man’s lips. And this 
morning, when I’d done exactly eighteen months in this cell, 
the door opened and they said, ‘Come out: stand against the 
wall and wait.’ 

I was the first at the gate end: about seventy men were 
brought out. ‘About tuml’ And now I was at the end of a 
line of men marching towards the other end of the building 
and out into the yard. 

Nine o’clock. A young medico in a short-sleeved khaki 
ihirt sitting at a little wooden table in the open air. Two con- 
vict orderlies next to him; one medical warder. I knew none 
of them, not even the medico. Ten screws with rifles kept 
the whole party covered. The governor and head warders 
stood there, watching silently. 

‘Everyone strip 1 ’ shouted the head warder. ‘Clothes under 
your arms . First man. Name? * 

*X.’ 

‘Open your mouth and stand with your legs apart. Take 
these three teeth out for him. Tincture of iodine first, then 
methylene blue: syrup of cochlearia twice a day before 
meals’ 

I was the last in the fine, 

‘Name?' 

‘Charnire,’ 

‘Why, you’re the only one with a body that’s something 
like. Have you just come in? ’ 

‘No.’ 

‘How long have you been here?’ 

'Eighteen months today.’ 

‘Why aren’t you thin like the others?’ 

‘I don’t know.’ 

‘All right. I’ll tell you. Because you cat better than them; 
unless maybe you masturbate less, Mouth: legs. Two lemons 
a day, one in the morning, one at night. Suck the lemons and 
rub the juice on your gums : you’ve got scurvy.' 

They cleaned my gums with iodine, then daubed them with 
methylene blue: they gave me a lemon. About turn. I went 
back to my cell, the last in the file. 

What had just happened - this bringing the sick men right 
out into the yard, bo they could see the sun and the doctor 



could see them dose to - was a genuine revolution. Nothing 
of the land had ever been known in the Reclusion. What was 
happening? Could it be that at last there was a doctor who 
would not be a mute accomplice - who would not apply these 
infamous rules? This medico, who later became my friend, 
was called Germain Guibert. He died in Iado-Cbina. Many 
years after this particular day, his wife wrote to roe at Mara- 
caibo in Venezuela to tell me about it. 

Every ten days, medical inspection in the sun. Always the 
same treatment - iodine, methylene blue, two lemons. My 
condition grew no worse, but it didn't get any better, either. 
Twice I asked for syrup of cochlearia and twice the doctor 
wouldn't let me have it: this began to irritate me, because 
I still couldn’t wall; for more than six hours a day and be- 
cause the lower part of my legs was still black and swollen. 

One day when I was waiting my turn to be looked at, I 
noticed that the spindly tree in whose meagre shade I was 
standing was a lemon tree with no lemons on it. I picked a 
leaf and chewed it; and then without thinking I broke off a 
twig with some leaves on it - 1 had no dear notion in my mind, 
as I did so. When the medico called me I stuffed the twig up 
my arse and said, ‘Doctor, I don't know whether it’s the 
fault of all your lemons, but look what I’ve got growing be- 
hind.’ And I turned round to show him the leafy twig. 

The screws roared with laughter at first, but then the head 
warder said, Tapillon, you’ll be punished for disrespect tc 
the doctor.' 

'Not at all,’ said the doctor. 'I make no complaint, so yoi 
can’t punish him. Don’t you want any more lemons? Is tha 
what you're trying to say?’ 

'Yes, Doctor: I’m fed up with lemons. I’m not gettir 
better : I want to try the cochlearia syrup.’ 

. ‘I’ve not given you any because there’s not much of it ar 
I keep it for the very serious cases. Still, I’ll let you have o 
spoonful a day, and we’ll continue the lemons.’ 

‘Doctor, I used to see the Indians eat seaweed: I notic 
the same kind on Royale. There must be some on Saint-Josc 
too.’ 

Tfaat s a very valuable idea. IH have a daily distribution 
a certain seaweed I have seen growing round the coast i 
self. Did the Indians eat it cooked or raw?’ 

‘Raw.’ 



‘Very good: thank you. And Governor, I rely upon you 
to see that this man is not punished.’ 

'All right. Captain.’ 

It was a miracle that had been accomplished. Leasing your 
cell every week and standing in the sun for a couple of hours 
waiting your turn or waiting for the others to be seen to, see- 
ing faces, whispering a few v/ords - who would ever have 
dreamt that such a wonderful thing could happen? It made 
a fantastic difference to everybody. Dead men got up and 
walked about in the sun: these people who bad been buried 
alive could at last speak to each other. It was oxygen, breath- 
ing fresh life into all of us. 

Clack, clack, innumerable clacks as all the cell doors opened 
at nine o’clock one Thursday morning. Each man was to stand 
there on the threshold of his cell. ‘Confinees,’ shouted a voice, 
‘Governor’s inspection.’ 

A tall, distinguished, grey-haired man w?x:ed slowly down 
the corridor, passing in front of each cell; with him there 
were five officers of the colonial service, all doctors, no doubt. 
I heard him being told the heavy sentences and the reasons 
for them. Before he reached me, a prisoner who had not been 
strong enough to stand so long was helped to his feet. This 
was Gravillc, one of the cannibals. An officer said, ‘But this 
man’s a walking corpse! ’ 

The governor replied, ‘They are all of them in a lamentable 
condition.’ 

The committee reached me. The local governor said, ‘This 
man has the longest sentence in the prison.’ 

‘What is your name?’ asked the governor. 

‘Charrierc.’ 

‘Your sentence?’ 

‘Eight years for stealing material belonging to the State, 
etc., manslaughter - three and five years consecutive.’ 

‘How many have you done? ’ 

‘Eighteen months.’ 

‘How has he behaved?’ 

‘Well,’ said the local govemor s 

‘His health?’ 

‘Fair,’ said the medico. 

‘What have you to say?’ 

’That this system is inhuman ana unworthy of n nation 
like France.’ 



gxcrclf' 

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empty ever since theday yes: 

‘Thanks, everyb ndy. Writ's r.t" ?’ 

‘One good thing.’ 

‘V, 'hat’s that?’ 

‘£ast night they found the Arab -ho irj-~ic cr. rs 
killed in the hall opposite the good conduct* - the Am- rAm 
climbed the palm tree and watched. It mart have been ?m: 
friend of yours tvho didn’t van t yea to have to com: across 
him alive, and who’s spared you the trouble.’ 

‘I’d very much like to know v-ko i* mas, so as to thard: her..' 

‘Maybe he’ll tell you one day. They found the Arab at the 
roll-call with a knife in his heart. Nobody had seen or heard 
anything at ail.’ 

‘It’s better that way. How’s the gambling?’ 

‘Fine. Your place is still open.’ 

‘Good.’ So now I was about to start Irving like a mar. with 
a life sentence again : who could tell how and when the story 
would end? 

‘Papi, we were really upset when wc heard you’d copped 
an eight-stretch. I don’t think there’s a single man on the 
islands now who’d refuse to help you, now you're back again, 
whatever the risk.’ 

’The governor wants you,’ said an Arab. 

I went out with him. Several screws in the guard-room 
spoke pleasantly as- I went through: I followed the Arab, 
and there was Governor Prouillet. 

'Are you all right, Papillon? ’ 

‘Yes, Governor.’ 

‘I’m glad you’ve, been pardoned, and I congratulate you on 
your brave attempt at saving my colleague’s little girl.’ 

’Thanks.’ 

‘I’m going to make you an ox-driver until you can be a 
cesspit man again with the right to go fishing.’ 

‘If that doesn't compromise you too much, fine.’ 

‘That’s my business. The building yard chief ir, no longer 
here, and as for me, Fm off to France in three weeks. You 
start tomorrow.’ 

‘I don’t know how to thank you. Governor.’ 

’Perhaps by waiting a month before you try another break?’ 
said Prouillet, laughing. 

The men in our block were still the same men; their way 



of life was stiii the same as it had been before I went away. 
The gamblers, a class apart, thought of nothing and lived 
for nothing but cards. The men who had boys lived and ate 
and slept with them. They were genuine couples, with their 
thoughts taken up, day and night, by their passion and by 
homosexual love. Jealous scenes, unchecked furious emotions 
in which the “wife* and the ‘husband’ each kept secret watch 
on the other and which inevitably set off killings when one 
got tired of the other and drifted away to other lovers. 

Only last week the Negro Simplon killed a man by the 
name of Sidero, all for the sake of the lovely Charlie (Barrat). 
This was the third man Simplon had killed because of Charlie. 

I had only been in the camp a few hours before two charac* 
ters came to see me. ‘Tell me, Papillon, Fd like to ask whether 
Maturette is your baby or not.* 

‘Why?’ 

‘Personal reasons.' 

Xisten. Maturette made a thousand-mile break with me and 
he behaved himself like a man : that’s all I’ve got to say.’ 

‘I wanted to know if be was sweet on y ou * 

‘No. From the point of view of sex, I know nothing about 
Maturette. From the point of view of friendship, I think he’s 
great: the rest’s nothing to do with me, unless anyone does 
him harm.’ 

‘And suppose one day he was my wife?’ 

’If he was willing, I’d never interfere in such matters. But 
if by any chance you were to threaten him so as to get him 
to be your boy-friend, then you’d have to reckon v/itli me.’ 

It was the same, whether the homosexuals were active or 
passive; for both kinds settled down to live in their passion, 
thinking of nothing else at all. 

I met the Italian with the gold charger, the one who had 
been in our convoy. He came and said hallo. I said, ’You still 
here?' 

‘I’ve done everything I can. My mother sent me' twelve 
thousand francs: the screw took six thousand for his com- 
mission: I paid four thousand to get mysalf un -interned and 
I managed to be sent to Cayenne for an X-ray. But I couldn’t 
do a thing there. Then after that I got myself accused of 
wounding a friend. You know him — Razori, the Corsican 
strong-arm man.’ 



*Y cs : and what then? ’ 

‘We came to an agreement: he cut himself in the belly and 
he and I were taken over for a court-martial - he being the 
accuser and me the defendant. We never even got going at 
all. In a fortnight it was all over. I copped six months and I 
did them in the Rfeclusion last year. You didn’t even know 
I was there. Papi, I can’t bear it any more. I feel like killing 
myself.’ 

‘It would be better to perish at sea, escaping: at least you’d 
die free.’ 

‘You’re right : I’m ready for anything. If you think something 
up, let me know.’ 

‘OK.’ 

And so life on Royale began again. I was an ox-driver and 
I had a buffalo called Brutus. He weighed two tons and as 
far as the other buffaloes were concerned he was a killer. He 
had already put paid to two other males. ‘This is his last 
chance,’ said Agjstini, the warder in charge of the job. ‘If 
he kills another, he’ll be slaughtered.’ 

This morning I had my first meeting with Brutus. The Mar- 
tinique Negro who drove him was to stay for a week to teach 
me the job. I made friends with Brutus at once by pissing on 
his muzzle: he adored lapping the taste of salt. Then I gave 
him some green mangoes I’d picked up in the hospital garden. 
With Brutus yoked to the great pole of a roughly-made cart - 
it might have belonged to the Pharaohs - carrying a six hun- 
dred gallon barrel, I went down to the beach. It was my job, 
and friend Brutus’s, to go down, fill the barrel, and then climb 
that terrible slope up to the plateau. There I opened the tap 
and the water ran down the channels, carrying away every- 
thing that was left from the morning’s emptying. I began at 
six and by about nine I was through. 

After four days the Martiniquais said I could get along by 
myself. There was only one snag - I had to swim in the pond 
at five in the morning, looking for Bru’tus.'who did not care 
for work and used to hide there. He had very sensitive nos- 
trils, and there was a ring through them with two feet of chain 
hanging there permanently. Whenever I found him, he would 
draw back, dive, and come up farther off. Sometimes it took 
me more than an hour to catch him in this revolting stagnant 
pool, full of creatures and water-lilies. AH by myself there I’d 
fly into a gibbering rage. ‘Swine! You slow-bellied obstinate 


bastard! Will you get the hell out of this Water?’ The only 
thing he minded was the chain when I caught him. The insults 
never wounded him in the least. But when at last he was 
brought out of the pond, then we were close friends again. 

I had two old lard drums that I kept full of clean,' fresh 
water. I started by taking a shower to get the slime off from 
the pool. Then when I was thoroughly soaped and rinsed I 
usually had more than half a -dram left; and I’d wash Brutus, 
scrubbing him with the hairy husk of a coconut. I went care- 
fully over his delicate parts and sprinkled him as I scrubbed. 
Brutus would rub his head against my hands and go and stand 
in front of the shafts all by himself. I never used the goad on 
him like the Mamoiquais. He was grateful, and he’d walk 
quicker for me than he did fpr the Negro. 

There was a pretty little buffalo cow who was in love with 
Brutus: she went along with us, walking at his side.'I did not 
shoo her away as the other driver did - far from it, I let her 
kiss Brutus and come with us wherever we went. I never dis- 
turbed them when they were kissing, and Brutus showed his 
gratitude by carrying up his six hundred gallons at an extra- 
ordinary pace. He looked as though he were trying to make 
up for the time he had spent in his dallying with Marguerite - 
for Marguerite was the cow -buffalo’s name. 

Yesterday, at the six o’clock roll-call, there was a little scene 
on account of Marguerite. It seems that the Martiniquais used 
to get up on a little wall, and from this height he stuffed ber 
every day. He was caught at it by a screw, and he got thirty 
days in die black -hole. Bestiality was the official charge. And 
yesterday, when the roll was' being called. Marguerite ap- 
peared in the camp, walked along past more than sixty men 
and reached the Negro: there she turned about, presenting 
him with her bottom. Everybody howled with laughter, and 
the blackamoor went grey with shame and confusion. 

I had to make three trips a day. The longest part was the 
filling of the barrel by the two men at the shore: but it was 
fairly quick. By nine I was through and I could go off fishing. 

I made an ally of Marguerite so as to get Brutus out of the 
pond. When I scratched her ear in a certain way she uttered 
a sound very like the voice of a mare in season. At this Brutus 
would come out of his own accord. Although I no longer 
needed to wash myself, I went on grooming him, and better 
than before. Shining dean and free from the stench of the dis- 



gusting vratcr he spent the night in, he was even more attrac- 
tive to Marguerite, and that raised his spirits wonderfully. 

Half way up the hill from the sea there was a Dattish place 
where I- kept a big stone. Brutus had the habit of drawing 
breath there for five minutes, and I wedged the wheel with the 
stone, so he could rest better. But this morning there was an- 
other buffalo called Danton, as big as Brutus, .who was wait- 
ing for us hidden behind the. little coconut palms that were 
nothing more than leaves, for this was the nursery garden. 
Danton rushed out and went for Brutus. Brutus dodged and 
avoided the charge: Danton hit the cart. One of his horns 
pierced the barrel. He made prodigious efforts to free him- 
self, while I was unyoking Brutus. Once he was unharnessed, 
Brutus took his distance, a good thirty yards up the slope, 
and charged straight at Danton. Dread or despair made Dan- 
ton wrench free, leaving the tip of his hom in the barrel, be- 
fore my buffalo reached him; but Brutus couldn’t stop and 
he smashed into the cart, turning it over. 

Then one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen took place. 
Brutus and Danton touched their horns without thrusting; 
they just rubbed these huge weapons gently together. It 
looked as though they were talking, and yet they merely blew 
- uttered no sound. Then the cow buffalo walked slowly up 
the hill, followed by the two bulls, who stopped every now 
and then to rub horns again, entwining them gently. When 
they took too long over it Marguerite moaned languourously 
and set off again in the direction of the plateau. The two great 
monsters, still following the same line, moved after her. After 
three halts, with the same ceremonies each time, wc reached 
the plateau. We came out on the flat in front of the light- 
house, a hare stretch of ground about three hundred yards 
long. At the far end, the convicts’ camp; right and left, the 
two hospitals, the one for the prisoners and the other for the 
soldiers. 

Danton and Brutus were still following, twenty yards be- 
hind. Marguerite paced calmly to the middle and ‘stood there. 
The two rivals joined her. From lime to time she uttered her 
wail, a long and markedly sexual cry. Once again they touched 
horns, but this time I had the feeling that they really were 
talking together, because in among their blowing there were 
sounds that no doubt meant something. 

After this conversation the one walked off slowly to toe 



left and the other to the right They went as far as the limits 
of the flat stretch. So between them there lay three hundred 
yards. Marguerite waited, still standing there in the middle. 
I grasped what jt was all about now: this was a proper formal 
duel, agreed to on either side, with the cow buffalo as the 
prize. She was quite willing, too; and she was as proud as a 
peacock that her two boy-friends were going to fight for her. 

A cry from Marguerite aud they launched themselves at 
one another. I don’t have to say how their two tons increased 
in force with their speed as each covered his hundred and 
fifty yards. The crash of the two heads was so violent that 
for more than five minutes they were both stunned. Brutus 
was the first to recover, and this time he galloped back to his 
place. The battle lasted two hours. The screws wanted to 
kill Brutus, but I wouldn’t let them: then, at a certain mo- 
ment Danton broke a horn as they crashed together - the 
horn he’d damaged with the barrel. He fled, with Brutus after 
him. The chase and the fight went on until the next day. They 
smashed everything that stood in their way - gardens, grave- 
yard, laundry. 

They fought all night, and it was only at about seven the 
next morning that Brutus managed to get Danton up against 
the wall of the butchery down by the sea, and there he thrust 
a horn its whole depth into Danton’s belly. To finish it off 
thoroughly Brutus rolled over twice, so that the born, deep 
inside, should turn in Danton’s belly. And Danton,” in the 
midst of a flood of guts and blood, fell, conquered and des- 
troyed. 

This battle between giants had so weakened Brutus that I 
had to pull the horn out for him so that he could get to his 
feet again. He staggered off along the path by the sea, and 
there Marguerite joined him, walking by his side and sup- 
porting hishuge neck with her hornless head. 

I was unable to be present at their wedding night, because 
the screw in charge of the buffaloes accused me of having 
unharnessed Brums, and I was sacked. 

I asked to see the governor to talk to him abont Brutus. 

'What's been going on, Papillon? Brums must be slaugh- 
tered: he’s too dangerous. This makes three fine specimens 
he’s killed now.’ 

‘That’s just what I came for - to ask you to save Brutus. 
The farm screw in charge of the buffaloes knows nothing 



about it. Please let me tell you how Brutus came to act in 
legitimate self-defence.’ 

The governor smiled. ‘I’m listening.’ 

‘. . . so you understand. Governor, my buffalo was the one 
who was attacked,' I ended, having told him all the details. 
‘What’s more, if I hadn’t unharnessed Brutus, Danton would 
have killed him when he was unable to stand up for himself, 
fastened to his yoke and the cart the way he was.’ 

‘That’s true,’ said the governor. 

At this point the farm screw appeared. 'Good morning. 
Governor. I’ve been looking for you, Papillon: this morning 
you walked out of the camp as though you were going to your 
job. But your job’s gone - you’ve been sacked.’ 

‘Monsieur Agostini, I went out to see whether I could stop 
the fight, but unfortunately they were absolutely mad with 
rage.’ 

‘Well, that may be so. But you’re not driving that buffalo 
any more, as I’ve already told you. In .any case, he’s going to 
be slaughtered on Sunday morning - he’ll provide meat for 
the whole gaol.’ 

‘You can’t do that.’ 

'You’re not the one who’s going to stop me.’ 

‘No, but the governor is. And if that’s not enough, then 
Doctor Germain Guibcrt will - I’ll ask him to step in and 
save Brutus.’ 

‘What are you interfering for? ’ 

‘Because it’s my business. I’m the buffalo’s driver, and he’s 
my friend.’ 

‘Your friend? A buffalo? Are you trying to be funny?’ 

‘Monsieur Agostini, will you listen to me for a minute?’ 

‘Let him speak in his buffalo’s defence,’ said the governor. 

‘All right. Talk away.’ 

‘Monsieur Agostini, do you think animate ran speak to one 
another?’ 

‘Why not, seeing they communicate?’ 

'Well, then, Brutus and Danton agreed to fight a 
once again I explained the whole thing, from beginning tr mu. 

‘Cristachol’ said the Corsican. ‘You're a proper o’r •ctun-r 
ter, Papillon. Do what you like about Brutus, cct -- 
time he breaks out, no one’ll save him, not even tie 
You can be a driver aaaic. See to it that Brutus ~ — 
soon.’ — . 




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pising the primitive but beautiful — oh so beautiful — life that 
I could have gone on living for ever, if I’d liked. 

My two loves, Lali and Zoralma; my tribe without a single 
gendarme and no laws except for the closest understanding 
between its members - yes, it’s my own fault I’m here, but I 
must think of one thing only. Only one thing - escape, escape, 
escape or die. 

Prosecutor, when you learnt I had been retaken and sent 
back to the settlement, you certainly put on your conquering 
assizes smile, didn't you? You thought, ‘Now everything’s fine: 
he’s back where I put him, on the way down the drain.’ And 
you were wrong: my heart and soul will never belong to this 
degrading way of life. All you have a hold on is my body: 
twice every day your guards and your prison system take note 
that I am present, and that satisfies you. At six in the morning, 
‘PapiUon?’ ‘Here.’ Six in the evening, ‘Papillon?’ ’Here.’ All’s 
well. We’ve had our hands on him nearly six years now; he 
must be beginning to rot, and with a little luck one of these 
days the bell will toll for the sharks to come and receive him 
with all due honours - the daily feast provided for them by 
your system of getting rid of men by wearing them out. 

You’ve got it wrong: your figures don’t add up. My physi- 
cal presence has nothing to do with my spiritual presence. Do 
you want me to tell you something? I don’t belong in this 
prison: I’ve not adopted the ways of my fellow-prisoners in 
the smallest degree, not even of my closest friends. I’m on 
my toes for a break twenty-four hours a day. 

I was arguing with the prosecutor when two men came up 
to my hammock. 

‘You asleep, PapiUon?’ 

•No.’ 

•We’d like to talk to you.’ 

Talk away. If you speak quietly, no one can hear.’ 

‘Listen, we’re getting ready for a mutiny.’ 

•What’s your plan?’ 

'Kill aU the Arabs, all the screws, aU the screws’ wives and 
all their children - bad seed, the whole lot. Me - my name’s 
Amaud - and my friend Hautin, together with four men 
who’re with us, are going to attack the command-post arsenal. 
I work there keeping the weapons in order. There are twenty- 
three light machine-guns, more than eighty rifles and car- 
bines. We’ll set about it the . . .’ 



’Stop: don’t go on. Fm not with you. I’ll have nothing to 
do with it. Thanks for letting me into your secret, but I’m 
not with you.’ 

‘We thought you’d agree to lead the rising. lust let me tell 
you the details we've worked out and you’ll see it can’t go 
wrong. We’ve been planning it these last five months. There 
are more than fifty men with us.’ 

‘Don’t you tell me a single name: I refuse to be the leader 
or to make the slightest move in this business .’ 

‘Why? You owe us an explanation, after the way we’ve 
trusted you, telling you everything.’ 

‘In the first place I never asked you to tell me your plans. 
And in the second, I do what I want to do in this life, and not 
what other people want me to do. And in the third I’m not 
a mass killer. I may kill a man I’ve got something serious 
against; but not women and children who’ve done me no 
harm. What’s more, you don’t seem to realize the worst side 
of it all, and I’ll have to tell you - even if you bring this rising 
off , you necessarily fail.’ 

‘How come?’ 

‘Because the main thing, escaping, just isn’t possible. Sup- 
pose a hundred men join in the mutiny, how are they going 
to get away? There are only two boats on the islands. At the 
very outside limit they can’t carry more than forty convicts 
between them. What are you going to do about the other 
sixty?’ 

‘We’ll be among the forty who leave in the boats.’ 

That’s what you think: but the others aren’t bloodier fools 
than you are. They’ll be armed like you, and if each one’s got 
the smallest scrap of brain, he’s not going to put up with being 
wiped out like you say. You’ll be shooting one another to get 
into the boats. And still worse, there’s not a country on earth 
-that'll allow these two boats to land, because telegrams will 
get to every possible country before you - particularly with 
the holocaust you mean to leave behind. Anywhere on earth 
you’ll be arrested and handed back to France. As you know, 
I came back from Colombia: I know what I’m talking about 
I give you my sacred word that after a job like that you’ll be 
handed back from anywhere in the world.’ 

'Right. So you refuse?’ 

•Yes.’ 

‘It’s your last word?’ 


I’m absolutely determined.’ 

'There’s nothing left for us but to go.’ 

‘One minute. I ask you not to speak to any of my mends 

about this plan.’ 

‘Why not?’ 

‘Because I know beforehand they’ll refuse; so it s not worth 
it.’ 

‘All right.’ 

'Do you feel you can’t possibly give up this scheme? 

‘Speaking straight, Papillon, no.’ 

‘I can’t understand what you’re aiming at; because I tell 
you very seriously that even if you do bring the rising off, 
you’ll never be free.’ 

‘What we want above all is our revenge. And now you’ve 
shown us it’s impossible to find any country that would let 
us stay, then we’il take to the bush - we’ll live as a gang in the 
forest.’ 

‘I give you my word I shan’t speak about this even to my 
best friend.’ 

'Were quite certain of that’ 

‘OK. One last thing - give me the nod a week ahead so I 
can get across to Saint-Joseph and not be on Royale when 
it starts.’ 

‘You’ll be warned in time to change islands.’ 

‘Isn’t there anything I can do to make you change your 
minds? Wouldn’t you like to work out some other scheme 
with me? Steal four carbines, for instance, and attack the 
guard on the boats without killing anyone. Then take a boat 
and go off together.’ 

‘No. We've gone through too much. For us the great thing 
is revenge, even if it costs us our fives.’ 

‘And the kids too? And the women?’ 

It’s all the same seed, the same blood: they must all die, 
every one of them.’ 

‘Let’s not talk about it any more,’ 

‘You don’t wish us good luck?’ 

‘No. What I say to you is, give it up. There are better things 
to do than this bloody butchery.' 

^You don t agree we’ve got the right to have our revenge? ' 

^ but not on people who've done no wrong.’ 

'Good night.’ 

'Good night. Nothing's been said, right, Papi?’ 



•Right, brothers.’ 

And Hautin and Amaud went away A hell of a caper this 
1st These guys are right off their heads: and what’s more they 
say there are fifty or sixty others mixed up in it. By their 
D-day there’ll be more than a hundred. What a crazy scheme! 
Not a single one of my friends has given me the least hint 
of it, so these two can only have talked to the squares. It’s 
just not possible any men belonging to our world should be 
in this plot. And that makes'it all the' worse, because your 
square murderers are the genuine murderers - your under- 
world character may kill, but just by way of manslaughter, . 
which is not the same thing at all. 

For a week I very quietly gathered information about 
Amaud and Hautin. Amaud had been sent down for life - 
unjustly it seemed - for a little job that didn’t even deserve 
ten years. The reason why the jury had come down on him 
so heavy was that the year before his brother had been guil- 
lotined for killing a cop. So he’d been condemned to this 
hideous sentence just because the prosecutor, who’d talked 
more about his brother than about him, had managed to work 
up a very hostile atmosphere. He’d also been horribly tor- 
tured at the time of his arrest, because of what his brother 
had done. 

Hautin had never known freedom: he’d been in prison 
since the age of nine. Just before leaving the reformatory 
school when he was nineteen he killed a guy: this was when 
he was on the point of going into the navy - he’d enlisted to 
get out of the school. He must have been a trifle crazy, be- 
cause it seems his plan was to get to Venezuela, work in a 
gold-mine there, and blow off one of his legs for the com- 
pensation-money. This leg was stiff, on account of some 
chemical or other he'd injected into it at Saint-Martin-de-R6. , 

Bombshell. At this morning’s roll-call Amaud, Hautin and 
Jean Carbonieri, my friend Matthieu’s brother, were taken out 
of the ranks. Jean was a baker, and so he lived down on the 
quay, near the boats. They were sent to Saint-Joseph without 
any explanation or apparent reason. I tried to find out why. 
Not a word: yet Amaud had been looking after the armoury 
for four years now, and Jean Carbonieri had been a baker 
for five. This couldn’t be just chance. There must have been 
aleak; but just what kind of a leak; and how far had it gone? 

I decided to talk to my three closest friends, Matthieu Car- 



bonieri, Grandet and Galgani. None of them knew a thing. 
So H&utin and Amaud could only have tackled the convicts 
who didn’t belong to the underworld. 

‘Why did they speak to me, then?’ 

‘Because everyone knows you want to escape at any price 
at all/ 

‘Not at that price, though.’ 

They couldn’t tell the odds' 

‘And what about your brother Jean?’ 

‘God knows how he ever came to be such a bloody fool 
as to get into a mess like this/ 

'Maybe the guy that shopped him just said he was in it: 

■ maybe he’s nothing to do with it at all/ 

Tilings began to move faster and faster. Last night Birasolo 
was murdered as he was going into the latrine. Blood was 
found on the Martiniquais ox-driver’s shirt Two weeks after 
a much too hasty inquiry and a statement by another Negro 
they kept shut up by himself, the Martiniquais was con- 
demned to death by a special court. 

An old lag called Garvel or the Savoyard came and spoke 
to me by the wash-house in the yard. ‘Papi, I’m in a bell of z 
(lx; because it was me that, killed Girasolo. I’d like to are 
the darkie, but I’m scared they’d guillotine me. And I’m rot 
opening my mouth at that price. But if I could find a war cl 
getting off with no more than three to five years, I’d ccrftoi/ 

‘What’s your sentence?’ 

'Twenty years/ 

‘How many have you done?’ 

Twelve/ 


Tind some way of getting Efe, and then thrr 
in solitary/ 

’How can I do th 2 t?’ 


'Give me time to think: IT teS rez tr- khr ' 1~~ 
I said to Garvel, Ten can’t fix it so that rn*: 


then you confess/ 

’Why not?’ 

Tou’re too likely to o* 
of avoiding solitary is to r 
Say your conscience 
have his head <±orot£~rf 
you. I’ll tell y— -r— » 





got to move fast. They mustn’t top him too quick. Wait two 
or three days.’ 

I spoke to a warder named Collona and he gave me a won- 
derful idea. I was to take Garvel to the governor myself . and 
say he had asked me to defend him and to come with him 
to own up: and I was to say I’d promised him it was impos- 
sible he should be condemned to death after such a noble 
action, but that it was a very serious offence and he must ex- 
pect to be given life. 

It all ran perfectly. Garvel saved the daride, who was let 
out straight away. The perjured witness was given a year in 
prison. Robert Garvel got life. 

All this was two months ago. Now that it was over and 
done with, Garvel told me all about it. Girasolo had agreed 
to join in the rising: he had been told all the details; and he 
was die man who betrayed Amaud, Hautin and Jean Car- 
honieri. Luckily he hadn’t known any of the other names. . 

The denunciation was so huge, so prodigious, the screws 
didn’t believe in it. Still, by way of precaution they did send 
the three convicts who'd been informed upon to Saint-Joseph, 
without saying anything to them or questioning them or any- 
thing. 

’What did you give as a reason for killing him, Garvel?’ 

‘I said he’d stolen my charger. I said he slept opposite me, 
which was true, and that at night I took my charger out arid 
hid it under the blanket I use as a pillow. One night I went to 
the latrine and when I came back my charger had gone. And • 
near my place there was only one man who wasn’t asleep - 
Girasolo. The screws believed what I said: they didn’t even 
tell me he’d informed about a mutiny that was likely to break 
out.’ 

‘Papillon! Papillonl’ they shouted from, the yard. ‘Roll- 
call! Comeonl’ 

‘Here,’ I answered when my name was called. 

'Pack your things. You’re for Saint-Joseph.’ 

'Oh, hell.’ 

War had just broken out in France, It brought with it a 
new kind of discipline: the service chiefs who were answer- 
able for an escape would henceforward be dismissed the 
service. Transportees arrested during an escape were to be 
sentenced to death. Escape was to be considered as proof of a 



desire to join the Free French, who were betraying France. 
Everything would be tolerated except for escape. 

Governor Prouillet had left two months earlier. I didn’t 
know the new man at all. Nothing to be done about it. I said 
good-bye to my friends. At eight o’clock I got into the boat 
for Saint-Joseph. 

"Lisette’s father was no longer in the camp there. He had 
left for Cayenne with his family the week before. The present 
governor of Saint-Joseph was a man from Lc Havre by the 
name of Dutain. It was he who received me. I was alone, as 
it happened, and the head warder in charge of the boat 
handed me over to the duty screw on the wharf together with 
some papers that went with me. 

‘You're the one they call Papillon?’ 

‘Yes, Governor.’ 

‘You're an odd character,’ he observed, leafing through my 
papers. 

‘What's so odd about me?’ 

'Because on the one hand you’re marked down as danger- 
ous from every point of view, with a particular note in red 
saying “In a continual state of preparedness for escape”. And 
then on the other, there’s the remark, “Attempted to save the 
governor of Saint-Joseph’s child from the sharks”. I’ve two 
little girls myself, Papillon. Would you like to see them?’ 

He called, and two very fair-haired children of three and 
five came in, together with a young Arab dressed all in white 
and a very pretty dark-haired woman. 

‘You sec this man, my dcar7 He was the one who tried to 
save your god-daughter Lisctte.’ 

‘Oh, let me shake you by the hand,’ said the young woman. 

Shaking a convict’s hand is the greatest honour you can 
pay him. People never offer their hands to a man in prison. I 
found this spontaneous gesture very moving. 

‘Yes, I’m Lisette’s godmother. Wc are very close friends of 
the Grandoits. What are you going to do for him, my dear?’ 

'He’ll go to the camp first, and then,’ he said, speaking to 
me, ‘you’ll let me know what job you’d like me to give you.’ 

'Thank you. Governor. Thank you, Madame. Please would 
you tell me why I’ve been sent to Saint-Joseph? It’s almost a 
punishment.’ 

There was no reason that I know of. I dare say the new 
governor was afraid you’d escape,’ 



‘He’s not wrong.’ . 

‘They’ve increased the penalties for the officials who have 
to answer for an escape. Before the war you might perhaps 
lose a stripe: now it’s certain, quite apart from all the rest. 
That's why he’s sent you here. He’d rather you went toSaint- 
Joseph, where he has no responsibility, than stay on Royale, 
where he has.’ 

*How long do you have to stay here, Governor?’ 

‘Eighteen months.’ 

‘I can’t wait that long; but I’ll find some way of getting 
back to Royale so as not to do you any harm.’ 

‘Thank you,’ said the woman. ‘I’m glad to know you’re so 
great-hearted. If there’s anything at all you need, don’t hesi- 
tate to come here. Papa, you must tell the guard-room of the 
camp that Papillon is to be brought to see me whenever he 
asks.’ 

‘Yes, my dear. Mohamed, take Papillon to the camp; and 
Papillon, you choose the block you want to be put into,’ 

‘Oh, that’s easy enough : put me in the "dangerous” block.’ 

‘That won’t be hard,’ said the governor, laughing. And be 
wrote out a paper that he gave to Mohamed. 

I left the house on the quay that served as the governor’s 
residence and his office - once Lisette’s house - and escorted 
by the young Arab, I reached the camp. 

The man in charge of the guard-room was a very ferocious 
old Corsican, a well-known killer. His name was Filissari. ‘So 
it’s you, Papillon, is it? Now I'm all good or all bad, as you 
know. So don't you try and escape with me, because if you 
fail I’ll kill you out of hand. I’m retiring in two years, so now’s 
the time I hit really hard’ 

‘Well now, I like all Corsicans; so although I won’t promise 
not to escape, if I do I’ll fix it so it’s a time when you’re pot 
on duty.’ ' 

Tine, Papillon. That way we shan’t be enemies. Young men 
can put up with all the trouble and fuss after an escape better 
than me. I couldn’t stand it, not at my age and just before I 
retire. So it’s a deal, then? Get along to the block you’ve 
been put down for.’ 

Here I was in the camp, in a block exactly like the one on 
Royale, with between a hundred and a hundred and twenty 
men in it. Pierrot le Fou, Hautin, Amaud and Jean Car- 
bonieri were all there. Rightly speaking, I ought to have 


1 



oined Jean’s gourbi, seeing he was Matthieu’s brother; but 
ie hadn’t Matthieu’s quality, and then again 1 didn’t care 
or his friendship with Hautin and Amaud/So I left him alone 
md settled down next to Carrier, the Bordelais they called 
Pierrot le Fou. 

The lie Saint-Joseph was wilder than Royalc and rather 
smaller, though it seemed bigger because it ran more to 
length. The camp was half way up, for the island consisted of 
two plateaux one over the other. The first one had the camp 
on it, and the higher one the grim Rdclusion. By the way, 
the men in solitary were still going down to bathe for an hour 
every day. Let’s hope it would last. 

Every dinner-time the Arab who worked in the governor’s 
house brought me three mess-tins fitting into one another and 
held by a wooden handle. He left these three tins and carried 
off the ones I’d had the day before. Every day Liscttc's god- 
mother sent me exactly the same dishes she cooked for her 
own family. 

On Sunday I went to see her to say thank you. I spent the 
afternoon talking to her and playing with the children. As I 
stroked their blond heads I reflected that sometimes it was 
hard to know where one’s duty lay. There was an appalling 
danger hanging over this family if those two maniacs still had 
the same ideas. The screws had only believed Girasolo’s de- 
nunciation to the point of sending them to Saint-Joseph; not 
to the point of separating them. If I were to say they ought 
to be separated that would confirm the truth and seriousness 
of the first squeal. But how would the warders then react? 
It would be better to keep my mouth shut. 

Amaud and Hautin scarcely spoke to me in the ball. In any 
case I preferred to be on civil but not familiar terms with 
them. Jean Carbonieri didn’t speak to me at all; be was angry 
because I hadn't joined his gourbi. Ours was made up of four 
men - Pierrot le Fou; Marquetti, who’d won the second prix 
de Rome for the violin and who often played for hours on 
end, which made me rather low; and Marsori, a Corsican from 
Site. 

I spoke to nobody about the abortive preparations for a 
mutiny on Royale, and I had the feeling that nobody here 
knew anything at all about it. Did they still have the same 
notions? They were all three working on a very ■ disagrcea , 

laborious fatigue. They had to drag boulders along, hauling -- 


them with a kind of harness. These rocks were being used 
to make a swimming-pool in the sea. A boulder was well 
fastened with chains; another fifteen or twenty yards of chain 
was attached, and each convict, either to the right or the left, 
hooked on to this chain with an iron held in a harness round 
his chest and shoulders. Then, just like so many animals, they 
dragged the rock straight oS to the place it was meant to be 
in. It was a very arduous job in the full sun; even more, it was 
a very disheartening one. , . 

Shots from over by the quay - rifle, carbine and revolver 
shots. I knew what it was - those maniacs had started. What 
was happening? Who was winning? Sitting there in the hall 
I never stirred. All the convicts said, ‘It’s the mutiny ! ’ 

‘Mutiny? What mutiny?’ I meant to make it perfectly clear 
I knew nothing about it. 

Jean Carbonieri hadn’t gone to work that day; he came 
over to me, as pale as a corpse in spite of his sunburn. In a 
very low voice he said, ‘It’s the mutiny, Papi.’ Coldly I said, 
‘What mutiny? I’m not in on this.’ 

The rifle fire continued. Pierrot le Fou came running into 
the hall. ‘It’s the mutiny, but I think they’ve failed. What 
bloody maniacs 1 Papillon, get out your knife. At least let’s 
kill as many as possible before we’re done for.’ 

’Yes,’ said Carbonieri, ‘let’s kill as many as we canl ’ 

Chissilia brought out a razor. Everyone had an open knife 
in his hand. I said, ‘Don’t be bloody fools. How many of us 
are there?’ 

■Nine.* 

‘Throw down your knives, seven of you. Til kill the first 
man that threatens a screw. I don’t want to get shot down in 
this room like a rabbit. Are you in this job, you?’ 

‘No.’ 

'And you?' 

‘Nor me, either.’ 

'And you?’ 

‘I knew nothing about it.’ 

‘Good. None of us knew anything about this squares' 
mutiny. Do you get me? ’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘Anyone who feels like talking- had better understand that 
he’ll be killed the moment he admits he knew anything. Just 
like that. So there s nothing to be gained by being such a 



bastard as to split. Toss your knives into the pot. It won’t be 
long before they’re here.’ 

‘And what if it’s the lags who’ve won?’ 

‘If it’s the lags, then let them fix it so that their victory ends 
in a break. At that price, I want no part of it. What aoout 
you?’ 

‘We don’t, cither,’ said the eight others, including Jean Car- 
bonicri. 

As for me, I hadn’t given a hint of what I knew - that is, 
that as the firing -had stopped the lags must have lost. For 
the massacre they had planned couldn’t have been over by 
this time. 

The .screws rushed into the camp like madmen, driving the • 
fatigue party before them with blows from their rifle butts 
and sticks, licking them, and shoving them into the next-door 
block. The warders trampled,' smashed . and chucked out 
everything in the way of guitars, mandolines, chessmen and 
draughts, lamps, little benches, bottles of oil, sugar, coffee, 
white clothes - they took their revenge on everything that 
was outside the rules. We heard two shots: certainly fired 
from a revolver. 

There were eight buildings in, the camp: they went through 
the lot in the same way, every now and then dealing out furi- 
ous blows with their rifle-butts. One man came out stark 
naked, running towards the punishment block, battered with- 
out a pause by the screws who were taking him there. 

Now they were in the building just over the way from us - 
the seventh. Ours was the only one left. There we were, all 
nine of us, each in his place. Not a single man who’d been 
out to work had come back. Everyone sat motionless. No 
one said a word. My throat was dry: I was thinking, ‘Let’s 
hope no God-damned fool takes advantage of this caper to 
shoot me down and get away with it.’ 

‘Here they come,’ said Carbonieri, more dead than alive 
with fright. 

They rushed in, more than twenty of them, all with carbines 
or revolvers at the ready. 'What the hell?’ bawled Fiiissari, 
‘not stripped yet? What are you waiting for, you rats? We’re 
going to shoot the lot of you. Strip. We don’t want to have to 
take your clothes off when you’re corpses.’ 

'Monsieur Fiiissari . . .’ 

*You shut your trap, Papillon. It’s Ho good asking to be 



forgiven. ’What you planned was too wicked. And all of you 
in the tough block were part of it - that’s for certain !’ His 
eyes were starting out of his head; they were all bloodshot, 
and there was no mistaking the pure light of murder in them. 

'We’re for it,’ said Pierrot. 

1 decided to stake everything on one throw, lit astonishes 
me that a Napoleonist like you is going to literally murder 
innocent men. You’re going to shoot? Fine: we don’t want 
any speeches about it. Fire away. But for Christ’s sake get it 
over quick. I’d thought you were a real man, old Filissari, a 
genuine Napoleonist : well, I got it wrong. But what the hell. 
I don’t even want to see you when you fire: I turn my back 
on you. Brothers, turn your backs on these screws, so they 
can't say we were going to attack them.’ 

And moving like one man they all turned their backs. My 
attitude flabbergasted the screws, all the more so because (as 
we learnt afterwards) Filissari had just shot two poor bas- 
tards in the other blocks. 

‘Got anything else to say, Papillon? ’ 

Still with my back turned I said, "I don’t believe a word of 
all this balls about a mutiny. Mutiny for what? To kill the 
screws7 Then make a break? Where could you go? I’m an 
escaper, and I’ve come back from a thousand miles away - 
from Colombia. What country’s going to take in escaped 
murderers, I ask you? What’s the country called? Don’t be 
bloody fools - there’s no man worthy of the name that could 
possibly join in a plot like that.’ 

‘Maybe not you, but what about Carbonieri? He’s in it. 
I’m sure, because this morning Arnaud and Hautin were 
'surprised he reported sick so as not to go to work.’ 

‘That’s just conjecture, I promise you.’ I turned round and 
faced him. ‘I’ll tell you why this minute. Carbonieri’s my 
friend: he knows every last thing about my break and so he 
can't nourish any illusions — he knows how an escape after a 
mutiny will end up, all right.’ 

At this point the governor appeared. He stayed outside. 
Filissari went out and the governor called, ‘Carbonieri.’ 

’Here.’ 

‘Take him to the black-hole without knocking him about. 
Warder So-and-So, go with him. Everyone outside: only head 
warders to stay. Bring in all the transportees scattered about 



the island. Don’t kill anyone: bring every single man back to 
the camp.’ 

The governor v/alked into the hall, together with the deputy, 
Fiiissari and four screws. ‘Papiiion, something very serious 
has just happened.’ said the governor. 'As the governor of this 
gaol I must assume a very grave responsibility. Before mak- 
ing certain arrangements I want some information right away, 

I know that you would have refused to talk to me in private 
at such a critical moment and that’s why I’ve come here my- 
self. Warder Duclos has been murdered. There’s been an 
. attempt at seizing the weapons in my house. That means 
mutiny. I’ve only a few minutes, I trust you: tell me your 
opinion.’ > 


‘If there’d been a mutiny, how could we possibly not have 
known about it? Why should nobody have told us? Howmanr 
people arc supposed to be involved? Ill give you the answers 
to these three questions, Governor, but first you must tell 

how many men broke out after they’d killed the screw and I 
imagine, taken his gun.' ” 

‘Three.’ 

‘Who were they?’ 

Arnaud, Hautin and Marceau.’ 

mutiny: ''' ' V6a " v " you my ato “ ft bee „ 
You’re lying, Papiiion,’ said Fiiissari. 'This mutiny s 

fe'A ,°T 011 E °f*- ^Jo * uS w iSyf 

jieve him. Now wc see that ail ^ t 

yo»,p»S«' Lm ‘~ & ^ 


run gsaf end » „ 

bandits on Royals Md fefAfcffA ““ 
happened, I don't believe K .'. , t b 

l«tewo„ M ha, e be raus .. , L“SA b if 


‘What are you savinr? 
at all? That’s impossL < Y meaa Eobod F 


cot anybody else.’ 




t s impossible. 


, , “ JQC eve latisf , 

from MoisiiiS r«S V 

Joseph? Just one. One boat f 0 S fcci “ “ tot cn 
make any sense? We’re nnt ‘ ^ bc2Q red men _ 

^ to killing to afc® taT ~ 


3rc ^,£re 


men did manage to get away, it would only mean being ar- 
rested and handed back from any country on earth. Gover- 
nor, I don’t, know how many men you or your screws have 
killed so far, but I’m very nearly sure they were all innocent. 
And then what sense does it make,, smashing every little thing 
we possess? It’s natural you should be furious; but don’t you 
forget that the day you deprive the convicts of the last scrap 
of pleasure in life, there may really be a mutiny - a mutiny of 
desperate men, a mass suicide, to kill for the sake of killing 
and be damned if we’re killed too - everybody killed, screws 
and lags together. Monsieur Dutain, I’ve spoken in all sin- 
cerity: I think you deserve it, for the simple reason you came 
and asked us before taking your decisions. Leave us alone.’ 

'And what about the men who were in the plot?’ said Filis- 
sari again. 

‘It’s up to you to find them. We know nothing about it at 
all: we can’t be any use to you whatsoever. I say it again - 
this whole thing is a piece of madness on the part of just one 
or two squares. We’ve nothing to do with it.’ 

‘Monsieur Filissari,’ said the governor, ‘when the men come 
back into the dangerous block, have the door closed until 
further orders. Two warders on the door: no beating-up of 
the men .and no destruction of their property. Come on.’ And 
he left with the other screws. 

. Relief, relief. That was a very close thing. As he shut the 
door Filissari called out to me, ‘It was lucky for you I’m a 
Napoleonistl’ 

In under an hour almost all the men belonging to our block 
were back. There were eighteen missing: the screws found 
that in their blind rush they’d shut them up in other blocks. 
When they were in with us again we learnt what happened, 
because these men belonged to the fatigue party. In a low 
voice a thief from Saint-Etienne told me about it: ‘We’d drag- 
ged a boulder weighing close on a ton for about four hundred 
yards, Papi. The road we dragged it along had no very steep 
places, and we reached the well about fifty yards from the 
governor’s house. We always stop there. It’s in the shade of 
tlie coconut palms and it’s the half-way mark. So there we 
were, stopping as usual, and someone hauled up a big bucket 
of cold water from the well: some people had a drink and 
others wetted their handkerchiefs to put them on their heads. 
It’s always a ten minute halt, so the screw sat down too, rest- 



ing on the edge of the well. He took off his sun helmet and he 
was wiping his forehead and the top of his head with a big 
handkerchief when Amaud came up behind him with a hoe 
in his hand. He didn’t raise it and so nobody shouted out to 
warn the screw. It didn't take Arnaud a second to whip 
it up and bring the blade down right on the middle of the 
screw's skull. The screw went down without a sound, his head 
cut in two. Hautin had been standing there quite naturally 
in front of him, and the instant he fell Hautin snatched his 
carbine while Marccau took off his belt with the revolver in 
it. Holding the revolver, Marceau turned to the whole party 
and said, “This is a mutiny. Those who’re with us come on l" 
Not one of the turnkeys moved or said a word: not one of the 
men on the fatigue gave a sign of following. Amaud looked 
at us all and he said, “You lousy cowards, well show you what 
men are!" He took the carbine from Hautin, and they' both 
of them ran towards the governor’s house. Marccau moved a 
little to one side and stood still. He had the heavy revolver 
in his hand and he said, “Don’t move, don’t talk, don’t shout. 
You Arabs, face down on the ground." From where I was I 
could sec everything that happened. Amaud was going up the 
steps to the governor’s house when the Arab who works there 
opened the door. He had the two little girls with him; he was 
holding one by the hand and carrying (he other. Both Amaud 
and the Arab were caught completely unawares; die Arab Jet 
fly a kick, still holding the kid in his arms. Amaud was going 
to shoot the Arab, but the Arab shielded himself with die 
child. Nobody uttered a sound. Neither the Arab nor die 
others. Four or five times there was the carbine pointing at 
the Arab from different angles. Each time there was the kid 
held in front of the barrel. Without going up the steps. Hautin 
caught hold of the Arab’s trousers from. the side. As the Arab 
was just about to fall he flung the kid right on to Amaud'? 
carbine. Amaud lost his balance, and he and the child and the 
Arab, thrown down fay Hautin, all fell in t heap. Now- there 
were the first cries — the children first, then the Arab, and then 
Amaud and Hautin shouting insults. The Arab moved quick- 
est and he snatched the fallen carbine, but be only got fc-'t Wt 
hand to the barrel. Hautin grabbed his leg again- Amaud 
caught his right arm and twisted it. The Arab hur»ed t.e 

wcrrnnn n tr*n t»-»r 'An f mm it;**-* 



shot, fired by the screw in charge of the dry-leaf fatigue. The 
governor appeared at his window and fired shot after shot, 
but for fear of hitting the Arab he fired at the place where the 
carbine lay. Hautin and Arnaud ran in the direction of the 
camp, taking the sea road, followed by rifle shots. With his stiff 
leg, Hautin ran slower, and he was brought down before he 
reached the water. As for Arnaud, he went into the sea in the 
place between the pool we’re building, and the screws’ swim- 
ming-pool. It’s always stiff with sharks there,' you know. 
Arnaud- was surrounded with shots, for another warder had 
come to the help of the governor and the dry-leaf screw. He 
sheltered behind a big rock. 

‘ “Surrender,” shouted the screws. “Your life will be safe.” 

‘“Never,” says Arnaud. “I’d rather the sharks ate me than 
have to put up with you swine any more.” 

'And he walked into the sea, straight towards the sharks. 
He must have been hit, because at one moment he stopped. 
But still the screws went on firing. He set off again, walking - 
not swimming. He wasn’t even chest deep before the sharks 
went for him. We saw him hit one that came half out of the 
water to attack him. Then he was literally quartered as the 
sharks pulled from all sides without biting through his arms 
and legs. In less than five minutes he’d vanished. 

‘The screw fired at least a hundred shots at the swirling 
mass of Arnaud and the sharks. Only one shark was killed - 
it was washed up on the beach, belly in the air. Now that 
screws were coming in from every side, Marceau thought he’d 
save his life by throwing the revolver down the well; but the 
Arabs had got up, and hitting him with their sticks and kick- 
ing and punching him they drove him towards the screws, say- 
ing he was in the plot. Although he was covered with blood 
and had his hands up, the screws killed him with their re- 
volvers and carbines, and to finish him off one of them 
smashed in his head, holding his rifle by the barrel and using 
the butt as a club. 

'All the screws fired their revolvers into Hautin. There were 
thirty of them and they had six rounds apiece, so they hit him, 
living or dead, about a hundred and fifty times. The guys Filis* 
sari killed were ones the Arabs pointed out as having made a 
move to follow Arnaud at first and then having lost heart. All 
bloody lies, because even if there were any accomplices, no 
one moved a finger.’ 



EV'e’d been shut up for two days now in our respective 
icks. No one went outside to work. The sentries at the door 
re relieved every two hours. Other sentries between the 
jcks. No speaking from one block to another. No standing 
the windows. You could only see into the yard by looking 
rough the grill from the alley between the two rots’s of 
.mmocks. Screws from Royalc had arrived to reinforce 
int-Joseph. Not a single transportec outside. Nor an Arab 
mkey. Everybody shut up. Now and then we’d see a naked 
an going to the punishment cells, followed by a warder - no 
outs or blows. The screws often looked into the hall from 
e side windows. Two sentries on the door, one to the right 
id one to the left. Their turn of duty was short - only two 
>urs - and they never sat down or slung their rifles: always 
id them at the ready. 

We decided to play poker in little groups of five. No play* 
g of the Marseilles game or any of the big, crowded ver* 
ons - too much noise. Marquetti started playing a Beethoven 
mata on his violin, but they made him stop. 

‘Stop that music: we screws age in mourning.’ 

There was a most unusual tension not only in the block but 
trouphout the entire camp. No coffee: no soup. A hunk of 
read in the morning, corned beef at noon and corned beef 
i the evening, one tin between four men. As nothing had 
ecn destroyed in our block, we had coffee and stores - butter, 
il, flour, etc. The other blocks had nothing left. When the 
■"okc rose up from the latrines, where there was a fire for 
r coffee, a screw shouted to us to put it out. It was an old 
/ from Marseilles, a lag called Niston, who was making the 
Ice in order to sell it. He had the guts to reply, ‘If you want 
: fire to be put out, mate, just come in and do it yourself.’ 

Upon this the screw fired several shots through the window. 
'C fire and the coffee were soon scattered. 

Niston had a bullet in the leg. Everyone was so tense and 
edge we thought they were about to shoot us down and we 
flung ourselves flat 'on the ground. It wus still Filissari who 
c in charge of the guard at this time of day. lie came tcar- 
up like a maniac, his four screws with him. The screw 
>’d fired explained why - he came from the Ausergnc. 
ssari insulted him in Corsican, which the Anse.pna 

Idn’t understand. All he could say was, ‘1 don t o 
* 


We got back into our hammocks. Niston's leg was bleed- 
ing. ‘Don’t say I’m wounded: they might finish me o2 outside.’ 

Filissari came up to the bars. Marquetti spoke to him in 
Corsican. ‘Make your coffee. This won’t happen again.’ And 
he went off. 

Niston was lucky. The bullet hadn’t, stayed in his flesh: it 
had gone in low down the muscle and had come 'out again 
half way up his leg. We put on a tourniquet, which stopped 
the blood, and then dressed the wound with vinegar. 

‘Papillon, outside.’ It was eight o’clock, that is to say dark- 
ness had fallen. I didn’t know the screw who was calling me - 
he must have been a Breton. 

‘Why should I go out at this time of night? There’s nothi 
for me to do outside.’ 

’The governor wants to see you.’ 

‘Then tell him to come here. I’m not going out* 

‘You refuse?’ , 

‘Yes, I refuse.’ 

My friends stood round me, forming a circle. The scr 
was talking from the other side of the closed door. Marque 
went to the door and said, ‘We shan’t let Papillon out uni. 
the governor’s here/ 

‘But it’s the governor who’s sending for him.’ 

‘Tell him to come himself.’ 

An hour later two young screws appeared at the door. Wi 
them came the Arab who worked at the governor’s house 
the one who’d saved him and prevented the mutiny. 

‘Papillon, it’s me, Mohamed. I’ve come to fetch you. 
governor wants to see you : he can’t come here.’ 

Marquetti said, ‘Papi, that guy’s got a carbine.’ 

At this I left the circle of my friends and .walked over 
the door. And in fact Mohamed did have a carbine under 
arm. Now, I thought, I’ve seen everything: a convict in pe 
officially armed with a carbine 1 ' ' 

‘Come on,’ said the Arab. I’m here to protect you if n 
be.’ But I didn’t believe him. 'Come on; come with us.’ 

I went out. Mohamed walked by my side and the two scr 
came behind. I went to the command post. As I went thro 
the guard-room at the camp gate Filissari said, ‘Papillo 
hope you’ve nothing to say against me/ 1 

‘Neither me personally nor the others in the dangc. 
block. I don’t know about anywhere else/ 



We went down to the command post. The house and the 
jay were lit up with acetylene lamps that tried unsuccess- 
iliy to dispel the darkness all round. As we went Mohamed 
we me a packet of Gauloises. We went into the bnlliantly-bt 
jom - two acetylene lamps - and sitting there I saw the 
ovemor of Royalc, the deputy, the governor of Saint-Joseph, 
is deputy, and the governor of the Reclusion. Outside I d 
oticcd four Arabs, guarded by screws. Two of them I recog- 
u'zed as belonging to the party in question. 

‘Here's Papillon,’ said the Arab. 

‘Good evening, Papillon,’ said the governor of Saint-Joseph. 

‘Good evening.’ 

’Sit down. Take that chair over there.’ 

I sat down facing them all. The door of the room opened 
>n to the kitchen, and I saw Lisette’s godmother - she gave 
ne a friendly wave. 


’Papillon,’ said the governor of Royale,’ ‘Governor Dutain 
looks upon you as a man worthy of confidence, one who has 
redeemed himself by the attempted rescue of his wife’s god- 
child. As for me, I only know you by our official reports, which 
describe you as really dangerous from every point of view. 
I’d rather forget the reports and rely on my colleague Dutain. 
Now a commission will undoubtedly come over here to m»k<» 
an inquiry, and the transportees of all categories will have to 
state what they know. It’s certain that you and a few others 
have a great deal of influence over all the prisoners and that 
they’ll follow your instructions to the letter. We’d like to know 
your opinion on the mutiny and also whether, to a greater or 
lesser extent, you can foresee what your block will sav - yours 
in the first place and then the other ones.’ 

For my -part, I’ve nothing to say, nor can I influence what 
’ ^thers may say. If the commission comes to make a genu- 
c me inquiry in the present atmosphere, you’re all done for - 
; sacked.’ 


‘What are you miking about, Papillon? The mutiny has been 
topped by me and my colleagues.’ 1 

koyafcwonv' ^ *° Ur 0Wn skin; but ** on 

* What do you mean?’ The two governors of Royale started 
up and then sat down again. oy ■ ' started 

’If you go on talking about a mutiny officially, you’re aH 




that warder is no better than a crawling murderer and at the 
time of the incident he was yellow with fright - he wanted to 
kill everybody including all of us in our block. If you accept 
these conditions, 111 fix it so that everyone says Amaud, 
Hautin and Marceau behaved as they did so as to do the great- 
est possible amount of harm they could before being killed 
themselves. It was absolutely impossible to have foreseen what 
they were going to do. They had no accomplices: they told 
no one. What everyone will say is that these guys had made 
up their minds to commit suicide this way - to kill as many 
as they could before they were knocked on the head. It’s sui- 
cide they were after. Now, if you like. I'll step into the kitchen 
and let you lliink it over before giving me your answer.* 

I went into the kitchen and closed the door. Madame Dutain 
grasped my hand and gave me some coflee and brandy. Mo- 
hamed said, 'You didn’t put in a word for me?’ 

‘That’s the governor’s business. He's given you a gun, so 
obviously he means to have you pardoned.’ 

Lisettc’s godmother murmured to me, 'Well, those men 
from Royale have had what was comipg to them.’ 

‘Ha, ha I It was just too easy for them to say there was a 
mutiny on Saint-Ioscph, and everyone knew all about it ex- 
cept for your husband.’ 

‘Papillon, I heard everything, and I understood right away 
that you meant to take our side.' 

’That's true, Madame Dutain.’ 

The door opened. ‘Come in, Papillon,’ said a screw’. 

'Sit down, Papillon,’ said the governor of Royale. 'We’ve 
talked it over and we've come to the unanimous decision that 
you’re certainly right. There was no mutiny. These three trans- 
portccs had made up their minds to commit suicide, killing 
as many as possible first. So from tomorrow life will be as it 
was before. Monsieur Filissari is posted to Royale this very 
night. His case is our business and as far as he’s concerned we 
don’t ask for your collaboration. We rely upon you to keep 
your word.’ 

'You can count on me. Good-bye.’ 

‘Mohamcd and you two warders, take Papillon back to his 
block. Bring Filissari in : he’s going back to Royale with us.' 

On the way I told Mohamcd I hoped he’d leave the island 
a free man. He thanked me. 

‘Well, and what did the screws want with you?’ 



Speaking clearly in that total silence I gave an exact, word- 
by-word account o£ what had happened. ‘If there’s anyone 
who doesn’t agree or who thinks he’s got anything to say 
against this arrangement I made with the screws for all of us, 
let him speak up ’ 

They all said they agreed. Do you think they believed no 
one else was involved? ” 

‘No, but unless they want to be torpedoed they just have 
to'believe it And if we don’t want trouble, we have to believe 
it too.’ 

At seven o’clock the next morning all the punishment cells 
were emptied. There were more than a hundred and twenty 
in them. No one went oft to work, but all the buildings were 
open and the yard was full of convicts .walking around per- 
fectly free, talking, smoking, and sitting either in the sun or the 
shade as they chose. Niston had gone off to hospital. Car-- 
bonieri told me they’d put a label ‘Suspected of being involved 
in the mutiny' on between eighty and a hundred of the cell 
doors. 

Now that we were all together again, we learnt what had 
really happened. Filissari had only killed one man: the two 
others had been killed by young screws who were threatened 
by convicts - the men were cornered and thought they were 
going to be killed, so they drew their knives and charged, 
hoping to account for at least one before they were done for. 
And so that was how a genuine mutiny (which luckily failed 
at the very beginning) was turned into a strange kind of suicide 
on the part of three convicts: for that was the explanation 
officially accepted by everybody - by the prison service and 
by the prisoners alike. It left behind it a legend or a true story. 
I’m not sure which- probably something between the two. 

It seems that the funeral of the three men killed in the camp 
and of Hautin and Marceau was carried out like this: since 
there was only one box with a trap for throwing the bodies 
into the sea, the screws laid them all in the bottom of the boat 
and tossed all five to the sharks at the same moment. They’d 
worked out that the first would have time to sink, the stones 
on their feet taking them down, while their friends were being' 
eaten by the sharks. I was told that not a single one of these 
corpses had gone down but that all five had jigged about on 
the surface just as the sun was setting, a shroud-white ballet, 
puppets jerked by the snouts and the tails of the sharks in a 



banquet -worthy of Nebuchadnezzor. It was said that the 
horror of the sight was so great that the screws and kgs fled 
before it. 

A commission of inquiry came, staying ncariy five days on 
Saint-Joseph and two on Royaie. I wasn’t singled out for ques- 
tioning: I just went before it like the others. Through Gover- 
nor Dutain I learnt that everything passed off well. Filtssari was 
sent on leave until it should be time for him to retire: so he 
wouldn’t be coming back. Mohamcd was given a remission of 
the whole of his sentence. Governor Dutain was awarded an 
extra stripe. 

There are always moaners, and yesterday a man from Bor- 
deaux said to me, ‘And what have we lags gained by fixing 
things for the screws?’ 

I looked at him and said, *Not much. Just fifty or sixty con- 
victs won’t have to do five years solitary for complicity. Noth- 
ing much, is it, mate?’ 

. The storm died away. There was n silent connivance be- 
tween warders and prisoners that completely disoriented the 
inquiry: and maybe that was just what the commission wanted 
- everything to be settled peacefully. 

As far as I myself was concerned Td neither gained nor 
lost, apart from the fact that my friends were grateful to me 
for not having to undergo a severer discipline. Far from it - 
the authorities even did away with the dragging of boulders. 
That horrible fatigue was abolished. Now it was the buffaloes 
that did the pulling and the convicts that put the rocks into 
their places. Carbonicri went bach to the bakery. For my part 
I too was trying to get back to Royalc. For there was no work- 
shop here on Saint-Joseph, and therefore it was impossible to 
make a raft. 

Plain’s coming to power made the relations between the 
transportccs and the warders worse. AH the men belonging 
to the prison service said very loud and clear that they were 
Pdtninists: so much so that one screw from Normandy said 
to me, 'Shall I teU you something, PapiHon? I never really was 
a republican.’ 

No one had a radio on the islands and no one knew what 
was going on. Wliat’s more, it was said that we were providing 
supplies for German submarines at Martinique and Guade- 
loupe. There was no making head or tail of it. There were 
arguments and discussions all the time. 



'Do you know what I think, Papi? This is the moment for 
us to have a mutiny, so as to hand over the islands to de 
Gaulle’s Free French.* 

‘So you think Long Charlie wants a penal settlement? What 
for? Just tell m^that, will you?* 

‘Why, to pick up two or three thousand men, of course.’ 

‘Lepers, lunatics, consumptives, characters rotted with dy- 
sentery? You’re, a right comic, you are. That guy’s not a 
bloody fool, cluttering hims elf up with convicts.’ 

‘And what about the two thousand healthy men?’ 

‘That’s different. But just because they’re men, does that 
mean they’re any good as soldiers? Do you think war’s the 
same as a hold-up? A hold-up lasts ten minutes: a war goes 
on for years and years. Patriotic fervour, that’s what you need 
to be a good soldier. And whatever you may say, I don’t see a 
single guy here who’d want to give his life for France.’ 

‘And why should anybody, after what France has done for 
us?’ 

‘There you are - you’ve admitted I was right. Fortunately 
Charlie has other people apart from you to carry on the war. 
But still and all, when I think of those lousy Germans in our 
country . ..1 AM when you think there are Frenchmen who 
go along with the Huns I Every single screw here, every last, 
one, says he’s for Petain.’ 

The Comte de Berac said, ‘It would be one way of redeem- 
ing oneself.’ And now there happened something very extra- 
ordinary - there wasn’t a soul among us who’d ever spoken 
of redeeming himself, but now all of a sudden everybody, 
crooks and squares, all these poor bloody convicts, saw a 
gleam of hope. 

’What do you say to having this mutiny, Papillon, so de 
Gaulle should take us under his orders?’ 

‘I’m very sorry, but I don’t have to redeem myself in the eyes 
of anyone on God’s earth. As for French justice and its piece 
about " rehabilitation” - my arse. I’ll be the one to say when 
I’m rehabilitated. My duty is to go off on a break and then once 
I’m free, to be an ordinary citizen living in society without 
being a danger to it. I don’t believe a guy can prove anything 
else any other way. Still, I’m ready for anything at all that’ll 
lead to a break. Handing over the islands to Long Charlie 
doesn’t interest me and I’m dead certain it doesn’t interest him 
either. Anyhow, do you know what the characters in power will 



say if you bring off a stroke of that kind? They'll say j'ou took 
the islands just to be free, not to strike a blow for Free France, 
And then again, do you guys really know which is right, de 
Gaulle or Pttain? I don’t. I know absolutely nothing about 
it. I suffer like a poor miserable bastard at knowing that my 
country’s invaded: I think about my people, my relatives, my 
sisters, my nieces.’ 

‘We’d have to be a right set of twats, though, to worry our- 
selves sick about a society that’s never had the least pity on 
us.’ 

‘But it’s natural that one should; because the cops and all 
the French legal machinery and these gendarmes and screws, 
that’s not France. They’re a class apart, made up of people 
with completely twisted minds. How many of them are ready 
to go into the service of the Germans at this minute? You 
can bet your bottom dollar the French police are arresting 
their own countrymen and handing them over to the German 
authorities. Right. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. I’ll 
have -nothing to do with a mutiny, whatever it’s for. Except for 
a break. But how and when?’ 

There were very serious arguments between the two sides. 
One lot were for dc Gaulle and the others were for Petain. 
When it came down to brass tacks nobody really knew any- 
thing, because as I’ve said there was no radio, either among 
the lags or among the screws. News reached us by the boats 
that called in, leaving us a little flour, dried vegetables and 
rice; The war, seen from such a great way off, was bard for 
us to understand. 

It was said that a man had come to Saint-Laurent-du- 
Maroni, recruiting for the Free French. Here in penal we 
knew nothing, only that the Germans were all over France by 
now. 

One amusing thing happened : a priest came to Royale and 
after mass he gave a sermon. He said, ‘If the islands are at- 
tacked, you’ll be given weapons to help the warders defend 
French soil.’ That’s perfectly true. He was a splendid man, 
that curt; and he must have had a wonderfully low opinion 
of us. Asking prisoners to defend their own cells! God above, 
wc really had seeu everything in penal I 

As far as we were concerned, the war amounted to this - 
twice the number of screws, everything doubled, all the way 
from simple screw right ud to governor and chief warder: a 



great many inspectors, some with a very strong German or 
Alsatian accent; very little bread - fourteen ounces; very little 
meat. In a word, there was only one thing that had gone up, 
and that was the penalty for a botched escape - death-sentence 
and execution. For added to the accusation of escape there 
was ‘Attempted to join the enemies of France.’ 

I had been on Royalc for nearly four months. I had made 
a great friend, Dr. Germain Guibert. His wife, a wonderful 
person, asked me to make her a kitchen garden to help them 
live on this wretched diet. I made her a plot with lettuces, 
radishes, haricots, tomatoes and aubergines, She was delighted 
and she treated me as a real friend. 

This doctor had never shaken a warder’s hand, whatever his 
rank; but he often did so with me and some other convicts 
he’d come to know and respect. 

When at last I had become a free man once more I got into 
touch with Dr. Germain Guibert again through Dr. Rosen- 
berg. He sent me a photo of himself and his wife on the Qmc- 
biirc in Marseilles. lie was coming back from Morocco, and 
he congratulated me on being free and happy. He was killed in 
Indo-China, trying to save n wounded man who had been 
left behind. He was an exceptional person and he had n wife 
worthy of him. When I was back in France in 1907 I wanted 
to go and see her. But I gave up the idea, because site had 
stopped writing to me after I’d asked for a testimonial. She 
had sent it, but since then I’d never heard from her, I don’t 
know the reason for this silence, but in my heart I still have 
the utmost gratitude to both of them for the way they treated 
me in their home on Royalc. 

A few months later I was able to get back to Royalc, 



Ninth Exercise-Book 
Saint- Joseph 


Carbonieri's Death 


Yesterday my friend Matthieu Carbonicri was stabbed dean 
through the heart. This killing started off a series of others. 
He was in the wash-house, quite naKed, having a shower; and 
it was when his face was covered with soap that he was slab- 
bed. When you had a shower it was usual to open your knife 
and lay it under your things, so as to have just time to get it 
if anyone who looked like an enemy suddenly appeared. The 
neglect of this little precaution cost him lus life. The man 
who’d killed my mate was an Armenian, a life-long ponce. 

With the governor’s permission. I carried my friend down 
to the quay myself, helped by another man. He was heavy 
and going down the hill I had to rest three times. 1 attached 
a big stone to his feet, using wire instead of rope. That way 
the sharks wouldn’t be able to bite through it, and he'd go 
down without their eating him. 

The bell tolled and we reached the wharf. Jt was six o'rird: 
in the evening. We got into the boat. The sun was t onchirr 
the horizon. There under' the lid of the well-known box tort 
was used for everybody lay Matthieu, sleeping for eve r. For 
him everything was over. 

'Right, give way,’ said the screw at the tiller. In under cs: 
minutes we reached the current formed by the ran birvasr 
Royalc and Saint-Joseph. And then all at once then ~~ 
great lump in my throat. Dozens of shark -fins 2 spim-' ; "-~ 
the surface, cruising swiftly in an area not men ‘a* 
hundred yards wide. Here they were, the com- 
takers, at the rendezvous on time. 

God willing they wouldn’t have time to snirr * 
friend. Wc raised our cars to say farewen Tr; r" 

Wrapped in flour sacks, Marthieu’s body s' r 

tiic weight of the heavy stone, ar.d in a r.rr nr — * 

sea. 



Horror! It had just touched and I thought it was vanishing 
when it was heaved right up in the air by God knows how 
many sharks - seven, ten, twenty ~ there was no toiling. Before 
tire boat could get away the flour sacks were ripped off : and 
then something incomprehensible happened. Matthieu showed 
there for two or tiiree seconds, standing upright in the water, 
His right forearm had already gone. With half his body above 
the surface he came straight for the boat, and then, in the 
midst of a still stronger swirl, he disappeared for ever. Tire 
sharks passed under the boat, thumping the bottom so that 
one man lost his balance and nearly fell into the water. 

All of us, including the screws, wetc horror-struck, For tire 
first time in my life I wanted to die. I was very close to throw- 
ing myself to the sharks, so as to leave this hell for good and 
aii. 

Slowly I walked up from the wharf to ttie camp. No one 
witii me. I put the stretcher over my shoulder and I readied 
the flat place where my buffalo Brutus went for Danton, 1 
stopped and sat down. Night had fallen although it was only 
seven. In flic west the sky was still faintly lit by a few gleams 
from flic sunken sun. All the rest was black, with the beam 
of the light-house piercing the darkness every now and then: 
my heart was full. 

What the hell, you wanted to see a funeral, and your best 
friend's funeral into the bargain? Weil, you've seen it, all fight, 
all right. You heard the hell, Have you iiad enough, brother? 
Is your unhealthy curiosity satisfied? 

Tiic guy who did it - you’ve still got him to take apart, 
y/iicn? Tonight. Wtiy tonight? It's too early: the guy will he 
[ ’l/Colutcly on tip toe. They are ten in iiis pourin'. .Still, you 
mustn't be beaten to the mark. How many men can I count 
on, now? Four, and then there’s me: five. That's all right, 
Wipe this guy out. Yes: and if possible I’ll get away to Devil’s 
Island. No rafts there, no preparations, nothing: just two 
sacks of coconuts and I jump into the sea. The distance to the 
coast is fairly short - twenty-five miles as the crow (lies. What 
with waves, winds and tides, that would probably turn into 
seventy-five, ft would only lie a question of holding out. I 
was strong, and two days at sea, astride my sack - why, I ought 
to be able to cope with that. 

1 shouldered the stretcher and went up to the camp. When 
I reached the gate a very extraordinary tiling happened: I 



was searched. That never happened: not ever. The screw him- 
self took my knife. 

‘Are you trying to get me killed? What am I being disarmed 
for? Don’t you know you’re sending me to my death, doing 
this? If I’m killed, it'll be your fault.’ No one replied, neither 
the screws nor the Arab turnkeys. The doer was opened and 
I walked into the hall. ‘You can’t see a thing in here. Why’s 
there only one lamp instead of three?’ 

‘Papi, come over here.’ Grandet pulled me by the sleeve. 
There was not much noise in the room. You could feel some- 
thing serious was just going to happen, or had just that mo- 
ment happened. 

'I’ve not got my knife any more. They searched me and 
took it away.’ 

‘You won’t need it tonight.’ 

‘Why not?’ 

‘The Armenian and his friend are in the latrines.’ 

‘What are they doing there?’ 

'They’re dead.’ 

'Who put the chill on them?’ 

‘I did.’ 

‘That was quick. What about the others?’ 

‘There arc four left in their gourbi. Paulo gave me his 
sacred word they wouldn’t stir but would wait to know 
whether you agree that the business should stop here.’ 

'Give me a knife.’ 

‘Here’s mine. I’ll stay in this comer: you go and s’pcafc to 
them.’ 

I walked towards their gourbi. My eyes were used to the 
dimness now. I could make them out quite clearly. There they 
stood, the four of them, close together, side by side in front 
of their hammocks. 

’You want to talk tome, Paulo?’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘Alone or with your friends here? What do you wa at *f r h 
me? I left a prudent five feet between us. I had ihc^ r ‘ ‘ 
open in my left hand with its hilt right there in my P 3 ^ 1, ^ 

1 wanted to tell you it seems to me your 
properly revenged - that this is enough. YouVrJ*^: 
best friend: we’ve lost two of ours. As I . 

to stop here. What do you think?’ ‘ •• ' 

Paulo, I hear what you sav. If vou 



would be for the two gourbis to promise not to make a move 
for a week. By then we’d know what ought to be done. Right?’ 

•Right.’ 

And I withdraw. 

'Well, what did they say? ’ 

‘That they thought the death of the Armenian and Sans- 
Souci revenge enough for Matthieu.’ 

‘No,’ said Galgani. Grandet said nothing. Jean Castelli and 
Louis Gravon were in favour of a peace agreement. ‘What 
about you, Papi?’ 

‘In the first place, who killed Matthieu? The Armenian. 
Right. I’ve suggested an agreement. I’ve given my word and 
they've given theirs that none of us will stir for a week.’ 

‘So you don't want to revenge Matthieu?’ said Galgani. 

‘Matthieu’s revenged already: two men have been killed 
for him . Why kill the others? ’ 

‘Were they even in on what was going to happen? That’s 
what we ought to find out.’ 

‘Good night, everyone. You must' excuse me - I’m going 
to try to get some sleep.’ 

In any case I felt I had to be alone, and I stretched out on 
my hammock. I felt a hand gliding gently over me and taking 
the knife. A low voice in the darkness. ‘Sleep if you can, Papi: 
sleep easy. We’re going to keep watch, turn and turn about.' 

There had been no real sound reason for my friend’s sud- 
den, violent, disgusting death. The Armenian had killed him 
just because during the gambling the night before Matthjeu 
had compelled him to pay a bet of a hundred and seventy 
francs. The bleeding fool thought he’d lost face because he’d 
had to obey in front of the thirty or forty other men in the 
game. Wedged there between Matthieu and Grandet he’d had 
no choice about it. 

In that back-handed, cowardly way he had killed a man 
who was the very best example of the pure adventurer, clean 
and straight in his own particular world. It wounded me 
deeply,' and the only satisfaction 1 had was that the killers had 
survived their crime by no more than a few hours. A precious 
small satisfaction. 

Grandet, moving like a tiger, had stabbed them in the 
throat, one after the other, before they had had time to de- 
fend themselves - he had thrust with the speed of an expert 
fencer. It occurred to me that the place where they had fallen 


400 



must be swimming with blood. Stupidly I thought, 1 shculd 
like to ask who dragged them off to the latrine.’ But I could 
not bring myself to speak. Behind my closed eyes I eculd see 
the tragic red and violet sunset, its last gleams lighting up the 
Dantcsque scene of the sharks fighting over my friend . . . And 
that upright trunk, the right forearm already gone, advancing 
towards the boatl So it was true that the bell called the sharks 
and that the swine knew they were going to be fed when it 
began to toll . . . Once again I saw those scores of fins - the 
sombre gleam as they cruised, circling round and round like 
submarines. There were certainly more than a hundred of 
them . , , For my friend it was all over: the way down the 
drain had done its job right through to the end. 

To be stabbed to death over a trifle at the age of forty! 
Poor Matthicu. I couldn’t bear it any more. No. No. No. I 
w’as quite happy to have the sharks eat me, but alive, making 
a dash for freedom, with no flour sacks, stone and rope. No 
spectators, either screws or convicts. No bell. If I was to be 
eaten, fine; but let them get me down alive, struggling against 

the sea and sky to reach the mainland. 

'It’s over - finished. No more too-carefuDy-prepared es- 
capes. Devil's Island, two sacks of coconuts and have it a way - 
let everything rip and trust in God.’ 

After all, it would only be a question of my holding out. 
Forty-eight hours or sixty 7 Would such a Jon g time in tie 
water, together with the muscular effort of holding tup. 
astride on the sacks, paralyse me at some point? If I was luc 
enough to get to Devil's Island I’d try the experiment Tl 
first tiling to do was to get off Royale and be sent to De\il 
Island. Then I'd see. 

'Arc you asleep, Papi?’ 

•Nn’ 



funeral there with the sharks was even worse. It was hideous. 
Do you know that?’ 

‘Don’t tell me, Papl; I can imagine what it must have been 
like. You should never have gone.’ 

‘I thought the stuff about the bell was all balls. And then 
with' the heavy stone held by wire I’d never have believed the 
sharks would have had time to catch him as he sank. Poor old 
Matthieu: HI see that horrible sight as long as I live. And 
what about you - how did you manage to wipe out the Ar- 
menian and Sans-Souci so quickly?’ 

*1 was at the far end of the island, fixing an iron door at 
the slaughterhouse when I heard they’d killed our friend. It 
was midday. Instead of going up to the camp I went back to 
work, saying I had to see to the lock. I managed to fit a two- 
edged blade into a tube a yard long. Both the tube and the 
handle of the knife were hollowed out. I went back -to the 
camp at five, carrying the tube. The screw asked me what it 
was and I said the wooden bar of my hammock had broken, 
so for that night I was going to use this tube. It was still day- 
fight when I went into the hall, but I left the tube in the wash- 
house. J picked it up before roll-call. It began to grow dark. 
With our friends standing round me I quickly fitted the blade 
on to the tube. The Armenian and Sans-Souci were standing 
in their part of the room, in front of their hammocks; Paulo 
was a little way behind them. Jean Castelli and Louis Gravon 
are very good guys, as you know: but they’re old and they 
aren’t quick enough for a set battle of this kind. I wanted to 
do it before you came back, so that you shouldn’t be mixed 
up in it If we were caught, with your record you’d have risked 
the maximum. Jean went down to the far end of the hall and 
put out one of the fights: Gravon did the same at the top end. 
With just the one in the middle, there was almost no fight in 
the room. I had a big electric torch that Dega bad given me. 
Jean walked in front, me behind him. When we reached them 
he raised his arm and shone the torch in their faces. The Ar- 
menian was dazzled and he lifted his left arm to his eyes: 
there was time to get him in the throat with my lance. Sans- 
Souci was dazzled next and he stabbed out in the air in front 
of him. I hit him so hard with my blade I went right through 
and out the other side. Paulo flung himself flat on the ground 
and rolled under the hammocks. As Jean had turned off the 
torch I didn’t go after him - that’s what saved Paulo. 


‘Who dragged them off to the latrines?’ 

'I don’t know. I think it was the other men of their gourbi, 
so as to get the chargers out of their guts.’ 

'But there must have been a hell of a great pool of blood.* 

‘You’re telling me there was a hell of a great pool of blood. 
Their throats were cut through' and through, and they must 
have spilled every last drop of juice they. had. I had the idea 
of the torch while I was getting the lance ready. In the work- 
shop there was a screw, changing the batteries in his. That 
gave me the notion and I got into touch with Dega at once, 
making him let me have one. They can make a full-blown 
search if they like. The torch has been taken out and given 
back to Dega by an Arab turnkey: the knife, too. So no leaks 
as far as those things are concerned. I’ve no regrets. They 
killed our friend when he had his eyes full of soap: I helped 
them to commit suicide when their eyes were full of light 
Wc’rc quits. What do you think about it Papi?’ 

'You did splendidly, and I don’t know how to thank you for 
having revenged our fnend so soon: and for having had the 
idea of keeping me out of the whole business, too.’ 

'Think nothing of it I did my duty: you’ve had such a bad 
time and you so desperately want to be free, I just had to do 
if 

Thank you, Grandct Yes, I want to get out more than 
ever now. Will you help me to fix things so this business stops 
here? To tell you the truth. I'd be very surprised if the Ar- 
menian had told his gourbi before he killed Matthieu. Paulo 
would never have put up with such a cowardly murder. He 
would have known what it would lead to.' 

Tm of the same opinion. Only Galgani says they’re all 
Guilty.’ 

'We’ll see what happens at six. I won’t go out to work. IT 
pretend to be ill so as to stay.’ 

Five in the morning. The block leader came over to ws 
’Do you guys think I^ought to call the guard? I’ve just for~ : - 
two stiffs in the latrind.’ This chap, an old lag of seventy *** 
trying to make us, us, believe he hadn’t noticed a ihra? c ~~ 
half-past six yesterday evening, the time the chT hr- 
put on them. The hall must have been covered v? *- -'~, 
because as men walked to and fro they must r.ec=r~ 
stepped in the pool, which was right there in the " 
the alley. 



alV 5 ust n p ^ s 1 lit t»V l ' g l e ^ton e ; 

«2S^SSrt«»» -»• ■ . ... ** « 



When he came out again he was as white as a sheet. Their 
throats have been literally ripped out. Nobody heard or saw 
anything, of course?’ 

Total silence. 

‘You’re the block leader, old man: these men are stiff. Doc- 
tor, about how long have they been dead?’ 

‘Eight to ten hours,’ said the medico. 

‘And you only found them at five? You never saw or heard 
anything?* 

‘No. I'm hard of hearing and I can scarcely see: what's 
more I’m seventy years old - forty of them in penal. So I 
sleep a lot, you sec. I was asleep by six, and it was only because 
I wanted to piss that I woke up at five. It was a bit of luck, 
because ordinarily I sleep until the bell.’ 

‘You’re right, it was a bit of luck,’ said the governor ironic- 
ally. ‘It was a bit of luck for us, too, because this way every- 
body’s slept peacefully all night through, both warders and 
prisoners. Stretcher-bearers, pick up these two corpses and 
carry them off to the operating room.,I’d like you to do a post- 
mortem, Doctor. And you people, get out one by one into 
the yard, naked/ 

Each one of us filed past the governor and the doctor. 
The men were very closely examined all over. No one had a 
wound: several had splashes of blood. They said they’d slip- 
ped, going to the latrines. Grandct, Galgani and I were in- 
spected more attentively than the others. 

‘Papillon, which is your place?’ They searched all my pos- 
sessions. “Where’s your knife? ’ 

The warder on the gate took it from me at seven yesterday 
evening.’ 

'That's true,’ said the screw. ‘He cut up very rough, saying 
we wanted him to be killed.’ 

'Grandct, is this knife yours?’ 

‘Why, yes: it was in my place, ro it must be mine.’ He 
looked at the knife very carefully: it was as clean as a new 
pin - not a spot anywhere. 

The medico came out of the latrine and said, ‘It was a 
double-edged dagger that was used to cut these men’s throats. 

■ They were killed standing up. It's incomprehensible. A con- 
vict doesn't just stand there like a rabbit, without defending 
himself, while his throat is cut. Someone must have been 
wounded.’ 



• 'And yet as you can see for yourself, Doctor, no man here 
has so mncb as a scratch.’ 

’Were these two men dangerous?’ 

•Very dang erous indeed. Doctor. The Armenian was cer- 
tainly the man who killed Carbonieri in the wash-house at 
nine yesterday morning.’ 

•Investigation closed,’ said the governor. ’Still, keep Gran- 
det’s knife. Everybody out to work, except for the invalids. 
PapSIon, you reported sick?’ 

Wes, Governor.’ 

•You lost no time in revenging your friend. I'm not taken 
in, you know. Unfortunately I’ve no proofs and I know I 
shan’t get any. For the last time, has anyone any statement 
to make? If there is one of you who can shed any light on 
this double crime, I give my word he’ll be un-interaed and 
sent to the mainland.’ 

Dead silence. 

The whole of the Armenian’s gourbi reported sick. Seeing 
this, Grandet, Galgani, Jean Castelli and Louis Gravon also 
put themselves on the list at the last moment The room was 
emptied of its hundred and twenty men. There remained the 
five of my gourbi and the four of the Armenian’s, together 
with the watchmaker, the block leader, grumbling continually 
about all the cleaning he was going to have to do, and two or 
three other convicts, of whom one was an Alsatian called Big 
Sylvain. 

This was a man who lived all by himself in penal: everyone 
liked him. He was a highly respected man of action, and it 
was a most uncommon feat that had sent him down for 
twenty years. Single-handed, he attacked the mail van on the 
Paris-BrusseJs express, knocked out the two men in charge and 
tossed the mail sacks on to the ballast; they were picked up by 
accomplices along the line and they brought in a handsome 
sum. 

Sylvain saw the two gourbis whispering, each in a different 
corner, and as he didn’t know we’d agreed not to make a 
move, he went so far as to take it upon himself to speak. T 
hope you’re not going to fight a pitched battle - a Three 
Musketeers kind of job?’ 

‘Not today,’ said Galgani. TbatTl be for later* 

•How come later? Never put off for tomorrow what you 
cm do today,’ said Paulo. ‘But for my part I can’t see any 


Anr. 



reason why we should kill one another. What do you think, 
Papillon?’ 

‘One single question: did you know what the Armenian was 
going to do?’ 

‘On my word as a man, Papi, we knew nothing: and if you 
want to know. I’m not sure - if the Armenian wasn’t dead - 
whether I should have put up with what he did.’ 

‘Well, if that’s how it is, why not let’s stop the whole thing 
for good?’ said Grandet. 

That’s what we think. Let’s shake hands and say no more 
about this wretched business.' 

’OK.’ 

Tm the witness,’ said Sylvain. Tm truly glad it’s over.’ 

'Let’s say no more.’ 

At six that evening the bell began to toll. Hearing it, I could 
not prevent myself from seeing yesterday once again: my 
friend rushing towards the boat with half his body reared out 
of the water. The picture was so striking, so shocking, even 
twenty-four hours later, that not for a moment could I hope 
that the Armenian and Sans-Souci were being treated so by 
tiie sharks. 


Galgani said not a word. He knew very well what kzd hap- 
pened to Carbonieri. Swinging his legs as he sat astride ib 
hammock, he stared into emptiness. Grandet was cot back 
yet. The tolling had been over for a good ten mf ri r t-r wrec. 
without looking at me, Galgani, stiU swinging his fees, uric 
in an undertone, ‘I hope none of the shark* that ate 
thicu got *o much as a scrap of ths: Armenian sod. I: were 
be too bloody silly for them to have been dead -g 


another in life and then to come together 
The loss of that tree, great-hearted 
mean a dreadful gap in my Erie. I: woe 
get off Royale as socn as pcsftle ant 
what I said to myself ever and ever anafn 




Break from the Asylum 


'Since there’s a war on and the punishment for a bungled es- 
cape is so much heavier, this Isn’t a time to muck up a break, 
Salvidia. Right?’ The Italian with the gold charger and I were 
talking by the wash-house: we’d just re-read the poster that 
announced the new regulations in case of escape. I went on, 
‘Yet it’s not the risk of being sentenced to death that’ll stop 
me going. What about you? ’ 

‘As far as I’m concerned, Papillon, I just can’t take it any 
more and I want to make a break. However it ends. I’ve asked 
to be taken on in the lunatic asylum as an attendant. I know 
there are two drums in the asylum dispensary; they hold fifty 
gallons apiece, so they are plenty big enough to make a raft. 
One’s full of olive-oil and the other of vinegar. It seems to 
me that if we lashed them together so that they couldn’t pos- 
sibly come apart, there would be a very fair chance of reach- 
ing the mainland. There’s no watch kept on the outside of the 
walls round the asylum. On the inside there’s only one medical 
warder on guard at any time, with some convicts to help him 
keep watch on the lunatics. Why don’t you join me up there?’ 

’As an attendant?’ 

‘Impossible, Papillon. You know very well they’d never give 
you a job in the asylum. It’s far from the camp; it’s not heavily 
guarded - there’s everything against sending you there. But 
you might get in as a patient.’ 

’That would be very tricky, Salvidia. When the doctor puts 
you down as cracked, what he’s giving you is nothing more 
nor less than the right to do whatever you like without being 
held responsible. It’s officially admitted that you aren't 
answerable. Do you realize the responsibility he takes upon 
himself when he signs that kind of a certificate? You can kill 
a convict, or even a screw or a screw’s wife, or a child if you 
like. You can escape - you can commit any crime you can 
think of and the taw has no hold on you. The very worst it 
can do is to put you into a padded cell with nothing on except-, 
a strait-jacket. And even that can only go on for a certain 
period: in time they have to let up. The result is that how- 
ever serious your crime, escapes included, you don’t pay the 
penalty.* 


Tapillon, I believe in you: you’re the man I’d really like 
to make a break with. Do everything you possibly can to 
join me as a lunatic. Being an attendant I’ll be able to help 
you bear it - I’ll be able to give you a hand when things arc 
tough. I admit it must be horrible to find yourself among all 
those very dangerous creatures when you’re not mad yourself.’ 

'You go on up to the asylum, Romeo. I’ll look thoroughly 
into the whole thing; and above all I’ll find out about the first 
signs of madness so as to convince the doc. In any case, it’s 
not at all a bad idea to get myself certified as irresponsible.’ 

I began studying the question seriously. There was no book 
on the subject in the prison library. Whenever I had an oppor- 
tunity I talked about it with men who had been ill for quite a 
time and gradually I formed a fairly clear notion. 

1. All lunatics have agonizing pains in the back of the 
head. 

2. They often have a humming in their cars. 

3. They arc very much on edge, so can’t stay lying in the 
same position for long without having a nervous explosion 
that wakes them up, their whole body jerking, tensed to the 
breaking-point. 

So what I had 'to do was to have someone find out I had 
these symptoms, rather than me speaking of them directly. I 
was to be just mad enough to force the doctor to put me into 
the asylum, but not so mad, not so violently mad, as to justify 
ill-treatment by the warders - strait-jackets, beating-up, re- 
duced diet, bromide injections, cold or boiling baths, etc. If 
I did the act well enough I ought to be able to come it over 
the doctor. 

There was one thing in my favour - what reason could I 
possibly have for swinging the lead? As the doctor would find 
no answer to that question, it was likely that I should win the 
game. There was no other way out for me. They had refused 
to send me to Devil’s Island. Now that my friend Matthicu 
had been murdered I could no longer bear the camp. To hell 
with hesitation 1 . My mind was made up. I’d get myself on the 
sick-list on Monday. It would be better if someone else reportc^ 
me sick, someone who would speak in good faith. I'd have k* 
behave abnormaiiy inside the block now and then. rhen 
block leader would speak to the screw and the sere"' h !i “ 
would put me dosvn on the list. 


For three days now I had not slept: I no longer washed or 
shaved. I masturbated several times every night and 1 ate very 
little. Yesterday I asked my neighbour why he’d taken a non- 
existent photo from my place, That made him uneasy and he 
moved clsewhero. The soup often stood for a few minutes in 
the tub before it was distributed. I went over to the tub, and 
there in front of everybody I pissed into it. That cast some- 
thing of a damper on the room, but I dare say my look dis- 
couraged them, because no one made any objection. Only my 
friend Grandet said, ‘Papillon, what did you do that for? ’ 

‘Because they forgot to salt it.’ And without paying any at- 
tention to the others I went and fetched my bowl, holding it 
out to the block leader to be filled. There was a dead silence, 
and they all watched me as I ate my soup. 

Theso two happenings brought me up in front of the doctor 
this morning without any asking on my part. 

'Well, Doctor, are you all right? Yes or no?’ I repeated my 
question. The doctor looked at me, amazed. I fixed him with 
a studiedly natural stare. 

‘Yes, I’m all right,’ said the doctor. 'But what about you? 
Arc you sick?’ 

‘No.’ 

'Then why arc you on the list?’ 

‘No reason at all: they told me you were ill. I’m glad to 
see it wasn’t true. Good-bye.’ 

‘Just a minute, Papillon. Sit down there, opposite me. Look 
into my face.’ And the medico examined my eyes with a little 
torch that threw a nnrrow beam. 

‘Did you see any of the things you thought you were going 
to find, Doc? Your light isn’t very strong, but even so I think 
you know what I mean. Tell me, did you see them?’ 

‘See what?’ said the medico. 

‘Don’t be such a bloody fool. Are you a doctor or a vet? 
Don’t you tell me you didn’t have time to see them before 
they hid - either you don’t want to tell me, or you' take me 
for a genuine twnt.’ My eyes were shining with tiredness. I 
was unwashed and unshaved, and my appearance told in my 
favour. The screws were listening, fascinated; but I didn't 
make the slightest violent gesture that would let them step in. 
The doctor, soothing me and jollying me along so that I 
shouldn’t get excited, stood up and put his hand on my shoul- 
der. I was still sitting down. 



“Yes, I didn't Wee to tell you, PapiIIon. but I did Imvc time 
o see them.' 

'You’re lying. Doc, lying like a real member of flic colon!*!, 
{on didn’t sec anything at all! What I thought you vn tr, W>\ 
ng for was those three little black specks in rny left eye, [ 
an only see them when I look at nothing or when I’m 
ing. But when I take a mirror I can sec my eye quit. n r,)tr>/',y i 
without the least trace of the three specks. They hide ih ; 
second I get hold of the glass to look at them in,* 

‘Send him to hospital/ said the medico. Take him ih-tK *5 
once: he’s not to go back to the camp. You tell me you're t/,* 
sick, Papfflotr? Maybe you’re right, but I think yrr/te v» ry 
tired and so Fm going to give yen a few days reel in 
You'd Uke that?’ 

T don’t mind one way or another. Hospital or c*.v:-p,, /*'r 
still the islands.’ 



the Match you lent me. But as for sleeping, that’s something 
else again. Because, do you see, behind my cell there’s a pump. 
It’s there for watering something or other, I dare say, but the 
thump-thump-thump all night gets into the back of my head, 
and it’s just as though there was a thump-thump-thump echo- 
ing inside my skull. All night it goes on. Unbearable. So I’d 
be very grateful if you’d have my cell changed.’ 

The doctor turned towards the medical warder and quickly 
whispered, ‘Is. there a pump?’ The warder shook his head. 
’Change his cell, warder. Where do you want to go, Papil- 
lonV 

‘As far as possible from that bloody pump - right to the 
end of the corridor. Thank you, Doctor.’ 

The door closed; I was alone in my cell again. I caught the 
very faintest hint of a sound - I was being watched through 
the judas. It was certainly the doctor, because I had not heard 
their steps going away after they left the cell. So I quickly 
shook my fist at the wall with the imaginary pump behind it 
and called out - but not too- loud - ‘Stop it, stop it, you 
drunken bastard! Are you going to go on watering your gar- 
den for ever, you ugly sod?’ And I lay down in my bed with 
my head buried under the pillow. 

I didn’t catch the little sound of the brass lid closing over 
the judas, but I did hear footsteps going away. So the charac- 
ter at the spy-hole was certainly the doctor. 

That afternoon they changed my cell. I must have made 
the right impression in the morning, because just to take me 
the few yards to the end of the corridor there were two screws 
and two convict orderlies. As they didn’t speak to me, I didn’t 
speak' to them either. I merely followed them without a word. 
Two days later, the second symptom - noises in my ears. 

‘How are you, Papillon? Have you finished the magazine 
I sent you?’ 

‘No, I’ve not read it. I spent all day and half the night try- 
ing to smother a mosquito or a little fly that’s living in my 
ear. I shove in cotton wool, but it does no good. Their hum- 
ming goes on and on - bzz-bzz-bzz. And it not only tickles, 
but it never stops buzzing. It gets you down in the end. Doc- 
tor. What do you think about it? Maybe, since I haven’t man- 
aged to smother them we might try drowning them? What do 
you say?’ 

My mouth went on jerking all this time and I saw he took 



notice of it. He took my hand and looked straight into mv 
eyes. I could feel he was concerned and worried. 'Yes, jwf. 
Ion, we’ll drown them. Chatal, syringe his ears.’ 

We had these scenes every morning with variations, but it 
didn’t look ns though the doctor could make up his mind to 
send me to the asylum. When he was giving me a bromide in- 
jection Chatal said, ‘It’s all right for the moment. The doe’s 
badly shaken, but it may still take him a long time before he 
sends you to the asylum. If you want him to make up his mind 
quick, show hint you can be dangerous.’ 

'How are you, Papilion?’ The doctor, accompanied by the 
medical warders and Chatal, greeted me kindly as he opened 
my cell door. 

’Hold your horses, Doe.’ My whole attitude was aggres- 
sive. ‘You know damn well I’m sick. And I’m beginning to 
wonder whether you aren’t in with the sod who’s torturing 
me.’ 

'Who’s torturing you? When? How?’ 

‘Listen, Doc, in the first place do you know the work of Dr. 
d’Arsortval?’ 

’I should hope so.’ 

'Then you know he’s invented a multiple-wave oscillator to 
ionize the air round a patient with duodenal ulcers. This os- 
cillator sends electric currents. Right: well an enemy of mine 
knocked oil one of these machines in the Cayenne hospital, 
Every time I’m really asleep, he presses on the button and the 
current gets me smack in the belly and thighs. 1 jerk out 
straight, and my whole body jumps six inches into the air. 
How do you expect me to resist that and go on sleeping? It 
went on all last night. I scarcely close my eyes and the current 
hits me. My whole body jerks like a spring being released. I 
can’t bear it any more, Doc. Just you tell them all that if 1 
find anyone helping that sod, I’ll take him to piece. I’ve r; 
weapons, but I’m strong enough to strangle any man or. 

And if the cap fits, wear it. And you can stuff up rr~ 
critical good mornings and how are you Papillose . : ~ r~- 
again, Doc, just you hold you r horses.’ 

This scene paid otF. Chatal told ms the doctrr ~~ 
screws to be very careful To never open myd*r~ ’ 
were two or three of them and to always sreak - '' 7T. 

’He’s pot persecution.’ said the doctor. ‘ WeT hr ’ ' " r ' 
to the asylum as quick as possible.’ 



Chatal, meaning to spare me being put into a strait-jacket, 
had said, ‘I believe I could undertake to lead him to the asy- 
lum with just one warder.’ 

‘Well, Papi, have you had a good dinner?’ ' - 

‘Yes, Chatal, it was fine.’ . 

“Would you like to come with me and Monsieur Jeannus?’ 

“Where to?’ 

‘We’re just going up to the asylum to take them some medi- 
cal stores : it would make a little walk for you.’ 

‘OK. Let’s go.’ And we all three went ont of the hospital 
and took the asylum road. Chatal kept on talking as we went 
along, and then, when we were almost there, he said, ‘Aren’t 
you sick of the camp, Papillon? * 

‘Oh, yes, I’m fed up with it, particularly since my friend 
Carboaieri’s no longer there.’ 

‘Then why don’t you stay in the asylum for a few days? 
That way maybe the character with the electric machine won’t 
be able to find you to send the current.’ 

‘Well, that’s an idea, mate. But do you think they’d take 
me in, me not being sick in the head?’ 

‘You leave that to me: Fll put in a word for you,’ said the 
screw, quite delighted at seeing me fall into Chatal’s so-called 
trap. 

So to cut it short, here I was in the asylum together with a 
hundred lunatics. It was no fun at all, living with madmen. 
We exercised in the yard in groups of thirty to forty while 
the orderlies cleaned the cells. Everyone was stark naked, 
night and day. Fortunately it was warm. As for me, I was 
allowed to keep my slippers. 

An orderly had just given me a lit cigarette. Sitting there in 
the sun I reflected that I’d been inside five days now and yet 
I’d not been able to get into touch with Salvidia. 

A lunatic came over to me. I knew about him: his name 
was Fouchet. His mother had sold her house to send him 
fifteen thousand francs through a warder so he could escape. 
The screw was supposed to keep five thousand and give him 
ten^ thousand. The screw swiped the lot and then left for 
Cayenne. When Fouchet heard his mother had sent him the 
money - heard it from another source - and that she had 
stripped herself all to no purpose, he went raving mad and 
that same day he attacked the warder?. They got on top of 



him before he could do any damage. And from that day, 
three or four years back, he’d been in the asylum. 

‘Who are you?’ I looked at this poor chap, a young fellow 
of about thirty, standing there questioning me. 'Who am I? 
Why, a man like you, mate; neither more nor less.’ ’That's a 
stupid answer. I can sec you’re a man, since you’ve got a prick 
and balls; if you’d been a woman you’d have had a hole. I 
was asking who you were? I mean, what's your name?’ 'Papil- 
Ion.’ ‘PapiUon? You’re a butterfly? Poor fellow. Butterflies 
have wings - they fly. And where arc yours?’ Tve lost them.’ 
‘You must find them. That way you’d be able to escape. The 
screws have no wings. Give me your cigarette.’ Before I had 
time to hold it out he’d snatched it from my fingers. Then he 
Sat down opposite me and drew in the smoke with delight. 

’And who are you?* I asked him. 

‘Me? I’m the one they call the fall-boy. Every time I ought 
to be given something that belongs to me I’m done right in 
the eye.' ‘How come?’ ‘That’s just the way it is. So that's why 
I kill as many screws as ever I can. I hanged a couple last 
night. But don’t tell a soul.’ What did you hang them for?’ 
‘They stole my mother’s house. My mother sent me her house, 
do you sec? And as they liked the look of it they kept it and 
now they’re .living in it. I was right to hang them, wasn’t 1?’ 
'Quite right. Now they won’t be able to profit by it.’ 'Do you 
see that fat screw over there, behind the bars? He lives in the 
house too. Believe you me, I’ll do him in.’ And he stood up 
and walked off. 

What a relief! It was no sort of picnic, being forced to live 
among all these lunatics; and it was dangerous. At night they 
roared and shrieked all round me, and when the moon was 
full they were more frantic than ever. How can the moon pos- 
sibly affect the condition of mad pcople7 I can’t explain it; 
but often and often I’ve seen it happen. 

The screws reported on the mental cases under observation. 
With me they made a whole lot of cross-checks. For example 
they'd purposely forget to let me out into the yard, to see 
whether I'd notice it and complain. Or else they’d leave out 
onc’of my meals. I had a stick with a piece of string and I 
went through the motions of fishing. ‘Arc they biting. Papil- 
Ion7* asked the chief warder. ’Not likely. Because whenever 
1 go fishing there’s a little fish that follows me everywhere. 


when » ;rs papmou A be one 

don't «M " * V I *> “ 5 , „ A ri „ w round 

er catch any- beheveit- « ‘Y/eil, b 

sh that dof^say to an ««*#• - ^ c0 uld 

r heat'd the _ . Mining-halt’ gigantic 

c bend’ big tafd e ^ ^own. '^' e 1 re J V „ tl d trunk as 

When I ate of ^n ^ artnSi legs victim . He 

Vd manage to his b ° w '’ c0 . Then h d e When 

Us S'^oilot Sd do « »«„d Stars 

^{so mucd^ W « do« », ™ t to «id ,5t« 

mV n" 0 m (jay again- f va beaming ' v lentils an 

It was lenth nay ^ {&ce w*j down his ovn V‘ jug b 

next to me- y 0 f 500 earthenware bc& , 

already i& _^ e d a big, Raised mV up a 

mine too. ^^nt had scarcely^ bcferc i sto^* ^ 

t£^S^r£^z, 

d »*» « M ‘ ^SU»S 

^ss-«rss .«p *» t« 
Vs»&it. , ^srsS? 

° rd t e iS'a W maniac, The d ^°^?crews * 

given ® rime as me. 


I was able to have a talk with Salvidia. He already had a 
copy of the key of the dispensary, where the barrels were 
kept. He wa s'trywg to get hold of enough wire to fasten them 
together. I told him I was afraid wire might break with the 
straining of the barrels in the sea and that it would be better 
to use rope, as having more give. He was going to try' to get 
it, so we’d have both rope and wire. He also had three keys 
to make - one for my cell, one for the passage leading to it, 
and one for the main gate of the asylum. There were very 
few patrols. Only one warder for every four-hour guard duty 
- from nine to one in the morning and from one to five. There 
were two screws who always slept right through their guard 
and never made any rounds - they relied on a convict orderly 
who went on duty with them. So everything was in train, and 
now it was only a matter of waiting. I had another month at 
the most to endure. 

As I walked into the yard the head warder gave me a cigar - 
a very poor cigar - already lit. But poor or not, it seemed 
marvellous to me. I looked at this herd of mother-naked men, 
singing, weeping, mopping and mowing, talking to themselves. 
They were still all wet from the shower each one had to take 
before being allowed into the yard, and their poor bodies 
showed the marks of the blows they bad received or that they 
had given themselves, and the marks of the too tightly laced 
strait-jackets. This was indeed the end of the way down the 
drain. How many of these lunatics had been judged respon- 
sible for their actions by psychiatrists in France? 

Titin - that was his nickname - belonged to my 193 3 con- 
voy. He had killed a man in Marseilles, then he had taken a 
taxi, loaded his victim into it and had himself driven to the 
hospital: there he said, ’Here, sec to this man: I believe he’s 
ill.’ He was arrested on the spot, and the jury had the nerve 
to say he hadn’t the very least degree of irresponsibility. And 
yet he must already have been crazy to have done a thing like 
that. Ordinarily speaking, .the very dimmest of minds would 
have known he was going to be grabbed right away. Titin 
was here, situ'ng next to me. He had chronic dysentery - a 
walking corpse. He said, 'There arc little monkeys in my guts, 
you know, Papillon. Some of them arc wicked and they bite 
* when they're angry - that’s why I shit blood. The others arc 
, the furry’ sort, covered with hair, and their hands are as soft 
as down. They stroke me gently and they stop the wicked 



ones biting. When the good monkeys stand up for me, why, 
then t don’t shit blood.’ 

‘Do you remember Marseilles, Titin?’ 

‘I most certainly do. Indeed, I remember it very well. The 
Place de la Bourse with the ponces and the strong-arm 
gangs 

‘Do you remember any of their names? L’Ange le Lucre? 
Le Cravat? Clement?’ 

'No, I don’t remember names: just a bastard of a cabby 
who took me to the hospital with my sick friend and then 
said it was because of me he was sick. That’s all.’ 

‘What .about your friends?’ 

‘Don’t know.’ 

Poor Titin: I gave him the end of my cigar and got up. My 
heart was filled with an immense pity for this poor soul who 
would certainly die there like a dog. Yes, it was very danger- 
ous living among all these lunatics, but what could I do about 
it? In any case, as far as I could see it was the only way of pre- 
paring a break without the risk of a death sentence. 

Salvidia was almost ready. He had two of the keys and he 
only lacked the one for my cell. He had also got hold of a 
length of very good rope, and what’s more he’d made another 
out of strips of hammock canvas - a five-way plait, he told me. 
Everything was going well as far as that was concerned. 

I was in a hurry to get moving, for it was really tough, hold- 
ing out in the asylum and keeping up this act. To have the, 
right to stay in the part of the asylum where my cell was, I 
had to break out and be violent every now and then. 
i Once I had such a convincing fit that the medical warders 
put me into a very hot bath with two bromide injections. 
There was a very strong canvas cover over it, so I couldn’t 
get out.. All that could be seen was my head, poking up 
through a hole. I’d been in the bath, held down by this sort 
of strait-waistcoat, for a couple of hours when Ivanhoe 
walked in. I was terrified by the way the great brute looked 
at me. I had a horrible dread that he was going to strangle 
me. I couldn’t defend myself in any way, because my arms 
were underneath the canvas. 

He came up to me and his big eyes looked attentively into 
my face: he looked as though he were trying to make out 
where he’d seen this head before - this head that now emerged 
from the cloth as from a frame. He breathed all over me, and 



his breath stank of decay. I felt like shouting for help, but I 
was afraid that calling out might make him madder. 1 closed 
my eyes and waited, sure that he was just about to strangle 
me with his enormous lumpish hands. J shan't forget those 
moments of terror in a hurry. At last he moved oil. walked 
about the room and then went up to the little wheels that 
controlled the water. He turned off the cold and turned the 
hot, the boiling hot, full on. I howled and shrieked like a lost 
soul, for I was being literally boiled. Ivanhoe disappeared. 
The whole room was full of steam: I choked as I breathed 
and I made superhuman efforts to tear off the wretched can- 
vas, but in vain. At last help arrived. The screws had seen the 
steam coming out of the windows. When they took me out of 
my cauldron I was horribly burnt and 1 was in the most hell- 
ish pain. It was particularly my thighs and my private parts, 
which had lost all their skin. They dressed my burns with 
picric acid and put me into the asylum’s little infirmary. The 
burns were so bad they called the doctor. A few injections of 
morphia helped me through the first twenty-four hours. When 
the medico asked me what had happened, I told him a vol- 
cano haa' erupted in the bath. No one could make it out, 
Tnc medical warder accused the character who’d run the bath 
of having misused the taps. 

Salvidia came and treated my bums with picric acid oint- 
ment. He was ready, and iie pointed out that it was lucky I 
was in the infirmary, because if the break were to fail wc 
could get back into this part of the asylum without being seen. 
He was going to make a copy of the infirmary key right away 
- he'd already taken a print on a piece of soap and he would 
have the finished job tomorrow. It was up to me to Jet him 
■ know the day I felt well enough to take advantage of the 
sleeping screws being on guard. 

; It was for tonight, during the watch that lasted from one 
.o’clock till five in the morning. Salvidia wasn’t on duty. To 
.gain time, he was going to empty the vinegar barrel about 
..eleven o'clock. Y/c’d roll the oil barrel down full, because the 
fSea was very rough and perhaps the oil would help us calm it 
for the launch. 

.. I had flour sack trousers cut off at the knee, a woollen 
sweater and a good knife in my belt. I also had a waterproof 
^bag that I was going to hang round my neck - it held cigar 

' — -t _ * * 1 • * A * »' 1 3 _ nMtAvnV.i 


kncjnr-ek full of mix '. Joe flour that he had soaked in Oil and 
sugar, About tcvta pound;, he told me. It was late. I sat there 
on my bed watting for my friend. My heart was thumping 
hard. In a few minute; the break wan going to begin. May 
good look and almighty God be on my aide, so that I may es- 
cape from the road down the drain and leave It for good and 
all! 

Jt was strange, but my thoughts only touched on the past 
but faintly, glancing towards my father and my family. Not a 
single picture of the assizes, the jury or the prosecuting coun- 
sel. flut just a; the door opened, in spite of myself I once more 
had a vision of Matthicu standing there, carried along the 
surface of the sea. by the sharks, 

'Papi, Jet's go I' I followed him. Quickly he closed the door 
and hid the key in a corner of the passage. ‘Quick, quick.* Wc 
reached the dispensary: the door was open. Getting the 
empty barrel out was child’s play. He slung the ropes over 
bis shoulder and I took the wire and the knapsack with flour 
In It, In the pitch dark night I started rolling my barrel down 
towards the sea. He came behind, with the oil barrel. For- 
tunately be was very strong and it was quite easy for him tc 
keep it from plunging down the steep descent. 

\Slowly, slowly, take care it doesn’t run away with you.’ 1 
waited for film, in case he should lose his hold on the barrel- 
if he did, I could block Its run with mine. J went down back 
wards, me in front and my barrel behind. We reached the 
bottom of the path without any sort of difficulty. There was 
tt little path in the direction of the sea, but after that it was 
very hard going over the rocks. 

’Empty the barrel: we'll never get across with it full.* There 
was a stiff wind blowing and the waves were crashing furi- 
ously against the rocks. Fine, the barrel was empty. ‘Ram the 
hung in hard. Wait a minute: put this bit of tin over it.’ The 
holes were already made. 'Drive the nails right home,’ The 
hammering would never be heard over the roaring of the 
wind and sea. 

Wc lashed the two harrcls tight together; but carrying them 
over the rocks was very difficult. Eacli of them was made to 
hold fifty gallons: they took up n lot of space and they were 
very awkward to handle. 'Hie place my friend had chosen for 
the launching made tilings no easier, either. ‘Shove, for God’s 
sake! Up a bit. Look out for the wavcl* both of us and the! 



two barrels were, picked up and flung hard back cn to the 
rock. Take care. They’ll smash, to say nothing of us breaking 
an arm or a leg ! ’ 

‘Take it easy, Salvidia. Either go in front, towards the sea. 
or stand here behind. That's right. Heave the moment I give 
a shout. I’ll shove at the same second and then we’ll certainly 
get free of the rocks. But to do it, we've just got to hold tight 
and stay where we arc, even if the sea breaks right over us.* 

I shouted these orders to my friend in the midst of the 
thunder of the wind and the waves, and I think he heard 
them: a big wave swept completely over us as we clung to 
the barrels. At this moment I shoved madly on the raft with 
all my strength. And he must certainly have done the same, 
because all at once there we were afloat, away from the rocks. 
He was up on the barrels before me, but just as I hauled my- 
self on, a huge breaker heaved up beneath us and tossed us 
like a feather on to a pointed rock farther out at sea. The 
impact' was so shattering that the barrels smashed open, scat- 
tering in fragments. When the wave drew back it swept me 
more than twenty yards from the rock. I swam and let ray- 
self be carried in by the next wave that ran straight for the 
shore. I landed in a sitting position between two rocks. I just 
had time to cling on oeiorc being swept away. Bruised all 
over, I managed to scramble out; but when I reached dry 
land, I realized that I’d been carried more than a hundred 
yards from the place where we’d launched the raft. 

Taking no sort of caue I shouted, ’Salvidia! Romeo! Where 
• are you?’ There was no answer. Quite overwhelmed I lay 
down on the path: I took oil my sweater and my trousers, 
and there I was again, naked, wearing just my slippers. 
Christ, where was my friend? And once again I shouted svith 
all my strength, ‘Where arc you?’ Only the wind, the sea and 
the wave?, rcpiico. x smjed there x uon't xnovr how long, 
numbed, completely shattered, mentally and physically. Then, 
weeping with rury, I threw av.,ty the little bag I had round 
my neck for my tobacco and lighter - a mark of my friend's 
real afTection, for he himself was no smoker. 

Standing there facing the wand and the huge waves that had 
swept everything away. I raised my clenched fist and insulted 
God. ’You swine, You filthy bugger, aren’t You ashamed of 
persecuting me like this? You’re supposed to be a good God, 
aren’t You? You’re a disgusting brute, that's all. A sadist, a 



bloody sadist! A perverted sodl 111 never utter Your name 
again. You don't deserve it.' 

The wind bad dropped, and the seeming calm did me good 
- brought me back to a sense of reality. I'd go back to the 
asylum, and if I could I'd get back into the infirmary. With 
a Uttle luck, it should be possible. 

I climbed the hill with just one idea in my head - getting 
back and lying down in my bed. Neither seen nor heard. I 
got- into the infirmary passage with no difficulty. I’d had to 
climb the asylurh wail, because I didn’t know where Salvidia 
had put the key of the main gate. 

I didn’t have to look long before I Eound the infirmary key. 

I went in and double-locked the ioor behind me. I went to 
the window and threw the key' far out - it fell the other side 
of the wall. And I went to bed. The only thing that could give 
me away was the fact that my slippers were soaked. I got up 
and wrung them out in the lavatory. Gradually, with the sheet 
over my face, I began to get warm again. The wind and the 
salt water had chilled me through and through. Had my friend 
really been drowned? Perhaps he had been swept much 
farther out than me and had been able to get ashore at the 
far end of the island. Hadn’t I gone away from the rocks too 
soon? I ought 'to have waited a little longer. I blamed myself 
for having given in too quickly - for having given up my 
friend for lost. 

In the drawer of the bedside table there were two sleeping 
pills. I swallowed them without water. My saliva was enough 
to get them down. , 

I was still asleep when the warder shook me awake. The , 
room was full of light and the window was open. Three pa- 
tients were looking in' from outside. “What’s the matter, Papil- 
lon? You’re sleeping like one of the dead. Haven’t you drunk 
your coffee? It’s cold. Here, drink it up.’ 

I was scarcely awake, but even so I grasped that as far as I 
was concerned everything was normal. ‘What have you woken 
me up for?’ 

'Because now your bums are better your bed is wanted. 
You’re going back to your cell.’ 

‘OK, Chief.’ And I followed him. On the way he left me in 
the yard. I took advantage of this to dry my slippers in the 
sun. 

' It was three days now since the failure of the break. I had 


422 



heard not the least reference to it. I went to and fro from my 
cell to the yard and then from the yard back to my cell. Sr.l- 
vidia did not turn up again: so Uic poor fellow was dead, 
no doubt smashed against the rocks. I myself had had a nar- 
row escape, and the reason I came out alive was certainly 
because I was behind rather than in front. But who could 
tell? I’d have to get out of the asylum. It was going to be 
harder to get them to believe I was cured, or at least fit to go 
back to the camp, than it had been to get inside in the first 
place. I’d now have to persuade the doctor that I was better. 

‘Monsieur Rouviot (lie was the chief attendant), I'm cold at 
night. If I promise not to dirty my clothes, would you please 
let me have trousers and a shirt?’ The screw was amazed. He 
stared at nc with wide open eyes for a while, and then he 
said, ‘Sit down here by me, Papillon.Tcll me what's going on.’ 

'I'm surprised to find myself here, Chief. It’s the asylum, 
isn’t it? And so I’m in with the loonies. Did I somehow come 
adrift from my senses? Why am I here? It would be kind of 
you to tell me, Chief.’ 

‘Poor old Papillon, you’ve been ill: but now it looks to me 
as though you’re getting better. Would you like to work? ’ 

’Yes.’ 

‘What would you like to do?’ 

‘Anything.’ 

So I was given clothes and I helped clean out the cells. In 
the evening my door was left open until nine, nnd it was only 
when the night screw came on duty that they shut me in. 

The other day a man from the Auvergne, a convict orderly, 
spoke to me for the first time. We were alone in the guard- 
room. The screw hadn’t come yet. I didn’t know this guy, but 
he said he knew me quite well. ‘It’s not worth going on with 
the act. mate,’ he said . 

'What do you mean?’ 

‘What do I mean? You don’t imagine it took me in, do 
you? I’ve been looking after lunaties for seven years and from 
the very first week I saw that you were swinging the lead.’ 

'So what?’ 

‘I’ll tell you what. I’m really sorry you didn’t bring off your 
break with Salvidia. It cost him his life. I honestly regret him, 
because he was a good friend of mine, although he didn't let 
me in on it. But I don’t hold that against him. If you need 
anything ot all, just let me know - I’ll be happy.’ 



poor j; sCO vered be certain be ^ e w asted 

Sb %S^ ;e ^ name7 ’ * 

It was nearly a ® d {o und n« « d n0t eatenjtm 

it scenes Tiunont to^ ^ n ct-yno^^^' * it y/ouW 
one leg, or f S ° r S there was *o P °* £ ost for me - 1 ' thc 

«sg& «=»-* 


“ w l " 35 being sw*- -p 

i sack was i.: s legs, K 

On® ^ f“^„y “»e”w> ^ f *Uv'»”to e " 

rjqg&jss *-*•'*” 

cpnt tO 


The screw gave me the job of looking after his garden. I'd 
been well for two months now and my work was ro modi 
appreciated that the bloody fool ot a warder svouldn't let 
me go. The Auvergnat told me that after the last examina- 
tion the doctor had wanted to let me out of the asylum and 
put me into the camp for a probationary period. The screw 
svas dead against the idea, saying his garden had never been 
so carefully looked after. 

So this morning I pulled up all the strawberry plants and 
tossed them on to the rubbish-heap. Where each had been, 
I stuck a little cross: one cross for each plant. Uproar and 
hullaballoo! The great lump of a screw very’ nearly burst 
with indignation. He frothed, and it choked him as he tried 
to speak - the sounds wouldn’t come out properly. In the 
end lie sat down on the wheel-barrow and shed real tears. I 
had exaggerated a little : but then what else could I do? 

The doctor didn't take such a serious view. This patient 
must be sent to the camp for a probationary' period, so as to 
rcadapt himself to ordinary’ life,’ he insisted. ‘It was because 
he was all alone in Uic garden that this crazy notion came 
into bis head. Tell me, Papillon, why did you pull up the 
strawberries and put crosses in their places?’ 

‘I can’t explain. Doctor, and I beg the warder’s pardon. 
He was so fond of those strawberries Uiat I’m really very 
much upset. I’ll ask God to send him some more.’ 

Here I was hack in the camp with my friends again. Car- 
bonicri's place was empty: I slung my hammock next to the 
empty space, just as though Matthicu were still there. 

The doctor made me sew a label on rnv blouse saying ‘under 
special treatment'. Nobody but the doctor was allowed to give 
me orders. He told me I was to sweep up the leaves in front 
of the hospital from eight until ten in thfc morning I had 
codec and cigarettes sitting, with the doctor in front of his 
house. His wife was there too, and she helped him to get me 
to talk about my past. ‘And what happened then, Papillon? 
What was it like after you left the pearl-diving Indians?’ I 
spent the whole afternoon with those wonderful people. 
'Come and see me es’ery day’, Papillon,’ said the doctor's wife. 
‘In the first place 1 want to sec you and then I aho want to 
hear about your experiences.’ 

Every day I spent some hours with the doctor and his w if?, 
and sometimes with his wife alone. They thought that jfjthr 



. h would 

, a d e ^» b °ffi^^* 0,iSk ' d 

• A for good and -T-u e doctor and 

SU«f fTts to tove f' D ”Ss S^. 

m&&s& 

■ - ' 



Tenth Excrci'c-Book 
Devil's Island 


Dreyfus’s Seat 


This was the smallest of the three lies da Salat, The inert 
northerly, too, and the most directly in the path of the wind 
and the waves. First there was a narrow strip that ran right 
round the island at sea level, and then the ground row steeply 
to a little plain with the warders’ guard-home arid a < ingle 
block for the convicts - about ten of them. Convicts sentenced 
for common-law offences were not officially .supposed to he 
sent to Devil's Island; it was reserved for political olfcndcrs, 
each of whom lived in his own little house with a corrugated- 
iron roof. On Mondays they were given their rations for the 
week, uncooked, and every day a loaf of bread. There v.crc 
perhaps thirty of them. Tire medical attendant was Dr. Lfgcr. 
who had poisoned his whole family in Lyons or thereabout*. 
The political prisoners would have nothing to do with the 
convicts and sometimes they would wile to Cayenne, com- 
plaining about some transportce or other When that hap- 
pened he'd be taken away and sent back to Hoyale. 

There was a cable, a wire rope, between Royale and Devil's 
Island, because quite often the sea was too rough for the boat 
from Royale to come over to the little concrete landing-stage. 

The chief warder of the camp (there were three warders) 
was called Santori. Ifc was a filthy great brute and he often 
had a week’s beard on his face. Tapillon, I hope you’ll behave 
well on Devil’s Island. If you don’t get in my hair then 1"! 
leave you in peace. Go on up to the camp. I’ll see you again 
tli ere.’ 

In the hall I found six convicts - two Chinese, two Negroes, 
n guy from Bordeaux and another from Lille. One of the 
Chinese knew me well; he’d been in Saint-Laurent with me. 
under investigation for a killing, lie was an Jndo-Chine e. ore 
of the survivors of the mutiny at Pulo-Condor. a penal settle- 
ment in those parts. He was a pirate by trade, ami he m-.d m 
attack sampans, sometimes killing the whole crew -out "' i -' 



could afford to neglect my fishing. I had enough for the doc, 
forSantori, and for the Chinese and myself. 

This was 1941 and I’d been in prison eleven years. I was 
thirty-five. I’d spent the best years of my fife either in a cell 
or in a black-hole. I’d only had seven months of total freedom 
with my Indian tribe. The children my Indian wives must have 
bad by me would be eight years old now. How terriblel How 
quickly the time had flashed byl But a backward glance 
showed all these hours and minutes studding my calvary as 
terribly long, and each one of them hard to bear. 

Thirty-five! Where was Montmartre, the Place Blanche, 
Pigalle, the Petit Jardin dance-hall, the Boulevard de Clichy? 
Where was Ninette, with her Madonna’s face - a perfect 
cameo? Ninette at the assizes, her great despairing black eyes 
fixed on me, shouting, ‘Dcjn’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll come out 
there and find you!’ Where was Raymond Hubert and his 
’We shall be acquitted’? Where were the twelve bastards of 
the jury? And the cops? And the prosecuting counsel? What 
were my father and my sisters’ families doing under the Ger- 
man yoke? 

All those breaks! Let’s see. Just how many of them were 
there? 

The first, when I got away from the hospital, having 
knocked out the screws. 

The second from Rio Hacha, in Colombia. That was the 
finest. That time I succeeded completely. Why did I ever 
leave my tribe? A thrill passed through me: it was as though 
I could still feel myself making love with those two Indian 
sisters. 

, Then the third, fourth, fifth and sixth at Baranquilla. What 
'bad luck I had in all those breaks! The rising in the chapel, 
which failed so dismally. The dynamite that wasn’t strong 
enough: and then Clousiot hooking up his trousers. And the 
sleeping-draught working so slowly. 

The seventh on Koyale, where that sod Bebert Celier in- 
formed on me. Without him that one would have succeeded 
for sure. If he’d kept his mouth shut, I’d now be free with my 
poor friend Carbonieri. 

The eighth, the last, from the asylum. A mistake, a very 
bad mistake on my part. Letting the Italian choose the place 
for launching. Two hundred yards farther down towards the 



slaughter-house it would certainly have been easier to get the 
raft out to sea. 

This bench, where the innocent and yet condemned Drey- 
fus had found the strength to go on living in spite of every- 
thing. must be an example to me. It must teach me not to give 
in. To fry another break. Yes, this smooth, polished stone, 
high over the rocky chasm where the incessant waves came 
thundering in, must give me strength, Dreyfus never let him- 
self be discouraged, and he fought for hi.s rehabilitation right 
through to the very end. It’s true he had Zoh and his famous 
V accuse to help him. Still, it he hadn't been a man of real 
courage so much injustice would certainly have made him 
throw himself over the precipice from this same bench. He 
stuck it out. I couldn’t do less; and I must give up the idea of 
a fresh dcath-or-glory break. It was the word death I was to 
give up; I must think of nothing but how I was going to win 
and be free. 

During the long hours I spent sitting on Dreyfus's scat my 
mind wandered, dreaming of the past and building up a rosy 
future. I was often dazzled by the powerful light and by the 
silvery gleam of die waves. I gazed at this sea so long without 
really seeing it that 1 came to know every possible turn and 
eddy of the wind-driven waves. The tireless, inexorable sen 
threw itself upon the outermost recks of the island. It searched 
and stripped them, as though it were saying to Devil’s Island, 
‘Get out. You’ve got to go. You’re in my way as I run in to- 
wards the mainland - you bar my path. That's why I’m break- 
ing off little bits of you every single day. never letting up.’ 
When there was a storm the sea really let itself go, and not 
only did it rush in and sweep away every tiling it could destroy 
as it withdresv, but it also thrust water into every nook and 
cranny so as gradually to undermine those enormous reeks 
that seemed to say, ’No one gets past me.’ 

It was then that I made an important discovery. Imme- 
diately below Dreyfus’s scat the waves came in. broke agairol 
some huge hump-backed rocks and rushed furiously back. 
The tons of water they brought in could not spread, because 
they were hemmed in by two rocks forming a horseshoe fif- 
teen to twenty feet across. Beyond that rose the cliff, so the 
water could only get out by going back into the sen. 

This was very important, for if 1 were to throw mywlf ink- 
the sea with a sack of coconuts, plunging into the wave tig,-' 


moment it broke and flooded the horseshoe, it would, without 
a shadow of doubt, take roe with it as it withdrew. 

I knew where I could get several jute sacks, because you 
could have as many as you liked at the pig-house when you 
wanted to gather coconuts. 

The first thing was to have a trial run. The tides were high- 
est and the waves were strongest at the full moon. I should 
wait till then. I hid a well-sewn sack, filled with coconuts, ic 
a kind of grotto'you could only get into by diving. I had come 
across it one day when I was diving for langoustines. They 
clung to the ceiling of the cave - air got into it only at low 
tide. In another sack that I tied to the one with the coconuts, 
I put a rock weighing five or six stone. As I meant to go ofl 
. with two sacks instead of one and as I weighed eleven stone, 
everything was in proportion. 

I was very excited by this experiment. This side of the island 
was completely safe - no one would ever imagine a man would 
choose the most exposed and therefore the most dangerous 
place for getting away. Yet it was the only place from which - 
always providing I could get away from the shore - I would 
be swept out to the open sea, so that it would be impossible 
for me to be driven on to Royale. It was from that point 
therefore and no other that I must set off. 

The sack with the nuts and the other with the rock were 
too heavy to carry easily. I could not manage to haul them 
over the slippery rocks, always wet from the breaking waves. 
I’d spoken to Chang and he was going to help me. He brought 
along a whole mass of fishing things - deep-sea tackle and so 
i - so that if anyone came upon us suddenly we could say 
e were laying out lines to catch sharks. / 

’Shove, Chang. A little more and it’s there.’ The full moon 
■ up the scene as though it were daylight. I was deafened by 
ie roar of the breaking waves. ‘Are you ready, Papillon?’ 
iked Chang. Throw it into this one.’ A curling fifteen-foot 
ave hurled itself furiously against the rock.' it broke be- 
:ath us, but the impact was so violent that its crest passed 
/er the rock, soaking us from head to foot. That didn’t pro- 
mt us from flinging the sack in the very moment the water 
ood at its highest before the back-draught. The sack, swept 
vay like a straw, was carried out to sea. 

‘We’ve done it, Chang ! How terrific i ’ 


12 


‘Wait : see if liim come back.* 


To my horror, scarcely five minute later, I saw my 
driving in on the top of a huge roller, twenty-five or ihirtv 
feet high - a roller that carried the coconut sack and the r te- 
as tiiough they weighed nothing at all, bearing it along a Jfttle 
in front of die foam on the crest and flinging it with unbe- 
lievable force against the rock a lihle to the left of the ph--. 
it had started from. The sack burst, the coconuts scattered, 
and the stone rolled down to the bottom of the charm. 

Soaked through and through (for the waves had f 
over us and very nearly swept us oil our feet - theurh tV- 
tunately in the landward direction), scraped and hteers-d. 
Qiang and I scrambled away from the accursed spot with nut 
a backward glaucc. 

‘Not good, Papilloa. Mot good, this idea cf fcrasi fr"~. 
Devil. Royale, him better. From south side Royal* yr; 
better than from here.’ 

•Yes, but on Royale the escape would be discovered tv:-. s 
two hours. As there’s nothing but the push of she wj-r v. 
get the sack along, the three boats on the hired c-avif :r: 
me in. Whereas here to begin with there’s no beat: r -d d.-r 
I’m sure of having the whole night in front cf me beft-i dvr; 
find out I’ve made a bread:: and lastly they may Try 
think I’ve been drowned fishing. There's no te'r‘: -.re. v- 
D evil's Island. If I set off in a heavy sea. tiers'! no cost Cuv 
can land here. So it’s from Devil's Island that I mu-, re, in 
how?’ 


The sun blazed down at noon, 
your brains feel they were boikm 
.that shrivelled every plant that iz 
enough to stand fa A ran that dm 
sea-water in a few hours, tearing 
that made the air car.ee and feme 
ged about in treat cf my eyre and 
sea dazzled me. Yea mere I te ca 
and none of there things ccuid pa: 
te. And it then I nud.de 
fool I had been a'i ~~ tame. Tb; 
; as the other wave;, that had a a a : 

forks, shattering i: - aim radar aul 
1 waves. 





«■ *•*“ 


vast mass struck the two rocks harder and straighter than 
ever, and when the wave broke in the space between them, 
the crash was: even more deafening than before, 

‘And that’s the place where you say we have to chuck our- 
selves in? Well, what a sweet choice you've made to be sure. 
I wouldn’t touch it with a barge-pole. I’m quite willing to go 
off on a break, yes: but plain suicide, no thank you very 
much!’ Sylvain was much impressed by the way I’d just des- 
cribed Lisette. He’d been on Devil’s Island these last three 
days, and of course I’d suggested that we should go off to- 
gether. Each on a raft. In that way, if he agreed, I should • 
have a companion on the mainland to make another break 
with. AU alone in the bush was no sort of fun. 

‘Don’t let it get you down before you’ve thought it over. 
Certainly the first idea of it would startle anyone; but it’s 
the only wave that can sweep you out so far that the others 
won’t drive you on to the rocks again.’ 

‘No worry,’ said Chang. “We’ve tried. Once you off, you 
never come back to Devil for sure, nor touch on Royale.’ 

It took me a week to persuade Sylvain. He was solid bone 
and muscle, five foot eleven, with a very well-proportioned 
athletic body. 

‘All right. I agree we’ll be swept out far enough. But after 
that, how long do you think it would take for the tides to carry 
us to the mainland?’ 

“To be honest, Sylvain, I don't know. It might be longer or 
shorter: it would all depend on the weather. The wind 
wouldn't have much hold on us, because we’d be too low 
down in the water. But if the weather’s bad, the waves will 
be higher and they’ll drive us in towards the forest all the 
faster. In seven, eight, or ten tides at the most, we ought to 
be thrown up on the shore. So, counting slack water and all, 
it should be something like forty -eight or sixty hours.’ 

‘How do you work that out? ’ 

‘From the islands to the coast in a straight line, it’s not more 
than twenty-five miles. Drifting, you’d be following the hypo- 
tenuse of a right-angled triangle. Look at the direction of the 
waves. Roughly speaking, you’d have to travel between 
seventy-five or at the outside a hundred miles. The nearer we 
get to the coast, the more the waves carry us straight in. And 
then, isn’t it obvious that at this distance from the shore a 
piece of driftwood must travel at least three miles an hour?’ 



He looked and listened very attentively: he was a bright 
boy, all right. ‘No, I admit you’re not talking balls, and if it 
weren’t for the low tides losing us time by taking us out to 
sea, we’d certainly be on the coast in under thirty' hours. But 
counting the ebbs, I think you’re about right - we’U be there 
in forty-eight to sixty hours.’ 

^You’re convinced, then? You’ll come with me?’ 

‘Almost convinced. Suppose we were in the bush on the 
mainland. What should we co then?’ 

‘We’d have to get to the outskirts of Kourou. There’s a 
fair-sized fishing village there and men who go out after wild 
rubber and gold. We'd have to take care when we get close, 
because there’s also a convicts’ logging-camp. There’ll certainly 
be forest tracks leading to Cayenne or the Chinese camp called 
Inini. We’ll have to hold up a convict or a black civilian and 
make him take us to Inini. If the character behaves well, we’ll 
give him five hundred francs and then he can bugger OS'. If 
it’s a convict, we’ii make him join cur break.’ 

‘What do we want to go to Inini for? It’s a special camp for 
Indo-Chinese.’ 

‘Chang’s brother is there.’ 

We-;, my brother him there. Him go off on break with you : 
him find boat and food for sure. You meet Cuic-Cuic and you 
have everything for break. Chinese man never inform. So you 
find any Annamite in bush, you speak him, him tell Cuic- 
Cuic.’ 

‘Why do they call your brother Cuic-Cuic?’ asked Sylvain. 

‘Don’t know. It was Frenchman call him Cuic-Cuic.’ He 
went on, ‘Take care. When you nearly reach mainland, you 
find mud. Never you walk or him : mud bad, mud suck you. 
Wait for next tide, float you into bush - catch creeper, tree- 
branch, pull. Otherwise you fucked.’ 

‘That’s right, Sylvain. Never walk n the mud even if you’re 
very, very clc^e in. You have to wa. until you can grab hold 
of branches or creepers.’ 

‘OK, Papillon, I’ve made up my mind to come.’ 

‘Well make the two rafts almost exactly the same, since we 
are both about the same weight - that wiil prevent us from 
drifting far apart. But there’s no telling. In case we lose touch, 
how shall we find one another again? You can’t see Kourou 
from here, but when you were on Royale T,r ' t,v ' k cnrnp 



wcute rocks about ten miles to the right of Kourou? You can 
see them clearly when the sun strikes them.’ 

‘Yes.’ . 

‘Those are the only rocks anywhere along the coast. Stretch- 
ing out for ever, right and left, it’s just mud. The white on the 
rocks is birds’ shit. There are thousands of them, and since 
nobody ever goes there, that will be a perfect place for' us 
to recover before plunging into the bush. We’ll eat eggs and 
the coconuts that we’ll take with us. No fire. The first to get 
there will wait for the other.’ 

‘How many days?’ 

‘Five. It's impossible that the other shouldn’t be at the 
meeting-place in five days.’ 

The two rafts were ready. We’d fined the sacks so they 
should be stronger. I asked Sylvain to wait ten days so that 
I could spend as many hours as possible, training myself to 
ride a sack. He did the same. I noticed that every time the 
sacks were just going to turn over it needed an extra effort 
to keep upright. Whenever we could, we’d have to lie down 
on them. And take care not to go to sleep, because falling 
into the sea might mean losing your sack and never being 
able to reach it again. Chang made me a little water-proof bag 
to hang round my neck with cigarettes and a tinder lighter. 
We were going to grate ten coconuts each and carry them 
with us - the meat would help us bear the hunger and it would 
quench our thirst. It seemed that Santori had a kind of leather 
wine-skin he never used, so Chang, who went to the screw's 
house from time to time, was going to try and knock it off. 

The break was for ten o’clock on Sunday evening. With the 
full moon the tide would rise twenty-five feet. So Lisette would 
be coming in with all her strength. Chang was going to feed 
the pigs all by himself on Sunday morning. I was going to 
sleep all Saturday and all Sunday. We’d set off at ten, when 
the ebb would already have been running for two hours. 

It was impossible for my two sacks to come apart: they 
were bound together by plaited hemp ropes and brass wire 
and sewn together with strong sail-thread. We had found big- 
ger sacks than usual, and their mouths overlapped so the 
coconuts couldn’t get out either. 

Sylvain did exercises all the time and I let the little waves 
come breaking against my legs for hours on end. The con- 
tinual beating of the water against my thighs and the way I ’ 



had to tense myself to withstand each wave made my legs 
and thighs as strong as steel. 

There was a ten-foot chain in a disused well on the island. I 
wove it in and out of the ropes holding my sacks. I had a bolt 
that I passed through the links: in case I couldn’t hold out 
any more, I would chain myself to the sacks. And perhaps 
like that I might be able to sleep without the risk of falling 
into the water and losing my raft. If the sacks turned over, 
the water would wake me up and I would right them. 

‘Only three days to go, Papillon.’ We were sitting on Drey- 
fus’s bench, watching Lisette. 

‘Yes, only three days, Sylvain. I believe we’re going to bring 
it off. What do you think, brother? ’ 

‘It’s certain, Papillon. Tuesday night or Wednesday morn- 
ing we’ll be in the bush. And then hey-diddle-diddle, the cat 
and the fiddle for us.' 

Chang was going to grate us ten coconuts apiece. And as 
well as knives, we’d take two machetes stolen from the tool 
store. 

The camp lay to the east of Kourou. It was only by walking 
towards the sun in the morning that we could be sure of being 
in the right direction. 

‘Monday morning, Santori he’ll be mad,’ said Chang. ‘Me 
no say you and Papillon vanish until three in the afternoon, 
when screw done siesta.’ 

‘Why don’t you rush in, saying a wave swept us away while 
we were fishing?’ 

‘No. Me no want complication. Me say. “Chief, Papillon 
and Sylvain no come work today. Me feed pigs all alone.” No 
more, no less.’ 


Break from Devil’s Island 


Sunday: seven o’clock in the evening Fd just vote xp. 
been making myself sleep ever s nce Saturday morn'rag- 
moon didn’t rise until nine. So oaxioe the night wet 



A few stars in the sky. Big rain-bearing clouds raced by over 
our heads. We’d just left the prison block. Though it was- 
against the rules we often went fishing by night or just walked 
about the island, so the others thought this perfectly natural. . 

A boy went back in with his lover, a big fat Arab. They’d 
certainly been making love in some hiding-place or other. As 
I watched them lifting the plank to get into the block I re- 
flected that the Arab, with his boy-friend at hand to stuff 
two or three times a day, must have reached his highest point 
of happiness. For him the possibility of fulfillihg bis erotic 
desires must change prison into paradise. It was no doubt 
much the same for the fairy. He might have been something 
between twenty-three and twenty-five. His body was no longer 
as youthful as all that - no langourous adolescent. He kept 
in the shade all the time to preserve his milk-white skin, but 
for all that he was beginning to lose the Adonis touch. Yet 
here in penal he had more lovers than he could ever have 
dreamt of having in the free world. Apart from his fancy- 
man, the Arab, he had customers at twenty-five francs a go, 
just like any tart on the Boulevard Rochechouart in Mont- 
martre. He not only derived a good deal of pleasure from 
them, but he also made such a good tiling of it that he and his 
‘husband’ lived quite well. He and the men who frequented 
him wallowed in their vice and loved it; and ever since they 
had reached penal there had only been one idea in their heads 
-sex. 

The prosecuting counsel, hoping to punish them by, send- 
ing them down the drain, had mucked it up : for them, the 
drain was happiness itself. The plan!; closed behind the little 
pouffe, and Chang, Sylvain and I were alone. ‘Let’s go.’ 
Quickly we made our way to the north end of the island. 

We took the two rafts out of the cave. And straight away 
all three of us were soaked to the skin. The wind was blowing 
with the particular howl of a strong gale coming right in from 
the offing. Sylvain and Chang helped me shove my raft to the 
top of the rock. At the last moment I decided to chain my 
left wrist to the rope binding the sacks. All at once I was afraid 
of losing my hold and being swept away without them. Sylvain 
got up on to the opposite rock, helped by Chang. The moon 
was high now and we could see very well. 

I had rolled a towel round my head. There were six waves 
to be waited for. Only a few minutes left now. Chang had 



come back to my side. He hugged me round the neck and 
then kissed me. He was going to lie there wedged in an angle 
of the rock and grip my legs to help me withstand’ the shock 
of Lisette’s breaking. 

‘Only one morel’ shouted Sylvain. ‘Then we’re away.’ He 
was standing in front of his raft so as to protect it from the 
mass of water that was about to sweep over it. I was in the 
same position and in addition I had Chang’s hands to hold me 
firm -- in his excitement he- had driven his nails into the flesh 
of my calf. 

Lisette came for us, driving in as tall as a steeple. She broke 
on our two rocks with her usual enormous crash and rushed 
up the side of the cliff. 

I flung myself in a fraction of a second before my friend : 
he was in immediately after, and it was with the two rafts 
tight against one another that Lisette swept us racing out to 
sea. In less than five minutes we were more than three hundred 
yards from the shore. Sylvain had not yet climbed up on to 
his raft. I’d got on to mine within two minutes. Chang had 
hurried up to Dreyfus’s seat, and he was waving a scrap of 
white cloth - his last farewell. Now it was a good five minutes 
that we had been beyond the dangerous zone where the waves 
formed to drive right in for Devil’s Island. Those that we 
were now riding were much longer, they had almost no foam, 
and they were so regular that we drifted along as though we 
were part of them; we were not tossed about and the rafts 
did not attempt to capsize. We rose and fell upon these great 
rollers, slowly moving out into the offing, for this was the ebb 

Once again, as I reached the top and turned my head right 
round, I caught a last glimpse of Chang’s white handkerchief. 
Sylvain was not far from me - perhaps fifty yards farther out 
to sea. Several times he held up his arm and waved it by way 
of showing triumph and delight. 

That night was fairly easy going, and we very clearly felt 
the change in the sea’s direction. The tide we left on had car- 
ried us out, but this one was now sweeping us in towards the 
mainland. 

The sun rose on the horizon: so it was six o’clock. We were 
too low in the water to be able to see the coast. But I could 
tell we were very far away from the islands, because although 
the sun lit up their tops, we could scarcely make them out, 
let alone see that there were three of them. All I could see 



was a single mass. Since they could hot be told apart, I judgea 
they were at least fifteen miles away. 

The feeling of triumph and success made me laugh. What 
if I were to try sitting up on my raft? The wind -would then 
push me along, blowing on my back. 

There, I was up. I undid the chain and took a turn round 
my belt. The bolt was well greased and it was easy to tighten 
the nut. I held my hands up for the wind to dry them. I was 
going to smoke a cigarette. There. I drew on it, inhaling deeply 
and letting the smoke out slowly. I was not frightened any 
more. There’s no point in telling you about the stomach aches 
1 had before, during the plunge and then just after. No, I 
wasn’t afraid any more: so calm indeed that when I’d fin- 
ished the cigarette I decided to eat a few mouthfuls of coco- 
nut meat. I got a pretty good handful down and then I lit. 
another cigarette. Sylvain was a fair distance away. We caught 
fleeting glimpses of one another from time to time, when we 
both happened to be on top of a wave. The sun was blazing 
like hell on the top of my skull and my brains were coming 
to the boil. I wetted my towel and wrapped it round my head. 
I took off my woollen sweater - it was stifling me, in spite of 
the wind. 

Christ! My raft had turned over and I’d very nearly 
drowned. Two big gulps of sea-water had gone down. In spite 
of all my efforts I could not manage to turn my sacks over 
again and get back on to them. The trouble was the chain - 
it did not leave me free enough in my movements. At last, 
having slipped the whole length over to the same side, I suc- 
ceeded in treading water by the sacks and getting my breath 
back. I began trying to take the chain off altogether and I 
strained away at the nut. I got angrier and gngrier, and per- 
haps because I was too nervous my fingers had not the 
strength to undo it. 

God, what a relief! It had turned at last. A rough five 
minutes! It had almost sent me crazy, thinking I could never 
get free of that chain. 

I didn’t bother to turn the raft right side up; I was ex- 
hausted and I didn’t feel I had the strength. I just worked my- 
self up on to it the way it was. What did it matter that I was on 
its bottom7 I’d never fasten myself on again, either with the 
chain or anything else. I’d already seen what a bloody-fool 



thing it was to do, chaining my wrist at the beginning. That 
ought to have been enough. 

The pitiless sun burned my arms and legs. My face was on 
fire. It seemed to me that wetting it made it worse, because 
as soon as the water dried the burning was even fiercer. 

The wind had almost entirely dropped, and although with 
the smaller waves it was more comfortable, I was not getting 
along so fast. A great deal of wind and a rough sea would 
really have been better. 

I had such a violent cramp in my right leg that I called out, 
as though someone could hear me. I made the sign of the 
cross over the place, remembering that my grandmother had 
told me that would cure it. This homely remedy was a dismal 
failure. The sun was well down in the west. It was about four 
o’clock in the afternoon and this was the fourth tide since 
we had set out. It was a flood tide, and it seemed to me to be 
moving me in towards the coast with greater strength than 
the last. 

Now I could see Sylvain all the time, and for his part he 
could see me very well, too. He hardly disappeared at all, be- 
cause the waves were no height now. He’d taken off his shirt, 
and he was bare from the waist up. He waved : he was more 
than three hundred yards ahead of me, but farther out to sea. 
Judging from the white water round his raft, he was trying to 
row with his hands. It looked as though he were checking his 
raft’s progress so that I could catch up. I lay down on my 
sacks, and thrusting my arms into the water 1 rowed too. If 
he braked and I hurried, perhaps we could lessen the distance 
between us. I’d chosen my companion in this escape very well. 
He could take it, one hundred per cent. I stopped rowing. I 
was tiring, and I must keep all my strength. I was going to 
try to turn the raft over, because the bag cf food was under- 
neath, together with the leather bottle of fresh water. I was 
hungry and thirsty. My lips were already cracked and burn- 
ing. TTie best way of turning the sacks over was to cling to 
them on the side opposite the rising wave and then to kick 
just as they rose. After five attempts I was lucky enough to 
swing them over in one go. The effort exhausted me and I 
found it really hard to crawl up on to them again. 

The sun was touching the horizon and presently it would 
• disappear. So it was six o’clock, or nearly. Let’s hope the night 


443 



wouldn't be too rough, because as I saw it, it was the long 
soaking that v; as taking away my strength. 

1 had a good drink from Santori’s leather bottle, but first 
I ate two handfuls of coconut meat. Quite happy, and with 
my hands dried in the wind, I got out a cigarette and smoked 
it - terrific. Before the darkness fell Sylvain waved his towel, 
and so did I: this was our way of saying good night. He was 
still the same distance from me. I sat with my legs stretched 
out: I dried my sweater as much as 1 could and put it on. 
Even wet, these sweaters kept you warm; and the moment 
the sun dipped I felt the cold. 

The wind grew stronger. It was only the western clouds 
that were touched with oink low on the horizon. Now every- 
thing else was covered with a half -darkness that deepened 
every moment. The wind was blowing from the east, and over 
there I saw no clouds at all. So no danger of rain for the pres- 
ent. 

Apart from holding on and not getting wetter than I had 
to, the only thing I thought about was whether it w’ould be. 
sensible to fasten myself to the sacks in case tiredness over- 
came me. or whether, seeing what I’d been through, it would 
be too dangerous. Then I discovered that the reason I’d been 
so hampered was that the chain was too short, one end being 
unnecessarily twisted in among the sacks’ ropes and wires. 
It was easy to get at it. With that extra length I should be able 
to move about much more freely. 1 fixed the chain properly 
and ittached it to my belt once more. The well greased nut 
•vorked properly this time - I’d turned it too hard at first. I 
felt easier w my mind now, because I’d been terrified of drop- 
ping off to sleep and losing my sacks. 

Yes, the wind was getting stronger and so were the waves. 
The seas rose higher and the hollows were deeper, and in spite 
of these great differences in level the raft sailed wonderfully 
well. 

It was wholly dark. The sky was studded with millions of 
stars, and the brightest of them all was the Southern Cross. 
[ couldn’t see my friend. The night now beginning was very 
'mportant, because if we were lucky enough to have the wind 
blowing all the time at this strength, we’d go a long way before 
omorrow morning. 

_ As the night wore on, the wind blew harder and harder, 
slowly the moon heaved up out of the sea : it was a reddish 


moon, and when at. last it was quite risen I could clearly see 
those darkish patches that give it the look of a face. 

So it was past ten. The darkness grew less and less. As the 
moon rose higher and higher, so the moonlight increased; the 
waves shone silvery, and their strange brilliance hurt my eyes. 
I could not prevent myself from looking at them, but they 
really stabbed and wounded, for my eyes were already sting- 
ing from the sun and the salt water. I told myself I was over- 
doing it, but nevertheless I smoked three cigarettes straight 
off, one after another. ' 

The raft was behaving well; this heavy sea suited it and it 
rose and fell with an easy swing. I could no longer leave my 
legs stretched out on the sacks, for this sitting position gave 
me cramps that very soon became intolerably painful. 

Of course I was continually wetted up to my middle. My 
chest was hardly wet at all, and once the wind had dried my 
sweater no later wave soaked me further up than my belt. 
My eyes stung more and more. I shut them, and from time to 
•time I dozed ‘You mustn’t sleep, manl’ Easy enough to say: 
but I couldn’t hold out any longer. Hell! I struggled against 
this huge drowsiness: and every time I came back to full 
wakefulness it was with a stabbing pain in my head. I brought 
out my tinder lighter. Every now and then I burned myself, 
putting the glowing wick on to my right forearm or the side 
of my neck. 

I was seized with dreadful anxiety, and I tried to thrust it 
aside with all my strength. Was I going to fall asleep? If I 
fell into the sea, would the cold water wake me up? It was 
sensible to have tied myself on with the chain. I mustn’t lose 
those two sacks - they were my very life now. It would be so 
bloody silly to fall into the wet and then never wake up again. 

For some minutes now I’d been absolutely soaked. A stray 
wave, one that ran across the path of the others, had struck 
me on the right-hand side. Not only did it soak me, but it set 
me askew on the sea, and the two next ordinary waves covered 
me from head to foot. 

This second night was well on towards its end. What time 
could it be? Judging from the way the moon was beginning 
to dip towards the west it must be about two or three in the 
morning. We had been at sea for five tides now, that is to say 
thirty hours. This soaking I had just had was useful in a way - 
the cold woke me up completely. I was shivering, but it was 














before. I tried to bring it back by closing my eyes and seeing 
the happenings of that first night. No good. Yes it was, 
thought All at once I had a clear vision of the sun rising in 
the east and at the same time the tip of the moon just visible 
on the western horizon. So it must now be about five o’clock. 
The moon took its time to sink. The Southern Cross had dis- 
appeared long before; so had the Great and Little Bears. 
There was only the North Star that shone brighter than the - 
rest. Since the sinking of the Southern Cross the North Star 
had reigned supreme. 

The wind seemed to be increasing. At least there was more 
body in it than during the night, as you might say. This meant 
the waves were both -taller and deeper and there were more 
white horses on their crests than there had been when the 
night began. 

Thirty hours now that I’d been at sea. There was no deny- 
ing that up until now things had gone well rather than other- 
wise, and that the toughest day was the one that was now 
about to dawn. 

Being exposed to the full sun yesterday from six in the 
morning until six at night had baked me quite horribly. It was 
going to be no sort of fun when the sun rose again today to 
have another go at me. My lips were already cracking, and- 
yet this was still the cool of the night. My lips and eyes burned 
painfully. It was the same with my hands and forearms. If I 
could manage it I wouldn’t expose my arms any more. I’d 
have to see whether I could bear my sweater. Another place 
that hurt badly was between my anus and my thighs: in- that 
case it wasn’t the sun but the salt water and the rubbing of 
the sacks.. 

Still and all, brother, cooked or not, you’ve made your 
break all right and it’s worth putting up with all this and more 
to be where you are. You’ve got a ninety per cent chance of 
reaching the mainland 'alive and hell, that’s something, isn’t 
it? Even if I were. to get there burnt bald and half flayed, that 
wouldn’t be too high a price to pay for such a voyage and 
such a result. And then again I hadn’t seen a single shark. 
Can you imagine that? Were they all on holiday? You can’t* 
deny that as lucky characters go, you’re a lucky character all 
. right. This is the true, the genuine break — you’ll see. All the 
others were too carefully laid on, too perfectly organized: 
the one that really works will be the craziest of them all. Two 



sacks of coconuts and go wherever the wind and die sea carry 
you. To the mainland. You must admit you don’t have to 
go to college to know that driftwood always ends up on the 
shore. 

If the wind and the drive of the sea kept going during the 
day with the same strength as it had during this last night we’d 
reach land in the afternoon for sure. . 

The ogre of the tropics rose up behind me. It looked as 
though he was thoroughly determined to fry everything to a 
crisp today, for he came up in a blare of glory. In the flash of. 
an eye he had dispelled the moonlight, and he was not fully 
risen from the sea .before he made it clear who was master - 
who was the unquestioned king of the tropics. In no time at 
all the wind grew warm. In an hour it was going to be really 
hot. A feeling of well-being filled my whole body: the first 
rays had hardly reached me before a gentle warmth flooded 
through me from my middle upwards. I took off my towel- 
turban and held my cheeks out to the sun, as I would have 
held them out to a log fire. Before scorching me, the ogre 
meant to show how he was the giver of life before being death 
itself. My blood flowed faster along my veins, and even my 
water-soaked thighs felt this new life racing through them. 

I could see the bush quite clearly - I'mean the very tops of 
the trees, of course. It seemed to me that it was no great way 
off. I’d wait a little longer for the sun to rise more and then 
I’d stand in on my sacks to see if I could catch sight of Syl- 
vain. 

In less than an hour’s time the sun was well up: God above, 
it was going to be hot! My left eye had half gummed up. I 
scooped up water and rubbed my eye with it - how it stung! I 
took off my sweater. I’d keep it off for a while, until the sun 
began to burn too fiercely. 

A higher wave than file rest heaved up beneath me, raising 
me right up into the air. In the split second that it was at its 
highest I saw my friend. He was sitting on his raft, stripped to 
the waist. He didn’t see me. He was less than two hundred 
yards away, to my left and a little in front. The wind was still 
blowing strongly, so seeing he was ahead of me almost dir- 
<’ctly down-wind, I decided to put my arms into the sleeves 
of my sweater and hold them up, gripping the bottom of it 
with my teeth. This kind of sail would surely carry me along 
faster than he was going. 



I sailed in this way for about half an hour. But the sweater 
hurt my teeth and the strength I had to exert, holding it up, 
was wearing me out too fast. Still, when I gave over I had 
the. impression that I’d gone faster than if I’d just left it to the 
waves. 

Hurrah! I’d just seen Sylvain. He wasn’t a hundred yards 
away. But what was he up to? It didn’t look as though he was 
worrying about whether I was there or not. When another 
wave heaved me well up I saw him again, once, twice, three 
times. I distinctly saw he was shading his eyes with his right 
hand: so he must be searching the sea. Look back, you bloody 
fool! He had certainly looked, that was for sure; but he 
hadn’t seen me. 

. I stood up' and whistled. When I rose up again from the 
hollow of the wave there I saw Sylvain standing up and facing 
me. He waved his sweater. We waved good morning at least 
twenty times before we sat down again. We signalled at the 
top of every rising wave, and it so happened we were both 
going up and down in the same rhythm. On the last two waves 
he stretched his arm otlt towards the bush, which could now 
be seen in detail - it was only about six miles away. I lost my 
balance and collapsed, sitting on my raft. The sight of my 
friend and the bush so close at hand filled my whole being 
with joy - 1 was so moved I wept like a child. The tears cleaned 
my gummed-up eyes, and through them I saw countless facets 
of every colour, stupidly I thought, ‘Why, you would say it 
was stained glass windows in a church.’ God is with you to- 
day, Papi. It is in the midst of the elements, of nature - the 
vastness of the ocean, the never-ending waves, the tremendous 
green roof of the forest - that one feels so infinitely small in 
comparison with everything around; and it a perhaps then 
that without looking for Him one finds God - lays one’s very 
hand upon Him. Just as during the thousands of hours I had 
spent buried alive in those dismal black-holes without a ray cf 
light I had felt Him in the darkness, so today by the light cf 
this rising sun (rising to devour everything not strong ercrm 
to withstand Him) I truly touched God: I felt Him all arrcr 
me and within me. He even whispered in my ear, ‘Ycc m 
'suffering and you will suffer even more; but this tics f crr 
decided to be on your side. I promise you that you vr_ -- 
and that you will be free.’ ^ 

I had never had any religious iustnrodcn; I eider rrm~ 



ABC of the Christian religion; I was so ignorant that I didn’t 
know who was Jesus’s father nor whether His mother was 
really the Virgin Mary; nor whether His father was a car- 
penter or a camel driver - but all that gross ignorance does 
not prevent one from meeting God when one really looks for 
Him: He is to be found in the wind, the sea, the sun, the 
jungle, (he stars, and even in the fishes that He must have 
scattered with so free a hand so that man might be fed. 

The sun rose fast. It must be ten in the morning. I was 
completely dry from the waist upwards. I soaked my towel 
again and wrapped it round my head. I put on my sweater, be- 
cause my shoulders, back and arms were burning horribly. 
And although my legs were very often in the water, they too 
were as red as lobsters. 

Nov/ that the coast was nearer, tile indraught was greater 
and the waves ran almost straight towards the shore. I could 
see the details of the forest, and that made me think that 
merely in these four or five morning hours we had moved in a 
great deal. My first break had taught me how to calculate 
distances. When you can see details clearly, you're less than 
three miles away: now at present I could tell the difference 
between the thickness of one trunk and another; and once, 
from the crest of a particularly high wave, I very clearly saw 
a huge monster of a tree lying over sideways, with its leaves 
dipping into the sea. 

Dolphins and birds 1 God send that the dolphins don’t play 
with my raft, pushing it around. I’d heard that they have a 
way of shoving driftwood and men in towards the shore and 
of drowning them by pushing with their noses, all with the 
best intentions in the world, since they only mean to help. 
No: although there were three or four of them and they circled 
round and round, it was only to see what it was all about, and 
they went away without even touching my raft. Thank God 
for that I 

Noon, and the sun was right over my head. The bastard 
must certainly mean to boil me alive. My eyes were oozing 
continuously and the skin had quite gone from my lips and 
nose. The waves were choppier and now they were running in 
towards the shore with a deafening noise. 

I could see Sylvain nearly all the time. He scarcely ever 
disappeared - the waves weren’t deep enough. There Was a 
kind of bar where they broke with a shocking din; and then, 



once they were over this foaming barrier, they drove right in 
to attack the forest. 

We were about half a mile from the shore and I could make 
out the pink and white birds with aristocratic plumes, walk- 
ing about and .thrusting their beaks into the mud. There were 
thousands and thousands of birds. Scarcely any of them flew 
higher than about six feet, and these short, low flights were 
merely to avoid being wetted by the spray. There was spray 
everywhere and the sea was a filthy yellow muddy colour. We 
were so close in that I could see the dirty high-water mark on 
the trunks of the trees. 

The crash of the rollers did not drown the shrill cry of these 
myriads of many-coloured waders. Thump. Thump. Then two 
or three yards further. Thump. I had grounded - I was 
aground on the mud. There was not enough water to float me. 
By the sun, it was two in the afternoon. So it was forty hours 
since I had left. That had been two days back, at ten at night, 
when the ebb had been running for two hours. So this was 
the seventh tide, and it was natural that I should be stranded, 
for this v/as the ebb once more. The flood would start to run 
at about three. By nightfall I should be in the bush. I’d keep 
the chain so as not to be swept off the sacks at the most 
dangerous moment - the time when the rollers began break- 
ing over me without floating the raft, the sea not being deep 
enough. I shouldn't be afloat before the tide had been flowing 
for at least two or three hours. 

Sylvain was more than a hundred yards over on my right, 
and somewhat ahead. He looked at me and waved his arms 
about. It seemed to me. he was trying to shout something but 
his throat couldn't produce any sound; otherwise I should 
have heard him. Now that the noise of the rollers had died 
away behind us there we were on the mud with no sound apart 
from the cry of the waders. As for me, I was about five hund- 
red yards from the forest: Sylvain was a hundred or a hun- 
dred and fifty yards away from me and farther in. But what 
was the bloody great fool doing now? He was standing up, 
and he had left his raft. Surely he hadn’t gone out of his mind? 
He mustn’t start walking or he’d sink in a little more with 
every step and maybe he wouldn’t be able to get back to his 
raft. I tried to whistle: I couldn’t. There was a little water 
left so I emptied the bottle: then I tried to shout to stop him. 
I couldn’t utter a sound. Bubbles of gas were coming up out 


of the mud. So it was only a thin crust with ooze beneath, and 
any guy that let himself be caught in it - his number would be 
up for sure. 

Sylvain turned round; he looked at me and made signs I 
couldn’t understand. I waved furiously, meaning ‘No, no! 
Don’t stir from your raft! You'll never get to the forest!’ As 
he was the far side of his sacks of coconuts, I couldn’t make 
out whether he was near the raft or far from it. At first I 
thought he must be very close, and so if he bogged down he’d 
be able to catch hold of it. 

All at once I realized that he’d gone quite a distance - that 
he’d sunk in and couldn’t get himself out and so back to his 
raft. I heard a shout. I lay flat on my sacks, dug my hands into 
the mud and heaved with all my strength. My sacks moved 
forward beneath me and I managed to slide along for twenty 
yards. I’d moked over to the left and it was then, standing, 
with the sacks ho longer blocking my view, that I saw my 
friend, my buddy, buried to the waist. He was more than - ten 
yards from his raft. Terror gave me back my voice and I 
shouted ‘Sylvain! Sylvainl Don’t move! Lie flat in the mud. 
Get your legs out if you can.’ The wind carried my words 
along and he heard them. He nodded his head to say yes. I 
flung myself down again and I heaved at the mud, sliding 
my raft along. My frantic anxiety gave me superhuman 
strength and I covered another thirty yards and more. It's 
true I’d taken over an hour to do it, but I was very close to 
him now - perhaps fifty or sixty yards. I couldn’t see very 
well. 

Sitting up, with my hands, arms and face all covered with 
ooze, I tried to wipe my left eye - salt mud had got info ir 
and it was burning. It not only stopped me seeing out of that 
one, but it also spoilt the sight of the other, which had now 
begun to run, just to make things easier. At last I saw him; he 
was no longer lying down; he was upright, with only his chest 
rising from the mud. 

The first wave arrived. It passed over me without knocking 
me off my seat and broke farther up, covering the mud with 
its foam. It also swept over Sylvain : his chest was still out of 
the mud. At once the thought came to me - ‘The more the 
breakers, come in, the softer the mud will be. I must reach 
him whatever happens.’ 

I was seized with the furious energy of a wild animal whose 



cubs are in danger, and I thrust, thrust, thrust at this mud to 
reach him, like a mother trying to save her child. He gazed 
at me without a word or a movement, his eyes fixed on me and 
mine on him. It was essential not to lose his gaze, and I no 
longer looked to see where I was to drive in my hands. I drag- 
ged myself on a little, but now two rollers had passed over 
me, quite covering me, and the mud had become thinner: I 
was moving much slower than an hour ago. A big roller came 
in, almost smothering me and pulling me off my raft. I sat 
up to see better. The mud was up to Sylvain’s armpits. I was 
less than forty yards from him. He was gazing intently at me. 
I saw he knew he was going to die there - the poor unfortun- 
ate bastard, bogged down three hundred yards from the 
Promised Land. 

I flattened myself again and dug into the mud - it was 
almost liquid now. My eyes and his were inseparably joined. 
He shook his head to say no, don’t struggle any more. I went 
on nevertheless and I was less than thirty yards away when a 
great roller smothered me under its mass of water and very 
nearly tore me off my sacks - they floated and moved me five 
or six yards forward. 

When the roller had gone I looked round. Sylvain had 
vanished. The mud, with its thin layer of foaming water, was 
perfectly smooth. There was not even my friend’s hand show- 
ing to say a last farewell. I had an utterly disgusting, brutish 
reaction, the instinct for self-preservation overcoming all de- 
cent feeling. ‘You’re alive, Papi. You’re alone, and when 
you’re in the jungle alone with no friend, it won’t be so bloody 
easy to make a success of this break.’ 

A roller crashed over my back (for I was sitting up) and 
brought me back to my senses. It bent me right over and 
knocked all the wind out of my body - it was minutes before 
I could draw breath. The raft was driven up a few yards, and 
it was only then, as I watched the wave dying away far up near 
the trees, that I mourned for Sylvain. 'We were so close: if 
only you hadn’t moved, brother! Less than three hundred 
yards from the trees. Why? Just tell me why you did such a 
bloody fool thing. What made you think that crust was firm 
enough for you to walk on? The sun? The glare? Who knows? 
Couldn’t you stand the hellish discomfort any longer? How 
come a man like you couldn’t bear a few more hours on the 
gridiron?’ 



The breakers came In one after another with a thunderous 
roar. They were coming in faster, and the waves were bigger. 
Each one washed right over me, and each one heaved me up 
a few yards, still leaving me on the mud. At about five o’clock 
the breakers suddenly changed into flowing sea and I was 
water-borne, right off the bottom. Now that the waves had 
some depth beneath them they made almost no noise. The 
thunder of the breakers died away. Sylvain’s raft had already 
been washed up among the trees. I was set down not too vio- 
lently, carried up to some twenty yards from the virgin forest. 
When the wave drew back there I was stranded on the mud 
again, firmly determined not to stir from my raft until I had 
hold of a branch or a creeper. Only twenty yards to go. It 
took more than an hour before there was depth enough for 
me to be lifted up again and carried into the forest. The roar- 
ing wave that carried me up literally flung me in among the 
trees. I undid the bolt and freed myself from the chain. I did 
not throw it away: it might come in useful. 


In the Bush 


I hurried into the forest as fast as I could, before the, sun 
should go down; I made my way half walking, half swim- 
ming, for here too there was mud that sucked you down. The 
water ran far in among the trees and night had fallen before l 
reached dry land. My nose was filled with the smell of rotting 
vegetation and there was so much gas that it stung my eyes. 
My legs were wrapped round and round with stalks and leaves. 
I still pushed my raft in front of me. At every stop I tried the 
ground beneath the water, and it was only when it did not 
give that I went on. 

I spent my first night on a great fallen tree. Hundreds of 
creatures of every kind walked about on me. My body burnt 
and stung. I put on my sweater, having hauled up my sack 
and made it fast at both ends to the tree-trunk. I had life in- 



side the sacks, for once I’d opened the coconuts they would 
provide me .with food so that I could hold out. I had my 
jungle-knife looped to my right wrist. I stretched out ex- 
hausted in the crotch of the tree - it made a kind of large 
'hollow or nest - and went to sleep without having time to 
form a single thought. No : perhaps I did just mutter ‘Poor 
Sylvain’ once or twice before I sank right down. 

It was the noise of the birds that woke me. The rays of the 
sun were coming horizontally^shining far in among the trees; 
so it would be seven or eight in the morning. There was a 
great deal of sea all round me, so it must be high water. Maybe 
this was the end of the tenth tide. 

. That made sixty hours since I’d left Devil’s Island. I 
couldn’t make out whether I was far from the sea or not; in 
any case I was going to wait for the water to go down before 
I went to the shore to dry myself and take a little sun. I had 
no fresh water left. There were still three handfuls of coconut 
meat, and I ate it with very great pleasure. I also rubbed some 
on my bums - the oil it contained soothed them. Then I 
smoked two cigarettes. I thought about Sylvain, and this time 
I did so with no selfishness. Shouldn’t I, in the first place, have 
escaped without any friend? After all, I claimed I could man- 
age all alone - could shift for myself. So in that case it was 
all one: but my heart was filled with a great sadness and I 
closed my eyes, as though that would prevent me from see- 
ing my friend going down into the mud As far as he was con- 
cerned it was all over. 

I wedged my sack' carefully into the crotch of the tree and 
brought out a coconut. I managed to open two by hitting 
them as hard as I could on the wood between my legs, bring- 
ing them point down so that the shell split open. That was 
better than using the jungle-knife. I ate a whole one and drank 
the little over-sweet milk it had. The tide ebbed quickly, and 
when the water had gone the mud bore me perfectly well as 
I walked down to the shore. 

There was a brilliant sun and the sea was incomparably 
beautiful. I gazed for a long while towards the place where 
t thought Sylvain must have disappeared. I washed in a pool 
of sea-water, and my clothes and body were soon dry. I 
smoked a cigarette. One last look towards my friend’s grave 
and I went back into the forest, making my way quite easily. 
With my sack on my shoulder I pushed in slowly among the 



undergrowth. In about two hours I came to dry land at last, 
where the trees showed no sign of flooding or of the tide. Here 
I would camp and rest completely for twenty-four hours. I'd 
open the puts one by one, take out the meat and put it all in 
the sack, ready to be eaten when it was needed. I could have 
lit a fire, but I thought it wouldn’t be wise. 

The rest of that day and then the night passed off quietly. 
The din of the birds woke me at sunrise. I finished taking out 
the coconut meat, and then, with a very small bundle on my 
shoulder, I set off towards the east. 

Towards three in the afternoon I came across a path. It 
. was a track used either by the men who went out looking for 
balata - natural rubber - or for timber, or by those who car- 
ried supplies to the gold-diggers. It was a narrow path, but it 
was clean - no branches lying across it - so it must be well 
used. Here and there I saw the tracks of an ass or an unshod 
mule. In the dried mud, men’s footprints, the big toe clearly 
marked. I walked until nightfall. I chewed coconut, which 
both nourished me and quenched my thirst. Sometimes I rub- 
bed my nose, lips and cheeks with well-chewed pulp, mixed; 
with spit. My eyes ran a great deal, and they often gummed 
up. As soon as I could, I’d wash them with fresh water. As 
well as the coconuts, my sack held a water-proof box with a 
piece of common soap, a Gillette razor, twelve blades and a 
shaving-brush It had survived the voyage perfectly. 

I walked with my machete in my hand, but I did not need 
to use it, since the path was quite free and open. Indeed, at 
the sides I noticed places where branches had been trimmed 
off not long before. A good many people must pass along, so 
I should have to take great care. 

Here the bush was not the same as what I’d experienced 
during my first break, at Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. Here the 
forest was at two levels, mid it was not as thick as it was on 
the Marorii. The first level was vegetation rising fifteen or 
twenty feet, and then over that there was the forest roof, 
more than sixty feet above the ground. There was daylight 
only to the right of the path; on the other side it was almost 
entirely dark. 

I moved along fast, sometimes crossing a clearing where the 
trees had been burnt either by men or by lightning. I kept an 
eye on the sun’s rays: their slope showed that it was not far 
from setting. My back was turned towards it, for I was going 



eastwards. - that is to say, in the direction of the "Negro village 
of Kourou or the prison camp of the same name. 

Night would fall suddenly : I mustn’t walk' in the darkness. 
I’d push into the forest and find a place where I could lie down. 
Thirty-yards and more from the path I made myself a bed, 
cutting smooth leaves from a tree like a banana-palm and 
sheltering myself with others. I and my bed were perfectly 
dry, and as luck would have it, no rain fell. I smoked two 
cigarettes 

I was not too tired that evening. The coconut meat satis- 
fied my hunger and kept me going. But my mouth was parched 
with thirst and my saliva would hardly flow at all. 

The second part of the break had begun; and this was the 
third night without a hitch that I had spent on the mainland. 
Ah; if only Sylvain were with mel He's not here, brother, and 
what is there you can do about it? Have you ever needed any- 
one’s advice or support at any time in your life? Are you a 
leader or a follower? Don’t you be a bloody fool, Papillon: 
apart- from natural grief at having lost a friend you’re no 
worse off just because you’re alone in the bash. Royale, Saint- 
Joseph and Devil’s Island are far away now, it’s six days since 
you left them. Kourou must have been warned. First the 
screws in the logging camp and then the darkies in the village. 
There mast be a police post there, too. Was it really sensible 
to walk towards the village? I knew nothing about its sur- 
roundings. The camp lay between the village and the river. 
That was all I knew about Kourou. 

When I was on Royale I thought I’d hold up the first per- 
son I came across and force him to take me to the neighbour-, 
hood of Inini, the camp for the Chinese with Cuic-Cuic, 
Chang’s brother, among them. Why should I alter my plan? 
If the people on Devil’s Island had made up their minds we’d 
been drowned, then there’d be no trouble. But if they thought 
we’d escaped then Kourou would be dangerous Since it was a 
logging camp, there'd be - a great many Arabs - that is to say, 
plenty of trackers. Watch out for the manhunt, Papil Don’t 
slip up. Don’t get yourself caught between two fires. You’ve 
got to see these characters, whoever they may be, before they 
see you. Moral: I mustn’t walk on the path but through the 
forest, alongside the track. All today you’ve been behaving 
like a bleeding half-wit, rushing about on this path with noth- 
ing but a jungle-knife as a weapon. It wasn’t so much ignor- < 



ance as raving madness. So tomorrow Fa walk through the 
forest. 

' I got up early, woken by the birds and the animals greeting 
the sunrise - indeed, I got up at the same time as the rest of 
the jungle. Another day was beginning for me too. I swallowed 
a well-chewed handful of coconut. I rubbed some over my 
face and started on my way. 

Although I was very close to the path I could not be seen: 
the going was hard, because though the creepers and branches 
were not very thick I still had to push them aside to get along. 
Still, it had been very wise to leave tlje track, because I heard 
someone whistling. Ahead of me the' path ran straight for a 
good fifty yards: I could mot see the whistler Ha, here he 
wasl A coal-black Negro. He had a pack on his back and a 
gun in his right hand. He was wearing a khaki shirt and a pair 
of shorts: legs and feet bare. He walked with his head down, 
his back bowed under his bulky load, and his eyes on the 
ground. 

I hid behind a big tree on the very edge of the path and. 
waited with my knife open in my hand until he reached me. 
The second he passed the tree I Sung myself upon him. My 
right hand caught his gun amt and twisted it: the gun drop- 
ped. ‘Don’t kill mel Oh God, have mercy 1’ He stood there 
with my knife-point against the lower left side of his throat. 
I bent and picked up the gun, an old single-barrelled job, but 
one that was certainly crammed with powder and shot to the 
muzzle. I cocked it, stood back a couple of paces and said, 
‘Undo your pack: drop it. Don’t you try and run or I’ll kill 
you like a dog.’ 

The poor petrified black obeyed. Then he looked at me. 
*You’re an escaped convict?' 

‘Yes.’ 

‘What do you want? Take everything I have But I beg you 
not to kill me - I’ve got five children. Leave me my life, for 
pity’s sake.’ 

‘Shut up. What's your name? ’ 

‘Jean.’ 

‘Where are you going?’ 

‘I’m carrying stores and medicines to my two brothers: 
they’re cutting wood in the bush.’ 

■Where do you come from? ' 

■Kourou.’ 

‘Do you belong there?’ 



That’s where I was bora.’ 

‘D o you know I nini? ’ 

‘Yes. Sometimes I do a deal with the Chinese in the prison 
camp.’ 

‘Do you see this?’ 

‘What is it?’ 

"A five hundred franc note, Take your choice, brother: 
either you do what I say and I give you these five hundred 
francs and hand you back your gun, or you refuse or try to 
deceive me. And in that case I kill you. Make your 
choice.’ - 

‘What have I got to do? I’ll - do anything you say, even 
for nothing.’ 

‘You must take me to somewhere near Inini camp without 
my running any danger. When I’ve got into touch with a 
Chinese you can go. OK?’ 

‘OK.’ 

'Don’t you try to pull a fast one on me or you’re a dead 
man.’ 

■No, I swear I’ll help. I’ll be straight with you.’ 

He had some condensed milk with him. He brought out 
six tins and gave them to me, together with a two-pound loaf 
. and some bacon. 

“Hide your pack in the bush : you can pick it up later. Look, 
I’ll mark this tree with my machete.’ 

I drank a tin of milk. He also gave me a new pair of trou- 
sers - workingman’s blue trousers. I put them on, never leaving 
hold of the gun. 

‘On your way, Jean. Take care no one sees us. because if 
they do it’ll be your fault. And in that case, you've had it’ 

Jean was better at going through the bush than me an: I 
found it hard to keep up, so clever he was at avoring hra_j--e: 
and creepers. The nimble bastard went through tuejungne - — 
the greatest of ease. . ___ 

‘You know, they’ve been told at Kourou tbs: t=r- 
have escaped from the islands. So I must teh rv__ 

it’ll be very dangerous for you when we go cyues — ; 

rou prison camp.’ _ _ __ 

‘You seem a straightforward type, Jean, : — 

let me down. What do you think is the rest if 

Inini? Remember that my safety means 
the screws or the trackers come on me sxoe--- " 

to kill you.’ 



•What shoutdlcaU you?’ . 

‘Papiilon.’ 

‘Right, Monsieur Papiilon. We ought to go deep into the 
bush and get round a long way from Kourou. I’ll guarantee 
to take you to Inirn through the forest.* 

'I'll trust you. Take whatever path you think the safest.’ 

Right inside the forest we went slower, but ever since we had 
left the neighbourhood of the path I felt that the Negro was 
more relaxed. He didn't sweat so heavily and his face was less 
tense: he seemed much calmer. 

'It looks to me you’re not so frightened now, Jean?' 

‘That’s right, Monsieur Papiilon. Being on the edge of the 
track was very dangerous for you, and so for me too.’ 

Wc were getting along fast. He was bright, thi^ darkie: he 
never moved more than three or four paces from me. ‘Stop. 
I want to roll a cigarette 

‘Here’s a packet of Gaiiloises.’ 

Thanks, Jean, you’re a good fellow.’ 

‘That’s true: I am very good. I’m a Catholic, you under' 
stand, and it grieves me to sec the way the white warders treat 
Ihe convicts.’ 

‘Have you seen many? Where? ’ 

‘In the Kourou logging camp. It wounds your heart to set 
them dying slowly, Caten away by the labour of wood cutting 
and by the fever and dysentery. You’re better off on the 
islands. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a prisoner in perfect 
health, like you * 

‘Yes: it's better on die islands.’ 

We'd sat down for a while on a big branch. I offered him 
one of his tins of milk. He said he’d rather have some coco- 
nut. 

‘Is your wife young?’ 

‘Yes, she’s thirty-two. I’m forty. We have five children, three 
girls and two boys.’ - ■ 

‘Do you earn a decent living?’ 

'I get along fairly well with the rosewood, and my wife 
-washes and irons for the warders. That helps a little. We’re 
very poor, but we all have enough to eat and the children 
all go to school. They’ve always got shoes to put on.’ 

Poor Negro, he thought everything was fine just because 
his children had shoes to their feet. He was almost my si/e 
and there was nothing at ail unpleasant in his black face. Far 



from it: you could see in his eye that he had feelings that did 
him honour - he was hard-working, healthy, a good father, a 
good husband, a good Christian. 

‘And what about you, Papillon?’ 

‘I’m trying to make myself a new life. These last ten years 
I’ve been buried alive, and yet I’ve escaped again and again 
so as to be like you one day - free, with a wife and kids, with- 
out doing anyone any harm, even in thought. As you said 
yourself, the penal settlement is rotten through and through, 
and a man with any self-respect must get out of that filth.’ 

‘I’ll help you to succeed - I’ll not let you down. Let’s go.’ 

Jean had a wonderful sense of direction, and without any 
hesitation he led me straight to the neighbourhood of the 
Chinese camp: we got there about two hours after nightfall. 
We heard far-off noises : we saw no lights. Jean said that to 
get really close to the camp we should have to avoid one or 
two outposts. We decided to stop for the night. 

I was dead with tiredness; yet I was afraid to sleep. What if 
I was wrong about the Negro? Suppose he’d been playing a 
part? Suppose he took the gun while I was asleep and killed 
me? He’d gain double by doing so: in the first place he’d get 
rid of the danger I represented, and in the second he’d get a 
reward for having killed an escaped convict. 

Yes, he was very intelligent. Without a word, without wait- 
ing about, he lay down to go to sleep. I still had the chain 
and the bolt. I felt like putting it on him, but then I reflected 
that he could undo the nut as easily as I could and that if he 
were to move carefully while I slept flat out, I’d feel nothing. 
I’d try not to go to sleep. I had a whole packet of Gauloises. 
I’d do anything to keep awake. I couldn’t put myself into this 
man’s hands - after all, he was honest and he would certainly 
have put me down as a crook. 

The night was completely dark. He was lying a couple of 
yards from me and all I could see was the paleness of the 
soles of his feet. The forest has its own particular night noises 

one is the hoarse, powerful cry of the howler monkey, which 
can be heard for miles. It’s very important, because if the 
howl is regular it means the rest of the band can eat and sleep 
in peace. ,It's not an alarm or a danger call; it says that there 
are neither wild animals nor men around. 

I was all tensed up, and with the help of some cigarette 
burns and above all the thousands of mosquitoes that were 



determined to extract every last drop of my, bjood, I held out 
against sleep without too much difficulty. I might have kept 
the mosquitoes off by rubbing myself with a mixture of spit 
and nicotine, but I knew I’d drop off without them to keep 
me awake. I just hoped there were no carriers of malaria or 
yellow fever among them. 

So here I was, no longer on the way down the drain - per- 
haps only for the moment, but at all events away from it. In 
1931, when I'd been arrested, I was twenty-five. Now it was 
1941. Ten years. It was in 1932 that that prosecutor Pradel 
had uttered an inhuman and pitiless indictment to throw me, 
young and strong as I was, into that pit they call the prison 
system, a pit full of a sticky liquid that was to dissolve me 
slowly and cause me to disappear Now I’d brought off the 
first part of this break. I'd climbed from the bottom of the 
pit to its edge. I must concentrate all my intelligence and all 
my strength so as to bring off the second part. 

The night passed slowly, but pass it did; and I did not go 
to sleep. I never even put down the gun. With the bums and 
the stinging of the mosquitoes- 1 ! stayed so thoroughly awake 
that it never once dropped from my hands. I had the right to 
feel pleased with myself: I’d not risked my freedom by giving 
way to fatigue. Mind had triumphed over matter and I con- 
gratulated myself upon that fact when I heard the first bird- 
calls that announced the coming of the day. These early risers 
were soon joined by hundreds of others. 

The Negro stretched his whole length and then sat up. 
‘Good morning,’ he said, rubbing his feet, ‘didn’t you go to 
sleep?’ 

‘No.’ 

■ ‘That was stupid, because I promise you you had nothing to 
fear from me. I’ve really made up my mind to help you to 
succeed.' 

Thanks, Jean. Does it takd Jong for the daylight to get into 
the forest?’ 

‘It won’t be here for more than an hour yet. It's only the 
animals that can tell the dawn's coming so far ahead, Down 
here we’ll be able to see pretty well in an hour’s time. Lend 
me your knife, Papillon.’ 

I held it ’out to him without hesitating. He took two or 
three paces and cut off the branch of a cactus. He gave me 
one piece and kept the other for himself. 


‘Drink the water it has in it and rub some on your fane.’ 

Using this strange sort of a basin I drank and washed. Day- 
ight was coming. Jean gave me back-the knife. I- lit a cigar- 
:tte and Jean had one too. We set off. We had to wade through 
i good many very difficult patches of marsh, and then, with- 
>ut having met anyone, friend or enemy, we reached the out- 
ikirts of the Inini camp at about midday. 

It was a regular highway that we came to. On one side of 
he broad clearing there ran a narrow-gauge railway It’s a 
ine with nothing but trucks pushed by the Chinese,’ he told 
Tie. ‘The wheels make a terrible noise and you can hear them 
a great way off.' We were there when one went by: it had a 
bench with two screw's sitting on it. Behind^ there were two 
Chinese with long poles to act as brakes. Sparks flew from 
the wheels. Jean told me the poles were tipped with steel and 
they were used either for pushing with or braking. 

There were a great many people on the road. Chinese went 
by, some carrying coils of creeper on their shoulders, some a 
wild pig, and others bundles of palm fronds. They all looked 
as though they were going to the. camp. Jean told me there 
were many reasons for them to go out into the forest - hunt- 
ing game, looking for creepers to make furniture with, or 
palm fronds for the mats that shaded the vegetable gardens 
from the burning sun, catching butterflies, insects, snakes, etc. 
Some Chinese were allowed to go into the forest for a few 
hours once they had finished the work they were set. They 
all had to be back before five o’clock in the afternoon. 

'Here, Jean. Here’s the five hundred francs and your gun 
[I’d already unloaded it]. I’ve got my knife and my machete. 
You can go now: and thanks. I hope God will reward you 
better than I can for having helped an unfortunate bastard 
to try and make a new life. You’ve been dead straight, so 
thanks again. I hope when you tell your children all about 
this you’ll say, “The convict looked a decent type; I’m not 
sorry I helped him.” ’. 

‘Monsieur Papillon, it’s late. I couldn’t get far before night- 
fall. Keep the gun: I’ll stay with you until tomorrow morn- 
ing. If you don’t mind, I’d rather it was me that stopped the 
Chinese to go and tell Cuic-Cuic - you pick him out. He won’t 
be so frightened as if he saw a white man on the run You let 
me go out on the road. Even if a screw turns up, he won’t 
i think it strange to see me here. I’ll say I’m lookinc for ro;e- 


_ -RelV o° ® e ' 

r efl» ® , . _v queer. . to give a 

s fwou\ , j v?as go^B along* 

fiat’s true-, on the r°^ d -/ lo0 k of ca ® ■ pidgin- 
c® ^chioese 1 old CBM-Jf.’ i&b* 

Moucte.- 

“Lot 


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use this P° n ttalktoy° u- 

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joodday.d 11 ^oucb^’l 18 ’^ ve minnies- .- deer 

mev talked tog Chinese w pead dragb hot 

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l«S2* «*• »- . 

£/ rf***-'- 4 — • 

to? Good, good. » 

t?’ • mic me waiting bere - 

Pe\\Cu' c ' , CID 
sin can do. 


; \\ Cuic-Cuic 10 - '« 

o can do.’ belong head of camp * 

ryfj cotne? . c^kt ducks b 

S-Od^f&^mcbimnm 
oidUCuic-Cuic-^ 
low long ago ‘ 

■wo month. Chinaman, 

r=ss. 


friend of Cuic-Cuic. Him say what to do. You no go away 
from here. Me come back tonight. 


‘Don’t know. But me come, bring food, cigarettes: you no 
lightee fire here. Me whistle La Madelon. When you hear, you 

come out on road. Savvy?’ H 

‘Me savvy.’ He disappeared. "What do you think about it, 

Jean?’ 

‘There’s no harm, because if you like we’ll go straight back 
the way we came to Kourou arid I’ll find you a canoe, somo 

food and a sail so that you can get away by sea.’ 

‘I’m going very far, Jean : it wouldn’t be possible to set off 
alone.’ But thanks for your offer. If the worst comes to the 


worst I’ll accept it.’ 

The Chinese had given us a big piece of cabbage-palm, and 
we ate it. It was fresh and very good indeed - a strong nutty 
flavour. Jean was going to keep watch: I felt quite sure of 
him. 1 daubed my face and hands with tobacco-juice, for the 
mosquitoes were beginning their attack. 

Jean shook me awake. ‘‘Papillon, someone’s whistling La 
Madelon.’ 

“What’s the time?' 

“Not late : maybe nine o’clock.’ 

We went out on to the road. The night was very dark. The 
whistler came nearer and I answered. He came closer still: 
we were very near, but I couldn’t see him. We each whistled 
in turn, and presently we came together. There were three of 
them. Each shook me by the hand. The moon would be rising 
soon. 


‘Let’s sit here by the side of the road,’ said one o^them in 
perfect French. No one can see us in the darkness ’ Jean 
came with us. ‘Eat first; well talk afterwards,’ said the edu- 
cated Chinese. Jean and I ate some piping hot vecetabl'* coup 
It warmed us through and through, and we decided to keen 
the rest of the food for later. We drank hot sweet tea that 
tasted of mint — it was delicious. 

‘So you’re a close friend of Oiang’s?’ 

*Yes. He told me to come and .look fc Cuic-Ctnc to 

S&.’SS a ” g W K£~g; 



*1 see. What are Chang’s tattoo marks?’ 

‘A dragon on his chest and three spots on his left hand. He 
told me those three spots meant he was one of the leaders of 
the rising at Pulo-Condor. His best friend was another leader 
of the rising called Van Hue. He’s lost an arm.’ 

That’s me,’ said the educated one. *You’re certainly a 
friend of Chang’s, and that means you’re our friend. Listen: 
Cuic-Cuic has not been able to get out to sea yet because he 
doesn’t know how to sail a boat. He’s alone: he’s in the bush, 
about five miles from here. He makes charcoal. Friends sell 
it for him and give him the money. When he’s saved enough 
he’ll buy a boat and look for somebody who’11 escape with 
him by sea. He’s in no danger where he is. He’s on a kind of 
island surrounded by treacherous mud and no one can get 
on to it. Anyone who doesn’t know the way through the marsh 
would be sucked down. I’ll fetch you at dawn and take you to 
Cuic-Cuic. Come with us.’ ' 

We went along the edge of the road, because the moon 
had risen and it was light enough to see anyone at fifty yards. 
When we reached a wooden bridge he said, ‘Shelter under 
this bridge. Sleep here and I’ll cotrie and fetch you tomorrow 
morning.’ 

We shook hands and they went off. They walked along 
quite openly: if they were found they were going to say they 
had been out to look at traps they had set in.the bush during 
the day. Jean said to me, ‘Papillon, don’t you sleep here. You 
sleep in the bush and I’ll stay. When he comes I’ll call you.’ 

Tine.’ I went back into the bush and with my belly full of 
good soup I dropped off happily after I’d smoked a few cigar- 
ettes. 

Van Hue was at the meeting place before sunrise. To gain 
time we were going to walk on the road until daylight. We 
went along fast for about forty minutes. Then suddenly there 
was the sun and far off we could hear the noise' of a truck 
coming towards us down the line. We got under cover. 

‘Good-bye, Jean, and good luck. God bless you and your 
family.’ I made him take the five hundred francs. In case 
things went wrong with regard to Cuic-Cuic, he told me how 
to reach his village, and how to get round it and post myself 
on the path where we‘d met in the first place. He had to go 
along it twice a week. I shook hands with that great-hearted 

Guiana Negro and he leapt on to the path. 



•Let’s go,’ said Van Hue, thrusting his way into the forest, 
te steered without hesitation and we moved along fairly 
uickly, for the bush was not very thick. When branches and 
reepers got in his way he did not cut them with bis machete, 
[e pushed them aside. 


luic-Cuic 


n something under three hours there we were in front of ft 
reat pool of mud. Floating on the ooze, water-lilies and 
ilants with great flat green leaves. We walked along the bank. 

Van Hue saw me trip and said, ‘Take care you don’t fall. 
«cause if you do you sink for good -no hope whatsoever.’ 

‘Go ahead. Til follow you and take more care.’ 

There was a little island ahead of us, perhaps a hundred 
nd fifty yards away. Smoke was rising from the middle. Those 
oust be the charcoal mounds. I detected a crocodile in the 
nud, with only its eyes showing: What could it possibly live 
m, there in that marsh? 

We walked another half mile along the bank of this sort 
»f mud-lake. Van Hue stopped and began sin ging very loudly 
n Chinese. A man came towards the edge of the little island, 

V small man, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. The two 
Chinese began talking. It went on and on and I was getting 
mpatient when at last they stopped. 

‘Come this way,’ said Van Hue. I followed him, and we 
vent back the way we had come. ‘It’s all right: that was a 
friend of Cuic-Cuic’s. Cuic-Cuic has gone hunting, but heU be 
Jack soon. We have to wait for him here,’ 

We sat down. In less than an hour’s time Cuic-Cuic ap* 
>eared. He was a little dried-up bastard, Annamite yellow 
with heavily lacquered teeth - almost shining black: he had 
ui open, intelligent look. 

, ‘You’re my brother Giang’s friend?' 


That's fine. You can go, Van Hue/ 

Thanks,’ said Van Hue, 

‘Here, take this bird with you.’ 

‘No thanks.’ Heshook nay hand and left. 

Cuic-Cuic led me along: there was a pig that walked in 
front of him. He followed this pig very carefully. 'Take great 
care, Papillon. Put a foot wrong, make the slightest mistake, 
and you’re in the mud. If there’s an accident, one can’t help 
the other, because that would only mean two instead of one 
being sucked down. The way across is never the same, because 
the mud shifts: but the pig always finds a path. Only once 
did I ever have to wait two days before I could get over.’ 

And indeed the black pig sniffed the mud and paced swiftly 
out on to it. The Chinese spoke to the pig in his own language. 
I followed, quite taken aback at the sight of this little creature 
obeying him like a dog. Cuic-Cuic .watched closely, and I 
stared, fascinated. The pig crossed to the other side without 
ever sinking in more than a few inches. My new friend hurried 
after the pig, saying ‘Tread in my footsteps. We’ve got to move 
quick, because the pig’s' tracks will fade at once.’ We crossed 
without any difficulty. The mud never came up higher than 
my calves; and that was only towards the end. 

The pig had made two long detours, and this forced us to 
walk over the crusted mud for more than two hundred yards. 
Sweat poured off me.. I can’t say I was just frightened: I was 
absolutely terrified. During the first part of the crossing I won- 
dered whether it was my fate to die as Sylvain had died. I 
could see him again, poor chap, in his last moments: and 
although I was as wide awake as possible and although I 
could see his body all right, his face seemed to have my fea- 
tures. How that crossing put me through the mangle! I won’t 
forget it in a hurry. 

‘Give me your hand.’ And the little skin-and-bone Cuic- 
Cuic helped me climb up on-to the bank. 

‘Well, mate, the trackers aren't likely to come for us here 1 ' 
‘Oh, as far as that’s concerned you can rest easy.’ 

We made our way into the little island. The smell of char 
coal gas caught my throat. I coughed. It was the two smok 
ing mounds. There was no danger of my being eaten alivf 
by mosquitoes here. Down-wind, with the smoke all round it 
there was a hut, its roof and walls made of plaited fronds - s 



carbet. It had a door, and in front of this door stood the little 
Indo-Chinese I’d seen before we met Cuic-Cuic. 

‘Good afternoon, MoucbS.’ 

‘Talk to him in French, not pidgin,’ said Cuic-Cuic. Tie’s, a 
friend of my brother’s.' 

The Chink, a half-portion of a man, inspected me from 
head to foot. Satisfied with his examination, he held out his 
•hand, his gap-toothed mouth spread in a smile. ‘Come in and 
sit down.’ 

This angle room, this kitchen, was clean. There was some- 
thing cooking over the fire in a big pot. Only one bed: it was 
made of branches, and it stood at least three feet from the 
ground. 

Help me to make a place for him to sleep tonight.’ 

‘Yes, Cuic-Cuic.' 

In less than half an hour there was my bunk. The two 
Chinese laid the table and we ate some splendid soup, then 
white rice and meat cooked with onions. 

This chap, Cuic-Cuic’s friend, was the one who sold the 
larcoal. He didn’t live on the island and so at nightfall Cuic- 
l uic and I were alone together. 

‘Yes, I stole all the commanding officer’s ducks, and that’s 
hy I’m on the run.’ 

We were sitting one on each side of the little fire, and 
om time to time the flames lit up our faces. We looked hard 
t one another, and each, talking about himself, tried to find 
ut what the other was like. 

There was almost no yellow in Cuic-Cuic’s face: the sun 
id turned it nearly copper coloured. His very slanting bright 
lack eyes looked me straight in the face when he spoke. He 
noked long cigars he rolled himself, using black leaf. I went 
n smoking cigarettes, making them with the rice-paper the 
ne-armed man had given me. 

‘So I made a break, seeing the chief, the ducks’ owner, 
leant to kill me. That was three months ago. The worst of 
is, I’ve gambled away not only the money for the ducks but 
raything from the two charcoal kilns ’ 

'Where do you play ? ’ 

‘In the bush. The Chinese from the Inini camp and the dig- 
larged prisoners from Cascade get together every night.’ 
‘You’ve made up your mind to get away by sea?’ 

That's the one thing I aim at; and by selling charcoal I 



thought Td be able to buy a boat and then find a man who 
knew how to sail it and who’d like to go off with me. But in 
three weeks time thereU be more charcoal to sell 'and then 
well buy a boat and set off in it, since you understand the 
sea.’ 

‘I’ve got money, Cuic-Cuic. We don’t have to wait for the 
charcoal to buy a boat * 

That’s fine, then. There’s a good boat for sale at one thou- 
sand five hundred francs. It’s a Negro, a wood-cutter, who’s 
selling it* 

‘You’ve seen it, then?’ 

•Yes.’ 

‘Well, I’d like to see it too.’ 

Tomorrow III go and see Chocolate, as I call him. Tell me 
about your break, PapHIon, will you? I thought it was impds- 
sible to escape from Devil’s Island. Why didn’t my brother 
Chang come with you?’ I told him all about the break, the 
wave called Lisette, and Sylvain’s death/ T can see Chang 
didn’t want to go with you. It was terribly risky. You have 
luck on your side, that’s the only reason you’ve reached here 
alive. I’m glad of it.’ 

Cuic-Cuic and I talked for more than three hours. We 
turned in early, because he wanted to go and see Chocolate 
at daybreak. We put a big log on the fire to keep it in all night 
and went to bed. The smoke caught my throat and made me 
cough, but there was the advantage that not a single mos- 
quito came in. 

Lying there on my pallet with, a good warm blanket over 
me, I closed my eyes. But I could not go to sleep. I was too 
excited. Yes, the break was going well. If the boat was good, 
Td be at sea in under a week. Cuic-Cuic was a small, lean type, 
but he must have uncommon strength and great powers of 
resistance. He was certainly dead straight with his friends, but 
he would be very cruel to his enemies, for sure. It is difficult 
to make out an Asiatic face - it gives nothine awav: but his 
eyes spoke in his favour. 

I, dropped off and I dreamt of a sunlit sea with my boat tear- 
ing happily through the waves on its way to freedom. 

Would you like coffee or tea? ’ 

Whit do you drink? ’ 

Tea.’ 

’Give me tea, then.’ 



Dawn was just beginning to break: the fire had kept in 
overnight and water was boiling in a pot. There was the cheer* 
ful sound of a cock crowing. No other bird-cries anywhere 
near ns : no doubt the smoke of the charcoal heaps kept them 
away. The black pig was lying on Cuic-Cuic’s bed. It went on 
sleeping, which seemed to me to show idleness. Dampers 
made of rice Sour were cooking in the ashes. When he’d given 
me some sugared tea, my mate cut a damper in two, spread 
it with margarine and gave it to me. We made a huge break- 
fast. I ate three well-cooked dampers. 

'I’m off: come a little way with me. If anyone calls or 
whistles, don’t you answer. You’re in no danger - it’s impos- 
sible for anyone to reach this place. But if you show yourself 
on the bank you might get shot.’ 

His master called him and the pig got out of bed. It ate and 
drank. Then it walked out, with us following. It went straight 
towards the mud. Some way from the place we landed the day 
before, it went down. It paced out for about ten yards and 
then turned back. It didn't like the mud there. It tried three 
times and then it found the right crossing. At once Cnic-Cuic 
hurried without any hesitation over to the mainland. 

He didn’t intend to come back until the evening. He’d put 
the soup on the fire and I ate it by myself. Then I found eight 
eggs in the hen-run and made a little omelette with three of 
them, using margarine. The wind had changed and the smoke 
from the heap opposite the hut drove away to one side. In the 
afternoon I lay there, sheltering comfortably from the rain on 
my bed of branches, and the charcoal gas did not worry me 
at all. 

During the morning I walked about all over the island. 
There was quite a big clearing near the middle. The fallen 
trees and the piles of logs showed that this was where Cuic- 
Cuic got the wood for his mounds. I also found a pit of white 
clay where he must certainly take the earth he needed to cover 
the heaps and prevent them from burning away. The hens 
pecked about in the clearing. A huge rat darted away from 
under my feet, and a few yards farther on I found a dead 
snake nearly sir feet long. The rat must just have killed it 

I made a whole series of discoveries during this day alone 
on the island. For instance, I found a family of ant-eaters. 
The mother and three little ones. They were in the middle of 
a huge ant-hill, with ants milling about in every direction. And 



then there -were a dozen very small monkeys, leaping from 
tree to tree in the clearing. They were marmosets, and when 
I appeared they uttered heart-breaking cries. 

Cuic-Cuic came back, that evening. '1 didn’t see Chocolate or 
his boat, either. He must have gone to get stores at Cascade, ' 
the little village where his house is. Did you have enough to 
eat?’ 

•Yes.’ 

■Would you like some more?* 

■No.’ 

Tve brought you two packets of ration tobacco. That’s all 
there was.’ 

•Thanks. It doesn’t matter. When Chocolate goes to the vil- 
lage, how long does he stay ? ’ 

Two or three days : but still I’ll go tomorrow and every day 
after, that, because I don’t know when he left.’ 

The next day the rain came pouring down in torrents. That 
did not prevent Cuic-Cuic from setting oil completely naked, 
with his clothes under his arm wrapped in a piece of oilskin. 
I didn’t go with him. ’It’s not worth your getting wet too,’ he 
said. 

The rain stopped. From the sun I could see it was between 
ten and eleven o’clock. One of the two heaps, the farther 
one, had caved in under the enormous downpour. I went over 
to have a look at it. The rain had not put the fire out alto- 
gether. Smoke was still rising from the shapeless mound. 
All at once I rubbed my eyes and stared again - 1 could hardly 
believe what I had just seen. Five shoes protruding from the 
charcoal. I realized at once that these shoes, upright on their 
heels, each had a foot and a leg in it. So there were three men 
cooking away in the heap. I don’t have to spell out my first 
reaction. Chancing on a thing like that sends a shiver right 
.d<?wn your back. I bent over, and kicking the half charred 
wood aside I found the sixth shoe. 

That Cuic-Cuic is a fast worker: as soon as he does any 
characters in, he reduces them to ashes by wholesale. It was 
so striking that to begin with I walked away from the heap 
and into the clearing. I needed the warmth of the sun. Yes, 
suddenly, in that stifling temperature, I felt cold through and 
through and I had to have the tropical sun to warm me. 

Reading this, you may think it unnatural; you may think I 
ought to have been in a muck-sweat after making a discovery 



like that. Well, no: I was utterly chilled, frozen spiritually 
and physically. It was not until long after, almost an hour, 
that the sweat started pouring down my face, because the 
more I thought about it the more it seemed a miracle to me 
that I was still alive, seeing I’d told him I had a lot of money 
in my charger. Or was he maybe reserving me for the bottom 
of a third mound?’ 

I remembered how his brother Chang had told me Cuic- 
Cuic had been convicted of piracy and murder aboard a junk. 
When they attacked a vessel with the idea of robbing it they 
wiped out the whole family - always on so-called political 
grounds, of course. So these were characters who were already 
quite used to wholesale killings. And then again, I was a pri- 
soner here. I was in a queer sort of a position, all right. 

Let’s get things straight. If I kill Cuic-Cuic here on the 
island and stuff him into the heap in his turn, nobody’s any the 
wiser. But the pig won’t obey me: not so much as a word of 
French docs this fool of a tame pig understand. So there’s 
no way of getting off the island. If I turn a gun on him, the 
Chink will obey me: but then, having got off the island, I’ll 
be forced to kill him on the other side. If I throw him into the 
mud, he’ll vanish : but there must be some reason why he burns 
these types rather than tosses them over the bank, which 
would be so much easier. As far as the screws are concerned, 
I don’t give a hoot in hell, but if his Chinese friends find out 
I*ve killed him, they’ll turn man-hunters, and with their 
knowledge of the bush it wouldn’t be any sort of fun having 
them after me. Cuic-Cuic's only got a single-barrelled muzzle- 
loader. He never lets go of it, not even when he’s cooking. He 
sleeps with it and he even carries it with him when he leaves 
the hut to relieve himself. I must keep my knife open all the 
time of course : but even so, I have to sleep sometimes. Well 
I did make a splendid choice of a companion to escape wkh. 
didn’t I? 

I couldn’t eat all day. And I’d still not made up 
when I heard somebody singing. It was Cuic-Cuic crurcc 
back. Hidden behind the leaves I watched him. He 
bundle balanced on fa is head, and when he was very c-T.‘ - 
the bank I showed myself. With a smile he handed 
wrapped up in a flour sack, climbed up beside ~ 
ried towards the hut. I followed him. ___ _ 

‘Good news, Papillon: Chocolate’s back. He*? ~ "" 



boat. He says it’ll carry more than half a ton.without stoking. 
•The things you’re carrying are flour sacks to make a mainsail 
and a jib. This is the first bundle. Tomorrow we’U bring toe 
rest, because you’ll come with me and see whether you like 
the boat.’ Cuic-Cuic said all this without turning round. We 
were walking to a line. The pig first, then him and then me. 
It occurred to me that it didn’t look as though he was- plan- 
ning to stuff me into toe charcoal, seeing that he was going 
to take me to see toe boat tomorrow and since he was already 
beginning to spend money on the escape - he’d bought these 
flour sacks. ‘Why, a heap has caved in. The rain, I dare say. 
It doesn’t surprise me, all this bleeding wet.’ 

He didn’t even turn aside to go and look at the heap but 
went straight into toe hut. I couldn’t tell what to say, or what 
decision to make. Pretending not to have seen anything 
wouldn’t wash. It would seem unnatural never to have step- 
ped over to toe charcoal mound, a mere twenty-five yards 
from the but, all day long. ' 

'You let the fire go out?’ 

“Yes. I didn’t notice.’ 

‘But you haven’t had anything to eat?’ 

‘No. I wasn’t hungry.’ 

‘Are you sick?’ • 

‘No: 

‘Then why didn’t you cat the soup?* 

‘Cuic-Cuic, sit down. I’ve got to talk to you.’ 

‘Let me just light the fire first.’ 

‘No. I want to talk to you right away, while it’s still day- 
light.’ 

‘What’s toe matter? ’ 

‘Those three men in toe charcoal heap - now it’s fallen in 
they show. Tell me about it, will you?’ 

‘Oh, thatk why you were so upset 1’ And quite unmoved he 
looked me straight in toe eye. ‘After you’d seen that, you 
v/ere uneasy in your mind. I understand you perfectly well; 
it’s natural enough. Indeed, it was lucky for me you didn’t 
knife me from behind. Listen, Papillon, those three men were 
trackers.- Now a week ago, or rather ten days to be exact, I 
sold Chocolate a fair amount of charcoal. The Chinese you- 
saw helped me get toe sacks off toe island. It’s a tricky busi- 
ness: we have two hundred yards of rope or more and we 
slide a little train of sacks over toe mud. I’ll keep it short. Be- 


tween here and the little channel where Chocolate’s canoe was 
lying, we left a good many traces. Some worn old sacks had 
leaked charcoal. That was when the first tracker started bang- 
ing about. I could tell from the noises the animals made that 
there was someone in the bush. I saw the character without 
him seeing me. It wasn’t difficult to cross over, make a half 
circle and come up behind him, unawares. He died without 
ever seeing who killed him. As I’d noticed that some days 
after a body has sunk into the mud it comes up again, I car- 
ried him here and put him into the charcoal.’ 

‘And what about the other two? ’ 

That was three days before you came. The night was very 
dark and silent, which is uncommon here in the bush. These 
two had been moving round the marsh since nightfall. When 
the smoke drifted towards him, one of them coughed from 
time to time. That was how I knew they were there. Before 
dawn I risked a crossing on the far side from where I had pin- 
pointed the cough. As for the first tracker, to keep things 
short, I just cut his throat. He didn’t even have time to scream. 
The other one, who had a gun, was stupid enough to let me 
see him - he was too taken up with staring into the bush on 
the island, trying to see v/hat was happening over there. I shot 
him, and then seeing he wasn’t dead I slid my knife into his 
heart. There,' Papillon, that’s the story of the three stiffs you 
found in the charcoal. Two were Arabs and one was French. 
It was very tricky getting over the mud with a corpse on my 
shoulder. They were heavy, and I had to make two journeys. 
In the end I managed to get them all into the mound.* 

‘And that’s really how it happened?’ 

*Yes, Papillon, I swear that’s exactly how it was.’ 

*Why didn’t you chuck them into the mud?’ 

‘As I just told you, the mud throws up corpses. Sometimes 
big' deer fall in and then a week later they come to the surface 
again. They stink until the vultures have eaten them. It takes 
quite a while, and the vultures flying about and making a 
noise brings people to look. I swear to you, Papillon, you’ve 
nothing to be afraid of with me. Listen, take the gun, if that 
would make you any happier.’ 

I had a wild desire to accept but I fought it down, and as 
naturally as I could I said, ‘No, Cuic-Cuic. I’m here because 
I feel I’m with a friend - perfectly safe. But you’ll have to burn 
the trackers again tomorrow, because who can tell what’ll 



happen when we leave this place? I don’t want anyone to ac- 
cuse me of three murders, even if I’m not here.' 

‘OK, IT! bum them again tomorrow. But don’t you worry, 
no one will eve£ set foot on this island. It’s impossible to get 
over without sinking in the mud.’ 

‘And what if they use a rubber dinghy?* 

‘I hadn’t thought of that.' 

‘If someone brought the gendarmes here and they took it 
Into their heads to cross to the island, believe me they’d cross 
with a rubber dinghy all right. And that’s why we must get 
out as soon as we possibly can.’ 

'Right. Tomorrow we’U light the mound again - in any case 
it’s not gone right out. All we have to do is to make two holes 
for the air/ 

‘Good-night, Cuic-Cuic/ 

‘Good-night, Papillon. And I say again, sleep well - you can 
trust me.’ 

With the blanket pulled up to my chin, I luxuriated in its 
warmth. I lit a cigarette. Not ten minutes later, Cuic-Cuic was 
snoring. And there was the heavy breathing of his pig, lying 
there next to him. There were no more flames, but the -tree- 
trunk on the hearth glowed red every time the breeze wafted 
into the hut, and this glow gave me a feeling of peace and calm- 
ness. I delighted in this comfort and I dropped off thinking, 
•Either I wake up tomorrow, and in that case everything will 
be fine between Cuic-Cuic and me; or else the Chinese is a 
better actor than Sacha Guitry, a marvel at hiding wbat he 
means to do and at telling tales, and in that case I shall never 
see the sun again, because I know too much - 1 might be dan- 
gerous to him.’ 

The specialist in mass-murder woke me, a mug of coffee in his 
hand; and as though nothing had happened he wished me 
good morning with a wonderfully cordial smile. Dawn had 
broken. ‘Here, drink your coffee and have a damper - it’s al- 
ready spread.’ 

When I’d eaten and drunk I washed outside, taking water 
from a barrel that was always full. 

‘Will you give me a hand, Papillon?* 

'Yes,* I said, without asking what he wanted me to do. 

We pulled the half burnt corpses out by their feet. I didn’t 
say anything, but I noticed that all three of them had had their 
bellies opened: the kindly Chinese must have rummaged 



through their guts to see whether they had chargers. Were 
they in fact trackers? Man hunters? Why might not they have 
been after butterflies or game? Had he killed them to protect 
himself or to rob them? Enough of that. They were back in a 
hole in the mound, well covered with wood and clay. We op- 
ened two passages for the air and the heap went back to its 
two jobs - making charcoal and turning the three stiffs into 
cinders. 

‘Let’s go, Papilloh.’ 

The little pig quickly found a crossing. Hurrying along one 
after the other we passed over the mud. I could not overcome 
my dread at the moment of setting out upon it. Sylvain’s end 
had made such an appalling impression on me that I could not 
set foot on the marsh with an easy mind. At last, the cold sweat 
running off me, I darted after Cuic-Cuic. I walked carefully 
in his footsteps. There was no reason why I should sink: if he 
got over, I could get over. 

Rather more than two hours of walking brought us to the 
place where Chocolate was cutting wood. We’d met nobody 
in the bush and so we’d never had to hide. 

'Good-day, Mouchd.’ 

‘Good-day, Cuic-Cuic.’ 

‘OK?’ 

‘Fine. How are you?’ 

‘Show my friend the boat.’ 

It was a very strong-built boat, something like a lighter. It 
was very heavy, but it was solid. I dug my knife in all over it: 
nowhere did the point go in more than a quarter of an inch. 
The planking was sound, too. It had been made of the very 
. best quality wood. 

‘What are you asking for it? ’ 

‘Two thousand five hundred francs.’ 

TU give you two thousand.’ It was a deal. ‘This boat has no 
keel. I’ll give you an extra five hundred francs, but you’ve got 
to fix a keel, a rudder and a mast. Hardwood keel and rudder. 
The mast, ten foot of light whippy wood. When will it be 
ready?’ 

‘In a week.’ 

‘Here are two thousand franc notes and one five hundred. 
I’m going to cut them in two and I’ll give you the other half 
on delivery. You keep these three halves. Right?' 

’Yes.’ 


‘I want some permanganate, a keg of water, cigarettes and 
matches, stores for four men for a month - Sour, oO, coffee 
and sugar - I’ll pay for them separately. You must hand every- 
thing over to moon the river, on the Kourou.* 

‘Mouch6, 1 can’t take you down to the mouth of the river.’ ' 

‘I never asked you to. All I said was to deliver the boat On 
the river and not in this creek.’ 

‘Here are the flour sacks, some rope, needles and sail 
thread.’ 

Cuic-Cuic and I went back to our hide-out. We got there 
without any trouble before nightfall. On the way back he car- 
ried the pig on his shoulders, because it was tired. 

The next day I was alone, busy sewing the sail, when I heard 
shouts. I went towards the mud, hiding behind the trees, and 
looked over to the opposite bank: Cuic-Cuic and the Chinese 
intellectual were arguing and waving their arms. It seemed to 
me that the intellectual wanted to cross to the island and Cuic- 
Cuic was against it. Each had a machete in his hand. The one- 
armed man was the more excited of the two. Chri