The Memoirs of Ravachol
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The Memoirs of Ravachol
Memoirs dictated to his guards on the evening of March 30, 1892
The aforementioned, having eaten with a good appetite, spoke to us in these words:
Gentlemen, I am in the habit of engaging in propaganda wherever I find myself. Do you know what Anarchy is?
We answered ‘No’ to this question.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” he responded. The working class, which as you know is obliged to work to obtain its bread, doesn’t have the time to indulge itself in reading the pamphlets that are made available to it; it is the same for you.
Anarchy is the annihilation of property.
Presently there exist many useless things, many occupations which also useless, such as accounting, for example. With anarchy, there is no more need for money, no need of bookkeeping or of the other professions that derive from it.
There are presently too great a number of citizens who suffer while others bask in opulence, in abundance. That state of things cannot last; we should all not only profit from the surpluses of the wealthy, but like them we should still obtain the necessities. Within the present society it is impossible to achieve that goal. Nothing, not even the tax on income, can change the face of things, and yet the majority of the workers are persuaded that if we acted thus, there would be an improvement. That is an error. If we imposed a tax on the proprietor, he would increase his rent and in this way would arrange to have those who already suffer bear the new burden that we would impose on him. No law, moreover, can touch the proprietors, for being masters of their goods we cannot prevent them from disposing of them as they wish. What then is to be done? Destroy property and, by this act, destroy the monopolists. If that abolition took place, it would also be necessary to abolish money in order to avoid any idea of accumulation which would force the return of the present regime.
It is indeed money that is the motive of all the discords, all the hatreds, all the ambitions. It is, in a word, the creature of property. That metal, in truth, only has a conventional price born of its rarity. If we were no longer obliged to give something in exchange for what we need for our existence, gold would lose its value and no one would seek it, and no one could enrich themselves since nothing that they amassed could serve to procure them a well-being greater than that of others. From that, no need of laws, no need of masters.
As for religions, they would be destroyed since their moral influence would no longer have a place to exist. There would no longer be the absurdity of believing in a God who does not exist, since after death everything is finished. So we must hold onto life, but when I say life, I mean it. It is not [life] to dig the whole day to fatten the bosses and become, while dying of hunger, the authors of their well-being.
There must be no more bosses, none of those people who support their idleness with our labor, everyone must be made useful to society, working according to their abilities and aptitudes. Thus, one will be a baker, the other a teacher, etc. With this principle, labor will diminish, and we will each have an hour or two of work per day. Men, being unable to remain without an occupation, will find entertainment in labor; there will be no more idlers, and if they exist their number will be so negligible that we could leave them alone and let them profit, without grumbling, from the labor of others.
Having no more laws, marriage will be destroyed. We will join together according to our penchants and inclinations, and the family will find itself constituted by the love of the father and mother for their children. If, for example, a woman no longer loved the one she had chosen for her companion, she could separate and make a new association. In short, complete liberty to live with those we love. If, in the case that I have just cited, there were children, society would raise them, those who love the children would take charge of them.
With that free union, no more prostitution. The secret diseases would no longer exist, since they arise only from the abuse of the coming together of the sexes, an abuse that woman is obliged to engage in, that the present conditions force her to make an occupation of, in order to provide for herself. Isn’t money necessary to live, no matter the cost?
With my principles, which I can detail for you completely in a very short time, there will be no more reason for the army, since there will be no separate nations, property being destroyed and all the nations being joined into a single one, which will be the Universe.
No more wars, no more quarrels, no more jealousy, no more theft, no more murder, no more magistracy, no more police, no more civil service.
The anarchists have still not entered into the details of their constitution. Only the markers have been laid down. Today the anarchists are numerous enough to overthrow the present order of things, and if this has not taken place it is because it is necessary to complete the education of the members, to inspire in them the energy and the firm will to aid in the realization of their projects. For that, only a push is necessary; let someone put themselves at their head and the revolution will be accomplished.
Those who blew up the houses aimed to exterminate all those who, through their social positions or their actions, are detrimental to anarchy. If they were allowed to openly attack those people without fear of the police, and consequently without fear for their hides, they would not destroy their habitations with the aid of explosive devices, means that can kill, at the same time as them, the suffering class they have in their service.
Childhood and adolescence
I was born in Saint-Chamond (Loire) October 14, 1859, to Dutch and French parents.
My parents lived apart, I believe, but they had the firm intention getting married, the delay of that union depended only on some unfulfilled formalities (the birth certificate, etc., of my Dutch father).
My father was a laminator, and my mother was a silk throwster. At that moment, they were in a period of ease, for my mother had received a little money from her family, but my father had debts that he had to repay.
I was raised by a wet nurse until the age of three, and according to my mother, I did not have all the care necessary for a young child.
Upon leaving the nursery, I was placed in the [children’s] asylum and remained there until I was six or seven years old.
My father beat my mother and questioned me in order to make reports against her—questions which I never answered—and as a result of the discord in the household, he abandoned her with four children, of which the youngest was three months old.
He went to his country, but as he was suffering from a sickness in his chest, he died after a year.
My mother could not support four children and placed me in the country (La Rivoire near Saint-Chamond) with Mr. Loa, but he could not keep me because I was too small to tie or untie the cows that he had. I returned to my mother, to await the next year.
My mother had to ask the assistance of some well-to-do people and sometimes sent me to seek either money or bread.
One day, I remember, when someone had given my mother the uniform of a student, I would not wear it as it was for fear that the other children would tell me that it was a beggar’s outfit, and my mother had to remove all the buttons and everything that could make anyone suspect this gift.
We all lived very unhappily, and the next year I again took the road to the country and returned to the home of a Mr. Loa, who paid me 15 francs for the season.
I was then eight years old, and helped my master, who had only me for a servant, to bundle the hay on the carts, in short, in the work of haymaking.
Sundays, I attended religious services, and, all in all, I followed the principles that my parents had taught me.
That winter, I returned to my family, and I continued to go to school.
The following year I went to the mountains, to La Barbanche, in the home of Liard, where I kept six cows and some goats.
The work seemed more difficult to me, especially when I remained there at the beginning of winter.
This winter struck me for several reasons. The first was the suffering I endured from the cold when I led the goats to graze on the stems of broom. Being poorly shod, my feet were, as it were, in the snow. The second was the loss of one of my sisters, the youngest, and an illness that I had, the pituitous fever.
The next year, I went for the summer to the home of a big farmer, Mr. Bredon, a miller and wood-seller in the commune of Izieux. I had 4 horses, 8 cows and 4 steers, a herd of ewes and some goats. I kept cows and steers. That was in 1870. I was eleven.
I believe it was that winter that I took my first communion with my relatives.
Sometimes while guarding the cows, I cried remembering the little sister that I had lost. I remember that my mother came to see me. She was sick, and I had cried a lot when I saw her go away and leave me in the hands of strangers, and also because I knew she was sick and unhappy.
The following year, I went to the Brouillassière between Val Fleury and Saint-Chamond. My boss, Mr. Paquet, was brutal to animals. He held a farm belonging to the Hospice and was a bit poor. I was not too unhappy there.
Returning to spend the winter at home, I was hired through the intervention of my mother in a workshop making spindles, where I earned 10 cents a day, and when spring came I returned to the country, to Gray in the mountains. I was highly thought of by my employers, whom I liked very much.
I spent the summer and winter there, and with pleasure, for they had a very well-read son, with whom I was happy to talk. If I did not remain there, it was because of the poor salary that they gave me, for I earned too little even to buy clothes.
The very day that I left them to go to Saint-Chamond, I met a road-mender on route, to whom I explained my situation. He told me that he knew a farmer who was looking for a herdsman. He explained that I would undoubtedly find him in Obessa[?], and in fact I did find him there, and was hired for the wage of 80 francs.
I left with him and passed the night at his home. The next day I went home on foot, and learned from my mother that there was a farmer very close to Saint-Chamond who sought a herdsman. Then I yielded to my mother’s insistence and went to see the farmer she had told me about, for the one in Fouillouse had not given me a down payment. Otherwise I would have gone with him, especially as, having fewer animals to tend, I would have had less trouble than with the other, and that was the last time I was a herdsman.
I recall one fact without importance, but which demonstrates the avarice of my boss. One day he said to me: “We must hurry and eat. We will eat better at the house;” to which I replied: “— at the house or here, you say the same thing, for you are always pressing us, and order us to work at mealtime so that we don’t have the time to take what we need.”
He wanted to hire me for the following year, but I refused, wanting to learn something other than farming.
Arriving home, I went to work for a few days in a coal mine, sorting the stones. I earned 15 cents a day. From there I believe I went to a rope-maker’s, to turn the wheel. I did well enough there, earning between 3/4 and 1 franc. Leaving there, I went to work at a factory that made cast-iron boilers. I heated the rivets and swung the sledge hammer. I earned 1 franc per day. The noise deafened me, so I was obliged to leave.
Then my mother hired me out as an apprentice dyer to the firm of Puteau and Richard, at Saint-Chamond.
I had to fulfill three years of apprenticeship, and an apprenticeship virtually nonexistent, since the hid the secrets of the operation, and in order to learn a few words of it we had to catch the workers while they labored and question the comrades while the foremen were not there.
They did not want the apprentices to get their hands on the mixture. In order to learn they should just watch when they had time, for they didn’t want to sacrifice a piece of silk to teach them, and so the apprentices had to produce in some other manner. I recall that we took advantage of the foremen’s meal times to practice and improve.
The first year I reached 1,50 F per day, the second 2 F, the third, for six months 2,45 F, and the other six months 2,50 F.
Often we worked, without any increase in pay, for twelve or thirteen hours.
They required us to work beyond our strength, and we were made to lift weights that some grown men handled with difficulty.
Sundays, until the age of sixteen, in the evenings, I went from time to time with friends to the dance, the only entertainment in Saint-Chamond.
I only went to the cafe rarely. Sometimes we met some friends to go for a tour in the country, or we would go to one another’s homes to learn to dance.
That was pretty much my life during the last years of apprenticeship. I spent about 15 cents each Sunday.
My mother had returned to work more earnestly when she put my brother children in the enfants assistés,<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> keeping only my sister with her, but as my brother complained of the Brothers who looked after him, my mother took him back when I was working. I was then nineteen.
Worker and militant
For six months I remained a worker in the firm where I had taken my apprenticeship, with a salary of 3,75 F instead of 4 F as the rules of the house indicated, but knowing that I was not experienced in the area I didn’t dare leave the firm, they had to fire me for loss of time caused by our chit-chat and laughter among comrades.
From there, I went to the Creux, in the commune of Izieux, to the firm of Journoux, but as I was not a very strong worker, they gave me 3,90 F instead of 4 F. I remained there around ten months, until the strike.
I attended all the meetings of the strikers, who did not win the day; the strike lasted about three weeks.
During that time I lived on my savings; when the strike began I was sacked with all my comrades.
I left for Lyon one night at nine o’clock, on foot, with a comrade, Jouany, who was a native of Saint-Chamond.
At two o’clock in the morning, exhausted from walking, we went to sleep under a tree, but we were wakened about four o’clock in the morning because of the cold and pushed on to Givors, hoping to find a train, but as it was too early. We walked to Grigny. There, in a café, we had a snack while waiting for the train. I was in charge of the expenses. After the meal, we took the first train to Lyon, where we were both hired in a factory (on the rise of the hill [La Croix-Rousse]), dyeing silk in black. We remained for some time, and when the strike of Saint-Chamond had ended, many of our comrades returned there, although they had not won the day.
Not wanting to give in to the will of the bosses, I remained at Lyon and then entered another workshop (the firm of Coron, rue Godefroy, dyer in colors) where I earned 4,50 F, half a franc more, per day.
I didn’t remain there long, work having declined, and my comrade having been dismissed before me.
I found myself without work for a month, for only being trained as a worker in black silk, I had difficulty getting hired. Seeing that I found no employment, I returned to my mother’s home, for I had no more than thirty francs in my pocket.
I had made the acquaintance of a young woman before leaving Saint-Chamond, whom I liked very much and who wrote to me often during my stay in Lyon, asking me to come back to her, but I always put it off, thinking I would be able to save some money to dress myself decently.
She even came to see me in Lyon, and I had the pleasure of spending a night with her. I had allowed myself, before meeting this girl, some escapades after a dance, but they were only amours for a day.
At Saint-Chamond there was little work, so I remained without work for some time more, and consequently the responsibility of my mother.
One day I met a knowledgeable laborer who had worked in a metal-working factory, that of Potin. He invited me to go there with him, and I accepted eagerly.
Arriving at the doorway of the factory, we had to wait for someone to come and choose the men who pleased them.
At that moment, they brought in a cylinder. As the road was steep, they had put men behind the car to hold it in case of an accident; I took the opportunity and joined those who did the chore, and once in the workshop, I presented myself to the foreman or manager, Mr. Pernod, and I was immediately accepted, along with another from the country, but not the one who had suggested the idea of going to that workshop, for he, having remained at the door, had not been hired.
I worked as a laborer at several machines, including the shear, for 3 francs per day.
The fifth day I was there—I believe it was New Year’s Day—in a moment of rest, and while I slept, a furnace-boy, just out of the dragoons, came to throw a bucket of water in my face. I heard him, and, immediately, I sat up and I shouted at him. He wanted to box with me, so I gave him a punch in the face until he was satisfied with the delivery, and since my father had made himself famous by the thrashings he had given to several men, including the foreman Humbert, all the workers wanted to see the son of the German, as they called me after the scene that I had just had.
I forgot to say that a similar business had occurred at Saint-Chamond and that I had also made my case. It was from this that I made my reputation as a man to fear in case of a dispute.
On my return to Saint-Chamond, I renewed my acquaintance with the girl of whom I spoke, and I gave her up only with much grief when she informed me that our relations could no longer continue, since she was courted, with an eye to marriage, by the son of her boss.
I had remained in that factory around five months and I left there willingly to hire on with Pichon, a dyer at Saint-Chamond.
I lose faith.
I had begun to read the Wandering Jew of Eugène Sue while at Journoux’s, when I was eighteen years old.
The reading of that volume had begun to make the conduct of the priests odious to me. I felt bitter sympathy for the two girls and their companion Dagobert.
One day a lecture was made at Saint-Chamond by Mme. Paule Minck, a collectivist.
She discussed religious ideas, combating them, in short she made a anticlerical speech. According to her, no God, no religion, complete materialism. She said that Saint Gabriel was a handsome man who paid court to the one we call the Virgin, and that Saint Joseph was just her husband, pure and simple.
I was very struck by her speech, and already encouraged by the Wandering Jew against religion, I no longer had faith, and I have almost completely lost religious ideas.
In a social studies circle
Some time later, Léonie Rouzade, a collectivist, and Chabert, of the same party, that is to say the Workers’ Party, held a meeting at Saint-Chamond which I attended.
The woman’s subject was anticlerical, and the man dealt with the social question.
All this talk rattled me, and, leaving the meeting, I asked my friend Nautas if there were writings that treated these matters. He responded that, yes, the newspaper Le Prolétariat, published at Paris, would bring me up to date on all those questions.
Meanwhile, I met another comrade who had had an energetic discussion with the mayor of Saint-Chamond, Mr. [Marius] Chavannes, who had been a deputy.
I found it strange that a worker argued so strongly with a mayor, for these two characters left the meeting with me. The worker was called Père.
I tried to talk with the man who had taken the floor at our dyers’ strike. I managed to see him, and he informed me that a social study circle was forming. I asked him if I could take part in it. He responded affirmatively and gave me some explanations. Since then I have been part of it.
What had so inspired me to continue the study of social problems was also the first reading of the Le Prolétaire, which spoke in vindication of the Commune of 1871 and of the victims of Russian nihilism. I read and reread it so much that I knew it nearly by heart. I was then twenty or twenty-one years old. I also read a collectivist daily, Le Citoyen de Paris. In the beginning, I had difficulty understanding their ideas, but by persevering I managed to see that they were good.
I become an anarchist
In the circle that I was part of, there often came anarchist speakers who, taking the floor, enlightened me on points I did not understand.
[Toussaint] Bordat and Régis Faure opened another type of ideas for me. At first glance I found their theories impossible, and I would not accept them, but from reading their collectivist and anarchist pamphlets, and having listened to many meetings, I chose anarchy, without, however, being completely convinced of all their ideas.
It was only two or three years later that I adopted anarchy completely.
First tangles with justice
I remained in the employ of Pichon almost two and a half years. I had been fired from that house because I had been a few minutes late to work in the morning, and I said to the foreman who mentioned it to me that he didn’t count the days when I stayed after hours. It is because of these words that he gave me three days to leave.
After that business I went from house to house, because of the lack of work, in the firms of Vindrey, Balme, Cuteau and Richard. I returned to Vindrey three time, I worked in the meantime for Coron at Saint-Étienne, for a month. I remained with Vindrey for the longest time.
I frequented night classes at that time, primary studies and chemistry, and I even asked to be allowed to follow the day courses during the days of unemployment, an authorization refused to me because I was too old.
I learned with difficulty and only understood after someone had explained things to me several times. It is there that I learned a little arithmetic.
Working for Vindrey, I was anarchist. I began to make explosives, but I could not make proper devices, having only poor materials at hand. I tried to make dynamite. One of my friends, who had bought some sulfuric acid at a sale, could not keep it at his home, for one of his children had almost burned himself with it, he gave it to me.
One day, a girl who had been betrayed by her lover, came to me, knowing that I had vitriol at my disposal, or rather sulfuric acid, and asked me to burn a corn she had. I mistrusted her, and I asked her how she used it. She told me that she took a drop with a straw and put it on the corn, and that this process had already worked. So I gave her a very little bit of it in a large container, but she used it by adding a bit of water to it, to throw it in the face of her lover.
That woman was arrested, and when they asked her where she had got the acid, she said it was me that had given it to her. So I was called before the Police Commissioner; there, the business was explained and I was released after being questioned.
The police had doubtless gone to get some information about me from my boss Mr. Vindrey, for as soon as he learned that I was an anarchist, he fired first my brother and then me, and that immediately. In vain, I asked for explanations; he did not respond to me, but by dint of abuse and insults, I extracted this confession from him: that if he had known me he would have already long since shown me the door.
I couldn’t leave my mother to die of hunger...
At that time my sister had just had a child with her lover. My brother and I were without work, and without a cent put away. We only had the bread that the baker was willing to give us. Not finding work anywhere, I was obliged to go in search of food.
I took a pistol and went to the country to hunt chickens, with a basket in hand to put them in. I pretended to pick dandelions. My brother was going to steal some sacks of coal. One day he was almost hurt leaping over a wall with a sack, being pursued. That coal was taken from the trash.
It was painful for me to go steal the poultry of the unfortunate peasants, who perhaps only had that to live on, but I did not know those who were rich and I could not leave my mother, my sister and her child, my brother and myself to die of hunger.
I had tried to work, but they let me go everywhere. My mother and sister didn’t know where the poultry that I brought came from. I told them that I had given a hand to some farmer and they had given me a chicken in payment. I had to act this way for almost a month, that is until the month of May, when I left for Saint-Etienne.
Once work was almost assured, my brother was also hired and my mother rejoined me. My brother made a lot more than me, but spending more, he brought almost nothing home.
One day I rebuked him, and several times even, saying: “What would we do at home, if I did as you do? Tomorrow we would only have the table to look at.” And I lectured him. He began to cry, feeling the reproach was just, but that did not correct it, whether he earned little or much.
I learned to play the accordion, and on Sundays when I found the opportunity, I went to the dance, which allowed me to have some pennies before me, to provide for my personal expenses, for I put all my pay in the hands of my mother, for whom I had much affection, affection that she lost later because of her chatter and gossip on the subject of a lover that I took thereafter.
After two years at Saint-Étienne, I began to smuggle alcohol, for my work was not enough because of too many days of unemployment.
By means of rubber devices that adapted to the shape of the body, I moved the liquids either by tram or on foot. I carried some vials of scent so that people who approached me smelled the odor of the perfumes instead of the fumes from the alcohol.
That idea had been suggested to me by a comrade, who had provided the money and the necessary instructions.
Some time later I made the acquaintance of a married woman, through the intermediary of my mother. The latter, who went to the meetings of the protestants, spoke to that woman a great deal in my favor, as indeed all mothers do. My mother had done this believing that she spoke to a maiden.
Now, one Sunday she invited me to come to her house. She was in her Sunday best and ready to go out. Seeing that petite brunette with big black eyes, I understood that this was the woman of whom my mother had spoken, and I was gallant with her, as much as my feeble education allowed me. A good impression of our interview remained with both that lady and myself. I learned that she was married to a lace-maker twenty years her elder.
Relations commenced, at first friendly and then intimate. She had two children, a twelve year old boy and another, seven year old, who was crippled.
I understood that this woman was unhappy with her husband, who never talked with her, and whose character, because of the difference in age, was very opposite, he being withdrawn and ill-mannered, she expansive and affectionate.
I conceived the idea of linking my life forever with this woman; I expounded to her these ideas and my theories, that is to say that she was allowed, as I was, to yield, when she wished, to a penchant for love. I even gave her permission to receive in our home those for whom she had a penchant. It would have been the same for me, without that leading to the destruction of our union; only, we should act with respect for one another, with discernment, by keeping secret the foreign relations at home, so that we did not give birth in the heart of either one to jealousy, daughter of the spontaneous pain of the heart.
That woman was named Bénédicte [Labret]. As her situation was very precarious, I gave her as much money as possible. So I was obliged, so to speak, by my affection for her to continue smuggling, in order to help her and have some money for myself. She only learned much later that I was smuggling, for I could not always hide what I did from her, especially as she was often in the room where I took off my devices.
My mother soon learned of that relation, and aroused by the neighbors and knowing that married woman, she did all that she could to break up that union of the heart.
She insulted her lower than the dirt in the middle of the street, and accompanied her words with threats. This disposed me strongly against my mother and, despite all the possible conciliations that I made towards her, she only continued with greater intensity. It is thus that my filial love was changed to hate, and that each day I became more strongly attached to my mistress.
Seeing that smuggling no longer produced much and that work did not go well, I resolved to take up counterfeiting, for I recalled that one of my friends had done it and it had been successful; that friend was named Charrère.
I began to make one and two franc pieces, some of five francs, and of one-half franc. I passed just a few of them. I found the manufacture too meticulous and the disposal too difficult.
However, I wanted to bring happiness to my mistress and myself, to shelter us, in the future, from all poverty. The idea of a great theft came to mind. I said to myself that here below we were all equal and we should have the same means of obtaining happiness for ourselves.
Left with no resources, deprived of everything, and knowing that there were presently enough things produced to satisfy all the needs of everyone, I sought to discover what could provide me with well-being. Now, I saw only money. I only desired to possess enough for my means of existence each day, and not for the pleasure of being in opulence and brimming with gold.
So I went in search of where I could strike, not being able to resign myself to dying of hunger alongside men who had more than they needed.
I learned that at Notre-Dame-de-Grâce there was an old man who lived in solitude and who received many alms. His life was very sober, and naturally he must have amassed a treasure. I left one night to determine the truth of what I had been told, to explore the house and to be ready to present myself in a manner that would not wreck my enterprise.
Before making arrangements, I learned from comrades that a baroness, Mme. de Rochetaillée, had been buried, and that they had to bury her with her jewelry. I had thought that I could easily desecrate her grave and obtain everything of value. So I went to the cemetery of Saint-Jean-Bonnefonds (Loire) where her vault was. Around 11 o’clock at night, I scaled the wall of the cemetery. Going there, I took the opportunity to pass two 2 franc pieces. I could pass one at a wine-merchant and the other at a baker’s shop, for I did not want to be without money in my pocket. Once the wall was scaled, I sought the location of the sepulture, which I found easily. The headstone was in front of the mortuary chapel. Using a crowbar taken, I think, from a construction site, I was able with difficulty to raise the stone, then I entered the vault. In the vault there were several cases closed by slabs of marble. I sought one where there was an sign showing me the place where the baroness rested. I sunk my bar in a crack and, shaking it from side to side, I made the marble slab that closed the case tumble. That slab, falling, produced a resounding noise, because there was a lot of echo in the vault. Immediately, I went back up to see if that noise had attracted the attention of anyone.
Seeing that I had nothing to fear, I descended again into the vault and with great difficulty I removed the coffin from its case—which was the second and placed 1,20 meters high—but not being able to hold the coffin, I let it fall. A thud, louder than the first, was heard. I went up again, like the first time, to determine the effect produced. Seeing that I could continue my work peacefully, I went back down and started to break the bands that surrounded the casket, always with the aid of my bar. I managed to break open the cover, but I then encountered a second casket of lead that I did not have too much trouble smashing open. I had a muted lantern with me, which went out before the end of the operation.
I went up again to find some dried flowers and withered wreaths that I set afire in the vault to light my work.
The corpse was beginning to decompose, and I couldn’t find the arms, so I tried to get the cadaver out of the way and I found on the stomach a quantity of little packets that I removed and threw on the ground. There were some on all sides, and that work done, I examined the hands, arms and neck, but I didn’t see any jewels. Finding nothing, and beginning to be asphyxiated by the fumes that the flowers and wreaths produced in burning, I left the vault and went out by the door of the cemetery, which only opened from the inside.
I took the road to Saint-Etienne, and I put on a false beard. On the way I met a man who asked me, from some distance, the way to the station. I had a revolver on me. That man, not understanding well what I said to him, approached me and remarked that I had a false beard, a reflection which made me smile. I arrived at Saint-Étienne around two o’clock in the morning.
Having been unsuccessful, I tried to find something else, and I learned that in a little town called “La Côte” there was an uninhabited house belonging to some rich people. I thought that there would be money there; I went three time to explore the places so as to work surely.
One night I went and tried to break in. as I did not succeed, I left and returned the following day taking a brace and a very broad English drill bit. I scaled the wall and I leaped into the garden, went toward the back door and set myself to opening it. When the hole was big enough to pass my arm through, I pushed it in, raised the bar and opened the catch. I even had to use my bar in order to force the bolt from its plate. I visited the cellar where there was wine, liqueurs, etc., and where, consequently, I refreshed myself, for I had a lot of trouble opening the door to the cellar. Then I visited all the rooms up to the attic. I found four or five francs, in the pocket of a dress.
I took mattresses, blankets and some effects, clocks, wine, spirits, eau-de-vie, a telescope, some binoculars, etc.
I returned for about three weeks, each time taking twenty liters of wine in a smuggling device and some packets of fine liqueurs. Having smuggled them, I peddled the spirits easily. After that I continued, resources exhausted, to live completely by smuggling or by manufacturing false money, until the affair of the Hermitage. For this took place in March, and the business with the hermit was in June.
Pushed to the limit, finding no job anywhere, I saw only one way to end my woes: go to Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and strip the hermit of his treasure.
Before finally making this decision, I had tried to find a job, as difficult as it was, in the mines of Saint-Étienne. There, as among my old bosses, it was impossible to find work. Even those who were in the trade couldn’t get rehired.
So, hopeless, I left alone one morning for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. I took the train around 7 o’clock at Saint-Etienne for Saint-Victor-sur-Loire, changing trains at Firminy.
Having investigated the dwelling of the hermit only by night, I had some hesitation finding my way, so I asked the stationmaster, on descending from the train, the shortest route to Notre-Dame. En route, at Chambles, I met a little girl of whom I asked the name of the hamlet that I saw up there on the mountain, and if there was not a hermit who lived there. The response having been explanatory—since she gave me the name of the hamlet, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, and she showed me the place where the hermit lived—I gave her a penny.
Climbing the mountain, I stopped midway to have a snack. At that moment I was hailed by a priest who remarked to me that I was wrong to stop beside a bush, that the mountain was infested with reptiles. That priest must have been, in my opinion, the vicar of Chambles. He descended the mountain and I continued to climb.
Arriving at the hamlet, I had an instant of hesitation, not remembering my way very well. So I started trying to get my bearings and to pull the wool over the eyes of the locals who might have noticed my presence. I even amused myself on the way by visiting some ruins that I found.
At noon, I presented myself at the front door of the hermit’s habitation. I knocked several times in order to determine if anyone was there, and in order to have a means of introduction into the house, but it was in vain, as I received no response. So I went around to the back, climbed the wall of the garden, and entered the house by the cellar door, which I found ajar. Seeing a staircase in the cellar, I entered. That staircase was closed by a trapdoor. I raised it, and found myself all at once in a room where the hermit lay sleeping on his bed.
Awakened by my footsteps, the hermit sat up in his bed and asked me: “Who is there?” At that questioning, I responded: “I came to find you, to have you say some masses for one of my relatives who has died. Here is a fifty franc note; take twenty francs and give me the change.”
I had borrowed that fifty franc note from one of my comrades before leaving Saint-Étienne. I thought that by forcing him to make change for a bill, I would see the place from which the change came, and that in this way he would serve me, without any doubt, as a guide to the famous hiding-place of his treasure.
He responded to me, with a suspicious air, with these broken words: “No... no!”
Seeing this, I started to examine the room closely. The hermit wanted to rise, but I said to him: “Stay in the bed, my good fellow; stay in bed.”
He tried to get up anyway, so I immediately approached the bed, and, putting my hand over his mouth, I said to me: “Stay on the bed, goddammit!”
Despite that urgent order, he still wanted to rise. So I pressed down more forcefully on his mouth, using both my hands. As he struggled, I grabbed the bolster, pressed it over his mouth and leaped on the bed. Then by the weight of my body, the pressure of my knee on his chest, and that of my two hands pressing down hard on the bolster, I was able to get him under control.
But these means were not rapid enough to obtain a suffocation capable of placing the man hors de combat and preventing him from harming me. So I took my own handkerchief, and I jammed it down as deeply in his throat as possible. He soon began to stretch his limbs with nervous movements, even soiling himself while I held him, and was not slow to maintain a most complete state of immobility. When I saw that he no longer moved, I pulled out my handkerchief, put it back in my pocked, and jumped off the bed.
Then I took off my shoes, so as not to make a sound, and after setting my revolver close by the bed, I calmly explored all the furniture, the wardrobe, etc. I found coins everywhere. I even broke into three or four locked dressers with a shovel that I found at hand.
I went into the attic, and found coins everywhere, along the walls, on the beams, in pots; I descended to the cellar, and it was the same scene, money, always money. “Never,” I said to myself, “you could never take it all.”
I took the hermit’s handkerchiefs, making them into a sort of sack by tying them up, and carried with me as much money as possible.
In the course of my searching, while descending the stairs from the attic, I heard a knock at the front door. I leaped for my revolver, which I put in my pocket, and I listened for a moment. Understanding that someone had turned around, I resumed my work. I asked myself, however, who could have come. I soon thought that it could only be the neighbor’s wife, whose steps and voice I had heard through the partition. She came to see if the hermit needed anything, for doubtless the a who was still found in his bed at noon must be indisposed.
Around five o’clock in the evening I left by the same road by which I had come, taking with me a load of silver and gold of at least twenty kilos. I went straightaway to the Saint-Victor station.
The train was very late. This delay allowed me to indulge in reflection. I understood that it was not prudent to continue on with my burden, especially as the stationmaster seemed to be watching me. So I left for a village situated a kilometer or two away, and on the way, having found a culvert which crossed it, I quickly put my loot in it.
In the village, I supped heartily. The patroness of the establishment tried to strike up a conversation with me, and asked me where I was going and where I came from. I replied: "Madame, I do not like to be interrogated. It is not proper to ask such questions of people, without knowing if this behavior will please them.” After supper, having settled my account, I returned to Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
There, I returned five or six times to the hermit’s dwelling, using the same methods as the first time. On each trip, I carried in my handkerchiefs some money which I hid twenty minutes from there, in the wheat fields, always taking care to protect the heads of the wheat, in order to leave no trace of my passage.
In the morning I went down to take the first train to Saint-Victor, taking with me a parcel filled with pieces of silver and gold, a packet that I dropped off in my rooms on arriving at Saint-Étienne. That was Friday. During the day, I saw my mistress and asked her if she wanted to come with me to make an excursion in the night, to the mountain. I told her right off to demand no explanation on the subject of that nocturnal promenade. She agreed.
So I hired a carriage for the whole night.
Departing, I told the coachman to take the road to Saint-Just-sur-Loire, giving him no other directions.
Arriving not far from my hiding place, I had him stop and requested that he wait for me, leaving my mistress in the carriage.
On leaving Saint-Étienne I had brought with me a handbag and a suitcase. I took these two items with me and I went quickly to seek the packets of money that I had hidden. On my return, I dropped my burdens on the road, made the coach advance in order to avoid a greater journey, and deposited them inside the vehicle. The coachman, noticing that I had difficulty lifting these three objects, remarked to me that if it was money that I carried, there would be a considerable sum there. We took the road back to Saint-Étienne right away. All that had required a great deal of time, so much more because I had been to visit the surroundings of the house where the crime took place to see if there was anything abnormal there.
The day began to break.
En route the coachman said to me: “Excise station ahead!” — I responded: “I have nothing to fear. I have nothing with me subject to the duties.” At the tollhouse, an employee asked me if I had anything to declare. I responded, “No.” “What’s more,” I added: “Look.” He made me open the valise, and I did so immediately; he only saw parcels made with handkerchiefs, felt them and seemed to feel a hard mass. As he demanded explanations, I told him it was some metal. We continued along our route.
The carriage passed through a part of Saint-Étienne, took me to the hamlet called Le Haut Villebeuf, right to the door of my habitation, where we arrived around four o’clock in the morning. I paid for the carriage and gave a tip of ten francs to the coachman, without, however, making any other remarks to him.
I carried my loot up to my rooms, and my mistress left me very quickly, in order to return to her own home as quickly as possible.
On Saturday night, I returned to Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. I took the train to come and go as far as Saint-Rambert, and made the rest of the journey on foot. I had a sack with me. I reentered the hermit’s house by the same means, and brought it back stuffed with money.
In the afternoon of the next day, which was Sunday, I learned from persons that the crime was known, and that it was the hermit’s wigmaker who, going to shave him, had discovered the business. I was happy to be gone, for I was ready to return that night to Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and misfortune would have caught with me there, for I would obviously have been taken in the act.
I bought the papers right away and learned that thanks to some of the duty officers it was known that a carriage had passed during the night, that someone had declared some scrap, that it was supposed that it was this that contained the proceeds of the theft, and that at present the driver of that carriage was sought.
Understanding that they would not be slow to find him, I rented a room right away, and carried there all the valuables that I had in the one that I occupied, taking, however, part of the money to the home of my mistress, when her husband was absent, and the other to my residence.
I resolved to go see the coachman, in order to eliminate him in the event that he had not made a confession, for with him dead, the trail of the police would be lost. Going to see him, I met him on the road with his carriage, heading towards Firminy. I hailed him and asked him if he would take me to that locality. I thought that he could not recognize me, having changed my outfit. He accepted.
Once in the carriage, I entered into conversation, and brought it around to the news of the day, I mean, of the crime. “Do you know the story of the hermit everyone is talking about?” He pretended to know nothing; then I asked him if he could take me to Saint-Just-sur-Loire. I asked him the same question as when I had hired him in the night, in order to see if he recognized me by the voice, or else if he would admit something. He responded in the negative, but that his boss would take me there. Then I said to him: “It’s not worth troubling yourself for that, I don’t absolutely have to go down there right away, I prefer to go immediately to Saint-Étienne to settle my business.”
At one point, he pretended to have forgotten something, begged me to get out, and retraced him path, saying: “I’m going to look for a note I have forgotten.”
No sooner was I out than I understood that I had been recognized, and I started the follow the carriage, which was soon lost to view. In my haste and my doubts about the exact place of his residence, I passed his home by a long distance, but, perceiving my error, I soon had his exactly address from the inhabitants of the region, especially as I knew his name. I waited for him for a moment and, not seeing him leave his house, where I stood watch, I realized that the best course to take was to return home, while keeping on my toes. I returned there on foot, my hands on the two revolvers that I carried, and at the least noise, I put myself on the defensive.
Everything seemed to loom threateningly and I did not want to return to the station, fearing being taken, although I had a return ticket for Saint-Etienne on my person. Reflecting more and more on the conversation with the coachman and on his actions, I understood that he had already long since disclosed all that he knew.
My plan was to return no more to the room where he had taken me.
A few days later, I met my mistress, who asked me: When are we going to sleep together?” — “Tonight,” I said, “I you want.” — “But where,” she asked me, “in your old room or the new one?” — Instinctively I responded, “the old room,” wishing to inspect it, and destroy everything which could relate to the crime of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. That response caused my misfortune. It was by returning to my room that I was arrested, and even recognized by one of the civil agents, the one named Nicolas who shouted when I was arrested: “Hold on, it’s Koeningstein.”
The landlord of that room had closed it with his key, me, I had installed another lock there, the only one I used, not concerning myself with the keys, nor with that of the landlord. I reentered by the back of the house without being seen. Nearing my room, it being impossible to open its door, the noise that I made revealed my presence, and, as I was preparing to turn around, I saw the landlord’s door open, and a man came out. At the time, I took that man to be the landlord, who came to account for the noise that he had heard, and, and thinking to myself that he could assume the presence of a thief, I didn’t want to flee. On the contrary, I stopped to speak with him and make myself known. That man immediately jumped on me, and others who were hidden in the proprietor’s room also came to seize me. It happened that for the first time since the business with the hermit, I had no weapon on me, else I would perhaps have wounded some of them, and I would have been able to take flight.
They drew me into the owner's room. There I struggled as violently as possible, and I even pretended to call some comrades to me, in order to terrorize them and take advantage of their anxiety in order to escape. They then searched me and found on me a little bone box, a candy box from the hermitage. It was difficult to open. As the captain who took it attempted to open it, I said to him: “Watch out, it’s going to explode!” At this, a police agent shouted at me in these words: “Jesus Christ, he still has the audacity to f… with us!” There, they put me in handcuffs and one went up to my room where they observed only the clock, five quilts and a quantity of objects from some of the thefts at La Côte. They tried to make me confess and give them explanations, but I responded that I would only speak at the inquiry.
We then set out, and talked on the way. Arriving at about three hundred meters from the house, near a curving road, we encountered a man carrying I think, a parcel. The agents stopped him. The opportunity to flee seemed good to me, and I acted like I knew the man, calling to him with some “psssts.” The incoherent words that I let drop made the agents suppose that this individual was my accomplice and abandon me in order to rush at him. I immediately took flight, retracing my steps. They realized it right away, but I had gained some ground, and despite their pursuit that could not reach me. They attempted, nonetheless, to intimidate me by firing a revolver at me, but they didn’t hit me, and I was able to continue on my way. This happened around one in the morning.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A home for abandoned children.