Trooper 3809 – Part 7

The day following my second night in the Salle de Police was a Saturday, and inspection-day. Our clothing was to be inspected on this occasion. Each trooper had to lay on his bed his various garments in such a way that the regimental numbers should be clearly displayed. The inspection took place at 2 P.M., but as early as 12.30 our respective corporals compared the list in our livret with the clothes on our beds, counting our tunics, trousers, boots, underlinen, towels, and stable costume (canvas trousers and blouse), in order to ascertain whether any of our outfit was missing. All our underclothing had to be previously washed, as well as our stable uniform, so that troopers had to purchase secondhand canvas trousers and blouses to wear while the others were drying.

In order to avoid punishment in case any of my kit should be missing, I had, shortly after my arrival in the regiment, a complete duplicate set of outfit made to order by the regimental tailor, bootmaker, and armourer, clothes were made of exactly the same pattern and cloth as those issued to us, but they were cut so that I could wear them without discomfort: I had regulation boots made in which I could walk with ease, and besides these I had several pairs made in Paris by my own bootmaker ; in appearance these looked like regulation boots, but the toes were narrower. and the heels lower, with box spurs, imitating the regulation spurs, screwed into the heels. These I used for drill on foot and on horseback. I had arranged to keep all my regulation outfit in a box which I left in the orderly’s room which I have already mentioned. In this way I was always able to produce my regulation outfit in perfect order whenever a clothing inspection was held. 

“That morning I sent Titi to fetch my clothes and regimental underlinen from their box, in which was also stored all my duplicate kit, as we were forbidden to keep on our shelves anything besides our regulation outfit, or to have even a locker under our beds. Under the previous Colonel troopers had been allowed to have a box in which they could lock up their private belongings, such as spare underclothing and letters, as well as any money they might possess. To be deprived of this convenience was hard on most of the troopers, as they had to carry their money day and night on their persons. It was even impossible to keep a book, as this was invariably “bagged ” while its owner was at drill or stables. Petty thefts were a common occurrence, and it even happened several times to me to have loose cash stolen from under my bolster when I was asleep. To complain of a theft would only have made the complainant pass as a dirty sneak among his comrades, and would have exposed every man of his squadron to suspicion. 

To return to the inspection: The Corporal having seen that each man’s outfit was complete, the Sergeant came to inspect the trooper’s clothes to make sure that they were in proper order, that no button was missing, and that all spots of grease or dirt had been properly removed. In case a trooper was short of some article of clothing, this was duly reported by the Corporal, the Sergeant making a note of it and reporting it in his turn to the Lieutenant. If there was time enough before the arrival of the officer, troopers who had sufficient money could go and purchase at the canteen any small articles which were needed to complete their kit (sponges and chamois leathers were especially apt to be stolen from Volontaires, as it was impossible to identify such articles). 

At five minutes to two we all had to be ready at the foot of our beds ; and the Sergeant-major passed through the room to make sure that everything was in order, and every trooper properly attired. A quarter of an hour later the cry of “Fixe!” (Attention) was uttered by the trooper standing nearest to the door. This announced the arrival of an officer. The first to come was the Lieutenant of our peloton, a stout, middle-aged man, who spoke through his nose. He carefully turned over the clothes on each man’s bed, distributing here and there a few days of Salle de Police. When my turn came he looked at me. 

“So that’s you?” he remarked. 

“Yes, sir,’` I replied.  

“Impertinent as usual,” he went on. “How dare you answer me?”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” I replied. “I thought you had questioned me” 

“oh, you did, did you?” 

“Yes, sir.”

” Well, don’t think another time. I don’t like troopers who think. You’ve got no business to think. D’ye hear?” 

“Yes, sir.”

 “What? Don’t you understand me? I tell you not to answer. Do you understand?” 

Warned by what he had just told me, I shut up. Whereupon the Lieutenant, turning towards the Sergeant, remarked, “Sulky brute, that fellow” 

“Are all your things there?” he then asked me. 

“Yes, sir, I think so” 

“You think! You always think. I told you not to think. You have no business to think. That’s always the result of too much education. These lazy dogs of Volontaires, they are always thinking. Troopers have no business to think” 

Continuing to mutter peevishly, the Lieutenant proceeded to overhaul my things while I stolidly stood at attention, at the foot of my bed. 

“Look here, you – what’s-your-name, what’s the fellow’s name?” he grumbled to himself, looking at the placard hanging at the head of my bed, on which my name and regimental number was written. 

“Oh – Decle” he read aloud, holding a pair of eye-glasses in his hand – he seldom wore them on his nose. “Lionel” he went on, reading to himself, “too d- d aristocratic to have a Christian name like anybody else. Why is Lionel your Christian name? ” he asked me ; “will you tell me why you call yourself Lionel?” 

“Because my parents christened me so, sir,” I replied. 

“A fine reason!” he said. “But it doesn’t matter. Don’t you ever wear your clothes?” he added. “They are all new; they’ve never been worn!” 

“No, sir” I said. “I bought duplicates so as to save those that were served out to me” 

“Plenty of money to waste, eh? Regimentals not good enough for you? I suppose you would consider yourself degraded if you had to wear a regimental shirt? Linen’s too coarse for a tender skin like yours, eh?” 

I thought it as well to make no reply. Lifting up my blouse, the Lieutenant then looked at my shirt, and told me to unbutton it. I was wearing under my flannel shirt an under-vest made of wool and spun silk. 

“Ah ! just what I thought” again remarked the Lieutenant. “The thing must wear flannel and silk like a Cocotte (a fast woman), and then calls itself a trooper. I don’t wear any undervests, and yet I’m an officer!” “Well” he added, as he passed on to the next bed, “you’ve already found out that silk vests won’t prevent you from going to the Salle de Police. You’ve got nothing missing to-day, but I’ll soon catch you napping. You won’t pass many inspections without having to send you to the Boite. Silk vests indeed! ” he kept on muttering. 

He then began to examine Titi’s bed. After looking through his outfit he lifted up the mattress, and found underneath it a dirty pair of drawers and a newspaper. “Just as I expected” he remarked. “What’s that?” he asked, showing the newspaper to Titi. 

“oh, it’s an old newspaper, sir” blandly replied Titi, “that I put aside. I bought some things in the town and they were wrapped up in it” 

The Lieutenant looked at the date of the paper ; it was the previous day’s number of a Radical journal. 

“So, we read the paper here ; the vilest rag, too, that was ever printed. Well, you will see what it will cost you, you dirty Communard. To begin with, you’ll have eight days’ Salle de Police, and I shall specially report you” 

So saying, the Lieutenant, holding the paper by the tips of his fingers, at arm’s length, as if it had been something likely to contaminate him, handed it over to the Sergeant, de Lanoy, ordering him to go and throw that “vermin” on the dung-heap. “De Lanoy” he added, “on your way stop at the Sergeant-major’s office and tell him to put you down for two days’ Salle de Police for the disgusting state in which your peloton is kept” 

As the Lieutenant was looking over the last trooper’s outfit our Captain came into the room. The Lieutenant went and spoke to him, and they both returned towards Titi’s bed. “So, Martin” said the Captain in a great rage, “you dare to read papers in the barracks, and as you are now undergoing eight days’ Salle de Police you cannot possibly have brought it in yourself. I want to know from whom you got it?” 

“I didn’t get it from anybody, sir,” replied Titi. “I found it in the courtyard of the infantry barracks” 

“Don’t tell me lies” said the Captain sternly, “or you’ll be sorry for it. Tell me who gave you that paper.”

“Nobody, sir” 

“If you tell me” said the Captain, “I won’t increase the punishment Lieutenant Pernod has given you. If you don’t, I’ll give you eight days’ prison” 

“I found it, sir,” insisted Titi.

“Very well,” said the Captain, “get your things ready to go to prison” 

“Yes, sir” politely replied Titi. 

“And if you go on much longer like that” said the Captain, in a voice shaking with rage, “you’ll soon go to Biribi”  

The Captain walked out, accompanied by the Lieutenant, and soon afterwards two men from the guard, accompanied by a Corporal, came into the room with drawn swords, and Titi was marched away between them to the prison. 

On inspection-days we did squadron duty after “Stable” having neither drill nor school, and those Volontaires who were not undergoing punishment were at liberty to go out of barracks until 8 P.M. The troopers who had twenty-four hours’ leave were allowed to quit the barracks after evening stables and remain away until the next Monday at 5 A.M. After stables the regimental orders for the day were, as usual, read out to us, as well as the punishments. Those were numerous, and included two days’ confinement to the room, for a Lieutenant, for being out in civilian clothes the previous afternoon ; Salle de Police for three Sergeants as a result of the inspection, while about twenty men were punished similarly, getting from two to eight days, their outfit having been found short, or their clothes soiled. Among the troopers punished with Salle de Police were three Volontaires, and, finally, came Titi’s name, with a sentence of eight days’ prison by the Captain for having introduced a newspaper into barracks, and having obstinately refused to give the name of the trooper from whom he had obtained it.

That evening, I was, as usual, taken to the Salle de Police, where I was much astonished to find Titi lying on a Straw mattress rolled up in a blanket. He called out to me as soon as the non-commissioned officer had locked us in, “Come here, old chap” he said ; “I’ll make some room for you, old Decle, and we’ll share my mattress and blanket” 

Although a scoundrel, Titi was at the bottom of his heart a kind fellow, and I felt most grateful to him for sharing his rough bedding with me, especially when a little later on he produced his inevitable candle, and I saw that in order to let me lie down comfortably he was lying him- self on the bare boards, his back only resting against the mattress. 

I inquired from him how it was that he was undergoing his prison in the same lock-up as the one used for men punished with Salle de Police, and I expressed astonishment at his being privileged to enjoy a mattress and a blanket. He explained to me that the only difference between prison and Salle de Police was that the men punished with the former, instead of doing duty in the daytime remained in the Salle de Police day and night. They had, however, to do two hours’ punishment drill in the morning and again in the evening, and during the remainder of the day they were employed on fatigue duty, having to carry water about, to make ditches and earthworks, and to do all the dirtiest work. On the other hand, they were allowed a straw mattress and one blanket, and were not called upon to work at the pump in the middle of the night. On the whole, it struck me that prison was a far milder punishment than Salle de Police, and I found this undoubtedly to be the case when later on I became personally acquainted with the former punishment.

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