I Will Repay HTML version

Chapter XX. The Cheval Borgne
It was close upon midnight.
The place had become suffocatingly hot; the fumes of rank tobacco, of rancid
butter, and or raw spirits hung like a vapour in mid-air.
The principal room in the "Auberge du Cheval Borgne" had been used for the
past five years now as the chief meeting-place of the ultra-sansculotte party of
the Republic.
The house itself was squalid and dirty, up one of those mean streets which, by
their narrow way and shelving buildings, shut out sun, air, and light from their
miserable inhabitants.
The Cheval Borgne was one of the most wretched-looking dwellings in this street
of evil repute. The plaster was cracked, the walls themselves seemed bulging
outward, preparatory to a final collapse. The ceilings were low, and supported by
beams black with age and dirt.
At one time it had been celebrated for its vast cellarage, which had contained
some rare old wines. And in the days of the Grand Monarch young bucks were
wont to quit the gay salons of the ladies, in order to repair to the Cheval Borgne
for a night's carouse.
In those days the vast cellarage was witness of many a dark encounter, of many
a mysterious death; could the slimy walls have told their own tale, it would have
been one which would have put to shame the wildest chronicles of M. Vidoq.
Now it was no longer so.
Things were done in broad daylight on the Place de la Révolution: there was no
need for dark, mysterious cellars, in which to accomplish deeds of murder and of
Rats and vermin of all sorts worked their way now in the underground portion of
the building. They ate up each other, and held their orgies in the cellars, whilst
men did the same sort of thing in the rooms above.
It was a club of Equality and Fraternity. Any passer-by was at liberty to enter and
take part in the debates, his only qualification for this temporary membership
being an inordinate love for Madame la Guillotine.
It was from the sordid rooms of the Cheval Borgne that most of the denunciations
had gone forth which led but to the one inevitable ending--death.
They sat in conclave here, some twoscore or so at first, the rabid patriots of this
poor, downtrodden France. They talked of Liberty mostly, with many oaths and
curses against the tyrants, and then started a tyranny, an autocracy, ten
thousand times more awful than any wielded by the dissolute Bourbons.
And this was the temple of Liberty, this dark, damp, evil-smelling brothel, with is
narrow, cracked window-panes, which let in but an infinitesimal fraction of air,
and that of the foulest, most unwholesome kind.
The floor was of planks roughly put together; now they were worm-eaten, bare,
save for a thick carpet of greasy dust, which deadened the sound of booted feet.
The place only boasted of a couple of chairs, both of which had to be propped
against the wall lest they should break, and bring the sitter down upon the floor;