Friday, 23/02/2024 - 13:03

Chapter VII. nocturnal buyers and mysterious sellers

04:41 | 03/10/2019

Clubin had been absent from the Jean Auberge all the evening of Tuesday. On the Wednesday night he was absent again.

In the dusk of that evening, two strangers penetrated into the mazes of the Ruelle Coutanchez. They stopped in front of the Jacressade. One of them knocked at the window; the door of the shop opened, and they entered. The woman with the wooden leg met them with the smile which she reserved for respectable citizens. There was a candle on the table.

The strangers were, in fact, respectable citizens. The one who had knocked said, “Good-day, mistress. I have come for that affair.”

The woman with the wooden leg smiled again, and went out by the back-door leading to the courtyard, and where the well was. A moment afterwards the back-door was opened again, and a man stood in the doorway. He wore a cap and a blouse. It was easy to see the shape of something under his blouse. He had bits of old straw in his clothes, and looked as if he had just been aroused from sleep.

He advanced and exchanged glances with the strangers. The man in the blouse looked puzzled, but cunning; he said—

“You are the gunsmith?”

The one who had tapped at the window replied—

“Yes; you are the man from Paris?”

“Known as Redskin. Yes.”

“Show me the thing.”

The man took from under his blouse a weapon extremely rare at that period in Europe. It was a revolver.

The weapon was new and bright. The two strangers examined it. The one who seemed to know the house, and whom the man in the blouse had called “the gunsmith,” tried the mechanism. He passed the weapon to the other, who appeared less at home there, and kept his back turned to the light.

The gunsmith continued—

“How much?”[Pg 115]

The man in the blouse replied—

“I have just brought it from America. Some people bring monkeys, parrots, and other animals, as if the French people were savages. For myself I brought this. It is a useful invention.”

“How much?” inquired the gunsmith again.

“It is a pistol which turns and turns.”

“How much?”

“Bang! the first fire. Bang! the second fire. Bang! the third fire. What a hailstorm of bullets! That will do some execution.”

“The price?”

“There are six barrels.”

“Well, well, what do you want for it?”

“Six barrels; that is six Louis.”

“Will you take five?”

“Impossible. One Louis a ball. That is the price.”

“Come, let us do business together. Be reasonable.”

“I have named a fair price. Examine the weapon, Mr. Gunsmith.”

“I have examined it.”

“The barrel twists and turns like Talleyrand himself. The weapon ought to be mentioned in the Dictionary of Weathercocks. It is a gem.”

“I have looked at it.”

“The barrels are of Spanish make.”

“I see they are.”

“They are twisted. This is how this twisting is done. They empty into a forge the basket of a collector of old iron. They fill it full of these old scraps, with old nails, and broken horseshoes swept out of farriers’ shops.”

“And old sickle-blades.”

“I was going to say so, Mr. Gunsmith. They apply to all this rubbish a good sweating heat, and this makes a magnificent material for gun-barrels.”

“Yes; but it may have cracks, flaws, or crosses.”

“True; but they remedy the crosses by little twists, and avoid the risk of doublings by beating hard. They bring their mass of iron under the great hammer; give it two more good sweating heats. If the iron has been heated too much, they re-temper it with dull heats, and lighter hammers. And then they take out their stuff and roll it well; and with this iron they manufacture you a weapon like this.”[Pg 116]

“You are in the trade, I suppose?”

“I am of all trades.”

“The barrels are pale-coloured.”

“That’s the beauty of them, Mr. Gunsmith. The tint is obtained with antimony.”

“It is settled, then, that we give you five Louis?”

“Allow me to observe that I had the honour of saying six.”

The gunsmith lowered his voice.

“Hark you, master. Take advantage of the opportunity. Get rid of this thing. A weapon of this kind is of no use to a man like you. It will make you remarked.”

“It is very true,” said the Parisian. “It is rather conspicuous. It is more suited to a gentleman.”

“Will you take five Louis?”

“No, six; one for every shot.”

“Come, six Napoleons.”

“I will have six Louis.”

“You are not a Bonapartist, then. You prefer a Louis to a Napoleon.”

The Parisian nicknamed “Redskin” smiled.

“A Napoleon is greater,” said he, “but a Louis is worth more.”

“Six Napoleons.”

“Six Louis. It makes a difference to me of four-and-twenty francs.”

“The bargain is off in that case.”

“Good: I keep the toy.”

“Keep it.”

“Beating me down! a good idea! It shall never be said that I got rid like that of a wonderful specimen of ingenuity.”

“Good-night, then.”

“It marks a whole stage in the progress of making pistols, which the Chesapeake Indians call Nortay-u-Hah.”

“Five Louis, ready money. Why, it is a handful of gold.”

“‘Nortay-u-Hah,’ that signifies ‘short gun.’ A good many people don’t know that.”

“Will you take five Louis, and just a bit of silver?”

“I said six, master.”

The man who kept his back to the candle, and who had not yet spoken, was spending his time during the dialogue in turning and testing the mechanism of the pistol. He approached the armourer’s ear and whispered—

“Is it a good weapon?”[Pg 117]


“I will give the six Louis.”

Five minutes afterwards, while the Parisian nicknamed “Redskin” was depositing the six Louis which he had just received in a secret slit under the breast of his blouse, the armourer and his companion carrying the revolver in his trousers pocket, stepped out into the straggling street.




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