We return, for it is a requirement of this book, to the fatal field of battle.
We are not of those who glorify war; when the opportunity presents itself we describe its realities. War has frightful beauties which we have not concealed; it has also, we must admit, some deformities. One of the most surprising is the eager spoliation of the dead after a victory. The day after a battle dawns upon naked corpses.
Who does this? Who thus sullies the triumph? Whose is this hideous furtive hand which glides into the pocket of victory? Who are these pickpockets following their trade in the wake of glory? Some philosophers, Voltaire among others, affirm that they are precisely those who have achieved the glory. They are the same, say they, there is no exchange; those who survive pillage those who succumb. The hero of the day is the vampire of the night. A man has a right, after all, to despoil in part a corpse which he has made.
For our part we do not believe this. To gather laurels and to steal the shoes from a dead man, seems to us impossible to the same hand. One thing is certain, that, after the conquerors, come the robbers. The night prowler which we have just introduced to the reader went in this direction. He ferreted through this immense grave. He looked about.
He passed an indescribably hideous review of the dead. He walked with
his feet in blood.
Suddenly he stopped.
A few steps before him, in the sunken road, at a point where the mound of corpses ended, from under this mass of men and horses appeared an open hand, lighted by the moon.
This hand had something upon a finger which sparkled; it was a gold ring.
The man stooped down, remained a moment, and when he rose again there was no ring upon that hand. He did not rise up precisely; he remained in a sinister and startled attitude, turning his back to the pile of dead, scrutinising the horizon, on his knees, all the front of his body being supported on his two fore-fingers, his head raised just enough to peep above the edge of the hollow road. The four paws of the jackal are adapted to certain actions.
Then, deciding upon his course, he arose.
At this moment he experienced a shock. He felt that he was held from behind.
He turned; it was the open hand, which had closed, seizing the lappel of his capote.
An honest man would have been frightened. This man began to laugh.
"Oh," said he, "it's only the dead man. I like a ghost better than a gendarme."
However, the hand relaxed and let go its hold. Strength is soon exhausted in the tomb.
"Ah ha!" returned the prowler, "is this dead man alive? Let us see."
He bent over again, rummaged among the heap, removed whatever impeded him, seized the hand, laid hold of the arm, disengaged the head, drew out the body, and some moments after dragged into the shadow of the hollow road an inanimate man, at least one who was senseless. It was a cuirassier, an officer; an officer, also, of some rank; a great gold epaulet protruded from beneath his cuirass, but he had no casque. A furious sabre cut had disfigured his face, where nothing but blood was to be seen. It did not seem, however, that he had any limbs broken; and by some happy chance, if the word is possible here, the bodies were arched above him in such a way as to prevent his being crushed. His eyes were closed.
He had on his cuirass the silver cross of the Legion of Honour.
The prowler tore off this cross, which disappeared in one of the gulfs which he had under his capote.
After which he felt the officer's fob, found a watch there, and took it. Then he rummaged in his vest and found a purse, which he pocketed.
When he had reached this phase of the succour he was lending the dying man, the officer opened his eyes.
"Thanks," said he feebly.
The rough movements of the man handling him, the coolness of the night, and breathing the fresh air freely, had roused him from his lethargy.
The prowler answered not. He raised his head. The sound of a footstep could be heard on the plain; probably it was some patrol who was approaching.
The officer murmured, for there were still signs of suffering in his voice:
"Who has gained the battle?"
"The English," answered the prowler.
The officer replied: "Search my pockets. You will there find a purse and a watch. Take them."
This had already been done.
The prowler made a pretence of executing the command, and said:
"There is nothing there."
"I have been robbed," replied the officer; "I am sorry. They would have been yours."
The step of the patrol became more and more distinct.
"Somebody is coming," said the prowler, making a movement as if he would go.
The officer, raising himself up painfully upon one arm, held him back.
"You have saved my life. Who are you?"
The prowler answered quick and low:
"I belong, like yourself, to the French army. I must go. If I am taken I shall be shot. I have saved your life. Help yourself now."
"What is your grade?"
"What is your name?"
"I shall not forget that name," said the officer. "And you, remember mine. My name is Pontmercy."
Jean Valjean has been retaken.
We shall be pardoned for passing rapidly over the painful details. We shall merely reproduce a couple of items published in the newspapers of that day, some few months after the remarkable events that occurred at Montreuil-sur-mer.
The articles referred to are somewhat laconic. It will be remembered that the "Gazette des Tribunaux" had not yet been established.
We copy the first from the "Drapeau Blanc." It is dated the 25th of July, 1823:
"A district of the Pas-de-Calais has just been the scene of an extraordinary occurrence. A stranger in that department, known as Monsieur Madeleine, had, within a few years past, restored, by means of certain new processes, the manufacture of jet and black glass ware- a former local branch of industry. He had made his own fortune by it, and, in fact, that of the entire district. In acknowledgment of his services he had been appointed mayor. The police has discovered that Monsieur Madeleine was none other than an escaped convict, condemned in 1796 for robbery, and named Jean Valjean. This Jean Valjean has been sent back to the galleys. It appears that previous to his arrest, he succeeded in withdrawing from Laffitte's a sum amounting to more than half a million which he had deposited there, and which it is said, by the way, he had very legitimately realised in his business. Since his return to the galleys at Toulon, it has been impossible to discover where Jean Valjean concealed this money."
The second article, which enters a little more into detail, is taken from the "Journal de Paris" of the same date:
"An old convict, named Jean Valjean, has recently been brought before the Var Assizes, under circumstances calculated to attract attention. This villain had succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the, police; he had changed his name, and had even been adroit enough to procure the appointment of mayor in one of our small towns in the North. He had established in this town a very considerable business, but was, at length, unmasked and arrested, thanks to the indefatigable zeal of the public authorities. He kept, as his mistress, a prostitute, who died of the shock at the moment of his arrest. This wretch, who is endowed with herculean strength, managed to escape, but, three or four days afterwards, the police retook him, in Paris, just as he was getting into one of the small vehicles that ply between the capital and the village of Montfermeil (Seine-et-Oise). It is said that he had availed himself of the interval of these three or four days of freedom, to withdraw a considerable sum deposited by him with one of our principal bankers. The amount is estimated at six or seven hundred thousand francs. According to the minutes of the case, he has concealed it in some place known to himself alone, and it has been impossible to seize it; however that may be, the said Jean Valjean has been brought before the assizes of the Department of the Var under indictment for an assault and robbery on the high road committed vi et armis some eight years ago on the person of one of those honest lads.
This bandit attempted no defense. It was proven by the able and eloquent representative of the crown that the robbery was shared in by others, and that Jean Valjean formed one of a band of robbers in the South. Consequently, Jean Valjean, being found guilty, was condemned to death. The criminal refused to appeal to the higher courts, and the king, in his inexhaustible clemency, deigned to commute his sentence to that of hard labour in prison for life. Jean Valjean was immediately forwarded to the galleys at Toulon."
Jean Valjean changed his number at the galleys. He became 9430.
While we are about it, let us remark, in dismissing the subject, that with M. Madeleine, the prosperity of Montreuil-sur-mer disappeared; all that he had foreseen, in that night of fever and irresolution, was realised; he gone, the soul was gone. After his downfall, there was at Montreuil-sur-mer that egotistic distribution of what is left when great men have fallen- that fatal carving up of prosperous enterprises which is daily going on, out of sight, in human society, and which history has noted but once, and then, because it took place after the death of Alexander. Generals crown themselves kings; the foremen, in this case, assumed the position of manufacturers. Jealous rivalries arose. The spacious workshops of M. Madeleine were closed; the building fell into ruin, the workmen dispersed. Some left the country, others abandoned the business. From that time forth, everything was done on a small, instead of on the large scale, and for gain rather than for good. No longer any centre; competition on all sides, and on all sides venom. M. Madeleine had ruled and directed everything. He fallen, every man strove for himself; the spirit of strife succeeded to the spirit of organisation, bitterness to cordiality, hatred of each against each instead of the good will of the founder towards all; the threads knitted by M. Madeleine became entangled and were broken; the workmanship was debased, the manufacturers were degraded, confidence was killed; customers diminished, there were fewer orders, wages decreased, the shops became idle, bankruptcy followed. And then, there was nothing left for the poor. All that was there disappeared.
II - SHOWING THAT THE CHAIN OF THE IRON RING MUST NEEDS HAVE UNDERGONE A CERTAIN PREPARATION TO BE THUS BROKEN BY ONE BLOW OF THE HAMMER
The Orion was a ship that had long been in bad condition. During her previous voyages, thick layers of shellfish had gathered on her bottom to such an extent as to seriously impede her progress; she had been put on the dry-dock the year before, to be scraped, and then she had gone to sea again. But this scraping had injured her fastening.
In the latitude of the Balearic Isles, her planking had loosened and opened, and as there was in those days no copper sheathing, the ship had leaked. A fierce equinoctial came on, which had stove in the larboard bows and a porthole, and damaged the fore-chainwales. In consequence of these injuries, the Orion had put back to Toulon.
She was moored near the arsenal. She was in commission, and they were repairing her. The hull had not been injured on the starboard side, but a few planks had been taken off here and there, according to custom, to admit the air to the framework.
One morning, the throng which was gazing at her witnessed an accident.
The crew was engaged in furling sail. The topman, whose duty it was to take in the starboard upper corner of the main top-sail, lost his balance. He was seen tottering; the dense throng assembled on the wharf of the arsenal uttered a cry, the man's head overbalanced his body, and he whirled over the yard, his arms outstretched towards the deep; as he went over, he grasped the man-ropes, first with one hand, and then with the other, and hung suspended in that manner. The sea lay far below him at a giddy depth. The shock of his fall had given to the man-ropes a violent swinging motion, and the poor fellow hung dangling to and fro at the end of this line, like a stone in a sling.
To go to his aid was to run a frightful risk. None of the crew, who were all fishermen of the coast recently taken into service, dared attempt it. In the meantime, the poor topman was becoming exhausted; his agony could not be seen in his countenance, but his increasing weakness could be detected in the movements of all his limbs. His arms twisted about in horrible contortions. Every attempt he made to reascend only increased the oscillations of the man-ropes. He did not cry out, for fear of losing his strength. All were now looking forward to the moment when he should let go of the rope, and, at instants, all turned their heads away that they might not see him fall. There are moments when a rope's end, a pole, the branch of a tree, is life itself, and it is a frightful thing to see a living being lose his hold upon it, and fall like a ripe fruit.
Suddenly, a man was discovered clambering up the rigging with the agility of a wildcat. The man was clad in red- it was a convict; he wore a green cap- it was a convict for life. As he reached the round top, a gust of wind blew off his cap and revealed a head entirely white: it was not a young man.
In fact, one of the convicts employed on board in some prison task, had, at the first alarm, run to the officer of the watch, and, amid the confusion and hesitation of the crew, while all the sailors trembled and shrank back, had asked permission to save the topman's life at the risk of his own. A sign of assent being given, with one blow of a hammer he broke the chain riveted to the iron ring at his ankle, then took a rope in his hand, and flung himself into the shrouds. Nobody, at the moment, noticed with what ease the chain was broken. It was only some time afterwards that anybody remembered it.
In a twinkling he was upon the yard. He paused a few seconds, and seemed to measure it with his glance. Those seconds, during which the wind swayed the sailor to and fro at the end of the rope, seemed ages to the lookers-on. At length, the convict raised his eyes to heaven, and took a step forward. The crowd drew a long breath. He was seen to run along the yard. On reaching its extreme tip, he fastened one end of the rope he had with him, and let the other hang at full length. Thereupon, he began to let himself down by his hands along this rope, and then there was an inexpressible sensation of terror; instead of one man, two were seen dangling at that giddy height.
You would have said it was a spider seizing a fly; only, in this case, the spider was bringing life, and not death. Ten thousand eyes were fixed upon the group. Not a cry; not a word was uttered; the same emotion contracted every brow. Every man held his breath, as if afraid to add the least whisper to the wind which was swaying the two unfortunate men.
However, the convict had, at length, managed to make his way down to the seaman. It was time; one minute more, and the man, exhausted and despairing, would have fallen into the deep. The convict firmly secured him to the rope to which he clung with one hand while he worked with the other. Finally, he was seen reascending to the yard, and hauling the sailor after him; he supported him there, for an instant, to let him recover his strength, and then, lifting him in his arms, carried him, as he walked along the yard, to the crosstrees, and from there to the round-top, where he left him in the hands of his mess-mates.
Then the throng applauded; old galley sergeants wept, women hugged each other on the wharves, and, on all sides, voices were heard exclaiming, with a sort of tenderly subdued enthusiasm:- "This man must be pardoned!"
He, however, had made it a point of duty to descend again immediately, and go back to his work. In order to arrive more quickly, he slid down the rigging, and started to run along a lower yard. All eyes were following him. There was a certain moment when every one felt alarmed; whether it was that he felt fatigued, or because his head swam, people thought they saw him hesitate and stagger. Suddenly, the throng uttered a thrilling outcry: the convict had fallen into the sea.
The fall was perilous. The frigate Algesiras was moored close to the Orion, and the poor convict had plunged between the two ships. It was feared that he would be drawn under one or the other. Four men sprang, at once, into a boat. The people cheered them on, and anxiety again took possession of all minds. The man had not again risen to the surface. He had disappeared in the sea, without making even a ripple, as though he had fallen into a cask of oil. They sounded and dragged the place. It was in vain. The search was continued until night, but not even the body was found.
The next morning, the "Toulon Journal" published the following lines:- "November 17, 1823. Yesterday, a convict at work on board of the Orion, on his return from rescuing a sailor, fell into the sea, and was drowned. His body was not recovered. It is presumed that it has been caught under the piles at the pier-head of the arsenal. This man was registered by the number 9430, and his name was Jean Valjean."
The Thenardiers have hitherto been seen in this book in profile only; the time has come to turn this couple about and look at them on all sides.
Thenardier has just passed his fiftieth year; Madame Thenardier had reached her fortieth, which is the fiftieth for woman; so that there was an equilibrium of age between the husband and wife.
The reader has perhaps, since her first appearance, preserved some remembrance of this huge Thenardiess;- for such we shall call the female of this species,- large, blond, red, fat, brawny, square, enormous, and agile; she belonged, as we have said, to the race of those colossal wild women who posturise at fairs with paving-stones hung in their hair. She did everything about the house, the chamber-work, the washing, the cooking, anything she pleased, and played the deuce generally. Cosette was her only servant; a mouse in the service of an elephant. Everything trembled at the sound of her voice; windows and furniture as well as people. Her broad face, covered with freckles, had the appearance of a skimmer. She had a beard. She was the ideal of a butcher's boy dressed in petticoats. She swore splendidly; she prided herself on being able to crack a nut with her fist. Apart from the novels she had read, which at times gave you an odd glimpse of the affected lady under the ogress, the idea of calling her a woman never would have occurred to anybody. This Thenardiess seemed like a cross between a wench and a fishwoman. If you heard her speak, you would say it is a gendarme; if you saw her drink, you would say it is a cartman; if you saw her handle Cosette, you would say it is the hangman. When at rest, a tooth protruded from her mouth.
The other Thenardier was a little man, meagre, pale, angular, bony, and lean, who appeared to be sick, and whose health was excellent; here his knavery began. He smiled habitually as a matter of business, and tried to be polite to everybody, even to the beggar to whom he refused a penny. He had the look of a weazel, and the mien of a man of letters. He had a strong resemblance to the portraits of the Abbe Delille. He affected drinking with waggoners. Nobody ever saw him drunk. He smoked a large pipe. He wore a blouse, and under it an old black coat. He made pretensions to literature and materialism. There were names which he often pronounced in support of anything whatever that he might say. Voltaire, Raynal, Parny, and, oddly enough, St. Augustine. He professed to have "a system." For the rest, a great swindler. A fellow-sopher. There is such a variety. It will be remembered, that he pretended to have been in the service; he related with some pomp that at Waterloo, being sergeant in a Sixth or Ninth Light something, he alone, against a squadron of Hussars of Death, had covered with his body, and saved amid a shower of grape, "a general dangerously wounded." Hence the flaming picture on his sign, and the name of his inn, which was spoken of in the region as the "tavern of the sergeant of Waterloo."
Thenardier had that indescribable stiffness of gesture which, with an oath, reminds you of the barracks, and, with a sign of the cross, of the seminary. He was a fine talker. He was fond of being thought learned. Nevertheless, the schoolmaster remarked that he made mistakes in pronunciation. He made out travelers' bills in a superior style, but practised eyes sometimes found them faulty in orthography. Thenardier was sly, greedy, lounging, and clever. He did not disdain servant girls, consequently his wife had no more of them. This giantess was jealous. It seemed to her that this little, lean, and yellow man must be the object of universal desire.
Thenardier, above all a man of astuteness and poise, was a rascal of the subdued order. This is the worst species; there is hypocrisy in it.
His theories of innkeeping sometimes sprang from him by flashes. He had certain professional aphorisms which he inculcated in the mind of his wife. "The duty of the innkeeper," said he to her one day, emphatically, and in a low voice, "is to sell to the first comer, food, rest, light, fire, dirty linen, servants, fleas, and smiles; to stop travelers, empty small purses, and honestly lighten large ones; to receive families who are travelling, with respect: scrape the man, pluck the woman, and pick the child; to charge for the open window, the closed window, the chimney corner, the sofa, the chair, the stool, the bench, the feather bed, the mattress, and the straw bed; to know how much the mirror is worn, and to tax that; and, by the five hundred thousand devils, to make the traveler pay for everything, even to the flies that his dog eats!"
This man and this woman were cunning and rage married- a hideous and terrible pair.
While the husband calculated and schemed, the Thenardiess thought not of absent creditors, took no care either for yesterday or the morrow, and lived passionately in the present moment.
Such were these two beings. Cosette was between them, undergoing their double pressure, like a creature who is at the same time being bruised by a millstone, and lacerated with pincers. The man and the woman had each a different way. Cosette was beaten unmercifully; that came from the woman. She went barefoot in winter; that came from the man.
Cosette ran up stairs and down stairs; washed, brushed, scrubbed. swept, ran, tired herself, got out of breath, lifted heavy things, and, puny as she was, did the rough work. No pity; a ferocious mistress, a malignant master. The Thenardier chop-house was like a snare, in which Cosette had been caught, and was trembling. The ideal of oppression was realised by this dismal servitude. It was something like a fly serving spiders.
The poor child was passive and silent.
Four new guests had just come in.
Cosette was musing sadly; for, though she was only eight years old, she had already suffered so much that she mused with the mournful air of an old woman.
All at once, one of the pedlars who lodged in the tavern came in, and said in a harsh voice:
"You have not watered my horse."
"Yes, we have, sure," said the Thenardiess.
"I tell you no, ma'am," replied the pedlar.
Cosette came out from under the table.
"Oh, yes, monsieur!" said she, "the horse did drink; he drank in the bucket, the bucket full, and 'twas me that carried it to him, and I talked to him."
This was not true. Cosette lied.
"Here is a girl as big as my fist, who can tell a lie as big as a house," exclaimed the pedlar. "I tell you that he has not had any water, little wench! He has a way of blowing when he has not had any water, that I know well enough."
Cosette persisted, and added in a voice stifled with anguish, and which could hardly be heard:
"But he did drink a good deal."
"Come," continued the pedlar, in a passion, "that is enough; give my horse some water, and say no more about it."
Cosette went back under the table.
"Well, of course that is right," said the Thenardiess; "if the beast has not had any water, she must have some."
Then looking about her:
"Well, what has become of that girl?"
She stooped down and discovered Cosette crouched at the other end of the table, almost under the feet of the drinkers.
"Arn't you coming?" cried the Thenardiess.
Cosette came out of the kind of hole where she had hidden. The Thenardiess continued:
"Mademoiselle Dog-without-a-name, go and carry some drink to this horse."
"But, ma'am," said Cosette feebly, "there is no water."
The Thenardiess threw the street door wide open.
"Well, go after some!"
Cosette hung her head, and went for an empty bucket that was by the chimney corner.
The bucket was larger than she, and the child could have sat down in it comfortably.
The Thenardiess went back to her range, and tasted what was in the kettle with a wooden spoon, grumbling the while.
"There is some at the spring. She is the worst girl that ever was. I think 'twould have been better if I'd left out the onions."
Then she fumbled in a drawer where there were some pennies, pepper, and garlic.
"Here, Mamselle Toad," added she, "get a big loaf at the baker's, as you come back. Here is fifteen sous."
Cosette had a little pocket in the side of her apron; she took the piece without saying a word, and put it in that pocket.
Then she remained motionless, bucket in hand, the open door before her. She seemed to be waiting for somebody to come to her aid. "Get along!" cried the Thenardiess.
Cosette went out. The door closed.
The row of booths extended along the street from the church, as far
as the Thenardier tavern. These booths, an account of the approaching passage of the citizens on their way to the midnight mass, were all illuminated with candles, burning in paper lanterns, which, as the schoolmaster of Montfermeil, who was at that moment seated at one of Thenardier's tables, said, produced a magical effect. In retaliation,
not a star was to be seen in the sky. The last of these stalls, set up exactly opposite Thenardier's door, was a toy-shop, all glittering with trinkets, glass beads, and things magnificent in tin. In the first rank, and in front, this merchant had placed, upon a bed of white napkins, a great doll nearly two feet high dressed in a robe of pink-crape with golden wheat-ears on its bead, and which had real hair and enamel eyes. The whole, day, this marvel had been displayed to the bewilderment of the passers under ten years of age, but there had not been found in Montfermeil a mother rich enough, or prodigal enough to give it to her child. Eponine and Azelma had passed hours in contemplating it, and Cosette herself, furtively, it is true, had dared to look at it.
At the moment when Cosette went out, bucket in hand, all gloomy and overwhelmed as she was, she could not help raising her eyes towards this wonderful doll, towards the lady, as she called it. The poor child stopped petrified. She had not seen this doll so near before.
This whole booth seemed a palace to her; this doll was not a doll, it was a vision. It was joy, splendour, riches, happiness, and it appeared in a sort of chimerical radiance to this unfortunate little being, buried so deeply in a cold and dismal misery. Cosette was measuring with the sad and simple sagacity of childhood the abyss which separated her from that doll. She was saying to herself that one must be a queen, or at least a princess, to have a "thing" like that. She gazed upon this beautiful pink dress, this beautiful smooth hair, and she was thinking, "How happy must be that doll!" Her eye could not turn away from this fantastic booth. The longer she looked, the more she was dazzled. She thought she saw paradise. There were other dolls behind the large one that appeared to her to be fairies and genii. The merchant walking to and fro in the back part of his stall, suggested the Eternal Father.
In this adoration, she forgot everything, even the errand on which she had been sent. Suddenly, the harsh voice of the Thenardiess called her back to the reality: "How, jade, haven't you gone yet? Hold on; I am coming for you! I'd like to know what she's doing there? Little monster, be off!"
The Thenardiess had glanced into the street, and perceived Cosette in ecstasy.
Cosette fled with her bucket, running as fast as she could.
Even while running, she wanted to cry.
The nocturnal tremulousness of the forest wrapped her about completely.
She thought no more; she saw nothing more. The immensity of night confronted this little creature. On one side, the infinite shadow; on the other, an atom.
It was only seven or eight minutes' walk from the edge of the woods to the spring. Cosette knew the road, from travelling it several times a day. Strange thing, she did not lose her way. A remnant of instinct guided her blindly. But she neither turned her eyes to the right nor to the left, for fear of seeing things in the trees and in the bushes. Thus she arrived at the spring.
It was a small natural basin, made by the water in the loamy soil about two feet deep, surrounded with moss, and with that long figured grass called Henry Fourth's collars, and paved with a few large stones. A brook escaped from it with a gentle, tranquil murmur.
Cosette did not take time to breathe. It was very dark, but she was accustomed to come to this fountain. She felt with her left hand in the darkness for a young oak which bent over the spring and usually served her as a support, found a branch, swung herself from it, bent down and plunged the bucket in the water. She was for a moment so excited that her strength was tripled. When she was thus bent over, she did not notice that the pocket of her apron emptied itself into the spring. The fifteen-sous piece fell into the water. Cosette neither saw it nor heard it fall. She drew out the bucket almost full and set it on the grass.
This done, she perceived that her strength was exhausted. She was anxious to start at once; but the effort of filling the bucket had been so great that it was impossible for her to take a step. She was compelled to sit down. She fell upon the grass and remained in a crouching posture.
She breathed with a kind of mournful rattle; sobs choked her but she did not dare to weep; so fearful was she of the Thenardiess, even at a distance. She always imagined that the Thenardiess was near.
However, she could not make much headway in this manner, and was getting along very slowly. She tried hard to shorten her resting spells, and to walk as far as possible between them. She remembered with anguish that it would take her more than an hour to return to Montfermeil thus, and that the Thenardiess would beat her. This anguish added to her dismay at being alone in the woods at night. She was worn out with fatigue, and was not yet out of the forest. Arriving near an old chestnut tree which she knew, she made a last halt, longer than the others, to get well rested; then she gathered all her strength, took up the bucket again, and began to walk on courageously. Meanwhile the poor little despairing thing could not help crying: "Oh! my God! my God!"
At that moment she felt all at once that the weight of the bucket was gone. A hand, which seemed enormous to her, had just caught the handle, and was carrying it easily. She raised her head. A large dark form, straight and erect, was walking beside her in the gloom. It was a man who had come up behind her, and whom she had not heard. This man, without saying a word, had grasped the handle of the bucket she was carrying.
There are instincts for all the crises of life.
The child was not afraid.
Cosette, we have said, was not afraid.
The man spoke to her. His voice was serious, and was almost a whisper.
"My child, that is very heavy for you which you are carrying there."
Cosette raised her head and answered:
"Give it to me," the man continued, "I will carry it for you."
Cosette let go of the bucket. The man walked along with her.
"It is very heavy, indeed," said he to himself. Then he added:
"Little girl, how old are you?"
"Eight years, monsieur."
"And have you come far in this way?"
"From the spring in the woods."
"And are you going far?"
"A good quarter of an hour from here."
The man remained a moment without speaking, then he said abruptly:
"You have no mother then?"
"I don't know," answered the child.
Before the man had had time to say a word, she added:
"I don't believe I have. All the rest have one. For my part, I have none."
And after a silence, she added:
"I believe I never had any."
The man stopped, put the bucket on the ground, stooped down and placed his hands upon the child's shoulders, making an effort to look at her and see her face in the darkness.
The thin and puny face of Cosette was vaguely outlined in the livid light of the sky.
"What is your name?" said the man.
It seemed as if the man had an electric shock. He looked at her again, then letting go of her shoulders, took up the bucket, and walked on.
A moment after, he asked:
"Little girl, where do you live?"
"At Montfermeil, if you know it."
"It is there that we are going?"
He made another pause, then he began:
"Who is it that has sent you out into the woods after water at this time of night?"
The man resumed with a tone of voice which he tried to render indifferent, but in which there was nevertheless a singular tremor:
"What does she do, your Madame Thenardier?"
"She is my mistress," said the child. "She keeps the tavern."
"The tavern," said the man. "Well, I am going there to lodge tonight. Show me the way."
"We are going there," said the child.
The man walked very fast. Cosette followed him without difficulty. She felt fatigue no more. From time to time, she raised her eyes towards the man with a sort of tranquillity and inexpressible confidence. She had never been taught to turn towards Providence and to pray. However, she felt in her bosom something that resembled hope and joy, and which rose towards heaven.
A few minutes passed. The man spoke:
"Is there no servant at Madame Thenardier's?"
"Are you alone?"
There was another interval of silence. Cosette raised her voice:
"That is, there are two little girls."
"What little girls?"
"Ponine and Zelma."
The child simplified in this way the romantic names dear to the mother.
"What are Ponine and Zelma?"
"They are Madame Thenardier's young ladies, you might say her daughters."
"And what do they do?"
"Oh!" said the child, "they have beautiful dolls, things which there's gold in; they are full of business. They play, they amuse themselves."
"All day long?"
"Me! I work."
"All day long?"
The child raised her large eyes in which there was a tear, which could not seen the darkness, and answered softly:
She continued after interval silence:
"Sometimes, when I have finished my work and they are willing, I amuse myself also."
"How do you amuse yourself?"
"The best I can. They let me alone. But I have not many play-things. Ponine and Zelma are not willing for me to play with their dolls. I have only a little lead sword, not longer than that."
The child showed her little finger.
"And which does not cut?"
"Yes, monsieur," said the child, "it cuts lettuce and flies' heads."
They reached the village; Cosette guided the stranger through the streets. They passed by the bakery, but Cosette did not think of the bread she was to have brought back. The man questioned her no more, and now maintained a mournful silence. When they had passed the church, the man, seeing all these booths in the street, asked Cosette:
"Is it fair-time here!"
"No, monsieur, it is Christmas."
As they drew near the tavern, Cosette timidly touched his arm:
"What, my child?"
"Here we are close by the house."
"Will you let me take the bucket now?"
"Because, if madame sees that anybody brought it for me, she will beat me."
The man gave her the bucket. A moment after they were at the door of the chop-house.
Cosette could not help casting one look towards the grand doll still displayed in the toy-shop, then she rapped. The door opened. The Thenardiess appeared with a candle in her hand.
"Oh! it is you, you little beggar! Lud-a-massy! you have taken your time! she has been playing, the wench!"
"Madame," said Cosette, trembling, "there is a gentleman who is coming to lodge."
The Thenardiess very quickly replaced her fierce air by her amiable grimace, a change at sight peculiar to innkeepers, and looked for the new-comer with eager eyes.
"Is it monsieur?" said she.
"Yes, madame," answered the man, touching his hat.
Rich travelers are not so polite. This gesture and the sight of the stranger's costume and baggage which the Thenardiess passed in review at a glance made the amiable grimace disappear and the fierce air reappear. She added drily:
The "goodman" entered. The Thenardiess cast a second glance at him, examined particularly his long coat which was absolutely threadbare, and his hat which was somewhat broken, and with a nod, a wink, and a turn of her nose, consulted her husband, who was still drinking with the waggoners. The husband answered by that imperceptible shake of the forefinger which, supported by a protrusion of the lips, signifies in such a case: "complete destitution." Upon this the Thenardiess exclaimed:
"Ah!- my brave man, I am very sorry, but I have no room."
"Put me where you will," said the man, "in the garret, in the stable. I will pay as if I had a room."
"Forty sous. Well."
"Forty sous," whispered a waggoner to the Thenardiess, "but it is only twenty sous."
"It is forty sous for him," replied the Thenardiess in the same tone. "I don't lodge poor people for less."
"That is true," added her husband softly, "it ruins a house to have this sort of people."
Meanwhile the man, after leaving his stick and bundle on a bench, had seated himself at a table on which Cosette had been quick to place a bottle of wine and a glass. The pedlar, who had asked for the bucket of water, had gone himself to carry it to his horse. Cosette had resumed her place under the kitchen table and her knitting.
The man, who hardly touched his lips to the wine he had turned out, was contemplating the child with a strange attention.
Cosette was ugly. Happy, she might, perhaps, have been pretty. We have already sketched this little pitiful face. Cosette was thin and pale; she was nearly eight years old, but one would hardly have thought her six. Her large eyes, sunk in a sort of shadow, were almost put out by continual weeping. The corners of her mouth had that curve of habitual anguish, which is seen in the condemned and in the hopelessly sick. Her hands were, as her mother had guessed, "covered with chilblains." The light of the fire which was shining upon her, made her bones stand out and rendered her thinness fearfully visible. As she was always shivering, she had acquired the habit of drawing her knees together. Her whole dress was nothing but a rag, which would have excited pity in the summer, and which excited horror in the winter. She had on nothing but cotton, and that full of holes; not a rag of woollen. Her skin showed here and there, and black and blue could be distinguished, which indicated the places where the Thenardiess had touched her. Her naked legs were red and rough. The hollows under her collar bones would make one weep. The whole person of this child, her gait, her attitude, the sound of her voice, the intervals between one word and another, her looks, her silence, her least motion, expressed and uttered a single idea: fear.
Fear was spread all over her; she was, so to say, covered with it; fear drew back her elbows against her sides, drew her heels under her skirt, made her take the least possible room, prevented her from breathing more than was absolutely necessary, and had become what might be called her bodily habit, without possible variation, except of increase. There was in the depth of her eye an expression of astonishment mingled with terror.
This fear was such that on coming in, all wet as she was, Cosette had not dared go and dry herself by the fire, but had gone silently to her work.
The expression of the countenance of this child of eight years was habitually so sad and sometimes so tragical that it seemed, at certain moments, as if she were in the way of becoming an idiot or a demon.
Never, as we have said, had she known what it is to pray, never had she set foot within a church. "How can I spare the time?" said the Thenardiess.
The man in the yellow coat did not take his eyes from Cosette.
Suddenly, the Thenardiess exclaimed out:
"Oh! I forgot! that bread"
Cosette, according to her custom whenever the Thenardiess raised her voice, sprang out quickly from under the table.
She had entirely forgotten the bread. She had recourse to the expedient of children who are always terrified. She lied.
"Madame, the baker was shut."
"You ought to have knocked."
"I did knock, madame."
"He didn't open."
"I'll find out tomorrow if that is true," said the Thenardiess, "and if you are lying you will lead a pretty dance. Meantime give me back the fifteen-sous piece."
Cosette plunged her hand into her apron pocket, and turned white. The fifteen-sous piece was not there.
"Come," said the Thenardiess, "didn't you hear me?"
Cosette turned her pocket inside out; there was nothing there. What could have become of that money? The little unfortunate could not utter a word. She was petrified.
"Have you lost it, the fifteen-sous piece?" screamed the Thenardiess, "or do you want to steal it from me?"
At the same time she reached her arm towards the cowhide hanging in the chimney corner.
This menacing movement gave Cosette the strength to cry out:
"Forgive me! Madame! Madame! I won't do so anymore!"
The Thenardiess took down the whip.
Meanwhile the man in the yellow coat had been fumbling in his waistcoat pocket, without being noticed. The other travelers were drinking or playing cards, and paid no attention to anything.
Cosette was writhing with anguish in the chimney-corner, trying to gather up and hide her poor half-naked limbs. The Thenardiess raised her arm.
"I beg your pardon, madame," said the man, "but I just now saw something fall out of the pocket of that little girl's apron and roll away. That may be it."
At the same time he stooped down and appeared to search on the floor for an instant.
"Just so, here it is," said he, rising.
And he handed a silver piece to the Thenardiess.
"Yes, that is it," said she.
That was not it, for it was a twenty-sous piece, but the Thenardiess found her profit in it. She put the piece in her pocket, and contented herself with casting a ferocious look at the child and saying:
"Don't let that happen again, ever."
Cosette went back to what the Thenardiess called "her hole," and her large eye, fixed upon the unknown traveler, began to assume an expression that it had never known before. It was still only an artless astonishment, but a sort of blind confidence was associated with it.
"O! you want supper?" asked the Thenardiess of the traveler.
He did not answer. He seemed to be thinking deeply.
"What is that man?" said she between her teeth. "It is some frightful pauper. He hasn't a penny for his supper. Is he going to pay me for his lodging only? It is very lucky, anyway, that he didn't think to steal the money that was on the floor."
A door now opened, and Eponine and Azelma came in.
They were really two pretty little girls, rather city girls than peasants, very charming, one with her well-polished auburn tresses, the other with her long black braids falling down her back, and both so lively, neat, plump, fresh, and healthy, that it was a pleasure to see them. They were warmly clad, but with such maternal art, that the thickness of the stuff detracted nothing from the coquetry of the fit. Winter was provided against without effacing spring. These two little girls shed light around them. Moreover, they were regnant. In their toilet, in their gaiety, in the noise they made, there was sovereignty. When they entered, the Thenardiess said to them in a scolding tone, which was full of adoration: "Ah! you are here then, you children!"
Then, taking them upon her knees one after the other, smoothing their hair, tying over their ribbons, and finally letting them go with that gentle sort of shake which is peculiar to mothers, she exclaimed:
"Are they dowdies!"
They went and sat down by the fire. They had a doll which they turned backwards and forwards upon their knees with many pretty prattlings. From time to time, Cosette raised her eyes from her knitting, and looked sadly at them as they were playing.
Eponine and Azelma did not notice Cosette. To them she was like the dog. These three little girls could not count twenty-four years among them all, and they already represented all human society; on one side envy, on the other disdain.
The doll of the Thenardier sisters was very much faded, and very old and broken; and it appeared none the less wonderful to Cosette, who had never in her life had a doll, a real doll, to use an expression that all children will understand.
All at once, the Thenardiess, who was continually going and coming about the room, noticed that Cosette's attention was distracted, and that instead of working she was busied with the little girls who were playing.
"Ah! I've caught you!" cried she. "That is the way you work! I'll make you work with a cowhide, I will."
The stranger, without leaving his chair, turned towards the Thenardiess.
"Madame," said he, smiling diffidently. "Pshaw! let her play!"
On the part of any traveler who had eaten a slice of mutton, and drunk two bottles of wine at his supper, and who had not had the appearance of a horrid pauper, such a wish would have been a command. But that a man who wore that hat should allow himself to have a desire, and that a man who wore that coat should permit himself to have a wish, was what the Thenardiess thought ought not to be tolerated. She replied sharply:
"She must work, for she eats. I don't support her to do nothing."
"What is it she is making?" said the stranger, in that gentle voice which contrasted so strangely with his beggar's clothes and his porter's shoulders.
The Thenardiess deigned to answer.
"Stockings, if you please. Stockings for my little girls who have none, worth speaking of, and will soon be going barefooted."
The man looked at Cosette's poor red feet, and continued:
"When will she finish that pair of stockings?"
"It will take her at least three or four good days, the lazy thing."
"And how much might this pair of stockings be worth, when it is finished?"
The Thenardiess cast a disdained glance at him.
"At least thirty sous."
"Would you take five francs for them?" said the man.
"Goodness!" exclaimed a waggoner who was listening, with a horse-laugh, "five francs? It's a humbug! five bullets!"
Thenardier now thought it time to speak.
"Yes, monsieur, if it is your fancy, you can have that pair of stockings for five francs. We can't refuse anything to travelers."
"You must pay for them now," said the Thenardiess, in her short and peremptory way.
"I will buy that pair of stockings," answered the man, "and," added he, drawing a five franc piece from his pocket and laying it on the table, "I will pay for them."
Then he turned towards Cosette.
"Now your work belongs to me. Play, my child."
The waggoner was so affected by the five franc piece, that he left his glass and went to look at it.
"It's so, that's a fact!" cried he, as he looked at it. "A regular hindwheel! and no counterfeit!"
Thenardier approached, and silently put the piece in his pocket.
The Thenardiess had nothing to reply. She bit her lips, and her face assumed an expression of hatred.
Meanwhile Cosette trembled. She ventured to ask:
"Madame, is it true? can I play?"
"Play!" said the Thenardiess in a terrible voice.
"Thank you, madame," said Cosette. And, while her mouth thanked the Thenardiess, all her little soul was thanking the traveler.
Thenardier returned to his drink. His wife whispered in his ear:
"What can that yellow man be?"
"I have seen," answered Thenardier, in a commanding tone, "Millionaires with coats like that."
Cosette had left her knitting, but she had not moved from her place. Cosette always stirred as little as was possible. She had taken from a little box behind her a few old rags, and her little lead sword.
Eponine and Azelma paid no attention to what was going on. They had just performed a very important operation; they had caught the kitten. They had thrown the doll on the floor, and Eponine, the elder, was dressing the kitten, in spite of her miaulings and contortions, with a lot of clothes and red and blue rags. While she was engaged in this serious and difficult labour, she was talking to her sister in that sweet and charming language of children, the grace of which, like the splendour of the butterfly's wings, escapes when we try to preserve it.
As birds make a nest of anything, children make a doll of no matter what. While Eponine and Azelma were dressing up the cat, Cosette, for her part, had dressed up the sword. That done, she had laid it upon her arm, and was singing it softly to sleep.
The doll is one of the most imperious necessities, and at the same time one of the most charming instincts of female childhood. To care for, to clothe, to adorn, to dress, to undress, to dress over again, to teach, to scold a little, to rock, to cuddle, to put to sleep, to imagine that something is somebody- all the future of woman is there. Even while musing and prattling, while making little wardrobes and little baby-clothes, while sewing little dresses, little bodices, and little jackets, the child becomes a little girl, the little girl becomes a great girl, the great girl becomes a woman. The first baby takes the place of the last doll.
A little girl without a doll is almost as unfortunate and quite as impossible as a woman without children.
Cosette had therefore made a doll of her sword.
The Thenardiess, on her part, approached the yellow man. "My husband is right," thought she; "it may be Monsieur Laffitte. Some rich men are so odd."
She came and rested her elbow on the table at which he was sitting.
"Monsieur," said she-
At this word monsieur, the man turned. The Thenardiess had called him before only brave man or good man.
"You see, monsieur," she pursued, putting on her sweetest look, which was still more unendurable than her ferocious manner, "I am very willing the child should play, I am not opposed to it; it is well for once, because you are generous. But, you see, she is poor; she must work."
"The child is not yours, then?" asked the man.
"Oh dear! no, monsieur! It is a little pauper that we have taken in through charity. A sort of imbecile child. She must have water on her brain. Her head is big, as you see. We do all we can for or her, but we are not rich. We write in vain to her country; for six months we have had no answer. We think that her mother must be dead."
"Ah!" said the man, and he fell back into his reverie.
"This mother was no great things," added the Thenardiess. "She abandoned her child."
During all this conversation, Cosette, as if an instinct had warned her that they were talking about her, had not taken her eyes from the Thenardiess. She listened. She heard a few words here and there.
Meanwhile the drinkers, all three-quarters drunk, were repeating their foul chorus with redoubled gaiety. It was highly spiced with jests, in which the names of the Virgin and the child Jesus were often heard. The Thenardiess had gone to take her part in the hilarity. Cosette, under the table, was looking into the fire, which was reflected from her fixed eye; she was again rocking the sort of rag baby that she had made, and as she rocked it, she sang in a low voice; "My mother is dead! my mother is dead! my mother is dead!"
At the repeated entreaties of the hostess, the yellow man, "the millionaire," finally consented to sup.
"What will monsieur have?"
"Some bread and cheese," said the man.
"Decidedly, it is a beggar," thought the Thenardiess.
The revellers continued to sing their songs, and the child, under the table, also sang hers.
All at once, Cosette stopped. She had just turned and seen the little Thenardiers' doll, which they had forsaken for the cat and left on the floor, a few steps from the kitchen table.
Then she let the bundled-up sword, that only half satisfied her, fall, and ran her eyes slowly around the room. The Thenardiess was whispering to her husband and counting some money, Eponine and Azelma were playing with the cat, the travelers were eating or drinking or singing, nobody was looking at her. She had not a moment to lose. She crept out from under the table on her hands and knees, made sure once more that nobody was watching her, then darted quickly to the doll, and seized it. An instant afterwards she was at her place, seated, motionless, only turned in such a way as to keep the doll that she held in her arms in the shadow. The happiness of playing with a doll was so rare to her that it had all the violence of rapture.
Nobody had seen her, except the traveler, who was slowly eating his meagre supper.
This joy lasted for nearly a quarter of an hour.
But in spite of Cosette's precautions, she did not perceive that one of the doll's feet stuck out, and that the fire of the fireplace lighted it up very vividly. This rosy and luminous foot which protruded from the shadow suddenly caught Azelma's eye, and she said to Eponine: "Oh! sister!"
The two little girls stopped, stupefied; Cosette had dared to take the doll.
Eponine got up, and without letting go of the cat, went to her mother and began to pull at her skirt.
"Let me alone," said the mother; "what do you want?"
"Mother," said the child, "look there."
And she pointed at Cosette.
Cosette, wholly absorbed in the ecstasy of her possession, saw and heard nothing else.
The face of the Thenardiess assumed the peculiar expression which is composed of the terrible mingled with the commonplace and which has given this class of women the name of furies.
This time wounded pride exasperated her anger still more. Cosette had leaped over all barriers. Cosette had laid her hands upon the doll of "those young ladies." A czarina who had seen a moujik trying on the grand cordon of her imperial son would have had the same expression.
She cried with a voice harsh with indignation:
Cosette shuddered as if the earth had quaked beneath her. She turned around.
"Cosette!" repeated the Thenardiess.
Cosette took the doll and placed it gently on the floor with a kind of veneration mingled with despair. Then, without taking away her eyes, she joined her hands, and, what is frightful to tell in a child of that age, she wrung them; then, what none of the emotions of the day had drawn from her, neither the run in the wood, nor the weight of the bucket of water, nor the loss of the money, nor the sight of the cowhide, nor even the stern words she had heard from the Thenardiess, she burst into tears. She sobbed.
Meanwhile the traveler arose.
"What is the matter?" said he to the Thenardiess.
"Don't you see?" said the Thenardiess, pointing with her finger to the corpus delicti lying at Cosette's feet.
"Well, what is that?" said the man.
"That beggar," answered the Thenardiess, "has dared to touch the children's doll."
"All this noise about that?" said the man. "Well, what if she did play with that doll?"
"She has touched it with her dirty hands!" continued the Thenardiess, "with her horrid hands!"
Here Cosette redoubled her sobs.
"Be still!" cried the Thenardiess.
The man walked straight to the street door, opened it, and went out.
As soon as he had gone, the Thenardiess profited by his absence to give Cosette under the table a severe kick, which made the child shriek.
The door opened again, and the man reappeared, holding in his hands the fabulous doll of which we have spoken, and which had been the admiration of all the youngsters of the village since morning; he stood it up before Cosette, saying:
"Here, this is for you."
It is probable that during the time he had been there- more than an hour- in the midst of his reverie, he had caught confused glimpses of this toy-shop, lighted up with lamps and candles so splendidly that it shone through the bar-room window like an illumination.
Cosette raised her eyes; she saw the man approach her with that doll as she would have seen the sun approach, she heard those astounding words: This is for you. She looked at him, she looked at the doll, then she drew back slowly, and went and hid as far as she could under the table in the corner of the room.
She wept no more, she cried no more, she had the appearance of no longer daring to breathe.
The Thenardiess, Eponine, and Azelma were so many statues. Even the drinkers stopped. There was a solemn silence in the whole bar-room.
The Thenardiess, petrified and mute, recommenced her conjectures anew: "What is this old fellow? is he a pauper? is he a millionaire? Perhaps he's both, that is a robber."
The face of the husband Thenardier presented that expressive wrinkle which marks the human countenance whenever the dominant instinct appears in it with all its brutal power. The innkeeper contemplated by turns the doll and the traveler; he seemed to be scenting this man as he would have scented a bag of money. This only lasted for a moment. He approached his wife and whispered to her:
"That machine cost at least thirty francs. No nonsense. Down on your knees before the man!"
Coarse natures have this in common with artless natures, that they have no transitions.
"Well, Cosette," said the Thenardiess in a voice which was meant to be sweet, and which was entirely composed of the sour honey of vicious women, "a'n't you going to take your doll?"
Cosette ventured to come out of her hole.
"My little Cosette," said Thenardier with a caressing air, "Monsieur gives you a doll. Take it. It is yours."
Cosette looked upon the wonderful doll with a sort of terror. Her face was still flooded with tears, but her eyes began to fill, like the sky in the breaking of the dawn, with strange radiations of joy. What she experienced at that moment was almost like what she would have felt is some one had said to her suddenly: Little girl, you are queen of France.
It seemed to her that if she touched that doll, thunder would spring forth from it.
Which was true to some extent, for she thought that the Thenardiess would scold and beat her.
However, the attraction overcame her. She finally approached and timidly murmured, turning towards the Thenardiess:
"Can I, madame?"
No expression can describe her look, at once full of despair, dismay, and transport.
"Good Lord!" said the Thenardiess, "it is yours. Since monsieur gives it to you."
"Is it true, is it true, monsieur?" said Cosette; "is the lady for me?"
The stranger appeared to have his eyes full of tears. He seemed to be at that stage of emotion in which one does not speak for fear of weeping. He nodded assent to Cosette, and put the hand of "the lady" in her little hand.
Cosette withdrew her hand hastily, as if that of the lady burned her, and looked down at the floor. We are compelled to add, that at that instant she thrust out her tongue enormously. All at once she turned, and seized the doll eagerly.
"I will call her Catharine," said she.
It was a strange moment when Cosette's rags met and pressed against the ribbons and the fresh pink muslins of the doll.
"Madame," said she, "may I put her in a chair?"
"Yes, my child," answered the Thenardiess.
It was Eponine and Azelma now who looked upon Cosette with envy.
Cosette placed Catharine on a chair, then sat down on the floor before her, and remained motionless, without saying a word, in the attitude of contemplation.
"Why don't you play, Cosette?" said the stranger.
"Oh! I am playing," answered the child.
This stranger, this unknown man, who seemed like a visit from Providence to Cosette, was at that moment the being which the Thenardiess hated more than aught else in the world. However, she was compelled to restrain herself. Her emotions were more than she could endure, accustomed as she was to dissimulation, by endeavouring to copy her husband in all her actions. She sent her daughters to bed immediately, then asked the yellow man's permission to send Cosette to bed- who is very tired to-day, added she, with a motherly air. Cosette went to bed, holding Catharine in her arms.
The Thenardiess went from time to time to the other end of the room, where her husband was, to soothe her soul, she said. She exchanged a few words with him, which were the more furious that she did not dare to speak them aloud:-
"The old fool! what has he got into his head, to come here to disturb us! to want that little monster to play! to give her dolls! to give forty-franc dolls to a slut that I wouldn't give forty sous for. A little more, and he would say your majesty to her, as they do to the Duchess of Berry! Is he in his senses? he must be crazy, the strange old fellow!"
"Why? It is very simple," replied Thenardier. "If it amuses him! It amuses you for the girl to work; it amuses him for her to play. He has the right to do it. A traveler can do as he likes, if he pays for it. If this old fellow is a philanthropist, what is that to you? if he is crazy it don't concern you. What do you interfere for, as long as he has money?"
Language of a master and reasoning of an innkeeper, which neither in one case nor the other admits of reply.
The man had leaned his elbows on the table, and resumed his attitude of reverie. All the other travelers, pedlars, and waggoners, had drawn back a little, and sung no more. They looked upon him from a distance with a sort of respectful fear.
This solitary man, so poorly clad, who took five-franc pieces from his pocket with so much indifference, and who lavished gigantic dolls on little brats in wooden shoes, was certainly a magnificent and formidable goodman.
Several hours passed away. The midnight mass was said, the revel was finished, the drinkers had gone, the house was closed, the room was deserted, the fire had gone out, the stranger still remained in the same place and in the same posture. From time to time he changed the elbow on which he rested. That was all. But he had not spoken a word since Cosette was gone.
The Thenardiers alone out of propriety and curiosity, had remained in the room.
"Is he going to spend the night like this?" grumbled the Thenardiess. When the clock struck two in the morning, she acknowledged herself beaten, and said to her husband: "I am going to bed, you may do as you like." The husband sat down at a table in a corner, lighted a candle, and began to read the "Courrier Francais."
A good hour passed thus. The worthy innkeeper had read the "Courrier Francais" at least three times, from the date of the number to the name of the printer. The stranger did not stir.
Thenardier moved, coughed, spit, blew his nose, and creaked his chair. The man did not stir. "Is he asleep?" thought Thenardier. The man was not asleep, but nothing could arouse him.
Finally Thenardier took off his cap, approached softly, and ventured to say: "Is monsieur not going to repose?"
Not going to bed would have seemed to him too much and too familiar. To repose implied luxury, and there was respect in it. Such words have the mysterious and wonderful property of swelling the bill in the morning. A room in which you go to bed costs twenty sous; a room in which you repose costs twenty francs.
"Yes," said the stranger, "you are right. Where is your stable?"
"Monsieur," said Thenardier, with a smile, "I will conduct monsieur."
He took the candle, the man took his bundle and his staff, and Thenardier led him into a room on the first floor, which was very showy, furnished all in mahogany, with a high-post bedstead and red calico curtains.
"What is this?" said the traveler.
"It is properly our bridal chamber," said the innkeeper. "We occupy another like this, my spouse and I; this is not open more than three or four times in a year."
"I should have liked the stable as well," said the man, bluntly.
Thenardier did not appear to hear this not very civil answer.
He lighted two entirely new wax candles, which were displayed upon the mantel; a good fire was blazing in the fireplace. There was on the mantel, under a glass case, a woman's head-dress of silver thread and orange-flowers.
"What is this?" said the stranger.
"Monsieur," said Thenardier, "it is my wife's bridal cap."
The traveler looked at the object with a look which seemed to say: "there was a moment, then, when this monster was a virgin."
Thenardier lied, however. When he hired this shanty to turn it into a chop-house, he found the room thus furnished, and bought this furniture, and purchased at second-hand these orange-flowers, thinking that this would cast a gracious light over "his spouse," and that the house would derive from them what the English call respectability.
When the traveler turned again the host had disappeared. Thenardier had discreetly taken himself out of the way without daring to say good-night, not desiring to treat with a disrespectful cordiality a man whom he proposed to skin royally in the morning.
The innkeeper retired to his room; his wife was in bed, but not asleep. When she heard her husband's step, she turned towards him and said:
"You know that I am going to kick Cosette out doors tomorrow!"
Thenardier coolly answered:
"You are, indeed!" They exchanged no further words, and in a few moments their candle was blown out.
For his part, the traveler had put his staff and bundle in a corner. The host gone, he sat down in an arm-chair, and remained sometime thinking. Then he drew off his shoes, took one of the two candles, blew out the other, pushed open the door, and went out of the room, looking about him as if he were searching for something. He passed through a hall, and came to the stairway. There he heard a very soft little sound, which resembled the breathing of a child. Guided by this sound he came to a sort of triangular nook built under the stairs, or, rather, formed by the staircase itself. This hole was nothing but the space beneath the stairs. There, among all sorts of old baskets and old rubbish, in the dust and among the cobwebs, there was a bed; if a mattress so full of holes as to show the straw, and a covering so full of holes as to show the mattress, can be called a bed. There were no sheets. This was placed on the floor immediately on the tiles. In this bed Cosette was sleeping.
The man approached and looked at her.
Cosette was sleeping soundly; she was dressed. In the winter she did not undress on account of the cold. She held the doll clasped in her arms; its large open eyes shone in the obscurity. From time to time she heaved a deep sigh, as if she were about to wake, and she hugged the doll almost convulsively. There was only one of her wooden shoes at the side of her bed. An open door near Cosette's nook disclosed a large dark room. The stranger entered. At the further end, through a glass window, he perceived two little beds with very white spreads. They were those of Azelma and Eponine. Half hid behind these beds was a willow cradle without curtains, in which the little boy who had cried all the evening was sleeping.
The stranger conjectured that this room communicated with that of the Thenardiers. He was about to withdraw when his eye fell upon the fireplace, one of those huge tavern fireplaces where there is always so little fire, when there is a fire, and which are so cold to look upon. In this one there was no fire, there were not even any ashes. What there was, however, attracted the traveler's attention. It was two little children's shoes, of coquettish shape and of different sizes. The traveler remembered the graceful and immemorial custom of children putting their shoes in the fireplace on Christmas night, to wait there in the darkness in expectation of some shining gift from their good fairy. Eponine and Azelma had taken good care not to forget this, and each had put one of her shoes in the fireplace.
The traveler bent over them.
The fairy- that is to say, the mother- had already made her visit, and shining in each shoe was a beautiful new ten-sous piece.
The man rose up and was on the point of going away, when he perceived further along, by itself, in the darkest corner of the fireplace, another object. He looked, and recognised a shoe, a horrid wooden shoe of the clumsiest sort, half broken and covered with ashes and dried mud. It was Cosette's shoe. Cosette, with that touching confidence of childhood which can always be deceived without ever being discouraged, had also placed her shoe in the fireplace.
What a sublime and sweet thing is hope in a child who has never known anything but despair!
There was nothing in this wooden shoe.
The stranger fumbled in his waistcoat, bent over, and dropped into Cosette's shoe a gold Louis.
Then he went back to his room with stealthy tread.
On the following morning, at least two hours before day, Thenardier, seated at a table in the bar-room, a candle by his side with pen in hand, was making out the bill of the traveler in the yellow coat.
His wife was standing, half bent over him, following him with her eyes. Not a word passed between them. It was, on one side, a profound meditation, on the other that religious admiration with which we observe a marvel of the human mind spring up and expand.
A noise was heard in the house; it was the lark, sweeping the stairs.
After a good quarter of an hour and some erasures, Thenardier produced this masterpiece.
Bill of Monsieur in No. I.
Supper. . . . . . . . . . . 3 frs.
Room. . . . . . . . . . . . 10 "
Candle. . . . . . . . . . . 5 "
Fire. . . . . . . . . . . . 4 "
Service. . . . . . . . . . .1 "
Total . . . . . . . . . . . .23 frs.
Service was written servisse.
"Twenty-three francs!" exclaimed the woman, with an enthusiasm which was mingled with some hesitation.
Like all great artists, Thenardier was not satisfied.
"Pooh!" said he.
It was the accent of Castlereagh drawing up for the Congress of Vienna the bill which France was to pay.
"Monsieur Thenardier, you are right, he deserves it," murmured the woman, thinking of the doll given to Cosette in the presence of her daughters; "it is right! but it's too much. He won't pay it."
Thenardier put on his cold laugh, and said: "He will pay it."
This laugh was the highest sign of certainty and authority. What was thus said, must be. The woman did not insist. She began to arrange the tables; the husband walked back and forth in the room. A moment after he added:
"I owe, at least, fifteen hundred francs!"
He seated himself thoughtfully in the chimney corner, his feet in the warm ashes.
"Ah ha!" replied the woman, "you don't forget that I kick Cosette out of the house to-day? The monster! it tears my vitals to see her with her doll! I would rather marry Louis XVIII, than keep her in the house another day!"
Thenardier lighted his pipe, and answered between two puffs:
"You'll give the bill to the man."
Then he went out.
He was scarcely out of the room when the traveler came in.
Thenardier reappeared immediately behind him, and remained motionless in the half-open door, visible only to his wife.
The yellow man carried his staff and bundle in his hand.
"Up so soon!" said the Thenardiess; "is monsieur going to leave us already?"
While speaking, she turned the bill in her hands with an embarrassed look, and made creases in it with her nails. Her hard face exhibited a shade of timidity and doubt that was not habitual.
To present such a bill to a man who had so perfectly the appearance of "a pauper" seemed too awkward to her.
The traveler appeared pre-occupied and absent-minded.
"Yes, madame, I am going away."
"Monsieur, then, had no business at Montfermeil?" replied she.
"No, I am passing through; that is all. Madame," added he, "what do I owe?"
The Thenardiess, without answering, handed him the folded bill.
The man unfolded the paper and looked at it; but his thoughts were evidently elsewhere.
"Madame" replied he, "do you do a good business in Montfermeil?"
"So-so, monsieur," answered the Thenardiess, stupefied at seeing no other explosion.
She continued in a mournful and lamenting strain:
"Oh! monsieur, the times are very hard, and then we have so few rich people around here! It is a very little place, you see. If we only had rich travelers now and then, like monsieur! We have so many expenses! Why, that little girl eats us out of house and home."
"What little girl?"
"Why, the little girl you know! Cosette! the lark, as they call her about here!"
"Ah!" said the man.
"How stupid these peasants are with their nicknames! She looks more like a bat than a lark. You see, monsieur, we don't ask charity, but we are not able to give it. We make nothing. and have a great deal to pay. The licence, the excise, the doors and windows, the tax on everything! Monsieur knows that the government demands a deal of money. And then I have my own girls. I have nothing to spend on other people's children."
The man replied in a voice which he endeavoured to render indifferent, and in which there was a slight tremulousness.
"Suppose you were relieved of her?"
The red and violent face of the woman became illumined with a hideous expression.
"Ah, monsieur! my good monsieur! take her, keep her, take her away, carry her off, sugar her, stuff her, drink her, eat her, and be blessed by the holy Virgin and all the saints in Paradise!"
"Really! you will take her away?"
"Immediately. Call the child."
"Cosette!" cried the Thenardiess.
"In the meantime," continued the man, "I will pay my bill. How much is it?"
He cast a glance at the bill, and could not repress a movement of surprise.
He looked at the hostess and repeated:
There was, in the pronunciation of these two sentences, thus repeated, the accent which lies between the point of exclamation and the point of interrogation.
The Thenardiess had had time to prepare herself for the shock.
She replied with assurance:
"Yes, of course, monsieur! it is twenty-three francs."
The stranger placed five five-franc pieces upon the table.
"Go for the little girl," said he.
At this moment Thenardier advanced into the middle of the, room and said:
"Monsieur owes twenty-six sous."
"Twenty-six sous!" exclaimed the woman.
"Twenty sous for the room," continued Thenardier coldly,- "and six for supper. As to the little girl, I must have some talk with monsieur about that. Leave us, wife."
The Thenardiess was dazzled by one of those unexpected flashes which emanate from talent. She felt that the great actor had entered upon the scene, answered not a word, and went out.
As soon as they were alone, Thenardier offered the traveler a chair. The traveler sat down, but Thenardier remained standing, and his face assumed a singular expression of good-nature and simplicity.
"Monsieur," said he, "listen, I must say that I adore this child."
The stranger looked at him steadily.
"How strangely we become attached! What is all this silver? Take back your money. This child I adore."
"Who is that?" asked the stranger.
"Oh, our little Cosette! And you wish to take her away from us? Indeed, I speak frankly, as true as you are an honourable man, I cannot consent to it. I should miss her. I have had her since she was very small. It is true, she costs us money; it is true she has her faults, it is true we are not rich, it is true I paid four hundred francs for medicines at one time when she was sick. But we must do something for God. She has neither father nor mother; I have brought her up. I have bread enough for her and for myself. In fact, I must keep this child. You understand, we have affections; I am a good beast; myself; I do not reason; I love this little girl; my wife is hasty, but she loves her also. You see, she is like our own child. I feel the need of her prattle in the house."
The stranger was looking steadily at him all the while. He continued:
"Pardon me, excuse me, monsieur, but one does not give his child like that to a traveler. Isn't it true that I am right? After that, I don't say- you are rich and have the appearance of a very fine man- if it is for her advantage,- but I must know about it. You understand? On the supposition that I should let her go and sacrifice my own feelings, I should want to know where she is going. I would not want to lose sight of her, I should want to know who she was with, that I might come and see her now and then, and that she might know that her good foster-father was still watching over her. Finally, there are things which are not possible. I do not know even your name. If you should take her away, I should say, alas for the little Lark, where has she gone? I must, at least, see some poor rag of paper, a bit of a passport, something."
The stranger, without removing from him this gaze which went so to speak, to the bottom of his conscience, answered in a severe and firm tone.
"Monsieur Thenardier, people do not take a passport to come five leagues from Paris. If I take Cosette, I take her, that is all. You will not know my name, you will not know my abode, you will not know where she goes, and my intention is that she shall never see you again in her life. Do you agree to that? Yes or no?"
As demons and genii recognise by certain signs the presence of a superior God, Thenardier comprehended that he was to deal with one who was very powerful. It came like an intuition; he understood it with his clear and quick sagacity; although during the evening he had been drinking with the waggoners, smoking, and singing bawdy songs, still he was observing the stranger all the while, watching him like a cat, and studying him like a mathematician. He had been observing him on his own account, for pleasure and by instinct, and at the same time lying in wait as if he had been paid for it. Not a gesture, not a movement of the man in the yellow coat had escaped him. Before even the stranger had so clearly shown his interest in Cosette, Thenardier had divined it. He had surprised the searching glances of the old man constantly returning to the child. Why this interest? What was this man? Why, with so much money in his purse, this miserable dress? These were questions which he put to himself without being able to answer them, and they irritated him. He had been thinking it over all night. This could not be Cosette's father. Was it a grandfather? Then why did he not make himself known at once? When a man has a right, he shows it. This man evidently had no right to Cosette. Then who was he? Thenardier was lost in conjectures. He caught glimpses of everything, but saw nothing. However it might be, when he commenced the conversation with this man, sure that there was a secret in all this, sure that the man had an interest in remaining unknown, he felt himself strong; at the stranger's clear and firm answer, when he saw that this mysterious personage was mysterious and nothing more, he felt weak. He was expecting nothing of the kind. His conjectures were put to flight. He rallied his ideas. He weighed all in a second. Thenardier was one of those men who comprehend a situation at a glance. He decided that this was the moment to advance straight forward and swiftly. He did what great captains do at that decisive instant which they alone can recognise; he unmasked his battery at once.
"Monsieur," said he, "I must have fifteen hundred francs."
The stranger took from his side-pocket an old black leather pocket-book, opened it, and drew forth three bank bills which he placed upon the table. He then rested his large thumb on these bills, and said to the tavern-keeper.
While this was going on what was Cosette doing?
Cosette, as soon as she awoke, had run to her wooden shoe. She had found the gold piece in it. It was not a Napoleon, but one of those new twenty-franc pieces of the Restoration, on the face of which the little Prussian queue had replaced the laurel crown. Cosette was dazzled. Her destiny began to intoxicate her. She did not know that it was a piece of gold; she had never seen one before; she hastily concealed it in her pocket as if she had stolen it. Nevertheless she felt it boded good to her. She divined whence the gift came, but she experienced a joy that was filled with awe. She was gratified; she was moreover stupefied. Such magnificent and beautiful things seemed unreal to her. The doll made her afraid, the gold piece made her afraid. She trembled with wonder before these magnificences. The stranger himself did not make her afraid. On the contrary, he reassured her. Since the previous evening, amid all her astonishment, and in her sleep, she was thinking in her little child's mind of this man who had such an old, and poor, and sad appearance, and who was so rich and so kind. Since she had met this goodman in the wood, it seemed as though all things were changed about her. Cosette, less happy than the smallest swallow of the sky, had never known what it is to take refuge under a mother's wing. For five years, that is to say, as far back as she could remember, the poor child had shivered and shuddered. She had always been naked under the biting north wind of misfortune, and now it seemed to her that she was clothed. Before her soul was cold, now it was warm. Cosette was no longer afraid of the Thenardiers; she was no longer alone; she had somebody to look to.
She hurriedly set herself to her morning task. This louis, which she had placed in the same pocket of her apron from which the fifteen-sous piece had fallen the night before, distracted her attention from her work. She did not dare to touch it, but she spent five minutes at a time contemplating it, and we must confess, with her tongue thrust out. While sweeping the stairs, she stopped and stood there, motionless, forgetting her broom, and the whole world besides, occupied in looking at this shining star at the bottom of her pocket.
It was in one of these reveries that the Thenardiess found her.
At the command of her husband, she had gone to look for her. Wonderful to tell, she did not give her a slap nor even call her a hard name.
"Cosette," said she, almost gently, "come quick."
An instant after, Cosette entered the bar-room.
The stranger took the bundle he had brought and untied it. This bundle contained a little woolen frock, an apron, a coarse cotton under-garment, a petticoat, a scarf, woollen stockings, and shoes a complete dress for a girl of seven years. It was all in black.
"My child," said the man, "take this and go and dress yourself quick."
The day was breaking when those of the inhabitants of Montfermeil who were beginning to open their doors, saw pass on the road to Paris a poorly clad goodman leading a little girl dressed in mourning who had a pink doll in her arms. They were going towards Livry.
It was the stranger and Cosette.
No one recognised the man; as Cosette was not now in tatters, few recognised her.
Cosette was going away. With whom? She was ignorant. Where? She knew not. All she understood was, that she was leaving behind the Thenardier chop-house. Nobody had thought of bidding her good-by, nor had she of bidding good-by to anybody. She went out from that house, hated and hating.
Poor gentle being, whose heart had only been crushed hitherto.
Cosette walked seriously along, opening her large eyes, and looking at the sky. She had put her louis in the pocket of her new apron. From time to time she bent over and cast a glance at it, and then looked at the goodman. She felt somewhat as if she were near God.
The Thenardiess, according to her custom, had left her husband alone. She was expecting great events. When the man and Cosette were gone, Thenardier, after a good quarter of an hour, took her aside, and showed her the fifteen hundred francs.
"What's that?" said she.
It was the first time, since the beginning of their housekeeping, that she had dared to criticise the act of her master.
He felt the blow.
"True, you are right," said he; "I am a fool. Give me my hat."
He folded the three bank bills, thrust them into his pocket, and started in all haste, but he missed the direction and took the road to the right. Some neighbours of whom he inquired put him on the track; the Lark and the man had been seen to go in the direction of Livry. He followed this indication, walking rapidly and talking to himself.
"This man is evidently a millionaire dressed in yellow, and as for me, I am a brute. He first gave twenty sous, then five francs, then fifty francs, then fifteen hundred francs, all so readily. He would have given fifteen thousand francs. But I shall catch him."
And then this bundle of clothes, made ready beforehand for the little girl; all that was strange, there was a good deal of mystery under it. When one gets hold of a mystery, he does not let go of it. The secrets of the rich are sponges full of gold; a man ought to know how to squeeze them. All these thoughts were whirling in his brain. "I am a brute," said he.
On leaving Montfermeil and reaching the turn made by the road to Livry, the route may be seen for a long distance on the plateau. On reaching this point he counted on being able to see the man and the little girl. He looked as far as his eye could reach, but saw nothing. He inquired again. In the meanwhile he was losing time. The passers-by told him that the man and child whom he sought had travelled towards the wood in the direction of Gagny. He hastened in this direction.
They had the start of him, but a child walks slowly, and he went rapidly. And then the country was well known to him.
Suddenly he stopped and struck his forehead like a man who has forgotten the main thing, and who thinks of retracing his steps.
"I ought to have taken my gun!" said he.
Thenardier was one of those double natures who sometimes appear among us without our knowledge, and disappear without ever being known, because destiny has shown us but one side of them. It is the fate of many men to live thus half submerged. In a quiet ordinary situation, Thenardier had all that is necessary to make- we do not say to be- what passes for an honest tradesman, a good citizen. At the same time, under certain circumstances, under the operation of certain occurrences exciting his baser nature, he had in him all that was necessary to be a villain. He was a shopkeeper, in which lay hidden a monster. Satan ought for a moment to have squatted in some corner of the hole in which Thenardier lived and studied this hideous masterpiece.
After hesitating an instant:
"Bah!" thought he, "they would have time to escape!" And he continued on his way, going rapidly forward, and almost as if he were certain, with the sagacity of the fox scenting a flock of partridges.
In fact, when he had passed the ponds, and crossed obliquely the large meadow at the right of the avenue de Bellevue, as he reached the grassy path which nearly encircles the hill, and which covers the arch of the old aqueduct of the abbey of Chelles, he perceived above a bush, the hat on which he had already built so many conjectures. It was the man's hat. The bushes were low. Thenardier perceived that the man and Cosette were seated there. The child could not be seen, she was so short, but he could see the head of the doll.
Thenardier was not deceived. The man had sat down there to give Cosette a little rest. The chop-house keeper turned aside the bushes, and suddenly appeared before the eyes of those whom he sought.
"Pardon me, excuse me, monsieur," said he, all out of breath; "but here are your fifteen hundred francs."
So saying, he held out the three bank bills to the stranger.
The man raised his eyes:
"What does that mean?"
Thenardier answered respectfully:
"Monsieur, that means that I take back Cosette."
Cosette shuddered, and hugged close to the goodman.
He answered, looking Thenardier straight in the eye, and spacing his syllables.
"You- take- back- Cosette?"
"Yes, monsieur, I take her back. I tell you I have reflected. Indeed, I haven't the right to give her to you. I am an honest man, you see. This little girl is not mine. She belongs to her mother. Her mother has confided her to me; I can only give her up to her mother. You will tell me: But her mother is dead. Well. In that case, I can only give up the child to a person who shall bring me a written order, signed by the mother, stating I should deliver the child to him. That is clear."
The man, without answering, felt in his pocket, and Thenardier saw the pocket-book containing the bank bills reappear.
The tavern-keeper felt a thrill of joy.
"Good!" thought he; "hold on. He is going to corrupt me!"
Before opening the pocket-book, the traveler cast a look about him. The place was entirely deserted. There was not a soul either in the wood, or in the valley. The man opened the pocket-book, and drew from it, not the handful of bankbills which Thenardier expected, but a little piece of paper, which he unfolded and presented open to the innkeeper, saying:
"You are right. Read that!"
Thenardier took the paper and read. -
Montreuil-sur-mer, March 25, 1823.
You will deliver Cosette to the bearer. He will settle all small debts. "I have the honour to salute you with consideration.
"You know that signature?" replied the man.
It was indeed the signature of Fantine. Thenardier recognised it.
There was nothing to say. He felt doubly enraged, enraged at being compelled to give up the bribe which he hoped for, and enraged at being beaten. The man added:
"You can keep this paper as your receipt."
Thenardier retreated in good order.
"This signature is very well imitated," he grumbled between his teeth. "Well, so be it!"
Then he made a desperate effort.
"Monsieur," said he, "it is all right. Then you are the person. But you must settle 'all small debts.' There is a large amount due to me."
The man rose to his feet, and said at the same time, snapping with his thumb and finger some dust from his threadbare sleeve:
"Monsieur Thenardier, in January the mother reckoned that she owed you a hundred and twenty francs; you sent her in February a memorandum of five hundred francs; you received three hundred francs at the end of February, and three hundred at the beginning of March. There has since elapsed nine months which, at fifteen francs per month, the price agreed upon, amounts to a hundred and thirty-five francs. You had received a hundred francs in advance. There remain thirty-five francs due you. I have just given you fifteen hundred francs."
Thenardier felt what the wolf feels the moment when he finds himself seized and crushed by the steel jaws of the trap.
"What is this devil of a man?" thought he.
He did what the wolf does, he gave a spring. Audacity had succeeded with him once already.
"Monsieur- I- don't- know- your- name," said he resolutely, and putting aside this time all show of respect. "I shall take back Cosette or you must give me a thousand crowns."
The stranger said quietly:
He took Cosette with his left hand, and with the right picked up his staff, which was on the ground.
Thenardier noted the enormous size of the cudgel, and the solitude of the place.
The man disappeared in the wood with the child, leaving the chop-house keeper motionless and non-plussed.
As they walked away, Thenardier observed his broad shoulders, a little rounded, and his big fists.
Then his eyes fell back upon his own puny arms and thin hands. "I must have been a fool indeed," thought he, "not to have brought my gun, as I was going on a hunt."
However, the innkeeper did not abandon the pursuit.
"I must know where he goes," said he; and he began to follow them at a distance. There remained two things in his possession, one a bitter mockery, the piece of paper signed Fantine, and the other a consolation, the fifteen hundred francs.
The man was leading Cosette in the direction of Livry and Bondy. He was walking slowly, his head bent down, in an attitude of reflection and sadness. The winter had bereft the wood of foliage, so that Thenardier did not lose sight of them, though remaining at a considerable distance behind. From time to time the man turned, and looked to see if he were followed. Suddenly he perceived Thenardier. He at once entered a coppice with Cosette, and both disappeared from sight. "The devil!" said Thenardier. And he redoubled his pace.
The density of the thicket compelled him to approach them. When the man reached the thickest part of the wood, he turned again. Thenardier had endeavoured to conceal himself in the branches in vain, he could not prevent the man from seeing him. The man cast an uneasy glance at him, then shook his head, and resumed his journey. The innkeeper again took up the pursuit. They walked thus two or three hundred paces. Suddenly the man turned again. He perceived the innkeeper. This time he looked at him so forbiddingly that Thenardier judged it "unprofitable" to go further. Thenardier went home.
Jean Valjean, was not dead.
When he fell into the sea, or rather when he threw himself into it, he was, as we have seen, free from his irons. He swam under water to a ship at anchor to which a boat was fastened.
He found means to conceal himself in this boat until evening. At night he betook himself again to the water, and reached the land a short distance from Cape Brun.
His first care, on reaching Paris, had been to purchase a mourning dress for a little girl of seven years, then to procure lodgings. That done, he had gone to Montfermeil.
Moreover, he was believed to be dead, and that thickened the obscurity which surrounded him. At Paris there fell into his hands a paper which chronicled the fact. He felt reassured, and almost as much at peace as if he really had been dead.
On the evening of the same day that Jean Valjean had rescued Cosette from the clutches of the Thenardiess, he entered Paris again.
The day had been strange and full of emotion for Cosette; they had eaten behind hedges bread and cheese bought at isolated chop-houses; they had often changed carriages, and had travelled short distances on foot. She did not complain; but she was tired, and Jean Valjean perceived it by her pulling more heavily at his hand while walking. He took her in his arms; Cosette, without letting go of Catharine, laid her head on Jean Valjean's shoulder, and went to sleep.
Forty years ago, the solitary pedestrian who ventured into the unknown regions of La Salpetriere and went up along the Boulevard as far as the Barriere d'Italie, reached certain points where it might be said that Paris disappeared. It was no longer a solitude, for there were people passing; it was not the country, for there were houses and streets; it was not a city, the streets had ruts in them, like the highways, and grass grew along their borders; it was not a village, the houses were too lofty. What was it then? It was an inhabited place where there was nobody, it was a desert place where there was somebody; it was a boulevard of the great city, a street of Paris, wilder, at night, than a forest, and gloomier, by day, than a graveyard.
It was the old quarter of the Horse Market.
This old dwelling had but one story.
On examining it, the peculiarity that first struck the beholder was that the door could never have been anything but the door of a hovel, while the window, had it been cut in freestone and not in rough material, might have been the casement of a lordly residence.
The door was merely a collection of worm-eaten boards rudely tacked together with cross-pieces that looked like pieces of firewood clumsily split out. It opened directly on a steep staircase with high steps covered with mud, plaster, and dust, and of the same breadth as the door, and which seemed from the street to rise perpendicularly like a ladder, and disappear in the shadow between two walls. The top of the shapeless opening which this door closed upon, was disguised by a narrow topscreen, in the middle of which had been sawed a three-cornered orifice that served both for skylight and ventilator when the door was shut. On the inside of the door a brush dipped in ink had, in a couple of strokes of the hand, traced, the number 52, and above the screen, the same brush had daubed the number 50, so that a new-comer would hesitate, asking: Where am I?
The top of the entrance says, at number 50; the inside, however, replies, No! at number 52! The dust-coloured rags that hung in guise of curtains about the three-cornered ventilator, we will not attempt to describe.
A portion of this building has recently been pulled down, but what remains, at the present day, still conveys an idea of what it was. The structure, taken as a whole, is not more than a hundred years old. A hundred years is youth to a church, but old age to a private mansion. It would seem that the dwelling of Man partakes of his brief existence, and the dwelling of God, of His eternity.
The letter-carriers called the house No. 50-52; but it was known, in the quarter, as Gorbeau House.
Before this Gorbeau tenement Jean Valjean stopped. Like the birds of prey, he had chosen this lonely place to make his nest.
He fumbled in his waistcoat and took from it a sort of night-key, opened the door, entered, then carefully closed it again and ascended the stairway, still carrying Cosette.
At the top of the stairway he drew from his pocket another key, with which he opened another door. The chamber which he entered and closed again immediately was a sort of garret, rather spacious, furnished only with a mattress spread on the floor, a table, and a few chairs. A stove containing a fire, the coals of which were visible, stood in one corner. The street lamp of the boulevards shed a dim light through this poor interior. At the further extremity there was a little room containing a cot bed. On this Jean Valjean laid the child without waking her.
He struck a light with a flint and steel and lit a candle, which, with his tinder-box, stood ready, beforehand, on the table; and, as he had done on the preceding evening, he began to gaze upon Cosette with a look of ecstasy, in which the expression of goodness and tenderness went almost to the verge of insanity. The little girl, with that tranquil confidence which belongs only to extreme strength or extreme weakness, had fallen asleep without knowing with whom she was, and continued to slumber without knowing where she was.
Jean Valjean bent down and kissed the child's hand.
Nine months before, he had kissed the hand of the mother, who also had just fallen asleep.
The same mournful, pious, agonising feeling now filled his heart.
He knelt down by the bedside of Cosette.
It was broad daylight, and yet the child slept on. A pale ray from the December sun struggled through the garret window and traced upon the ceiling long streaks of light and shade. Suddenly a carrier's waggon, heavily laden, trundled over the cobble-stones of the boulevard, and shook the old building like the rumbling of a tempest, jarring it from cellar to roof-tree.
"Yes, madame!" cried Cosette, starting up out of sleep, "here I am! here I am!"
And she threw herself from the bed, her eyelids still half closed with the weight of slumber, stretching out her hand towards the corner of the wall.
"Oh! what shall I do? Where is my broom?" said she.
By this time her eyes were fully open, and she saw the smiling face of Jean Valjean.
"Oh! yes- so it is!" said the child. "Good morning, monsieur."
Children at once accept joy and happiness with quick familiarity, being themselves naturally all happiness and joy.
Cosette noticed Catharine at the foot of the bed, laid hold of her at once, and, playing the while, asked Jean Valjean a thousand questions.- Where was she? Was Paris a big place? Was Madame Thenardier really very far away? Wouldn't she come back again, etc., etc. All at once she exclaimed, "How pretty it is here!"
It was a frightful hovel, but she felt free.
"Must I sweep?" she continued at length.
"Play!" replied Jean Valjean.
And thus the day passed by. Cosette, without troubling herself with trying to understand anything about it, was inexpressibly happy with her doll and her good friend.
The dawn of the next day found Jean Valjean again near the bed of Cosette. He waited there, motionless, to see her wake.
Something new was entering his soul.
Jean Valjean had never loved anything. For twenty-five years he had been alone in the world. He had never been a father, lover, husband, or friend. At the galleys, he was cross, sullen, abstinent, ignorant, and intractable. The heart of the old convict was full of freshness. His sister and her children had left in his memory only a vague and distant impression, which had finally almost entirely vanished. He had made every exertion to find them again, and, not succeeding, had forgotten them. Human nature is thus constituted. The other tender emotions of his youth, if any such he had, were lost in an abyss.
When he saw Cosette, when he had taken her, carried her away and rescued her, he felt his heart moved. All that he had of feeling and affection was aroused and vehemently attracted towards this child. He would approach the bed where she slept, and would tremble there with delight; he felt inward yearnings, like a mother, and knew not what they were; for it is something very incomprehensible and very sweet, this grand and strange emotion of a heart in its first love.
Poor old heart, so young!
But, as he was fifty-five and Cosette was but eight years old, all that he might have felt of love in his entire life melted into a sort of ineffable radiance.
This was the second white vision he had seen. The bishop had caused the dawn of virtue on his horizon; Cosette evoked the dawn of love.
Weeks rolled by. These two beings led in that wretched shelter a happy life.
From the earliest dawn, Cosette laughed, prattled, and sang. Children have their morning song, like birds.
Sometimes it happened that Jean Valjean would take her little red hand, all chapped and frost-bitten as it was, and kiss it. The poor child, accustomed only to blows, had no idea what this meant, and would draw back ashamed.
At times, she grew serious and looked musingly at her little black dress. Cosette was no longer in rags; she was in mourning. She was issuing from utter poverty and was entering upon life.
Jean Valjean had begun to teach her to read. Sometimes, while teaching the child to spell, he would remember that it was with the intention of accomplishing evil that he had learned to read, in the galleys. This intention had now been changed into teaching a child to read. Then the old convict would smile with the pensive smile of angels.
He felt in this a pre-ordination from on high, a volition of some one more than man, and he would lose himself in reverie. Good thoughts as well as bad have their abysses.
To teach Cosette to read, and to watch her playing, was nearly all Jean Valjean's life. And then, he would talk to her about her mother, and teach her to pray.
She called him Father, and knew him by no other name.
Jean Valjean was prudent enough never to go out in the daytime. Every evening, however, about twilight, he would walk for an hour or two, sometimes alone, often with Cosette, selecting the most unfrequented side alleys of the boulevards and going into the churches at nightfall. He was fond of going to St. Medard, which is the nearest church. When he did not take Cosette, she remained with the old woman; but it was the child's delight to go out with her kind old friend. She preferred an hour with him even to her delicious tete-a-tetes with Catharine. He would walk along holding her by the hand, and telling her pleasant things.
It turned out that Cosette was very playful.
The old woman was housekeeper and cook, and did the marketing.
They lived frugally, always with a little fire in the stove, but like people in embarrassed circumstances. Jean Valjean made no change in the furniture described on the first day, excepting that he caused a solid door to be put up in place of the glass door of Cosette's little bed-chamber.
He still wore his yellow coat, his black pantaloons, and his old hat. On the street he was taken for a beggar. It sometimes happened that kind-hearted dames, in passing, would turn and hand him a penny. Jean Valjean accepted the penny and bowed humbly. It chanced, sometimes, also, that he would meet some wretched creature begging alms, and then, glancing about him to be sure no one was looking, he would stealthily approach the beggar, slip a piece of money, often silver, into his hand, and walk rapidly away. This had its inconveniences. He began to be known in the quarter as the beggar who gives alms.
The old landlady, a crabbed creature, fully possessed with that keen observation as to all that concerned her neighbours, which is peculiar to the suburbs, watched Jean Valjean closely without exciting his suspicion. She was a little deaf, which made her talkative. She had but two teeth left, one in the upper and one in the lower jaw, and these she was continually rattling together. She had questioned Cosette, who, knowing nothing, could tell nothing, further than that she came from Montfermeil. One morning this old female spy saw Jean Valjean go, with an appearance which seemed peculiar to the old busybody, into one of the uninhabited apartments of the building. She followed him with the steps of an old cat, and could see him without herself being seen, through the chink of the door directly opposite. Jean Valjean had, doubtless for greater caution, turned his back towards this door in question. The old woman saw him fumble in his pocket, and take from it a needle case, scissors, and thread, and then proceed to rip open the lining of one lapel of his coat and take from under it a piece of yellowish paper, which he unfolded. The beldame remarked with dismay, that it was a bank bill for a thousand francs. It was the second or third one only that she had ever seen. She ran away very much frightened.
A moment afterwards, Jean Valjean accosted her, and asked her to get this thousand-franc bill changed for him, adding that it was the half-yearly interest on his property which he had received on the previous day. "Where?" thought the old woman. He did not go out until six o'clock, and the government treasury is certainly not open at that hour. The old woman got the note changed, all the while forming her conjectures. This bill of a thousand francs, commented upon and multiplied, gave rise to a host of breathless conferences among the gossips of the Rue des Vignes Saint Marcel.
Some days afterwards, it chanced that Jean Valjean, in his shirt-sleeves, was sawing wood in the entry. The old woman was in his room doing the chamberwork. She was alone. Cosette was intent upon the wood he was sawing. The woman saw the coat hanging on a nail, and examined it. The lining had been sewed over. She felt it carefully and thought she could detect in the lappels and in the padding, thicknesses of paper. Other thousand-franc bills beyond a doubt!
She noticed, besides, that there were all sorts of things in the pockets. Not only were there the needles, scissors, and thread, which she had already seen, but a large pocket-book, a very big knife, and, worst symptom of all, several wigs of different colours. Every pocket of this coat had the appearance of containing something to be provided with against sudden emergencies.
Thus, the occupants of the old building reached the closing days of winter.
There was, in the neighbourhood of Saint Medard, a mendicant who sat crouching over the edge of a condemned public well near by, and to whom Jean Valjean often gave alms. He never passed this man without giving him a few pennies. Sometimes he spoke to him. Those who were envious of this poor creature said he was in the pay of the police. He was an old church beadle of seventy-five, who was always mumbling prayers.
One evening, as Jean Valjean was passing that way, unaccompanied by Cosette, he noticed the beggar sitting in his usual place, under the street lamp which had just been lighted. The man, according to custom, seemed to be praying and was bent over. Jean Valjean walked up to him, and put a piece of money in his hand, as usual. The beggar suddenly raised his eyes, gazed intently at Jean Valjean, and then quickly dropped his head. This movement was like a flash; Jean Valjean shuddered; it seemed to him that he had just seen, by the light of the street-lamp, not the calm, sanctimonious face of the aged beadle, but a terrible and well-known countenance. He experienced the sensation one would feel on finding himself suddenly face to face, in the gloom, with a tiger. He recoiled, horror-stricken and petrified, daring neither to breathe nor to speak, to stay nor to fly, but gazing upon the beggar who had once more bent down his head, with its tattered covering, and seemed to be no longer conscious of his presence. At this singular moment, an instinct, perhaps the mysterious instinct of self-preservation, prevented Jean Valjean from uttering a word. The beggar had the same form, the same rags, the same general appearance as on every other day. "Pshaw!" said Jean Valjean to himself, "I am mad! I am dreaming! It cannot be!" And he went home, anxious and ill at ease.
He scarcely dared to admit, even to himself, that the countenance he thought he had seen was the face of Javert.
That night, upon reflection, he regretted that he had not questioned the man so as to compel him to raise his head a second time. On the morrow, at nightfall, he went thither, again. The beggar was in his place. "Good day! Good day!" said Jean Valjean, with firmness, as he gave him the accustomed alms. The beggar raised his head and answered in a whining voice: "Thanks, kind sir, thanks!" It was, indeed, only the old beadle.
Jean Valjean now felt fully reassured. He even began to laugh. "What the deuce was I about to fancy that I saw Javert," thought he; "is my sight growing poor already?" And he thought no more about it.
Some days after, it might be eight o'clock in the evening, he was in his room, giving Cosette her spelling lesson, which the child was repeating in a loud voice, when he heard the door of the building open and close again. That seemed odd to him. The old woman, the only occupant of the house besides himself and Cosette, always went to bed at dark to save candles. Jean Valjean made a sign to Cosette to be silent. He heard some one coming up the stairs. Possibly, it might be the old woman who had felt unwell and had been to the druggist's. Jean Valjean listened. The footstep was heavy, and sounded like a man's; but the old woman wore heavy shoes, and there is nothing so much like the step of a man as the step of an old woman. However, Jean Valjean blew out his candle.
He sent Cosette to bed, telling her in a suppressed voice to lie down very quietly- and, as he kissed her forehead, the footsteps stopped. Jean Valjean remained silent and motionless, his back turned towards the door, still seated on his chair from which he had not moved, and holding his breath in the darkness. After a considerable interval, not hearing anything more, he turned round without making any noise, and as he raised his eyes towards the door of his room, he saw a light through the keyhole. This ray of light was an evil star in the black background of the door and the wall. There was, evidently, somebody outside with a candle who was listening. A few minutes elapsed, and the light disappeared. But he heard no sound of footsteps, which seemed to indicate that whoever was listening at the door had taken off his shoes.
Jean Valjean threw himself on his bed without undressing, but could not shut his eyes that night.
At daybreak, as he was sinking into slumber from fatigue, he was aroused, again, by the creaking of the door of some room at the end of the hall, and then he heard the same footstep which had ascended the stairs, on the preceding night. The step approached. He started from his bed and placed his eye to the keyhole, which was quite a large one, hoping to get a glimpse of the person, whoever it might be, who had made his way into the building in the night-time and had listened at his door. It was a man, indeed, who passed by Jean Valjean's room, this time without stopping. The hall was still too dark for him to make out his features; but, when the man reached the stairs, a ray of light from without made his figure stand out like a profile, and Jean Valjean had a full view of his back. The man was tall, wore a long frock-coat, and had a cudgel under his arm. It was the redoubtable form of Javert.
Jean Valjean might have tried to get another look at him through his window that opened on the boulevard, but he would have had to raise the sash, and that he dared not do.
It was evident that the man had entered by means of a key, as if at home. "Who, then, had given him the key?- and what was the meaning of this?"
At seven in the morning, when the old lady came to clear up the rooms, Jean Valjean eyed her sharply, but asked her no questions. The good dame appeared as usual.
While she was doing her sweeping, she said: "Perhaps monsieur heard some one come in, last night?"
At her age and on that boulevard, eight in the evening is the very darkest of the night.
"Ah! yes, by the way, I did," he answered in the most natural tone. "Who was it?"
"It's a new lodger," said the old woman, "who has come into the house."
"And his name-?"
"Well, I hardly recollect now. Dumont or Daumont- Some such name as that."
"And what is he- this M. Daumont?"
The old woman studied him, a moment, through her little foxy eyes, and answered:
"He's a gentleman living on his income like you."
She may have intended nothing by this, but Jean Valjean thought he could make out that she did.
When the old woman was gone, he made a roll of a hundred francs he had in a drawer and put it into his pocket. Do what he would to manage this so that the clinking of the silver should not be heard, a five-franc piece escaped his grasp and rolled jingling away over the floor.
At dusk, he went to the street-door and looked carefully up and down the boulevard. No one was to be seen. The boulevard seemed to be utterly deserted. It is true that there might have been some one hidden behind a tree.
He went upstairs again.
"Come," said he to Cosette.
He took her by the hand and they both went out.
Jean Valjean had immediately left the boulevard and began to thread the streets, making as many turns as he could, returning sometimes upon his track to make sure that he was not followed.
This manoeuvre is peculiar to the hunted stag. On ground where the foot leaves a mark, it has, among other advantages, that of deceiving the hunters and the dogs by the counter-step. It is what is called in venery false reimbushment.
The moon was full. Jean Valjean was not sorry for that. The moon, still near the horizon, cut large prisms of light and shade in the streets. Jean Valjean could glide along the houses and the walls on the dark side and observe the light side. He did not, perhaps, sufficiently realise that the obscure side escaped him. However, in all the deserted little streets in the neighbourhood of the Rue de Poliveau, he felt sure that no one was behind him.
Cosette walked without asking any questions. The sufferings of the first six years of her life had introduced something of the passive into her nature. Besides- and this is a remark to which we shall have more than one occasion to return- she had become familiar, without being fully conscious of them, with the peculiarities of her good friend and the eccentricities of destiny. And then, she felt safe, being with him.
Jean Valjean knew, no more than Cosette, where he was going. He trusted in God, as she trusted in him. It seemed to him that he also held some one greater than himself by the hand; he believed he felt a being leading him, invisible. Finally, he had no definite idea, no plan, no project. He was not even absolutely sure that this was Javert, and then it might be Javert, and Javert not know that he was Jean Valjean. Was he not disguised? was he not supposed to be dead? Nevertheless, singular things had happened within the last few days. He wanted no more of them. He was determined not to enter Gorbeau House again. Like the animal hunted from his den, he was looking for a hole to hide in until he could find one to remain in.
As eleven o'clock struck in the tower of Saint Etienne du Mont, he crossed the Rue de Pontoise in front of the bureau of the Commissary of Police, which is at No. 14. Some moments afterwards, the instinct of which we have already spoken made him turn his head. At this moment he saw distinctly- thanks to the commissary's lamp which revealed them- three men following him quite near, pass one after another under this lamp on the dark side of the street. One of these men entered the passage leading to the commissary's house. The one in advance appeared to him decidedly suspicious.
"Come, child!" said he to Cosette, and he made haste to get out of the Rue de Pontoise.
There was a square there, where the College Rollin now is, and from which branches off the Rue Neuve-Sailite-Genevieve.
The moon lighted up this square brightly. Jean Valjean concealed himself in a doorway, calculating that if these men were still following him, he could not fail to get a good view of them when they crossed this lighted space.
In fact, three minutes had not elapsed when the men appeared. There were now four of them; all were tall, dressed in long brown coats, with round hats, and great clubs in their hands. They were not less fearfully forbidding by their size and their large fists than by their stealthy tread in the darkness. One would have taken them for four spectres in citizen's dress.
They stopped in the centre of the square and formed a group like people consulting. They appeared undecided. The man who seemed to be the leader turned and energetically pointed in the direction in which Jean Valjean was; one of the others seemed to insist with some obstinacy on the contrary direction. At the instant when the leader turned, the moon shone full in his face. Jean Valjean recognised Javert perfectly.
Some three hundred paces on, he reached a point where the street forked. It divided into two streets, the one turning off obliquely to the left, the other to the right. Jean Valjean had before him the two branches of a Y. Which should he choose?
He did not hesitate, but took the right.
Because the left branch led towards the faubourg- that is to say, towards the inhabited region, and the right branch towards the country- that is, towards the uninhabited region.
But now, they no longer walked very fast. Cosette's step slackened Jean Valjean's pace.
He took her up and carried her again. Cosette rested her head upon the goodman's shoulder, and did not say a word.
He turned, from time to time, and looked back. He took care to keep always on the dark side of the street. The street was straight behind him. The two or three first times he turned, he saw nothing; the silence was complete, and he kept on his way somewhat reassured. Suddenly, on turning again, he thought he saw in the portion of the street through which he had just passed, far in the obscurity, something which stirred.
He plunged forward rather than walked, hoping to find some side street by which to escape, and once more to elude his pursuers.
He came to a wall.
This wall, however, did not prevent him from going further; it was a wall forming the side of a cross alley, in which the street Jean Valjean was then in came to an end.
Here again he must decide; should he take the right or the left?
He looked to the right. The alley ran out to a space between some buildings that were mere sheds or barns, then terminated abruptly. The end of this blind alley was plain to be seen- a great white wall.
He looked to the left. The alley on this side was open, and, about two hundred paces further on, ran into a street of which it was an affluent. In this direction lay safety.
The instant Jean Valjean decided to turn to the left, to try to reach the street which he saw at the end of the alley, he perceived, at the corner of the alley and the street towards which he was just about going, a sort of black, motionless statue.
It was a man, who had just been posted there, evidently, and who was waiting for him, guarding the passage.
Jean Valjean was startled.
What should he do?
There was now no time to turn back. What he had seen moving in the obscurity some distance behind him, the moment before, was undoubtedly Javert and his squad. Javert probably had already reached the commencement of the street of which Jean Valjean was at the end. Javert, to all appearance, was acquainted with this little trap, and had taken his precautions by sending one of his men to guard the exit. These conjectures, so like certainties, whirled about wildly in Jean Valjean's troubled brain, as a handful of dust flies before a sudden blast. He scrutinised the Cul-de-sac Genrot; there were high walls. He scrutinised the Petite Rue Picpus; there was a sentinel. He saw the dark form repeated in black upon the white pavement flooded with the moonlight. To advance, was to fall upon that man. To go back, was to throw himself into Javert's hands. Jean Valjean felt as if caught by a chain that was slowly winding up. He looked up into the sky in despair.
At this moment a muffled and regular sound began to make itself heard at some distance. Jean Valjean ventured to thrust his head a little way around the corner of the street. Seven or eight soldiers, formed in platoon, had just turned into the Rue Polonceau. He saw the gleam of their bayonets. They were coming towards him.
The soldiers, at whose head he distinguished the tall form of Javert, advanced slowly and with precaution. They stopped frequently. It was plain they were exploring all the recesses of the walls and all the entrances of doors and alleys.
It was- and here conjecture could not be deceived- some patrol which Javert had met and which he had put in requisition.
Javert's two assistants marched in the ranks.
At the rate at which they were marching, and the stops they were making, it would take them about a quarter of an hour to arrive at the spot where Jean Valjean was. It was a frightful moment. A few minutes separated Jean Valjean from that awful precipice which was opening before him for the third time. And the galleys now were no longer simply the galleys, they were Cosette lost for ever; that is to say, a life in death.
There was now only one thing possible.
Jean Valjean had this peculiarity, that he might be said to carry two knapsacks; in one he had the thoughts of a saint, in the other the formidable talents of a convict. He helped himself from one or the other as occasion required.
Among other resources, thanks to his numerous escapes from the galleys at Toulon, he had, it will be remembered, become master of that incredible art of raising himself, in the right angle of a wall, if need to be to the height of a sixth story; an art without ladders or props, by mere muscular strength, supporting himself by the back of his neck, his shoulders, his hips, and his knees, hardly making use of the few projections of the stone.
The difficulty was Cosette. Cosette did not know how to scale a wall. Abandon her? Jean Valjean did not think of it. To carry her was impossible. The whole strength of a man is necessary to accomplish these strange ascents. The least burden would make him lose his centre of gravity and he would fall.
He needed a cord. Jean Valjean had none. Where could he find a cord, at midnight, in the Rue Polonceau? Truly at that instant, if Jean Valjean had had a kingdom, he would have given it for a rope.
All extreme situations have their flashes which sometimes make us blind, sometimes illuminate us.
The despairing gaze of Jean Valjean encountered the lamp-post in the Cul-de-sac Genrot.
At this epoch there were no gas-lights in the streets of Paris. At nightfall they lighted the streets lamps, which were placed at intervals, and were raised and lowered by means of a rope traversing the street from end to end, running through the grooves of posts. The reel on which this rope was wound was inclosed below the lantern in a little iron box, the key of which was kept by the lamp-lighter, and the rope itself was protected by a casing of metal.
Jean Valjean, with the energy of a final struggle, crossed the street at a bound, entered the cul-de-sac, sprang the bolt of the little box with the point of his knife, and an instant after was back at the side of Cosette. He had a rope. These desperate inventors of expedients, in their struggles with fatality, move electrically in case of need.
We have explained that the street lamps had not been lighted that night. The lamp in the Cul-de-sac Genrot was then, as a matter of course, extinguished like the rest, and one might pass by without even noticing that it was not in its place.
Meanwhile the hour, the place, the darkness, the preoccupation of Jean Valjean, his singular actions, his going to and fro, all this began to disturb Cosette. Any other child would have uttered loud cries long before. She contented herself with pulling Jean Valjean by the skirt of his coat. The sound of the approaching patrol was constantly becoming more and more distinct.
"Father," said she, in a whisper, "I am afraid. Who is it that is coming?"
"Hush!" answered the unhappy man, "it is the Thenardiess."
Cosette shuddered. He added:
"Don't say a word; I'll take care of her. If you cry, if you make any noise, the Thenardiess will hear you. She is coming to catch you."
Then, without any haste, but without doing anything a second time, with a firm and rapid decision, so much the more remarkable at such a moment when the patrol and Javert might come upon him at any instant, he took off his cravat, passed it around Cosette's body under the arms, taking care that it should not hurt the child, attached this cravat to an end of the rope by means of the knot which seamen call a swallow-knot, took the other end of the rope in his teeth, took off his shoes and stockings and threw them over the wall, climbed upon the pile of masonry and began to raise himself in the angle of the wall and the gable with as much solidity and certainty as if he had the rounds of a ladder under his heels and his elbows. Half a minute had not passed before he was on his knees on the wall.
Cosette watched him, stupefied, without saying a word. Jean Valjean's charge and the name of the Thenardiess had made her dumb.
All at once, she heard Jean Valjean's voice calling to her in a low whisper:
"Put your back against the wall."
"Don't speak, and don't be afraid," added Jean Valjean.
And she felt herself lifted from the ground.
Before she had time to think where she was she was at the top of the wall.
Jean Valjean seized her, put her on his back, took her two little hands in his left hand, lay down flat and crawled along the top of wall as far as the cut-off corner. As he had supposed, there was a building there, the roof of which sloped from the top of the wooden casing we have mentioned very nearly to the ground, with a gentle inclination, and just reaching to the lime-tree.
A fortunate circumstance, for the wall was much higher on this side than on the street. Jean Valjean saw the ground beneath him at a great depth.
He had just reached the inclined plane of the roof, and had not yet left the crest of the wall, when a violent uproar proclaimed the arrival of the patrol. He heard the thundering voice of Javert:
"Search the cul-de-sac! The Rue Droit Mur is guarded, the Petite Rue Picpus also. I'll answer for it if he is in the cul-de-sac."
The soldiers rushed into the Cul-de-sac Genrot.
Jean Valjean slid down the roof, keeping hold of Cosette, reached the lime-tree, and jumped to the ground. Whether from terror, or from courage, Cosette had not uttered a whisper. Her hands were a little scraped.
Jean Valjean found himself in a sort of garden, very large and of a singular appearance; one of those gloomy gardens which seem made to be seen in the winter and at night. This garden was oblong, with a row of large poplars at the further end, some tall forest trees in the corners, and a clear space in the centre, where stood a very large isolated tree, then a few fruit trees, contorted and shaggy, like big bushes, some vegetable beds, a melon patch the glass covers of which shone in the moonlight, and an old well. There were here and there stone benches which seemed black with moss. The walks were bordered with sorry little shrubs perfectly straight. The grass covered half of them, and a green moss covered the rest.
Jean Valjean had on one side the building, down the roof of which he had come, a wood-pile, and behind the wood, against the wall, a stone statue, the mutilated face of which was now nothing but a shapeless mask which was seen dimly through the obscurity.
The building was in ruins, but some dismantled rooms could be distinguished in it, one of which was well filled, and appeared to serve as a shed.
Suddenly, in the midst of this deep calm, a new sound arose; a celestial, divine, ineffable sound, as ravishing as the other was horrible. It was a hymn which came forth from the darkness, a bewildering mingling of prayer and harmony in the obscure and fearful silence of the night; voices of women, but voices with the pure accents of virgins, and artless accents of children; those voices which are not of earth, and which resemble those that the new-born still bear, and the dying hear already. This song came from the gloomy building which overlooked the garden. At the moment when the uproar of the demons receded, one would have said, it was a choir of angels approaching in the darkness.
Cosette and Jean Valjean fell on their knees.
They knew not what it was; they knew not where they were; but they both felt, the man and the child, the penitent and the innocent, that they ought to be on their knees.
The child had laid her head upon a stone and gone to sleep.
He sat down near her and looked at her. Little by little, as he beheld her, he grew calm, and regained possession of his clearness of mind.
He plainly perceived this truth, the basis of his life henceforth, that so long as she should be alive, so long as he should have her with him, he should need nothing except for her, and fear nothing save on her account. He did not even realise that he was very cold, having taken off his coat to cover her.
Meanwhile, through the reverie into which he had fallen, he had heard for some time a singular noise. It sounded like a little bell that some one was shaking. This noise was in the garden. It was heard distinctly, though feebly. It resembled the dimly heard tinkling of cow-bells in the pastures at night.
This noise made Jean Valjean turn.
He looked, and saw that there was some one in the garden.
Something which resembled a man was walking among the glass cases of the melon patch, rising up, stooping down, stopping, with a regular motion, as if he were drawing or stretching something upon the ground. This being appeared to limp.
Jean Valjean shuddered with the continual tremor of the outcast. To them everything is hostile and suspicious. They distrust the day because it helps to discover them, and the night because it helps to surprise them. Just now he was shuddering because the garden was empty, now he shuddered because there was some one in it.
He fell again from chimerical terrors into real terrors. He said to himself that perhaps Javert and his spies had not gone away, that they had doubtless left somebody on the watch in the street; that, if this man should discover him in the garden, he would cry thief, and would deliver him up. He took the sleeping Cosette gently in his arms and carried her into the furthest corner of the shed behind a heap of old furniture that was out of use. Cosette did not stir.
From there he watched the strange motions of the man in the melon patch. It seemed very singular, but the sound of the bell followed every movement of the man. When the man approached, the sound approached; when he moved away, the sound moved away; if he made some sudden motion, a trill accompanied the motion; when he stopped, the noise ceased. It seemed evident that the bell was fastened to this man; what could that mean? what was this man to whom a bell was hung as to a ram or a cow?
While he was revolving these questions, he touched Cosette's hands. They were icy.
"Oh! God!" said he.
He called to her in a low voice:
She did not open her eyes.
He shook her smartly.
She did not wake.
"Could she be dead?" said he, and he sprang up, shuddering from head to foot.
The most frightful thoughts rushed through his mind in confusion. There are moments when hideous suppositions besiege us like a throng of furies and violently force the portals of our brain. When those whom we love are in danger, our solicitude invents all sorts of follies. He remembered that sleep may be fatal in the open air in a cold night.
Cosette was pallid; she had fallen prostrate on the ground at his feet, making no sign.
He listened for her breathing; she was breathing; but with a respiration that appeared feeble and about to stop.
How should he get her warm again? how rouse her? All else was banished from his thoughts. He rushed desperately out of the ruin.
It was absolutely necessary that in less than a quarter of an hour Cosette should be in bed and before a fire.
He walked straight to the man whom he saw in the garden. He had taken in his hand the roll of money which was in his vest-pocket. This man had his head down, and did not see him coming. A few strides, Jean Valjean was at his side.
Jean Valjean approached him, exclaiming: "A hundred francs!"
The man started and raised his eyes.
"A hundred francs for you," continued Jean Valjean, "if you will give me refuge tonight."
The moon shone full in Jean Valjean's bewildered face.
"What, it is you, Father Madeleine!" said the man.
This name, thus pronounced, at this dark hour, in this unknown place, by this unknown man, made Jean Valjean start back.
He was ready for anything but that. The speaker was an old man, bent and lame, dressed much like a peasant, who had on his left knee a leather knee-cap from which hung a bell. His face was in the shade, and could not be distinguished.
Meanwhile the goodman had taken off his cap, and was exclaiming, tremulously:
"Ah! my God! how did you come here, Father Madeleine? How did you get in, O Lord? Did you fall from the sky? There is no doubt, if you ever do fall, you will fall from there. And what happened to you? You have no cravat, you have no hat, you have no coat? Do you know that you would have frightened anybody who did not know you? No coat? Merciful heavens! are the saints all crazy now? But how did you get in?"
One word did not wait for another. The old man spoke with a rustic volubility in which there was nothing disquieting. All this was said with a mixture of astonishment, and frank good nature.
"Who are you? and what is this house!" asked Jean Valjean.
"Oh! indeed, that is good now," exclaimed the old man. "I am the one you got the place for here, and this house is the one you got me the place in. What! you don't remember me?"
"No," said Jean Valjean. "And how does it happen that you know me?"
"You saved my life," said the man.
He turned, a ray of the moon lighted up his side face, and Jean Valjean recognised old Fauchelevent.
"Ah!" said Jean Valjean, "it is you? yes, I remember you."
"That is very fortunate!" said the old man, in a reproachful tone.
"And what are you doing here?" added Jean Valjean.
"Oh! I am covering my melons."
Old Fauchelevent had in his hand, indeed, at the moment when Jean Valjean accosted him, the end of a piece of awning which he was stretching out over the melon patch. He had already spread out several in this way during the hour he had been in the garden. It was this work which made him go through the peculiar motions observed by Jean Valjean from the shed.
"I said to myself: the moon is bright, there is going to be a frost. Suppose I put their jackets on my melons? And," added he, looking at Jean Valjean, with a loud laugh, "you would have done well to do as much for yourself? but how did you come here?"
Jean Valjean, finding that he was known by this man, at least under his name of Madeleine, went no further with his precautions. He multiplied questions. Oddly enough their parts seemed reversed. It was he, the intruder, who put questions.
"And what is this bell you have on your knee?"
"That!" answered Fauchelevent, "that is so that they may keep away from me."
"How! keep away from you?"
Old Fauchelevent winked in an indescribable manner.
"Ah! Bless me! there's nothing but women in this house; plenty of young girls. It seems that I am dangerous to meet. The bell warns them. When I come they go away."
"What is this house?"
"Why, you know very well."
"No, I don't."
"Why, you got me this place here as gardener."
"Answer me as if I didn't know."
"Well, it is the Convent of the Petit Picpus, then."
Jean Valjean remembered. Chance, that is to say, Providence, had thrown him precisely into this convent of the Quartier Saint Antoine, to which old Fauchelevent, crippled by his fall from his cart, had been admitted, upon his recommendation, two years before. He repeated as if he were talking to himself:
"The Convent of the Petit Picpus!"
"But now, really," resumed Fauchelevent, "how the deuce did you manage to get in, you, Father Madeleine? It is no use for you to be a saint, you are a man; and no men come in here."
"But you are here."
"There is none but me."
"But," resumed Jean Valjean, "I must stay here."
"Oh! my God," exclaimed Fauchelevent.
Jean Valjean approached the old man, and said to him in a grave voice:
"Father Fauchelevent, I saved your life."
"I was first to remember it," answered Fauchelevent.
"Well, you can now do for me what I once did for you."
Fauchelevent grasped in his old wrinkled and trembling hands the robust hands of Jean Valjean, and it was some seconds before he could speak; at last he exclaimed:
"Oh! that would be a blessing of God if I could do something for you, in return for that! I save your life! Monsieur Mayor, the old man is at your disposal."
A wonderful joy had, as it were, transfigured the old gardener.
A radiance seemed to shine forth from his face.
"What do you want me to do?" he added.
"I will explain. You have a room?"
"I have a solitary shanty, over there, behind the ruins of the old convent, in a corner that nobody ever sees. There are three rooms."
The shanty was in fact so well concealed behind the ruins, and so well arranged, that no one should see it- that Jean Valjean had not seen it.
"Good," said Jean Valjean. "Now I ask of you two things."
"What are they, Monsieur Madeleine?"
"First, that you will not tell anybody what you know about me. Second, that you will not attempt to learn anything more."
"As you please. I know that you can do nothing dishonourable, and that you have always been a man of God. And then, besides, it was you that put me here. It is your place, I am yours."
"Very well. But now come with me. We will go for the child."
"Ah!" said Fauchelevent, "there is a child!"
He said not a word more, but followed Jean Valjean as a dog follows his master.
In half an hour Cosette, again become rosy before a good fire, was asleep in the old gardener's bed. Jean Valjean had put on his cravat and coat; his hat, which he had thrown over the wall, had been found and brought in. While Jean Valjean was putting on his coat, Fauchelevent had taken off his knee-cap with the bell attached, which now, hanging on a nail near a shutter, decorated the wall. The two men were warming themselves, with their elbows on a table, on which Fauchelevent had set a piece of cheese, some brown bread, a bottle of wine, and two glasses, and the old man said to Jean Valjean, putting his hand on his knee:
"Ah! Father Madeleine! you didn't know me at first? You save people's lives and then you forget them? Oh! that's bad; they remember you. You are ungrateful!"
The events, the reverse of which, so to speak, we have just seen, had been brought about under the simplest conditions.
When Jean Valjean, on the night of the very day that Javert arrested him at the death-bed of Fantine, escaped from the municipal prison of Montreuil-sur-mer, the police supposed that the escaped convict would start for Paris. Paris is a maelstrom in which everything is lost; and everything disappears in this whirlpool of the world as in the whirlpool of the sea. No forest conceals a man like this multitude. Fugitives of all kinds know this. They go to Paris to be swallowed up; there are swallowings-up which save. The police know it also, and it is in Paris that they search for what they have lost elsewhere. They searched there for the ex-mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer. Javert was summoned to Paris to aid in the investigation. Javert, in fact, was of great aid in the recapture of Jean Valjean. The zeal and intelligence of Javert on this occasion were remarked by M. Chabouillet, Secretary of the Prefecture, under Count Angles. M. Chabouillet, who had already interested himself in Javert, secured the transfer of the inspector of Montreuil-sur-mer to the police of Paris. There Javert rendered himself in various ways, and, let us say, although the word seems unusual for such service, honourably, useful.
He thought no more of Jean Valjean- with these hounds always upon the scent, the wolf of to-day banishes the memory of the wolf of yesterday- when, in December, 1823, he read a newspaper, he who never read the newspapers; but Javert, as a monarchist, made a point of knowing the details of the triumphal entry of the "Prince generalissimo" into Bayonne. Just as he finished the article which interested him, a name- the name of Jean Valjean- at the bottom of the page attracted his attention. The newspaper announced that the convict Jean Valjean was dead, and published the fact in terms so explicit, that Javert had no doubt of it. He merely said: "That settles it." Then he threw aside the paper, and thought no more of it.
Some time afterwards it happened that a police notice was transmitted by the Prefecture of Seine-et-Oise to the Prefecture of Police of Paris in relation to the kidnapping of a child, which had taken place, it was said, under peculiar circumstances, in the commune of Montfermeil. A little girl, seven or eight years old, the notice said, who had been confided by her mother to an innkeeper of the country, had been stolen by an unknown man; this little girl answered to the name of Cosette, and was the child of a young woman named Fantine, who had died at the Hospital, nobody knew when or where. This notice came under the eyes of Javert, and set him to thinking.
The name of Fantine was well known to him. He remembered that Jean Valjean had actually made him- Javert- laugh aloud by asking of him a respite of three days, in order to go for the child of this creature. He recalled the fact that Jean Valjean had been arrested at Paris, at the moment he was getting into the Montfermeil diligence. Some indications had even led him to think then that it was the second time that he was entering this diligence, and that he had already, the night previous, made another excursion to the environs of this village, for he had not been seen in the village itself. What was he doing in this region of Montfermeil? Nobody could divine. Javert understood it. The daughter of Fantine was there. Jean Valjean was going after her. Now this child had been stolen by an unknown man! Who could this man be? Could it be Jean Valjean? But Jean Valjean was dead. Javert, without saying a word to any one, took the diligence at the Plat d'Etain, cul-de-sac de Planchette, and took a trip to Montfermeil.
He expected to find great developments there; he found great obscurity.
For the first few days, the Thenardiers, in their spite, had blabbed the story about. The disappearance of the Lark had made some noise in the village. There were soon several versions of the story, which ended by becoming a case of kidnapping. Hence the police notice. However, when the first ebullition was over, Thenardier, with admirable instinct, very soon arrived at the conclusion that it is never useful to set in motion the Procureur du Roi; that the first result of his complaints in regard to the kidnapping of Cosette would be to fix upon himself, and on many business troubles which he had, the keen eye of justice. The last thing that owls wish is a candle. And first of all, how should he explain the fifteen hundred francs he had received? He stopped short, and enjoined secrecy upon his wife, and professed to be astonished when anybody spoke to him of the stolen child. He knew nothing about it; undoubtedly he had made some complaint at the time that the dear little girl should be "taken away" so suddenly; he would have liked, for affection's sake, to keep her two or three days; but it was her "grandfather" who had come for her, the most natural thing in the world. He had added the grandfather, which sounded well. It was upon this story that Javert fell on reaching Montfermeil. The grandfather put Jean Valjean out of the question.
Javert, however, dropped a few questions like plummets into Thenardier's story. Who was this grandfather, and what was his name? Thenardier answered with simplicity: "He is a rich farmer, I saw his passport. I believe his name is M. Guillaume Lambert."
Lambert is a very respectable reassuring name. Javert returned to Paris.
"Jean Valjean is really dead," said he, "and I am a fool."
He had begun to forget all this story, when, in the month of March, 1824, he heard an odd person spoken of who lived in the parish of Saint Medard, and who was called "the beggar who gives alms." This person was, it was said, a man living on his income, whose name nobody knew exactly, and who lived alone with a little girl eight years old, who knew nothing of herself except that she came from Montfermeil. Montfermeil! This name constantly recurring, excited Javert's attention anew. An old begging police spy, formerly a beadle, to whom this person had extended his charity, added some other details. "This man was very unsociable, never going out except at night, speaking to nobody, except to the poor sometimes, and allowing nobody to get acquainted with him. He wore a horrible old yellow coat which was worth millions, being lined all over with bank bills." This decidedly piqued Javert's curiosity. That he might get a near view of this fantastic rich man without frightening him away, he borrowed one day of the beadle his old frock, and the place where the old spy squatted every night droning out his orisons and playing the spy as he prayed.
"The suspicious individual" did indeed come to Javert thus disguised, and gave him alms; at that moment Javert raised his head, and the shock which Jean Valjean received, thinking that he recognised Jean Valjean.
However, the obscurity might have deceived him, the death of Jean Valjean was officially certified; Javert had still serious doubts; and in case of doubt, Javert, scrupulous as he was, never seized any man by the collar.
He followed the old man to Gorbeau House, and set "the old woman" talking, which was not at all difficult. The old woman confirmed the story of the coat lined with millions, and related to him the episode of the thousand-franc note. She had seen it! she had touched it! Javert hired a room. That very night he installed himself in it. He listened at the door of the mysterious lodger, hoping to hear the sound of his voice, but Jean Valjean perceived his candle through the key-hole and baulked the spy by keeping silence.
The next day Jean Valjean decamped. But the noise of the five-franc piece which he dropped was noticed by the old woman, who hearing money moving, suspected that he was going to move, and hastened to forewarn Javert. At night, when Jean Valjean went out, Javert was waiting for him behind the trees of the boulevard with two men.
Javert had called for assistance from the Prefecture, but he had not given the name of the person he hoped to seize. That was his secret; and he kept it for three reasons; first, because the least indiscretion might give the alarm to Jean Valjean; next, because the arrest of an old escaped convict who was reputed dead, a criminal whom the records of justice had already classed for ever among malefactors of the most dangerous kind, would be a magnificent success which the old members of the Parisian police certainly would never leave to a new-comer like Javert, and he feared they would take his galley-slave away from him; finally, because Javert, being an artist, had a liking for surprises. He hated these boasted successes which are deflowered by talking of them long in advance. He liked to elaborate his masterpieces in the shade, and then to unveil them suddenly afterwards.
Javert had followed Jean Valjean from tree to tree, then from street corner to street corner, and had not lost sight of him a single instant; even in the moments when Jean Valjean felt himself most secure, the eye of Javert was upon him. Why did not Javert arrest Jean Valjean? Because he was still in doubt.
It must be remembered that at that time the police was not exactly at its ease; it was cramped by a free press. Some arbitrary arrests, denounced by the newspapers, had been re-echoed even in the Chambers, and rendered the Prefecture timid. To attack individual liberty was a serious thing. The officers were afraid of making mistakes; the Prefect held them responsible; an error was the loss of their place. Imagine the effect which this brief paragraph, repeated in twenty papers, would have produced in Paris. "Yesterday, an old white-haired grandsire, a respectable person living on his income, who was taking a walk with his grand-daughter, eight years old, was arrested and taken to the Station of the Prefecture as an escaped convict!"
Let us say, in addition, that Javert had his own personal scruples; the injunctions of his conscience were added to the injunctions of the Prefect. He was really in doubt.
Jean Valjean turned his back, and walked away in the darkness.
Sadness, trouble, anxiety, weight of cares, this new sorrow of being obliged to fly by night, and to seek a chance asylum in Paris for Cosette and himself, the necessity of adapting his pace to the pace of a child, all this, without his knowing it even, had changed Jean Valjean's gait, and impressed upon his carriage such an appearance of old age that the police itself, incarnated in Javert, could be deceived. The impossibility of approaching too near, his dress of an old preceptor of the emigration, the declaration of Thenardier, who made him a grandfather; finally, the belief in his death at the galleys, added yet more to the uncertainty which was increasing in Javert's mind.
For a moment he had an idea of asking him abruptly for his papers. But if the man were not Jean Valjean, and if the man were not a good old honest man of means, he was probably some sharper profoundly and skilfully adept in the obscure web of Parisian crime, some dangerous chief of bandits, giving alms to conceal his other talents, an old trick. He had comrades, accomplices, retreats on all hands, in which he would take refuge without doubt. All these windings which he was making in the streets seemed to indicate that he was not a simple honest man. To arrest him too soon would be "to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs." What inconvenience was there in waiting? Javert was very sure that he would not escape.
He walked on, therefore, in some perplexity, questioning himself continually in regard to this mysterious personage.
It was not until quite late, in the Rue de Pontoise, that, thanks to the bright light which streamed from a bar-room, he decidedly recognised Jean Valjean.
There are in this world two beings who can be deeply thrilled: the mother, who finds her child, and the tiger, who finds his prey. Javert felt this profound thrill.
As soon as he had positively recognised Jean Valjean, the formidable convict, he perceived that there were only three of them, and sent to the commissary of police, of the Rue de Pontoise, for additional aid. Before grasping a thorny stick, men put on gloves.
This delay and stopping at the Rollin square to arrange with his men made him lose the scent. However, he had very soon guessed that Jean Valjean's first wish would be to put the river between his pursuers and himself. He bowed his head and reflected, like a hound who put his nose to the ground to be sure of the way. Javert, with his straightforward power of instinct, went directly to the bridge of Austerlitz. A word to the toll-keeper set him right. "Have you seen a man with a little girl?" "I made him pay two sous," answered the tollman. Javert reached the bridge in time to see Jean Valjean on the other side of the river leading Cosette across the space lighted by the moon. He saw him enter the Rue de Chemin Vert Saint Antoine, he thought of the Cul-de-sac Genrot placed there like a trap, and of the only outlet from the Rue Droit Mur into the Petite Rue Picpus. He put out beaters, as hunters say; he sent one of his men hastily by a detour to guard that outlet. A patrol passing, on its return to the station at the arsenal, he put it in requisition and took it along with him. In such games soldiers are trumps. Moreover, it is a maxim that, to take the boar requires the science of the hunter, and the strength of the dogs. These combinations being effected, feeling that Jean Valjean was caught between the Cul-de-sac Genrot on the right, his officer on the left, and himself, Javert, in the rear, he took a pinch of snuff.
Then he began to play. He enjoyed a ravishing and infernal moment; he let his man go before him, knowing that he had him, but desiring to put off as long as possible the moment of arresting him, delighting to feel that he was caught, and to see him free, fondly gazing upon him with the rapture of the spider which lets the fly buzz, or the cat which lets the mouse run. The paw and the talon find a monstrous pleasure in the quivering of the animal imprisoned in their grasp. What delight there is in this suffocation!
Javert was rejoicing. The links of his chain were solidly welded. He was sure of success; he had now only to close his hand.
Accompanied as he was, the very idea of resistance was impossible, however energetic, however vigorous, and however desperate Jean Valjean might be.
Javert advanced slowly, sounding and ransacking on his way all the recesses of the street as he would the pockets of a thief.
When he reached the centre of the web, the fly was no longer there.
Imagine his exasperation.
He questioned his sentinel at the corner of the Rue Droit Mur and Rue Picpus; this officer, who had remained motionless at his post, had not seen the man pass.
It happens sometimes that a stag breaks with the head covered, that is to say escapes, although the hound is upon him; then the oldest hunters know not what to say. Duvivier, Ligniville, and Desprez are at fault. On the occasion of a mishap of this sort, Artonge exclaimed: It is not a stag, it is a sorcerer.
Javert would fain have uttered the same cry.
His disappointment had a moment of despair and fury.
However this may be, even at the moment when he perceived that Jean Valjean had escaped him, Javert did not lose his presence of mind. Sure that the convict who had broken his ban could not be far away, he set watches, arranged traps and ambushes, and beat the quarter the night through. The first thing that he saw was the displacement of the lamp, the rope of which was cut. Precious indication, which led him astray, however, by directing all his researches towards the Cul-de-sac Genrot. There are in that cul-de-sac some rather low walls which face upon gardens the limits of which extend to some very large uncultivated grounds. Jean Valjean evidently must have fled that way. The fact is that, if he had penetrated into the Cul-de-sac Genrot a little further, he would have done so, and would have been lost. Javert explored these gardens and these grounds, as if he were searching for a needle.
At daybreak, he left two intelligent men on the watch, and returned to the Prefecture of Police, crestfallen as a spy who has been caught by a thief.
Into this house it was that Jean Valjean had, as Fauchelevent said, "fallen from heaven."
He had crossed the garden wall at the corner of the Rue Polonceau. That angels' hymn which he had heard in the middle of the night, was the nuns chanting matins; that hall of which he had caught a glimpse in the obscurity, was the chapel; that phantom which he had seen extended on the floor was the sister performing the reparation; that bell the sound of which had so strangely surprised him was the gardener's bell fastened to old Fauchelevent's knee.
When Cosette had been put to bed, Jean Valjean and Fauchelevent had, as we have seen, taken a glass of wine and a piece of cheese before a blazing fire; then, the only bed in the shanty being occupied by Cosette, they had thrown themselves each upon a bundle of straw. Before closing his eyes, Jean Valjean had said: "Henceforth I must remain here." These words were chasing one another through Fauchelevent's head the whole night.
To tell the truth, neither of them had slept.
Jean Valjean, feeling that he was discovered and Javert was upon his track, knew full well that he and Cosette were lost should they return into the city. Since the new blast which had burst upon him, had thrown him into this cloister, Jean Valjean had but one thought, to remain there. Now, for one in his unfortunate position, this convent was at once the safest and the most dangerous place; the most dangerous, for, no man being allowed to enter, if he should be discovered, it was a flagrant crime, and Jean Valjean would take but one step from the convent to prison; the safest, for if he succeeded in getting permission to remain, who would come there to look for him? To live in an impossible place; that would be safety.
For his part, Fauchelevent was racking his brains. He began by deciding that he was utterly bewildered. How did Monsieur Madeleine come there, with such walls! The walls of a cloister are not so easily crossed. How did he happen to be with a child? A man does not scale a steep wall with a child in his arms. Who was this child? Where did they both come from? Since Fauchelevent had been in the convent, he had not heard a word from Montreuil-sur-mer, and he knew nothing of what had taken place. Father Madeleine wore that air which discourages questions; and moreover Fauchelevent said to himself: "One does not question a saint." To him Monsieur Madeleine had preserved all his prestige. From some words that escaped from Jean Valjean, however, the gardener thought he might conclude that Monsieur Madeleine had probably failed on account of the hard times, and that he was pursued by his creditors; or it might be that he was compromised in some political affair and was concealing himself; which did not at all displease Fauchelevent, who, like many of our peasants of the north, had an old Bonapartist heart. Being in concealment, Monsieur Madeleine had taken the convent for an asylum, and it was natural that he should wish to remain there. But the mystery to which Fauchelevent constantly returned and over which he was racking his brains was, that Monsieur Madeleine should be there, and that this little girl should be with him. Fauchelevent saw them, touched them, spoke to them, and yet did not believe it. An incomprehensibility had made its way into Fauchelevent's hut. Fauchelevent was groping amid conjectures, but saw nothing clearly except this: "Monsieur Madeleine has saved my life." This single certainty was sufficient, and determined him. He said aside to himself: "It is my turn now." He added in his conscience: "Monsieur Madeleine did not deliberate so long when the question was about squeezing himself under the waggon to draw me out." He decided that he would save Monsieur Madeleine.
He however put several questions to himself and made several answers: "After what he has done for me, if he were a thief, would I save him? just the same. If he were an assassin, would I save him? just the same. Since he is a saint, shall I save him? just the same."
But to have him remain in the convent, what a problem was that! Before that almost chimerical attempt, Fauchelevent did not recoil; this poor Picardy peasant, with no other ladder than his devotion, his goodwill, a little of that old country cunning, engaged for once in the service of a generous intention, undertook to scale the impossibilities of the cloister and the craggy escarpments of the rules of St. Benedict. Fauchelevent was an old man who had been selfish throughout his life, and who, near the end of his days, crippled, infirm, having no interest longer in the world, found it sweet to be grateful, and seeing a virtuous action to be done, threw himself into it like a man who, at the moment of death, finding at hand a glass of some good wine which he had never tasted, should drink it greedily. We might add that the air which he had been breathing now for several years in this convent had destroyed his personality, and had at last rendered some good action necessary to him.
He formed his resolution then: to devote himself to Monsieur Madeleine.
At daybreak, having dreamed enormously, old Fauchelevent opened his eyes, and saw Monsieur Madeleine, who, seated upon his bunch of straw, was looking at Cosette as she slept. Fauchelevent half arose, and said:-
"Now that you are here, how are you going to manage to come in?"
This question summed up the situation, and wakened Jean Valjean from his reverie.
The two men took counsel.
"To begin with," said Fauchelevent, "you will not set foot outside of this room, neither the little girl nor you. One step in the garden, we are ruined."
"That is true."
"Monsieur Madeleine," resumed Fauchelevent, "you have arrived at a very good time; I mean to say very bad; there is one of these ladies dangerously sick. On that account they do not look this way much. She must be dying. They are saying the forty-hour prayers. The whole community is in derangement. That takes up their attention. She who is about departing is a saint. In fact, we are all saints here; all the difference between them and me is, that they say: our cell, and I say: my shanty. They are going to have the orison for the dying, and then the orison for the dead. For to-day we shall be quiet here; and I do not answer for tomorrow."
"However," observed Jean Valjean, "this shanty is under the corner of the wall; it is hidden by a sort of ruin; there are trees; they cannot see it from the convent."
"And I add, that the nuns never come near it."
"Well?" said Jean Valjean.
The interrogation point which followed that well, meant: it seems to me that we can remain here concealed. This interrogation point Fauchelevent answered:-
"There are the little girls."
"What little girls?" asked Jean Valjean.
As Fauchelevent opened his mouth to explain the words he had just uttered, a single stroke of a bell was heard.
"The nun is dead," said he. "There is the knell."
And he motioned to Jean Valjean to listen.
The bell sounded a second time.
"It is the knell, Monsieur Madeleine. The bell will strike every minute, for twenty-four hours, until the body goes out of the church. You see they play. In their recreations, if a ball roll here, that is enough for them to come after it, in spite of the rules, and rummage all about here. Those cherubs are little devils."
"Who?" asked Jean Valjean.
"The little girls. You would be found out very soon. They would cry, 'What! a man!' But there is no danger to-day. There will be no recreation. The day will be all prayers. You hear the bell. As I told you, a stroke every minute. It is the knell."
"I understand, Father Fauchelevent. There are boarding scholars."
And Jean Valjean thought within himself:-
"Here, then, Cosette can be educated, too."
Fauchelevent exclaimed: "Zounds! they are the little girls for you! And how they would scream at sight of you! and how they would run! Here, to be a man, is to have the plague. You see how they fasten a bell to my leg, as they would to a wild beast."
Jean Valjean was studying more and more deeply. "The convent would save us," murmured he. Then he raised his voice:
"Yes, the difficulty is in remaining."
"No," said Fauchelevent, "it is to get out."
Jean Valjean felt his blood run cold.
"To get out?"
"Yes, Monsieur Madeleine, in order to come in, it is necessary that you should get out."
And, after waiting for a sound from the tolling bell to die away. Fauchelevent pursued:-
"It would not do to have you found here like this. Whence do you come? for me you have fallen from heaven, because I know: you; but for the nuns, you must come in at the door."
Suddenly they heard a complicated ringing upon another bell.
"Oh!" said Fauchelevent, "that is the ring for the mothers. They are going to the chapter. They always hold a chapter when anybody dies. She died at daybreak. It is usually at daybreak that people die. But cannot you go out the way you came in? Let us see; this is not to question you, but where did you come in?"
Jean Valjean became pale; the bare idea of climbing down again into that formidable street, made him shudder. Make your way out of a forest full of tigers, and when out, fancy yourself advised by a friend to return. Jean Valjean imagined all the police still swarming in the quarter, officers on the watch, sentries everywhere, frightful fists stretched out towards his collar,- Javert, perhaps, at the corner of the square.
"Impossible," said he. "Father Fauchelevent, let it go that I fell from on high."
"Ah! I believe it, I believe it," replied Fauchelevent. "You have no need to tell me so. God must have taken you into his hand, to, have a close look at you, and then put you down. Only he meant to put you into a monastery; he made a mistake. Hark! another ring; that is to warn the porter to go and notify the municipality, so that they may go and notify the death-physician, so that he may come and see that there is really a dead woman. All that is the ceremony of dying. These good ladies do not like this visit very much. A physician believes in nothing. He lifts the veil. He even lifts something else, sometimes. How soon they have notified the inspector, this time! What can be the matter? Your little one is asleep yet. What is her name?"
"She is your girl? that is to say: you should be her grandfather?"
"For her, to get out will be easy. I have my door, which opens into the court. I knock; the porter opens. I have my basket on my back; the little girl is inside; I go out. Father Fauchelevent goes out with his basket- that is all simple. You will tell the little girl to keep very still. She will be under cover. I will leave her as soon as I can, with a good old friend of mine, a fruiteress, in the Rue du Chemin Vert, who is deaf, and who has a little bed. I will scream into the fruiteress's ear that she is my niece, and she must keep her for me till tomorrow. Then the little girl will come back with you; for I shall bring you back. It must be done. But how are you going to manage to get out?"
Jean Valjean shook his head.
"Let nobody see me, that is all, Father Fauchelevent. Find some means to get me out, like Cosette, in a basket, and under cover."
Fauchelevent scratched the tip of his ear with the middle finger of his left hand- a sign of serious embarrassment.
A third ring made a diversion.
"That is the death-physician going away," said Fauchelevent. "He has looked, and said she is dead; it is right. When the inspector has vised the passport for paradise, the undertaker sends a coffin. If it is a mother, the mothers lay her out; if it is a sister, the sisters lay her out. After which, I nail it up. That's a part of my gardening. A gardener is something of a gravedigger. They put her in a low room in the church which communicates with the street, and where no man can enter except the death-physician. I do not count the bearers and myself for men. In that room I nail the coffin. The bearers come and take her, and whip-up, driver: that is the way they go to heaven. They bring in a box with nothing in it, they carry it away with something inside. That is what an interment is. De profundis."
A ray of the rising sun beamed upon the face of the sleeping Cosette, who half-opened her mouth dreamily, seeming like an angel drinking in the light. Jean Valjean was looking at her. He no longer heard Fauchelevent.
Not being heard is no reason for silence. The brave old gardener quietly continued his garrulous rehearsal.
"The grave is at the Vaugirard cemetery. They pretend that this Vaugirard cemetery is going to be suppressed. It is an ancient cemetery, which is not according to the regulations, which does not wear the uniform, and which is going to be retired. I am sorry for it, for it is convenient. I have a friend there- Father Mestienne, the gravedigger. The nuns here have the privilege of being carried to that cemetery at night-fall. There is an order of the Prefecture, expressly for them. But what events since yesterday? Mother Crucifixion is dead, and Father Madeleine-"
"Is buried," said Jean Valjean, sadly smiling.
Fauchelevent echoed the word.
"Really, if you were here for good, it would be a genuine burial."
A fourth time the bell rang out. Fauchelevent quickly took down the knee-piece and bell from the nail, and buckled it on his knee.
"This time, it is for me. The mother prioress wants me. Well! I am pricking myself with the tongue of my buckle. Monsieur Madeleine, do not stir, but wait for me. There is something new. If you are hungry, there is the wine, and bread and cheese."
And he went out of the hut, saying: "I am coming, I am coming."
Jean Valjean saw him hasten across the garden, as fast as his crooked leg would let him, with side glances at his melons the while.
In less than ten minutes, Father Fauchelevent, whose bell put the nuns to flight as he went along, rapped softly at a door, and a gentle voice answered- Forever, Forever! that is to say, Come in.
This door was that of the parlour allotted to the gardener, for use when it was necessary to communicate with him. This parlour was near the hall of the chapter. The prioress, seated in the only chair in the parlour, was waiting for Fauchelevent.
A serious and troubled bearing is peculiar, on critical occasions, to certain characters and certain professions, especially priests and monastics. At the moment when Fauchelevent entered, this double sign of preoccupation marked the countenance of the prioress, the charming and learned Mademoiselle de Blemeur, Mother Innocent, who was ordinarily cheerful.
The gardener made a timid bow, and stopped at the threshold of the cell. The prioress, who was saying her rosary, raised her eyes and said:
"Ah! it is you, Father Fauvent."
This abbreviation had been adopted in the convent.
Fauchelevent again began his bow.
"Father Fauvent, I have called you."
"I am here, reverend mother."
"I wish to speak to you."
"And I for my part," said Fauchelevent, with a boldness at which he was alarmed himself, "I have something to say to the most reverend mother."
The prioress looked at him.
"Ah, you have a communication to make to me."
"Well, what is it?"
The goodman, with the assurance of one who feels that he is appreciated, began before the reverend prioress a rustic harangue, quite diffuse and very profound. He spoke at length of his age, his infirmities, of the weight of years henceforth doubly heavy upon him, of the growing demands of his work, of the size of the garden, of the nights to be spent, like last night for example, when he had to put awnings over the melons on account of the moon; and finally ended with this: that he had a brother- (the prioress gave a start)- a brother not young- (second start of the prioress, but a reassured start)- that if, it was desired, this brother could come and live with him and help him; that he was an excellent gardener; that the community would get good services from him, better than his own; that, otherwise, if his brother were not admitted, as he, the oldest, felt that he was broken down, and unequal to the labour, he would be obliged to leave, though with much regret; and that his brother had a little girl that he would bring with him, who would be reared under God in the house, and who, perhaps,- who knows?- would some day become a nun.
When he had finished, the prioress stopped the sliding of her rosary through her fingers, and said:
"Can you, between now and night, procure a strong iron bar?"
"For what work?"
"To be used as a lever?"
"Yes, reverend mother," answered Fauchelevent.
The prioress, without adding a word, arose, and went into the next room, which was the hall of the chapter, where the vocal mothers were probably assembled: Fauchelevent remained alone.
About a quarter of an hour elapsed. The prioress returned and resumed her seat.
Both seemed preoccupied. We report as well as we can the dialogue that followed.
"You are familiar with the chapel?"
"I have a little box there to go to mass, and the offices."
"And you have been in the choir about your work?"
"Two or three times."
"A stone is to be raised."
"The slab of the pavement at the side of the altar."
"The stone that covers the vault?"
"That is a piece of work where it would be well to have two men."
"Mother Ascension, who is as strong as a man, will help you."
"A woman is never a man."
"We have only a woman to help you. Everybody does what he can.
Because Dom Mabillon gives four hundred and seventeen epistles of St. Bernard, and Merlonus Horstius gives only three hundred and sixty-seven, I do not despise Merlonus Horstius."
"Nor I either."
"Merit consists in work according to our strength. A cloister is not a ship-yard."
"And a woman is not a man. My brother is very strong."
"And then you will have a lever."
"That is the only kind of key that fits that kind of door."
"There is a ring in the stone."
"I will pass the lever through it."
"And the stone is arranged to turn on a pivot."
"Very well, reverend mother, I will open the vault."
"And the four mother choristers will assist you."
"And when the vault is opened?"
"It must be shut again."
"Is that all?"
"Give me your orders, most reverend mother."
"Fauvent, we have confidence in you."
"I am here to do everything."
"And to keep silent about everything."
"Yes, reverend mother."
"When the vault is opened-"
"I will shut it again."
"What, reverend mother?"
"Something must be let down."
There was silence. The prioress, after a quivering of the underlip which resembled hesitation, spoke:
"You know that a mother died this morning."
"You have not heard the bell then?"
"Nothing is heard at the further end of the garden."
"I can hardly distinguish my ring."
"She died at daybreak."
"And then, this morning, the wind didn't blow my way."
"It is Mother Crucifixion. One of the blest."
The prioress was silent, moved her lips a moment as in a mental orison, and resumed:
"Three years ago, merely from having seen Mother Crucifixion at prayer, a Jansenist, Madame de Bethune, became orthodox."
"Ah! yes, I hear the knell now, reverend mother."
"The mothers have carried her into the room of the dead, which opens into the church."
"No other man than you can or must enter that room. Be watchful. It would look well for a man to enter the room of the dead!"
Fauchelevent wiped his forehead.
The prioress again made a little low murmur, probably sacred, then raised her voice.
"During her life, Mother Crucifixion worked conversions; after her death, she will work miracles."
"She will!" answered Fauchelevent, correcting his step, and making an effort not to blunder again.
"We must obey the dead. To be buried in the vault under the altar of the chapel, not to go into profane ground, to remain in death where she prayed in life; this was the last request of Mother Crucifixion. She has asked it, that is to say, commanded it."
"But it is forbidden."
"Forbidden by men, enjoined by God."
"If it should come to be known?"
"We have confidence in you."
"Oh! as for me, I am like a stone in your wall."
"The chapter has assembled. The vocal mothers, whom I have just consulted again and who are now deliberating, have decided that Mother Crucifixion should be, according to her desire, buried in her coffin under our altar. Think, Father Fauvent, if there should be miracles performed here! what glory under God for the community! Miracles spring from tombs."
"But, reverend Mother, if the agent of the Health Commission-"
"St. Benedict II., in the matter of burial, resisted Constantine Pogonatus."
"However, the Commissary of Police-"
"Chonodemaire, one of the seven German kings who entered Gaul in the reign of Constantius, expressly recognised the right of conventuals to be inhumed in religion, that is to say, under the altar."
"But the Inspector of the Prefecture-"
"The world is nothing before the cross. Martin, eleventh general of the Carthusians, gave to his order this device: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis."
"Amen," said Fauchelevent, imperturbable in this method of extricating himself whenever he heard any Latin.
The prioress drew breath, then turning towards Fauchelevent:
"Father Fauvent, is it settled?"
"It is settled, reverend mother."
"Can we count upon you?"
"I shall obey."
"It is well."
"I am entirely devoted to the convent."
"It is understood, you will close the coffin. The sisters will carry it into the chapel. The office for the dead will be said. Then they will return to the cloister. Between eleven o'clock and midnight, you will come with your iron bar. All will be done with the greatest secrecy. There will be in the chapel only the four mother choristers, Mother Ascension, and you."
"And the sister who will be at the post."
"She will not turn."
"But she will hear."
"She will not listen; moreover, what the cloister knows the world does not know."
There was a pause again. The prioress continued:
"You will take off your bell. It is needless that the sister at the post should perceive that you are there."
"What, Father Fauvent?"
"Has the death-physician made his visit?"
"He is going to make it at four o'clock to-day. The bell has been sounded which summons the death-physician. But you do not hear any ring then?"
"I only pay attention to my own."
"That is right, Father Fauvent."
"Reverend mother, I shall need a lever at least six feet long."
"Where will you get it?"
"Where there are gratings there are always iron bars. I have my heap of old iron at the back of the garden."
"About three-quarters of an hour before midnight; do not forget."
"If you should ever have any other work like this, my brother is very strong. A Turk."
"You will do it as quickly as possible."
"I cannot go very fast. I am infirm; it is on that account I need help. I limp."
"To limp is not a crime, and it may be a blessing. The Emperor Henry II., who fought the Antipope Gregory, and re-established Benedict VIII., has two surnames: the Saint and the Lame."
"Two surtouts are very good," murmured Fauchelevent, who, in reality, was a little hard of hearing.
"Father Fauvent, now I think of it, we will take a whole hour. It is not too much. Be at the high altar with the iron bar at eleven o'clock. The office commences at midnight. It must all be finished a good quarter of an hour before."
"I will do everything to prove my zeal for the community. This is the arrangement. I shall nail up the coffin. At eleven o'clock precisely I will be in the chapel. The mother choristers will be there. Mother Ascension will be there. Two men would be better. But no matter! I shall have my lever. We shall open the vault, let down the coffin, and close the vault again. After which, there will be no trace of anything. The government will suspect nothing. Reverend mother, is this all so?"
"What more is there, then?"
"There is still the empty coffin."
This brought them to a stand. Fauchelevent pondered. The prioress pondered.
"Father Fauvent, what shall be done with the coffin?"
"It will be put in the ground."
Another silence. Fauchelevent made with his left hand that peculiar gesture, which dismisses an unpleasant question.
"Reverend mother, I nail up the coffin in the lower room in the church, and nobody can come in there except me, and I will cover the coffin with the pall."
"Yes, but the bearers, in putting it into the hearse and in letting it down into the grave, will surely perceive that there is nothing inside."
"Ah! the de-!" exclaimed Fauchelevent.
The prioress began to cross herself, and looked fixedly at the gardener. Vil stuck in his throat.
He made haste to think of an expedient to make her forget the oath.
"Reverend mother, I will put some earth into the coffin. That will have the effect of a body."
"You are right. Earth is the same thing as man. So you will prepare the empty coffin?"
"I will attend to that!"
The face of the prioress, till then dark and anxious, became again serene. She made him the sign of a superior dismissing an inferior. Fauchelevent moved towards the door. As he was going out, the prioress gently raised her voice.
"Father Fauvent, I am satisfied with you; tomorrow after the burial, bring your brother to me, and tell him to bring his daughter."
"What is the empty coffin?" asked Jean Valjean.
"The coffin from the administration."
"What coffin? and what administration?"
"A nun dies. The municipality physician comes and says: there is a nun dead. The government sends a coffin. The next day it sends a hearse and some bearers to take the coffin and carry it to the cemetery. The bearers will come and take up the coffin; there will be nothing in it."
"Put somebody in it."
"A dead body? I have none."
"A living body."
"What living body?"
"Me," said Jean Valjean.
Fauchelevent, who had taken a seat, sprang up as if a cracker had burst under his chair.
Jean Valjean had one of those rare smiles which came over him like the aurora in a winter sky.
"You know, Fauchelevent, that you said: Mother Crucifixion is dead, and that I added: and Father Madeleine is buried. It will be so."
"Ah! good, you are laughing, you are not talking seriously."
"Very seriously. I must get out!"
"And I told you to find a basket and a cover for me also."
"The basket will be of pine, and the cover will be of black cloth."
"In the first place, a white cloth. The nuns are buried in white."
"Well, a white cloth."
"You are not like other men, Father Madeleine."
What seemed unheard-of to Fauchelevent was, we repeat, simple to Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean had been in worse straits. He who has been a prisoner knows the art of making himself small according to the dimensions of the place for escape. The prisoner is subject to flight as the sick man is to the crisis which cures or kills him. An escape is a cure. What does not one undergo to be cured? To be nailed up and carried out in a chest like a bundle, to live a long time in a box, to find air where there is none, to economise the breath for entire hours, to know how to be stifled without dying- that was one of the gloomy talents of Jean Valjean.
Fauchelevent, recovering a little, exclaimed:
"But how will you manage to breathe?"
"I shall breathe."
"In that box? Only to think of it suffocates me."
"You surely have a gimlet, you can make a few little holes about the mouth here and there, and you can nail it without drawing the upper board tight."
"Good! But if you happen to cough or sneeze?"
"He who is escaping never coughs and never sneezes."
And Jean Valjean added:
"Father Fauchelevent, I must decide either to be taken here, or to be willing to go out in the hearse."
"It is true, there is no other way."
Jean Valjean resumed:
"The only thing that I am anxious about, is what will be done at the cemetery."
"That is just what does not embarrass me," exclaimed Fauchelevent. "If you are sure of getting yourself out of the coffin, I am sure of getting you out of the grave. The gravedigger is a drunkard and a friend of mine. He is Father Mestienne. An old son of the old vine. The gravedigger puts the dead in the grave, and I put the gravedigger in my pocket. I will tell you what will take place. We shall arrive a little before dusk, three-quarters of an hour before the cemetery gates are closed. The hearse will go to the grave. I shall follow: that is my business. I will have a hammer, a chisel, and some pincers in my pocket. The hearse stops, the bearers tie a rope around your coffin and let you down. The priest says the prayers, makes the sign of the cross, sprinkles the holy water, and is off. I remain alone with Father Mestienne. He is my friend, I tell you. One of two things; either he will be drunk, or he will not be drunk. If he is not drunk, I say to him: 'come and take a drink before the Good Quince is shut.' I get him away, I fuddle him; Father Mestienne is not long in getting fuddled, he is always half way. I lay him under the table, I take his card from him to return to the cemetery with, and I come back without him. You will have only me to deal with. If he is drunk, I say to him: 'be off. I'll do your work.' He goes away, and I pull you out of the hole."
Jean Valjean extended his hand, upon which Fauchelevent threw himself with a rustic outburst of touching devotion.
"It is settled, Father Fauchelevent. All will go well."
"Provided nothing goes amiss," thought Fauchelevent. "How terrible that would be!"
Next day, as the sun was declining, the scattered passers on the Boulevard du Maine took off their hats at the passage of an old-fashioned hearse, adorned with death's-heads, cross-bones, and teardrops. In this hearse there was a coffin covered with a white cloth, upon which was displayed a large black cross like a great dummy with hanging arms. A draped carriage, in which might be seen a priest in a surplice, and a choir-boy in a red calotte, followed. Two bearers in grey uniform with black trimmings walked on the right and left of the hearse. In the rear came an old man dressed like a labourer, who limped. The procession moved towards the Vaugirard cemetery.
Fauchelevent limped behind the hearse, very well satisfied. His two twin plots, one with the nuns, the other with M. Madeleine, one for the convent, the other against it, had succeeded equally well. Jean Valjean's calmness had that powerful tranquillity which is contagious. Fauchelevent had now no doubt of success. What remained to be done was nothing. Within two years he had fuddled the gravedigger ten times, good Father Mestienne, a rubicund old fellow. Father Mestienne was play for him. He did what he liked with him. He got him drunk at will and at his fancy. Mestienne saw through Fauchelevent's eyes. Fauchelevent's security was complete.
At the moment the convoy entered the avenue leading to the cemetery, Fauchelevent, happy, looked at the hearse and rubbed his big hands together, saying in an undertone:
"Here's a farce!"
Suddenly the hearse stopped; they were at the gate. It was necessary to exhibit the burial permit. The undertaker whispered with the porter of the cemetery. During this colloquy, which always causes a delay of a minute or two, somebody, an unknown man, came and placed himself behind the hearse at Fauchelevent's side. He was a working-man, who wore a vest with large pockets, and had a pick under his arm.
Fauchelevent looked at this unknown man.
"Who are you?" he asked.
The man answered:
Should a man survive a cannon-shot through his breast, he would present the appearance that Fauchelevent did.
"The gravedigger is Father Mestienne."
"How! he was?"
"He is dead."
Fauchelevent was ready for anything but this, that a gravedigger could die. It is, however, true; gravediggers themselves die. By dint of digging graves for others, they open their own.
Fauchelevent remained speechless. He had hardly the strength to stammer out:
"But it's not possible!"
"It is so."
"But," repeated he, feebly, "the gravedigger is Father Mestienne."
"After Napoleon, Louis XVIII. After Mestienne, Gribier. Peasant, my name is Gribier."
Fauchelevent grew pale; he stared at Gribier.
He was a long, thin, livid man, perfectly funereal. He had the appearance of a broken-down doctor turned gravedigger.
Fauchelevent burst out laughing.
"Ah! what droll things happen! Father Mestienne is dead. I am sorry
for it; he was a jolly fellow. But you too, you are a jolly fellow.
Isn't that so, comrade? we will go and take a drink together, right
The man answered: "I have studied, I have graduated. I never drink."
The hearse had started, and was rolling along the main avenue of the cemetery.
Fauchelevent had slackened his pace. He limped still more from anxiety than from infirmity.
The gravedigger walked before him.
Fauchelevent again scrutinised the unexpected Gribier.
He was one of those men who, though young, have an old appearance, and who, though thin, are very strong.
"Comrade!" cried Fauchelevent.
The man turned.
"I am the gravedigger of the convent."
"My colleague," said the man.
Fauchelevent, illiterate, but very keen, understood that he had to do with a very formidable species, a good talker.
He mumbled out:
"Is it so, Father Mestienne is dead?"
The man answered:
"Perfectly. The good God consulted his list of bills payable. It was Father Mestienne's turn. Father Mestienne is dead."
Fauchelevent repeated mechanically.
"The good God."
"The good God," said the man authoritatively. "What the philosophers call the Eternal Father; the Jacobins, the Supreme Being."
"Are we not going to make each other's acquaintance?" stammered Fauchelevent.
"It is made. You are a peasant, I am a Parisian."
"We are not acquainted as long as we have not drunk together. He who empties his glass empties his heart. Come and drink with me. You can't refuse."
Fauchelevent said to himself: "I am lost."
They were now only a few rods from the path that led to the nuns' corner.
The gravedigger continued:
"Peasant, I have seven youngsters that I must feed. As they must eat, I must not drink."
And he added with the satisfaction of a serious being who is making a sententious phrase:
"Their hunger is the enemy of my thirst."
The hearse stopped.
The choir-boy got out of the mourning carriage, then the priest.
One of the forward wheels of the hearse mounted on a little heap of earth, beyond which was seen an open grave.
"Here is a farce!" repeated Fauchelevent in consternation.
Who was in the coffin? We know. Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean had arranged it so that he could live in it, and could breathe a very little.
It is a strange thing to what extent an easy conscience gives calmness in other respects. The entire combination pre-arranged by Jean Valjean had been executed, and executed well, since the night before. He counted, as did Fauchelevent, upon Father Mestienne. He had no doubt of the result. Never was a situation more critical, never calmness more complete.
The four boards of the coffin exhaled a kind of terrible peace. It seemed as if something of the repose of the dead had entered into the tranquillity of Jean Valjean.
A voice arose above him, icy and solemn. He heard pass away, some Latin words which he did not understand, pronounced so slowly that he could catch them one after another:
"Qui dormiunt in terrae pulvere, evigilabunt; alii in vitam aeternam, et alii in opprobrium, ut videant semper."
A child's voice said:
The deep voice recommenced:
"Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine."
The child's voice responded:
"Et lux perpetua luceat ei."
He heard upon the board which covered him something like the gentle patter of a few drops of rain. It was probably the holy water.
He thought: "This will soon be finished. A little more patience. The priest is going away. Fauchelevent will take Mestienne away to drink. They will leave me. Then Fauchelevent will come back alone, and I shall get out. That will take a good hour."
The deep voice resumed.
"Requiescat in pace."
And the child's voice said:
Jean Valjean, intently listening, perceived something like receding steps.
"Now there they go," thought he. "I am alone."
All at once he heard a sound above his head which seemed to him like a clap of thunder.
It was a spadeful of earth falling upon the coffin.
A second spadeful of earth fell.
One of the holes by which he breathed was stopped up.
A third spadeful of earth fell.
Then a fourth.
There are things stronger than the strongest man. Jean Valjean lost consciousness.
Let us see what occurred over the coffin in which Jean Valjean lay. When the hearse had departed and the priest and the choir-boy had got into the carriage, and were gone, Fauchelevent, who had never taken his eyes off the gravedigger, saw him stoop, and grasp his spade, which was standing upright in the heap of earth.
Hereupon, Fauchelevent formed a supreme resolve.
Placing himself between the grave and the gravedigger, and folding his arms, he said:
"I'll pay for it!"
The gravedigger eyed him with amazement, and replied: "What, peasant?"
"I'll pay for it!"
"For the wine."
"Where's the Argenteuil?"
"At the Good Quince."
"Go to the devil!" said the gravedigger.
And he threw a spadeful of earth upon the coffin.
The coffin gave back a hollow sound. Fauchelevent felt himself stagger, and nearly fell into the grave. In a voice in which the strangling sound of the death-rattle began to be heard he cried:
"Come, comrade, before the Good Quince closes!"
The gravedigger took up another spadeful of earth. Fauchelevent continued:
"I'll pay," and he seized the gravedigger by the arm.
"Hark ye, comrade," he said, "I am the gravedigger of the convent, and have come to help you. It's a job we can do at night. Let us take a drink first."
And as he spoke, even while clinging desperately to this urgent effort, he asked himself, with some misgiving: "And even should he drink- will he get tipsy?"
"Good rustic," said the gravedigger, "if you insist, I consent. We'll have a drink, but after my work, never before it."
And he tossed his spade again. Fauchelevent held him.
"It is Argenteuil at six sous the pint!"
"Ah, bah!" said the gravedigger, "you're a bore. Ding-dong, ding-dong, the same thing over and over again; that's all you can say. Be off, about your business."
And he threw in the second spadeful.
Fauchelevent had reached that point where a man knows no longer what he is saying.
"Oh! come on, and take a glass, since I'm the one to pay," he again repeated.
"When we've put the child to bed," said the gravedigger.
He tossed in the third spadeful: then, plunging his spade into the earth, he added:
"You see, now, it's going to be cold tonight, and the dead one would cry out after us, if we were to plant her there without good covering."
At this moment, in the act of filling his spade, the gravedigger stooped low, and the pocket of his vest gaped open. The bewildered eye of Fauchelevent rested mechanically on this pocket, and remained fixed.
The sun was not yet hidden behind the horizon, and there was still light enough to distinguish something white in the gaping pocket.
All the lightning which the eye of a Picardy peasant can contain flashed into the pupils of Fauchelevent. A new idea had struck him.
Without the gravedigger, who was occupied with his spadeful of earth, perceiving him, he slipped his hand from behind into the pocket, and took from him the white object it contained.
The gravedigger flung into the grave the fourth spadeful.
Just as he was turning to take the fifth, Fauchelevent, looking at him with imperturbable calmness, asked:
"By the way, my new friend, have you your card?"
The gravedigger stopped.
"The sun is setting."
"Well, let him put on his night-cap."
"The cemetery-gate will be closed."
"Well, what then?"
"Have you your card?"
"Oh! my card!" said the gravedigger, and he felt in his pocket.
Having rummaged one pocket, he tried another. From these, he proceeded to try his watch-fobs, exploring the first, and turning the second inside out.
"No!" said he, "no! I haven't got my card. I must have forgotten it."
"Fifteen francs fine!" said Fauchelevent.
The gravedigger turned green. Green is the paleness of people naturally livid.
"Oh, good-gracious God, what a fool I am!" he exclaimed. "Fifteen francs fine!"
"Three hundred-sou pieces," said Fauchelevent.
The gravedigger dropped his spade.
Fauchelevent's turn had come.
"Come! come, recruit," said Fauchelevent, "never despair; there's nothing to kill oneself about, and feed the worms. Fifteen francs are fifteen francs, and besides, you may not have them to pay. I am an old hand, and you a new one. I know all the tricks and traps and turns and twists of the business. I'll give you a friend's advice. One thing is clear- the sun is setting- and the graveyard will be closed in five minutes."
"That's true," replied the gravedigger.
"Five minutes is not time enough for you to fill the grave- it's as deep as the very devil- and get out of this before the gate is shut."
"In that case, there is fifteen francs fine."
"But you have time.... Where do you live?"
"Just by the barriere. Fifteen minutes' walk. Number 87 Rue de Vaugirard."
"You have time, if you will hang your toggery about your neck, to get out at once."
"Once outside of the gate, you scamper home, get your card, come back, and the gatekeeper will let you in again. Having your card, there's nothing to pay. Then you can bury your dead man. I'll stay here, and watch him while you're gone, to see that he doesn't run away."
"I owe you my life, peasant!"
"Be off, then, quick!" said Fauchelevent.
The gravedigger, overcome with gratitude, shook his hands, and started at a run.
When the gravedigger had disappeared through the bushes, Fauchelevent listened until his footsteps died away, and then, bending over the grave, called out in a low voice:
Fauchelevent shuddered. He dropped rather than clambered down into the grave, threw himself upon the head of the coffin, and cried out:
"Are you there?"
Silence in the coffin.
Fauchelevent, no longer able to breathe for the shiver that was on him, took his cold chisel and hammer, and wrenched off the top board. The face of Jean Valjean could be seen in the twilight, his eyes closed and his cheeks colourless.
Fauchelevent's hair stood erect with alarm; he rose to his feet, and then tottered with his back against the side of the grave, ready to sink down upon the coffin. He looked upon Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean lay there pallid and motionless.
Fauchelevent murmured in a voice low as a whisper:
"He is dead!"
At a distance, through the trees, a harsh grating sound was heard.
It was the gate of the cemetery closing.
Fauchelevent again bent over Jean Valjean, but suddenly started back with all the recoil that was possible in a grave. Jean Valjean's eyes were open, and gazing at him.
To behold death is terrifying, and to see a sudden restoration is nearly as much so. Fauchelevent became cold and white as a stone, haggard and utterly disconcerted by all these powerful emotions, and not knowing whether he had the dead or the living to deal with, stared at Jean Valjean, who in turn stared at him.
"I was falling asleep," said Jean Valjean.
And he rose to a sitting posture.
Fauchelevent dropped on his knees.
"Oh, blessed Virgin! How you frightened me!"
Then, springing again to his feet, he cried:
"Thank you, Father Madeleine!"
Jean Valjean had merely swooned. The open air had revived him. Joy is the reflex of terror. Fauchelevent had nearly as much difficulty as Jean Valjean in coming to himself.
"Then you're not dead!
"I am cold," said Jean Valjean.
These words recalled Fauchelevent completely to the real state of affairs, which were urgent. These two men, even when restored, felt, without knowing it, a peculiar agitation and a strange inward trouble, which was but the sinister bewilderment of the place.
"Let us get away from here at once," said Fauchelevent.
He thrust his hand into his pocket, and drew from it a flask with which he was provided.
"But a drop of this first!" said he.
The flask completed what the open air had begun. Jean Valjean took a swallow of brandy, and felt thoroughly restored.
He got out of the coffin, and assisted Fauchelevent to nail down the lid again. Three minutes afterwards, they were out of the grave.
After this, Fauchelevent was calm enough. He took his time. The cemetery was closed. There was no fear of the return of Gribier the gravedigger. That recruit was at home, hunting up his "card," and rather unlikely to find it, as it was in Fauchelevent's pocket. Without his card, he could not get back into the cemetery.
Fauchelevent took the spade and Jean Valjean the pick, and together they buried the empty coffin.
When the grave was filled, Fauchelevent said to Jean Valjean:
"Come, let us go; I'll keep the spade, and you take the pick."
They went out by the avenues the hearse had followed. When they reached the closed gate and the porter's lodge, Fauchelevent, who had the gravedigger's card in his hand, dropped it into the box, the porter drew the cord, the gate opened, and they went through.
"How well everything goes!" said Fauchelevent; "what a good plan that was of yours, Father Madeleine!"
They passed the Barriere Vaugirard in the easiest way in the world. In the neighbourhood of a graveyard, a pick and spade are two passports.
The Rue de Vaugirard was deserted.
"Father Madeleine," said Fauchelevent, as he went along, looking up at the houses, "you have better eyes than mine- which is number 87?"
"Here it is, now," said Jean Valjean.
"There's no one in the street," resumed Fauchelevent. "Give me the pick, and wait for me a couple of minutes."
Fauchelevent went in at number 87, ascended to the topmost flight, guided by the instinct which always leads the poor to the garret, and knocked in the dark, at the door of a little attic room. A voice called:
It was Gribier's voice.
Fauchelevent pushed open the door. The lodging of the gravedigger was, like all these shelters of the needy, an unfurnished but much littered loft. A packing-case of some kind- a coffin, perhaps- supplied the place of a bureau, a straw pallet the place of a bed, a butter-pot the place of water-cooler, and the floor served alike for chairs and table. In one corner, on a ragged old scrap of carpet, was a haggard woman, and a number of children were huddled together. The whole of this wretched interior bore the traces of recent overturn. One would have said that there had been an earthquake served up there "for one." The coverlets were displaced, the ragged garments scattered about, the pitcher broken, the mother had been weeping, and the children probably beaten; all traces of a headlong and violent search. It was plain that the gravedigger had been looking, wildly, for his card, and had made everything in the attic, from his pitcher to his wife, responsible for the loss. He had a desperate appearance.
But Fauchelevent was in too great a hurry for the end of his adventure, to notice this gloomy side of his triumph.
As he come in, he said:
"I've brought your spade and pick."
Gribier looked at him with stupefaction.
"What, it is you, peasant?"
"And, tomorrow morning, you will find your card with the gatekeeper of the cemetery."
And he set down the pick and the spade on the floor.
"What does all this mean?" asked Gribier.
"Why, it means that you let your card drop out of your pocket; that I found it on the ground when you had gone; that I buried the corpse; that I filled in the grave; that I finished your job; that the porter will give you your card, and that you will not have to pay the fifteen francs. That's what it means, recruit!"
"Thanks, villager!" exclaimed Gribier, in amazement. "The next time I will treat."
An hour later, in the depth of night, two men and a child stood in front of No. 62, Petite Rue Picpus. The elder of the men lifted the knocker and rapped.
It was Fauchelevent, Jean Valjean, and Cosette.
Fauchelevent belonged to the convent and knew all the passwords. Every door opened before him.
Thus was that doubly fearful problem solved of getting out and getting in again.
The porter, who had his instructions, opened the little side door which served to communicate between the court and the garden, and which, twenty years ago, could still be seen from the street, in the wall at the extremity of the court, facing the porte-cochere. The porter admitted all three by this door, and from that point they went to this private inner parlour, where Fauchelevent had, on the previous evening, received the orders of the prioress.
The prioress, rosary in hand, was awaiting them. A mother, with her veil down, stood near her. A modest taper lighted, or one might almost say, pretended to light up the parlour.
The prioress scrutinised, Jean Valjean. Nothing scans so carefully as a downcast eye.
Then she proceeded to question:
"You are the brother?"
"Yes, reverend mother," replied Fauchelevent.
"What is your name?"
He had, in reality, had a brother named Ultimus, who was dead.
"From what part of the country are you?"
"From Picquigny, near Amiens."
"What is your age?"
"What is your business?"
"Are you a true Christian?"
"All of our family are such."
"Is this your little girl?"
"Yes, reverend mother."
"You are her father?"
The mother said to the prioress in an undertone:
"He answers well."
Jean Valjean had not spoken a word.
The prioress looked at Cosette attentively, and then said, aside to the mother-
"She will be homely."
The two mothers talked together very low for a few minutes in a corner of the parlour, and then the prioress turned and said-
"Father Fauvent, you will have another knee-cap and bell. We need two, now."
So, next morning, two little bells were heard tinkling in the garden, and the nuns could not keep from lifting a corner of their veils. They saw two men digging side by side, in the lower part of the garden under the trees- Fauvent and another. Immense event! The silence was broken, so far as to say-
"It's an assistant-gardener!"
The mothers added:
"He is Father Fauvent's brother."
In fact, Jean Valjean was regularly installed; he had the leather knee-cap and the bell; henceforth he had his commission. His name was Ultimus Fauchelevent.
The strongest recommendation for Cosette's admission had been the remark of the prioress: She will be homely.
The prioress having uttered this prediction, immediately took Cosette into her friendship and gave her a place in the school building as a charity pupil.
Cosette, at the convent, still kept silent. She very naturally thought herself Jean Valjean's daughter. Moreover, knowing nothing, there was nothing she could tell, and then, in any case, she would not have told anything. As we have remarked, nothing habituates children to silence like misfortune. Cosette had suffered so much that she was afraid of everything, even to speak, even to breathe. A single word had so often brought down an avalanche on her head! She had hardly begun to feel re-assured since she had been with Jean Valjean. She soon became accustomed to the convent. Still, she longed for Catharine, but dared not say so. One day, however, she said to Jean Valjean, "If I had known it, father, I would have brought her with me."
Cosette, in becoming a pupil at the convent, had to assume the dress of the school girls. Jean Valjean succeeded in having the garments which she laid aside given to him. It was the same mourning suit he had carried for her to put on when she left the Thenardiers. It was not much worn. Jean Valjean rolled up these garments, as well as the woollen stockings and shoes, with much camphor and other aromatic substances of which there is such an abundance in convents, and packed them in a small valise which he managed to procure. He put this valise in a chair near his bed, and always kept the key of it in his pocket.
"Father," Cosette one day asked him, "what is that box there that smells so good?"
Jean Valjean worked every day in the garden, and was very useful there. He had formerly been a pruner, and now found it quite in his way to be a gardener. It may be remembered that he knew all kinds of receipts and secrets of field-work. These he turned to account. Nearly all the orchard trees were wild stock; he grafted them and made them bear excellent fruit.
Cosette was allowed to come every day, and pass an hour with him. As the sisters were melancholy, and he was kind, the child compared him with them, and worshipped him. Every day, at the hour appointed, she would hurry to the little building. When she entered the old place, she filled it with Paradise. Jean Valjean basked in her presence and felt his own happiness increase by reason of the happiness he conferred on Cosette. The delight we inspire in others has this enchanting peculiarity that, far from being diminished like every other reflection, it returns to us more radiant than ever. At the hours of recreation, Jean Valjean from a distance watched her playing and romping, and he could distinguish her laughter from the laughter of the rest.
Sometimes, in the evening, about dusk, at the hour when the garden was solitary, he was seen kneeling, in the middle of the walk that ran along the chapel, before the window through which he had looked, on the night of his first arrival, turned towards the spot where he knew that the sister who was performing the reparation was prostrate in prayer. Thus he prayed kneeling before this sister.
It seemed as though he dared not kneel directly before God.
Everything around him, this quiet garden, these balmy flowers, these children, shouting with joy, these meek and simple women, this silent cloister, gradually entered into all his being, and, little by little, his soul subsided into silence like this cloister, into fragrance like these flowers, into peace like this garden, into simplicity like these women, into joy like these children. And then he reflected that two houses of God had received him in succession at the two critical moments of his life, the first when every door was closed and human society repelled him; the second, when human society again howled upon his track, and the galleys once more gaped for him; and that, had it not been for the first, he should have fallen back into crime, and had it not been for the second, into punishment.
His whole heart melted in gratitude, and he loved more and more.Several years passed thus. Cosette was growing.
Part 3: Marius