About eight or nine years after the events narrated in the second part of this story, there was seen, on the Boulevard du Temple, and in the neighbourhood of the Chateau d'Eau, a little boy of eleven or twelve years of age, who would have realised with considerable accuracy the ideal of the gamin, if, with the laughter of his youth upon his lips, his heart had not been absolutely dark and empty. This child was well muffled up in a man's pair of pantaloons, but he had not got them from his father, and in a woman's chemise, which was not an inheritance from his mother. Strangers had clothed him in these rags out of charity. Still, he had a father and a mother. But his father never thought of him, and his mother did not love him. He was one of those children so deserving of pity from all, who have fathers and mothers, and yet are orphans.
This little boy never felt so happy as when in the street. The pavement was not so hard to him as the heart of his mother.
His parents had thrown him out into life with a kick.
He had quite ingenuously spread his wings, and taken flight.
He was a boisterous, pallid, nimble, wide-awake, roguish urchin, with an air at once vivacious and sickly. He went, came, sang, played pitch and toss, scraped the gutters, stole a little, but he did it gaily like the cats and the sparrows, laughed when people called him, an errand-boy, and got angry when they called him a ragamuffin. He had no shelter, no food, no fire, no love, but he was light-hearted because he was free.
When these poor creatures are men, the millstone of our social system almost always comes in contact with them, and grinds them, but while they are children they escape because they are little. The smallest hole saves them.
However, deserted as this lad was, it happened sometimes, every two or three months, that he would say to himself: "Come, I'll go and see my mother!" Then he would leave the Boulevard, the Cirque, the Porte Saint Martin, go down along the quays, cross the bridges, reach the, suburbs, walk as far as the Salpetriere. and arrive- where? Precisely at that double number, 50-52, which is known to the reader, the Gorbeau building.
At the period referred to, the tenement No. 50-52. usually empty, and permanently decorated with the placard "Rooms to let," was, for a wonder, tenanted by several persons who, in all other respects, as is always the case at Paris, had no relation to or connection with each other. They all belonged to that indigent class which begins with the small bourgeois in embarrassed circumstances, and descends, from grade to grade of wretchedness, through the lower strata of society, until it reaches those two beings in whom all the material things of civilisation terminate, the scavenger and the ragpicker.
The "landlady" of the time of Jean Valjean was dead, and had been replaced by another exactly like her. I do not remember what philosopher it was who said: "There is never any lack of old women."
Among those who lived in the building, the wretchedest of all were a family of four persons, father, mother, and two daughter nearly grown, all four lodging in the same garret room, one of those cells of which we have already spoken.
This family at first sight presented nothing very peculiar but its extreme destitution; the father, in renting the room, had given his name as Jondrette. Some time after his moving in, which had singularly resembled, to borrow the memorable expression of the landlady, the entrance of nothing at all, this Jondrette said to the old woman, who, like her predecessor, was, at the same time, portress and swept the stairs: "Mother So-and-So, if anybody should come and ask for a Pole or an Italian or, perhaps, a Spaniard, that is for me."
Now, this family was the family of our sprightly little bare-footed urchin. When he came there, he found distress and, what is sadder still, no smile; a cold hearthstone and cold hearts. When he came in, they would ask: "Where have you come from?" He would answer "From the street." When he was going away they would ask him: "Where are you going to?" He would answer: "Into the street." His mother would say to him: "What have you come here for?"
The child lived, in this absence of affection, like those pale plants that spring up in cellars. He felt no suffering from this mode of existence, and bore no ill-will to anybody. He did not know how a father and mother ought to be.
But yet his mother loved his sisters.
We had forgotten to say that on the Boulevard du Temple this boy went by the name of little Gavroche. Why was his name Gavroche? Probably because his father's name was Jondrette.
To break all links seems to be the instinct of some wretched families.
The room occupied by the Jondrettes in the Gorbeau tenement was the last at the end of the hall. The adjoining cell was tenanted by a very poor young man who was called Monsieur Marius.
Let us see who and what Monsieur Marius was.
In the Rue Boucherat, Rue de Normandie, and Rue de Saintonge, there still remain a few old inhabitants who preserve a memory of a fine old man named M. Gillenormand, and who like to talk about him.
M. Gillenormand, who was as much alive as any man can be, in 1831, was one of those men who have become curiosities, simply because they have lived a long time; and who are strange, because formerly they were like everybody else, and now they are no longer like anybody else. He was a peculiar old man, and very truly a man of another age- the genuine bourgeois of the eighteenth century, a very perfect specimen, a little haughty, wearing his good old bourgeoisie as marquises wear their marquisates. He had passed his ninetieth year, walked erect, spoke in a loud voice, saw clearly, drank hard, ate, slept, and snored. He had every one of his thirty-two teeth.
As to the two daughters of Monsieur Gillenormand, they were born ten years apart. In their youth they resembled each other verylittle; and in character as well as in countenance, were as far from being sisters as possible. The younger was a cheerful soul, attracted towards everything that is bright, busy with flowers, poetry and music, carried away into the glories of space, enthusiastic, ethereal,affianced from childhood in the ideal to a dim heroic figure. The elder had also her chimera; in the azure depth she saw a contractor, some good, coarse commissary, very rich, a husband splendidly stupid, a million-made man, or even a prefect; receptions at the prefecture, an usher of the ante-chamber, with the chain on his necks official balls, harangues at the mayor's, to be "Madame la prefete," this whirled in her imagination. The two sisters wandered thus, each in her own fancy, when they were young girls. Both had wings, one like an angel, the other like a goose.
No ambition is fully realised, here below at least. No paradise becomes terrestrial at the period in which we live. The younger had married the man of her dreams, but she was dead. The elder was not married.
At the moment she makes her entry into the story which we are relating, she was an old piece of virtue, an incombustible prude, one of the sharpest noses and one of the most obtuse minds which could be discovered. A characteristic incident. Outside of the immediate family nobody had ever known her first name. She was called Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder.
In cant, Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder could have given odds to an English miss. She was immodestly modest. She had one frightful reminiscence in her life: one day a man had seen her garter.
Age had only increased this pitiless modesty. Her dress front was never thick enough, and never rose high enough. She multiplied hooks and pins where nobody thought of looking. The peculiarity of prudery is to multiply sentinels, in proportion as the fortress is less threatened.
However, explain who can these ancient mysteries of innocence, she allowed herself to be kissed without displeasure, by an officer of lancers who was her grand-nephew and whose name was Theodule.
Spite of this favoured lancer, the title Prude, under which we have classed her, fitted her absolutely. Mademoiselle Gillenormand was a kind of twilight soul. Prudery is half a virtue and half a vice.
To prudery she added bigotry, a suitable lining. She was of the fraternity of the Virgin, wore a white veil on certain feast-days, muttered special prayers, revered "the holy blood," venerated "the sacred heart," remained for hours in contemplation before an old-fashioned Jesuit altar in a chapel closed to the vulgar faithful, and let her soul fly away among the little marble clouds and along the grand rays of gilded wood.
We must say that in growing old, Mademoiselle Gillenormand had rather gained than lost. This is the case with passive natures. She had never been peevish, which is a relative goodness; and then, years wear off angles, and the softening of time had come upon her. She was sad with an obscure sadness of which she had not the secret herself. There was in her whole person the stupor of a life ended but never commenced.
She kept her father's house. Monsieur Gillenormand had his daughter with him as we have seen Monseigneur Bienvenu have his sister with him. These households of an old man and an old maid are not rare, and always have the touching aspect of two feeblenesses leaning upon each other.
There was besides in the house, between this old maid and this old man, a child, a little boy, always trembling and mute before M. Gillenormand. M. Gillenormand never spoke to this child but with stern voice, and sometimes with uplifted cane: "Here! Monsieur- rascal, black-guard, come here! Answer me, rogue! Let me see you, scapegrace!" etc. etc. He idolised him.
It was his grandson. We shall see this child again.
Whoever, had read the military memoirs, the biographies, the "Moniteur," and the bulletins of the Grand Army, would have been struck by a name which appears rather often, the name of George Pontmercy.
At Arney le Duc, a captain, he sabred ten cossacks, and saved, not his general, but his corporal. He was wounded on that occasion, and twenty-seven splinters were extracted from his left arm alone. Eight days before the capitulation of Paris, he exchanged with a comrade, and entered the cavalry. He had what was called under the old regime the doublehand, that is to say, equal skill in managing, as a soldier, the sabre or the musket, as an officer, a squadron or a battalion. It is this skill, perfected by military education, which gives raise to certain special arms, the dragoons, for instance, who are both cavalry and infantry. He accompanied Napoleon to the island of Elba. At Waterloo he led a squadron of cuirassiers in Dubois' brigade. He it was who took the colours from the Lunenburg battalion. He carried the colours to the emperor's feet. He was covered with blood. He had received, in seizing the colours, a sabre stroke across his face. The emperor, well pleased, cried to him: You are a Colonel, you are a Baron, you are an Officer of the Legion of Honour! Pontmercy answered. Sire; I thank for my widow. An hour afterwards, he fell in the ravine of Ohain. Now who was this George Pontmercy?
We have already seen something of his history. After Waterloo, Pontmercy, drawn out, as will be remembered, from the sunken road of Ohain, succeeded in regaining the army, and was passed along from ambulance to ambulance to the cantonments of the Loire.
The Restoration put him on half-pay, then sent him to a residence, that is to say under surveillance at Vernon. The king, Louis XVIII, ignoring all that had been done in the Hundred Days, recognised neither his position of officer of the Legion of Honour, nor, his rank of colonel, nor his title of baron. He, on his part, neglected no opportunity to sign himself Colonel Baron Pontmercy. He had only one old blue coat, and he never went out without putting on the rosette of an officer of the Legion of Honour. The procureur du roi notified him that he would be prosecuted for "illegally" wearing this decoration. When this notice was given to him by a friendly intermediary, Pontmercy answered with a bitter smile: "I do not know whether it is that I no longer understand French, or you no longer speak it; but the fact is I do not understand you." Then he went out every day for a week with his rosette. Nobody dared to disturb him. Two or three times the minister of war or the general commanding the department wrote to him with this address: Monsieur Commandant Pontmercy. He returned the letters unopened. At the same time, Napoleon at St. Helena was treating Sir Hudson Lowe's missives, addressed to General Bonaparte in the same way. Pontmercy at last, excuse the word, came to have in his mouth the same saliva as his emperor.
So too, there were in Rome, a few Carthaginian soldiers, taken prisoners, who refused to bow to Flaminius, and who had a little of Hannibal's soul.
One morning, he met the procureur du roi in one of the streets of Vernon, went up to him and said: "Monsieur procureur du roi am I allowed to wear my scar?"
He had nothing but his very scanty half-pay as chief of squadron. He hired the smallest house he could find in Vernon. He lived there alone; how we have just seen. Under the empire, between two wars, he had found time to marry Mademoiselle Gillenormand. The old bourgeois, who really felt outraged, consented with a sigh, saying: "The greatest families are forced to it." In 1815, Madame Pontmercy, an admirable woman in every respect, noble and rare, and worthy of her husband, died, leaving a child. This child would have been the colonel's joy in his solitude; but the grandfather had imperiously demanded his grandson, declaring that, unless he were given up to him, he would disinherit him. The father yielded for the sake of the little boy, and not being able to have his child he set about loving flowers.
M. Gillenormand had no intercourse with his son-in-law. The colonel was to him "a bandit," and he was to the colonel "a blockhead." M. Gillenormand never spoke of the colonel, unless sometimes to make mocking allusions to "his barony." It was expressly understood that Pontmercy should never endeavour to see his son or speak to him, under pain of the boy being turned away, and disinherited. To the Gillenormands, Pontmercy was pestiferous. They intended to bring up the child to their liking. The colonel did wrong perhaps to accept these conditions, but he submitted to them, thinking that he was doing right, and sacrificing himself alone.
The inheritance from the grandfather Gillenormand was a small affair, but the inheritance from Mlle. Gillenormand the elder was considerable. This aunt, who had remained single, was very rich from the maternal side, and the son of her sister was her natural heir. The child, whose name was Marius, knew that he had a father, but nothing more. Nobody spoke a word to him about him. However, in the society into which his grandfather took him, the whisperings, the hints, the winks, enlightened the little boy's mind at length; he finally comprehended something of it, and as he naturally imbibed; by a sort of infiltration and slow penetration, the ideas and opinions which formed, so to say, the air he breathed, he came little by little to think of his father only with shame and with a closed heart.
While he was thus growing up, every two or three months the colonel would escape, come furtively to Paris like a fugitive from justice breaking his ban, and go to Saint Sulpice, at the hour when Aunt Gillenormand took Marius to mass. There, trembling lest the aunt should turn round, concealed behind a pillar, motionless, not daring to breathe, he saw his child. The scarred veteran was afraid of the old maid.
From this, in fact, came his connection with the cure of Vernon, Abbe Mabeuf.
This worthy priest was the brother of a warden of Saint Sulpice, who had several times noticed this man gazing upon his child, and the scar on his cheek, and the big tears in his eyes. This man, who had so really the appearance of a man, and who wept like a woman, had attracted the warden's attention. This face remained in his memory. One day, having gone to Vernon to see his brother, he met Colonel Pontmercy on the bridge, and recognised the man of Saint Sulpice. The warden spoke of it to the cure, and the two, under some pretext, made the colonel a visit. This visit led to others. The colonel, who at first was very reserved, finally unbosomed himself, and the cure and the warden came to know the whole story, and how Pontmercy was sacrificing his own happiness to the future of his child. The result was that the cure felt a veneration and tenderness for him, and the colonel, on his part, felt an affection for the cure. And, moreover, when it happens that both are sincere and good, nothing will mix and amalgamate more easily than an old priest and an old soldier. In reality, they are the same kind of man. One has devoted himself to his country upon earth, the other to his country in heaven; there is no other difference.
Twice a year, on the first of January and on St. George's Day, Marius wrote filial letters to his father, which his aunt dictated, and which, one would have said, were copied from some Complete Letter Writer; this was all that M. Gillenormand allowed; and the father answered with very tender letters, which the grandfather thrust into his pocket without reading.
Marius Pontmercy went, like all children, through various studies. When he left the hands of Aunt Gillenormand, his grandfather entrusted him to a worthy professor, of the purest classic innocence. This young, unfolding soul passed from a prude to a pedant. Marius had his years at college then he entered the law-school. He was royalist, fanatical, and austere. He had little love for his grandfather, whose gaiety and cynicism wounded him, and the place of his father was a dark void.
For the rest, he was an ardent but cool lad, noble, generous, proud, religious, lofty; honourable even to harshness, pure even to unsociableness.
The completion of Marius' classical studies was coincident with M. Gillenormand's retirement from the world. The old man bade farewell to the Faubourg Saint Germain, and to Madame de T.'s salon, and established himself in the Marais, at his house in the Rue des Filles du Calvaire. His servants there were, in addition to the porter, the chambermaid Nicolette who had succeeded Magnon, and this short-winded and pursy Basque whom we have already mentioned.
In 1827, Marius had just attained his eighteenth year. On coming in one evening, he saw his grandfather with a letter in his hand.
"Marius," said M. Gillenormand, "you will set out tomorrow for Vernon."
"What for?" said Marius.
"To see your father."
Marius shuddered. He had thought of everything but this, that a day might come, when he would have to see his father. Nothing could have been more unlooked for, more surprising, and, we must say, more disagreeable. It was aversion compelled to intimacy. It was not chagrin; no, it was pure drudgery.
Marius, besides his feelings of political antipathy, was convinced that his father, the sabrer, as M. Gillenormand called him in the gentler moments, did not love him; that was clear, since he had abandoned him and left him to others. Feeling that he was not loved at all, he had no love. Nothing more natural, said he to himself.
He was so astounded that he did not question M. Gillenormand.
The grandfather continued:
"It appears that he is sick. He asks for you."
And after a moment of silence he added:
"Start tomorrow morning. I think there is at the Cour des Fontaines a conveyance which starts at six o'clock and arrives at night. Take it. He says the case is urgent."
Then he crumpled up the letter and put it in his pocket. Marius could have started that evening and been with his father the next morning. A diligence then made the trip to Rouen from the Rue du Bouloi by night passing through Vernon. Neither M. Gillenormand nor Marius thought of inquiring.
The next day at dusk, Marius arrived at Vernon. Candles were just beginning to be lighted. He asked the first person he met for the house of Monsieur Pontmercy. For in his feelings he agreed with the Restoration, and he, too, recognised his father neither as baron nor as colonel.
The house was pointed out to him. He rang; a woman came and opened the door with a small lamp in her hand.
"Monsieur Pontmercy?" said Marius.
The woman remained motionless.
"Is it here?" asked Marius.
The woman gave an affirmative nod of the head.
"Can I speak with him?"
The woman gave a negative sign.
"But I am his son!" resumed Marius. "He expects me."
"He expects you no longer," said the woman.
Then he perceived that she was in tears.
She pointed to the door of a low room; he entered.
In this room, which was lighted by a tallow candle on the mantel, there were three men, one of them standing, one on his knees, and one stripped to his shirt and lying at full length upon the floor. The one upon the floor was the colonel.
The two others were a physician and a priest who was praying.
The colonel had been three days before attacked with a brain fever. At the beginning of the sickness, having a presentiment of ill, he had written to Monsieur Gillenormand to ask for his son. He had grown worse. On the very evening of Marius' arrival at Vernon, the colonel had had a fit of delirium; he sprang out of his bed in spite of the servant, crying: "My son has not come! I am going to meet him!" Then he had gone out of his room and fallen upon the floor of the hall. He had but just died.
The doctor and the cure had been sent for. The doctor had come too late, the cure had come too late. The son also had come too late.
By the dim light of the candle, they could distinguish upon the cheek of the pale and prostrate colonel a big tear which had fallen from his death-stricken eye. The eye was glazed, but the tear was not dry. This tear was for his son's delay.
Marius looked upon this man, whom he saw for the first time, and for the last- this venerable and manly face, these open eyes which saw not, this white hair, these robust limbs upon which he distinguished here and there brown lines which were sabre-cuts, and a species of red stars which were bullet-holes. He looked upon that gigantic scar which imprinted heroism upon this face on which God had impressed goodness. He thought that this man was his father and that this man was dead, and he remained unmoved.
The sorrow which he experienced was the sorrow which he would have felt before any other man whom he might have seen stretched out in death.
Mourning, bitter mourning was in that room. The servant was lamenting by herself in a corner, the cure was praying, and his sobs were heard; the doctor was wiping his eyes; the corpse itself wept.
This doctor, this priest, and this woman, looked at Marius through their affliction without saying a word; it was he who was the stranger Marius, too little moved, felt ashamed and embarrassed at his attitude; he had his hat in his hand, he let it fall to the floor, to make them believe that grief deprived him of strength to hold it.
At the same time he felt something like remorse, and he despised himself for acting thus. But was it his fault? He did not love his father, indeed!
The colonel left nothing. The sale of his furniture hardly paid for his burial. The servant found a scrap of paper which she handed to Marius. It contained this, in the handwriting of the colonel:
"For my Son.- The emperor made me a baron upon the battlefield of Waterloo. Since the Restoration contests this title which I have bought with my blood, my son will take it and bear it. I need not say that he will be worthy of it." On the back, the colonel had added: "At this same battle of Waterloo, a sergeant saved my life. This man's name is Thenardier. Not long ago, I believe he was keeping a little tavern in a village in the suburbs of Paris, at Chelles or at Montfermeil. If my son meets him, he will do Thenardier all the service he can."
Not from duty towards his father, but on account of that vague respect for death which is always so imperious in the heart of man, Marius took this paper and pressed it.
No trace remained of the colonel. Monsieur Gillenormand had his sword and uniform sold to a second-hand dealer. The neighbours stripped the garden and carried off the rare flowers. The other plants became briery and scraggy, and died.
Marius remained only forty-eight hours at Vernon. After the burial, he returned to Paris and went back to his law, thinking no more of his father than if he had never lived. In two days the colonel had been buried, and in three days forgotten.
Marius wore crape on his hat. That was all.
Marius had preserved the religious habits of his childhood. One Sunday he had gone to hear mass at Saint Sulpice, at this same chapel of the Virgin to which his aunt took him when he was a little boy, and being that day more absent-minded and dreamy than usual, he took his place behind a pillar and knelt down, without noticing it, before a Utrecht velvet chair, on the back of which this name was written: Monsieur Mabeuf, church-warden. The mass had hardly commenced when an old man presented himself and said to Marius:
"Monsieur, this is my place."
Marius moved away readily, and the old man took his chair.
After mass, Marius remained absorbed in thought a few steps distant; the old man approached him again and said: "I beg your pardon, monsieur, for having disturbed you a little while ago, and for disturbing you again now; but you must have thought me impertinent, and I must explain myself."
"Monsieur," said Marius, "it is unnecessary."
"Yes!" resumed the old man; "I do not wish you to have a bad opinion of me. You see I think a great deal of that place. It seems to me that the mass is better there. Why? I will tell you. To that place I have seen for ten years, regularly, every two or three months, a poor, brave father come, who had no other opportunity and no other way of seeing his child, being prevented through some family arrangements. He came at the hour when he knew his son was brought to mass. The little one never suspected that his father was here. He did not even know, perhaps, that he had a father, the innocent boy! The father, for his part, kept behind a pillar, so that nobody should see him. He looked at his child, and wept. This poor man worshipped this little boy. I saw that. This place has become sanctified as it were, for me, and I have acquired the habit of coming here to hear mass. I prefer it to the bench, where I have a right to be as a warden. I was even acquainted slightly with this unfortunate gentleman. He had a father-in-law, a rich aunt, relatives, I do not remember exactly, who threatened to disinherit the child if he, the father, should see him. He had sacrificed himself that his son might some day be rich and happy. They were separated by political opinions. Certainly I approve of political opinions, but there are people who do not know where to stop. Bless me! because a man was at Waterloo he is not a monster; a father is not separated from his child for that. He was one of Bonaparte's colonels. He is dead, I believe. He lived at Vernon, where my brother is cure, and his name is something like Pontmarie, Montpercy. He had a handsome sabre cut."
"Pontmercy," said Marius, turning pale.
"Exactly; Pontmercy. Did you know him?"
"Monsieur," said Marius, "he was my father."
The old churchwarden clasped his hands, and exclaimed-
"Ah! you are the child! Yes, that is it; he ought to be a man now Well! poor child, you can say that you had a father who loved you well."
Marius offered his arm to the old man, and walked with him to his house. Next day he said to Monsieur Gillenormand:-
"We have arranged a hunting party with a few friends. Will you permit me to be absent for three days?"
"Four," answered the grandfather; "go; amuse yourself."
And, with a wink he whispered to his daughter-
"Some love affair!"
Where Marius went we shall see a little further on.
Marius was absent three days, then he returned to Paris, went straight to the library of the law-school, and asked for the file of the "Moniteur."
He read the "Moniteur;" he read all the histories of the republic and the empire; the Memorial de Sainte-Helene; all the memoirs, journals, bulletins, proclamations; he devoured everything. The first time he met his father's name in the bulletins of the grand army he had a fever for a whole week. He went to see the generals under whom George Pontmercy had served- among others, Count H. The churchwarden, Mabeuf, whom he had gone to see again, gave him an account of the life at Vernon, the colonel's retreat, his flowers and his solitude. Marius came to understand fully this rare, sublime, and gentle man, this sort of lion-lamb who was his father.
In the meantime, engrossed in this study, which took up all his time, as well as all his thoughts, he hardly saw the Gillenormands more. At the hours of meals he appeared; then when they looked for him, he was gone. The aunt grumbled. The grandfather smiled. "Poh, poh! it is the age for the lasses!" Sometimes the old man added: "The devil! I thought that it was some gallantry. It seems to be a passion."
It was a passion, indeed. Marius was on the way to adoration for his father.
He was full of regret and remorse, and he thought with despair that all he had in his soul he could say now only to a tomb. Oh! if his father were living, if he had had him still, if God in his mercy and in his goodness had permitted that his father might be still alive, how he would have run, how he would have plunged headlong, how he would have cried to his father: "Father! I am here! it is I! my heart is the same as yours! I am your son!" How he would have embraced his white head, wet his hair with tears, gazed upon his scar, pressed his hands, worshipped his garments, kissed his feet! oh! why had this father died so soon, before the adolescence, before the justice, before the love of his son! Marius had a continual sob in his heart which said at every moment: "Alas!" At the same time he became more truly serious, more truly grave, surer of his faith and his thought. Gleams of the true came at every instant to complete his reasoning. It was like an interior growth. He felt a sort of natural aggrandisement which these two new things, his father and his country, brought to him.
As when one has a key, everything opened; he explained to himself what he had hated, he penetrated what he had abhorred; he saw clearly henceforth the providential, divine, and human meaning of the great things which he had been taught to detest, and the great men whom he had been instructed to curse. When he thought of his former opinions, which were only of yesterday, but which seemed so ancient to him already, he became indignant at himself, and he smiled. From the rehabilitation of his father he had naturally passed to the rehabilitation of Napoleon.
However this might be, a great step had been taken. Where he had formerly seen the fall of the monarchy, he now saw the advent of France. His pole-star was changed. What had been the setting, was now the rising of the sun. He had turned around.
All these revolutions were accomplished in him without a suspicion of it in his family.
When, in this mysterious labour, he had entirely cast off his old Bourbon and ultra skin, when he had shed the aristocrat, the Jacobite, and the royalist, when he was fully revolutionary, thoroughly democratic, and almost republican, he went to an engraver on the Quai des Orfevres, and ordered a hundred cards bearing this name: Baron Marius Pontmercy.
This was but a very logical consequence of the change which had taken place in him, a change in which everything gravitated about his father.
However, as he knew nobody, and could not leave his cards at anybody's door, he put them in his pocket.
By another natural consequence, in proportion as he drew nearer to his father, his memory, and the things for which the colonel had fought for twenty-five years, he drew off from his grandfather. As we have mentioned, for a long time M. Gillenormand's capriciousness had been disagreeable to him. There was already between them all the distaste of a serious young man for a frivolous old man. Geront's gaiety shocks and exasperates Werther's melancholy. So long as the same political opinions and the same ideas had been common to them, Marius had met M. Gillenormand by means of them as if upon a bridge. When this bridge fell, the abyss appeared. And then, above all, Marius felt inexpressibly revolted when he thought that M. Gillenormand, from stupid motives, had pitilessly torn him from the colonel, thus depriving the father of the child, and the child of the father.
Through affection and veneration for his father, Marius had almost reached aversion for his grandfather.
Nothing of this, however, as we have said, was betrayed externally. Only he was more and more frigid; laconic at meals, and scarcely ever in the house. When his aunt scolded him for it, he was very mild, and gave as an excuse his studies, courts, examinations, dissertations, etc. The grandfather did not change his infallible diagnosis: "In love? I understand it."
Marius was absent for a while from time to time.
"Where can he go to?" asked the aunt.
On one of these journeys, which were always very short, he went to Montfermeil in obedience to the injunction which his father had left him, and sought for the former sergeant of Waterloo, the innkeeper Thenardier. Thenardier had failed, the inn was closed, and nobody knew what had become of him. While making these researches, Marius was away from the house four days.
"Decidedly," said the grandfather, "he is going astray."
They thought they noticed that he wore something, upon his breast and under his shirt, hung from his neck by a black ribbon.
We have spoken of a lancer.
He was a grand-nephew of M. Gillenormand's on the paternal side, who passed his life away from his family, and far from all domestic hearths in garrison. Lieutenant Theodule Gillenormand fulfilled all the conditions required for what is called a handsome officer. He had "the waist of a girl," a way of trailing the victorious sabre, and a curling mustache. He came to Paris very rarely, so rarely that Marius had never seen him. The two cousins knew each other only by name. Theodule was, we think we have mentioned, the favourite of Aunt Gillenormand, who preferred him because she did not see him. Not seeing people permits us to imagine in them every perfection.
One morning, Mlle. Gillenormand the elder had retired to her room as much excited as her placidity allowed. Marius had asked his grandfather again for permission to make a short journey, adding that he intended to set out that evening. "Go!" the grandfather had answered, and M. Gillenormand had added aside, lifting his eyebrows to the top of his forehead: "He is getting to be an old offender." Mlle. Gillenormand had returned to her room very much perplexed, dropping this exclamation point on the stairs: "That is pretty!" and this interrogation point: "But where can he be going?" She imagined some more or less illicit affair of the heart, a woman in the shadow, a rendezvous, a mystery, and she would not have been sorry to thrust her spectacles into it. The taste of a mystery resembles the first freshness of a slander; holy souls never despise that. There is in the secret compartments of bigotry some curiosity for scandal.
She was therefore a prey to a blind desire for learning a story.
As a diversion from this curiosity which was giving her a little more agitation than she allowed herself, she took refuge in her talents, and began to festoon cotton upon cotton, in one of those embroideries of the time of the empire and the restoration in which a great many cab wheels appear. Clumsy work, crabbed worker. She had been sitting in her chair for some hours when the door opened. Mlle. Gillenormand raised her eyes; Lieutenant Theodule was before her making the regulation bow. She uttered a cry of pleasure. You may be old, you may be a prude, you may be a bigot, you may be his aunt, but it is always pleasant to see a lancer enter your room.
"You here, Theodule!" exclaimed she.
"On my way, aunt."
"Embrace me then."
"Here goes!" said Theodule.
And he embraced her. Aunt Gillenormand went to her secretary, and opened it.
"You stay with us at least all the week?"
"Aunt, I leave this evening."
"Stay, my dear Theodule, I beg you."
"The heart says yes, but my orders say no. The story is simple. Our station is changed; we were at Melun, we are sent to Gaillon. To go from the old station to the new, we must pass through Paris. I said: I am going to go and see my aunt."
"Take this for your pains."
She put ten louis into his hand.
"You mean for my pleasure, dear aunt."
Theodule embraced her a second time, and she had the happiness of having her neck a little chafed by the braid of his uniform.
"Do you make the journey on horseback with your regiment?" she asked.
"No, aunt. I wanted to see you. I have a special permit. My servant takes my horse; I go by the diligence. And, speaking of that, I have a question to ask you."
"My cousin, Marius Pontmercy, is travelling also, is he?"
"How do you know that?" exclaimed the aunt, her curiosity suddenly excited to the quick.
"On my arrival, I went to the diligence to secure my place in the coupe."
"A traveler had already secured a place on the imperiale. I saw his name on the book."
"The wicked fellow!" exclaimed the aunt. "Ah! your cousin is not a steady boy like you. To think that he is going to spend the night in a diligence."
"But for you, it is from duty; for him, it is from dissipation."
"What is the odds?" said Theodule.
Here, an event occurred in the life of Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder; she had an idea. If she had been a man, she would have slapped her forehead. She apostrophised Theodule:
"Are you sure that your cousin does not know you?"
"Yes. I have seen him; but he has never deigned to notice me."
"And you are going to travel together so?"
"He on the imperiale, I in the coupe."
"Where does this diligence go?"
"To Les Andelys."
"Is there where Marius is going?"
"Unless, like me, he stops on the road. I get off at Vernon to take the branch for Gaillon. I know nothing of Marius's route."
"Marius! what an ugly name! What an idea it was to name him Marius! But you at least your name is Theodule!"
"I would rather it were Alfred," said the officer.
"I am listening, aunt."
"I am paying attention."
"Are you ready?"
"Well, Marius is often away."
"He sleeps away."
"We want to know what is at the bottom of it."
Theodule answered with the calmness of a man of bronze:
And with that stifled chuckle which reveals certainty, he added:
"That is clear," exclaimed the aunt, who thought she heard Monsieur Gillenormand speak, and who felt her conviction spring irresistibly from this word lass, uttered almost in the same tone by the grand-uncle and the grand-nephew. She resumed:
"Do us a kindness. Follow Marius a little way. He does not know you, it will be easy for you. Since there is a lass, try to see the lass. You can write us the account. It will amuse grandfather."
Theodule had no excessive taste for this sort of watching; but he was much affected by the ten louis, and he thought he saw a possible succession of them. He accepted the commission and said: "As you please, aunt." And he added aside: "There I am, a duenna."
Mademoiselle Gillenormand embraced him.
"You would not play such pranks, Theodule. You are obedient to discipline, you are the slave of your orders, you are a scrupulous and dutiful man, and you would not leave your family to go to see such a creature."
The lancer put on the satisfied grimace of Cartouche praised for his honesty.
Marius, on the evening which followed this dialogue, mounted the diligence without suspecting that he was watched. As to the watchman, the first thing that he did, was to fall asleep. His slumber was sound and indicated a clear conscience. Argus snored all night.
At daybreak, the driver of the diligence shouted: "Vernon! Vernon relay! passengers for Vernon?" And Lieutenant Theodule awoke.
"Good," growled he, half asleep, "here I get off."
Then, his memory clearing up by degrees, an effect of awakening, he remembered his aunt; the ten louis, and the account he was to render of Marius's acts and deeds. It made him laugh.
"Perhaps he has left the coach," thought he, while he buttoned up his undress waistcoat. "He may have stopped at Poissy; he may have stopped at Triel; if he did not get off at Meulan, he may have got off at Mantes, unless he got off at Rolleboise, or unless he only came to Pacy, with the choice of turning to the left towards Evreux, or to the right towards Laroche Guyon. Run after him, aunt. What the devil shall I write to her, the good old woman?"
At this moment a pair of black pantaloons getting down from the imperiale, appeared before the window of the coupe.
"Can that be Marius?" said the lieutenant.
It was Marius.
A little peasant girl, beside the coach, among the horses and postillions, was offering flowers to the passengers. "Flowers for your ladies," cried she.
Marius approached her and bought the most beautiful flowers in her basket.
"Now," said Theodule leaping down from the coach, "there is
something that interests me. Who the deuce is he going to carry
those flowers to? It ought to be a mighty pretty woman for so fine a
bouquet. I would like to see her."
And, no longer now by command, but from personal curiosity, like
those dogs who hunt on their own account, he began to follow Marius.
Marius paid no attention to Theodule. Some elegant women got out
of the diligence; he did not look at them. He seemed to see nothing
"Is he in love?" thought Theodule.
Marius walked towards the church.
"All right," said Theodule to himself. "The church! that is it.
These rendezvous which are spiced with a bit of mass are the best of
all. Nothing is so exquisite as an ogle which passes across the good
Arriving at the church, Marius did not go in, but went behind the
building. He disappeared at the corner of one of the buttresses of the
"The rendezvous is outside," said Theodule. "Let us see the lass." And he advanced on tiptoes towards the corner which Marius had
On reaching it, he stopped, astounded. Marius, his face hid in his hands, was kneeling in the grass, upon a grave. He had scattered his bouquet. At the end of the grave, at an elevation which marked the head, there was a black wooden cross, with this name in white letters: COLONEL BARON PONTMERCY. He heard Marius sobbing.
The lass was a tomb.
It was here that Marius had come the first time that he absented himself from Paris. It was here that he returned every time that M. Gillenormand said: he sleeps out.
Lieutenant Theodule was absolutely disconcerted by this unexpected encounter with a sepulchre; he experienced a disagreeable and singular sensation which he was incapable of analysing, and which was made up of respect for a tomb mingled with respect for a colonel. He retreated, leaving Marius alone in the churchyard, and there was something of discipline in this retreat. Death appeared to him with huge epaulets, and he gave him almost a military salute. Not knowing what to write to his aunt, he decided to write nothing at all; and probably nothing would have resulted from the discovery made by Theodule in regard to Marius' amours, had not, by one of those mysterious arrangements so frequently accidental, the scene at Vernon been almost immediately followed by a sort of counter-blow at Paris.
Marius returned from Vernon early in the morning of the third day, was set down at his grandfather's, and, fatigued by the two nights passed in the diligence, feeling the need of making up for his lack of sleep by an hour at the swimming school, ran quickly up to his room, took only time enough to lay off his travelling coat and the black ribbon which he wore about his neck, and went away to the bath.
M. Gillenormand, who had risen early like all old persons who are in good health, had heard him come in, and hastened as fast as he could with his old legs, to climb to the top of the stairs where Marius' room was, that he might embrace him, question him while embracing him, and find out something about where he came from.
But the youth had taken less time to go down than the octogenarian to go up, and when Grandfather Gillenormand entered the garret room, Marius was no longer there.
The bed was not disturbed, and upon the bed were displayed with out distrust the coat and the black ribbon.
"I like that better," said M. Gillenormand.
And a moment afterwards he entered the parlour where Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder was already seated, embroidering her cabwheels.
The entrance was triumphal.
M. Gillenormand held in one hand the coat and in the other the neck ribbon, and cried:
"Victory! We are going to penetrate the mystery! we shall know the end of the end, we shall feel of the libertinism of our trickster! here we are with the romance even. I have the portrait!"
In fact, a black shagreen box, much like to a medallion, was fastened to the ribbon.
The old man took this box and looked at it some time without opening it, with that air of desire, ravishment, and anger, with which a hungry devil sees an excellent dinner pass under his nose, when it is not for him.
"For it is evidently a portrait. I know all about that. This is worn tenderly upon the heart. What fools they are! Some abominable queen, enough to make one shudder probably! Young folks have such bad taste in these days."
"Let us see, father," said the old maid.
The box opened by pressing a spring. They found nothing in it but a piece of paper carefully folded.
"From the same to the same," said M. Gillenormand, bursting with laughter. "I know what that is. A love-letter!"
"Ah! then let us read it!" said the aunt.
And she put on her spectacles. They unfolded the paper and read this:
"For my son.- The emperor made me a baron upon the battlefield of Waterloo. Since the restoration contests this title which I have bought with my blood, my son will take it and bear it. I need not say that he will be worthy of it."
The feelings of the father and daughter cannot be described. They felt chilled as by the breath of a death's head. They did not exchange a word. M. Gillenormand, however, said in a low voice, and as if talking to himself:
"It is the handwriting of that sabrer."
The aunt examined the paper, turned it on all sides, then put it back in the box.
Just at that moment, a little oblong package, wrapped in blue paper, fell from a pocket of the coat. Mademoiselle Gillenormand picked it up and unfolded the blue paper. It was Marius' hundred cards. She passed one of them to M. Gillenormand, who read: Baron Marius Pontmercy.
The old man rang. Nicolette came. M. Gillenormand took the ribbon, the box, and the coat, threw them all on the floor in the middle of the parlour, and said:
"Take away those things."
A full hour passed in complete silence. The old man and the old maid sat with their backs turned to one another, and were probably, each on their side, thinking over the same things. At the end of that hour aunt Gillenormand said:
A few minutes afterwards, Marius made his appearance. He came in. Even before crossing the threshold of the parlour, he perceived his grandfather holding one of his cards in his hand, who, on seeing him, exclaimed with his crushing air of sneering, bourgeois superiority:
"Stop! stop! stop! stop! stop! you are a baron now. I present you my compliments. What does this mean?"
Marius coloured slightly, and answered:
"It means that I am my father's son."
M. Gillenormand checked his laugh, and said harshly:
"Your father; I am your father."
"My father," resumed Marius with downcast eyes and stern manner, "was a humble and heroic man, who served the republic and France gloriously, who was great in the greatest history that men have ever made, who lived a quarter of a century in the camp, by day under grape and under balls, by night in the snow, in the mud, and in the rain, who captured colours, who received twenty wounds, who died forgotten and abandoned, and who had but one fault; that was in loving too dearly two ingrates, his country and me."
This was more than M. Gillenormand could listen to. At the word, Republic, he rose, or rather, sprang to his feet. Every one of the words which Marius had pronounced, had produced the effect upon the old royalist's face, of a blast from a bellows upon a burning coal. From dark he had become red, from red purple, and from purple glowing.
"Marius!" exclaimed he, "abominable child! I don't know what your father was! I don't want to know! I know nothing about him and I don't know him! but what I do know is, that there was never anything but miserable wretches among all that rabble! that they were all beggars, assassins, red caps, thieves! I say all! I say all! I know nobody! I say all! do you hear, Marius? Look you, indeed, you are as much a baron as my slipper! they were all bandits who served Robespierre! all brigands who served B-u-o-naparte! all traitors who betrayed, betrayed, betrayed! their legitimate king! all cowards who ran from the Prussians and English at Waterloo! That is what I know. If your father is among them I don't know him, I am sorry for it, so much the worse, your servant!"
In his turn, Marius now became the coal, and M. Gillenormand the bellows. Marius shuddered in every limb, he knew not what to do, his head burned. He was the priest who sees all his wafers thrown to the winds, the fakir who sees a passer-by spit upon his idol. He could not allow such things to be said before him unanswered. But what could he do? His father had been trodden under foot and stamped upon in his presence, but by whom? by his grandfather. How should he avenge the one without outraging the other? It was impossible for him to insult his grandfather, and it was equally impossible for him not to avenge his father. On one hand a sacred tomb, on the other white hairs. He was for a few moments dizzy and staggering with all this whirlwind in his head; then he raised his eyes, looked straight at his grandfather, and cried in a thundering voice:
"Down with the Bourbons, and the great hog Louis XVIII.!"
Louis XVIII. had been dead for four years; but it was all the same to him.
The old man, scarlet as he was, suddenly became whiter than his hair. He turned towards a bust of the Duke de Berry which stood upon the mantel, and bowed to it profoundly with a sort of peculiar majesty. Then he walked twice, slowly and in silence, from the fireplace to the window and from the window to the fireplace, traversing the whole length of the room and making the floor crack as if an image of stone were walking over it. The second time, he bent towards his daughter, who was enduring the shock with the stupor of an aged sheep, and said to her with a smile that was almost calm:
"A baron like Monsieur and a bourgeois like me cannot remain under the same roof."
And all at once straightening up, pallid, trembling, terrible, his forehead swelling with the fearful radiance of anger, he stretched his arm towards Marius and cried to him:
Marius left the house.
The next day, M. Gillenormand said to his daughter:
"You will send sixty pistoles every six months to this blood-drinker, and never speak of him to me again."
Having an immense residuum of fury to expend, and not knowing what to do with it, he spoke to his daughter with coldness for more than three months.
Marius, for his part, departed in indignation. A circumstance, which we must mention, had aggravated his exasperation still more. There are always such little fatalities complicating domestic dramas. Feelings are embittered by them, although in reality the faults are none the greater. In hurriedly carrying away, at the old man's command, Marius' "things" to his room, Nicolette had, without perceiving it, dropped, probably on the garret stairs, which were dark, the black shagreen medallion which contained the paper written by the colonel. Neither the paper nor the medallion could be found. Marius was convinced that "Monsieur Gillenormand"- from that day forth he never named him otherwise- had thrown "his father's will" into the fire. He knew by heart the few lines written by the colonel, and consequently nothing was lost. But the paper, the writing, that sacred relic, all that was his heart itself. What had been done with it?
Marius went away without saying where he was going, and without knowing where he was going, with thirty francs, his watch, and a few clothes in a carpet bag. He hired a cabriolet by the hour, jumped in, and drove at random towards the Latin quarter.
What was Marius to do?
At that period, apparently indifferent, something of a revolutionary thrill was vaguely felt. Whispers coming from the depths of '89 and of '92 were in the air. Young Paris was, excuse the expression, in the process of moulting. People were transformed almost without suspecting it, by the very movement of the time. The hand which moves over the dial moves also among souls. Each one took the step forward which was before him. Royalists became liberals, liberals became democrats.
At that time there were not yet in France any of those underlying organisations like the German Tugenbund and the Italian Carbonari; but here and there obscure excavations were branching out. La Cougourde was assuming form at Aix; there was in Paris, among other affiliations of this kind, the Society of the Friends of the A B C.
Who were the Friends of the A B C? A society having as its aim, in appearance, the education of children; in reality, the elevation of men.
They declared themselves the Friends of the A B C. (Pronounced ah-bay-say, exactly like the French word, abaisee)
The abaisse [the abased] were the people. They wished to raise them up.
The Friends of the A B C were not numerous, it was a secret society in the embryonic state; we should almost say a coterie, if coteries produced heroes. They met in Paris, at two places, near the Halles, in a wine shop called Corinthe, which will be referred to hereafter, and near the Pantheon, in a little coffeehouse on the Place Saint Michel, called Le Cafe Musain, now torn down; the first of these two places of rendezvous was near the working-men, the second near the students.
The ordinary conventicles of the Friends of the A B C were held in a back room of the Cafe Musain.
This room, quite distant from the cafe, with which it communicated by a very long passage, had two windows, and an exit by a private stairway upon the little Rue des Gris. They smoked, drank, played, and laughed there. They talked very loud about everything, and in whispers about something else. On the wall was nailed, an indication sufficient to awaken the suspicion of a police officer, an old map of France under the republic.
Most of the Friends of the A B C were students, in thorough understanding with a few working-men. The names of the principal are as follows. They belong to a certain extent to history; Enjolras, Combeferre, Jean Prouvaire, Feuilly, Courfeyrac, Bahorel, Lesgle or Laigle, Joly, Grataire.
These young men constituted a sort of family among themselves, by force of friendship. All except Laigle were from the South.
This was a remarkable group. It has vanished into the invisible depths which are behind us. At the point of this drama which we have now reached, it may not be useless to throw a ray of light upon these young heads before the reader sees them sink into the shadow of a tragic fate.
Enjolras, whom we have named first, the reason why will be seen by-and-by, was an only son and was rich.
Enjolras was a charming young man, who was capable of being terrible. He was angelically beautiful. He was Antinous wild. You would have said, to see the thoughtful reflection of his eye, that he had already, in some preceding existence, passed through the revolutionary apocalypse. He had the tradition of it like an eye-witness. He knew all the little details of the grand thing, a pontifical and warrior nature, strange in a youth. He was officiating and militant; from the immediate point of view, a soldier of democracy; above the movement of the time, a priest of the ideal. He had a deep eye, lids a little red, thick under lip, easily becoming disdainful, and a high forehead. Much forehead in a face is like much sky in a horizon. Like certain young men of the beginning of this century and the end of the last century, who became illustrious in early life, he had an exceedingly youthful look, as fresh as a young girl's, although he had hours of pallor. He was now a man, but he seemed a child still. His twenty-two years of age appeared seventeen; he was serious, he did not seem to know that there was on the earth a being called woman. He had but one passion, the right; but one thought, to remove all obstacles.
Beside Enjolras who represented the logic of the revolution, Combeferre represented its philosophy. Between the logic of the revolution and its philosophy, there is this difference- that its logic could conclude with war, while its philosophy could only end in peace. Combeferre completed and corrected Enjolras. He was lower and broader. His desire was to instil into all minds the broad principles of general ideas; he said "Revolution, but civilisation;" and about the steep mountain he spread the vast blue horizon. Hence, in all Combeferre's views, there was something attainable and practicable. Revolution with Combeferre was more respirable than with Enjolras. Enjolras expressed its divine right, and Combeferre its natural right. The first went as far as Robespierre; the second stopped at Condorcet. Combeferre more than Enjolras lived the life of the world generally. Had it been given to these two young men to take a place in history, one would have been the upright man, the other would have been the wise man. Enjolras was more manly. Combeferre was more humane.
Enjolras was the chief, Combeferre was the guide, Courfeyrac was the centre. The others gave more light, he gave more heat; the truth is, that he had all the qualities of a centre, roundness and radiance.
On a certain afternoon, which had, as we shall see, some coincidence with events before related, Laigle de Meaux was leaning lazily back against the doorway of the Cafe Musain. He had the appearance of a caryatid in vacation; he was supporting nothing but his reverie. He was looking at the Place Saint Michel. Leaning back is a way of lying down standing which is not disliked by dreamers. Laigle de Meaux was thinking, without melancholy, of a little mishap which had befallen him the day before at the law school, and which modified his personal plans for the future- plans which were, moreover, rather indefinite.
Reverie does not hinder a cabriolet from going by, nor the dreamer from noticing the cabriolet. Laigle de Meaux, whose eyes were wandering in a sort of general stroll, perceived, through all his somnambulism, a two-wheeled vehicle turning into the square, which was moving at a walk, as if undecided. What did this cabriolet want? why was it moving at a walk? Laigle looked at it. There was inside, beside the driver, a young man, and before the young man, a large carpet-bag. The bag exhibited to the passers this name, written in big black letters upon a card sewed to the cloth: MARIUS PONTMERCY.
This name changed Laigle's attitude. He straightened up and addressed this apostrophe to the young man in the cabriolet:
"Monsieur Marius Pontmercy?"
The cabriolet, thus called upon, stopped.
The young man, who also seemed to be profoundly musing, raised his eyes.
"Well?" said he.
"You are Monsieur Marius Pontmercy?"
"I was looking for you," said Laigle de Meaux.
"How is that?" inquired Marius; for he it was, in fact he had just left his grandfather's, and he had before him a face which he saw for the first time. "I do not know you."
"Nor I either. I do not know you," answered Laigle.
Marius thought he had met a buffoon, and that this was the beginning of a mystification in the middle of the street. He was not in a pleasant humour just at that moment. He knit his brows; Laigle de Meaux, imperturbable, continued:
"You were not at school yesterday."
"It is possible."
"It is certain."
"You are a student?" inquired Marius.
"Yes, Monsieur. Like you. The day before yesterday I happened to go into the school. You know, one sometimes has such notions. The professor was about to call the roll. You know that they are very ridiculous just at that time. If you miss the third call, they erase your name. Sixty francs gone."
Marius began to listen. Laigle continued:
"It was Blondeau who was calling the roll.
Suddenly, Blondeau calls Marius Pontmercy; nobody answers. Blondeau, full of hope, repeats louder: Marius Pontmercy? And he seizes his pen.
Monsieur, I have bowels. I said to myself rapidly: Here is a brave fellow who is going to be erased. Attention. This is a real live fellow who is not punctual. He is not a good boy. He is not a book-worm a student who studies, a white-billed pedant, strong on science, letters, theology, and wisdom, one of those numskulls drawn out with four pins; a pin for each faculty. He is an honourable idler who loafs, who likes to rusticate, who cultivates the grisette, who pays his court to beauty, who is perhaps, at this very moment, with my mistress. Let us save him.
Death to Blondeau! At that moment Blondeau dipped his pen, black with erasures, into the ink cast his tawny eye over the room, and repeated for the third time: Marius Pontmercy! I answered: Present! In that way you were not erased."
"Monsieur!-" said Marius.
"And I was," added Laigle de Meaux.
"I do not understand you," said Marius.
"Nothing more simple. I was near the chair to answer, and near the door to escape. The professor was looking at me with a certain fixedness. Suddenly, Blondeau, who must be the malignant nose of which Boileau speaks, leaps to the letter L. L is my letter; I am of Meaux, and my name is Lesgle."
"L'Aigle!" interrupted Marius, "what a fine name."
"Monsieur, the Blondeau re-echoes this fine name and cries: 'Laigle!' I answer: Present! Then Blondeau looks at me with the gentleness of a tiger, smiles, and says: If you are Pontmercy, you are not Laigle. A phrase which is uncomplimentary to you, but which brought me only to grief. So saying, he erases me."
"I am very sorry-"
"Young man," said Laigle of Meaux, "let this be a lesson to you. In future, be punctual."
"I really must give a thousand excuses."
"Never expose yourself again to having your neighbour erased."
"I am very sorry."
Laigle burst out laughing.
"And I, in raptures; I was on the brink of being a lawyer. This rupture saves me. I renounce the triumphs of the bar. I shall not defend the widow, and I shall not attack the orphan. No more toga, no more probation. Here is my erasure obtained. It is to you that I owe it, Monsieur Pontmercy. I intend to pay you a solemn visit of thanks. Where do you live?"
"In this cabriolet," said Marius.
"A sign of opulence," replied Laigle calmly. "I congratulate you. You have here rent of nine thousand francs a year."
Just then Courfeyrac came out of the cafe.
Marius smiled sadly.
"I have been paying this rent for two hours, and I hope to get out of it; but, it is the usual story, I do not know where to go."
"Monsieur," said Courfeyrac, "come home with me."
Courfeyrac got into the cabriolet.
"Driver," said he, "Hotel de la Porte Saint Jacques."
And that same evening, Marius was installed in a room at the Hotel de la Porte Saint Jacques, side by side with Courfeyrac.
In a few days, Marius was the friend of Courfeyrac. Youth is the season of prompt weldings and rapid cicatrisations. Marius, in Courfeyrac's presence, breathed freely, a new thing for him. Courfeyrac asked him no questions. He did not even think of it. At that age, the countenance tells all at once. Speech is useless. There are some young men of whom we might say their physiognomies are talkative. They look at one another, they know one another.
One morning, however, Courfeyrac abruptly put this question to him.
"By the way, have you any political opinions?"
"What do you mean?" said Marius, almost offended at the question.
"What are you?"
"Grey shade of quiet mouse colour," said Courfeyrac.
The next day, Courfeyrac introduced Marius to the Cafe Musain. Then he whispered in his ear with a smile: "I must give you your admission into the revolution." And he took him into the room of the Friends of the A B C. He presented him to the other members, saying in an undertone this simple word which Marius did not understand: "A pupil."
Marius had fallen into a mental wasps' nest. Still, although silent and serious, he was not the less winged, nor the less armed.
Marius, up to this time solitary and inclined to soliloquy and privacy by habit and by taste, was a little bewildered at this flock of young men about him. All these different progressives attacked him at once, and perplexed him. The tumultuous sweep and sway of all these minds at liberty and at work set his ideas in a whirl. Sometimes, in the confusion, they went so far from him that he had some difficulty in finding them again. He heard talk of philosophy, of literature, of art, of history, of religion, in a style he had not looked for. He caught glimpses of strange appearances; and, as he did not bring them into perspective, he was not sure that it was not a chaos that he saw. On abandoning his grandfather's opinions for his father's, he had thought himself settled; he now suspected, with anxiety, and without daring to confess it to himself, that he was not. The angle under which he saw all things was beginning to change anew. A certain oscillation shook the whole horizon of his brain. A strange internal moving-day. He almost suffered from it.
In this trouble in which his mind was plunged he scarcely gave a thought to certain serious phases of existence. The realities of life do not allow themselves to be forgotten. They came and jogged his memory sharply.
One morning, the keeper of the house entered Marius' room, and said to him:
"Monsieur Courfeyrac is responsible for you."
"But I am in need of money."
"Ask Courfeyrac to come and speak with me," said Marius.
Courfeyrac came; the host left them. Marius related to him what he had not thought of telling him before, that he was, so to speak, alone in the world, without any relatives.
"What are you going to become?" said Courfeyrac.
"I have no idea," answered Marius.
"What are you going to do?"
"I have no idea."
"Have you any money?"
"Do you wish me to lend you some?"
"Have you any clothes?"
"What you see."
"Have you any jewellery?"
"A silver one?"
"Gold, here it is."
"I know a dealer in clothing who will take your overcoat and one pair of trousers."
"That is good."
"You will then have but one pair of trousers, one waistcoat, one hat, and one coat."
"And my boots."
"What? you will not go barefoot? what opulence!"
"That will be enough."
"I know a watchmaker who will buy your watch."
"That is good."
"No, it is not good. What will you do afterwards?"
"What I must. Anything honourable at least."
"Do you know English?"
"Do you know German?"
"That is bad."
"Because a friend of mine, a bookseller, is making a sort of encyclopaedia, for which you could have translated German or English articles. It is poor pay, but it gives a living."
"I will learn English and German."
"And in the meantime?"
"In the meantime I will eat my coats and my watch."
The clothes dealer was sent for. He gave twenty francs for the clothes. They went to the watchmaker. He gave forty-five francs for the watch.
"That is not bad," said Marius to Courfeyrac, on returning to the house; "with my fifteen francs, this makes eighty francs."
"The hotel bill?" observed Courfeyrac.
"Ah! I forgot," said Marius.
The host presented his bill, which must be paid on the spot. It amounted to seventy francs.
"I have ten francs left," said Marius.
"The devil," said Courfeyrac, "you will have five francs to eat while you are learning English, and five francs while you are learning German. That will be swallowing a language very rapidly or a hundred-sous piece very slowly."
Meanwhile Aunt Gillenormand, who was really a kind person on sad occasions, had finally unearthed Marius' lodgings.
One morning when Marius came home from the school, he found a letter from the school, he found a letter from his aunt, and the sixty pistoles, that is to say, six hundred francs it, gold, in a sealed box.
Marius sent the thirty louis back to his aunt, with a respectful letter, in which he told her that he had the means of living, and that he could provide henceforth for all his necessities. At that time he had three francs left.
The aunt did not inform the grandfather of this refusal, lest she should exasperate him. Indeed, had he not said: "Let nobody ever speak to me of this blood-drinker?"
Marius left the Porte Saint Jacques Hotel, unwilling to contract debt.
Life became stern to Marius. To eat his coats and his watch was nothing. He chewed that inexpressible thing which is called the cud of bitterness. A horrible thing, which includes days without bread, nights without sleep, evenings without a candle, a hearth without a fire, weeks without labour, a future without hope, a coat out at the elbows, an old hat which makes young girls laugh, the door found shut against you at night because you have not paid your rent, the insolence of the porter and the landlord, the jibes of neighbours, humiliations, self-respect outraged, any drudgery acceptable, disgust, bitterness, prostration- Marius learned how one swallows down all these things, and how they are often the only things that one has to swallow. At that period of existence, when man has need of pride, because he has need of love, be felt that he was mocked at because he was badly dressed, and ridiculed because he was poor. At the age when youth swells the heart with an imperial pride, he more than once dropped his eyes upon his worn-out boots, and experienced the undeserved shame and the poignant blushes of misery. Wonderful and terrible trial, from which the feeble come out infamous, from which the strong come out sublime. Crucible into which destiny casts a man whenever she desires a scoundrel or a demi-god.
For there are many great deeds done in the small struggles of life. There is a determined though unseen bravery, which defends itself foot to foot in the darkness against the fatal invasions of necessity and of baseness. Noble and mysterious triumphs which no eye sees, which no renown rewards. which no flourish of triumph salutes. Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields which have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes.
Strong and rare natures are thus created; misery, almost always a step-mother, is sometimes a mother; privation gives birth to power of soul and mind; distress is the nurse of self-respect; misfortune is a good breast for great souls.
There was a period in Marius' life when he swept his own hall, when he bought a pennyworth of Brie cheese at the market-woman's, when he waited for nightfall to make his way to the baker's and buy a loaf of bread, which he carried furtively to his garret, as if he had stolen it. Sometimes there was seen to glide into the corner meat-market, in the midst of the jeering cooks who elbowed him, an awkward young man, with books under his arm, who had a timid and frightened appearance, and who, as he entered, took off his hat from his forehead, which was dripping with sweat, made a low bow to the astonished butcher, another bow to the butcher's boy, asked for a mutton cutlet, paid six or seven sous for it, wrapped it up in paper, put it under his arm between two books, and went away. It was Marius. On this cutlet, which he cooked himself, he lived three days.
The first day he ate the meat; the second day he ate the fat; the third day he gnawed the bone. On several occasions, Aunt Gillenormand made overtures, and sent him the sixty pistoles. Marius always sent them back, saying that he had no need of anything.
He was still in mourning for his father, when the revolution which we have described was accomplished in his ideas. Since then, he had never left off black clothes. His clothes left him, however. A day came, at last, when he had no coat. His trousers were going also. What was to be done? Courfeyrac, for whom he also had done some good turns, gave him an old coat. For thirty sous, Marius had it turned by some porter or other, and it was a new coat. But this coat was green. Then Marius did not go out till after night fall. That made his coat black. Desiring always to be in mourning, he clothed himself with night.
Through all this, he procured admission to the bar. He was reputed to occupy Courfeyrac's room, which was decent, and where a certain number of law books, supported and filled out by some odd volumes of novels, made up the library required by the rules.
When Marius had become a lawyer, he informed his grandfather of it, in a letter which was frigid, but full of submission and respect. M. Gillenormand took the letter with trembling hands, read it, and threw it, torn in pieces, into the basket. Two or three days afterwards, Mademoiselle Gillenormand overheard her father, who was alone in his room, talking aloud. This was always the case when he was much excited. She listened: the old man said: "If you were not a fool, you would know that a man cannot be a baron and a lawyer at the same time."
It is with misery as with everything else. It gradually becomes endurable. It ends by taking form and becoming fixed. You vegetate, that is to say you develop in some wretched fashion, but sufficient for existence. This is the way in which Marius Pontmercy's life was arranged. He had got out of the narrowest place; the pass widened a little before him. By dint of hard work, courage, perseverance, and will, he had succeeded in earning by his labour about seven hundred francs a year. He had learned German and English; thanks to Courfeyrac, who introduced him to his friend the publisher, Marius filled, in the literary department of the bookhouse, the useful role of utility. He made out prospectuses, translated from the journals, annotated republications, compiled biographies, etc., net result, year in and year out, seven hundred francs. He lived on this. How? Not badly. We are going to tell.
Marius occupied, at an annual rent of thirty francs, a wretched little room in the Gorbeau tenement, with no fireplace, called a cabinet, in which there was no more furniture than was indispensable. The furniture was his own. He gave three francs a month to the old woman who had charge of the building, for sweeping his room and bringing him every morning a little warm water, a fresh egg, and penny loaf of bread. On this loaf and this egg he breakfasted. His breakfast varied from two or four sous, as eggs were cheap or dear. At six o'clock in the evening he went down into the Rue Saint Jacques, to dine at Rousseau's, opposite Basset's the print dealer's, at the corner of the Rue des Mathurins. He ate no soup. He took a sixpenny plate of meat, a threepenny half-plate of vegetables, and a threepenny dessert. For three sous, as much bread as he liked. As for wine, he drank water. On paying at the counter, where Madame Rousseau was seated majestically, still plump and fresh also in those days, he gave a sou to the waiter, and Madame Rousseau gave him a smile. Then he went away. For sixteen sous, he had a smile and a dinner.
This Rousseau restaurant, where so few bottles and so many pitchers were emptied, was rather an appeasant than a restorant. It is not kept now. The master had a fine title; he was called Rosseau the Aquatic.
Thus, breakfast four sous, dinner sixteen sous, his food cost him twenty sous a day, which was three hundred and sixty-five francs a year. Add the thirty francs for his lodging, and the thirty-six francs to the old woman, and a few other trifling expenses, and for four hundred and fifty francs, Marius was fed, lodged, and waited upon. His clothes cost him a hundred francs, his linen fifty francs, his washing fifty francs; the whole did not exceed six hundred and fifty francs. This left him fifty francs. He was rich. He occasionally, lent ten francs to a friend. Courfeyrac borrowed sixty francs of him once. As for fire, having no fireplace, Marius had "simplified" it.
Marius always had two complete suits, one old "for every day," the other quite new, for special occasions. Both were black. He had but three shirts, one he had on, another in the drawer, the third at the washerwoman's. He renewed them as they wore out. They were usually ragged, so he buttoned his coat to his chin.
For Marius to arrive at this flourishing condition had required years. Hard years, and difficult ones; those to get through, these to climb. Marius had never given up for a single day. He had undergone everything, in the shape of privation; he had done everything, except get into debt. He gave himself this credit, that he had never owed a sou to anybody. For him a debt was the beginning of slavery. He felt even that a creditor is worse than a master; for a master owns only your person, a creditor owns your dignity and can belabour that. Rather than borrow, he did not eat. He had had many days of fasting. Feeling that all extremes meet, and that if we do not take care, abasement of fortune may lead to baseness of soul, he watched jealously over his pride. Such a habit or such a carriage as, in any other condition, would have appeared deferential, seemed humiliating and he braced himself against it. He risked nothing, not wishing to take a backward step. He had a kind of stern blush upon his face. He was timid even to rudeness.
In all his trials he felt encouraged and sometimes even upborne by a secret force within. The soul helps the body, and at certain moments uplifts it. It is the only bird which sustains its cage.
By the side of his father's name, another name was engraven upon Marius' heart, the name of Thenardier. Marius, in his enthusiastic yet serious nature, surrounded with a sort of halo the man to whom, as he thought, he owed his father's life, that brave sergeant who had saved the colonel in the midst of the balls and bullets of Waterloo. He never separated the memory of this man from the memory of his father, and he associated them in his veneration. It was a sort of worship with two steps, the high altar for the colonel, the low one for Thenardier. The idea of the misfortune into which he knew that Thenardier had fallen and been engulfed, intensified his feeling of gratitude. Marius had learned at Montfermeil of the ruin and bankruptcy of the unlucky innkeeper. Since then, he had made untold effort to get track of him, and to endeavor to find him, in that dark abyss of misery in which Thenardier had disappeared. Marius had beaten the whole country; he had been to Chelles, to Bondy, to Gournay, to Nogent, to Lagny. For three years he had been devoted to this, spending in these explorations what little money he could spare. Nobody could give him any news of Thenardier; it was thought he had gone abroad. His creditors had sought for him, also, with less love than Marius, but with as much zeal, and had not been able to put their hands on him. Marius blamed and almost hated himself for not succeeding in his researches. This was the only debt which the colonel had left him, and Marius made it a point of honour to pay it. "What," thought he, "when my father lay dying on the field of battle, Thenardier could find him through the smoke and the grape, and bring him off on his shoulders, and yet he owed him nothing; while I, who owe so much to Thenardier, I cannot reach him in that darkness in which he is suffering, and restore him, in my turn, from death to life. Oh! I will find him!" Indeed, to find Thenardier, Marius would have given one of his arms, and to save him from his wretchedness, all his blood. To see Thenardier, to render some service to Thenardier, to say to him- "You do not know me, but I do know you. Here I am, dispose of me!" This was the sweetest and most magnificent dream of Marius.
It was Marius' delight to take long walks alone on the outer boulevards, or in the Champ de Mars, or in the less frequented walks of the Luxembourg. He sometimes spent half a day in looking at a vegetable garden, at the beds of salad, the fowls on the dung-heap, and the horse turning the wheel of the pump. The passers-by looked at him with surprise, and some thought that he had a suspicious appearance and an ill-omened manner. He was only a poor young man, dreaming without an object.
It was in one of these walks that he had discovered the Gorbeau tenement, and its isolation and cheapness being an attraction to him, he had taken a room in it. He was only known in it by the name of Monsieur Marius.
Towards the middle of this year, 1831, the old woman who waited upon Marius told him that his neighbours, the wretched Jondrette family, were to be turned into the street. Marius, who passed almost all his days out of doors. hardly knew that he had any neighbours.
"Why are they turned out?" said he.
"Because they do not pay their rent; they owe for two terms."
"How much is that?"
"Twenty francs," said the old woman.
Marius had thirty francs in reserve in a drawer.
"Here," said he to the old woman. "there are twenty-five francs. Pay for these poor people, give them five francs, and do not tell them that it is from me."
Marius was now a fine-looking young man, of medium height, with heavy jet black hair, a high intelligent brow, large and passionate nostrils, a frank and calm expression, and a indescribable something beaming from every feature, which was at once lofty, thoughtful and innocent. His profile, all the lines of which were rounded, but without loss of strength, possessed that Germanic gentleness which has made its way into French physiognomy through Alsace and Lorraine, and that entire absence of angles which rendered the Sicambri so recognisable among the Romans, and which distinguishes the leonine from the aquiline race. He was at that season of life at which the mind of men who think, is made up in nearly equal proportions of depth and simplicity. In a difficult situation he possessed all the essentials of stupidity; another turn of the screw, and he could become sublime. His manners were reserved, cold, polished, far from free. But as his mouth was very pleasant, his lips the reddest and his teeth the whitest in the world, his smile corrected the severity of his physiognomy. At certain moments there was a strange contrast between this chaste brow and this voluptuous smile. His eye was small, his look great.
At the time of his most wretched poverty, he noticed that girls turned when he passed, and with a deathly feeling in his heart he fled or hid himself. He thought they looked at him on account of his old clothes, and that they were laughing at him; the truth is, that they looked at him because of his graceful appearance, and that they dreamed over it.
This wordless misunderstanding between him and the pretty girls he met, had rendered him hostile to society. He attached himself to none, for the excellent reason that he fled before all. Thus he lived without aim- like a beast, said Courfeyrac.
Courfeyrac said to him also: "Aspire not to be a sage (they used familiar speech; familiarity of speech is characteristic of youthful friendships). My dear boy, a piece of advice. Read not so much in books, and look a little more upon the Peggies. The little rogues are good for thee, O Marius! By continual flight and blushing thou shalt become a brute."
At other times Courfeyrac met him with: "Good day, Monsieur Abbe."
When Courfeyrac said anything of this kind to him, for the next week Marius avoided women, old as well as young, more than ever, and especially did he avoid the haunts of Courfeyrac.
There were, however, in all the immensity of creation, two women from whom Marius never fled, and whom he did not at all avoid. Indeed he would have been very much astonished had anybody told him that they were women. One was the old woman with the beard, who swept his room, and who gave Courfeyrac an opportunity to say: "As his servant wears her beard, Marius does not wear his." The other was a little girl that he saw very often, and that he never looked at.
For more than a year Marius had noticed in a retired walk of the Luxembourg, the walk which borders the parapet of the Pepiniere, a man and a girl quite young, nearly always sitting side by side, on the same seat, at the most retired end of the walk, near the Rue de l'Ouest. Whenever that chance which controls the promenades of men whose eye is turned within, led Marius to this walk, and it was almost every day, he found this couple there. The man might be sixty years old; he seemed sad and serious; his whole person presented the robust but wearied appearance of a soldier retired from active service. Had he worn a decoration, Marius would have said: it is an old officer. His expression was kind, but it did not invite approach, and he never returned a look. He wore a blue coat and pantaloons, and a broad-brimmed hat, which always appeared to be new; a black cravat, and Quaker linen, that is to say, brilliantly white, but of coarse texture. A grisette passing near him one day, said: There is a very nice widower. His hair was perfectly white.
The first time the young girl that accompanied him sat down on the seat which they seemed to have adopted, she looked like a girl of about thirteen or fourteen, puny to the extent of being almost ugly, awkward, insignificant, yet promising, perhaps, to have rather fine eyes. But they were always looking about with a disagreeable assurance. She wore the dress, at once aged and childish, peculiar to the convent school-girl, an ill-fitting garment of coarse black merino. They appeared to be father and daughter.
For two or three days Marius scrutinised this old man, who was not yet an aged man, and this little girl, not yet a woman; then he paid no more attention to them. For their part they did not even seem to see him. They talked with each other peacefully, and with indifference to all else. The girl chatted incessantly and gaily. The old man spoke little, and at times looked upon her with an unutterable expression of fatherliness.
Marius had acquired a sort of mechanical habit of promenading on this walk. He always found them there.
It was usually thus:
Marius would generally reach the walk at the end opposite their seat, promenade the whole length of it, passing before them, then return to the end by which he entered, and so on. He performed this turn five or six times in his promenade, and this promenade five or six times a week, but they and he had never come to exchange bows. This man and this young girl, though they appeared, and perhaps because they appeared, to avoid observation, had naturally excited the attention of the five or six students, who, from time to time, took their promenades along the Pepiniere; the studious after their lecture, the others after their game of billiards. Courfeyrac, who belonged to the latter, had noticed them at some time or other, but finding the girl homely, had very quickly and carefully avoided them. He had fled like a Parthian, launching a nickname behind him. Struck especially by the dress of the little girl and the hair of the old man, he had named the daughter Mademoiselle Lanoire [Black] and the father Monsieur Leblanc [White]; and so, as nobody knew them otherwise, in the absence of a name, this surname had become fixed. The students said: "Ah! Monsieur Leblanc is at his seat!" and Marius, like the rest, had found it convenient to call this unknown gentleman M. Leblanc.
We shall do as they did, and say M. Leblanc for the convenience of this story.
Marius saw them thus nearly every day at the same hour during the first year. He found the man very much to his liking, but the girl rather disagreeable.
The second year, at the precise point of this history to which the reader has arrived, it so happened that Marius broke off this habit of going to the Luxembourg, without really knowing why himself, and there were nearly six months during which he did not set foot in his walk. At last he went back there again one day; it was a serene summer morning, Marius was as happy as one always is when the weather is fine. It seemed to him as if he had in his heart all the bird songs which he heard, and all the bits of blue sky which he saw through the trees.
He went straight to "his walk," and as soon as he reached it, he saw, still on the same seat, this well known pair. When he came near them, however, he saw that it was indeed the same man, but it seemed to him that it was no longer the same girl. The woman whom he now saw was a noble, beautiful creature, with all the most bewitching outlines of woman, at the precise moment at which they are yet combined with all the most charming graces of childhood,- that pure and fleeting moment which can only be translated by these two words: sweet fifteen. Beautiful chestnut hair, shaded with veins of gold, a brow which seemed chiselled marble, cheeks which seemed made of roses, a pale incarnadine, a flushed whiteness, an exquisite mouth, whence came a smile like a gleam of sunshine, and a voice like music, a head which Raphael would have given to Mary, on a neck which Jean Goujon would have given to Venus. And that nothing might be wanting to this ravishing form, the nose was not beautiful, it was pretty; neither straight nor curved, neither Italian nor Greek; it was the Parisian nose; that is, something sprightly, fine, irregular, and pure, the despair of painters and the charm of poets.
When Marius passed near her, he could not see her eyes, which were always cast down. He saw only her long chestnut lashes, eloquent of mystery and modesty.
But that did not prevent the beautiful girl from smiling as she listened to the white-haired man who was speaking to her, and nothing was so transporting as this maidenly smile with these downcast eyes.
At the first instant Marius thought it was another daughter of the same man, a sister doubtless of her whom he had seen before. But when the invariable habit of his promenade led him for the second time near the seat, and he had looked at her attentively, he recognised that she was the same. In six months the little girl had become a young woman; that was all. Nothing is more frequent than this phenomenon. There is a moment when girls bloom out in a twinkling, and become roses all at once. Yesterday we left them children, to-day we find them dangerous.
She had not only grown; she had become idealised. As three April days are enough for certain trees to put on a covering of flowers, so six months had been enough for her to put on a mantle of beauty.
We sometimes see people, poor and mean, who seem to awaken, pass suddenly from indigence to luxury, incur expenses of all sorts, and become all at once splendid, prodigal, and magnificent. That comes from interest received; yesterday was pay-day. The young girl had received her dividend.
He passed four or five times more by the seat where the young girl was, without even turning his eyes towards her.
On the following days he came as usual to the Luxembourg, as usual he found "the father and daughter" there, but he paid no attention to them. He thought no more of this girl now that she was handsome than he had thought of her when she was homely. He passed very near the bench on which she sat, because that was his habit.
One day the air was mild, the Luxembourg was flooded with sunshine and shadow, the sky was as clear as if the angels had washed it in the morning, the sparrows were twittering in the depths of the chestnut trees, Marius had opened his whole soul to nature, he was thinking of nothing, he was living and breathing, he passed near this seat, the young girl raised her eyes, their glances met.
But what was there now in the glance of the young girl? Marius could not have told. There was nothing, and there was everything. It was a strange flash.
She cast down her eyes, and he continued on his way.
What he had seen was not the simple, artless eye of a child; it was a mysterious abyss, half-opened, then suddenly closed.
There is a time when every young girl looks thus. Woe to him upon whom she looks!
This first glance of a soul which does not yet know itself is like the dawn in the sky. It is the awakening of something radiant and unknown. Nothing can express the dangerous chasm of this unlooked-for gleam which suddenly suffuses adorable mysteries, and which is made up of all the innocence of the present, and of all the passion of the future. It is a kind of irresolute lovingness which is revealed by chance, and which is waiting. It is a snare which Innocence unconsciously spreads, and in which she catches hearts without intending to, and without knowing it. It is a maiden glancing like a woman.
It is rare that deep reverie is not born of this glance wherever it may fall. All that is pure, and all that is vestal, is concentrated in this celestial and mortal glance, which more than the most studied ogling of the coquette, has the magic power of suddenly forcing into bloom in the depths of a heart, this flower of the shade full of perfumes and poisons, which is called love.
At night, on returning to his garret, Marius cast a look upon his dress, and for the first time perceived that he had the slovenliness, the indecency, and the unheard-of stupidity, to promenade in the Luxembourg with his "every day" suit, a hat broken near the band, coarse teamsters' boots, black pantaloons shiny at the knees, and a black coat threadbare at the elbows.
The next day, at the usual hour, Marius took from his closet his new coat, his new pantaloons, his new hat, and his new boots; he dressed himself in this panoply complete, put on his gloves, prodigious prodigality, and went to the Luxembourg.
On the way, he met Courfeyrac, and pretended not to see him. Courfeyrac, on his return home, said to his friends:
"I have just met Marius' new hat and coat, with Marius inside. Probably he was going to an examination. He looked stupid enough."
When he entered the walk he saw M. Leblanc and the young girl at the other end "on their seat." He buttoned his coat, stretched it down that there might be no wrinkles, noticed with some complaisance the lustre of his pantaloons, and marched upon the seat. There was something of attack in this march, and certainly a desire of conquest. I say, then, he marched upon the seat, as I would say: Hannibal marched upon Rome.
As he drew nearer, his step became slower and slower. At some distance from the seat, long before he had reached the end of the walk, he stopped, and he did not know himself how it happened, but he turned back. He did not even say to himself that he would not go to the end. It was doubtful if the young girl could see him so far off, and notice his fine appearance in his new suit. However, he held himself very straight, so that he might look well, in case anybody who was behind should happen to notice him.
He passed the seat, went to the end of the walk, which was quite near, then turned and passed again before the beautiful girl. This time he was very pale. Indeed, he was experiencing nothing that was not very disagreeable. He walked away from the seat and from the young girl, and although his back was turned, he imagined that she was looking at him, and that made him stumble.
He made no effort to approach the seat again, he stopped midway of the walk, and sat down there- a thing which he never did- casting many side glances, and thinking, in the most indistinct depths of his mind, that after all it must be difficult for persons whose white hat and black dress he admired, to be absolutely insensible to his glossy pantaloons and his new coat.
At the end of a quarter of an hour, he rose, as if to recommence his walk towards this seat, which was encircled by a halo. He, however, stood silent and motionless. For the first time in fifteen months, he said to himself, that this gentleman, who sat there every day with his daughter, had undoubtedly noticed him, and probably thought his assiduity very strange.
For the first time, also, he felt a certain irreverence in designating this unknown man, even in the silence of his thought, by the nickname of M. Leblanc.
He remained thus for some minutes with his head down tracing designs on the ground with a little stick which he had in his hand.
Then he turned abruptly away from the seat, away from Monsieur Leblanc and his daughter, and went home.
That day he forgot to go to dinner. At eight o'clock in the evening he discovered it, and as it was too late to go down to the Rue Saint Jacques, "No matter," said he, and he ate a piece of bread.
He did not retire until he had carefully brushed and folded his coat.
Next day, Ma'am Bougon,- thus Courfeyrac designated the old portress-landlady of the Gorbeau tenement,- Ma'am Bougon- her name was in reality Madame Bougon, as we have stated, but this terrible fellow Courfeyrac respected nothing,- Ma'am Bougon was stupefied with astonishment to see Monsieur Marius go out again with his new coat.
He went again to the Luxembourg, but did not get beyond his seat midway of the walk. He sat down there as on the day previous, gazing from a distance and seeing distinctly the white hat, the black dress, and especially the bluish light. He did not stir from the seat, and did not go home until the gates of the Luxembourg were shut. He did not see Monsieur Leblanc and his daughter retire. He concluded from that that they left the garden by the gate on the Rue de l'Ouest. Later, some weeks afterwards, when he thought of it, he could not remember where he had dined that night.
The next day, for the third time, Ma'am Bougon was thunderstruck. Marius went out with his new suit. "Three days running!" she exclaimed.
She made an attempt to follow him, but Marius walked briskly and with immense strides; it was a hippopotamus undertaking to catch a chamois. In two minutes she lost sight of him, and came back out of breath, three quarters choked by her asthma, and furious. "The silly fellow," she muttered, "to put on his handsome clothes every day and make people run like that!"
Marius had gone to the Luxembourg.
The young girl was there with Monsieur Leblanc. Marius approached as near as he could, seeming to be reading a book, but he was still very far off, then he returned and sat down on his seat, where he spent four hours watching the artless little sparrows as they hopped along the walk; they seemed to him to be mocking him.
Thus a fortnight rolled away. Marius went to the Luxembourg, no longer to promenade, but to sit down, always in the same place, and without knowing why. Once there he did not stir. Every morning he put on his new suit, not to be conspicuous, and he began again the next morning.
She was indeed of a marvelous beauty. The only remark which could be made, that would resemble a criticism, is that the contradiction between her look, which was sad, and her smile, which was joyous, gave to her countenance something a little wild, which produced this effect, that at certain moments this sweet face became strange without ceasing to be charming.
ON one of the last days of the second week, Marius was as usual sitting on his seat, holding in his hand an open book of which he had not turned a leaf for two hours. Suddenly he trembled. A great event was commencing at the end of the walk. Monsieur Leblanc and his daughter had left their seat, the daughter had taken the arm of the father, and they were coming slowly towards the middle of the walk where Marius was. Marius closed his book, then he opened it, then he made an attempt to read. He trembled. The halo was coming straight towards him. "O dear!" thought he, "I shall not have time to take an attitude." However, the man with the white hair and the young girl were advancing. It seemed to him that it would last a century, and that it was only a second. "What are they coming by here for?" he asked himself. "What! is she going to pass this place! Are her feet to press this ground in this walk, but a step from me?" He was overwhelmed, he would gladly have been very handsome, he would gladly have worn the cross of the Legion of Honour. He heard the gentle and measured sound of their steps approaching. He imagined that Monsieur Leblanc was hurling angry looks upon him. "Is he going to speak to me?" thought he. He bowed his head; when he raised it they were quite near him. The young girl passed, and in passing she looked at him. She looked at him steadily, with a sweet and thoughtful look which made Marius tremble from head to foot. It seemed to him that she reproached him for having been so long without coming to her, and that she said: "It is I who come." Marius was bewildered by these eyes full of flashing light and fathomless abysses.
He felt as though his brain were on fire. She had come to him, what happiness! And then, how she had looked at him! She seemed more beautiful than she had ever seemed before. Beautiful with a beauty which combined all of the woman with all of the angel, a beauty which would have made Petrarch sing and Dante kneel. He felt as though he was swimming in the deep blue sky. At the same time he was horribly disconcerted, because he had a little dust on his boots.
He felt sure that she had seen his boots in this condition.
Marius was in this first vehement and fascinating period which the
grand passion commences.
One glance had done all that.
When the mine is loaded, and the match is ready, nothing is simpler. A glance is a spark.
It was all over with him. Marius loved a woman. His destiny was entering upon the unknown.
The glances of women are like certain apparently peaceful but really formidable machines. You pass them every day quietly, with impunity, and without suspicion of danger. There comes a moment when you forget even that they are there. You come and go, you muse, and talk, and laugh. Suddenly you feel that you are seized! it is done. The wheels have caught you, the glance has captured you. It has taken you, no matter how or where, by any portion whatever of your thought which was trailing, through any absence of mind. You are lost. You will be drawn in entirely. A train of mysterious forces has gained possession of you. You struggle in vain. No human succour is possible. You will be drawn down from wheel to wheel, from anguish to anguish, from torture to torture. You, your mind, your fortune, your future, your soul; and you will not escape from the terrible machine, until, according as you are in the power of a malevolent nature, or a noble heart, you shall be disfigured by shame or transfigured by love.
Isolation, separation from all things, pride, independence, a taste for nature, lack of everyday material activity, life in one's self, the secret struggles of chastity, and an ecstasy of goodwill towards the whole creation, had prepared Marius for this possession which is called love. His worship for his father had become almost a religion, and, like all religion, had retired into the depths of his heart. He needed something above that. Love came.
A whole month passed during which Marius went every day to the Luxembourg. When the hour came, nothing could keep him away. "He is out at service," said Courfeyrac. Marius lived in transports. It is certain that the young girl looked at him.
He finally grew bolder, and approached nearer to the seat. However he passed before it no more, obeying at once the instinct of timidity and the instinct of prudence, peculiar to lovers. He thought it better not to attract the "attention of the father." He formed his combinations of stations behind trees and the pedestals of statues, with consummate art, so as to be seen as much as possible by the young girl and as little as possible by the old gentleman. Sometimes he would stand for half an hour motionless behind some Leonidas or Spartacus with a book in his hand, over which his eyes, timidly raised, were looking for the young girl, while she, for her part, was turning her charming profile towards him, suffused with a smile. While yet talking in the most natural and quiet way in the world with the white-haired man, she rested upon Marius all the dreams of a maidenly and passionate eye. Ancient and immemorial art which Eve knew from the first day of the world, and which every woman knows from the first day of her life! Her tongue replied to one and her eyes to the other.
We must, however, suppose that M. Leblanc perceived something of this at last, for often when Marius came, he would rise and begin to promenade. He had left their accustomed place, and had taken the seat at the other end of the walk, near the Gladiator, as if to see whether Marius would follow them. Marius did not understand it, and committed that blunder. "The father" began to be less punctual and did not bring "his daughter" every day. Sometimes he came alone. Then Marius did not stay. Another blunder.
Marius took no note of these symptoms. From the phase of timidity he had passed, a natural and inevitable progress, to the phase of blindness. His love grew. He dreamed of her every night. And then there came to him a good fortune for which he had not even hoped, oil upon the fire, double darkness upon his eyes. One night, at dusk, he found on the seat, which "M. Leblanc and his daughter" had just left, a handkerchief, a plain handkerchief without embroidery, but white, fine, and which appeared to him to exhale ineffable odours. He seized it in transport. This handkerchief was marked with the letters U. F.: Marius knew nothing of this beautiful girl, neither her family, nor her name, nor her dwelling; these two letters were the first thing he had caught of her, adorable initials upon which he began straightway to build his castle. It was evidently her first name. Ursula, thought he, what a sweet name! He kissed the handkerchief, inhaled its perfume, put it over his heart, on his flesh in the day-time, and at night went to sleep with it on his lips.
"I feel her whole soul in it!" he exclaimed.
This handkerchief belonged to the old gentleman, who had simply let it fall from his pocket.
For days and days after this piece of good fortune, he always appeared at the Luxembourg kissing this handkerchief and placing it on his heart. The beautiful child did not understand this at all, and indicated it to him by signs, which he did not perceive.
"Oh, modesty!" said Marius.
We have seen how Marius discovered, or thought he discovered, that her name was Ursula.
Hunger comes with love. To know that her name was Ursula had been much; it was little. In three or four weeks Marius had devoured this piece of good fortune. He desired another. He wished to know where she lived.
He had committed one blunder in falling into the snare of the seat by the Gladiator. He had committed a second by not remaining at the Luxembourg when Monsieur Leblanc came there alone. He committed a third, a monstrous one. He followed "Ursula."
She lived in the Rue de l'Ouest, in the least frequented part of it, in a new three-story house, of modest appearance.
From that moment Marius added to his happiness in seeing her at the Luxembourg, the happiness of following her home.
His hunger increased. He knew her name, her first name, at least, the charming name, the real name of a woman; he knew where she lived; he desired to know who she was.
One night after he had followed them home, and seen them disappear at the porte-cochere, he entered after them, and said boldly to the porter:-
"Is it the gentleman on the first floor who has just come in?"
"No," answered the porter. "It is the gentleman on the third." Another fact. This success made Marius still bolder.
"In front?" he asked.
"Faith!" said the porter, "the house is only built on the street."
"And what is this gentleman?"
"He lives on his income, monsieur. A very kind man, who does a great deal of good among the poor, though not rich."
"What is his name?" continued Marius.
The porter raised his head, and said "Is monsieur a detective?"
Marius retired, much abashed, but still in great transports. He was getting on.
"Good," thought he. "I know that her name is Ursula, that she is the daughter of a retired gentleman, and that she lives there, in the third story, in the Rue de l'Ouest."
Next day Monsieur Leblanc and his daughter made but a short visit to the Luxembourg; they went away while it was yet broad daylight. Marius followed them into the Rue de l'Ouest, as was his custom. On reaching the porte-cochere, Monsieur Leblanc passed his daughter in, and then stopped, and before entering himself, turned and looked steadily at Marius. The day after that they did not come to the Luxembourg. Marius waited in vain all day.
At nightfall he went to the Rue de l'Ouest, and saw a light in the windows of the third story. He walked beneath these windows until the light was put out.
The next day nobody at the Luxembourg. Marius waited all day, and then went to perform his night duty under the windows. That took him till ten o'clock in the evening. His dinner took care of itself. Fever supports the sick man, and love the lover.
He passed a week in this way. Monsieur Leblanc and his daughter appeared at the Luxembourg no more. Marius made melancholy conjectures; he dared not watch the porte-cochere during the day. He limited himself to going at night to gaze upon the reddish light of the windows. At times he saw shadows moving, and his heart beat high.
On the eighth day when he reached the house, there was no light in the windows. "What!" said he, "the lamp is not yet lighted. But yet it is dark. Or they have gone out?" He waited till ten o'clock. Till midnight. Till one o'clock in the morning. No light appeared in the third story windows, and nobody entered the house. He went away very gloomy.
On the morrow- for he lived only from morrow to morrow; there was no longer any to-day, so to speak, to him- on the morrow he found nobody at the Luxembourg, he waited; at dusk he went to the house. No light in the windows; the blinds were closed; the third story was entirely dark.
Marius knocked at the porte-cochere; went in and said to the porter:-
"The gentleman of the third floor?"
"Moved," answered the porter.
Marius tottered, and said feebly:
"Where does he live now?"
"I don't know anything about it."
"He has not left his new address, then?"
And the porter, looking up, recognised Marius.
"What! it is you!" said he, but decidedly now, "You do keep a bright look-out."
Summer passed, then autumn; winter came. Neither M. Leblanc nor the young girl had set foot in the Luxembourg. Marius had now but one thought, to see that sweet, that adorable face again. He searched continually; he searched everywhere: he found nothing. He was no longer Marius the enthusiastic dreamer, the resolute man, ardent yet firm, the bold challenger of destiny, the brain which projected and built future upon future, the young heart full of plans, projects, prides, ideas, and desires; he was a lost dog. He fell into a melancholy. It was all over with him. Work disgusted him, walking fatigued him, solitude wearied him, vast nature, once so full of forms, of illuminations, of voices, of counsels, of perspectives, of horizons, of teachings, was now a void before him. It seemed to him that everything had disappeared.
He was still full of thought, for he could not be otherwise; but he no longer found pleasure in his thoughts. To all which they were silently but incessantly proposing to him, he answered in the gloom: What is the use?
He reproached himself a hundred times. Why did I follow her? I was so happy in seeing her only! She looked upon me; was not that infinite? She had the appearance of loving me. Was not that everything? I desired to have what? There is nothing more after that. I was a fool. It is my fault, etc., etc. Courfeyrac, to whom he confided nothing; that was his nature; but who found out a little of everything; that was his nature also; had begun by felicitating him upon being in love, and wondering at it withal; then seeing Marius fallen into this melancholy, he had at last said to him: "I see that you have been nothing but an animal. Here, come to the Cabin."
Once, confiding in a beautiful September sun, Marius allowed himself to be taken to the Bal de Sceaux, by Courfeyrac, Bossuet, and Grantaire, hoping, what a dream! that he might possibly find her there. We need not say that he did not see her whom he sought. "But yet it is here that all the lost women are to be found," muttered Grantaire. Marius left his friends at the ball, and went back on foot, alone, tired, feverish, with sad and troubled eyes, in the night, overcome by the noise and dust of the joyous coaches full of singing parties who passed by him returning from the festival, while he, discouraged, was breathing in the pungent odour of the walnut trees by the wayside, to restore his brain.
He lived more and more alone, bewildered, overwhelmed, given up to his inward anguish, walking to and fro in his grief like a wolf in a cage, seeking everywhere for the absent, stupefied with love.
At another time, an accidental meeting produced a singular effect upon him. In one of the little streets in the neighbourhood of the Boulevard des Invalides, he saw a man dressed like a labourer, wearing a cap with a long visor, from beneath which escaped a few locks of very white hair. Marius was struck by the beauty of this white hair, and noticed the man who was walking with slow steps and seemed absorbed in painful meditation. Strangely enough, it appeared to him that he recognised M. Leblanc. It was the same hair, the same profile, as far as the cap allowed him to see, the same manner, only sadder. But why these working-man's clothes? what did that mean? what did this disguise signify? Marius was astounded. When he came to himself, his first impulse was to follow the man; who knows but he had at last caught the trace which he was seeking? At all events, he must see the man again nearer, and clear up the enigma. But this idea occurred to him too late, the man was now gone. He had taken some little side-street, and Marius could not find him again. This adventure occupied his mind for a few days, and then faded away. "After all," said he to himself, "it is probably only a resemblance."
Marius still lived in the Gorbeau tenement. He paid no attention to anybody there.
At this time, it is true, there were no occupants remaining in the house but himself and those Jondrettes whose rent he had once paid, without having ever spoken, however, either to the father, or to the mother, or to the daughters. The other tenants had moved away or died, or had been turned out for not paying their rent.
Marius had just left his; night was falling. It was his dinner hour; for it was still necessary for him to go to dinner, alas! oh, infirmity of the ideal passions.
He had just crossed his door-sill which Ma'am Bougon was sweeping at that very moment, muttering at the same time this memorable monologue:
"What is there that is cheap now? everything is dear. There is nothing but people's trouble that is cheap; that comes for nothing, people's trouble."
Marius went slowly up the boulevard towards the barriere, on the way to the Rue Saint Jacques. He was walking thoughtfully, with his head down.
Suddenly he felt that he was elbowed in the dusk; he turned, and saw two young girls in rags, one tall and slender, the other a little shorter, passing rapidly by, breathless, frightened, and apparently in flight; they had met him, had not seen him, and had jostled him in passing. Marius could see in the twilight their livid faces, their frightful bonnets, their tattered skirts, and their naked feet. As they ran they were talking to each other. The taller one said in a very low voice:
"The cognes came. They just missed pincer me at the demi-cercle."
The other answered: "I saw them. I cavale, cavale, cavale."
Marius understood, through this dismal argot, that the gendarmes, or the city police, had not succeeded in seizing these two girls, and that the girls had escaped.
They plunged in under the trees of the boulevard behind him, and for a few seconds made a kind of dim whiteness in the obscurity which soon faded out.
Marius stopped for a moment.
He was about to resume his course when he perceived a little greyish packet on the ground at his feet. He stooped down and picked it up. It was a sort of envelope which appeared to contain papers.
"Good," said he, "those poor creatures must have dropped this!"
He retraced his steps, he called, he did not find them; he concluded they were already beyond hearing, put the packet in his pocket and went to dinner.
On his way, in an alley on the Rue Mouffetard, he saw a child's coffin covered with a black cloth, placed upon three chairs and lighted by a candle. The two girls of the twilight returned to his mind.
"Poor mothers," thought he. "There is one thing sadder than to see their children die- to see them lead evil lives." Then these shadows which had varied his sadness went out from his thoughts, and he fell back into his customary train. He began to think of his six months of love and happiness in the open air and the broad daylight under the beautiful trees of the Luxembourg.
"How dark my life has become!" said he to himself. "Young girls still pass before me. Only formerly they were angels; now they are ghouls."
In the evening, as he was undressing to go to bed, he happened to feel in his coat-pocket the packet which he had picked up on the boulevard. He had forgotten it. He thought it might be well to open it, and that the packet might perhaps contain the address of the young girls, if, in reality, it belonged to them, or at all events the information necessary to restore it to the person who had lost it.
He opened the envelope.
It was unsealed and contained four letters, also unsealed.
The addresses were upon them.
All four exhaled an odour of wretched tobacco.
The first letter was addressed: To Madame, Madame the Marchioness de Grucheray, Square opposite the Chamber of Deputies, No. __
Marius said to himself that he should probably find in this letter the information of which he was in search, and that, moreover, as the letter was not sealed, probably it might be read without impropriety.
It was in these words:
Madame the Marchioness:
The virtue of kindness and piety is that which binds society most closely. Call up your Christian sentiment, and cast a look of compassion upon this unfortunate Spanish victim of loyalty and attachment to the sacred cause of legitimacy, which he has paid for with his blood, consecrated his fortune,wholy, to defend this cause, and to-day finds himself in the greatest missery. He has no doubt that your honourable self will furnish him assistance to preserve an existence extremely painful for a soldier of education and of honour full of wounds, reckons in advance upon the humanity which animmates you and upon the interest which Madame the Marchioness feels in a nation so unfortunate. Their prayer will not be in vain, and their memory will retain herr charming souvenir.
From my respectful sentiments with which I have the honour to be, Madame,
Spanish captain of cavalry, royalist refuge in France, who finds himself traveling for his country and ressources fail him to continue his travells."
No address was added to the signature. Marius hoped to find the address in the second letter the superscription of which ran: to Madame, Madame the Comtess de Montvernet, Rue Cassette, No. 9. Marius read as follows:
Madame the Comtess,
It is an unfortunate mothur of a family of six children the last of whom is only eight months old. Me sick since my last lying-in, abandoned by my husband for five months haveing no ressources in the world the most frightful indigance.
In the hope of Madame the Comtesse, she has the honour to be,Madame, with a profound respect,
Marius passed to the third letter, which was, like the preceding, a begging one; it read:
Your just reputation as an enlightened protector of literary fokes emboldens me to send my daughter to you, who will expose to you our indignant situation, wanting bread and fire in this wynter season. To tell you that I pray you to accept the homage which I desire to offer you in my drama and in all those which I make, is to prove to you how ambicious I am of the honour of sheltering myself under your aegis, and of adorning my writings with your name. If you deign to honour me with the most modest offering, I shall occupy myself immediately a piese of verse for you to pay my tribut of recognition. This piese, which I shall endeavour to render as perfect as possible, will be sent to you before being inserted in the beginning of the drama and given upon the stage.
To Monsieur and Madame Pabourgeot,
My most respectful homage,
GENFLOT, man of letters.
"P. S. Were it only forty sous.
"Excuse me for sending my daughter and for not presenting myself, but sad motives of dress do not permit me, alas! to go out-"
Marius finally opened the fourth letter. There was on the address: To the beneficent gentleman of the church of Saint Jacques du Haut Pas. It contained these few lines:
If you will deign to accompany my daughter, you will see a misserable calamity, and I will show you my certificates.
At the sight of these writings your generous soul will be moved with a sentiment of lively benevolence, for true philosophers always experience vivid emotions.
Agree, compassionate man, that one must experience the most cruel necessity, and that it is very painful, to obtain relief, to have it attested by authority, as if we were not free to suffer and to die of inanition while waiting for some one to relieve our missery. The fates are very cruel to some and too lavish or too careful to others.
I await your presence or your offering, if you deign to make it, and I pray you to have the kindness to accept the respectful sentiments with which I am proud to be,
Truly magnanimous man,
Your very humble
And very obedient servant,
P. FABANTOU, dramatic artist.
After reading these four letters, Marius did not find himself much wiser than before.
In the first place none of the signers gave his address.
Then they seemed to come from four different individuals, Don Alvares, Mother Balizard, the poet Genflot, and the dramatic artist Fabantou; but, strangely enough, these letters were all four written in the same hand.
What was the conclusion from that, unless that they came from the same person?
Moreover, and this rendered the conjecture still more probable, the paper, coarse and yellow, was the same in all four, the odour of tobacco was the same, and although there was an evident endeavour to vary the style, the same faults of orthography were reproduced with a very quiet certainty, and Genflot, the man of letters, was no more free from them than the Spanish captain.
Nothing, however, indicated that these letters belonged to the girls whom Marius had met on the boulevard. After all, they were but waste paper evidently without value.
Marius put them back into the envelope, threw it into a corner, and went to bed.
About seven o'clock in the morning, he had got up and breakfasted, and was trying to set about his work when there was a gentle rap at his door.
As he owned nothing, he never locked his door, except sometimes, and that very rarely, when he was about some pressing piece of work. And, indeed, even when absent, he left his key in the lock. "You will be robbed," said Ma'am Bougon. "Of what?" said Marius. The fact is, however, that one day somebody had stolen an old pair of boots, to the great triumph of Ma'am Bougon.
There was a second rap, very gentle like the first.
"Come in," said Marius. The door opened.
"What do you want, Ma'am Bougon?" asked Marius, without raising his eyes from the books and papers which he had on his table.
A voice, which was not Ma'am Bougon's, answered:
"I beg your pardon, Monsieur-"
It was a hollow, cracked, smothered, rasping voice, the voice of an old man, roughened by brandy and by liquors.
Marius turned quickly and saw a young girl.
A girl who was quite young, was standing in the half-opened door. The little round window through which the light found its way into the garret was exactly opposite the door, and lit up this form with a pallid light. It was a pale, puny, meagre creature, nothing but a chemise and a skirt covered a shivering and chilly nakedness. A string for a belt, a string for a head-dress, sharp shoulders protruding from the chemise, a blond and lymphatic pallor, dirty shoulder-blades, red hands, the mouth open and sunken, some teeth gone, the eyes dull, bold, and drooping, the form of an unripe young girl and the look of a corrupted old woman; fifty years joined with fifteen; one of those beings who are both feeble and horrible at once, and who make those shudder whom they do not make weep.
Marius arose and gazed with a kind of astonishment upon this being, so much like the shadowy forms which pass across our dreams.
The most touching thing about it was that this young girl had not come into the world to be ugly. In her early childhood, she must have even been pretty. The grace of her youth was still struggling against the hideous cold age brought on by debauchery and poverty. A remnant of beauty was dying out upon this face of sixteen, like the pale sun which is extinguished by frightful clouds at the dawn of a winter's day.
The face was not absolutely unknown to Marius. He thought he remembered having seen it somewhere. "What do you wish, mademoiselle?" asked he.
The young girl answered with her voice like a drunken galley-slave's:
"Here is a letter for you, Monsieur Marius."
She called Marius by his name; he could not doubt that her business was with him; but what was this girl? how did she know his name?
Without waiting for an invitation, she entered. She entered resolutely, looking at the whole room and the unmade bed with a sort of assurance which chilled the heart. She was barefooted. Great holes in her skirt revealed her long limbs and her sharp knees. She was shivering.
She had really in her hand a letter which she presented to Marius.
Marius, in opening this letter, noticed that the enormously large wafer was still wet. The message could not have come far. He read: -
My amiable neighbour, young man!
I have lerned your kindness towards me, that you have paid rent six months ago. I bless you, young man. My eldest daughter will tell you that we have been without a morsel of bread for two days, four persons, and my spouse sick. If I am not desseived by my thoughts, I think I may hope that your generous heart will soften at this exposure and that the desire will subjugate you of being propitious to me by deigning to lavish upon me some light gift.
I am with the distinguished consideration which is due to the benefactors of humanity,
P. S. My daughter will await your orders, dear Monsieur Marius."
This letter, in the midst of the obscure accident which had occupied Marius's thoughts since the previous evening, was a candle in a cave. Everything was suddenly cleared up.
This letter came from the same source as the other four. It was the same writing, the same style, the same orthography, the same paper, the same odour of tobacco.
There were five missives, five stories, five names, five signatures, and a single signer. The Spanish Captain Don Alvares, the unfortunate mother Balizard, the dramatic poet Genflot, the old comedy writer Fabantou, were all four named Jondrette, if indeed the name of Jondrette himself was Jondrette.
During the now rather long time that Marius had lived in the tenement, he had had, as we have said, but very few opportunities to see, or even catch a glimpse of his very poor neighbours. His mind was elsewhere, and where the mind is, thither the eyes are directed. He must have met the Jondrettes in the passage and on the stairs, more than once, but to him they were only shadows; he had taken so little notice that on the previous evening he had brushed against the Jondrette girls upon the boulevard without recognising them; for it was evidently they; and it was with great difficulty that this girl, who had just come into his room, had awakened in him, beneath his disgust and pity, a vague remembrance of having met with her elsewhere.
Now he saw everything clearly. He understood that the occupation of his neighbour Jondrette in his distress was to work upon the sympathies of benevolent persons; that he procured their addresses, and that he wrote under assumed names letters to people whom he deemed rich and compassionate, which his daughters carried, at their risk and peril; for this father was one who risked his daughters; he was playing a game with destiny, and he put them into the stake. Marius understood, to judge by their flight in the evening, by their breathlessness, by their terror, by those words of argot which he had heard, that probably these unfortunate things were carrying on also some of the secret trades of darkness, and that from all this the result was, in the midst of human society constituted as it is, two miserable beings who were neither children, nor girls, nor women, a species of impure yet innocent monsters produced by misery.
Meantime, while Marius fixed upon her an astonished and sorrowful look, the young girl was walking to and fro in the room with the boldness of a spectre. She bustled about regardless of her nakedness. At times, her chemise, unfastened and torn, fell almost to her waist. She moved the chairs, she disarranged the toilet articles on the bureau, she felt of Marius' clothes, she searched over what there was in the corners.
"Ah," said she, "you have a mirror!"
And she hummed, as if she had been alone, snatches of songs, light refrains which were made dismal by her harsh and guttural voice. Beneath this boldness could be perceived an indescribable constraint, restlessness, and humility. Effrontery is a shame.
Marius was reflecting, and let her go on.
She went to the table.
"Ah," said she, "books!"
A light flashed through her glassy eye. She resumed, and her tone expressed that happiness of being able to boast of something, to which no human creature is insensible:
"I can read, I can."
She hastily caught up the book which lay open on the table, and read fluently:
"-General Bauduin received the order to take five battalions of his brigade and carry the chateau of Hougomont, which is in the middle of the plain of Waterloo-"
"Ah, Waterloo! I know that. It is a battle in old times. My father was there; my father served in the armies. We are jolly good Bonapartists at home, that we are. Against English, Waterloo is."
She put down the book, took up a pen, and exclaimed:
"And I can write, too!"
She dipped the pen in the ink, and turning towards Marius:
"Would you like to see? Here, I am going to write a word to show."
And before he had had time to answer, she wrote upon a sheet of blank paper which was on the middle of the table: "The Cognes are here."
Then, throwing down the pen:
"There are no mistakes in spelling. You can look. We have received an education, my sister and I. We have not always been what we are. We were not made-"
Here she stopped, fixed her faded eye upon Marius, and burst out laughing, saying in a tone which contained complete anguish stifled by complete cynicism:
Then she looked at Marius, put on a strange manner, and said to him:
"Do you know, Monsieur Marius, that you are a very pretty boy?"
And at the same time the same thought occurred to both of them, which made her smile and made him blush.
She went to him, and laid her hand on his shoulder: "You pay no attention to me, but I know you, Monsieur Marius. I meet you here on the stairs, and then I see you visiting a man named Father Mabeuf, who lives out by Austerlitz, sometimes, when I am walking that way. That becomes you very well, your tangled hair."
Her voice tried to be very soft, but succeeded only in being very low. Some of her words were lost in their passage from the larynx to the lips, as upon a key-board in which some notes are missing.
Marius had drawn back quietly.
"Mademoiselle," said he, with his cold gravity, "I have here a packet, which is yours, I think. Permit me to return it to you."
And he handed her the envelope, which contained the four letters.
She clapped her hands and exclaimed:
"We have looked everywhere!"
Then she snatched the packet, and opened the envelope, saying:
"Lordy, Lordy, haven't we looked, my sister and I? And you have found it! on the boulevard, didn't you? It must have been on the boulevard? You see, this dropped when we ran. It was my brat of a sister who made the stupid blunder. When we got home, we could not find it. As we did not want to be beaten, since that is needless, since that is entirely needless, since that is absolutely needless, we said at home that we had carried the letters to the persons, and that they told us: Nix! Now here they are, these poor letters. And how did you know they were mine? Ah, yes! by the writing! It was you, then, that we knocked against last evening. We did not see you, really! I said to my sister: Is that a gentleman? My sister said:- I think it is a gentleman!"
Then she began to laugh, and added:
"Do you know what it will be if we have breakfast to-day? It will be that we shall have had our breakfast for day before yesterday, our dinner for day before yesterday, our breakfast for yesterday, our dinner for yesterday, all that at one time this morning. Yes! zounds! if you're not satisfied, stuff till you burst, dogs!"
This reminded Marius of what the poor girl had come to his room for.
He felt in his waistcoat, he found nothing there.
After a thorough exploration of his pockets, Marius had at last got together five francs and sixteen sous. This was at the time all that he had in the world. "That is enough for my dinner to-day," thought he, "tomorrow we will see." He took the sixteen sous, and gave the five francs to the young girl.
She took the piece eagerly.
"Good," said she, "there is some sunshine!"
And as if the sun had had the effect to loosen an avalanche of argot in her brain, she continued:
"Five francs! a shiner! a monarch!
She drew her chemise up over her shoulders, made a low bow to Marius, then a familiar wave of the hand, and moved towards the door, saying:
"Good morning, monsieur. It is all the same. I am going to find my old man."
On her way she saw on the bureau a dry crust of bread moulding there in the dust; she sprang upon it, and bit it, muttering:
"That is good! it is hard! it breaks my teeth!"
Then she went out.
For five years Marius had lived in poverty, in privation, in distress even, but he perceived that he had never known real misery. Real misery he had just seen. It was this sprite which had just passed before his eyes. In fact, he who has seen the misery of man only has seen nothing, he must see the misery of woman; he who has seen the misery of woman only has seen nothing, he must see the misery of childhood.
When man has reached the last extremity, he comes, at the same time, to the last expedients. Woe to the defenseless beings who surround him! Work, wages, bread, fire, courage, willingness, all fail him at once. The light of day seems to die away without, the moral light dies out within; in this gloom, man meets the weakness of woman and childhood, and puts them by force to ignominious uses.
Then all horrors are possible. Despair is surrounded by fragile walls which all open into vice or crime.
Health, youth, honour, the holy and passionate delicacies of the still tender flesh, the heart, virginity, modesty, that epidermis of the soul, are fatally disposed of by that blind groping which seeks for aid, which meets degradation, and which accommodates itself to it. Fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, men, women, girls, cling together, and almost grow together like a mineral formation, in that dark promiscuity of sexes, of relationships, of ages, of infancy, of innocence. They crouch down, back to back, in a kind of fate-hovel. They glance at one another sorrowfully. Oh, the unfortunate! how pallid they are! how cold they are! It seems as though they were on a planet much further from the sun than we.
This young girl was to Marius a sort of messenger from the night.
She revealed to him an entire and hideous aspect of the darkness.
Marius almost reproached himself with the fact that he had been so absorbed in his reveries and passion that he had not until now cast a glance upon his neighbours. Paying their rent was a mechanical impulse; everybody would have had that impulse; but he, Marius, should have done better. What! a mere wall separated him from these abandoned beings, who lived by groping in the night without the pale of the living; he came in contact with them, he was in some sort the last link of the human race which they touched, he heard them live or rather breathe beside him, and he took no notice of them! every day at every moment, he heard them through the wall, walking, going, coming, talking, and he did not lend his ear! and in these words there were groans, and he did not even listen, his thoughts were elsewhere, upon dreams, upon impossible glimmerings, upon loves in the sky, upon infatuations; and all the while human beings, his brothers in Jesus Christ, his brothers in the people, were suffering death agonies beside him! agonising uselessly; he even caused a portion of their suffering, and aggravated it. For had they had another neighbour, a less chimerical and more observant neighbour, an ordinary and charitable man, it was clear that their poverty would have been noticed, their signals of distress would have been seen, and long ago perhaps they would have been gathered up and saved! Undoubtedly they seemed very depraved, very corrupt, very vile, very hateful, even, but those are rare who fall without becoming degraded; there is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, Les Miserables; whose fault is it? And then, is it not when the fall is lowest that charity ought to be greatest?
While he thus preached to himself, for there were times when Marius, like all truly honest hearts, was his own monitor, and scolded himself more than he deserved, he looked at the wall which separated him from the Jondrettes, as if he could send his pitying glance through that partition to warn those unfortunate beings. The wall was a thin layer of plaster, upheld by laths and joists, through which, as we have just seen, voices and words could be distinguished perfectly. None but the dreamer, Marius, would not have perceived this before. There was no paper hung on this wall, either on the side of the Jondrettes, or on Marius' side; its coarse construction was bare to the eye. Almost unconsciously, Marius examined this partition; sometimes reverie examines, observes, and scrutinises, as thought would do. Suddenly he arose, he noticed towards the top, near the ceiling, a triangular hole, where three laths left a space between them. The plaster which should have stopped this hole was gone, and by getting upon the bureau he could see through that hole into the Jondrettes' garret. Pity has and should have its curiosity. This hole was a kind of Judas. It is lawful to look upon misfortune like a betrayer for the sake of relieving it. "Let us see what these people are," thought Marius, "and to what they are reduced." He climbed upon the bureau, put his eye to the crevice, and looked.
Cities, like forests, have their dens in which hide all their vilest and most terrible monsters. But in cities, what hides thus is ferocious, unclean, and petty, that is to say, ugly; in forests, what hides is ferocious, savage, and grand, that is to say, beautiful. Den for den, those of beasts are preferable to those of men. Caverns are better than the wretched holes which shelter humanity.
What Marius saw was a hole.
Marius was poor and his room was poorly furnished, but even as his poverty was noble, his garret was clean. The den into which his eyes were at that moment directed, was abject, filthy, fetid, infectious, gloomy, unclean. All the furniture was a straw chair, a rickety table, a few old broken dishes, and in two of the corners two indescribable pallets; all the light came from a dormer window of four panes, curtained with spiders' webs. Just enough light came through that loophole to make a man's face appear like the face of a phantom. The walls had a leprous look, and were covered with reams and scars like a face disfigured by some horrible malady; a putrid moisture oozed from them. Obscene pictures could be discovered upon them coarsely sketched in charcoal.
The room which Marius occupied had a broken brick pavement; this one was neither paved nor floored; the inmates walked immediately upon the old plastering of the ruinous tenement, which had grown black under their feet. Upon this uneven soil where the dust was, as it were, incrusted, and which was virgin soil in respect only of the broom, were grouped at random constellations of socks, old shoes, and hideous rags; however, this room had a fireplace; so it rented for forty francs a year. In the fireplace there was a little of everything, a chafing-dish, a kettle, some broken boards, rags hanging on nails, a bird cage, some ashes, and even a little fire. Two embers were smoking sullenly.
The size of this garret added still more to its horror. It had projections, angles, black holes, recesses under the roof, bays, and promontories. Beyond were hideous, unfathomable corners, which seemed as if they must be full of spiders as big as one's fist, centipedes as large as one's foot, and perhaps even some unknown monsters of humanity.
Upon one of the pallets Marius could discern a sort of slender little wan girl seated, almost naked, with her feet hanging down, having the appearance neither of listening, nor of seeing, nor of living.
The younger sister, doubtless, of the one who had come to his room.
She appeared to be eleven or twelve years old. On examining her attentively, he saw that she must be fourteen. It was the child who, the evening before, on the boulevard, said: "I cavale, cavale, cavale!"
She was of that sickly species which long remain backward, then pushes forward rapidly, and all at once. These sorry human plants are produced by want. These poor creatures have neither childhood nor youth. At fifteen they appear to be twelve; at sixteen they appear to be twenty. To-day a little girl, tomorrow a woman. One would say that they leap through life, to have done with it sooner.
This being now had the appearance of a child.
Marius, with a heavy heart, was about to get down from the sort of observatory which he had extemporised, when a sound attracted his attention, and induced him to remain in his place.
The door of the garret was hastily opened. The eldest daughter appeared upon the threshold. On her feet she had coarse men's shoes, covered with mud, which had been spattered as high as her red ankles, and she was wrapped in a ragged old gown which Marius had not seen upon her an hour before, but which she had probably left at his door that she might inspire the more pity, and which she must have put on upon going out. She came in, pushed the door to behind her, stopped to take breath, for she was quite breathless, then cried with an expression of joy and triumph:
"He is coming!"
The father turned his eyes, the woman turned her head, the younger sister did not stir.
"Who?" asked the father.
"Of the church of Saint Jacques?"
"That old man?"
"He is going to come?"
"He is behind me."
"You are sure?"
"I am sure."
"There, true, he is coming?"
"He is coming in a fiacre."
"In a fiacre. It is Rothschild?"
The father arose.
"How are you sure? if he is coming in a fiacre, how is it that you get here before him? you gave him the address, at least? you told him the last door at the end of the hall on the right? provided he does not make a mistake? you found him at the church then? did he read my letter? what did he say to you?"
"Tut, tut, tut!" said the girl, "how you run on, goodman! I'll tell you: I went into the church, he was at his usual place, I made a curtsey to him, and I gave him the letter, he read it and said to me: Where do you live, my child? I said: Monsieur, I will show you. He said to me: No, give me your address; my daughter has some purchases to make, I am going to take a carriage and I will get to your house as soon as you do. I gave him the address. When I told him the house, he appeared surprised and hesitated an instant, then he said: It is all the same, I will go. When mass was over, I saw him leave the church with his daughter. I saw them get into a fiacre. And I told him plainly the last door at the end of the hall on the right."
"And how do you know that he will come?"
"I just saw the fiacre coming into the Rue du Petit Banquier. That is what made me run."
"How do you know it is the same fiacre?"
"Because I had noticed the number."
"What is the number?
"Four hundred and forty."
"Good, you are a clever girl."
The girl looked resolutely at her father, and showing the shoes which she had on, said: "A clever girl, that may be, but I tell you that I shall never put on these shoes again, and that I will not do it, for health first, and then for decency's sake. I know nothing more provoking than soles that squeak and go ghee, ghee, ghee, all along the street. I would rather go barefoot."
"You are right," answered the father, in a mild tone which contrasted with the rudeness of the young girl, "but they would not let you go into the churches; the poor must have shoes. People do not go to God's house barefooted," added he bitterly. Then returning to the subject which occupied his thoughts-
"And you are sure then, sure that he is coming?"
"He is at my heels," said she.
The man sprang up. There was a sort of illumination on his face.
"Wife!" cried he, "you hear. Here is the philanthropist. Put out the fire."
The astounded woman did not stir.
The father, with the agility of a mountebank, caught a broken pot which stood on the mantel, and threw some water upon the embers.
Then turning to his elder daughter:
"You! unbottom the chair!"
His daughter did not understand him at all.
He seized the chair, and with a kick he ruined the seat. His leg went through it.
As he drew out his leg, he asked his daughter:
"Is it cold?"
"Very cold. It snows."
The father turned towards the younger girl, who was on the pallet near the window, and cried in a thundering voice:
"Quick! off the bed, good-for-nothing! will you never do anything? break a pane of glass!"
The little girl sprang off the bed trembling.
"Break a pane of glass!" said be again.
The child was speechless.
"Do you hear me?" repeated the father, "I tell you to break a pane!"
The child, with a sort of terrified obedience, rose upon tiptoe and struck her fist into a pane. The glass broke and fell with a crash.
"Good," said the father.
He was serious, yet rapid. His eye ran hastily over all the nooks and corners of the garret.
You would have said he was a general, making his final preparations at the moment when the battle was about to begin.
The mother, who had not yet said a word, got up and asked in a slow, muffled tone, her words seeming to come out as if curdled:
"Dear, what is it you want to do?"
"Get into bed," answered the man.
His tone admitted of no deliberation. The mother obeyed, and threw herself heavily upon one of the pallets.
Meanwhile a sob was heard in a corner.
"What is that?" cried the father.
The younger daughter, without coming out of the darkness into which she had shrunk, showed her bleeding fist. In breaking the glass she had cut herself; she had gone to her mother's bed, and she was weeping in silence.
It was the mother's turn to rise and cry out.
"You see now! what stupid things you are doing? breaking your glass, she has cut herself!"
"So much the better!" said the man. "I knew she would."
"How! so much the better?" resumed the woman.
"Silence!" replied the father. "I suppress the liberty of the press."
Then tearing the chemise which he had on, he made a bandage with which he hastily wrapped up the little girl's bleeding wrist.
That done, his eye fell upon the torn chemise with satisfaction.
"And the chemise too," said he, "all this has a good appearance."
An icy wind whistled at the window and came into the room. The mist from without entered and spread about like a whitish wadding picked apart by invisible fingers. Through the broken pane the falling snow was seen. The cold promised the day before by the Candlemas sun had come indeed.
The father cast a glance about him as if to assure himself that he had forgotten nothing. He took an old shovel and spread ashes over the moistened embers in such a way as to hide them completely.
Then rising and standing with his back to the chimney:
"Now," said he, "we can receive the philanthropist."
The large girl went to her father and laid her hand on his.
"Feel how cold I am," said she.
"Pshaw!" answered the father. "I am a good deal colder than that."
The mother cried impetuously:
"You always have everything better than the rest, even pain."
"Down!" said the man.
The mother, after a peculiar look from the man, held her peace.
There was a moment of silence in the den. The eldest daughter was scraping the mud off the bottom of her dress with a careless air, the young sister continued to sob; the mother had taken her head in both hands and was covering her with kisses, saying to her in a low tone:
"My treasure, I beg of you, it will be nothing, do not cry, you will make your father angry."
"No!" cried the father, "on the contrary! sob! sob! that does finely."
Then turning to the eldest:
"Ah! but he does not come! if he was not coming, I shall have put out my fire, knocked the bottom out of my chair, torn my chemise, and broken my window for nothing."
"And cut the little girl!" murmured the mother.
"Do you know," resumed the father, "that it is as cold as a dog in this devilish garret? If this man should not come! Oh! that is it! he makes us wait for him! he says: Well! they will wait for me! that is what they are for!- Oh! how I hate them, and how I would strangle them with joy and rejoicing, enthusiasm and satisfaction, these rich men! all the rich! these professed charitable men, who make their plums, who go to mass, who follow the priesthood, preachy, preachy, who give in to the cowls, and who think themselves above us, and who come to humiliate us, and to bring us clothes! as they call them! rags which are not worth four sous, and bread! that is not what I want of the rabble! I want money! But money, never! because they say that we would go and drink it, and that we are drunkards and do-nothings! And what then are they, and what have they been in their time? Thieves! they would not have got rich without that! Oh! somebody ought to take society by the four corners of the sheet and toss it all into the air! Everything would be crushed, it is likely, but at least nobody would have anything, there would be so much gained! But what now is he doing, your mug of a benevolent gentleman? is he coming? The brute may have forgotten the address! I will bet that the old fool-"
Just then there was a light rap at the door, the man rushed forward and opened it, exclaiming with many low bows and smiles of adoration:
"Come in, monsieur! deign to come in, my noble benefactor, as well as your charming young lady."
A man of mature age and a young girl appeared at the door of the garret.
Marius had not left his place. What he felt at that moment escapes human language.
It was She.
Whoever has loved, knows all the radiant meaning contained in the three letters of this word: She.
It was indeed she. Marius could hardly discern her through the luminous vapour which suddenly spread over his eyes. It was that sweet absent being, that star which had been his light, for six months, it was that eye, that brow, that mouth, that beautiful vanished face which had produced night when it went away. The vision had been in an eclipse, it was reappearing.
She appeared again this gloom, in this garret, in this shapeless den, in this horror!
Marius shuddered desperately. What! it was she! the beating of his heart disturbed his sight. He felt ready to melt into tears. What! at last he saw her again after having sought for her so long! it seemed to him that he had just lost his soul and that he had just found it again.
She was still the same, a little paler only; her delicate face was set in a violet velvet hat, her form was hidden under a black satin pelisse, below her long dress he caught a glimpse of her little foot squeezed into a silk buskin.
She was still accompanied by Monsieur Leblanc.
She stepped into the room and laid a large package on the table.
The elder Jondrette girl had retreated behind the door and was looking upon that velvet hat, that silk dress, and that charming happy face, with an evil eye.
The den was so dark that people who came from outdoors felt as if they were entering a cellar on coming in. The two newcomers stepped forward, therefore, with some hesitation, hardly discerning the dim forms about them, while they were seen and examined with perfect ease by the tenants of the garret, whose eyes were accustomed to this twilight.
Monsieur Leblanc approached with his kind and compassionate look, and said to the father:
"Monsieur, you will find in this package some new clothes, some stockings, and some new coverlids."
"Our angelic benefactor overwhelms us," said Jondrette, bowing down to the floor. Then, stooping to his eldest daughter's ear, while the two visitors were examining this lamentable abode, he added rapidly in a whisper:
"Well! what did I tell you? rags? no money. They are all alike! Tell me, how was the letter to this old blubber-lip signed?"
"Fabantou," answered the daughter.
"The dramatic artist, good!"
This was lucky for Jondrette, for at that very moment Monsieur Leblanc turned towards him and said to him, with the appearance of one who is trying to recollect a name:
"I see that you are indeed to be pitied, Monsieur-"
"Fabantou," said Jondrette quickly.
"Monsieur Fabantou, yes, that is it. I remember."
"Dramatic artist, monsieur, and who has had his successes."
Here Jondrette evidently thought the moment come to make an impression upon the "philanthropist." He exclaimed in a tone of voice which belongs to the braggadocio of the juggler at a fair, and, at the same time, to the humility of a beggar on the highway: "Pupil of Talma! Monsieur! I am a pupil of Talma! Fortune once smiled on me. Alas! now it is the turn of misfortune. Look, my benefactor, no bread, no fire. My poor darlings have no fire! My only chair unseated! A broken window! in such weather as is this! My spouse in bed! sick!"
"Poor woman!" said Monsieur Leblanc.
"My child injured!" added Jondrette.
The child, whose attention had been diverted by the arrival of the strangers, was staring at "the young lady," and had ceased her sobbing.
"Why don't you cry? why don't you scream?" said Jondrette to her in a whisper.
At the same time he pinched her injured hand. All this with the skill of a juggler.
The little one uttered loud cries.
The adorable young girl whom Marius in his heart called "his Ursula" went quickly to her:
"Poor, dear child!" said she.
"Look, my beautiful young lady," pursued Jondrette, "her bleeding wrist! It is an accident which happened in working at a machine by which she earned six sous a day. It may be necessary to cut off her arm."
"Indeed!" said the old gentleman alarmed.
The little girl, taking this seriously, began to sob again beautifully.
"Alas, yes, my benefactor!" answered the father.
For some moments, Jondrette had been looking at "the philanthropist" in a strange manner. Even while speaking, he seemed to scrutinise him closely as if he were trying to recall some reminiscence. Suddenly, taking advantage of a moment when the newcomers were anxiously questioning the smaller girl about her mutilated hand, he passed over to his wife who was lying in her bed, appearing to be overwhelmed and stupid, and said to her quickly and in a very low tone:
"Notice that man!"
Then turning towards M. Leblanc, and continuing his lamentation:
"You see, monsieur! my whole dress is nothing but a chemise of my wife's! and that all torn! in the heart of winter. I cannot go out, for lack of a coat. And not a sou in the house! My wife sick, not a sou! My daughter dangerously injured, not a sou! My spouse has choking fits. It is her time of life, and then the nervous system has something to do with it. She needs aid, and my daughter also! But the doctor! but the druggist! how can I pay them! not a penny! I would fall on my knees before a penny, monsieur! You see how the arts are fallen! And do you know, my charming young lady, and you, my generous patron, do you know, you who breathe virtue and goodness, and who perfume that church where my daughter, in going to say her prayers, sees you every day? For I bring my daughters up religiously, monsieur. I have not allowed them to take to the theatre. Ah! the rogues!
Well, monsieur, my worthy monsieur, do you know what is going to happen tomorrow? Tomorrow is the 4th of February, the fatal day, the last delay that my landlord will give me; if I do not pay him this evening, tomorrow my eldest daughter, myself, my spouse with her fever, my child with her wound, we shall all four be turned out of doors, and driven off into the street, upon the boulevard, without shelter, into the rain, upon the snow. You see, monsieur, I owe four quarters, a year! that is sixty francs."
Jondrette lied. Four quarters would have made but forty francs, and he could not have owed for four, since it was not six months since Marius had paid for two.
M. Leblanc took five francs from his pocket and threw them on the table.
Jondrette had time to mutter into the ear of his elder daughter:
"The whelp! what does he think I am going to do with his five francs? That will not pay for my chair and my window! I must make my expenses!"
Meantime, M. Leblanc had taken off a large brown overcoat, which he wore over his blue surtout, and hung it over the back of the chair.
"Monsieur Fabantou," said he, "I have only these five francs with me; but I am going to take my daughter home, and I will return this evening; is it not this evening that you have to pay?"
Jondrette's face lighted up with a strange expression. He answered quickly:
"Yes, my noble monsieur. At eight o'clock, I must be at my landlord's."
"I will be here at six o'clock, and I will bring you the sixty francs."
"My benefactor!" cried Jondrette, distractedly.
And he added in an undertone:
"Take a good look at him, wife!"
M. Leblanc took the arm of the beautiful young girl, and turned towards the door:
"Till this evening, my friends," said he.
"Six o'clock," said Jondrette.
"Six o'clock precisely."
Just then the overcoat on the chair caught the eye of the elder daughter.
"Monsieur," said she, "you forget your coat."
Jondrette threw a crushing glance at his daughter, accompanied by a terrible shrug of the shoulders.
M. Leblanc turned and answered with a smile:
"I do not forget it, I leave it."
"O my patron," said Jondrette, "my noble benefactor, I am melting into tears! Allow me to conduct you to your carriage."
"If you go out," replied M. Leblanc, "put on this overcoat. It is really very cold."
Jondrette did not make him say it twice. He put on the brown overcoat very quickly.
And they went out all three, Jondrette preceding the two strangers.
Marius had lost nothing of all this scene, and yet in reality he had seen nothing of it. His eyes had remained fixed upon the young girl, his heart had, so to speak, seized upon her and enveloped her entirely, from her first step into the garret. During the whole time she had been there, he had lived that life of ecstasy which suspends material perceptions and precipitates the whole soul upon a single point.
When he went out, he had but one thought, to follow her, not to give up her track, not to leave her without knowing where she lived, not to lose her again, at least, after having so miraculously found her! He leaped down from the bureau and took his hat. As he was putting his hand on the bolt, and was just going out, he reflected and stopped. The hall was long, the stairs steep, Jondrette a great talker, M. Leblanc doubtless had not yet got into his carriage; if he should turn round in the passage, or on the stairs, or on the doorstep, and perceive him, Marius, in that house, he would certainly be alarmed and would find means to escape him anew, and it would be all over at once. What was to be done? wait a little? but during the delay the carriage might go. Marius was perplexed. At last he took the risk and went out of his room.
There was nobody in the hall. He ran to the stairs. There was nobody on the stairs. He hurried down, and reached the boulevard in time to see a fiacre turn the corner of the Rue du Petit Banquier and return into the city.
Marius rushed in that direction. When he reached the corner of the boulevard, he saw the fiacre again going rapidly down the Rue Mouffetard; the fiacre was already at a long distance, there was no means of reaching it; what should he do? run after it? impossible; and then from the carriage they would certainly notice a man running at full speed in pursuit of them, and the father would recognise him. Just at this moment, marvellous and unheard-of good fortune, Marius saw a public cab passing along the boulevard, empty. There was but one course to take, to get into this cab, and follow the fiacre. That was sure, effectual, and without danger.
Marius made a sign to the driver to stop, and cried to him:
Marius had no cravat, he had on his old working coat, some of the buttons of which were missing, and his shirt was torn in one of the plaits of the bosom.
The driver stopped, winked, and reached his left hand towards Marius, rubbing his forefinger gently with his thumb.
"What?" said Marius.
"Pay in advance," said the driver.
Marius remembered that he had only sixteen sous with him.
"How much?" he asked.
"I will pay when I get back."
The driver made no reply, but to whistle an air from La Palisse and whip up his horse.
Marius saw the cab move away with a bewildered air. For the want of twenty-four sous he was losing his joy, his happiness, his love! he was falling back into night! he had seen, and he was again becoming blind. He thought bitterly, and it must indeed be said, with deep regret, of the five francs he had given that very morning to that miserable girl. Had he had those five francs he would have been saved, he would have been born again, he would have come out of limbo and darkness, he would have come out of his isolation, his spleen, his bereavement; he would have again knotted the black thread of his destiny with that beautiful golden thread which had just floated before his eyes and broken off once more. He returned to the old tenement in despair.
He might have thought that M. Leblanc had promised to return in the evening, and that he had only to take better care to follow him then; but in his wrapt contemplation he had hardly understood it.
Just as he went up the stairs, he noticed on the other side of the boulevard, beside the deserted wall of the Rue de la Barriere des Gobelins, Jondrette in the "philanthropist's" overcoat, talking to one of those men of dangerous appearance, who, by common consent, are called prowlers of the barrieres; men of equivocal faces, suspicious speech, who have an appearance of evil intentions, and who usually sleep by day, which leads us to suppose that they work by night.
These two men quietly talking while the snow was whirling about them in its fall made a picture which a policeman certainly would have observed, but which Marius hardly noticed.
Marius mounted the stairs of the old tenement with slow steps; just as he was going into his cell, he perceived in the hall behind him the elder Jondrette girl, who was following him. This girl was odious to his sight; it was she who had his five francs, it was too late to ask her for them, the cab was there no longer, the fiacre was far away. Moreover she would not give them back to him. As to questioning her about the address of the people who had just come, that was useless; it was plain that she did not know, since the letter signed Fabantou was addressed to the beneficent gentleman of the Church Saint Jacques du Haut Pas.
Marius went into his room and pushed to his door behind him.
It did not close; he turned and saw a hand holding the door partly open.
"What is it?" he asked; "who is there?"
It was the Jondrette girl.
"Is it you?" said Marius almost harshly, "you again? What do you want of me?"
She seemed thoughtful and did not look at him. She had lost the assurance which she had had in the morning. She did not come in, but stopped in the dusky hall, where Marius perceived her through the half-open door.
"Come now, will you answer?" said Marius. "What is it you want of me?"
She raised her mournful eyes, in which a sort of confused light seemed to shine dimly, and said to him:
"Monsieur Marius, you look sad. What is the matter with you?"
"There is nothing the matter with me."
"I tell you there is!"
"Let me be quiet!"
Marius pushed the door anew, she still held it back.
An idea came into Marius' mind. What straw do we despise when we feel that we are sinking.
He approached the girl.
"Listen," said he to her, kindly.
She interrupted him with a flash of joy in her eyes.
"Oh! yes, talk softly to me! I like that better."
"Well," resumed he, "you brought this old gentleman here with his daughter."
"Do you know their address?"
"Find it for me."
The girl's eyes, which had been gloomy, had become joyful; they now became dark.
"Is that what you want?" she asked.
"Do you know them?"
"That is to say," said she hastily, "you do not know her, but you want to know her."
This them which had become her had an indescribable significance and bitterness.
"Well, can you do it?" said Marius.
"You shall have the beautiful young lady's address."
There was again, in these words "the beautiful young lady," an expression which made Marius uneasy. He continued:
"Well, no matter! the address of the father and daughter. Their address, yes!"
She looked steadily at him.
"What will you give me?"
"Anything you wish!"
"Anything I wish?"
"You shall have the address."
She looked down, and then with a hasty movement closed the door.
Marius was alone.
He dropped into a chair, with his head and both elbows on the bed, swallowed up in thoughts which he could not grasp, and as if he were in a fit of vertigo. All that had taken place since morning, the appearance of the angel, her disappearance, what this poor creature had just said to him, a gleam of hope floating in an ocean of despair,- all this was confusedly crowding his brain.
Suddenly he was violently awakened from his reverie.
He heard the loud, harsh voice of Jondrette pronounce these words for him, full of the strangest interest:
"I tell you that I am sure of it, and that I recognised him!"
Of whom was Jondrette talking? he had recognised whom? M. Leblanc? the father of "his Ursula?" What did Jondrette know him? was Marius just about to get in this sudden and unexpected way all the information the lack of which made his life obscure to himself? was he at last to know whom he loved, who that young girl was? who her father was? was the thick shadow which enveloped them to be, rolled away? was the veil to be rent? Oh! heavens!
He sprang, rather than mounted, upon the bureau, and resumed his place near the little aperture in the partition.
He again saw the interior of the Jondrette den.
Nothing had changed in the appearance of the family, except that the wife and daughters had opened the package, and put on the woollen stockings and underclothes. Two new coverlids were thrown over the two beds.
Jondrette had evidently just come in. He had not yet recovered his regular breathing. His daughters were sitting on the floor near the fireplace, the elder binding up the hand of the younger. His wife lay as if exhausted upon the pallet near the fireplace, with an astonished countenance. Jondrette was walking up and down the garret with rapid strides. His eyes had an extraordinary look.
The woman, who seemed timid and stricken with stupor before her husband, ventured to say to him:
"What, really? you are sure?"
"Sure! It was eight years ago! but I recognise him! Ah! I recognise him! I recognised him immediately. What! it did not strike you?"
"And yet I told you to pay attention. But it is the same height, the same face, hardly any older; there are some men who do not grow old; I don't know how they do it; it is the same tone of voice. He is better dressed, that is all! Ah! mysterious old devil, I have got you, all right!"
He checked himself, and said to his daughters:
"You go out! It is queer that it did not strike your eye."
They got up to obey.
The mother stammered out:
"With her sore hand?"
"The air will do her good," said Jondrette. "Go along."
It was clear that this man was one of those to whom there is no reply. The two girls went out.
Just as they were passing the door, the father caught the elder by the arm, and said with a peculiar tone:
"You will be here at five o'clock precisely. Both of you. I shall need you."
Marius redoubled his attention.
Alone with his wife, Jondrette began to walk the room again, and took two or three turns in silence. Then he spent a few minutes in tucking the bottom of the woman's chemise which he wore into the waist of his trousers.
Suddenly he turned towards the woman, folded his arms, and exclaimed:
"And do you want I should tell you one thing? the young lady-"
"Well, what?" said the woman, "the young lady?"
Marius could doubt no longer, it was indeed of her that they were talking. He listened with an intense anxiety. His whole life was concentrated in his ears.
But Jondrette stooped down, and whispered to his wife. Then he straightened up and finished aloud:
"It is she!"
"That girl?" said the wife.
"That girl!" said the husband.
No words could express what there was in the that girl of the mother. It was surprise, rage, hatred, anger, mingled and combined in a monstrous intonation. The few words that had been spoken, some name, doubtless, which her husband had whispered in her ear, had been enough to rouse this huge drowsy woman and to change her repulsiveness to hideousness.
"Impossible!" she exclaimed, "when I think that my daughters go barefoot and have not a dress to put on! What! a satin pelisse, a velvet hat, buskins, and all! more than two hundred francs worth! one would think she was a lady! no, you are mistaken! why, in the first place she was horrid, this one is not bad! she is really not bad! it cannot be she!"
"I tell you it is she. You will see."
At this absolute affirmation, the woman raised her big red and blond face and looked at the ceiling with a hideous expression. At that moment she appeared to Marius still more terrible than her husband. She was a swine with the look of a tigress.
"What!" she resumed, "this horrible beautiful young lady who looked at my girls with an appearance of pity, can she be that beggar! Oh, I would like to stamp her heart out!"
She sprang off the bed, and remained a moment standing, her hair flying, her nostrils distended, her mouth half open, her fists clenched and drawn back. Then she fell back upon the pallet. The man. still walked back and forth, paying no attention to his female.
After a few moments of silence, he approached her and stopped before her, with folded arms, as before.
"And do you want I should tell you one thing?"
"What?" she asked.
He answered in a quick and low voice:
"My fortune is made."
The woman stared at him with that look which means: Has the man who is talking to me gone crazy?
"Thunder! it is a good long time now that I have been a parishioner of the die-of-hunger-if-you-have-any-fire-and-die-of- cold-if-you-have-any-bread parish! I have had misery enough! my yoke and the yoke of other people! I jest no longer, I find it comic no longer, enough of puns, good God! No more farces, Father Eternal! I want drink for my thirst! to stuff! to sleep! to do nothing! I want to have my turn, I do! before I burst! I want to be a millionaire!"
He took a turn about the garret and added:
"Like other people."
"What do you mean?" asked the woman.
He shook his head, winked and lifted his voice like a street doctor about to make a demonstration:
"What do I mean? listen!"
"Hist!" muttered the woman, "not so loud! if it means business nobody must hear."
"Pshaw! who is there to hear? our neighbour? I saw him go out just now. Besides, does he hear, the great stupid? and then I tell you that I saw him go out."
Nevertheless, by a sort of instinct, Jondrette lowered his voice, not enough, however, for his words to escape Marius. A favourable circumstance, and one which enabled Marius to lose nothing of this conversation, was that the fallen snow deafened the sound of the carriages on the boulevard.
Marius heard this:
"Listen attentively. He is caught, the Croesus! it is all right. It is already done. Everything is arranged. I have seen the men. He will come this evening at six o'clock. To bring his sixty francs, the rascal! did you see how I got that out, my sixty francs, my landlord, my 4th of February! it is not even a quarter! was that stupid! He will come then at six o'clock! our neighbour is gone to dinner then. Mother Bougon is washing dishes in the city. There is nobody in the house. Our neighbour never comes back before eleven o'clock. The girls will stand watch. You shall help us. He will be his own executor."
"And if he should not be his own executor," asked the wife.
Jondrette made a sinister gesture and said:
"We will execute him."
And he burst into a laugh.
It was the first time that Marius had seen him laugh. This laugh was cold and feeble, and made him shudder.
Jondrette opened a closet near the chimney, took out an old cap and put it on his head after brushing it with his sleeve.
"Now," said he, "I am going out. I have still some men to see. Some good ones. You will see how it is going to work. I shall be back as soon as possible, it is a great hand to play, look out for the house."
And with his two fists in the two pockets of his trousers, he stood a moment in thought, then exclaimed:
"Do you know that it is very lucky indeed that he did not recognise me? If he had been the one to recognise me he would not have come back. He would escape us! It is my beard that saved me! my romantic beard! my pretty little romantic beard!"
And he began to laugh again.
Jondrette closed the door, and Marius heard his steps recede along the hall and go rapidly down the stairs. Just then the clock of Saint Medard struck one.
Marius got down from the bureau as quietly he could, taking care to
make no noise.
In the midst of his dread at what was in preparation, and the horror with which the Jondrettes had inspired him, he felt a sort of joy at the idea that it would perhaps be given to him to render so great a service to her whom he loved.
But what was he to do? warn the persons threatened? where should he find them? He did not know their address. They had reappeared to his eyes for an instant, then they had again plunged into the boundless depths of Paris. Wait at the door for M. Leblanc at six o'clock in the evening, the time when he would arrive, and warn him of the plot? But Jondrette and his men would see him watching, the place was solitary, they would be stronger than he, they would find means to seize him or get him out of the way, and he whom Marius wished to save would be lost. One o'clock had just struck, the ambuscade was to be carried out at six. Marius had five hours before him.
There was but one thing to be done.
He put on his presentable coat, tied a cravat about his neck, took his hat, and went out, without making any more noise than if he had been walking barefooted upon moss.
Besides the Jondrette woman was still fumbling over her old iron.
Once out of the house, he went to the Rue du Petit Banquier.
He went towards the Faubourg Saint Marceau, and asked at the first shop in his way where he could find a commissary of police.
Number 14, Rue de Pontoise, was pointed out to him.
Marius went thither.
Passing a baker's shop, he bought a two-sou loaf and ate it, foreseeing that he would have no dinner.
On his way he rendered to Providence its due. He thought that if he had not given his five francs to the Jondrette girl in the morning, he would have followed M. Leblanc's fiacre, and consequently known nothing of this, so that there would have been no obstacle to the ambuscade of the Jondrettes, and M. Leblanc would have been lost, and doubtless his daughter with him.
On reaching Number 14, Rue de Pontoise, he went upstairs and asked for the commissary of police.
"The commissary of police is not in," said one of the office boys; "but there is an inspector who answers for him. Would you like to speak to him? is it urgent?"
"Yes," said Marius.
The office boy introduced him into the commissary's private room. A man of tall stature was standing there behind a railing, in front of a stove, and holding up with both hands the flaps of a huge overcoat with three capes. He had a square face, a thin and firm mouth, very fierce, bushy, greyish whiskers, and an eye that would turn your pockets inside out. You might have said of this eye, not that it penetrated, but that it ransacked.
This man's appearance was not much less ferocious or formidable than Jondrette's; it is sometimes no less startling to meet the dog than the wolf.
"What do you wish?" said he to Marius, without adding monsieur.
"The commissary of police?"
"He is absent. I answer for him."
"It is a very secret affair."
"And very urgent."
"Then speak quickly."
This man, calm and abrupt, was at the same time alarming and reassuring. He inspired fear and confidence. Marius related his adventure.- That a person whom he only knew by sight was to be drawn into an ambuscade that very evening; that occupying the room next the place, he, Marius Pontmercy, attorney, had heard the whole plot through the partition; that the scoundrel who had contrived the plot was named Jondrette; that Jondrette's daughters would stand watch; that there was no means of warning the threatened man, as not even his name was known; and finally, that all this was to be done at six o'clock that evening, at the most desolate spot on the Boulevard de l'Hopital, in the house numbered 50-52.
At that number the inspector raised his head, and said coolly:
"It is then in the room at the end of the hall?"
"Exactly," said Marius, and he added, "Do you know that house?"
The inspector remained silent a moment, then answered, warming the heel of his boot at the door of the stove:
"It seems so."
He continued between his teeth, speaking less to Marius than to his cravat.
"No. 50-52. I know the shanty. Impossible to hide ourselves in the interior without the artists perceiving us, then they would leave and break up the play. They are so modest! the public annoys them. None of that, none of that. I want to hear them sing, and make them dance."
This monologue finished, he turned towards Marius and asked him looking steadily at him:
"Will you be afraid?"
"Of what?" said Marius.
"Of these men?"
"No more than you!" replied Marius rudely, who began to notice that this police spy had not yet called him monsieur.
The inspector looked at Marius still more steadily and continued with a sententious, solemnity:
"You speak now like a brave man and an honest man. Courage does not fear crime, and honesty does not fear authority."
Marius interrupted him:
"That is well enough; but what are you going to do?"
The inspector merely answered:
"The lodgers in that house have latch-keys to get in with at night. You must have one?"
"Yes." said Marius.
"Have you it with you?"
"Give it to me," said the inspector.
Marius took his key from his waistcoat, handed it to the inspector, and added:
"If you trust me you will come in force."
The inspector threw a glance upon Marius such as Voltaire would have thrown upon a provincial academician who had proposed a rhyme to him; with a single movement he plunged both his hands, which were enormous, into the two immense pockets of his overcoat, and took out two small steel pistols, of the kind called fisticuffs. He presented them to Marius, saying hastily and abruptly.
"Take these. Go back home. Hide yourself in your room; let them think you have gone out. They are loaded. Each with two balls. You will watch; there is a hole in the wall, as you have told me. The men will come. Let them go on a little. When you deem the affair at a point, and when it is time to stop it, you will fire off a pistol. Not too soon. The rest is my affair. A shot in the air, into the ceiling, no matter where. Above all, not too soon. Wait till the consummation is commenced; you are a lawyer, you know what that is."
Marius took the pistols and put them in the side pocket of his coat.
"They make a bunch that way, they show," said the inspector. "Put them in your fobs rather."
Marius hid the pistols in his fobs.
"Now," pursued the inspector, "there is not a minute to be lost by anybody. What time is it? Half past two. It is at seven?"
"Six o'clock," said Marius.
"I have time enough," continued the inspector, "but I have only enough. Forget nothing of what I have told you. Bang. A pistol shot."
"Be assured," answered Marius.
And as Marius placed his hand on the latch of the door to go out, the inspector called to him:
"By the way, if you need me between now and then, come or send here. You will ask for Inspector Javert."
Marius sat down on his bed. It might have been half-past five o'clock. A half-hour only separated him from what was to come. He heard his arteries beat as one hears the ticking of a watch in the dark. He thought of this double march that was going on that moment in the darkness, crime advancing on the one hand, justice coming on the other. He was not afraid, but he could not think without a sort of shudder of the things which were so soon to take place. To him, as to all those whom some surprising adventure has suddenly befallen, this whole day seemed but a dream; and, to assure himself that he was not the prey of a nightmare, he had to feel the chill of the two steel pistols in his fob-pockets.
It was not now snowing; the moon, growing brighter and brighter, was getting clear of the haze, and its light, mingled with the white reflection from the fallen snow, gave the room a twilight appearance.
There was a light in the Jondrette den. Marius saw the hole in the partition shine with a red gleam which appeared to him bloody.
He was sure that this gleam could hardly be produced by a candle. However, there was no movement in their room, nobody was stirring there, nobody spoke, not a breath, the stillness was icy and deep, and save for that light he could have believed that he was beside a sepulchre.
Marius took his boots off softly, and pushed them under his bed. Some minutes passed. Marius heard the lower door turn its on hinges; a heavy and rapid step ascended the stairs and passed along the corridor, the latch of the garret was noisily lifted; Jondrette came in.
"Have you greased the hinges of the door, so that they shall not make any noise?"
"Yes," answered the mother.
"What time is it?"
"Six o'clock, almost. The half has just struck on Saint Medard."
"The devil!" said Jondrette, "the girls must go and stand watch. Come here, you children, and listen to me."
There was a whispering.
Jondrette's voice rose again:
"Has Burgon gone out?"
"Yes," said the mother.
"Are you sure there is nobody at home in our neighbour's room?"
"He has not been back to-day, and you know that it is his dinner time."
"You are sure?"
"It is all the same," replied Jondrette; "there is no harm in going to see whether he is at home. Daughter, take the candle and go."
Marius dropped on his hands and knees, and crept noiselessly under the bed.
Hardly had he concealed himself, when he perceived a light through the cracks of his door.
"P'pa," cried a voice, "he has gone out."
He recognised the voice of the elder girl.
"Have you gone in?" asked the father.
"No," answered the girl, "but as his key is in the door, he has gone out."
A moment afterwards, Marius heard the sound of the bare feet of the
two young girls in the passage, and the voice of Jondrette crying to
"Pay attention, now! one towards the barriere, the other at the corner of the Rue du Petit Banquier. Don't lose sight of the house door a minute, and if you see the least thing, here immediately! tumble along! You have a key to come in with."
The elder daughter muttered:
"To stand sentry barefoot in the snow!"
"Tomorrow you shall have boots of beetle colour silk!" said the father.
They went down the stairs, and, a few seconds afterwards, the sound of the lower door shutting announced that they had gone out.
There were now in the house only Marius and the Jondrettes.
Marius judged that the time had come to resume his place at his observatory. In a twinkling, and with the agility of his age, he was at the hole in the partition.
He looked in.
The interior of the Jondrette apartment presented a singular appearance, and Marius found the explanation of the strange light which he had noticed. A candle was burning in a verdigrised candlestick, but it was not that which really lighted the room. The entire den was, as it were, illuminated by the reflection of a large sheet iron furnace in the fireplace, which was filled with charcoal. The fire which the female Jondrette had made ready in the daytime. The charcoal was burning and the furnace was red hot, a blue flame danced over it and helped to show the form of the chisel bought by Jondrette in the Rue Pierre Lombard, which was growing ruddy among the coals. In a corner near the door, and arranged as if for anticipated use, were two heaps which appeared to be, one a heap of old iron, the other a heap of ropes. All this would have made one, who had known nothing of what was going forward, waver between a very sinister idea and a very simple idea. The room thus lighted up seemed rather a smithy than a mouth of hell; but Jondrette, in that glare, had rather the appearance of a demon than of a blacksmith.
Suddenly Jondrette raised his voice:
"By the way, now, I think of it. In such weather as this he will come in a fiacre. Light the lantern, take it, and go down. You will stay there behind the lower door. The moment you hear the carriage stop you will open immediately, he will come up, you will light him up the stairs and above the hall, and when he comes in here, you will go down again immediately, pay the driver, and send the fiacre away."
"And the money?" asked the woman.
Jondrette fumbled in his trousers, and handed her five francs.
"What is that?" she exclaimed.
Jondrette answered with dignity: "It is the monarch which our neighbour gave this morning."
And he added:
"Do you know? we must have two chairs here."
"To sit in."
Marius felt a shiver run down his back on hearing the woman make this quiet reply:-
"Pardieu! I will get our neighbour's."
And with rapid movement she opened the door of the den, and went out into the hall.
Marius physically had not the time to get down from the bureau, and go and hide himself under the bed.
"Take the candle," cried Jondrette.
"No," said she, "that would bother me; I have two chairs to bring. It is moonlight."
Marius heard the heavy hand of mother Jondrette groping after his key in the dark. The door opened. He stood nailed to his place by apprehension and stupor.
The woman came in.
The gable window let in a ray of moonlight, between two great sheets of shadow. One of these sheets of shadow entirely covered the wall against which Marius was leaning, so as to conceal him.
The mother Jondrette raised her eyes, did not see Marius, took the two chairs, the only chairs which Marius had, and went out, slamming the door noisily behind her.
She went back into the den.
"Here are the two chairs."
"And here is the lantern," said the husband. "Go down quick."
She hastily obeyed, and Jondrette was left alone.
He arranged the two chairs on the two sides of the table, turned the chisel over in the fire, put an old screen in front of the fireplace, which concealed the furnace, then went to the corner where the heap of ropes was, and stooped down, as if to examine something. Manus then perceived that what he had taken for a shapeless heap, was a rope ladder, very well made, with wooden rounds, and two large hooks to hang it by.
This ladder and a few big tools, actual masses of iron, which were thrown upon the pile of old iron heaped up behind the door, were not in the Jondrette den in the morning, and had evidently been brought there in the afternoon, during Marius' absence.
"Those are smith's tools," thought Marius.
Had Marius been a little better informed in this line, he would have recognised, in what he took for smith's tools, certain instruments capable of picking a lock or forcing a door, and others capable of cutting or hacking,- the two families of sinister tools, which thieves call cadets and fauchants.
The fireplace and the table, with the two chairs, were exactly opposite Marius. The furnace was hidden; the room was now lighted only by the candle; the least thing upon the table or the mantel made a great shadow. A broken water-pitcher masked the half of one wall. There was in the room a calm which was inexpressibly hideous and threatening. The approach of some appalling thing could be felt.
Jondrette had let his pipe go out- a sure sign that he was intensely absorbed- and had come back and sat down. The candle made the savage ends and corners of his face stand out prominently. There were contractions of his brows, and abrupt openings of his right hand, as if he were replying to the last counsels of a dark interior monologue. In one of these obscure replies which he was making to himself, he drew the table drawer out quickly towards him, took out a long carving knife which was hidden there, and tried its edge on his nail. This done, he put the knife back into the drawer, and shut it.
Marius, for his part, grasped the pistol which was in his right fob pocket, took it out, and cocked it.
The pistol in cocking gave a little clear, sharp sound.
Jondrette started, and half rose from his chair.
"Who is there?" cried he.
Marius held his breath; Jondrette listened a moment, then began to laugh, saying-
"What a fool I am? It is the partition cracking."
Marius kept the pistol in his hand.
Just then the distant and melancholy vibration of a bell shook the windows. Six o'clock struck on Saint Medard.
Jondrette marked each stroke with a nod of his head. At the sixth stroke, he snuffed the candle with his fingers.
Then he began to walk about the room, listened in the hall, walked, listened again: "Provided he comes!" muttered he; then he returned to his chair.
He had hardly sat down when the door opened.
The mother Jondrette had opened it, and stood in the hall making a horrible, amiable grimace, which was lighted up from beneath by one of the holes of the dark lantern.
"Walk in," said she.
"Walk in, my benefactor," repeated Jondrette, rising precipitately.
Monsieur Leblanc appeared.
He had an air of serenity which made him singularly venerable.
He laid four louis upon the table.
"Monsieur Fabantou," said he, "that is for your rent and your pressing wants. We will see about the rest."
"God reward you, my generous benefactor!" said Jondrette, and rapidly approaching his wife:
"Send away the fiacre!"
She slipped away, while her husband was lavishing bows and offering a chair to Monsieur Leblanc. A moment afterwards she came back and whispered in his ear:
"It is done."
The snow which had been falling ever since morning, was so deep that they had not heard the fiacre arrive, and did not hear it go away.
Meanwhile Monsieur Leblanc had taken a seat.
Jondrette had taken possession of the other chair opposite Monsieur Leblanc.
Now, to form an idea of the scene which follows, let the reader call to mind the chilly night, the solitudes of La Salpetriere covered with snow, and white in the moonlight, like immense shrouds, the flickering light of the street lamps here and there reddening these tragic boulevards and the long rows of black elms, not a passer perhaps within a mile around, the Gorbeau tenement at its deepest degree of silence, horror, and night, in that tenement, in the midst of these solitudes, in the midst of this darkness, the vast Jondrette garret lighted by a candle, and in this den two men seated at a table, Monsieur Leblanc tranquil, Jondrette smiling and terrible, his wife, the wolf dam, in a corner, and, behind the partition, Marius, invisible, alert, losing no word, losing no movement, his eye on the watch, the pistol in his grasp.
Marius, moreover, was experiencing nothing but an emotion of horror, no fear. He clasped the butt of the pistol, and felt reassured. "I shall stop this wretch when I please," thought he.
He felt that the police was somewhere near by in ambush, awaiting the signal agreed upon, and all ready to stretch out its arm.
He hoped, moreover, that from this terrible meeting between Jondrette and Monsieur Leblanc some light would be thrown upon all that he was interested to know.
No sooner was Monsieur Leblanc seated than he turned his eyes towards the empty pallets.
"How does the poor little injured girl do?" he inquired.
"Badly," answered Jondrette with a doleful yet grateful smile, "very badly, my worthy monsieur. Her eldest sister has taken her to the Bourbe to have her arm dressed. You will see them, they will be back directly."
"Madame Fabantou appears to me much better?" resumed Monsieur Leblanc, casting his eyes upon the grotesque accoutrement of the female Jondrette, who, standing between him and the door, as if she were already guarding the exit, was looking at him in a threatening and almost a defiant posture.
"She is dying," said Jondrette. "But you see, monsieur! she has so much courage, that woman! She is not a woman, she is an ox."
The woman, touched by the compliment, retorted with the smirk of a flattered monster:
"You are always too kind to me, Monsieur Jondrette."
"Jondrette!" said M. Leblanc, "I thought that your name was Fabantou?"
"Fabantou or Jondrette!" replied the husband hastily. "Sobriquet as an artist!"
And, directing a shrug of the shoulders towards his wife, which M. Leblanc did not see, he continued with an emphatic and caressing tone of voice.
While Jondrette was talking, with an apparent disorder which detracted nothing from the crafty and cunning expression of his physiognomy, Marius raised his eyes, and perceived at the back of the room somebody who he had not before seen. A man had come in so noiselessly that nobody had heard the door turn on its hinges. This man had a knit woollen waistcoat of violet colour, old, worn-out, stained, cut, and showing gaps at all its folds, full trousers of cotton velvet, socks on his feet, no shirt, his neck bare, his arms bare and tattooed, and his face stained black. He sat down in silence and with folded arms on the nearest bed, and as he kept behind the woman, he was distinguished only with difficulty.
That kind of magnetic instinct which warns the eye made M. Leblanc turn almost at the same time with Marius. He could not help a movement of surprise, which did not escape Jondrette:
"Ah! I see!" exclaimed Jondrette, buttoning up his coat with a complacent air, "you are looking at your overcoat. It's a fit! my faith, it's a fit!"
"Who is that man?" said M. Leblanc.
"That man?" said Jondrette, "that is a neighbour. Pay no attention to him."
The neighbour had a singular appearance. However, factories of chemical products abound in Faubourg Saint Marceau. Many machinists might have their faces blacked. The whole person of M. Leblanc, moreover, breathed a candid and intrepid confidence. He resumed:
"Pardon me. what were you saying to me, Monsieur Fabantou?"
"I was telling you, monsieur and dear patron," replied Jondrette, leaning his elbows on the table, and gazing at M. Leblanc with fixed and tender eyes, similar to the eyes of a boa constrictor, "I was telling you that I had a picture to sell."
A slight noise was made at the door. A second man entered, and sat down on the bed behind the female Jondrette. He had his arms bare, like the first, and a mask of ink or of soot.
Although this man had, literally, slipped into the room, he could not prevent M. Leblanc from perceiving him.
"Do not mind them," said Jondrette. "They are people of the house. I was telling you, then, that I have a valuable painting left. Here, monsieur, look."
He got up, went to the wall, at the foot of which stood the panel of which we have spoken, and turned it round, still leaving it resting. against the wall. It was something, in fact, that resembled a picture, and which the candle scarcely revealed. Marius could make nothing out of it, Jondrette being between him and the picture; he merely caught a glimpse of a coarse daub, with a sort of principal personage, coloured in the crude and glaring style of strolling panoramas and paintings upon screens.
"What is that?" asked M. Leblanc.
"A painting by a master; a picture of great price, my benefactor! I cling to it as to my two daughters, it calls up memories to me! but I have told you, and I cannot unsay it, I am so unfortunate that I would part with it."
Whether by chance, or whether there was some beginning of distrust, while examining the picture, M. Leblanc glanced towards the back of the room. There were now four men there, three seated on the bed, one standing near the door-casing; all four bare-armed, motionless, and with blackened faces. One of those who were on the bed was leaning against the wall, with his eyes closed, and one would have said he was asleep. This one was old; his white hair over his black face was horrible. The two others appeared young; one was bearded, the other had long hair. None of them had shoes on; those who did not have socks were barefooted.
Jondrette noticed that M. Leblanc's eye was fixed upon these men.
"They are friends. They live near by," said he. "They are dark because they work in charcoal. They are chimney doctors. Do not occupy your mind with them, my benefactor, but buy my picture. Take pity on my misery. I shall not sell it to you at a high price. How much do you estimate it worth?"
"But" said M. Leblanc, looking Jondrette full in the face and like a man who puts himself on his guard, "this is some tavern sign, it is worth about three francs."
Jondrette answered calmly:
"Have you your pocket-book here? I will be satisfied with a thousand crowns."
M. Leblanc rose to his feet, placed his back to the wall, and ran his eye rapidly over the room. He had Jondrette at his left on the side towards the window, and his wife and the four men at his right on the side towards the door. The four men did not stir, and had not even the appearance of seeing him; Jondrette had begun again to talk in a plaintive key, with his eyes so wild and his tones so mournful that M. Leblanc might have thought that he had before his eyes nothing more nor less than a man gone crazy from misery.
While speaking Jondrette did not look at M. Leblanc, who was watching him. M. Leblanc's eye was fixed upon Jondrette, and Jondrette's eye upon the door, Marius' breathless attention went from one to the other. M. Leblanc appeared to ask himself, "Is this an idiot?" Jondrette repeated two or three times with all sorts of varied inflections in the drawling and begging style: "I can only throw myself into the river! I went down three steps for that the other day by the side of the bridge of Austerlitz!"
Suddenly his dull eye lighted up with a hideous glare, this little man straightened up and became horrifying, he took a step towards M. Leblanc and cried to him in a voice of thunder:
"But all this is not the question! do you know me?"
The door of the garret had been suddenly flung open, disclosing three men in blue blouses with black paper masks. The first was spare and had a long iron-bound cudgel; the second, who was a sort of colossus, held by the middle of the handle, with the axe down, a butcher's pole-axe. The third, a broad-shouldered man, not so thin as the first, nor so heavy as the second, held in his clenched fist an enormous key stolen from some prison door.
M. Leblanc was very pale. He looked over everything in the room about him like a man who understands into what he has fallen, and his head, directed in turn towards all the heads which surrounded him, moved on his neck with an attentive and astonished slowness, but there was nothing in his manner which resembled fear. He had made an extemporised intrenchment of the table; and this man who, the moment before, had the appearance only of a good old man, had suddenly become a sort of athlete, and placed his powerful fist upon the back of his chair with a surprising and formidable gesture.
This old man, so firm and so brave before so great a peril, seemed to be one of those natures who are courageous as they are good, simply and naturally. The father of a woman that we love is never a stranger to us. Marius felt proud of this unknown man.
Three of the men of whom Jondrette had said: they are chimney doctors, had taken from the heap of old iron, one a large pair of shears, another a steelyard bar, the third a hammer, and placed themselves before the door without saying a word. The old man was still on the bed, and had merely opened his eyes. The woman Jondrette was sitting beside him.
Marius thought that in a few seconds more the time would come to interfere, and he raised his right hand towards the ceiling, in the direction of the hall, ready to let off his pistol-shot.
Jondrette, after his colloquy with the man who had the cudgel, turned again towards M. Leblanc and repeated his question, accompanying it with that low, smothered, and terrible laugh of his:
"You do not recognise me, then?"
M. Leblanc looked him in the face, and answered:
Then Jondrette came up to the table. He leaned forward over the candle, folding his arms, and pushing his angular and ferocious jaws up towards the calm face of M. Leblanc, as nearly as he could without forcing him to draw back, and in that posture, like a wild beast just about to bite, he cried:
"My name is not Fabantou, my name is not Jondrette, my name is Thenardier! I am the innkeeper of Montfermeil! do you understand me? Thenardier! now do you know me?"
An imperceptible flush passed over M. Leblanc's forehead, and he answered without a tremor or elevation of voice, and with his usual placidness:
"No more than before."
Marius did not hear this answer. Could anybody have seen him at that moment in that darkness, he would have seen that he was haggard, astounded, and thunderstruck. When Jondrette had said: My name is Thenardier, Marius had trembled in every limb, and supported himself against the wall as if he had felt the chill of a sword-blade through his heart. Then his right arm, which was just ready to fire the signal shot, dropped slowly down, and at the moment that Jondrette had repeated: Do you understand me, Thenardier? Marius' nerveless fingers had almost dropped the pistol. Jondrette, in unveiling who he was, had not moved M. Leblanc, but he had completely unnerved Marius. That name of Thenardier, which M. Leblanc did not seem to know, Marius knew. Remember what that name was to him! that name he had worn on his heart, written in his father's will! he carried it in the innermost place of his thoughts, in the holiest spot of his memory, in that sacred command: "A man named Thenardier saved my life. If my son should meet him, he will do him all the good he can." That name, we remember, was one of the devotions of his soul; he mingled it with the name of his father in his worship. What! here was Thenardier, here was that Thenardier, here was that innkeeper of Montfermeil, for whom he had so long and so vainly sought! He had found him at last, and how? this saviour of his father was a bandit! this man, to whom he, Marius, burned to devote himself, was a monster! this deliverer of Colonel Pontmercy was in the actual commission of a crime, the shape of which Marius did not yet see very distinctly, but which looked like an assassination! and upon whom, Great God! what a fatality! what a bitter mockery of Fate! His father from the depths of his coffin commanded him to do all the good he could to Thenardier; for four years Marius had had no other thought than to acquit this debt of his father, and the moment that he was about to cause a brigand to be seized by justice, in the midst of a crime, destiny called to him: that is Thenardier! his father's life, saved in a storm of grape upon the heroic field of Waterloo, he was at last about to reward this man for, and to reward him with the scaffold! He had resolved, if ever he found this Thenardier, to accost him in no other wise than by throwing himself at his feet, and now he found him indeed, but to deliver him to the executioner! his father said to him: Aid Thenardier! and he was answering that adored and holy voice by crushing Thenardier! presenting as a spectacle to his father in his tomb, the man who had snatched him from death at the peril of his life, executed in the Place St. Jacques by the act of his son, this Marius to whom he had bequeathed this man! And what a mockery to have worn so long upon his breast the last wishes of his father, written by his hand, only to act so frightfully contrary to them! but on the other hand, to see him ambuscade and not prevent it! to condemn the victim and spare the assassin, could he be bound to any gratitude towards such a wretch? all the ideas which Marius had had for the last four years were, as it were, pierced through and through by this unexpected blow. He shuddered. Everything depended upon him. He held in his hand, they all unconscious, those beings who were moving there before his eyes. If he fired the pistol, M. Leblanc was saved and Thenardier was lost; if he did not, M. Leblanc was sacrificed, and, perhaps, Thenardier escaped. To hurl down the one, or to let the other fall! remorse on either hand. What was to be done? which should he choose? he wanting to his most imperious memories, to so many deep resolutions, to his most sacred duty, to that most venerated paper! be wanting to his father's will, or suffer a crime to be accomplished? He seemed on the one hand to hear "his Ursula" entreating him for her father, and on the other the colonel commending Thenardier to him. He felt that he was mad. His knees gave way beneath him; and he had not even time to deliberate, with such fury was the scene which he had before his eyes rushing forward. It was like a whirlwind, which he had thought himself master of, and which was carrying him away. He was on the point of fainting.
Meanwhile Thenardier, we will call him by no other name henceforth, was walking to and fro before the table in a sort of bewilderment and frenzied triumph.
He clutched the candle and put it on the mantel with such a shock that the flame was almost extinguished and the tallow was spattered upon the wall.
Then he turned towards M. Leblanc, and with a frightful look, spit out this:
"Singed! smoked! basted! spitted!"
And he began to walk again, in full explosion.
"Ha!" cried he, "I have found you again at last, monsieur philanthropist! monsieur threadbare millionaire! monsieur giver of dolls! old marrow-bones! ha! you do not know me? no, it was not you who came to Montfermeil, to my inn, eight years ago, the night of Christmas, 1823! it was not you who took away Fantine's child from my house! the Lark! it was not you who had a yellow coat! no! and a package of clothes in your hand just as you came here this morning! say now, wife! it is his mania it appears, to carry packages of woollen stockings into houses! old benevolence, get out! Are you a hosier, monsieur millionaire? you give the poor your shop sweepings, holy man! what a charlatan! Ha! you do not know me? Well, I knew you! I knew you immediately as soon as you stuck your nose in here. Ah! you are going to find out at last that it is not all roses to go into people's houses like that, under pretext of their being inns, with worn-out clothes, with the appearance of a pauper, to whom anybody would have given a sou, to deceive persons, to act the generous, take their help away, and threaten them in the woods, and that you do not get quit of it by bringing back afterward, when people are ruined, an overcoat that is too large and two paltry hospital coverlids, old beggar, child-stealer!"
Thenardier stopped. He was out of breath. His little narrow chest was blowing like a blacksmith's bellows. His eye was full of the base delight of a feeble, cruel, and cowardly animal, which can finally prostrate that of which it has stood in awe, and insult what it has flattered, the joy of a dwarf putting his heel upon the head of Goliath, the joy of a jackal beginning to tear a sick bull, dead enough not to be able to defend himself, alive enough yet to suffer.
M. Leblanc did not interrupt him but said when he stopped:
"I do not know what you mean. You are mistaken. I am a very poor man and anything but a millionaire. I do not know you; you mistake me for another."
"Ha!" screamed Thenardier, "good mountebank! You stick to that joke yet! You are in the fog, my old boy! Ah! you do not remember! You do not see who I am!"
"Pardon me, monsieur," answered M. Leblanc, with a tone of politeness which, at such a moment, had a peculiarly strange and powerful effect, "I see that you are a bandit."
Who has not noticed it, hateful beings have their tender points; monsters are easily annoyed. At this word bandit, the Thenardiess sprang off the bed. Thenardier seized his chair as if he were going to crush it in his hands: "Don't you stir," cried he to his wife, and turning towards M. Leblanc:
"Bandit! Yes, I know that you call us so, you rich people! Yes! It is true I have failed; I am in concealment, I have no bread; I have not a sou, I am a bandit. Here are three days that I have eaten nothing, I am a bandit! Ah! you warm your feet; you have Sacoski pumps, you have wadded overcoats like archbishops, you live on the first floor in houses with a porter, you eat truffles, you eat forty-franc bunches of asparagus in the month of January, and green peas, you stuff yourselves, and when you want to know if it is cold you look in the newspaper to see at what degree the thermometer of the inventor, Chevalier, stands. But we are our own thermometers! We have no need to go to the quai at the corner of the Tour de l'Horloge, to see how many degrees below zero it is; we feel the blood stiffen in our veins and the ice reach our hearts, and we say 'There is no God!' And you come into our caverns, yes, into our caverns, and call us bandits. But we will eat you! but we will devour you, poor little things! Monsieur Millionaire! know this:- I have been a man established in business, I have been licensed, I have been an elector, I am a citizen, I am! And you, perhaps, are not one?"
Here Thenardier took a step towards the men who were before the door, and added with a shudder:
"When I think that he dares to come and talk to me, as if I were a cobbler!"
Then addressing M. Leblanc with a fresh burst of frenzy:
"And know this, too, monsieur philanthropist! I am no doubtful man. I am not a man whose name nobody knows, and who comes into houses to carry off children. I am an old French soldier; I ought to be decorated. I was at Waterloo, I was, and in that battle I saved a general, named the Comte de Pontmercy. This picture which you see, and which was painted by David at Bruqueselles, do you know who it represents? It represents me. David desired to immortalise that feat of arms. I have General Pontmercy on my back, and I am carrying him through the storm of grape. That is history. He has never done anything at all for me, this General; he is no better than other people. But, nevertheless, I saved his life at the risk of my own, and I have my pockets full of certificates. I am a soldier at Waterloo- name of a thousand names! And now that I have had the goodness to tell you all this, let us make an end of it; I must have some money; I must have a good deal of money, I must have an immense deal of money, or I will exterminate you, by the thunder of God!"
Marius had regained some control over his distress, and was listening, The last possibility of doubt had now vanished. It was indeed the Thenardier of the will. Marius shuddered at that reproach of ingratitude flung at his father, and which he was on the point of justifying so fatally. His perplexities were redoubled. Moreover, there was in all these words of Thenardier, in his tone, in his gestures, in his look which flashed out flames at every word, there was in this explosion of an evil nature exposing its entire self, in this mixture of braggadocio and abjectness, of pride and pettiness, of rage and folly in this chaos of real grievances and false sentiments, in this shamelessness of a wicked man tasting the sweetness of violence, in this brazen nakedness of a deformed soul, in this conflagration of every suffering combined with every hatred, something which was as hideous as evil and as sharp and bitter as the truth.
When Thenardier had taken breath he fixed his bloodshot eyes upon Monsieur Leblanc, and said in a low and abrupt tone:
"What have you to say before we begin to dance with you?"
Monsieur Leblanc sad nothing. In the midst of this silence a hoarse voice threw in this ghastly sarcasm from the hall:
"If there is any wood to split, I am on hand!"
It was the man with the pole-axe who was making merry.
At the same time a huge face, bristly and dirty, appeared in the doorway with a hideous laugh, which showed not teeth, but fangs.
It was the face of the man with the pole-axe.
"What have you taken off your mask for?" cried Thenardier, furiously.
"To laugh," replied the man.
For some moments, Monsieur Leblanc had seemed to follow and to watch all the movements of Thenardier, who, blinded and bewildered by his own rage, was walking to and fro in the den with the confidence inspired by the feeling that the door was guarded, having armed possession of a disarmed man, and being nine to one, even if the Thenardiess should count but for one man. In his apostrophe to the man with the pole-axe, he turned his back to Monsieur Leblanc.
Monsieur Leblanc seized this opportunity, pushed the chair away with his foot, the table with his hand, and at one bound, with a marvellous agility, before Thenardier had had time to turn around he was at the window. To open it, get up and step through it, was the work of a second. He was half outside when six strong hands seized him, and drew him forcibly back into the room. The three "chimney doctors" had thrown themselves upon him. At the same time the Thenardiess had clutched him by the hair.
At the disturbance which this made, the other bandits ran in from the hall. The old man, who was on the bed, and who seemed overwhelmed with wine, got off the pallet, and came tottering along with a road-mender's hammer in his hand.
One of the "chimney doctors," whose blackened face was lighted up by the candle, and in whom Marius, in spite of this colouring, recognised Panchaud, alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille, raised a sort of loaded club made of a bar of iron with a knob of lead at each end, over Monsieur Leblanc's head.
Marius could not endure this sight. "Father," thought he, "pardon me!" And his finger sought the trigger of the pistol. The shot was just about to be fired, when Thenardier's voice cried:
"Do him no harm!"
This desperate attempt of the victim, far from exasperating Thenardier, had calmed him. There were two men in him, the ferocious man and the crafty man. Up to this moment, in the first flush of triumph, before his prey stricken down and motionless, the ferocious man had been predominant; when the victim resisted, and seemed to desire a struggle, the crafty man reappeared and resumed control.
"Do him no harm!" he repeated, and without suspecting it, the first result of this was to stop the pistol which was just ready to go off, and paralyse Marius, to whom the urgency seemed to disappear, and who, in view of this new phase of affairs, saw no impropriety in waiting longer. Who knows but some chance may arise which will save him from the fearful alternative of letting the father of Ursula, perish, or destroying the saviour of the colonel!
A herculean struggle had commenced. With one blow full in the chest M. Leblanc had sent the old man sprawling into the middle of the room, then with two back strokes had knocked down two other assailants, whom he held one under each knee; the wretches screamed under the pressure as if they had been under a granite mill-stone; but the four others had seized the formidable old man by the arms and the back, and held him down over the two prostrate "chimney doctors." Thus, master of the latter and mastered by the former, crushing those below him and suffocating under those above him, vainly endeavouring to shake off all the violence and blows which were heaped upon him, M. Leblanc disappeared under the horrible group of the bandits, like a wild boar under a howling pack of hounds and mastiffs.
They succeeded in throwing him over upon the bed nearest to the window and held him there in awe. The Thenardiess had not let go of his hair.
"Here," said Thenardier, "let it alone. You will tear your shawl."
The Thenardiess obeyed, as the she-wolf obeys her mate, with a growl.
"Now, the rest of you," continued Thenardier, "search him."
M. Leblanc seemed to have given up all resistance. They searched him. There was nothing upon him but a leather purse which contained six francs, and his handkerchief.
Thenardier put the handkerchief in his pocket.
"What! no pocket-book?" he asked.
"Nor any watch," answered one of the "chimney doctors."
"It is all the same," muttered, with the voice of a ventriloquist, the masked man who had the big key, "he is an old rough."
Thenardier went to the corner by the door and took a bundle of ropes which he threw to them.
"Tie him to the foot of the bed."
The pallet upon which M. Leblanc had been thrown was a sort of hospital bed supported by four big roughly squared wooden posts. M. Leblanc made no resistance. The brigands bound him firmly, standing, with his feet to the floor, by the bed-post furthest from the window and nearest to the chimney.
When the last knot was tied, Thenardier took a chair and came and sat down nearly in front of M. Leblanc. Thenardier looked no longer like himself, in a few seconds the expression of his face had passed from unbridled violence to tranquil and crafty mildness. Marius hardly recognised in that polite, clerkly smile, the almost beastly mouth which was foaming a moment before; he looked with astonishment upon this fantastic and alarming metamorphosis, and he experienced what a man would feel who should see a tiger change itself into an attorney.
"Monsieur," said Thenardier.
And with a gesture dismissing the brigands who still had their hands upon M. Leblanc:
"Move off a little, and let me talk with monsieur."
They retired towards the door. He resumed:
"Monsieur, you were wrong in trying to jump out the window. You might have broken your leg. Now, if you please, we will talk quietly. In the first place I must inform you of a circumstance I have noticed, which is that you have not yet made the least outcry."
Thenardier was right; this incident was true, although it had escaped Marius in his anxiety. M. Leblanc had only uttered a few words without raising his voice, and, even in his struggle by the window with the six bandits, he had preserved the most remarkable silence. Thenardier continued:
I will tell you what I conclude from it: my dear monsieur, when a
man cries out, who is it that comes? The police. And after the police? Justice. Well! you did not cry out; because you were no more anxious
than we to see justice and the police come. It is because,- I
suspected as much long ago,- you have some interest in concealing
something. For our part we have the same interest. Now we can come to
The observation of Thenardier, well founded as it was, added in Marius' eyes still more to the obscurity of the mysterious cloud that enveloped this strange and serious face to which Courfeyrac had given the nickname of Monsieur Leblanc. But whatever he might be, bound with ropes, surrounded by assassins, half buried, so to speak, in a grave which was deepening beneath him every moment, before the fury as well as before the mildness of Thenardier, this man remained impassable; and Marius could not repress at such a moment his admiration for that superbly melancholy face.
Here was evidently a soul inaccessible to fear, and ignorant of dismay. Here was one of those men who are superior to astonishment in desperate situations. However extreme the crisis, however inevitable the catastrophe, there was nothing there of the agony of the drowning man, staring with horrified eyes as he sinks to the bottom.
Thenardier quietly got up, went to the fireplace, took away the screen which he leaned against the nearest pallet, and thus revealed the furnace full of glowing coals in which the prisoner could plainly see the chisel at a white heat, spotted here and there with little scarlet stars.
Then Thenardier came back and sat down by Monsieur Leblanc.
"I continue," said he. "Now we can come to an understanding. Let us arrange this amicably. I was wrong to fly into a passion just now. I do not know where my wits were, I went much too far, I talked extravagantly. For instance, because you are a millionaire, I told you that I wanted money, a good deal of money, an immense deal of money. That would not be reasonable. My God, rich as you may be, you have your expenses; who does not have them? I do not want to ruin you, I am not a catch-poll, after all. I am not one of those people who, because they have the advantage in position, use it to be ridiculous. Here, I am willing to go half way and make some sacrifice on my part. I need only two hundred thousand francs."
Thenardier pushed the table close up to Monsieur Leblanc, and took the inkstand, a pen, and a sheet of paper from the drawer, which he left partly open, and from which gleamed the long blade of the knife.
He laid the sheet of paper before Monsieur Leblanc.
"Write," said he.
The prisoner spoke at last:
"How do you expect me to write? I am tied."
"That is true, pardon me!" said Thenardier, "you are quite right."
And turning towards Bigrenaille:
"Untie monsieur's right arm."
Panchaud, alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille, executed Thenardier's order. When the prisoner's right hand was free, Thenardier dipped the pen into the ink, and presented it to him.
"Remember, monsieur, that you are in our power, at our discretion, that no human power can take you away from here, and that we should be really grieved to be obliged to proceed to unpleasant extremities. I know neither your name nor your address, but I give you notice that you will remain tied until the person whose duty it will be to carry the letter which you are about to write, has returned. Have the kindness now to write."
"What?" asked the prisoner.
"I will dictate."
M. Leblanc took the pen.
Thenardier began to dictate:
The prisoner shuddered and lifted his eyes to Thenardier.
"Put 'my dear daughter,'" said Thenardier. M. Leblanc obeyed.
"You call her daughter, do you not?"
"Who?" asked M. Leblanc.
"Zounds!" said Thenardier, "the little girl, the Lark."
M. Leblanc answered without the least apparent emotion:
"I do not know what you mean."
"Well, go on," said Thenardier, and he began to dictate again.
"Come immediately, I have imperative need of you. The person who will give you this note is directed to bring you to me. I am waiting for you. Come with confidence."
M. Leblanc had written the whole. Thenardier added:
"Ah! strike out come with confidence, that might lead her to suppose that the thing is not quite clear and that distrust is possible."
M. Leblanc erased the three words.
"Now," continued Thenardier, "sign it. What is your name?"
The prisoner laid down the pen and asked:
"For whom is this letter?"
"You know very well," answered Thenardier, "for the little girl, I have just told you."
It was evident that Thenardier avoided naming the young girl in question. He said "the Lark," he said "the little girl," but he did not pronounce the name. The precaution of a shrewd man preserving his own secret before his accomplices. To speak the name would have been to give up the whole "affair" to them, and to tell them more than they needed to know.
"Sign it. What is your name?"
"Urbain Fabre," said the prisoner.
Thenardier, with the movement of a cat, thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out the handkerchief taken from M. Leblanc. He looked for the mark upon it and held it up to the candle.
"U. F. That is it. Urbain Fabre. Well, sign U. F."
The prisoner signed.
"As it takes two hands to fold the letter, give it to me, I will fold it."
This done, Thenardier resumed:
"Put on the address, Mademoiselle Fabre, at your house. I know that you live not very far from here, in the neighbourhood of Saint Jacques du Haut Pas, since you go there to mass every day, but I do not know in what street. I see that you understand your situation. As you have not lied about your name, you will not lie about your address. Put it on yourself."
The prisoner remained thoughtful for a moment, then he took the pen and wrote:
"Mademoiselle Fabre, at Monsieur Urbain Fabre's, Rue Saint Dominique d'Enfer, No. 17."
Thenardier seized the letter with a sort of feverish convulsive movement.
"Wife!" cried he.
The Thenardiess sprang forward.
"Here is the letter. You know what you have to do. There is a fiacre below. Go right away, and come back ditto."
And addressing the man with the pole-axe:
"Here, since you have taken off your hide-your-nose, go with the woman. You will get up behind the fiacre. You know where you left the maringotte."
"Yes," said the man.
And, laying down his pole-axe in a corner, he followed the Thenardiess.
As they were going away, Thenardier put his head through the half-open door and screamed into the hall:
"Above all things do not lose the letter! remember that you have two hundred thousand francs with you."
The harsh voice of the Thenardiess answered:
"Rest assured, I have put it in my bosom."
A minute had not passed when the snapping of a whip was heard, which grew fainter and rapidly died away.
"Good!" muttered Thenardier. "They are going good speed. At that speed the bourgeoise will be back in three quarters of an hour."
He drew a chair near the fireplace and sat down, folding his arms and holding his muddy boots up to the furnace.
"My feet are cold," said he.
There were now but five bandits left in the den with Thenardier and the prisoner. These men, through the masks or the black varnish which covered their faces and made of them, as fear might suggest, charcoal men, negroes, or demons, had a heavy and dismal appearance, and one felt that they would execute a crime as they would a drudgery, quietly, without anger and without mercy, with a sort of irksomeness. They were heaped together in a corner like brutes, and were silent. Thenardier was warming his feet. The prisoner had relapsed into his taciturnity. A gloomy stillness had succeeded the savage tumult which filled the garret a few moments before.
Marius was waiting in an anxiety which everything increased. The riddle was more impenetrable than ever. Who was this "little girl," whom Thenardier had also called the Lark? was it his "Ursula"? The prisoner had not seemed to be moved by this word, the Lark, and answered in the most natural way in the world: I do not know what you mean. On the other hand, the two letters U. F. were explained; it was Urbain Fabre, and Ursula's name was no longer Ursula. This Marius saw most clearly. A sort of hideous fascination held him spellbound to the place from which he observed and commanded the whole scene. There he was, almost incapable of reflection and motion, as if annihilated by such horrible things in so close proximity. He was waiting, hoping for some movement, no matter what, unable to collect his ideas and not knowing what course to take.
Suddenly Thenardier addressed the prisoner:
"Monsieur Fabre, here, so much let me tell you at once."
These few words seemed to promise a clearing up. Marius listened closely. Thenardier continued:
"My spouse is coming back, do not be impatient. I think the Lark is really your daughter, and I find it quite natural that you should keep her. But listen a moment; with your letter, my wife is going to find her. I told my wife to dress up, as you saw, so that your young lady would follow her without hesitation. They will both get into the fiacre with my comrade behind. There is somewhere outside one of the barriers a maringotte with two very good horses harnessed. They will take your young lady there. She will get out of the carriage. My comrade will get into the maringotte with her, and my wife will come back here to tell us: 'It is done.' As to your young lady, no harm will be done her; the maringotte will take her to a place where she will be quiet, and as soon as you have given me the little two hundred thousand francs, she will be sent back to you. If you have me arrested, my comrade will give the Lark a pinch, that is all."
The prisoner did not utter a word. After a pause, Thenardier continued:
"It is very simple, as you see. There will be no harm done unless you wish there should be. That is the whole story. I tell you in advance so that you may know."
In the midst of this silence they heard the sound of the door of the stairway which opened, then closed.
The prisoner made a movement in his bonds.
"Here is the bourgeoise," said Thenardier.
He had hardly said this, when in fact the Thenardiess burst into the room, red, breathless, panting, with glaring eyes, and cried, striking her hands upon her hips both at the same time:
The bandit whom she had taken with her, came in behind her and picked up his pole-axe again:
"False address?" repeated Thenardier.
"Nobody! Rue Saint Dominique, number seventeen, no Monsieur Urbain Fabre! They do not know who he is!"
Marius breathed. She, Ursula or the Lark, she whom he no longer knew what to call, was safe.
While his exasperated wife was vociferating, Thenardier had seated himself on the table; he sat a few seconds without saying a word, swinging his right leg, which was hanging down, and gazing upon the furnace with a look of savage reverie.
At last he said to the prisoner with a slow and singularly ferocious inflexion:
"A false address! what did you hope for by that?"
"To gain time!" cried the prisoner with a ringing voice.
And at the same moment he shook off his bonds; they were cut.
The prisoner was no longer fastened to the bed save by one leg.
Before the seven men had had time to recover themselves and spring upon him, he had bent over to the fireplace, reached his hand towards the furnace, then rose up, and now Thenardier, the Thenardiess, and the bandits, thrown by the shock into the back part of the room, beheld him with stupefaction, holding above his head the glowing chisel, from which fell an ominous light, almost free and in a formidable attitude.
Being unable to stoop down for fear of betraying himself, he had not cut the cords on his left leg.
The bandits had recovered their first surprise.
"Be easy," said Bigrenaille to Thenardier. "He holds yet by one leg, and he will not go off, I answer for that. I tied that shank for him."
The prisoner now raised his voice:
"You are pitiable, but my life is not worth the trouble of so long a defense. As to your imagining that you could make me speak, that you could make me write what I do not wish to write, that you could make me say what I do not wish to say-"
He pulled up the sleeve of his left arm, and added:
At the same time he extended his arm, and laid upon the naked flesh the glowing chisel, which he held in his right hand, by the, wooden handle.
They heard the hissing of the burning flesh; the odour peculiar to chambers of torture spread through the den. Marius staggered, lost in horror; the brigands themselves felt a shudder; the face of the wonderful old man hardly contracted, and while the red iron was sinking into the smoking, impassable, and almost august wound, he turned upon Thenardier his fine face, in which there was no hatred, and in which suffering was swallowed up in a serene majesty.
With great and lofty natures the revolt of the flesh and the senses against the assaults of physical pain, brings out the soul, and makes it appear on the countenance, in the same way as mutinies of the soldiery force the captain to show himself.
"Wretches," said he, "have no more fear for me than I have of you."
And drawing the chisel out of the wound, he threw it through the window, which was still open; the horrible glowing tool disappeared, whirling into the night, and fell in the distance, and was quenched in the snow.
The prisoner resumed:
"Do with me what you will."
He was disarmed.
"Lay hold of him," said Thenardier.
Two of the brigands laid their hands upon his shoulders, and the masked man with the ventriloquist's voice placed himself in front of him, ready to knock out his brains with a blow of the key, at the least motion.
At the same time Marius heard beneath him, at the foot of the partition, but so near that he could not see those who were talking, this colloquy, exchanged in a low voice:
"There is only one thing more to do."
"To kill him!"
"That is it."
It was the husband and wife who were holding counsel.
Thenardier walked with slow steps towards the table, opened the drawer, and took out the knife.
Marius was tormenting the trigger of his pistol. Unparalleled perplexity! For an hour there had been two voices in his conscience, one telling him to respect the will of his father, the other crying to him to succour the prisoner. These two voices, without interruption, continued their struggle, which threw him into agony. He had vaguely hoped up to that moment to find some means of reconciling these two duties, but no possible way had arisen. The peril was now urgent, the last limit of hope was passed; at a few steps from the prisoner, Thenardier was reflecting, with the knife in his hand.
Marius cast his eyes wildly about him; the last mechanical resource of despair.
Suddenly he started.
At his feet, on the table, a clear ray of the full moon illuminated, and seemed to point out to him a sheet of paper. Upon that sheet he read this line, written in large letters that very morning, by the elder of the Thenardier girls:
"THE COGNES ARE HERE."
An idea, a flash crossed Marius' mind; that was the means which he sought; the solution of this dreadful problem which was torturing him, to spare the assassin and to save the victim. He knelt down upon his bureau, reached out his arm, caught up the sheet of paper, quietly detached a bit of plaster from the partition, wrapped it in the paper, and threw the whole through the crevice into the middle of the den.
It was time. Thenardier had conquered his last fears, or his last scruples, and was moving towards the prisoner.
"Something fell!" cried the Thenardiess.
"What is it?" said the husband.
The woman had sprung forward, and picked up the piece of plaster wrapped in the paper. She handed it to her husband.
"How did this come in?" asked Thenardier.
"Egad!" said the woman, "how do you suppose it got in? It came through the window."
"I saw it pass," said Bigrenaille.
Thenardier hurriedly unfolded the paper, and held it up to the candle.
"It is Eponine's writing. The devil!"
He made a sign to his wife, who approached quickly, and he showed her the line written on the sheet of paper; then he added in a hollow voice:
"Quick! the ladder! leave the meat in the trap, and clear the camp!"
"Without cutting the man's throat?" asked the Thenardiess.
"We have not the time."
"Which way?" inquired Bigrenaille.
"Through the window," answered Thenardier. "As Ponine threw the stone through the window, that shows that the house is not watched on that side."
The mask with the ventriloquist's voice laid down his big key, lifted both arms into the air, and opened and shut his hands rapidly three times, without saying a word. This was like the signal to clear the decks in a fleet. The brigands, who were holding the prisoner, let go of him; in the twinkling of an eye, the rope ladder was unrolled out of the window, and firmly fixed to the casing by the two iron hooks.
The prisoner paid no attention to what was passing about him.
He seemed to be dreaming or praying.
As soon as the ladder was fixed, Thenardier cried:
And he rushed towards the window.
But as he was stepping out, Bigrenaille seized him roughly by the collar.
"No; say now, old joker! after us."
"After us!" howled the bandits.
"You are children," said Thenardier. "We are losing time. The railles are at our heels."
"Well," said one of the bandits, "let us draw lots who shall go out first."
"Are you fools? are you cracked? You are a mess of jobards! Losing time, isn't it? drawing lots, isn't it? with a wet finger! for the short straw! write our names! put them in a cap!"
"Would you like my hat?" cried a voice from the door.
They all turned round. It was Javert.
He had his hat in his hand, and was holding it out smiling.
Javert, at nightfall, had posted his men and hid himself behind the trees on the Rue de la Barriere des Gobelins, which fronts the Gorbeau tenement on the other side of the boulevard. He commenced by opening "his pocket," to put into it the two young girls, who were charged with watching the approaches to the den. But he only "bagged" Azelma. As for Eponine, she was not at her post; she had disappeared, and he could not take her. Then Javert put himself in rest, and listened for the signal agreed upon. The going and coming of the fiacre fretted him greatly. At last, he became impatient, and, sure that there was a nest there, sure of being "in good luck," having recognised several of the bandits who had gone in, he finally decided to go up without waiting for the pistol shot.
It will be remembered that he had Marius' pass-key.
He had come at the right time.
The frightened bandits rushed for the arms which they had thrown down anywhere when they had attempted to escape. In less than a second, these seven men, terrible to look upon, were grouped in a posture of defense; one with his pole-axe, another with his key, a third with his club, the others with the shears, the pincers, and the hammers, Thenardier grasping his knife. The Thenardiess seized a huge paving-stone which was in the corner of the window, and which served her daughters for a cricket.
Javert put on his hat again, and stepped into the room, his arms folded, his cane under his arm, his sword in its sheath.
"Halt there," said he. "You will not pass out through the window, you will pass out through the door. It is less unwholesome. There are seven of you, fifteen of us. Don't let us collar you like Auvergnats. Be genteel."
Bigrenaille took a pistol which he had concealed under his blouse, and put it into Thenardier's hand, whispering in his ear:
"It is Javert. I dare not fire at that man. Dare you?"
"Parbleu!" answered Thenardier.
Thenardier took the pistol, and aimed at Javert.
Javert, who was within three paces, looked at him steadily, and contented himself with saying:
"Don't fire, now! It will flash in the pan."
Thenardier pulled the trigger. The pistol flashed in the pan.
"I told you so!" said Javert.
Bigrenaille threw his tomahawk at Javert's feet.
"You are the emperor of the devils! I surrender."
"And you?" asked Javert of the other bandits.
Javert replied calmly:
"That is it, that is well, I said so, you are genteel."
"Handcuffs on all!" cried Javert.
The Thenardiess, her hair flying wildly and terrible, braced her legs, bent backwards, and threw the paving stone wildly at Javert's head. Javert stooped, the stone passed over him, hit the wall behind, from which it knocked down a large piece of the plastering, and returned, bounding from corner to corner across the room, luckily almost empty, finally stopping at Javert's heels.
At that moment Javert reached the Thenardier couple. One of his huge hands fell upon the shoulder of the woman, and the other upon her husband's head.
"The handcuffs!" cried he.
The police officers returned in a body, and in a few seconds Javert's order was executed.
The Thenardiess, completely crushed, looked at her manacled hands and those of her husband, dropped to the floor and exclaimed, with tears in her eyes:
"They are provided for," said Javert.
Meanwhile the officers had found the drunken fellow who was asleep behind the door, and shook him. He awoke stammering.
"Is it over, Jondrette?"
"Yes," answered Javert.
Just then he perceived the prisoner of the bandits, who, since the entrance of the police, had not uttered a word, and had held his head down.
"Untie monsieur!" said Javert, "and let nobody go out."
This said, he sat down with authority before the table, on which the candle and the writing materials still were, drew a stamped sheet from his pocket, and commenced his proces verbal.
When he had written the first lines, a part of the formula, which is always the same, he raised his eyes:
"Bring forward the gentleman whom these gentlemen had bound."
The officers looked about them.
"Well," asked Javert, "where is he now?"
The prisoner of the bandits, M. Leblanc, M. Urbain Fabre, the father of Ursula, or the Lark, had disappeared.
The door was guarded, but the window was not. As soon as he saw that he was unbound, and while Javert was writing, he had taken advantage of the disturbance, the tumult, the confusion, the obscurity, and a moment when their attention was not fixed upon him, to leap out of the window.
An officer ran to the window, and looked out; nobody could be seen outside.
The rope ladder was still trembling.
"The devil!" said Javert, between his teeth, "that must have been the best one."
Part 4: Saint Denis
Part 4: Saint Denis