The stranger turned to the Thenardier, without quitting his chair.
"Bah, Madame," he said, with an almost timid air, "let her play!"
Such a wish expressed by a traveller who had eaten a slice of mutton and had drunk a couple of bottles of wine with his supper, and who had not the air of being frightfully poor, would have been equivalent to an order. But that a man with such a hat should permit himself such a desire, and that a man with such a coat should permit himself to have a will, was something which Madame Thenardier did not intend to tolerate. She retorted with acrimony:—
"She must work, since she eats. I don't feed her to do nothing."
"What is she making?" went on the stranger, in a gentle voice which contrasted strangely with his beggarly garments and his porter's shoulders.
The Thenardier deigned to reply:—
"Stockings, if you please. Stockings for my little girls, who have none, so to speak, and who are absolutely barefoot just now."
The man looked at Cosette's poor little red feet, and continued:—
"When will she have finished this pair of stockings?"
"She has at least three or four good days' work on them still, the lazy creature!"
"And how much will that pair of stockings be worth when she has finished them?"
The Thenardier cast a glance of disdain on him.
"Thirty sous at least."
"Will you sell them for five francs?" went on the man.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed a carter who was listening, with a loud laugh; "five francs! the deuce, I should think so! five balls!"
Thenardier thought it time to strike in.
"Yes, sir; if such is your fancy, you will be allowed to have that pair of stockings for five francs. We can refuse nothing to travellers."
"You must pay on the spot," said the Thenardier, in her curt and peremptory fashion.
"I will buy that pair of stockings," replied the man, "and," he added, drawing a five-franc piece from his pocket, and laying it on the table, "I will pay for them."
Then he turned to Cosette.
"Now I own your work; play, my child."
The carter was so much touched by the five-franc piece, that he abandoned his glass and hastened up.
"But it's true!" he cried, examining it. "A real hind wheel! and not counterfeit!"
Thenardier approached and silently put the coin in his pocket.
The Thenardier had no reply to make. She bit her lips, and her face assumed an expression of hatred.
In the meantime, Cosette was trembling. She ventured to ask:—
"Is it true, Madame? May I play?"
"Play!" said the Thenardier, in a terrible voice.
"Thanks, Madame," said Cosette.
And while her mouth thanked the Thenardier, her whole little soul thanked the traveller.
Thenardier had resumed his drinking; his wife whispered in his ear:—
"Who can this yellow man be?"
"I have seen millionaires with coats like that," replied Thenardier, in a sovereign manner.
Cosette had dropped her knitting, but had not left her seat. Cosette always moved as little as possible. She picked up some old rags and her little lead sword from a box behind her.
Eponine and Azelma paid no attention to what was going on. They had just executed a very important operation; they had just got hold of the cat. They had thrown their doll on the ground, and Eponine, who was the elder, was swathing the little cat, in spite of its mewing and its contortions, in a quantity of clothes and red and blue scraps. While performing this serious and difficult work she was saying to her sister in that sweet and adorable language of children, whose grace, like the splendor of the butterfly's wing, vanishes when one essays to fix it fast.
"You see, sister, this doll is more amusing than the other. She twists, she cries, she is warm. See, sister, let us play with her. She shall be my little girl. I will be a lady. I will come to see you, and you shall look at her. Gradually, you will perceive her whiskers, and that will surprise you. And then you will see her ears, and then you will see her tail and it will amaze you. And you will say to me, 'Ah! Mon Dieu!' and I will say to you: 'Yes, Madame, it is my little girl. Little girls are made like that just at present.'"
Azelma listened admiringly to Eponine.
In the meantime, the drinkers had begun to sing an obscene song, and to laugh at it until the ceiling shook. Thenardier accompanied and encouraged them.
As birds make nests out of everything, so children make a doll out of anything which comes to hand. While Eponine and Azelma were bundling up the cat, Cosette, on her side, had dressed up her sword. That done, she laid it in her arms, and sang to it softly, to lull it to sleep.
The doll is one of the most imperious needs and, at the same time, one of the most charming instincts of feminine childhood. To care for, to clothe, to deck, to dress, to undress, to redress, to teach, scold a little, to rock, to dandle, to lull to sleep, to imagine that something is some one,—therein lies the whole woman's future. While dreaming and chattering, making tiny outfits, and baby clothes, while sewing little gowns, and corsages and bodices, the child grows into a young girl, the young girl into a big girl, the big girl into a woman. The first child is the continuation of the last doll.
A little girl without a doll is almost as unhappy, and quite as impossible, as a woman without children.
So Cosette had made herself a doll out of the sword.
Madame Thenardier approached the yellow man; "My husband is right," she thought; "perhaps it is M. Laffitte; there are such queer rich men!"
She came and set her elbows on the table.
"Monsieur," said she. At this word, Monsieur, the man turned; up to that time, the Thenardier had addressed him only as brave homme or bonhomme.
"You see, sir," she pursued, assuming a sweetish air that was even more repulsive to behold than her fierce mien, "I am willing that the child should play; I do not oppose it, but it is good for once, because you are generous. You see, she has nothing; she must needs work."
"Then this child is not yours?" demanded the man.
"Oh! mon Dieu! no, sir! she is a little beggar whom we have taken in through charity; a sort of imbecile child. She must have water on the brain; she has a large head, as you see. We do what we can for her, for we are not rich; we have written in vain to her native place, and have received no reply these six months. It must be that her mother is dead."
"Ah!" said the man, and fell into his revery once more.
"Her mother didn't amount to much," added the Thenardier; "she abandoned her child."
During the whole of this conversation Cosette, as though warned by some instinct that she was under discussion, had not taken her eyes from the Thenardier's face; she listened vaguely; she caught a few words here and there.
Meanwhile, the drinkers, all three-quarters intoxicated, were repeating their unclean refrain with redoubled gayety; it was a highly spiced and wanton song, in which the Virgin and the infant Jesus were introduced. The Thenardier went off to take part in the shouts of laughter. Cosette, from her post under the table, gazed at the fire, which was reflected from her fixed eyes. She had begun to rock the sort of baby which she had made, and, as she rocked it, she sang in a low voice, "My mother is dead! my mother is dead! my mother is dead!"
On being urged afresh by the hostess, the yellow man, "the millionaire," consented at last to take supper.
"What does Monsieur wish?"
"Bread and cheese," said the man.
"Decidedly, he is a beggar" thought Madame Thenardier.
The drunken men were still singing their song, and the child under the table was singing hers.
All at once, Cosette paused; she had just turned round and caught sight of the little Thenardiers' doll, which they had abandoned for the cat and had left on the floor a few paces from the kitchen table.
Then she dropped the swaddled sword, which only half met her needs, and cast her eyes slowly round the room. Madame Thenardier was whispering to her husband and counting over some money; Ponine and Zelma were playing with the cat; the travellers were eating or drinking or singing; not a glance was fixed on her. She had not a moment to lose; she crept out from under the table on her hands and knees, made sure once more that no one was watching her; then she slipped quickly up to the doll and seized it. An instant later she was in her place again, seated motionless, and only turned so as to cast a shadow on the doll which she held in her arms. The happiness of playing with a doll was so rare for her that it contained all the violence of voluptuousness.
No one had seen her, except the traveller, who was slowly devouring his meagre supper.
This joy lasted about a quarter of an hour.
But with all the precautions that Cosette had taken she did not perceive that one of the doll's legs stuck out and that the fire on the hearth lighted it up very vividly. That pink and shining foot, projecting from the shadow, suddenly struck the eye of Azelma, who said to Eponine, "Look! sister."
The two little girls paused in stupefaction; Cosette had dared to take their doll!
Eponine rose, and, without releasing the cat, she ran to her mother, and began to tug at her skirt.
"Let me alone!" said her mother; "what do you want?"
"Mother," said the child, "look there!"
And she pointed to Cosette.
Cosette, absorbed in the ecstasies of possession, no longer saw or heard anything.
Madame Thenardier's countenance assumed that peculiar expression which is composed of the terrible mingled with the trifles of life, and which has caused this style of woman to be named megaeras.
On this occasion, wounded pride exasperated her wrath still further. Cosette had overstepped all bounds; Cosette had laid violent hands on the doll belonging to "these young ladies." A czarina who should see a muzhik trying on her imperial son's blue ribbon would wear no other face.
She shrieked in a voice rendered hoarse with indignation:—
Cosette started as though the earth had trembled beneath her; she turned round.
"Cosette!" repeated the Thenardier.
Cosette took the doll and laid it gently on the floor with a sort of veneration, mingled with despair; then, without taking her eyes from it, she clasped her hands, and, what is terrible to relate of a child of that age, she wrung them; then—not one of the emotions of the day, neither the trip to the forest, nor the weight of the bucket of water, nor the loss of the money, nor the sight of the whip, nor even the sad words which she had heard Madame Thenardier utter had been able to wring this from her—she wept; she burst out sobbing.
Meanwhile, the traveller had risen to his feet.
"What is the matter?" he said to the Thenardier.
"Don't you see?" said the Thenardier, pointing to the corpus delicti which lay at Cosette's feet.
"Well, what of it?" resumed the man.
"That beggar," replied the Thenardier, "has permitted herself to touch the children's doll!"
"All this noise for that!" said the man; "well, what if she did play with that doll?"
"She touched it with her dirty hands!" pursued the Thenardier, "with her frightful hands!"
Here Cosette redoubled her sobs.
"Will you stop your noise?" screamed the Thenardier.
The man went straight to the street door, opened it, and stepped out.
As soon as he had gone, the Thenardier profited by his absence to give Cosette a hearty kick under the table, which made the child utter loud cries.
The door opened again, the man re-appeared; he carried in both hands the fabulous doll which we have mentioned, and which all the village brats had been staring at ever since the morning, and he set it upright in front of Cosette, saying:—
"Here; this is for you."
It must be supposed that in the course of the hour and more which he had spent there he had taken confused notice through his revery of that toy shop, lighted up by fire-pots and candles so splendidly that it was visible like an illumination through the window of the drinking-shop.
Cosette raised her eyes; she gazed at the man approaching her with that doll as she might have gazed at the sun; she heard the unprecedented words, "It is for you"; she stared at him; she stared at the doll; then she slowly retreated, and hid herself at the extreme end, under the table in a corner of the wall.
She no longer cried; she no longer wept; she had the appearance of no longer daring to breathe.
The Thenardier, Eponine, and Azelma were like statues also; the very drinkers had paused; a solemn silence reigned through the whole room.
Madame Thenardier, petrified and mute, recommenced her conjectures: "Who is that old fellow? Is he a poor man? Is he a millionaire? Perhaps he is both; that is to say, a thief."
The face of the male Thenardier presented that expressive fold which accentuates the human countenance whenever the dominant instinct appears there in all its bestial force. The tavern-keeper stared alternately at the doll and at the traveller; he seemed to be scenting out the man, as he would have scented out a bag of money. This did not last longer than the space of a flash of lightning. He stepped up to his wife and said to her in a low voice:—
"That machine costs at least thirty francs. No nonsense. Down on your belly before that man!"
Gross natures have this in common with naive natures, that they possess no transition state.
"Well, Cosette," said the Thenardier, in a voice that strove to be sweet, and which was composed of the bitter honey of malicious women, "aren't you going to take your doll?"
Cosette ventured to emerge from her hole.
"The gentleman has given you a doll, my little Cosette," said Thenardier, with a caressing air. "Take it; it is yours."
Cosette gazed at the marvellous doll in a sort of terror. Her face was still flooded with tears, but her eyes began to fill, like the sky at daybreak, with strange beams of joy. What she felt at that moment was a little like what she would have felt if she had been abruptly told, "Little one, you are the Queen of France."
It seemed to her that if she touched that doll, lightning would dart from it.
This was true, up to a certain point, for she said to herself that the Thenardier would scold and beat her.
Nevertheless, the attraction carried the day. She ended by drawing near and murmuring timidly as she turned towards Madame Thenardier:—
"May I, Madame?"
No words can render that air, at once despairing, terrified, and ecstatic.
"Pardi!" cried the Thenardier, "it is yours. The gentleman has given it to you."
"Truly, sir?" said Cosette. "Is it true? Is the 'lady' mine?"
The stranger's eyes seemed to be full of tears. He appeared to have reached that point of emotion where a man does not speak for fear lest he should weep. He nodded to Cosette, and placed the "lady's" hand in her tiny hand.
Cosette hastily withdrew her hand, as though that of the "lady" scorched her, and began to stare at the floor. We are forced to add that at that moment she stuck out her tongue immoderately. All at once she wheeled round and seized the doll in a transport.
"I shall call her Catherine," she said.
It was an odd moment when Cosette's rags met and clasped the ribbons and fresh pink muslins of the doll.
"Madame," she resumed, "may I put her on a chair?"
"Yes, my child," replied the Thenardier.
It was now the turn of Eponine and Azelma to gaze at Cosette with envy.
Cosette placed Catherine on a chair, then seated herself on the floor in front of her, and remained motionless, without uttering a word, in an attitude of contemplation.
"Play, Cosette," said the stranger.
"Oh! I am playing," returned the child.
This stranger, this unknown individual, who had the air of a visit which Providence was making on Cosette, was the person whom the Thenardier hated worse than any one in the world at that moment. However, it was necessary to control herself. Habituated as she was to dissimulation through endeavoring to copy her husband in all his actions, these emotions were more than she could endure. She made haste to send her daughters to bed, then she asked the man's permission to send Cosette off also; "for she has worked hard all day," she added with a maternal air. Cosette went off to bed, carrying Catherine in her arms.
From time to time the Thenardier went to the other end of the room where her husband was, to relieve her soul, as she said. She exchanged with her husband words which were all the more furious because she dared not utter them aloud.
"Old beast! What has he got in his belly, to come and upset us in this manner! To want that little monster to play! to give away forty-franc dolls to a jade that I would sell for forty sous, so I would! A little more and he will be saying Your Majesty to her, as though to the Duchess de Berry! Is there any sense in it? Is he mad, then, that mysterious old fellow?"
"Why! it is perfectly simple," replied Thenardier, "if that amuses him! It amuses you to have the little one work; it amuses him to have her play. He's all right. A traveller can do what he pleases when he pays for it. If the old fellow is a philanthropist, what is that to you? If he is an imbecile, it does not concern you. What are you worrying for, so long as he has money?"
The language of a master, and the reasoning of an innkeeper, neither of which admitted of any reply.
The man had placed his elbows on the table, and resumed his thoughtful attitude. All the other travellers, both pedlers and carters, had withdrawn a little, and had ceased singing. They were staring at him from a distance, with a sort of respectful awe. This poorly dressed man, who drew "hind-wheels" from his pocket with so much ease, and who lavished gigantic dolls on dirty little brats in wooden shoes, was certainly a magnificent fellow, and one to be feared.
Many hours passed. The midnight mass was over, the chimes had ceased, the drinkers had taken their departure, the drinking-shop was closed, the public room was deserted, the fire extinct, the stranger still remained in the same place and the same attitude. From time to time he changed the elbow on which he leaned. That was all; but he had not said a word since Cosette had left the room.
The Thenardiers alone, out of politeness and curiosity, had remained in the room.
"Is he going to pass the night in that fashion?" grumbled the Thenardier. When two o'clock in the morning struck, she declared herself vanquished, and said to her husband, "I'm going to bed. Do as you like." Her husband seated himself at a table in the corner, lighted a candle, and began to read the Courrier Francais.
A good hour passed thus. The worthy inn-keeper had perused the Courrier Francais at least three times, from the date of the number to the printer's name. The stranger did not stir.
Thenardier fidgeted, coughed, spit, blew his nose, and creaked his chair. Not a movement on the man's part. "Is he asleep?" thought Thenardier. The man was not asleep, but nothing could arouse him.
At last Thenardier took off his cap, stepped gently up to him, and ventured to say:—
"Is not Monsieur going to his repose?"
Not going to bed would have seemed to him excessive and familiar. To repose smacked of luxury and respect. These words possess the mysterious and admirable property of swelling the bill on the following day. A chamber where one sleeps costs twenty sous; a chamber in which one reposes costs twenty francs.
"Well!" said the stranger, "you are right. Where is your stable?"
"Sir!" exclaimed Thenardier, with a smile, "I will conduct you, sir."
He took the candle; the man picked up his bundle and cudgel, and Thenardier conducted him to a chamber on the first floor, which was of rare splendor, all furnished in mahogany, with a low bedstead, curtained with red calico.
"What is this?" said the traveller.
"It is really our bridal chamber," said the tavern-keeper. "My wife and I occupy another. This is only entered three or four times a year."
"I should have liked the stable quite as well," said the man, abruptly.
Thenardier pretended not to hear this unamiable remark.
He lighted two perfectly fresh wax candles which figured on the chimney-piece. A very good fire was flickering on the hearth.
On the chimney-piece, under a glass globe, stood a woman's head-dress in silver wire and orange flowers.
"And what is this?" resumed the stranger.
"That, sir," said Thenardier, "is my wife's wedding bonnet."
The traveller surveyed the object with a glance which seemed to say, "There really was a time, then, when that monster was a maiden?"
Thenardier lied, however. When he had leased this paltry building for the purpose of converting it into a tavern, he had found this chamber decorated in just this manner, and had purchased the furniture and obtained the orange flowers at second hand, with the idea that this would cast a graceful shadow on "his spouse," and would result in what the English call respectability for his house.
When the traveller turned round, the host had disappeared. Thenardier had withdrawn discreetly, without venturing to wish him a good night, as he did not wish to treat with disrespectful cordiality a man whom he proposed to fleece royally the following morning.
The inn-keeper retired to his room. His wife was in bed, but she was not asleep. When she heard her husband's step she turned over and said to him:—
"Do you know, I'm going to turn Cosette out of doors to-morrow."
Thenardier replied coldly:—
"How you do go on!"
They exchanged no further words, and a few moments later their candle was extinguished.
As for the traveller, he had deposited his cudgel and his bundle in a corner. The landlord once gone, he threw himself into an arm-chair and remained for some time buried in thought. Then he removed his shoes, took one of the two candles, blew out the other, opened the door, and quitted the room, gazing about him like a person who is in search of something. He traversed a corridor and came upon a staircase. There he heard a very faint and gentle sound like the breathing of a child. He followed this sound, and came to a sort of triangular recess built under the staircase, or rather formed by the staircase itself. This recess was nothing else than the space under the steps. There, in the midst of all sorts of old papers and potsherds, among dust and spiders' webs, was a bed—if one can call by the name of bed a straw pallet so full of holes as to display the straw, and a coverlet so tattered as to show the pallet. No sheets. This was placed on the floor.
In this bed Cosette was sleeping.
The man approached and gazed down upon her.
Cosette was in a profound sleep; she was fully dressed. In the winter she did not undress, in order that she might not be so cold.
Against her breast was pressed the doll, whose large eyes, wide open, glittered in the dark. From time to time she gave vent to a deep sigh as though she were on the point of waking, and she strained the doll almost convulsively in her arms. Beside her bed there was only one of her wooden shoes.
A door which stood open near Cosette's pallet permitted a view of a rather large, dark room. The stranger stepped into it. At the further extremity, through a glass door, he saw two small, very white beds. They belonged to Eponine and Azelma. Behind these beds, and half hidden, stood an uncurtained wicker cradle, in which the little boy who had cried all the evening lay asleep.
The stranger conjectured that this chamber connected with that of the Thenardier pair. He was on the point of retreating when his eye fell upon the fireplace—one of those vast tavern chimneys where there is always so little fire when there is any fire at all, and which are so cold to look at. There was no fire in this one, there was not even ashes; but there was something which attracted the stranger's gaze, nevertheless. It was two tiny children's shoes, coquettish in shape and unequal in size. The traveller recalled the graceful and immemorial custom in accordance with which children place their shoes in the chimney on Christmas eve, there to await in the darkness some sparkling gift from their good fairy. Eponine and Azelma had taken care not to omit this, and each of them had set one of her shoes on the hearth.
The traveller bent over them.
The fairy, that is to say, their mother, had already paid her visit, and in each he saw a brand-new and shining ten-sou piece.
The man straightened himself up, and was on the point of withdrawing, when far in, in the darkest corner of the hearth, he caught sight of another object. He looked at it, and recognized a wooden shoe, a frightful shoe of the coarsest description, half dilapidated and all covered with ashes and dried mud. It was Cosette's sabot. Cosette, with that touching trust of childhood, which can always be deceived yet never discouraged, had placed her shoe on the hearth-stone also.
Hope in a child who has never known anything but despair is a sweet and touching thing.
There was nothing in this wooden shoe.
The stranger fumbled in his waistcoat, bent over and placed a louis d'or in Cosette's shoe.
Then he regained his own chamber with the stealthy tread of a wolf.
CHAPTER IX—THENARDIER AND HIS MANOEUVRES
On the following morning, two hours at least before day-break, Thenardier, seated beside a candle in the public room of the tavern, pen in hand, was making out the bill for the traveller with the yellow coat.
His wife, standing beside him, and half bent over him, was following him with her eyes. They exchanged not a word. On the one hand, there was profound meditation, on the other, the religious admiration with which one watches the birth and development of a marvel of the human mind. A noise was audible in the house; it was the Lark sweeping the stairs.
After the lapse of a good quarter of an hour, and some erasures, Thenardier produced the following masterpiece:—
BILL OF THE GENTLEMAN IN No. 1.
Supper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 francs. Chamber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 " Candle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 " Fire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 " Service . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 " ————— Total . . . . . . 23 francs.
Service was written servisse.
"Twenty-three francs!" cried the woman, with an enthusiasm which was mingled with some hesitation.
Like all great artists, Thenardier was dissatisfied.
"Peuh!" he exclaimed.
It was the accent of Castlereagh auditing France's bill at the Congress of Vienna.
"Monsieur Thenardier, you are right; he certainly owes that," murmured the wife, who was thinking of the doll bestowed on Cosette in the presence of her daughters. "It is just, but it is too much. He will not pay it."
Thenardier laughed coldly, as usual, and said:—
"He will pay."
This laugh was the supreme assertion of certainty and authority. That which was asserted in this manner must needs be so. His wife did not insist.
She set about arranging the table; her husband paced the room. A moment later he added:—
"I owe full fifteen hundred francs!"
He went and seated himself in the chimney-corner, meditating, with his feet among the warm ashes.
"Ah! by the way," resumed his wife, "you don't forget that I'm going to turn Cosette out of doors to-day? The monster! She breaks my heart with that doll of hers! I'd rather marry Louis XVIII. than keep her another day in the house!"
Thenardier lighted his pipe, and replied between two puffs:—
"You will hand that bill to the man."
Then he went out.
Hardly had he left the room when the traveller entered.
Thenardier instantly reappeared behind him and remained motionless in the half-open door, visible only to his wife.
The yellow man carried his bundle and his cudgel in his hand.
"Up so early?" said Madame Thenardier; "is Monsieur leaving us already?"
As she spoke thus, she was twisting the bill about in her hands with an embarrassed air, and making creases in it with her nails. Her hard face presented a shade which was not habitual with it,—timidity and scruples.
To present such a bill to a man who had so completely the air "of a poor wretch" seemed difficult to her.
The traveller appeared to be preoccupied and absent-minded. He replied:—
"Yes, Madame, I am going."
"So Monsieur has no business in Montfermeil?"
"No, I was passing through. That is all. What do I owe you, Madame," he added.
The Thenardier silently handed him the folded bill.
The man unfolded the paper and glanced at it; but his thoughts were evidently elsewhere.
"Madame," he resumed, "is business good here in Montfermeil?"
"So so, Monsieur," replied the Thenardier, stupefied at not witnessing another sort of explosion.
She continued, in a dreary and lamentable tone:—
"Oh! Monsieur, times are so hard! and then, we have so few bourgeois in the neighborhood! All the people are poor, you see. If we had not, now and then, some rich and generous travellers like Monsieur, we should not get along at all. We have so many expenses. Just see, that child is costing us our very eyes."
"Why, the little one, you know! Cosette—the Lark, as she is called hereabouts!"
"Ah!" said the man.
She went on:—
"How stupid these peasants are with their nicknames! She has more the air of a bat than of a lark. You see, sir, we do not ask charity, and we cannot bestow it. We earn nothing and we have to pay out a great deal. The license, the imposts, the door and window tax, the hundredths! Monsieur is aware that the government demands a terrible deal of money. And then, I have my daughters. I have no need to bring up other people's children."
The man resumed, in that voice which he strove to render indifferent, and in which there lingered a tremor:—
"What if one were to rid you of her?"
The landlady's red and violent face brightened up hideously.
"Ah! sir, my dear sir, take her, keep her, lead her off, carry her away, sugar her, stuff her with truffles, drink her, eat her, and the blessings of the good holy Virgin and of all the saints of paradise be upon you!"
"Really! You will take her away?"
"I will take her away."
"Immediately. Call the child."
"Cosette!" screamed the Thenardier.
"In the meantime," pursued the man, "I will pay you what I owe you. How much is it?"
He cast a glance on the bill, and could not restrain a start of surprise:—
He looked at the landlady, and repeated:—
There was in the enunciation of these words, thus repeated, an accent between an exclamation and an interrogation point.
The Thenardier had had time to prepare herself for the shock. She replied, with assurance:—
"Good gracious, yes, sir, it is twenty-three francs."
The stranger laid five five-franc pieces on the table.
"Go and get the child," said he.
At that moment Thenardier advanced to the middle of the room, and said:—
"Monsieur owes twenty-six sous."
"Twenty-six sous!" exclaimed his wife.
"Twenty sous for the chamber," resumed Thenardier, coldly, "and six sous for his supper. As for the child, I must discuss that matter a little with the gentleman. Leave us, wife."
Madame Thenardier was dazzled as with the shock caused by unexpected lightning flashes of talent. She was conscious that a great actor was making his entrance on the stage, uttered not a word in reply, and left the room.
As soon as they were alone, Thenardier offered the traveller a chair. The traveller seated himself; Thenardier remained standing, and his face assumed a singular expression of good-fellowship and simplicity.
"Sir," said he, "what I have to say to you is this, that I adore that child."
The stranger gazed intently at him.
"How strange it is, one grows attached. What money is that? Take back your hundred-sou piece. I adore the child."
"Whom do you mean?" demanded the stranger.
"Eh! our little Cosette! Are you not intending to take her away from us? Well, I speak frankly; as true as you are an honest man, I will not consent to it. I shall miss that child. I saw her first when she was a tiny thing. It is true that she costs us money; it is true that she has her faults; it is true that we are not rich; it is true that I have paid out over four hundred francs for drugs for just one of her illnesses! But one must do something for the good God's sake. She has neither father nor mother. I have brought her up. I have bread enough for her and for myself. In truth, I think a great deal of that child. You understand, one conceives an affection for a person; I am a good sort of a beast, I am; I do not reason; I love that little girl; my wife is quick-tempered, but she loves her also. You see, she is just the same as our own child. I want to keep her to babble about the house."
The stranger kept his eye intently fixed on Thenardier. The latter continued:—
"Excuse me, sir, but one does not give away one's child to a passer-by, like that. I am right, am I not? Still, I don't say—you are rich; you have the air of a very good man,—if it were for her happiness. But one must find out that. You understand: suppose that I were to let her go and to sacrifice myself, I should like to know what becomes of her; I should not wish to lose sight of her; I should like to know with whom she is living, so that I could go to see her from time to time; so that she may know that her good foster-father is alive, that he is watching over her. In short, there are things which are not possible. I do not even know your name. If you were to take her away, I should say: 'Well, and the Lark, what has become of her?' One must, at least, see some petty scrap of paper, some trifle in the way of a passport, you know!"
The stranger, still surveying him with that gaze which penetrates, as the saying goes, to the very depths of the conscience, replied in a grave, firm voice:—
"Monsieur Thenardier, one does not require a passport to travel five leagues from Paris. If I take Cosette away, I shall take her away, and that is the end of the matter. You will not know my name, you will not know my residence, you will not know where she is; and my intention is that she shall never set eyes on you again so long as she lives. I break the thread which binds her foot, and she departs. Does that suit you? Yes or no?"
Since geniuses, like demons, recognize the presence of a superior God by certain signs, Thenardier comprehended that he had to deal with a very strong person. It was like an intuition; he comprehended it with his clear and sagacious promptitude. While drinking with the carters, smoking, and singing coarse songs on the preceding evening, he had devoted the whole of the time to observing the stranger, watching him like a cat, and studying him like a mathematician. He had watched him, both on his own account, for the pleasure of the thing, and through instinct, and had spied upon him as though he had been paid for so doing. Not a movement, not a gesture, on the part of the man in the yellow great-coat had escaped him. Even before the stranger had so clearly manifested his interest in Cosette, Thenardier had divined his purpose. He had caught the old man's deep glances returning constantly to the child. Who was this man? Why this interest? Why this hideous costume, when he had so much money in his purse? Questions which he put to himself without being able to solve them, and which irritated him. He had pondered it all night long. He could not be Cosette's father. Was he her grandfather? Then why not make himself known at once? When one has a right, one asserts it. This man evidently had no right over Cosette. What was it, then? Thenardier lost himself in conjectures. He caught glimpses of everything, but he saw nothing. Be that as it may, on entering into conversation with the man, sure that there was some secret in the case, that the latter had some interest in remaining in the shadow, he felt himself strong; when he perceived from the stranger's clear and firm retort, that this mysterious personage was mysterious in so simple a way, he became conscious that he was weak. He had expected nothing of the sort. His conjectures were put to the rout. He rallied his ideas. He weighed everything in the space of a second. Thenardier was one of those men who take in a situation at a glance. He decided that the moment had arrived for proceeding straightforward, and quickly at that. He did as great leaders do at the decisive moment, which they know that they alone recognize; he abruptly unmasked his batteries.
"Sir," said he, "I am in need of fifteen hundred francs."
The stranger took from his side pocket an old pocketbook of black leather, opened it, drew out three bank-bills, which he laid on the table. Then he placed his large thumb on the notes and said to the inn-keeper:—
"Go and fetch Cosette."
While this was taking place, what had Cosette been doing?
On waking up, Cosette had run to get her shoe. In it she had found the gold piece. It was not a Napoleon; it was one of those perfectly new twenty-franc pieces of the Restoration, on whose effigy the little Prussian queue had replaced the laurel wreath. Cosette was dazzled. Her destiny began to intoxicate her. She did not know what a gold piece was; she had never seen one; she hid it quickly in her pocket, as though she had stolen it. Still, she felt that it really was hers; she guessed whence her gift had come, but the joy which she experienced was full of fear. She was happy; above all she was stupefied. Such magnificent and beautiful things did not appear real. The doll frightened her, the gold piece frightened her. She trembled vaguely in the presence of this magnificence. The stranger alone did not frighten her. On the contrary, he reassured her. Ever since the preceding evening, amid all her amazement, even in her sleep, she had been thinking in her little childish mind of that man who seemed to be so poor and so sad, and who was so rich and so kind. Everything had changed for her since she had met that good man in the forest. Cosette, less happy than the most insignificant swallow of heaven, had never known what it was to take refuge under a mother's shadow and under a wing. For the last five years, that is to say, as far back as her memory ran, the poor child had shivered and trembled. She had always been exposed completely naked to the sharp wind of adversity; now it seemed to her she was clothed. Formerly her soul had seemed cold, now it was warm. Cosette was no longer afraid of the Thenardier. She was no longer alone; there was some one there.
She hastily set about her regular morning duties. That louis, which she had about her, in the very apron pocket whence the fifteen-sou piece had fallen on the night before, distracted her thoughts. She dared not touch it, but she spent five minutes in gazing at it, with her tongue hanging out, if the truth must be told. As she swept the staircase, she paused, remained standing there motionless, forgetful of her broom and of the entire universe, occupied in gazing at that star which was blazing at the bottom of her pocket.
It was during one of these periods of contemplation that the Thenardier joined her. She had gone in search of Cosette at her husband's orders. What was quite unprecedented, she neither struck her nor said an insulting word to her.
"Cosette," she said, almost gently, "come immediately."
An instant later Cosette entered the public room.
The stranger took up the bundle which he had brought and untied it. This bundle contained a little woollen gown, an apron, a fustian bodice, a kerchief, a petticoat, woollen stockings, shoes—a complete outfit for a girl of seven years. All was black.
"My child," said the man, "take these, and go and dress yourself quickly."
Daylight was appearing when those of the inhabitants of Montfermeil who had begun to open their doors beheld a poorly clad old man leading a little girl dressed in mourning, and carrying a pink doll in her arms, pass along the road to Paris. They were going in the direction of Livry.
It was our man and Cosette.
No one knew the man; as Cosette was no longer in rags, many did not recognize her. Cosette was going away. With whom? She did not know. Whither? She knew not. All that she understood was that she was leaving the Thenardier tavern behind her. No one had thought of bidding her farewell, nor had she thought of taking leave of any one. She was leaving that hated and hating house.
Poor, gentle creature, whose heart had been repressed up to that hour!
Cosette walked along gravely, with her large eyes wide open, and gazing at the sky. She had put her louis in the pocket of her new apron. From time to time, she bent down and glanced at it; then she looked at the good man. She felt something as though she were beside the good God.
CHAPTER X—HE WHO SEEKS TO BETTER HIMSELF MAY RENDER HIS SITUATION WORSE
Madame Thenardier had allowed her husband to have his own way, as was her wont. She had expected great results. When the man and Cosette had taken their departure, Thenardier allowed a full quarter of an hour to elapse; then he took her aside and showed her the fifteen hundred francs.
"Is that all?" said she.
It was the first time since they had set up housekeeping that she had dared to criticise one of the master's acts.
The blow told.
"You are right, in sooth," said he; "I am a fool. Give me my hat."
He folded up the three bank-bills, thrust them into his pocket, and ran out in all haste; but he made a mistake and turned to the right first. Some neighbors, of whom he made inquiries, put him on the track again; the Lark and the man had been seen going in the direction of Livry. He followed these hints, walking with great strides, and talking to himself the while:—
"That man is evidently a million dressed in yellow, and I am an animal. First he gave twenty sous, then five francs, then fifty francs, then fifteen hundred francs, all with equal readiness. He would have given fifteen thousand francs. But I shall overtake him."
And then, that bundle of clothes prepared beforehand for the child; all that was singular; many mysteries lay concealed under it. One does not let mysteries out of one's hand when one has once grasped them. The secrets of the wealthy are sponges of gold; one must know how to subject them to pressure. All these thoughts whirled through his brain. "I am an animal," said he.
When one leaves Montfermeil and reaches the turn which the road takes that runs to Livry, it can be seen stretching out before one to a great distance across the plateau. On arriving there, he calculated that he ought to be able to see the old man and the child. He looked as far as his vision reached, and saw nothing. He made fresh inquiries, but he had wasted time. Some passers-by informed him that the man and child of whom he was in search had gone towards the forest in the direction of Gagny. He hastened in that direction.
They were far in advance of him; but a child walks slowly, and he walked fast; and then, he was well acquainted with the country.
All at once he paused and dealt himself a blow on his forehead like a man who has forgotten some essential point and who is ready to retrace his steps.
"I ought to have taken my gun," said he to himself.
Thenardier was one of those double natures which sometimes pass through our midst without our being aware of the fact, and who disappear without our finding them out, because destiny has only exhibited one side of them. It is the fate of many men to live thus half submerged. In a calm and even situation, Thenardier possessed all that is required to make—we will not say to be—what people have agreed to call an honest trader, a good bourgeois. At the same time certain circumstances being given, certain shocks arriving to bring his under-nature to the surface, he had all the requisites for a blackguard. He was a shopkeeper in whom there was some taint of the monster. Satan must have occasionally crouched down in some corner of the hovel in which Thenardier dwelt, and have fallen a-dreaming in the presence of this hideous masterpiece.
After a momentary hesitation:—
"Bah!" he thought; "they will have time to make their escape."
And he pursued his road, walking rapidly straight ahead, and with almost an air of certainty, with the sagacity of a fox scenting a covey of partridges.
In truth, when he had passed the ponds and had traversed in an oblique direction the large clearing which lies on the right of the Avenue de Bellevue, and reached that turf alley which nearly makes the circuit of the hill, and covers the arch of the ancient aqueduct of the Abbey of Chelles, he caught sight, over the top of the brushwood, of the hat on which he had already erected so many conjectures; it was that man's hat. The brushwood was not high. Thenardier recognized the fact that the man and Cosette were sitting there. The child could not be seen on account of her small size, but the head of her doll was visible.
Thenardier was not mistaken. The man was sitting there, and letting Cosette get somewhat rested. The inn-keeper walked round the brushwood and presented himself abruptly to the eyes of those whom he was in search of.
"Pardon, excuse me, sir," he said, quite breathless, "but here are your fifteen hundred francs."
So saying, he handed the stranger the three bank-bills.
The man raised his eyes.
"What is the meaning of this?"
Thenardier replied respectfully:—
"It means, sir, that I shall take back Cosette."
Cosette shuddered, and pressed close to the old man.
He replied, gazing to the very bottom of Thenardier's eyes the while, and enunciating every syllable distinctly:—
"You are go-ing to take back Co-sette?"
"Yes, sir, I am. I will tell you; I have considered the matter. In fact, I have not the right to give her to you. I am an honest man, you see; this child does not belong to me; she belongs to her mother. It was her mother who confided her to me; I can only resign her to her mother. You will say to me, 'But her mother is dead.' Good; in that case I can only give the child up to the person who shall bring me a writing, signed by her mother, to the effect that I am to hand the child over to the person therein mentioned; that is clear."
The man, without making any reply, fumbled in his pocket, and Thenardier beheld the pocket-book of bank-bills make its appearance once more.
The tavern-keeper shivered with joy.
"Good!" thought he; "let us hold firm; he is going to bribe me!"
Before opening the pocket-book, the traveller cast a glance about him: the spot was absolutely deserted; there was not a soul either in the woods or in the valley. The man opened his pocket-book once more and drew from it, not the handful of bills which Thenardier expected, but a simple little paper, which he unfolded and presented fully open to the inn-keeper, saying:—
"You are right; read!"
Thenardier took the paper and read:—
"M. SUR M., March 25, 1823.
You will deliver Cosette to this person. You will be paid for all the little things. I have the honor to salute you with respect, FANTINE."
"You know that signature?" resumed the man.
It certainly was Fantine's signature; Thenardier recognized it.
There was no reply to make; he experienced two violent vexations, the vexation of renouncing the bribery which he had hoped for, and the vexation of being beaten; the man added:—
"You may keep this paper as your receipt."
Thenardier retreated in tolerably good order.
"This signature is fairly well imitated," he growled between his teeth; "however, let it go!"
Then he essayed a desperate effort.
"It is well, sir," he said, "since you are the person, but I must be paid for all those little things. A great deal is owing to me."
The man rose to his feet, filliping the dust from his thread-bare sleeve:—
"Monsieur Thenardier, in January last, the mother reckoned that she owed you one hundred and twenty francs. In February, you sent her a bill of five hundred francs; you received three hundred francs at the end of February, and three hundred francs at the beginning of March. Since then nine months have elapsed, at fifteen francs a month, the price agreed upon, which makes one hundred and thirty-five francs. You had received one hundred francs too much; that makes thirty-five still owing you. I have just given you fifteen hundred francs."
Thenardier's sensations were those of the wolf at the moment when he feels himself nipped and seized by the steel jaw of the trap.
"Who is this devil of a man?" he thought.
He did what the wolf does: he shook himself. Audacity had succeeded with him once.
"Monsieur-I-don't-know-your-name," he said resolutely, and this time casting aside all respectful ceremony, "I shall take back Cosette if you do not give me a thousand crowns."
The stranger said tranquilly:—
He took Cosette by his left hand, and with his right he picked up his cudgel, which was lying on the ground.
Thenardier noted the enormous size of the cudgel and the solitude of the spot.
The man plunged into the forest with the child, leaving the inn-keeper motionless and speechless.
While they were walking away, Thenardier scrutinized his huge shoulders, which were a little rounded, and his great fists.
Then, bringing his eyes back to his own person, they fell upon his feeble arms and his thin hands. "I really must have been exceedingly stupid not to have thought to bring my gun," he said to himself, "since I was going hunting!"
However, the inn-keeper did not give up.
"I want to know where he is going," said he, and he set out to follow them at a distance. Two things were left on his hands, an irony in the shape of the paper signed Fantine, and a consolation, the fifteen hundred francs.
The man led Cosette off in the direction of Livry and Bondy. He walked slowly, with drooping head, in an attitude of reflection and sadness. The winter had thinned out the forest, so that Thenardier did not lose them from sight, although he kept at a good distance. The man turned round from time to time, and looked to see if he was being followed. All at once he caught sight of Thenardier. He plunged suddenly into the brushwood with Cosette, where they could both hide themselves. "The deuce!" said Thenardier, and he redoubled his pace.
The thickness of the undergrowth forced him to draw nearer to them. When the man had reached the densest part of the thicket, he wheeled round. It was in vain that Thenardier sought to conceal himself in the branches; he could not prevent the man seeing him. The man cast upon him an uneasy glance, then elevated his head and continued his course. The inn-keeper set out again in pursuit. Thus they continued for two or three hundred paces. All at once the man turned round once more; he saw the inn-keeper. This time he gazed at him with so sombre an air that Thenardier decided that it was "useless" to proceed further. Thenardier retraced his steps.
CHAPTER XI—NUMBER 9,430 REAPPEARS, AND COSETTE WINS IT IN THE LOTTERY
Jean Valjean was not dead.
When he fell into the sea, or rather, when he threw himself into it, he was not ironed, as we have seen. He swam under water until he reached a vessel at anchor, to which a boat was moored. He found means of hiding himself in this boat until night. At night he swam off again, and reached the shore a little way from Cape Brun. There, as he did not lack money, he procured clothing. A small country-house in the neighborhood of Balaguier was at that time the dressing-room of escaped convicts,—a lucrative specialty. Then Jean Valjean, like all the sorry fugitives who are seeking to evade the vigilance of the law and social fatality, pursued an obscure and undulating itinerary. He found his first refuge at Pradeaux, near Beausset. Then he directed his course towards Grand-Villard, near Briancon, in the Hautes-Alpes. It was a fumbling and uneasy flight,—a mole's track, whose branchings are untraceable. Later on, some trace of his passage into Ain, in the territory of Civrieux, was discovered; in the Pyrenees, at Accons; at the spot called Grange-de-Doumec, near the market of Chavailles, and in the environs of Perigueux at Brunies, canton of La Chapelle-Gonaguet. He reached Paris. We have just seen him at Montfermeil.
His first care on arriving in Paris had been to buy mourning clothes for a little girl of from seven to eight years of age; then to procure a lodging. That done, he had betaken himself to Montfermeil. It will be remembered that already, during his preceding escape, he had made a mysterious trip thither, or somewhere in that neighborhood, of which the law had gathered an inkling.
However, he was thought to be dead, and this still further increased the obscurity which had gathered about him. At Paris, one of the journals which chronicled the fact fell into his hands. He felt reassured and almost at peace, as though he had really been dead.
On the evening of the day when Jean Valjean rescued Cosette from the claws of the Thenardiers, he returned to Paris. He re-entered it at nightfall, with the child, by way of the Barrier Monceaux. There he entered a cabriolet, which took him to the esplanade of the Observatoire. There he got out, paid the coachman, took Cosette by the hand, and together they directed their steps through the darkness,—through the deserted streets which adjoin the Ourcine and the Glaciere, towards the Boulevard de l'Hopital.
The day had been strange and filled with emotions for Cosette. They had eaten some bread and cheese purchased in isolated taverns, behind hedges; they had changed carriages frequently; they had travelled short distances on foot. She made no complaint, but she was weary, and Jean Valjean perceived it by the way she dragged more and more on his hand as she walked. He took her on his back. Cosette, without letting go of Catherine, laid her head on Jean Valjean's shoulder, and there fell asleep.
BOOK FOURTH.—THE GORBEAU HOVEL
CHAPTER I—MASTER GORBEAU
Forty years ago, a rambler who had ventured into that unknown country of the Salpetriere, and who had mounted to the Barriere d'Italie by way of the boulevard, reached a point where it might be said that Paris disappeared. It was no longer solitude, for there were passers-by; it was not the country, for there were houses and streets; it was not the city, for the streets had ruts like highways, and the grass grew in them; it was not a village, the houses were too lofty. What was it, then? It was an inhabited spot where there was no one; it was a desert place where there was some one; it was a boulevard of the great city, a street of Paris; more wild at night than the forest, more gloomy by day than a cemetery.
It was the old quarter of the Marche-aux-Chevaux.
The rambler, if he risked himself outside the four decrepit walls of this Marche-aux-Chevaux; if he consented even to pass beyond the Rue du Petit-Banquier, after leaving on his right a garden protected by high walls; then a field in which tan-bark mills rose like gigantic beaver huts; then an enclosure encumbered with timber, with a heap of stumps, sawdust, and shavings, on which stood a large dog, barking; then a long, low, utterly dilapidated wall, with a little black door in mourning, laden with mosses, which were covered with flowers in the spring; then, in the most deserted spot, a frightful and decrepit building, on which ran the inscription in large letters: POST NO BILLS,—this daring rambler would have reached little known latitudes at the corner of the Rue des Vignes-Saint-Marcel. There, near a factory, and between two garden walls, there could be seen, at that epoch, a mean building, which, at the first glance, seemed as small as a thatched hovel, and which was, in reality, as large as a cathedral. It presented its side and gable to the public road; hence its apparent diminutiveness. Nearly the whole of the house was hidden. Only the door and one window could be seen.
This hovel was only one story high.
The first detail that struck the observer was, that the door could never have been anything but the door of a hovel, while the window, if it had been carved out of dressed stone instead of being in rough masonry, might have been the lattice of a lordly mansion.
The door was nothing but a collection of worm-eaten planks roughly bound together by cross-beams which resembled roughly hewn logs. It opened directly on a steep staircase of lofty steps, muddy, chalky, plaster-stained, dusty steps, of the same width as itself, which could be seen from the street, running straight up like a ladder and disappearing in the darkness between two walls. The top of the shapeless bay into which this door shut was masked by a narrow scantling in the centre of which a triangular hole had been sawed, which served both as wicket and air-hole when the door was closed. On the inside of the door the figures 52 had been traced with a couple of strokes of a brush dipped in ink, and above the scantling the same hand had daubed the number 50, so that one hesitated. Where was one? Above the door it said, "Number 50"; the inside replied, "no, Number 52." No one knows what dust-colored figures were suspended like draperies from the triangular opening.
The window was large, sufficiently elevated, garnished with Venetian blinds, and with a frame in large square panes; only these large panes were suffering from various wounds, which were both concealed and betrayed by an ingenious paper bandage. And the blinds, dislocated and unpasted, threatened passers-by rather than screened the occupants. The horizontal slats were missing here and there and had been naively replaced with boards nailed on perpendicularly; so that what began as a blind ended as a shutter. This door with an unclean, and this window with an honest though dilapidated air, thus beheld on the same house, produced the effect of two incomplete beggars walking side by side, with different miens beneath the same rags, the one having always been a mendicant, and the other having once been a gentleman.
The staircase led to a very vast edifice which resembled a shed which had been converted into a house. This edifice had, for its intestinal tube, a long corridor, on which opened to right and left sorts of compartments of varied dimensions which were inhabitable under stress of circumstances, and rather more like stalls than cells. These chambers received their light from the vague waste grounds in the neighborhood.
All this was dark, disagreeable, wan, melancholy, sepulchral; traversed according as the crevices lay in the roof or in the door, by cold rays or by icy winds. An interesting and picturesque peculiarity of this sort of dwelling is the enormous size of the spiders.
To the left of the entrance door, on the boulevard side, at about the height of a man from the ground, a small window which had been walled up formed a square niche full of stones which the children had thrown there as they passed by.
A portion of this building has recently been demolished. From what still remains of it one can form a judgment as to what it was in former days. As a whole, it was not over a hundred years old. A hundred years is youth in a church and age in a house. It seems as though man's lodging partook of his ephemeral character, and God's house of his eternity.
The postmen called the house Number 50-52; but it was known in the neighborhood as the Gorbeau house.
Let us explain whence this appellation was derived.
Collectors of petty details, who become herbalists of anecdotes, and prick slippery dates into their memories with a pin, know that there was in Paris, during the last century, about 1770, two attorneys at the Chatelet named, one Corbeau (Raven), the other Renard (Fox). The two names had been forestalled by La Fontaine. The opportunity was too fine for the lawyers; they made the most of it. A parody was immediately put in circulation in the galleries of the court-house, in verses that limped a little:—
Maitre Corbeau, sur un dossier perche, Tenait dans son bee une saisie executoire; Maitre Renard, par l'odeur alleche, Lui fit a peu pres cette histoire: He! bonjour. Etc.
The two honest practitioners, embarrassed by the jests, and finding the bearing of their heads interfered with by the shouts of laughter which followed them, resolved to get rid of their names, and hit upon the expedient of applying to the king.
Their petition was presented to Louis XV. on the same day when the Papal Nuncio, on the one hand, and the Cardinal de la Roche-Aymon on the other, both devoutly kneeling, were each engaged in putting on, in his Majesty's presence, a slipper on the bare feet of Madame du Barry, who had just got out of bed. The king, who was laughing, continued to laugh, passed gayly from the two bishops to the two lawyers, and bestowed on these limbs of the law their former names, or nearly so. By the kings command, Maitre Corbeau was permitted to add a tail to his initial letter and to call himself Gorbeau. Maitre Renard was less lucky; all he obtained was leave to place a P in front of his R, and to call himself Prenard; so that the second name bore almost as much resemblance as the first.
Now, according to local tradition, this Maitre Gorbeau had been the proprietor of the building numbered 50-52 on the Boulevard de l'Hopital. He was even the author of the monumental window.
Hence the edifice bore the name of the Gorbeau house.
Opposite this house, among the trees of the boulevard, rose a great elm which was three-quarters dead; almost directly facing it opens the Rue de la Barriere des Gobelins, a street then without houses, unpaved, planted with unhealthy trees, which was green or muddy according to the season, and which ended squarely in the exterior wall of Paris. An odor of copperas issued in puffs from the roofs of the neighboring factory.
The barrier was close at hand. In 1823 the city wall was still in existence.
This barrier itself evoked gloomy fancies in the mind. It was the road to Bicetre. It was through it that, under the Empire and the Restoration, prisoners condemned to death re-entered Paris on the day of their execution. It was there, that, about 1829, was committed that mysterious assassination, called "The assassination of the Fontainebleau barrier," whose authors justice was never able to discover; a melancholy problem which has never been elucidated, a frightful enigma which has never been unriddled. Take a few steps, and you come upon that fatal Rue Croulebarbe, where Ulbach stabbed the goat-girl of Ivry to the sound of thunder, as in the melodramas. A few paces more, and you arrive at the abominable pollarded elms of the Barriere Saint-Jacques, that expedient of the philanthropist to conceal the scaffold, that miserable and shameful Place de Grove of a shop-keeping and bourgeois society, which recoiled before the death penalty, neither daring to abolish it with grandeur, nor to uphold it with authority.
Leaving aside this Place Saint-Jacques, which was, as it were, predestined, and which has always been horrible, probably the most mournful spot on that mournful boulevard, seven and thirty years ago, was the spot which even to-day is so unattractive, where stood the building Number 50-52.
Bourgeois houses only began to spring up there twenty-five years later. The place was unpleasant. In addition to the gloomy thoughts which assailed one there, one was conscious of being between the Salpetriere, a glimpse of whose dome could be seen, and Bicetre, whose outskirts one was fairly touching; that is to say, between the madness of women and the madness of men. As far as the eye could see, one could perceive nothing but the abattoirs, the city wall, and the fronts of a few factories, resembling barracks or monasteries; everywhere about stood hovels, rubbish, ancient walls blackened like cerecloths, new white walls like winding-sheets; everywhere parallel rows of trees, buildings erected on a line, flat constructions, long, cold rows, and the melancholy sadness of right angles. Not an unevenness of the ground, not a caprice in the architecture, not a fold. The ensemble was glacial, regular, hideous. Nothing oppresses the heart like symmetry. It is because symmetry is ennui, and ennui is at the very foundation of grief. Despair yawns. Something more terrible than a hell where one suffers may be imagined, and that is a hell where one is bored. If such a hell existed, that bit of the Boulevard de l'Hopital might have formed the entrance to it.
Nevertheless, at nightfall, at the moment when the daylight is vanishing, especially in winter, at the hour when the twilight breeze tears from the elms their last russet leaves, when the darkness is deep and starless, or when the moon and the wind are making openings in the clouds and losing themselves in the shadows, this boulevard suddenly becomes frightful. The black lines sink inwards and are lost in the shades, like morsels of the infinite. The passer-by cannot refrain from recalling the innumerable traditions of the place which are connected with the gibbet. The solitude of this spot, where so many crimes have been committed, had something terrible about it. One almost had a presentiment of meeting with traps in that darkness; all the confused forms of the darkness seemed suspicious, and the long, hollow square, of which one caught a glimpse between each tree, seemed graves: by day it was ugly; in the evening melancholy; by night it was sinister.
In summer, at twilight, one saw, here and there, a few old women seated at the foot of the elm, on benches mouldy with rain. These good old women were fond of begging.
However, this quarter, which had a superannuated rather than an antique air, was tending even then to transformation. Even at that time any one who was desirous of seeing it had to make haste. Each day some detail of the whole effect was disappearing. For the last twenty years the station of the Orleans railway has stood beside the old faubourg and distracted it, as it does to-day. Wherever it is placed on the borders of a capital, a railway station is the death of a suburb and the birth of a city. It seems as though, around these great centres of the movements of a people, the earth, full of germs, trembled and yawned, to engulf the ancient dwellings of men and to allow new ones to spring forth, at the rattle of these powerful machines, at the breath of these monstrous horses of civilization which devour coal and vomit fire. The old houses crumble and new ones rise.
Since the Orleans railway has invaded the region of the Salpetriere, the ancient, narrow streets which adjoin the moats Saint-Victor and the Jardin des Plantes tremble, as they are violently traversed three or four times each day by those currents of coach fiacres and omnibuses which, in a given time, crowd back the houses to the right and the left; for there are things which are odd when said that are rigorously exact; and just as it is true to say that in large cities the sun makes the southern fronts of houses to vegetate and grow, it is certain that the frequent passage of vehicles enlarges streets. The symptoms of a new life are evident. In this old provincial quarter, in the wildest nooks, the pavement shows itself, the sidewalks begin to crawl and to grow longer, even where there are as yet no pedestrians. One morning,—a memorable morning in July, 1845,—black pots of bitumen were seen smoking there; on that day it might be said that civilization had arrived in the Rue de l'Ourcine, and that Paris had entered the suburb of Saint-Marceau.
CHAPTER II—A NEST FOR OWL AND A WARBLER
It was in front of this Gorbeau house that Jean Valjean halted. Like wild birds, he had chosen this desert place to construct his nest.
He fumbled in his waistcoat pocket, drew out a sort of a pass-key, opened the door, entered, closed it again carefully, and ascended the staircase, still carrying Cosette.
At the top of the stairs he drew from his pocket another key, with which he opened another door. The chamber which he entered, and which he closed again instantly, was a kind of moderately spacious attic, furnished with a mattress laid on the floor, a table, and several chairs; a stove in which a fire was burning, and whose embers were visible, stood in one corner. A lantern on the boulevard cast a vague light into this poor room. At the extreme end there was a dressing-room with a folding bed; Jean Valjean carried the child to this bed and laid her down there without waking her.
He struck a match and lighted a candle. All this was prepared beforehand on the table, and, as he had done on the previous evening, he began to scrutinize Cosette's face with a gaze full of ecstasy, in which the expression of kindness and tenderness almost amounted to aberration. The little girl, with that tranquil confidence which belongs only to extreme strength and extreme weakness, had fallen asleep without knowing with whom she was, and continued to sleep without knowing where she was.
Jean Valjean bent down and kissed that child's hand.
Nine months before he had kissed the hand of the mother, who had also just fallen asleep.
The same sad, piercing, religious sentiment filled his heart.
He knelt beside Cosette's bed.
lt was broad daylight, and the child still slept. A wan ray of the December sun penetrated the window of the attic and lay upon the ceiling in long threads of light and shade. All at once a heavily laden carrier's cart, which was passing along the boulevard, shook the frail bed, like a clap of thunder, and made it quiver from top to bottom.
"Yes, madame!" cried Cosette, waking with a start, "here I am! here I am!"
And she sprang out of bed, her eyes still half shut with the heaviness of sleep, extending her arms towards the corner of the wall.
"Ah! mon Dieu, my broom!" said she.
She opened her eyes wide now, and beheld the smiling countenance of Jean Valjean.
"Ah! so it is true!" said the child. "Good morning, Monsieur."
Children accept joy and happiness instantly and familiarly, being themselves by nature joy and happiness.
Cosette caught sight of Catherine at the foot of her bed, and took possession of her, and, as she played, she put a hundred questions to Jean Valjean. Where was she? Was Paris very large? Was Madame Thenardier very far away? Was she to go back? etc., etc. All at once she exclaimed, "How pretty it is here!"
It was a frightful hole, but she felt free.
"Must I sweep?" she resumed at last.
"Play!" said Jean Valjean.
The day passed thus. Cosette, without troubling herself to understand anything, was inexpressibly happy with that doll and that kind man.
CHAPTER III—TWO MISFORTUNES MAKE ONE PIECE OF GOOD FORTUNE
On the following morning, at daybreak, Jean Valjean was still by Cosette's bedside; he watched there motionless, waiting for her to wake.
Some new thing had come into his soul.
Jean Valjean had never loved anything; for twenty-five years he had been alone in the world. He had never been father, lover, husband, friend. In the prison he had been vicious, gloomy, chaste, ignorant, and shy. The heart of that ex-convict was full of virginity. His sister and his sister's children had left him only a vague and far-off memory which had finally almost completely vanished; he had made every effort to find them, and not having been able to find them, he had forgotten them. Human nature is made thus; the other tender emotions of his youth, if he had ever had any, had fallen into an abyss.
When he saw Cosette, when he had taken possession of her, carried her off, and delivered her, he felt his heart moved within him.
All the passion and affection within him awoke, and rushed towards that child. He approached the bed, where she lay sleeping, and trembled with joy. He suffered all the pangs of a mother, and he knew not what it meant; for that great and singular movement of a heart which begins to love is a very obscure and a very sweet thing.
Poor old man, with a perfectly new heart!
Only, as he was five and fifty, and Cosette eight years of age, all that might have been love in the whole course of his life flowed together into a sort of ineffable light.
It was the second white apparition which he had encountered. The Bishop had caused the dawn of virtue to rise on his horizon; Cosette caused the dawn of love to rise.
The early days passed in this dazzled state.
Cosette, on her side, had also, unknown to herself, become another being, poor little thing! She was so little when her mother left her, that she no longer remembered her. Like all children, who resemble young shoots of the vine, which cling to everything, she had tried to love; she had not succeeded. All had repulsed her,—the Thenardiers, their children, other children. She had loved the dog, and he had died, after which nothing and nobody would have anything to do with her. It is a sad thing to say, and we have already intimated it, that, at eight years of age, her heart was cold. It was not her fault; it was not the faculty of loving that she lacked; alas! it was the possibility. Thus, from the very first day, all her sentient and thinking powers loved this kind man. She felt that which she had never felt before—a sensation of expansion.
The man no longer produced on her the effect of being old or poor; she thought Jean Valjean handsome, just as she thought the hovel pretty.
These are the effects of the dawn, of childhood, of joy. The novelty of the earth and of life counts for something here. Nothing is so charming as the coloring reflection of happiness on a garret. We all have in our past a delightful garret.
Nature, a difference of fifty years, had set a profound gulf between Jean Valjean and Cosette; destiny filled in this gulf. Destiny suddenly united and wedded with its irresistible power these two uprooted existences, differing in age, alike in sorrow. One, in fact, completed the other. Cosette's instinct sought a father, as Jean Valjean's instinct sought a child. To meet was to find each other. At the mysterious moment when their hands touched, they were welded together. When these two souls perceived each other, they recognized each other as necessary to each other, and embraced each other closely.
Taking the words in their most comprehensive and absolute sense, we may say that, separated from every one by the walls of the tomb, Jean Valjean was the widower, and Cosette was the orphan: this situation caused Jean Valjean to become Cosette's father after a celestial fashion.
And in truth, the mysterious impression produced on Cosette in the depths of the forest of Chelles by the hand of Jean Valjean grasping hers in the dark was not an illusion, but a reality. The entrance of that man into the destiny of that child had been the advent of God.
Moreover, Jean Valjean had chosen his refuge well. There he seemed perfectly secure.
The chamber with a dressing-room, which he occupied with Cosette, was the one whose window opened on the boulevard. This being the only window in the house, no neighbors' glances were to be feared from across the way or at the side.
The ground-floor of Number 50-52, a sort of dilapidated penthouse, served as a wagon-house for market-gardeners, and no communication existed between it and the first story. It was separated by the flooring, which had neither traps nor stairs, and which formed the diaphragm of the building, as it were. The first story contained, as we have said, numerous chambers and several attics, only one of which was occupied by the old woman who took charge of Jean Valjean's housekeeping; all the rest was uninhabited.
It was this old woman, ornamented with the name of the principal lodger, and in reality intrusted with the functions of portress, who had let him the lodging on Christmas eve. He had represented himself to her as a gentleman of means who had been ruined by Spanish bonds, who was coming there to live with his little daughter. He had paid her six months in advance, and had commissioned the old woman to furnish the chamber and dressing-room, as we have seen. It was this good woman who had lighted the fire in the stove, and prepared everything on the evening of their arrival.
Week followed week; these two beings led a happy life in that hovel.
Cosette laughed, chattered, and sang from daybreak. Children have their morning song as well as birds.
It sometimes happened that Jean Valjean clasped her tiny red hand, all cracked with chilblains, and kissed it. The poor child, who was used to being beaten, did not know the meaning of this, and ran away in confusion.
At times she became serious and stared at her little black gown. Cosette was no longer in rags; she was in mourning. She had emerged from misery, and she was entering into life.
Jean Valjean had undertaken to teach her to read. Sometimes, as he made the child spell, he remembered that it was with the idea of doing evil that he had learned to read in prison. This idea had ended in teaching a child to read. Then the ex-convict smiled with the pensive smile of the angels.
He felt in it a premeditation from on high, the will of some one who was not man, and he became absorbed in revery. Good thoughts have their abysses as well as evil ones.
To teach Cosette to read, and to let her play, this constituted nearly the whole of Jean Valjean's existence. And then he talked of her mother, and he made her pray.
She called him father, and knew no other name for him.
He passed hours in watching her dressing and undressing her doll, and in listening to her prattle. Life, henceforth, appeared to him to be full of interest; men seemed to him good and just; he no longer reproached any one in thought; he saw no reason why he should not live to be a very old man, now that this child loved him. He saw a whole future stretching out before him, illuminated by Cosette as by a charming light. The best of us are not exempt from egotistical thoughts. At times, he reflected with a sort of joy that she would be ugly.
This is only a personal opinion; but, to utter our whole thought, at the point where Jean Valjean had arrived when he began to love Cosette, it is by no means clear to us that he did not need this encouragement in order that he might persevere in well-doing. He had just viewed the malice of men and the misery of society under a new aspect—incomplete aspects, which unfortunately only exhibited one side of the truth, the fate of woman as summed up in Fantine, and public authority as personified in Javert. He had returned to prison, this time for having done right; he had quaffed fresh bitterness; disgust and lassitude were overpowering him; even the memory of the Bishop probably suffered a temporary eclipse, though sure to reappear later on luminous and triumphant; but, after all, that sacred memory was growing dim. Who knows whether Jean Valjean had not been on the eve of growing discouraged and of falling once more? He loved and grew strong again. Alas! he walked with no less indecision than Cosette. He protected her, and she strengthened him. Thanks to him, she could walk through life; thanks to her, he could continue in virtue. He was that child's stay, and she was his prop. Oh, unfathomable and divine mystery of the balances of destiny!
CHAPTER IV—THE REMARKS OF THE PRINCIPAL TENANT
Jean Valjean was prudent enough never to go out by day. Every evening, at twilight, he walked for an hour or two, sometimes alone, often with Cosette, seeking the most deserted side alleys of the boulevard, and entering churches at nightfall. He liked to go to Saint-Medard, which is the nearest church. When he did not take Cosette with him, she remained with the old woman; but the child's delight was to go out with the good man. She preferred an hour with him to all her rapturous tete-a-tetes with Catherine. He held her hand as they walked, and said sweet things to her.
It turned out that Cosette was a very gay little person.
The old woman attended to the housekeeping and cooking and went to market.
They lived soberly, always having a little fire, but like people in very moderate circumstances. Jean Valjean had made no alterations in the furniture as it was the first day; he had merely had the glass door leading to Cosette's dressing-room replaced by a solid door.
He still wore his yellow coat, his black breeches, and his old hat. In the street, he was taken for a poor man. It sometimes happened that kind-hearted women turned back to bestow a sou on him. Jean Valjean accepted the sou with a deep bow. It also happened occasionally that he encountered some poor wretch asking alms; then he looked behind him to make sure that no one was observing him, stealthily approached the unfortunate man, put a piece of money into his hand, often a silver coin, and walked rapidly away. This had its disadvantages. He began to be known in the neighborhood under the name of the beggar who gives alms.
The old principal lodger, a cross-looking creature, who was thoroughly permeated, so far as her neighbors were concerned, with the inquisitiveness peculiar to envious persons, scrutinized Jean Valjean a great deal, without his suspecting the fact. She was a little deaf, which rendered her talkative. There remained to her from her past, two teeth,—one above, the other below,—which she was continually knocking against each other. She had questioned Cosette, who had not been able to tell her anything, since she knew nothing herself except that she had come from Montfermeil. One morning, this spy saw Jean Valjean, with an air which struck the old gossip as peculiar, entering one of the uninhabited compartments of the hovel. She followed him with the step of an old cat, and was able to observe him without being seen, through a crack in the door, which was directly opposite him. Jean Valjean had his back turned towards this door, by way of greater security, no doubt. The old woman saw him fumble in his pocket and draw thence a case, scissors, and thread; then he began to rip the lining of one of the skirts of his coat, and from the opening he took a bit of yellowish paper, which he unfolded. The old woman recognized, with terror, the fact that it was a bank-bill for a thousand francs. It was the second or third only that she had seen in the course of her existence. She fled in alarm.
A moment later, Jean Valjean accosted her, and asked her to go and get this thousand-franc bill changed for him, adding that it was his quarterly income, which he had received the day before. "Where?" thought the old woman. "He did not go out until six o'clock in the evening, and the government bank certainly is not open at that hour." The old woman went to get the bill changed, and mentioned her surmises. That thousand-franc note, commented on and multiplied, produced a vast amount of terrified discussion among the gossips of the Rue des Vignes Saint-Marcel.
A few days later, it chanced that Jean Valjean was sawing some wood, in his shirt-sleeves, in the corridor. The old woman was in the chamber, putting things in order. She was alone. Cosette was occupied in admiring the wood as it was sawed. The old woman caught sight of the coat hanging on a nail, and examined it. The lining had been sewed up again. The good woman felt of it carefully, and thought she observed in the skirts and revers thicknesses of paper. More thousand-franc bank-bills, no doubt!
She also noticed that there were all sorts of things in the pockets. Not only the needles, thread, and scissors which she had seen, but a big pocket-book, a very large knife, and—a suspicious circumstance—several wigs of various colors. Each pocket of this coat had the air of being in a manner provided against unexpected accidents.
Thus the inhabitants of the house reached the last days of winter.
CHAPTER V—A FIVE-FRANC PIECE FALLS ON THE GROUND AND PRODUCES A TUMULT
Near Saint-Medard's church there was a poor man who was in the habit of crouching on the brink of a public well which had been condemned, and on whom Jean Valjean was fond of bestowing charity. He never passed this man without giving him a few sous. Sometimes he spoke to him. Those who envied this mendicant said that he belonged to the police. He was an ex-beadle of seventy-five, who was constantly mumbling his prayers.
One evening, as Jean Valjean was passing by, when he had not Cosette with him, he saw the beggar in his usual place, beneath the lantern which had just been lighted. The man seemed engaged in prayer, according to his custom, and was much bent over. Jean Valjean stepped up to him and placed his customary alms in his hand. The mendicant raised his eyes suddenly, stared intently at Jean Valjean, then dropped his head quickly. This movement was like a flash of lightning. Jean Valjean was seized with a shudder. It seemed to him that he had just caught sight, by the light of the street lantern, not of the placid and beaming visage of the old beadle, but of a well-known and startling face. He experienced the same impression that one would have on finding one's self, all of a sudden, face to face, in the dark, with a tiger. He recoiled, terrified, petrified, daring neither to breathe, to speak, to remain, nor to flee, staring at the beggar who had dropped his head, which was enveloped in a rag, and no longer appeared to know that he was there. At this strange moment, an instinct—possibly the mysterious instinct of self-preservation,—restrained Jean Valjean from uttering a word. The beggar had the same figure, the same rags, the same appearance as he had every day. "Bah!" said Jean Valjean, "I am mad! I am dreaming! Impossible!" And he returned profoundly troubled.
He hardly dared to confess, even to himself, that the face which he thought he had seen was the face of Javert.
That night, on thinking the matter over, he regretted not having questioned the man, in order to force him to raise his head a second time.
On the following day, at nightfall, he went back. The beggar was at his post. "Good day, my good man," said Jean Valjean, resolutely, handing him a sou. The beggar raised his head, and replied in a whining voice, "Thanks, my good sir." It was unmistakably the ex-beadle.
Jean Valjean felt completely reassured. He began to laugh. "How the deuce could I have thought that I saw Javert there?" he thought. "Am I going to lose my eyesight now?" And he thought no more about it.
A few days afterwards,—it might have been at eight o'clock in the evening,—he was in his room, and engaged in making Cosette spell aloud, when he heard the house door open and then shut again. This struck him as singular. The old woman, who was the only inhabitant of the house except himself, always went to bed at nightfall, so that she might not burn out her candles. Jean Valjean made a sign to Cosette to be quiet. He heard some one ascending the stairs. It might possibly be the old woman, who might have fallen ill and have been out to the apothecary's. Jean Valjean listened.
The step was heavy, and sounded like that of a man; but the old woman wore stout shoes, and there is nothing which so strongly resembles the step of a man as that of an old woman. Nevertheless, Jean Valjean blew out his candle.
He had sent Cosette to bed, saying to her in a low voice, "Get into bed very softly"; and as he kissed her brow, the steps paused.
Jean Valjean remained silent, motionless, with his back towards the door, seated on the chair from which he had not stirred, and holding his breath in the dark.
After the expiration of a rather long interval, he turned round, as he heard nothing more, and, as he raised his eyes towards the door of his chamber, he saw a light through the keyhole. This light formed a sort of sinister star in the blackness of the door and the wall. There was evidently some one there, who was holding a candle in his hand and listening.
Several minutes elapsed thus, and the light retreated. But he heard no sound of footsteps, which seemed to indicate that the person who had been listening at the door had removed his shoes.
Jean Valjean threw himself, all dressed as he was, on his bed, and could not close his eyes all night.
At daybreak, just as he was falling into a doze through fatigue, he was awakened by the creaking of a door which opened on some attic at the end of the corridor, then he heard the same masculine footstep which had ascended the stairs on the preceding evening. The step was approaching. He sprang off the bed and applied his eye to the keyhole, which was tolerably large, hoping to see the person who had made his way by night into the house and had listened at his door, as he passed. It was a man, in fact, who passed, this time without pausing, in front of Jean Valjean's chamber. The corridor was too dark to allow of the person's face being distinguished; but when the man reached the staircase, a ray of light from without made it stand out like a silhouette, and Jean Valjean had a complete view of his back. The man was of lofty stature, clad in a long frock-coat, with a cudgel under his arm. The formidable neck and shoulders belonged to Javert.
Jean Valjean might have attempted to catch another glimpse of him through his window opening on the boulevard, but he would have been obliged to open the window: he dared not.
It was evident that this man had entered with a key, and like himself. Who had given him that key? What was the meaning of this?
When the old woman came to do the work, at seven o'clock in the morning, Jean Valjean cast a penetrating glance on her, but he did not question her. The good woman appeared as usual.
As she swept up she remarked to him:—
"Possibly Monsieur may have heard some one come in last night?"
At that age, and on that boulevard, eight o'clock in the evening was the dead of the night.
"That is true, by the way," he replied, in the most natural tone possible. "Who was it?"
"It was a new lodger who has come into the house," said the old woman.
"And what is his name?"
"I don't know exactly; Dumont, or Daumont, or some name of that sort."
"And who is this Monsieur Dumont?"
The old woman gazed at him with her little polecat eyes, and answered:—
"A gentleman of property, like yourself."
Perhaps she had no ulterior meaning. Jean Valjean thought he perceived one.
When the old woman had taken her departure, he did up a hundred francs which he had in a cupboard, into a roll, and put it in his pocket. In spite of all the precautions which he took in this operation so that he might not be heard rattling silver, a hundred-sou piece escaped from his hands and rolled noisily on the floor.
When darkness came on, he descended and carefully scrutinized both sides of the boulevard. He saw no one. The boulevard appeared to be absolutely deserted. It is true that a person can conceal himself behind trees.
He went up stairs again.
"Come." he said to Cosette.
He took her by the hand, and they both went out.
BOOK FIFTH.—FOR A BLACK HUNT, A MUTE PACK
CHAPTER I—THE ZIGZAGS OF STRATEGY
An observation here becomes necessary, in view of the pages which the reader is about to peruse, and of others which will be met with further on.
The author of this book, who regrets the necessity of mentioning himself, has been absent from Paris for many years. Paris has been transformed since he quitted it. A new city has arisen, which is, after a fashion, unknown to him. There is no need for him to say that he loves Paris: Paris is his mind's natal city. In consequence of demolitions and reconstructions, the Paris of his youth, that Paris which he bore away religiously in his memory, is now a Paris of days gone by. He must be permitted to speak of that Paris as though it still existed. It is possible that when the author conducts his readers to a spot and says, "In such a street there stands such and such a house," neither street nor house will any longer exist in that locality. Readers may verify the facts if they care to take the trouble. For his own part, he is unacquainted with the new Paris, and he writes with the old Paris before his eyes in an illusion which is precious to him. It is a delight to him to dream that there still lingers behind him something of that which he beheld when he was in his own country, and that all has not vanished. So long as you go and come in your native land, you imagine that those streets are a matter of indifference to you; that those windows, those roofs, and those doors are nothing to you; that those walls are strangers to you; that those trees are merely the first encountered haphazard; that those houses, which you do not enter, are useless to you; that the pavements which you tread are merely stones. Later on, when you are no longer there, you perceive that the streets are dear to you; that you miss those roofs, those doors; and that those walls are necessary to you, those trees are well beloved by you; that you entered those houses which you never entered, every day, and that you have left a part of your heart, of your blood, of your soul, in those pavements. All those places which you no longer behold, which you may never behold again, perchance, and whose memory you have cherished, take on a melancholy charm, recur to your mind with the melancholy of an apparition, make the holy land visible to you, and are, so to speak, the very form of France, and you love them; and you call them up as they are, as they were, and you persist in this, and you will submit to no change: for you are attached to the figure of your fatherland as to the face of your mother.
May we, then, be permitted to speak of the past in the present? That said, we beg the reader to take note of it, and we continue.
Jean Valjean instantly quitted the boulevard and plunged into the streets, taking the most intricate lines which he could devise, returning on his track at times, to make sure that he was not being followed.
This manoeuvre is peculiar to the hunted stag. On soil where an imprint of the track may be left, this manoeuvre possesses, among other advantages, that of deceiving the huntsmen and the dogs, by throwing them on the wrong scent. In venery this is called false re-imbushment.
The moon was full that night. Jean Valjean was not sorry for this. The moon, still very close to the horizon, cast great masses of light and shadow in the streets. Jean Valjean could glide along close to the houses on the dark side, and yet keep watch on the light side. He did not, perhaps, take sufficiently into consideration the fact that the dark side escaped him. Still, in the deserted lanes which lie near the Rue Poliveau, he thought he felt certain that no one was following him.
Cosette walked on without asking any questions. The sufferings of the first six years of her life had instilled something passive into her nature. Moreover,—and this is a remark to which we shall frequently have occasion to recur,—she had grown used, without being herself aware of it, to the peculiarities of this good man and to the freaks of destiny. And then she was with him, and she felt safe.
Jean Valjean knew no more where he was going than did Cosette. He trusted in God, as she trusted in him. It seemed as though he also were clinging to the hand of some one greater than himself; he thought he felt a being leading him, though invisible. However, he had no settled idea, no plan, no project. He was not even absolutely sure that it was Javert, and then it might have been Javert, without Javert knowing that he was Jean Valjean. Was not he disguised? Was not he believed to be dead? Still, queer things had been going on for several days. He wanted no more of them. He was determined not to return to the Gorbeau house. Like the wild animal chased from its lair, he was seeking a hole in which he might hide until he could find one where he might dwell.
Jean Valjean described many and varied labyrinths in the Mouffetard quarter, which was already asleep, as though the discipline of the Middle Ages and the yoke of the curfew still existed; he combined in various manners, with cunning strategy, the Rue Censier and the Rue Copeau, the Rue du Battoir-Saint-Victor and the Rue du Puits l'Ermite. There are lodging houses in this locality, but he did not even enter one, finding nothing which suited him. He had no doubt that if any one had chanced to be upon his track, they would have lost it.