Then drawing himself up and leaning against the chimney-piece:—
"Now," said he, "we can receive the philanthropist."
CHAPTER VIII—THE RAY OF LIGHT IN THE HOVEL
The big girl approached and laid her hand in her father's.
"Feel how cold I am," said she.
"Bah!" replied the father, "I am much colder than that."
The mother exclaimed impetuously:—
"You always have something better than any one else, so you do! even bad things."
"Down with you!" said the man.
The mother, being eyed after a certain fashion, held her tongue.
Silence reigned for a moment in the hovel. The elder girl was removing the mud from the bottom of her mantle, with a careless air; her younger sister continued to sob; the mother had taken the latter's head between her hands, and was covering it with kisses, whispering to her the while:—
"My treasure, I entreat you, it is nothing of consequence, don't cry, you will anger your father."
"No!" exclaimed the father, "quite the contrary! sob! sob! that's right."
Then turning to the elder:—
"There now! He is not coming! What if he were not to come! I shall have extinguished my fire, wrecked my chair, torn my shirt, and broken my pane all for nothing."
"And wounded the child!" murmured the mother.
"Do you know," went on the father, "that it's beastly cold in this devil's garret! What if that man should not come! Oh! See there, you! He makes us wait! He says to himself: 'Well! they will wait for me! That's what they're there for.' Oh! how I hate them, and with what joy, jubilation, enthusiasm, and satisfaction I could strangle all those rich folks! all those rich folks! These men who pretend to be charitable, who put on airs, who go to mass, who make presents to the priesthood, preachy, preachy, in their skullcaps, and who think themselves above us, and who come for the purpose of humiliating us, and to bring us 'clothes,' as they say! old duds that are not worth four sous! And bread! That's not what I want, pack of rascals that they are, it's money! Ah! money! Never! Because they say that we would go off and drink it up, and that we are drunkards and idlers! And they! What are they, then, and what have they been in their time! Thieves! They never could have become rich otherwise! Oh! Society ought to be grasped by the four corners of the cloth and tossed into the air, all of it! It would all be smashed, very likely, but at least, no one would have anything, and there would be that much gained! But what is that blockhead of a benevolent gentleman doing? Will he come? Perhaps the animal has forgotten the address! I'll bet that that old beast—"
At that moment there came a light tap at the door, the man rushed to it and opened it, exclaiming, amid profound bows and smiles of adoration:—
"Enter, sir! Deign to enter, most respected benefactor, and your charming young lady, also."
A man of ripe age and a young girl made their appearance on the threshold of the attic.
Marius had not quitted his post. His feelings for the moment surpassed the powers of the human tongue.
It was She!
Whoever has loved knows all the radiant meanings contained in those three letters of that word: She.
It was certainly she. Marius could hardly distinguish her through the luminous vapor which had suddenly spread before his eyes. It was that sweet, absent being, that star which had beamed upon him for six months; it was those eyes, that brow, that mouth, that lovely vanished face which had created night by its departure. The vision had been eclipsed, now it reappeared.
It reappeared in that gloom, in that garret, in that misshapen attic, in all that horror.
Marius shuddered in dismay. What! It was she! The palpitations of his heart troubled his sight. He felt that he was on the brink of bursting into tears! What! He beheld her again at last, after having sought her so long! It seemed to him that he had lost his soul, and that he had just found it again.
She was the same as ever, only a little pale; her delicate face was framed in a bonnet of violet velvet, her figure was concealed beneath a pelisse of black satin. Beneath her long dress, a glimpse could be caught of her tiny foot shod in a silken boot.
She was still accompanied by M. Leblanc.
She had taken a few steps into the room, and had deposited a tolerably bulky parcel on the table.
The eldest Jondrette girl had retired behind the door, and was staring with sombre eyes at that velvet bonnet, that silk mantle, and that charming, happy face.
CHAPTER IX—JONDRETTE COMES NEAR WEEPING
The hovel was so dark, that people coming from without felt on entering it the effect produced on entering a cellar. The two new-comers advanced, therefore, with a certain hesitation, being hardly able to distinguish the vague forms surrounding them, while they could be clearly seen and scrutinized by the eyes of the inhabitants of the garret, who were accustomed to this twilight.
M. Leblanc approached, with his sad but kindly look, and said to Jondrette the father:—
"Monsieur, in this package you will find some new clothes and some woollen stockings and blankets."
"Our angelic benefactor overwhelms us," said Jondrette, bowing to the very earth.
Then, bending down to the ear of his eldest daughter, while the two visitors were engaged in examining this lamentable interior, he added in a low and rapid voice:—
"Hey? What did I say? Duds! No money! They are all alike! By the way, how was the letter to that old blockhead signed?"
"Fabantou," replied the girl.
"The dramatic artist, good!"
It was lucky for Jondrette, that this had occurred to him, for at the very moment, M. Leblanc turned to him, and said to him with the air of a person who is seeking to recall a name:—
"I see that you are greatly to be pitied, Monsieur—"
"Fabantou," replied Jondrette quickly.
"Monsieur Fabantou, yes, that is it. I remember."
"Dramatic artist, sir, and one who has had some success."
Here Jondrette evidently judged the moment propitious for capturing the "philanthropist." He exclaimed with an accent which smacked at the same time of the vainglory of the mountebank at fairs, and the humility of the mendicant on the highway:—
"A pupil of Talma! Sir! I am a pupil of Talma! Fortune formerly smiled on me—Alas! Now it is misfortune's turn. You see, my benefactor, no bread, no fire. My poor babes have no fire! My only chair has no seat! A broken pane! And in such weather! My spouse in bed! Ill!"
"Poor woman!" said M. Leblanc.
"My child wounded!" added Jondrette.
The child, diverted by the arrival of the strangers, had fallen to contemplating "the young lady," and had ceased to sob.
"Cry! bawl!" said Jondrette to her in a low voice.
At the same time he pinched her sore hand. All this was done with the talent of a juggler.
The little girl gave vent to loud shrieks.
The adorable young girl, whom Marius, in his heart, called "his Ursule," approached her hastily.
"Poor, dear child!" said she.
"You see, my beautiful young lady," pursued Jondrette "her bleeding wrist! It came through an accident while working at a machine to earn six sous a day. It may be necessary to cut off her arm."
"Really?" said the old gentleman, in alarm.
The little girl, taking this seriously, fell to sobbing more violently than ever.
"Alas! yes, my benefactor!" replied the father.
For several minutes, Jondrette had been scrutinizing "the benefactor" in a singular fashion. As he spoke, he seemed to be examining the other attentively, as though seeking to summon up his recollections. All at once, profiting by a moment when the new-comers were questioning the child with interest as to her injured hand, he passed near his wife, who lay in her bed with a stupid and dejected air, and said to her in a rapid but very low tone:—
"Take a look at that man!"
Then, turning to M. Leblanc, and continuing his lamentations:—
"You see, sir! All the clothing that I have is my wife's chemise! And all torn at that! In the depths of winter! I can't go out for lack of a coat. If I had a coat of any sort, I would go and see Mademoiselle Mars, who knows me and is very fond of me. Does she not still reside in the Rue de la Tour-des-Dames? Do you know, sir? We played together in the provinces. I shared her laurels. Celimene would come to my succor, sir! Elmire would bestow alms on Belisaire! But no, nothing! And not a sou in the house! My wife ill, and not a sou! My daughter dangerously injured, not a sou! My wife suffers from fits of suffocation. It comes from her age, and besides, her nervous system is affected. She ought to have assistance, and my daughter also! But the doctor! But the apothecary! How am I to pay them? I would kneel to a penny, sir! Such is the condition to which the arts are reduced. And do you know, my charming young lady, and you, my generous protector, do you know, you who breathe forth virtue and goodness, and who perfume that church where my daughter sees you every day when she says her prayers?—For I have brought up my children religiously, sir. I did not want them to take to the theatre. Ah! the hussies! If I catch them tripping! I do not jest, that I don't! I read them lessons on honor, on morality, on virtue! Ask them! They have got to walk straight. They are none of your unhappy wretches who begin by having no family, and end by espousing the public. One is Mamselle Nobody, and one becomes Madame Everybody. Deuce take it! None of that in the Fabantou family! I mean to bring them up virtuously, and they shall be honest, and nice, and believe in God, by the sacred name! Well, sir, my worthy sir, do you know what is going to happen to-morrow? To-morrow is the fourth day of February, the fatal day, the last day of grace allowed me by my landlord; if by this evening I have not paid my rent, to-morrow my oldest daughter, my spouse with her fever, my child with her wound,—we shall all four be turned out of here and thrown into the street, on the boulevard, without shelter, in the rain, in the snow. There, sir. I owe for four quarters—a whole year! that is to say, sixty francs."
Jondrette lied. Four quarters would have amounted to only forty francs, and he could not owe four, because six months had not elapsed since Marius had paid for two.
M. Leblanc drew five francs from his pocket and threw them on the table.
Jondrette found time to mutter in the ear of his eldest daughter:—
"The scoundrel! What does he think I can do with his five francs? That won't pay me for my chair and pane of glass! That's what comes of incurring expenses!"
In the meanwhile, M. Leblanc had removed the large brown great-coat which he wore over his blue coat, and had thrown it over the back of the chair.
"Monsieur Fabantou," he said, "these five francs are all that I have about me, but I shall now take my daughter home, and I will return this evening,—it is this evening that you must pay, is it not?"
Jondrette's face lighted up with a strange expression. He replied vivaciously:—
"Yes, respected sir. At eight o'clock, I must be at my landlord's."
"I will be here at six, and I will fetch you the sixty francs."
"My benefactor!" exclaimed Jondrette, overwhelmed. And he added, in a low tone: "Take a good look at him, wife!"
M. Leblanc had taken the arm of the young girl, once more, and had turned towards the door.
"Farewell until this evening, my friends!" said he.
"Six o'clock?" said Jondrette.
"Six o'clock precisely."
At that moment, the overcoat lying on the chair caught the eye of the elder Jondrette girl.
"You are forgetting your coat, sir," said she.
Jondrette darted an annihilating look at his daughter, accompanied by a formidable shrug of the shoulders.
M. Leblanc turned back and said, with a smile:—
"I have not forgotten it, I am leaving it."
"O my protector!" said Jondrette, "my august benefactor, I melt into tears! Permit me to accompany you to your carriage."
"If you come out," answered M. Leblanc, "put on this coat. It really is very cold."
Jondrette did not need to be told twice. He hastily donned the brown great-coat. And all three went out, Jondrette preceding the two strangers.
CHAPTER X—TARIFF OF LICENSED CABS: TWO FRANCS AN HOUR
Marius had lost nothing of this entire scene, and yet, in reality, had seen nothing. His eyes had remained fixed on the young girl, his heart had, so to speak, seized her and wholly enveloped her from the moment of her very first step in that garret. During her entire stay there, he had lived that life of ecstasy which suspends material perceptions and precipitates the whole soul on a single point. He contemplated, not that girl, but that light which wore a satin pelisse and a velvet bonnet. The star Sirius might have entered the room, and he would not have been any more dazzled.
While the young girl was engaged in opening the package, unfolding the clothing and the blankets, questioning the sick mother kindly, and the little injured girl tenderly, he watched her every movement, he sought to catch her words. He knew her eyes, her brow, her beauty, her form, her walk, he did not know the sound of her voice. He had once fancied that he had caught a few words at the Luxembourg, but he was not absolutely sure of the fact. He would have given ten years of his life to hear it, in order that he might bear away in his soul a little of that music. But everything was drowned in the lamentable exclamations and trumpet bursts of Jondrette. This added a touch of genuine wrath to Marius' ecstasy. He devoured her with his eyes. He could not believe that it really was that divine creature whom he saw in the midst of those vile creatures in that monstrous lair. It seemed to him that he beheld a humming-bird in the midst of toads.
When she took her departure, he had but one thought, to follow her, to cling to her trace, not to quit her until he learned where she lived, not to lose her again, at least, after having so miraculously re-discovered her. He leaped down from the commode and seized his hat. As he laid his hand on the lock of the door, and was on the point of opening it, a sudden reflection caused him to pause. The corridor was long, the staircase steep, Jondrette was talkative, M. Leblanc had, no doubt, not yet regained his carriage; if, on turning round in the corridor, or on the staircase, he were to catch sight of him, Marius, in that house, he would, evidently, take the alarm, and find means to escape from him again, and this time it would be final. What was he to do? Should he wait a little? But while he was waiting, the carriage might drive off. Marius was perplexed. At last he accepted the risk and quitted his room.
There was no one in the corridor. He hastened to the stairs. There was no one on the staircase. He descended in all haste, and reached the boulevard in time to see a fiacre turning the corner of the Rue du Petit-Banquier, on its way back to Paris.
Marius rushed headlong in that direction. On arriving at the angle of the boulevard, he caught sight of the fiacre again, rapidly descending the Rue Mouffetard; the carriage was already a long way off, and there was no means of overtaking it; what! run after it? Impossible; and besides, the people in the carriage would assuredly notice an individual running at full speed in pursuit of a fiacre, and the father would recognize him. At that moment, wonderful and unprecedented good luck, Marius perceived an empty cab passing along the boulevard. There was but one thing to be done, to jump into this cab and follow the fiacre. That was sure, efficacious, and free from danger.
Marius made the driver a sign to halt, and called to him:—
"By the hour?"
Marius wore no cravat, he had on his working-coat, which was destitute of buttons, his shirt was torn along one of the plaits on the bosom.
The driver halted, winked, and held out his left hand to Marius, rubbing his forefinger gently with his thumb.
"What is it?" said Marius.
"Pay in advance," said the coachman.
Marius recollected that he had but sixteen sous about him.
"How much?" he demanded.
"I will pay on my return."
The driver's only reply was to whistle the air of La Palisse and to whip up his horse.
Marius stared at the retreating cabriolet with a bewildered air. For the lack of four and twenty sous, he was losing his joy, his happiness, his love! He had seen, and he was becoming blind again. He reflected bitterly, and it must be confessed, with profound regret, on the five francs which he had bestowed, that very morning, on that miserable girl. If he had had those five francs, he would have been saved, he would have been born again, he would have emerged from the limbo and darkness, he would have made his escape from isolation and spleen, from his widowed state; he might have re-knotted the black thread of his destiny to that beautiful golden thread, which had just floated before his eyes and had broken at the same instant, once more! He returned to his hovel in despair.
He might have told himself that M. Leblanc had promised to return in the evening, and that all he had to do was to set about the matter more skilfully, so that he might follow him on that occasion; but, in his contemplation, it is doubtful whether he had heard this.
As he was on the point of mounting the staircase, he perceived, on the other side of the boulevard, near the deserted wall skirting the Rue De la Barriere-des-Gobelins, Jondrette, wrapped in the "philanthropist's" great-coat, engaged in conversation with one of those men of disquieting aspect who have been dubbed by common consent, prowlers of the barriers; people of equivocal face, of suspicious monologues, who present the air of having evil minds, and who generally sleep in the daytime, which suggests the supposition that they work by night.
These two men, standing there motionless and in conversation, in the snow which was falling in whirlwinds, formed a group that a policeman would surely have observed, but which Marius hardly noticed.
Still, in spite of his mournful preoccupation, he could not refrain from saying to himself that this prowler of the barriers with whom Jondrette was talking resembled a certain Panchaud, alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille, whom Courfeyrac had once pointed out to him as a very dangerous nocturnal roamer. This man's name the reader has learned in the preceding book. This Panchaud, alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille, figured later on in many criminal trials, and became a notorious rascal. He was at that time only a famous rascal. To-day he exists in the state of tradition among ruffians and assassins. He was at the head of a school towards the end of the last reign. And in the evening, at nightfall, at the hour when groups form and talk in whispers, he was discussed at La Force in the Fosse-aux-Lions. One might even, in that prison, precisely at the spot where the sewer which served the unprecedented escape, in broad daylight, of thirty prisoners, in 1843, passes under the culvert, read his name, PANCHAUD, audaciously carved by his own hand on the wall of the sewer, during one of his attempts at flight. In 1832, the police already had their eye on him, but he had not as yet made a serious beginning.
CHAPTER XI—OFFERS OF SERVICE FROM MISERY TO WRETCHEDNESS
Marius ascended the stairs of the hovel with slow steps; at the moment when he was about to re-enter his cell, he caught sight of the elder Jondrette girl following him through the corridor. The very sight of this girl was odious to him; it was she who had his five francs, it was too late to demand them back, the cab was no longer there, the fiacre was far away. Moreover, she would not have given them back. As for questioning her about the residence of the persons who had just been there, that was useless; it was evident that she did not know, since the letter signed Fabantou had been addressed "to the benevolent gentleman of the church of Saint-Jacquesdu-Haut-Pas."
Marius entered his room and pushed the door to after him.
It did not close; he turned round and beheld a hand which held the door half open.
"What is it?" he asked, "who is there?"
It was the Jondrette girl.
"Is it you?" resumed Marius almost harshly, "still you! What do you want with me?"
She appeared to be thoughtful and did not look at him. She no longer had the air of assurance which had characterized her that morning. She did not enter, but held back in the darkness of the corridor, where Marius could see her through the half-open door.
"Come now, will you answer?" cried Marius. "What do you want with me?"
She raised her dull eyes, in which a sort of gleam seemed to flicker vaguely, and said:—
"Monsieur Marius, you look sad. What is the matter with you?"
"With me!" said Marius.
"There is nothing the matter with me."
"Yes, there is!"
"I tell you there is!"
"Let me alone!"
Marius gave the door another push, but she retained her hold on it.
"Stop," said she, "you are in the wrong. Although you are not rich, you were kind this morning. Be so again now. You gave me something to eat, now tell me what ails you. You are grieved, that is plain. I do not want you to be grieved. What can be done for it? Can I be of any service? Employ me. I do not ask for your secrets, you need not tell them to me, but I may be of use, nevertheless. I may be able to help you, since I help my father. When it is necessary to carry letters, to go to houses, to inquire from door to door, to find out an address, to follow any one, I am of service. Well, you may assuredly tell me what is the matter with you, and I will go and speak to the persons; sometimes it is enough if some one speaks to the persons, that suffices to let them understand matters, and everything comes right. Make use of me."
An idea flashed across Marius' mind. What branch does one disdain when one feels that one is falling?
He drew near to the Jondrette girl.
"Listen—" he said to her.
She interrupted him with a gleam of joy in her eyes.
"Oh yes, do call me thou! I like that better."
"Well," he resumed, "thou hast brought hither that old gentleman and his daughter!"
"Dost thou know their address?"
"Find it for me."
The Jondrette's dull eyes had grown joyous, and they now became gloomy.
"Is that what you want?" she demanded.
"Do you know them?"
"That is to say," she resumed quickly, "you do not know her, but you wish to know her."
This them which had turned into her had something indescribably significant and bitter about it.
"Well, can you do it?" said Marius.
"You shall have the beautiful lady's address."
There was still a shade in the words "the beautiful lady" which troubled Marius. He resumed:—
"Never mind, after all, the address of the father and daughter. Their address, indeed!"
She gazed fixedly at him.
"What will you give me?"
"Anything you like."
"Anything I like?"
"You shall have the address."
She dropped her head; then, with a brusque movement, she pulled to the door, which closed behind her.
Marius found himself alone.
He dropped into a chair, with his head and both elbows on his bed, absorbed in thoughts which he could not grasp, and as though a prey to vertigo. All that had taken place since the morning, the appearance of the angel, her disappearance, what that creature had just said to him, a gleam of hope floating in an immense despair,—this was what filled his brain confusedly.
All at once he was violently aroused from his revery.
He heard the shrill, hard voice of Jondrette utter these words, which were fraught with a strange interest for him:—
"I tell you that I am sure of it, and that I recognized him."
Of whom was Jondrette speaking? Whom had he recognized? M. Leblanc? The father of "his Ursule"? What! Did Jondrette know him? Was Marius about to obtain in this abrupt and unexpected fashion all the information without which his life was so dark to him? Was he about to learn at last who it was that he loved, who that young girl was? Who her father was? Was the dense shadow which enwrapped them on the point of being dispelled? Was the veil about to be rent? Ah! Heavens!
He bounded rather than climbed upon his commode, and resumed his post near the little peep-hole in the partition wall.
Again he beheld the interior of Jondrette's hovel.
CHAPTER XII—THE USE MADE OF M. LEBLANC'S FIVE-FRANC PIECE
Nothing in the aspect of the family was altered, except that the wife and daughters had levied on the package and put on woollen stockings and jackets. Two new blankets were thrown across the two beds.
Jondrette had evidently just returned. He still had the breathlessness of out of doors. His daughters were seated on the floor near the fireplace, the elder engaged in dressing the younger's wounded hand. His wife had sunk back on the bed near the fireplace, with a face indicative of astonishment. Jondrette was pacing up and down the garret with long strides. His eyes were extraordinary.
The woman, who seemed timid and overwhelmed with stupor in the presence of her husband, turned to say:—
"What, really? You are sure?"
"Sure! Eight years have passed! But I recognize him! Ah! I recognize him. I knew him at once! What! Didn't it force itself on you?"
"But I told you: 'Pay attention!' Why, it is his figure, it is his face, only older,—there are people who do not grow old, I don't know how they manage it,—it is the very sound of his voice. He is better dressed, that is all! Ah! you mysterious old devil, I've got you, that I have!"
He paused, and said to his daughters:—
"Get out of here, you!—It's queer that it didn't strike you!"
They arose to obey.
The mother stammered:—
"With her injured hand."
"The air will do it good," said Jondrette. "Be off."
It was plain that this man was of the sort to whom no one offers to reply. The two girls departed.
At the moment when they were about to pass through the door, the father detained the elder by the arm, and said to her with a peculiar accent:—
"You will be here at five o'clock precisely. Both of you. I shall need you."
Marius redoubled his attention.
On being left alone with his wife, Jondrette began to pace the room again, and made the tour of it two or three times in silence. Then he spent several minutes in tucking the lower part of the woman's chemise which he wore into his trousers.
All at once, he turned to the female Jondrette, folded his arms and exclaimed:—
"And would you like to have me tell you something? The young lady—"
"Well, what?" retorted his wife, "the young lady?"
Marius could not doubt that it was really she of whom they were speaking. He listened with ardent anxiety. His whole life was in his ears.
But Jondrette had bent over and spoke to his wife in a whisper. Then he straightened himself up and concluded aloud:—
"It is she!"
"That one?" said his wife.
"That very one," said the husband.
No expression can reproduce the significance of the mother's words. Surprise, rage, hate, wrath, were mingled and combined in one monstrous intonation. The pronunciation of a few words, the name, no doubt, which her husband had whispered in her ear, had sufficed to rouse this huge, somnolent woman, and from being repulsive she became terrible.
"It is not possible!" she cried. "When I think that my daughters are going barefoot, and have not a gown to their backs! What! A satin pelisse, a velvet bonnet, boots, and everything; more than two hundred francs' worth of clothes! so that one would think she was a lady! No, you are mistaken! Why, in the first place, the other was hideous, and this one is not so bad-looking! She really is not bad-looking! It can't be she!"
"I tell you that it is she. You will see."
At this absolute assertion, the Jondrette woman raised her large, red, blonde face and stared at the ceiling with a horrible expression. At that moment, she seemed to Marius even more to be feared than her husband. She was a sow with the look of a tigress.
"What!" she resumed, "that horrible, beautiful young lady, who gazed at my daughters with an air of pity,—she is that beggar brat! Oh! I should like to kick her stomach in for her!"
She sprang off of the bed, and remained standing for a moment, her hair in disorder, her nostrils dilating, her mouth half open, her fists clenched and drawn back. Then she fell back on the bed once more. The man paced to and fro and paid no attention to his female.
After a silence lasting several minutes, he approached the female Jondrette, and halted in front of her, with folded arms, as he had done a moment before:—
"And shall I tell you another thing?"
"What is it?" she asked.
He answered in a low, curt voice:—
"My fortune is made."
The woman stared at him with the look that signifies: "Is the person who is addressing me on the point of going mad?"
He went on:—
"Thunder! It was not so very long ago that I was a parishioner of the parish of die-of-hunger-if-you-have-a-fire,-die-of-cold-if-you-have-bread! I have had enough of misery! my share and other people's share! I am not joking any longer, I don't find it comic any more, I've had enough of puns, good God! no more farces, Eternal Father! I want to eat till I am full, I want to drink my fill! to gormandize! to sleep! to do nothing! I want to have my turn, so I do, come now! before I die! I want to be a bit of a millionnaire!"
He took a turn round the hovel, and added:—
"Like other people."
"What do you mean by that?" asked the woman.
He shook his head, winked, screwed up one eye, and raised his voice like a medical professor who is about to make a demonstration:—
"What do I mean by that? Listen!"
"Hush!" muttered the woman, "not so loud! These are matters which must not be overheard."
"Bah! Who's here? Our neighbor? I saw him go out a little while ago. Besides, he doesn't listen, the big booby. And I tell you that I saw him go out."
Nevertheless, by a sort of instinct, Jondrette lowered his voice, although not sufficiently to prevent Marius hearing his words. One favorable circumstance, which enabled Marius not to lose a word of this conversation was the falling snow which deadened the sound of vehicles on the boulevard.
This is what Marius heard:—
"Listen carefully. The Croesus is caught, or as good as caught! That's all settled already. Everything is arranged. I have seen some people. He will come here this evening at six o'clock. To bring sixty francs, the rascal! Did you notice how I played that game on him, my sixty francs, my landlord, my fourth of February? I don't even owe for one quarter! Isn't he a fool! So he will come at six o'clock! That's the hour when our neighbor goes to his dinner. Mother Bougon is off washing dishes in the city. There's not a soul in the house. The neighbor never comes home until eleven o'clock. The children shall stand on watch. You shall help us. He will give in."
"And what if he does not give in?" demanded his wife.
Jondrette made a sinister gesture, and said:—
"We'll fix him."
And he burst out laughing.
This was the first time Marius had seen him laugh. The laugh was cold and sweet, and provoked a shudder.
Jondrette opened a cupboard near the fireplace, and drew from it an old cap, which he placed on his head, after brushing it with his sleeve.
"Now," said he, "I'm going out. I have some more people that I must see. Good ones. You'll see how well the whole thing will work. I shall be away as short a time as possible, it's a fine stroke of business, do you look after the house."
And with both fists thrust into the pockets of his trousers, he stood for a moment in thought, then exclaimed:—
"Do you know, it's mighty lucky, by the way, that he didn't recognize me! If he had recognized me on his side, he would not have come back again. He would have slipped through our fingers! It was my beard that saved us! my romantic beard! my pretty little romantic beard!"
And again he broke into a laugh.
He stepped to the window. The snow was still falling, and streaking the gray of the sky.
"What beastly weather!" said he.
Then lapping his overcoat across his breast:—
"This rind is too large for me. Never mind," he added, "he did a devilish good thing in leaving it for me, the old scoundrel! If it hadn't been for that, I couldn't have gone out, and everything would have gone wrong! What small points things hang on, anyway!"
And pulling his cap down over his eyes, he quitted the room.
He had barely had time to take half a dozen steps from the door, when the door opened again, and his savage but intelligent face made its appearance once more in the opening.
"I came near forgetting," said he. "You are to have a brazier of charcoal ready."
And he flung into his wife's apron the five-franc piece which the "philanthropist" had left with him.
"A brazier of charcoal?" asked his wife.
"How many bushels?"
"Two good ones."
"That will come to thirty sous. With the rest I will buy something for dinner."
"The devil, no."
"Don't go and spend the hundred-sou piece."
"Because I shall have to buy something, too."
"How much shall you need?"
"Whereabouts in the neighborhood is there an ironmonger's shop?"
"Ah! yes, at the corner of a street; I can see the shop."
"But tell me how much you will need for what you have to purchase?"
"Fifty sous—three francs."
"There won't be much left for dinner."
"Eating is not the point to-day. There's something better to be done."
"That's enough, my jewel."
At this word from his wife, Jondrette closed the door again, and this time, Marius heard his step die away in the corridor of the hovel, and descend the staircase rapidly.
At that moment, one o'clock struck from the church of Saint-Medard.
CHAPTER XIII—SOLUS CUM SOLO, IN LOCO REMOTO, NON COGITABUNTUR ORARE PATER NOSTER
Marius, dreamer as he was, was, as we have said, firm and energetic by nature. His habits of solitary meditation, while they had developed in him sympathy and compassion, had, perhaps, diminished the faculty for irritation, but had left intact the power of waxing indignant; he had the kindliness of a brahmin, and the severity of a judge; he took pity upon a toad, but he crushed a viper. Now, it was into a hole of vipers that his glance had just been directed, it was a nest of monsters that he had beneath his eyes.
"These wretches must be stamped upon," said he.
Not one of the enigmas which he had hoped to see solved had been elucidated; on the contrary, all of them had been rendered more dense, if anything; he knew nothing more about the beautiful maiden of the Luxembourg and the man whom he called M. Leblanc, except that Jondrette was acquainted with them. Athwart the mysterious words which had been uttered, the only thing of which he caught a distinct glimpse was the fact that an ambush was in course of preparation, a dark but terrible trap; that both of them were incurring great danger, she probably, her father certainly; that they must be saved; that the hideous plots of the Jondrettes must be thwarted, and the web of these spiders broken.
He scanned the female Jondrette for a moment. She had pulled an old sheet-iron stove from a corner, and she was rummaging among the old heap of iron.
He descended from the commode as softly as possible, taking care not to make the least noise. Amid his terror as to what was in preparation, and in the horror with which the Jondrettes had inspired him, he experienced a sort of joy at the idea that it might be granted to him perhaps to render a service to the one whom he loved.
But how was it to be done? How warn the persons threatened? He did not know their address. They had reappeared for an instant before his eyes, and had then plunged back again into the immense depths of Paris. Should he wait for M. Leblanc at the door that evening at six o'clock, at the moment of his arrival, and warn him of the trap? But Jondrette and his men would see him on the watch, the spot was lonely, they were stronger than he, they would devise means to seize him or to get him away, and the man whom Marius was anxious to save would be lost. One o'clock had just struck, the trap was to be sprung at six. Marius had five hours before him.
There was but one thing to be done.
He put on his decent coat, knotted a silk handkerchief round his neck, took his hat, and went out, without making any more noise than if he had been treading on moss with bare feet.
Moreover, the Jondrette woman continued to rummage among her old iron.
Once outside of the house, he made for the Rue du Petit-Banquier.
He had almost reached the middle of this street, near a very low wall which a man can easily step over at certain points, and which abuts on a waste space, and was walking slowly, in consequence of his preoccupied condition, and the snow deadened the sound of his steps; all at once he heard voices talking very close by. He turned his head, the street was deserted, there was not a soul in it, it was broad daylight, and yet he distinctly heard voices.
It occurred to him to glance over the wall which he was skirting.
There, in fact, sat two men, flat on the snow, with their backs against the wall, talking together in subdued tones.
These two persons were strangers to him; one was a bearded man in a blouse, and the other a long-haired individual in rags. The bearded man had on a fez, the other's head was bare, and the snow had lodged in his hair.
By thrusting his head over the wall, Marius could hear their remarks.
The hairy one jogged the other man's elbow and said:—
"—With the assistance of Patron-Minette, it can't fail."
"Do you think so?" said the bearded man.
And the long-haired one began again:—
"It's as good as a warrant for each one, of five hundred balls, and the worst that can happen is five years, six years, ten years at the most!"
The other replied with some hesitation, and shivering beneath his fez:—
"That's a real thing. You can't go against such things."
"I tell you that the affair can't go wrong," resumed the long-haired man. "Father What's-his-name's team will be already harnessed."
Then they began to discuss a melodrama that they had seen on the preceding evening at the Gaite Theatre.
Marius went his way.
It seemed to him that the mysterious words of these men, so strangely hidden behind that wall, and crouching in the snow, could not but bear some relation to Jondrette's abominable projects. That must be the affair.
He directed his course towards the faubourg Saint-Marceau and asked at the first shop he came to where he could find a commissary of police.
He was directed to Rue de Pontoise, No. 14.
Thither Marius betook himself.
As he passed a baker's shop, he bought a two-penny roll, and ate it, foreseeing that he should not dine.
On the way, he rendered justice to Providence. He reflected that had he not given his five francs to the Jondrette girl in the morning, he would have followed M. Leblanc's fiacre, and consequently have remained ignorant of everything, and that there would have been no obstacle to the trap of the Jondrettes and that M. Leblanc would have been lost, and his daughter with him, no doubt.
CHAPTER XIV—IN WHICH A POLICE AGENT BESTOWS TWO FISTFULS ON A LAWYER
On arriving at No. 14, Rue de Pontoise, he ascended to the first floor and inquired for the commissary of police.
"The commissary of police is not here," said a clerk; "but there is an inspector who takes his place. Would you like to speak to him? Are you in haste?"
"Yes," said Marius.
The clerk introduced him into the commissary's office. There stood a tall man behind a grating, leaning against a stove, and holding up with both hands the tails of a vast topcoat, with three collars. His face was square, with a thin, firm mouth, thick, gray, and very ferocious whiskers, and a look that was enough to turn your pockets inside out. Of that glance it might have been well said, not that it penetrated, but that it searched.
This man's air was not much less ferocious nor less terrible than Jondrette's; the dog is, at times, no less terrible to meet than the wolf.
"What do you want?" he said to Marius, without adding "monsieur."
"Is this Monsieur le Commissaire de Police?"
"He is absent. I am here in his stead."
"The matter is very private."
"And great haste is required."
"Then speak quick."
This calm, abrupt man was both terrifying and reassuring at one and the same time. He inspired fear and confidence. Marius related the adventure to him: That a person with whom he was not acquainted otherwise than by sight, was to be inveigled into a trap that very evening; that, as he occupied the room adjoining the den, he, Marius Pontmercy, a lawyer, had heard the whole plot through the partition; that the wretch who had planned the trap was a certain Jondrette; that there would be accomplices, probably some prowlers of the barriers, among others a certain Panchaud, alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille; that Jondrette's daughters were to lie in wait; that there was no way of warning the threatened man, since he did not even know his name; and that, finally, all this was to be carried out at six o'clock that evening, at the most deserted point of the Boulevard de l'Hopital, in house No. 50-52.
At the sound of this number, the inspector raised his head, and said coldly:—
"So it is in the room at the end of the corridor?"
"Precisely," answered Marius, and he added: "Are you acquainted with that house?"
The inspector remained silent for a moment, then replied, as he warmed the heel of his boot at the door of the stove:—
He went on, muttering between his teeth, and not addressing Marius so much as his cravat:—
"Patron-Minette must have had a hand in this."
This word struck Marius.
"Patron-Minette," said he, "I did hear that word pronounced, in fact."
And he repeated to the inspector the dialogue between the long-haired man and the bearded man in the snow behind the wall of the Rue du Petit-Banquier.
The inspector muttered:—
"The long-haired man must be Brujon, and the bearded one Demi-Liard, alias Deux-Milliards."
He had dropped his eyelids again, and became absorbed in thought.
"As for Father What's-his-name, I think I recognize him. Here, I've burned my coat. They always have too much fire in these cursed stoves. Number 50-52. Former property of Gorbeau."
Then he glanced at Marius.
"You saw only that bearded and that long-haired man?"
"You didn't see a little imp of a dandy prowling about the premises?"
"Nor a big lump of matter, resembling an elephant in the Jardin des Plantes?"
"Nor a scamp with the air of an old red tail?"
"As for the fourth, no one sees him, not even his adjutants, clerks, and employees. It is not surprising that you did not see him."
"No. Who are all those persons?" asked Marius.
The inspector answered:—
"Besides, this is not the time for them."
He relapsed into silence, then resumed:—
"50-52. I know that barrack. Impossible to conceal ourselves inside it without the artists seeing us, and then they will get off simply by countermanding the vaudeville. They are so modest! An audience embarrasses them. None of that, none of that. I want to hear them sing and make them dance."
This monologue concluded, he turned to Marius, and demanded, gazing at him intently the while:—
"Are you afraid?"
"Of what?" said Marius.
"Of these men?"
"No more than yourself!" retorted Marius rudely, who had begun to notice that this police agent had not yet said "monsieur" to him.
The inspector stared still more intently at Marius, and continued with sententious solemnity:—
"There, you speak like a brave man, and like an honest man. Courage does not fear crime, and honesty does not fear authority."
Marius interrupted him:—
"That is well, but what do you intend to do?"
The inspector contented himself with the remark:—
"The lodgers have pass-keys with which to get in at night. You must have one."
"Yes," said Marius.
"Have you it about you?"
"Give it to me," said the inspector.
Marius took his key from his waistcoat pocket, handed it to the inspector and added:—
"If you will take my advice, you will come in force."
The inspector cast on Marius such a glance as Voltaire might have bestowed on a provincial academician who had suggested a rhyme to him; with one movement he plunged his hands, which were enormous, into the two immense pockets of his top-coat, and pulled out two small steel pistols, of the sort called "knock-me-downs." Then he presented them to Marius, saying rapidly, in a curt tone:—
"Take these. Go home. Hide in your chamber, so that you may be supposed to have gone out. They are loaded. Each one carries two balls. You will keep watch; there is a hole in the wall, as you have informed me. These men will come. Leave them to their own devices for a time. When you think matters have reached a crisis, and that it is time to put a stop to them, fire a shot. Not too soon. The rest concerns me. A shot into the ceiling, the air, no matter where. Above all things, not too soon. Wait until they begin to put their project into execution; you are a lawyer; you know the proper point." Marius took the pistols and put them in the side pocket of his coat.
"That makes a lump that can be seen," said the inspector. "Put them in your trousers pocket."
Marius hid the pistols in his trousers pockets.
"Now," pursued the inspector, "there is not a minute more to be lost by any one. What time is it? Half-past two. Seven o'clock is the hour?"
"Six o'clock," answered Marius.
"I have plenty of time," said the inspector, "but no more than enough. Don't forget anything that I have said to you. Bang. A pistol shot."
"Rest easy," said Marius.
And as Marius laid his hand on the handle of the door on his way out, the inspector called to him:—
"By the way, if you have occasion for my services between now and then, come or send here. You will ask for Inspector Javert."
CHAPTER XV—JONDRETTE MAKES HIS PURCHASES
A few moments later, about three o'clock, Courfeyrac chanced to be passing along the Rue Mouffetard in company with Bossuet. The snow had redoubled in violence, and filled the air. Bossuet was just saying to Courfeyrac:—
"One would say, to see all these snow-flakes fall, that there was a plague of white butterflies in heaven." All at once, Bossuet caught sight of Marius coming up the street towards the barrier with a peculiar air.
"Hold!" said Bossuet. "There's Marius."
"I saw him," said Courfeyrac. "Don't let's speak to him."
"He is busy."
"Don't you see his air?"
"He has the air of a man who is following some one."
"That's true," said Bossuet.
"Just see the eyes he is making!" said Courfeyrac.
"But who the deuce is he following?"
"Some fine, flowery bonneted wench! He's in love."
"But," observed Bossuet, "I don't see any wench nor any flowery bonnet in the street. There's not a woman round."
Courfeyrac took a survey, and exclaimed:—
"He's following a man!"
A man, in fact, wearing a gray cap, and whose gray beard could be distinguished, although they only saw his back, was walking along about twenty paces in advance of Marius.
This man was dressed in a great-coat which was perfectly new and too large for him, and in a frightful pair of trousers all hanging in rags and black with mud.
Bossuet burst out laughing.
"Who is that man?"
"He?" retorted Courfeyrac, "he's a poet. Poets are very fond of wearing the trousers of dealers in rabbit skins and the overcoats of peers of France."
"Let's see where Marius will go," said Bossuet; "let's see where the man is going, let's follow them, hey?"
"Bossuet!" exclaimed Courfeyrac, "eagle of Meaux! You are a prodigious brute. Follow a man who is following another man, indeed!"
They retraced their steps.
Marius had, in fact, seen Jondrette passing along the Rue Mouffetard, and was spying on his proceedings.
Jondrette walked straight ahead, without a suspicion that he was already held by a glance.
He quitted the Rue Mouffetard, and Marius saw him enter one of the most terrible hovels in the Rue Gracieuse; he remained there about a quarter of an hour, then returned to the Rue Mouffetard. He halted at an ironmonger's shop, which then stood at the corner of the Rue Pierre-Lombard, and a few minutes later Marius saw him emerge from the shop, holding in his hand a huge cold chisel with a white wood handle, which he concealed beneath his great-coat. At the top of the Rue Petit-Gentilly he turned to the left and proceeded rapidly to the Rue du Petit-Banquier. The day was declining; the snow, which had ceased for a moment, had just begun again. Marius posted himself on the watch at the very corner of the Rue du Petit-Banquier, which was deserted, as usual, and did not follow Jondrette into it. It was lucky that he did so, for, on arriving in the vicinity of the wall where Marius had heard the long-haired man and the bearded man conversing, Jondrette turned round, made sure that no one was following him, did not see him, then sprang across the wall and disappeared.
The waste land bordered by this wall communicated with the back yard of an ex-livery stable-keeper of bad repute, who had failed and who still kept a few old single-seated berlins under his sheds.
Marius thought that it would be wise to profit by Jondrette's absence to return home; moreover, it was growing late; every evening, Ma'am Bougon when she set out for her dish-washing in town, had a habit of locking the door, which was always closed at dusk. Marius had given his key to the inspector of police; it was important, therefore, that he should make haste.
Evening had arrived, night had almost closed in; on the horizon and in the immensity of space, there remained but one spot illuminated by the sun, and that was the moon.
It was rising in a ruddy glow behind the low dome of Salpetriere.
Marius returned to No. 50-52 with great strides. The door was still open when he arrived. He mounted the stairs on tip-toe and glided along the wall of the corridor to his chamber. This corridor, as the reader will remember, was bordered on both sides by attics, all of which were, for the moment, empty and to let. Ma'am Bougon was in the habit of leaving all the doors open. As he passed one of these attics, Marius thought he perceived in the uninhabited cell the motionless heads of four men, vaguely lighted up by a remnant of daylight, falling through a dormer window.
Marius made no attempt to see, not wishing to be seen himself. He succeeded in reaching his chamber without being seen and without making any noise. It was high time. A moment later he heard Ma'am Bougon take her departure, locking the door of the house behind her.
CHAPTER XVI—IN WHICH WILL BE FOUND THE WORDS TO AN ENGLISH AIR WHICH WAS IN FASHION IN 1832
Marius seated himself on his bed. It might have been half-past five o'clock. Only half an hour separated him from what was about to happen. He heard the beating of his arteries as one hears the ticking of a watch in the dark. He thought of the double march which was going on at that moment in the dark,—crime advancing on one side, justice coming up on the other. He was not afraid, but he could not think without a shudder of what was about to take place. As is the case with all those who are suddenly assailed by an unforeseen adventure, the entire day produced upon him the effect of a dream, and in order to persuade himself that he was not the prey of a nightmare, he had to feel the cold barrels of the steel pistols in his trousers pockets.
It was no longer snowing; the moon disengaged itself more and more clearly from the mist, and its light, mingled with the white reflection of the snow which had fallen, communicated to the chamber a sort of twilight aspect.
There was a light in the Jondrette den. Marius saw the hole in the wall shining with a reddish glow which seemed bloody to him.
It was true that the light could not be produced by a candle. However, there was not a sound in the Jondrette quarters, not a soul was moving there, not a soul speaking, not a breath; the silence was glacial and profound, and had it not been for that light, he might have thought himself next door to a sepulchre.
Marius softly removed his boots and pushed them under his bed.
Several minutes elapsed. Marius heard the lower door turn on its hinges; a heavy step mounted the staircase, and hastened along the corridor; the latch of the hovel was noisily lifted; it was Jondrette returning.
Instantly, several voices arose. The whole family was in the garret. Only, it had been silent in the master's absence, like wolf whelps in the absence of the wolf.
"It's I," said he.
"Good evening, daddy," yelped the girls.
"Well?" said the mother.
"All's going first-rate," responded Jondrette, "but my feet are beastly cold. Good! You have dressed up. You have done well! You must inspire confidence."
"All ready to go out."
"Don't forget what I told you. You will do everything sure?"
"Because—" said Jondrette. And he left the phrase unfinished.
Marius heard him lay something heavy on the table, probably the chisel which he had purchased.
"By the way," said Jondrette, "have you been eating here?"
"Yes," said the mother. "I got three large potatoes and some salt. I took advantage of the fire to cook them."
"Good," returned Jondrette. "To-morrow I will take you out to dine with me. We will have a duck and fixings. You shall dine like Charles the Tenth; all is going well!"
Then he added:—
"The mouse-trap is open. The cats are there."
He lowered his voice still further, and said:—
"Put this in the fire."
Marius heard a sound of charcoal being knocked with the tongs or some iron utensil, and Jondrette continued:—
"Have you greased the hinges of the door so that they will not squeak?"
"Yes," replied the mother.
"What time is it?"
"Nearly six. The half-hour struck from Saint-Medard a while ago."
"The devil!" ejaculated Jondrette; "the children must go and watch. Come you, do you listen here."
A whispering ensued.
Jondrette's voice became audible again:—
"Has old Bougon left?"
"Yes," said the mother.
"Are you sure that there is no one in our neighbor's room?"
"He has not been in all day, and you know very well that this is his dinner hour."
"You are sure?"
"All the same," said Jondrette, "there's no harm in going to see whether he is there. Here, my girl, take the candle and go there."
Marius fell on his hands and knees and crawled silently under his bed.
Hardly had he concealed himself, when he perceived a light through the crack of his door.
"P'pa," cried a voice, "he is not in here."
He recognized the voice of the eldest daughter.
"Did you go in?" demanded her father.
"No," replied the girl, "but as his key is in the door, he must be out."
The father exclaimed:—
"Go in, nevertheless."
The door opened, and Marius saw the tall Jondrette come in with a candle in her hand. She was as she had been in the morning, only still more repulsive in this light.
She walked straight up to the bed. Marius endured an indescribable moment of anxiety; but near the bed there was a mirror nailed to the wall, and it was thither that she was directing her steps. She raised herself on tiptoe and looked at herself in it. In the neighboring room, the sound of iron articles being moved was audible.
She smoothed her hair with the palm of her hand, and smiled into the mirror, humming with her cracked and sepulchral voice:—
Nos amours ont dure toute une semaine, Mais que du bonheur les instants sont courts! S'adorer huit jours, c' etait bien la peine! Le temps des amours devait durer toujours! Devrait durer toujours! devrait durer toujours!
In the meantime, Marius trembled. It seemed impossible to him that she should not hear his breathing.
She stepped to the window and looked out with the half-foolish way she had.
"How ugly Paris is when it has put on a white chemise!" said she.
She returned to the mirror and began again to put on airs before it, scrutinizing herself full-face and three-quarters face in turn.
"Well!" cried her father, "what are you about there?"
"I am looking under the bed and the furniture," she replied, continuing to arrange her hair; "there's no one here."
"Booby!" yelled her father. "Come here this minute! And don't waste any time about it!"
"Coming! Coming!" said she. "One has no time for anything in this hovel!"
Vous me quittez pour aller a la gloire; Mon triste coeur suivra partout.
She cast a parting glance in the mirror and went out, shutting the door behind her.
A moment more, and Marius heard the sound of the two young girls' bare feet in the corridor, and Jondrette's voice shouting to them:—
"Pay strict heed! One on the side of the barrier, the other at the corner of the Rue du Petit-Banquier. Don't lose sight for a moment of the door of this house, and the moment you see anything, rush here on the instant! as hard as you can go! You have a key to get in."
The eldest girl grumbled:—
"The idea of standing watch in the snow barefoot!"
"To-morrow you shall have some dainty little green silk boots!" said the father.
They ran down stairs, and a few seconds later the shock of the outer door as it banged to announced that they were outside.
There now remained in the house only Marius, the Jondrettes and probably, also, the mysterious persons of whom Marius had caught a glimpse in the twilight, behind the door of the unused attic.
CHAPTER XVII—THE USE MADE OF MARIUS' FIVE-FRANC PIECE
Marius decided that the moment had now arrived when he must resume his post at his observatory. In a twinkling, and with the agility of his age, he had reached the hole in the partition.
The interior of the Jondrette apartment presented a curious aspect, and Marius found an explanation of the singular light which he had noticed. A candle was burning in a candlestick covered with verdigris, but that was not what really lighted the chamber. The hovel was completely illuminated, as it were, by the reflection from a rather large sheet-iron brazier standing in the fireplace, and filled with burning charcoal, the brazier prepared by the Jondrette woman that morning. The charcoal was glowing hot and the brazier was red; a blue flame flickered over it, and helped him to make out the form of the chisel purchased by Jondrette in the Rue Pierre-Lombard, where it had been thrust into the brazier to heat. In one corner, near the door, and as though prepared for some definite use, two heaps were visible, which appeared to be, the one a heap of old iron, the other a heap of ropes. All this would have caused the mind of a person who knew nothing of what was in preparation, to waver between a very sinister and a very simple idea. The lair thus lighted up more resembled a forge than a mouth of hell, but Jondrette, in this light, had rather the air of a demon than of a smith.
The heat of the brazier was so great, that the candle on the table was melting on the side next the chafing-dish, and was drooping over. An old dark-lantern of copper, worthy of Diogenes turned Cartouche, stood on the chimney-piece.
The brazier, placed in the fireplace itself, beside the nearly extinct brands, sent its vapors up the chimney, and gave out no odor.
The moon, entering through the four panes of the window, cast its whiteness into the crimson and flaming garret; and to the poetic spirit of Marius, who was dreamy even in the moment of action, it was like a thought of heaven mingled with the misshapen reveries of earth.
A breath of air which made its way in through the open pane, helped to dissipate the smell of the charcoal and to conceal the presence of the brazier.
The Jondrette lair was, if the reader recalls what we have said of the Gorbeau building, admirably chosen to serve as the theatre of a violent and sombre deed, and as the envelope for a crime. It was the most retired chamber in the most isolated house on the most deserted boulevard in Paris. If the system of ambush and traps had not already existed, they would have been invented there.
The whole thickness of a house and a multitude of uninhabited rooms separated this den from the boulevard, and the only window that existed opened on waste lands enclosed with walls and palisades.
Jondrette had lighted his pipe, seated himself on the seatless chair, and was engaged in smoking. His wife was talking to him in a low tone.
If Marius had been Courfeyrac, that is to say, one of those men who laugh on every occasion in life, he would have burst with laughter when his gaze fell on the Jondrette woman. She had on a black bonnet with plumes not unlike the hats of the heralds-at-arms at the coronation of Charles X., an immense tartan shawl over her knitted petticoat, and the man's shoes which her daughter had scorned in the morning. It was this toilette which had extracted from Jondrette the exclamation: "Good! You have dressed up. You have done well. You must inspire confidence!"
As for Jondrette, he had not taken off the new surtout, which was too large for him, and which M. Leblanc had given him, and his costume continued to present that contrast of coat and trousers which constituted the ideal of a poet in Courfeyrac's eyes.
All at once, Jondrette lifted up his voice:—
"By the way! Now that I think of it. In this weather, he will come in a carriage. Light the lantern, take it and go down stairs. You will stand behind the lower door. The very moment that you hear the carriage stop, you will open the door, instantly, he will come up, you will light the staircase and the corridor, and when he enters here, you will go down stairs again as speedily as possible, you will pay the coachman, and dismiss the fiacre."
"And the money?" inquired the woman.
Jondrette fumbled in his trousers pocket and handed her five francs.
"What's this?" she exclaimed.
Jondrette replied with dignity:—
"That is the monarch which our neighbor gave us this morning."
And he added:—
"Do you know what? Two chairs will be needed here."
"To sit on."
Marius felt a cold chill pass through his limbs at hearing this mild answer from Jondrette.
"Pardieu! I'll go and get one of our neighbor's."
And with a rapid movement, she opened the door of the den, and went out into the corridor.
Marius absolutely had not the time to descend from the commode, reach his bed, and conceal himself beneath it.
"Take the candle," cried Jondrette.
"No," said she, "it would embarrass me, I have the two chairs to carry. There is moonlight."
Marius heard Mother Jondrette's heavy hand fumbling at his lock in the dark. The door opened. He remained nailed to the spot with the shock and with horror.
The Jondrette entered.
The dormer window permitted the entrance of a ray of moonlight between two blocks of shadow. One of these blocks of shadow entirely covered the wall against which Marius was leaning, so that he disappeared within it.
Mother Jondrette raised her eyes, did not see Marius, took the two chairs, the only ones which Marius possessed, and went away, letting the door fall heavily to behind her.
She re-entered the lair.
"Here are the two chairs."
"And here is the lantern. Go down as quick as you can."
She hastily obeyed, and Jondrette was left alone.
He placed the two chairs on opposite sides of the table, turned the chisel in the brazier, set in front of the fireplace an old screen which masked the chafing-dish, then went to the corner where lay the pile of rope, and bent down as though to examine something. Marius then recognized the fact, that what he had taken for a shapeless mass was a very well-made rope-ladder, with wooden rungs and two hooks with which to attach it.
This ladder, and some large tools, veritable masses of iron, which were mingled with the old iron piled up behind the door, had not been in the Jondrette hovel in the morning, and had evidently been brought thither in the afternoon, during Marius' absence.
"Those are the utensils of an edge-tool maker," thought Marius.
Had Marius been a little more learned in this line, he would have recognized in what he took for the engines of an edge-tool maker, certain instruments which will force a lock or pick a lock, and others which will cut or slice, the two families of tools which burglars call cadets and fauchants.
The fireplace and the two chairs were exactly opposite Marius. The brazier being concealed, the only light in the room was now furnished by the candle; the smallest bit of crockery on the table or on the chimney-piece cast a large shadow. There was something indescribably calm, threatening, and hideous about this chamber. One felt that there existed in it the anticipation of something terrible.
Jondrette had allowed his pipe to go out, a serious sign of preoccupation, and had again seated himself. The candle brought out the fierce and the fine angles of his countenance. He indulged in scowls and in abrupt unfoldings of the right hand, as though he were responding to the last counsels of a sombre inward monologue. In the course of one of these dark replies which he was making to himself, he pulled the table drawer rapidly towards him, took out a long kitchen knife which was concealed there, and tried the edge of its blade on his nail. That done, he put the knife back in the drawer and shut it.
Marius, on his side, grasped the pistol in his right pocket, drew it out and cocked it.
The pistol emitted a sharp, clear click, as he cocked it.
Jondrette started, half rose, listened a moment, then began to laugh and said:—
"What a fool I am! It's the partition cracking!"
Marius kept the pistol in his hand.
CHAPTER XVIII—MARIUS' TWO CHAIRS FORM A VIS-A-VIS
Suddenly, the distant and melancholy vibration of a clock shook the panes. Six o'clock was striking from Saint-Medard.
Jondrette marked off each stroke with a toss of his head. When the sixth had struck, he snuffed the candle with his fingers.
Then he began to pace up and down the room, listened at the corridor, walked on again, then listened once more.
"Provided only that he comes!" he muttered, then he returned to his chair.
He had hardly reseated himself when the door opened.
Mother Jondrette had opened it, and now remained in the corridor making a horrible, amiable grimace, which one of the holes of the dark-lantern illuminated from below.
"Enter, sir," she said.
"Enter, my benefactor," repeated Jondrette, rising hastily.
M. Leblanc made his appearance.
He wore an air of serenity which rendered him singularly venerable.
He laid four louis on the table.
"Monsieur Fabantou," said he, "this is for your rent and your most pressing necessities. We will attend to the rest hereafter."
"May God requite it to you, my generous benefactor!" said Jondrette.
And rapidly approaching his wife:—
"Dismiss the carriage!"
She slipped out while her husband was lavishing salutes and offering M. Leblanc a chair. An instant later she returned and whispered in his ear:—
The snow, which had not ceased falling since the morning, was so deep that the arrival of the fiacre had not been audible, and they did not now hear its departure.
Meanwhile, M. Leblanc had seated himself.
Jondrette had taken possession of the other chair, facing M. Leblanc.
Now, in order to form an idea of the scene which is to follow, let the reader picture to himself in his own mind, a cold night, the solitudes of the Salpetriere covered with snow and white as winding-sheets in the moonlight, the taper-like lights of the street lanterns which shone redly here and there along those tragic boulevards, and the long rows of black elms, not a passer-by for perhaps a quarter of a league around, the Gorbeau hovel, at its highest pitch of silence, of horror, and of darkness; in that building, in the midst of those solitudes, in the midst of that darkness, the vast Jondrette garret lighted by a single candle, and in that den two men seated at a table, M. Leblanc tranquil, Jondrette smiling and alarming, the Jondrette woman, the female wolf, in one corner, and, behind the partition, Marius, invisible, erect, not losing a word, not missing a single movement, his eye on the watch, and pistol in hand.
However, Marius experienced only an emotion of horror, but no fear. He clasped the stock of the pistol firmly and felt reassured. "I shall be able to stop that wretch whenever I please," he thought.
He felt that the police were there somewhere in ambuscade, waiting for the signal agreed upon and ready to stretch out their arm.
Moreover, he was in hopes, that this violent encounter between Jondrette and M. Leblanc would cast some light on all the things which he was interested in learning.
CHAPTER XIX—OCCUPYING ONE'S SELF WITH OBSCURE DEPTHS
Hardly was M. Leblanc seated, when he turned his eyes towards the pallets, which were empty.
"How is the poor little wounded girl?" he inquired.
"Bad," replied Jondrette with a heart-broken and grateful smile, "very bad, my worthy sir. Her elder sister has taken her to the Bourbe to have her hurt dressed. You will see them presently; they will be back immediately."
"Madame Fabantou seems to me to be better," went on M. Leblanc, casting his eyes on the eccentric costume of the Jondrette woman, as she stood between him and the door, as though already guarding the exit, and gazed at him in an attitude of menace and almost of combat.
"She is dying," said Jondrette. "But what do you expect, sir! She has so much courage, that woman has! She's not a woman, she's an ox."
The Jondrette, touched by his compliment, deprecated it with the affected airs of a flattered monster.
"You are always too good to me, Monsieur Jondrette!"
"Jondrette!" said M. Leblanc, "I thought your name was Fabantou?"
"Fabantou, alias Jondrette!" replied the husband hurriedly. "An artistic sobriquet!"
And launching at his wife a shrug of the shoulders which M. Leblanc did not catch, he continued with an emphatic and caressing inflection of voice:—
"Ah! we have had a happy life together, this poor darling and I! What would there be left for us if we had not that? We are so wretched, my respectable sir! We have arms, but there is no work! We have the will, no work! I don't know how the government arranges that, but, on my word of honor, sir, I am not Jacobin, sir, I am not a bousingot. I don't wish them any evil, but if I were the ministers, on my most sacred word, things would be different. Here, for instance, I wanted to have my girls taught the trade of paper-box makers. You will say to me: 'What! a trade?' Yes! A trade! A simple trade! A bread-winner! What a fall, my benefactor! What a degradation, when one has been what we have been! Alas! There is nothing left to us of our days of prosperity! One thing only, a picture, of which I think a great deal, but which I am willing to part with, for I must live! Item, one must live!"
While Jondrette thus talked, with an apparent incoherence which detracted nothing from the thoughtful and sagacious expression of his physiognomy, Marius raised his eyes, and perceived at the other end of the room a person whom he had not seen before. A man had just entered, so softly that the door had not been heard to turn on its hinges. This man wore a violet knitted vest, which was old, worn, spotted, cut and gaping at every fold, wide trousers of cotton velvet, wooden shoes on his feet, no shirt, had his neck bare, his bare arms tattooed, and his face smeared with black. He had seated himself in silence on the nearest bed, and, as he was behind Jondrette, he could only be indistinctly seen.
That sort of magnetic instinct which turns aside the gaze, caused M. Leblanc to turn round almost at the same moment as Marius. He could not refrain from a gesture of surprise which did not escape Jondrette.
"Ah! I see!" exclaimed Jondrette, buttoning up his coat with an air of complaisance, "you are looking at your overcoat? It fits me! My faith, but it fits me!"
"Who is that man?" said M. Leblanc.
"Him?" ejaculated Jondrette, "he's a neighbor of mine. Don't pay any attention to him."
The neighbor was a singular-looking individual. However, manufactories of chemical products abound in the Faubourg Saint-Marceau. Many of the workmen might have black faces. Besides this, M. Leblanc's whole person was expressive of candid and intrepid confidence.
He went on:—
"Excuse me; what were you saying, M. Fabantou?"
"I was telling you, sir, and dear protector," replied Jondrette placing his elbows on the table and contemplating M. Leblanc with steady and tender eyes, not unlike the eyes of the boa-constrictor, "I was telling you, that I have a picture to sell."
A slight sound came from the door. A second man had just entered and seated himself on the bed, behind Jondrette.
Like the first, his arms were bare, and he had a mask of ink or lampblack.
Although this man had, literally, glided into the room, he had not been able to prevent M. Leblanc catching sight of him.
"Don't mind them," said Jondrette, "they are people who belong in the house. So I was saying, that there remains in my possession a valuable picture. But stop, sir, take a look at it."
He rose, went to the wall at the foot of which stood the panel which we have already mentioned, and turned it round, still leaving it supported against the wall. It really was something which resembled a picture, and which the candle illuminated, somewhat. Marius could make nothing out of it, as Jondrette stood between the picture and him; he only saw a coarse daub, and a sort of principal personage colored with the harsh crudity of foreign canvasses and screen paintings.
"What is that?" asked M. Leblanc.
"A painting by a master, a picture of great value, my benefactor! I am as much attached to it as I am to my two daughters; it recalls souvenirs to me! But I have told you, and I will not take it back, that I am so wretched that I will part with it."
Either by chance, or because he had begun to feel a dawning uneasiness, M. Leblanc's glance returned to the bottom of the room as he examined the picture.
There were now four men, three seated on the bed, one standing near the door-post, all four with bare arms and motionless, with faces smeared with black. One of those on the bed was leaning against the wall, with closed eyes, and it might have been supposed that he was asleep. He was old; his white hair contrasting with his blackened face produced a horrible effect. The other two seemed to be young; one wore a beard, the other wore his hair long. None of them had on shoes; those who did not wear socks were barefooted.
Jondrette noticed that M. Leblanc's eye was fixed on these men.
"They are friends. They are neighbors," said he. "Their faces are black because they work in charcoal. They are chimney-builders. Don't trouble yourself about them, my benefactor, but buy my picture. Have pity on my misery. I will not ask you much for it. How much do you think it is worth?"
"Well," said M. Leblanc, looking Jondrette full in the eye, and with the manner of a man who is on his guard, "it is some signboard for a tavern, and is worth about three francs."
Jondrette replied sweetly:—
"Have you your pocket-book with you? I should be satisfied with a thousand crowns."
M. Leblanc sprang up, placed his back against the wall, and cast a rapid glance around the room. He had Jondrette on his left, on the side next the window, and the Jondrette woman and the four men on his right, on the side next the door. The four men did not stir, and did not even seem to be looking on.
Jondrette had again begun to speak in a plaintive tone, with so vague an eye, and so lamentable an intonation, that M. Leblanc might have supposed that what he had before him was a man who had simply gone mad with misery.
"If you do not buy my picture, my dear benefactor," said Jondrette, "I shall be left without resources; there will be nothing left for me but to throw myself into the river. When I think that I wanted to have my two girls taught the middle-class paper-box trade, the making of boxes for New Year's gifts! Well! A table with a board at the end to keep the glasses from falling off is required, then a special stove is needed, a pot with three compartments for the different degrees of strength of the paste, according as it is to be used for wood, paper, or stuff, a paring-knife to cut the cardboard, a mould to adjust it, a hammer to nail the steels, pincers, how the devil do I know what all? And all that in order to earn four sous a day! And you have to work fourteen hours a day! And each box passes through the workwoman's hands thirteen times! And you can't wet the paper! And you mustn't spot anything! And you must keep the paste hot. The devil, I tell you! Four sous a day! How do you suppose a man is to live?"
As he spoke, Jondrette did not look at M. Leblanc, who was observing him. M. Leblanc's eye was fixed on Jondrette, and Jondrette's eye was fixed on the door. Marius' eager attention was transferred from one to the other. M. Leblanc seemed to be asking himself: "Is this man an idiot?" Jondrette repeated two or three distinct times, with all manner of varying inflections of the whining and supplicating order: "There is nothing left for me but to throw myself into the river! I went down three steps at the side of the bridge of Austerlitz the other day for that purpose."
All at once his dull eyes lighted up with a hideous flash; the little man drew himself up and became terrible, took a step toward M. Leblanc and cried in a voice of thunder: "That has nothing to do with the question! Do you know me?"
CHAPTER XX—THE TRAP
The door of the garret had just opened abruptly, and allowed a view of three men clad in blue linen blouses, and masked with masks of black paper. The first was thin, and had a long, iron-tipped cudgel; the second, who was a sort of colossus, carried, by the middle of the handle, with the blade downward, a butcher's pole-axe for slaughtering cattle. The third, a man with thick-set shoulders, not so slender as the first, held in his hand an enormous key stolen from the door of some prison.
It appeared that the arrival of these men was what Jondrette had been waiting for. A rapid dialogue ensued between him and the man with the cudgel, the thin one.
"Is everything ready?" said Jondrette.
"Yes," replied the thin man.
"Where is Montparnasse?"
"The young principal actor stopped to chat with your girl."
"Is there a carriage at the door?"
"Is the team harnessed?"
"With two good horses?"
"Is it waiting where I ordered?"
"Good," said Jondrette.
M. Leblanc was very pale. He was scrutinizing everything around him in the den, like a man who understands what he has fallen into, and his head, directed in turn toward all the heads which surrounded him, moved on his neck with an astonished and attentive slowness, but there was nothing in his air which resembled fear. He had improvised an intrenchment out of the table; and the man, who but an instant previously, had borne merely the appearance of a kindly old man, had suddenly become a sort of athlete, and placed his robust fist on the back of his chair, with a formidable and surprising gesture.
This old man, who was so firm and so brave in the presence of such a danger, seemed to possess one of those natures which are as courageous as they are kind, both easily and simply. The father of a woman whom we love is never a stranger to us. Marius felt proud of that unknown man.
Three of the men, of whom Jondrette had said: "They are chimney-builders," had armed themselves from the pile of old iron, one with a heavy pair of shears, the second with weighing-tongs, the third with a hammer, and had placed themselves across the entrance without uttering a syllable. The old man had remained on the bed, and had merely opened his eyes. The Jondrette woman had seated herself beside him.
Marius decided that in a few seconds more the moment for intervention would arrive, and he raised his right hand towards the ceiling, in the direction of the corridor, in readiness to discharge his pistol.
Jondrette having terminated his colloquy with the man with the cudgel, turned once more to M. Leblanc, and repeated his question, accompanying it with that low, repressed, and terrible laugh which was peculiar to him:—
"So you do not recognize me?"
M. Leblanc looked him full in the face, and replied:—
Then Jondrette advanced to the table. He leaned across the candle, crossing his arms, putting his angular and ferocious jaw close to M. Leblanc's calm face, and advancing as far as possible without forcing M. Leblanc to retreat, and, in this posture of a wild beast who is about to bite, he exclaimed:—
"My name is not Fabantou, my name is not Jondrette, my name is Thenardier. I am the inn-keeper of Montfermeil! Do you understand? Thenardier! Now do you know me?"
An almost imperceptible flush crossed M. Leblanc's brow, and he replied with a voice which neither trembled nor rose above its ordinary level, with his accustomed placidity:—
"No more than before."
Marius did not hear this reply. Any one who had seen him at that moment through the darkness would have perceived that he was haggard, stupid, thunder-struck. At the moment when Jondrette said: "My name is Thenardier," Marius had trembled in every limb, and had leaned against the wall, as though he felt the cold of a steel blade through his heart. Then his right arm, all ready to discharge the signal shot, dropped slowly, and at the moment when Jondrette repeated, "Thenardier, do you understand?" Marius's faltering fingers had come near letting the pistol fall. Jondrette, by revealing his identity, had not moved M. Leblanc, but he had quite upset Marius. That name of Thenardier, with which M. Leblanc did not seem to be acquainted, Marius knew well. Let the reader recall what that name meant to him! That name he had worn on his heart, inscribed in his father's testament! He bore it at the bottom of his mind, in the depths of his memory, in that sacred injunction: "A certain Thenardier saved my life. If my son encounters him, he will do him all the good that lies in his power." That name, it will be remembered, was one of the pieties of his soul; he mingled it with the name of his father in his worship. What! This man was that Thenardier, that inn-keeper of Montfermeil whom he had so long and so vainly sought! He had found him at last, and how? His father's saviour was a ruffian! That man, to whose service Marius was burning to devote himself, was a monster! That liberator of Colonel Pontmercy was on the point of committing a crime whose scope Marius did not, as yet, clearly comprehend, but which resembled an assassination! And against whom, great God! what a fatality! What a bitter mockery of fate! His father had commanded him from the depths of his coffin to do all the good in his power to this Thenardier, and for four years Marius had cherished no other thought than to acquit this debt of his father's, and at the moment when he was on the eve of having a brigand seized in the very act of crime by justice, destiny cried to him: "This is Thenardier!" He could at last repay this man for his father's life, saved amid a hail-storm of grape-shot on the heroic field of Waterloo, and repay it with the scaffold! He had sworn to himself that if ever he found that Thenardier, he would address him only by throwing himself at his feet; and now he actually had found him, but it was only to deliver him over to the executioner! His father said to him: "Succor Thenardier!" And he replied to that adored and sainted voice by crushing Thenardier! He was about to offer to his father in his grave the spectacle of that man who had torn him from death at the peril of his own life, executed on the Place Saint-Jacques through the means of his son, of that Marius to whom he had entrusted that man by his will! And what a mockery to have so long worn on his breast his father's last commands, written in his own hand, only to act in so horribly contrary a sense! But, on the other hand, now look on that trap and not prevent it! Condemn the victim and to spare the assassin! Could one be held to any gratitude towards so miserable a wretch? All the ideas which Marius had cherished for the last four years were pierced through and through, as it were, by this unforeseen blow.
He shuddered. Everything depended on him. Unknown to themselves, he held in his hand all those beings who were moving about there before his eyes. If he fired his pistol, M. Leblanc was saved, and Thenardier lost; if he did not fire, M. Leblanc would be sacrificed, and, who knows? Thenardier would escape. Should he dash down the one or allow the other to fall? Remorse awaited him in either case.
What was he to do? What should he choose? Be false to the most imperious souvenirs, to all those solemn vows to himself, to the most sacred duty, to the most venerated text! Should he ignore his father's testament, or allow the perpetration of a crime! On the one hand, it seemed to him that he heard "his Ursule" supplicating for her father and on the other, the colonel commending Thenardier to his care. He felt that he was going mad. His knees gave way beneath him. And he had not even the time for deliberation, so great was the fury with which the scene before his eyes was hastening to its catastrophe. It was like a whirlwind of which he had thought himself the master, and which was now sweeping him away. He was on the verge of swooning.
In the meantime, Thenardier, whom we shall henceforth call by no other name, was pacing up and down in front of the table in a sort of frenzy and wild triumph.
He seized the candle in his fist, and set it on the chimney-piece with so violent a bang that the wick came near being extinguished, and the tallow bespattered the wall.
Then he turned to M. Leblanc with a horrible look, and spit out these words:—
"Done for! Smoked brown! Cooked! Spitchcocked!"
And again he began to march back and forth, in full eruption.
"Ah!" he cried, "so I've found you again at last, Mister philanthropist! Mister threadbare millionnaire! Mister giver of dolls! you old ninny! Ah! so you don't recognize me! No, it wasn't you who came to Montfermeil, to my inn, eight years ago, on Christmas eve, 1823! It wasn't you who carried off that Fantine's child from me! The Lark! It wasn't you who had a yellow great-coat! No! Nor a package of duds in your hand, as you had this morning here! Say, wife, it seems to be his mania to carry packets of woollen stockings into houses! Old charity monger, get out with you! Are you a hosier, Mister millionnaire? You give away your stock in trade to the poor, holy man! What bosh! merry Andrew! Ah! and you don't recognize me? Well, I recognize you, that I do! I recognized you the very moment you poked your snout in here. Ah! you'll find out presently, that it isn't all roses to thrust yourself in that fashion into people's houses, under the pretext that they are taverns, in wretched clothes, with the air of a poor man, to whom one would give a sou, to deceive persons, to play the generous, to take away their means of livelihood, and to make threats in the woods, and you can't call things quits because afterwards, when people are ruined, you bring a coat that is too large, and two miserable hospital blankets, you old blackguard, you child-stealer!"
He paused, and seemed to be talking to himself for a moment. One would have said that his wrath had fallen into some hole, like the Rhone; then, as though he were concluding aloud the things which he had been saying to himself in a whisper, he smote the table with his fist, and shouted:—
"And with his goody-goody air!"
And, apostrophizing M. Leblanc:—
"Parbleu! You made game of me in the past! You are the cause of all my misfortunes! For fifteen hundred francs you got a girl whom I had, and who certainly belonged to rich people, and who had already brought in a great deal of money, and from whom I might have extracted enough to live on all my life! A girl who would have made up to me for everything that I lost in that vile cook-shop, where there was nothing but one continual row, and where, like a fool, I ate up my last farthing! Oh! I wish all the wine folks drank in my house had been poison to those who drank it! Well, never mind! Say, now! You must have thought me ridiculous when you went off with the Lark! You had your cudgel in the forest. You were the stronger. Revenge. I'm the one to hold the trumps to-day! You're in a sorry case, my good fellow! Oh, but I can laugh! Really, I laugh! Didn't he fall into the trap! I told him that I was an actor, that my name was Fabantou, that I had played comedy with Mamselle Mars, with Mamselle Muche, that my landlord insisted on being paid tomorrow, the 4th of February, and he didn't even notice that the 8th of January, and not the 4th of February is the time when the quarter runs out! Absurd idiot! And the four miserable Philippes which he has brought me! Scoundrel! He hadn't the heart even to go as high as a hundred francs! And how he swallowed my platitudes! That did amuse me. I said to myself: 'Blockhead! Come, I've got you! I lick your paws this morning, but I'll gnaw your heart this evening!'"
Thenardier paused. He was out of breath. His little, narrow chest panted like a forge bellows. His eyes were full of the ignoble happiness of a feeble, cruel, and cowardly creature, which finds that it can, at last, harass what it has feared, and insult what it has flattered, the joy of a dwarf who should be able to set his heel on the head of Goliath, the joy of a jackal which is beginning to rend a sick bull, so nearly dead that he can no longer defend himself, but sufficiently alive to suffer still.
M. Leblanc did not interrupt him, but said to him when he paused:—
"I do not know what you mean to say. You are mistaken in me. I am a very poor man, and anything but a millionnaire. I do not know you. You are mistaking me for some other person."
"Ah!" roared Thenardier hoarsely, "a pretty lie! You stick to that pleasantry, do you! You're floundering, my old buck! Ah! You don't remember! You don't see who I am?"
"Excuse me, sir," said M. Leblanc with a politeness of accent, which at that moment seemed peculiarly strange and powerful, "I see that you are a villain!"
Who has not remarked the fact that odious creatures possess a susceptibility of their own, that monsters are ticklish! At this word "villain," the female Thenardier sprang from the bed, Thenardier grasped his chair as though he were about to crush it in his hands. "Don't you stir!" he shouted to his wife; and, turning to M. Leblanc:—
"Villain! Yes, I know that you call us that, you rich gentlemen! Stop! it's true that I became bankrupt, that I am in hiding, that I have no bread, that I have not a single sou, that I am a villain! It's three days since I have had anything to eat, so I'm a villain! Ah! you folks warm your feet, you have Sakoski boots, you have wadded great-coats, like archbishops, you lodge on the first floor in houses that have porters, you eat truffles, you eat asparagus at forty francs the bunch in the month of January, and green peas, you gorge yourselves, and when you want to know whether it is cold, you look in the papers to see what the engineer Chevalier's thermometer says about it. We, it is we who are thermometers. We don't need to go out and look on the quay at the corner of the Tour de l'Horologe, to find out the number of degrees of cold; we feel our blood congealing in our veins, and the ice forming round our hearts, and we say: 'There is no God!' And you come to our caverns, yes our caverns, for the purpose of calling us villains! But we'll devour you! But we'll devour you, poor little things! Just see here, Mister millionnaire: I have been a solid man, I have held a license, I have been an elector, I am a bourgeois, that I am! And it's quite possible that you are not!"
Here Thenardier took a step towards the men who stood near the door, and added with a shudder:—
"When I think that he has dared to come here and talk to me like a cobbler!"
Then addressing M. Leblanc with a fresh outburst of frenzy:—
"And listen to this also, Mister philanthropist! I'm not a suspicious character, not a bit of it! I'm not a man whose name nobody knows, and who comes and abducts children from houses! I'm an old French soldier, I ought to have been decorated! I was at Waterloo, so I was! And in the battle I saved a general called the Comte of I don't know what. He told me his name, but his beastly voice was so weak that I didn't hear. All I caught was Merci [thanks]. I'd rather have had his name than his thanks. That would have helped me to find him again. The picture that you see here, and which was painted by David at Bruqueselles,—do you know what it represents? It represents me. David wished to immortalize that feat of prowess. I have that general on my back, and I am carrying him through the grape-shot. There's the history of it! That general never did a single thing for me; he was no better than the rest! But none the less, I saved his life at the risk of my own, and I have the certificate of the fact in my pocket! I am a soldier of Waterloo, by all the furies! And now that I have had the goodness to tell you all this, let's have an end of it. I want money, I want a deal of money, I must have an enormous lot of money, or I'll exterminate you, by the thunder of the good God!"