Marius had regained some measure of control over his anguish, and was listening. The last possibility of doubt had just vanished. It certainly was the Thenardier of the will. Marius shuddered at that reproach of ingratitude directed against his father, and which he was on the point of so fatally justifying. His perplexity was redoubled.
Moreover, there was in all these words of Thenardier, in his accent, in his gesture, in his glance which darted flames at every word, there was, in this explosion of an evil nature disclosing everything, in that mixture of braggadocio and abjectness, of pride and pettiness, of rage and folly, in that chaos of real griefs and false sentiments, in that immodesty of a malicious man tasting the voluptuous delights of violence, in that shameless nudity of a repulsive soul, in that conflagration of all sufferings combined with all hatreds, something which was as hideous as evil, and as heart-rending as the truth.
The picture of the master, the painting by David which he had proposed that M. Leblanc should purchase, was nothing else, as the reader has divined, than the sign of his tavern painted, as it will be remembered, by himself, the only relic which he had preserved from his shipwreck at Montfermeil.
As he had ceased to intercept Marius' visual ray, Marius could examine this thing, and in the daub, he actually did recognize a battle, a background of smoke, and a man carrying another man. It was the group composed of Pontmercy and Thenardier; the sergeant the rescuer, the colonel rescued. Marius was like a drunken man; this picture restored his father to life in some sort; it was no longer the signboard of the wine-shop at Montfermeil, it was a resurrection; a tomb had yawned, a phantom had risen there. Marius heard his heart beating in his temples, he had the cannon of Waterloo in his ears, his bleeding father, vaguely depicted on that sinister panel terrified him, and it seemed to him that the misshapen spectre was gazing intently at him.
When Thenardier had recovered his breath, he turned his bloodshot eyes on M. Leblanc, and said to him in a low, curt voice:—
"What have you to say before we put the handcuffs on you?"
M. Leblanc held his peace.
In the midst of this silence, a cracked voice launched this lugubrious sarcasm from the corridor:—
"If there's any wood to be split, I'm there!"
It was the man with the axe, who was growing merry.
At the same moment, an enormous, bristling, and clayey face made its appearance at the door, with a hideous laugh which exhibited not teeth, but fangs.
It was the face of the man with the butcher's axe.
"Why have you taken off your mask?" cried Thenardier in a rage.
"For fun," retorted the man.
For the last few minutes M. Leblanc had appeared to be watching and following all the movements of Thenardier, who, blinded and dazzled by his own rage, was stalking to and fro in the den with full confidence that the door was guarded, and of holding an unarmed man fast, he being armed himself, of being nine against one, supposing that the female Thenardier counted for but one man.
During his address to the man with the pole-axe, he had turned his back to M. Leblanc.
M. Leblanc seized this moment, overturned the chair with his foot and the table with his fist, and with one bound, with prodigious agility, before Thenardier had time to turn round, he had reached the window. To open it, to scale the frame, to bestride it, was the work of a second only. He was half out when six robust fists seized him and dragged him back energetically into the hovel. These were the three "chimney-builders," who had flung themselves upon him. At the same time the Thenardier woman had wound her hands in his hair.
At the trampling which ensued, the other ruffians rushed up from the corridor. The old man on the bed, who seemed under the influence of wine, descended from the pallet and came reeling up, with a stone-breaker's hammer in his hand.
One of the "chimney-builders," whose smirched face was lighted up by the candle, and in whom Marius recognized, in spite of his daubing, Panchaud, alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille, lifted above M. Leblanc's head a sort of bludgeon made of two balls of lead, at the two ends of a bar of iron.
Marius could not resist this sight. "My father," he thought, "forgive me!"
And his finger sought the trigger of his pistol.
The shot was on the point of being discharged when Thenardier's voice shouted:—
"Don't harm him!"
This desperate attempt of the victim, far from exasperating Thenardier, had calmed him. There existed in him two men, the ferocious man and the adroit man. Up to that moment, in the excess of his triumph in the presence of the prey which had been brought down, and which did not stir, the ferocious man had prevailed; when the victim struggled and tried to resist, the adroit man reappeared and took the upper hand.
"Don't hurt him!" he repeated, and without suspecting it, his first success was to arrest the pistol in the act of being discharged, and to paralyze Marius, in whose opinion the urgency of the case disappeared, and who, in the face of this new phase, saw no inconvenience in waiting a while longer.
Who knows whether some chance would not arise which would deliver him from the horrible alternative of allowing Ursule's father to perish, or of destroying the colonel's saviour?
A herculean struggle had begun. With one blow full in the chest, M. Leblanc had sent the old man tumbling, rolling in the middle of the room, then with two backward sweeps of his hand he had overthrown two more assailants, and he held one under each of his knees; the wretches were rattling in the throat beneath this pressure as under a granite millstone; but the other four had seized the formidable old man by both arms and the back of his neck, and were holding him doubled up over the two "chimney-builders" on the floor.
Thus, the master of some and mastered by the rest, crushing those beneath him and stifling under those on top of him, endeavoring in vain to shake off all the efforts which were heaped upon him, M. Leblanc disappeared under the horrible group of ruffians like the wild boar beneath a howling pile of dogs and hounds.
They succeeded in overthrowing him upon the bed nearest the window, and there they held him in awe. The Thenardier woman had not released her clutch on his hair.
"Don't you mix yourself up in this affair," said Thenardier. "You'll tear your shawl."
The Thenardier obeyed, as the female wolf obeys the male wolf, with a growl.
"Now," said Thenardier, "search him, you other fellows!"
M. Leblanc seemed to have renounced the idea of resistance.
They searched him.
He had nothing on his person except a leather purse containing six francs, and his handkerchief.
Thenardier put the handkerchief into his own pocket.
"What! No pocket-book?" he demanded.
"No, nor watch," replied one of the "chimney-builders."
"Never mind," murmured the masked man who carried the big key, in the voice of a ventriloquist, "he's a tough old fellow."
Thenardier went to the corner near the door, picked up a bundle of ropes and threw them at the men.
"Tie him to the leg of the bed," said he.
And, catching sight of the old man who had been stretched across the room by the blow from M. Leblanc's fist, and who made no movement, he added:—
"Is Boulatruelle dead?"
"No," replied Bigrenaille, "he's drunk."
"Sweep him into a corner," said Thenardier.
Two of the "chimney-builders" pushed the drunken man into the corner near the heap of old iron with their feet.
"Babet," said Thenardier in a low tone to the man with the cudgel, "why did you bring so many; they were not needed."
"What can you do?" replied the man with the cudgel, "they all wanted to be in it. This is a bad season. There's no business going on."
The pallet on which M. Leblanc had been thrown was a sort of hospital bed, elevated on four coarse wooden legs, roughly hewn.
M. Leblanc let them take their own course.
The ruffians bound him securely, in an upright attitude, with his feet on the ground at the head of the bed, the end which was most remote from the window, and nearest to the fireplace.
When the last knot had been tied, Thenardier took a chair and seated himself almost facing M. Leblanc.
Thenardier no longer looked like himself; in the course of a few moments his face had passed from unbridled violence to tranquil and cunning sweetness.
Marius found it difficult to recognize in that polished smile of a man in official life the almost bestial mouth which had been foaming but a moment before; he gazed with amazement on that fantastic and alarming metamorphosis, and he felt as a man might feel who should behold a tiger converted into a lawyer.
"Monsieur—" said Thenardier.
And dismissing with a gesture the ruffians who still kept their hands on M. Leblanc:—
"Stand off a little, and let me have a talk with the gentleman."
All retired towards the door.
He went on:—
"Monsieur, you did wrong to try to jump out of the window. You might have broken your leg. Now, if you will permit me, we will converse quietly. In the first place, I must communicate to you an observation which I have made which is, that you have not uttered the faintest cry."
Thenardier was right, this detail was correct, although it had escaped Marius in his agitation. M. Leblanc had barely pronounced a few words, without raising his voice, and even during his struggle with the six ruffians near the window he had preserved the most profound and singular silence.
"Mon Dieu! You might have shouted 'stop thief' a bit, and I should not have thought it improper. 'Murder!' That, too, is said occasionally, and, so far as I am concerned, I should not have taken it in bad part. It is very natural that you should make a little row when you find yourself with persons who don't inspire you with sufficient confidence. You might have done that, and no one would have troubled you on that account. You would not even have been gagged. And I will tell you why. This room is very private. That's its only recommendation, but it has that in its favor. You might fire off a mortar and it would produce about as much noise at the nearest police station as the snores of a drunken man. Here a cannon would make a boum, and the thunder would make a pouf. It's a handy lodging. But, in short, you did not shout, and it is better so. I present you my compliments, and I will tell you the conclusion that I draw from that fact: My dear sir, when a man shouts, who comes? The police. And after the police? Justice. Well! You have not made an outcry; that is because you don't care to have the police and the courts come in any more than we do. It is because,—I have long suspected it,—you have some interest in hiding something. On our side we have the same interest. So we can come to an understanding."
As he spoke thus, it seemed as though Thenardier, who kept his eyes fixed on M. Leblanc, were trying to plunge the sharp points which darted from the pupils into the very conscience of his prisoner. Moreover, his language, which was stamped with a sort of moderated, subdued insolence and crafty insolence, was reserved and almost choice, and in that rascal, who had been nothing but a robber a short time previously, one now felt "the man who had studied for the priesthood."
The silence preserved by the prisoner, that precaution which had been carried to the point of forgetting all anxiety for his own life, that resistance opposed to the first impulse of nature, which is to utter a cry, all this, it must be confessed, now that his attention had been called to it, troubled Marius, and affected him with painful astonishment.
Thenardier's well-grounded observation still further obscured for Marius the dense mystery which enveloped that grave and singular person on whom Courfeyrac had bestowed the sobriquet of Monsieur Leblanc.
But whoever he was, bound with ropes, surrounded with executioners, half plunged, so to speak, in a grave which was closing in upon him to the extent of a degree with every moment that passed, in the presence of Thenardier's wrath, as in the presence of his sweetness, this man remained impassive; and Marius could not refrain from admiring at such a moment the superbly melancholy visage.
Here, evidently, was a soul which was inaccessible to terror, and which did not know the meaning of despair. Here was one of those men who command amazement in desperate circumstances. Extreme as was the crisis, inevitable as was the catastrophe, there was nothing here of the agony of the drowning man, who opens his horror-filled eyes under the water.
Thenardier rose in an unpretending manner, went to the fireplace, shoved aside the screen, which he leaned against the neighboring pallet, and thus unmasked the brazier full of glowing coals, in which the prisoner could plainly see the chisel white-hot and spotted here and there with tiny scarlet stars.
Then Thenardier returned to his seat beside M. Leblanc.
"I continue," said he. "We can come to an understanding. Let us arrange this matter in an amicable way. I was wrong to lose my temper just now, I don't know what I was thinking of, I went a great deal too far, I said extravagant things. For example, because you are a millionnaire, I told you that I exacted money, a lot of money, a deal of money. That would not be reasonable. Mon Dieu, in spite of your riches, you have expenses of your own—who has not? I don't want to ruin you, I am not a greedy fellow, after all. I am not one of those people who, because they have the advantage of the position, profit by the fact to make themselves ridiculous. Why, I'm taking things into consideration and making a sacrifice on my side. I only want two hundred thousand francs."
M. Leblanc uttered not a word.
Thenardier went on:—
"You see that I put not a little water in my wine; I'm very moderate. I don't know the state of your fortune, but I do know that you don't stick at money, and a benevolent man like yourself can certainly give two hundred thousand francs to the father of a family who is out of luck. Certainly, you are reasonable, too; you haven't imagined that I should take all the trouble I have to-day and organized this affair this evening, which has been labor well bestowed, in the opinion of these gentlemen, merely to wind up by asking you for enough to go and drink red wine at fifteen sous and eat veal at Desnoyer's. Two hundred thousand francs—it's surely worth all that. This trifle once out of your pocket, I guarantee you that that's the end of the matter, and that you have no further demands to fear. You will say to me: 'But I haven't two hundred thousand francs about me.' Oh! I'm not extortionate. I don't demand that. I only ask one thing of you. Have the goodness to write what I am about to dictate to you."
Here Thenardier paused; then he added, emphasizing his words, and casting a smile in the direction of the brazier:—
"I warn you that I shall not admit that you don't know how to write."
A grand inquisitor might have envied that smile.
Thenardier pushed the table close to M. Leblanc, and took an inkstand, a pen, and a sheet of paper from the drawer which he left half open, and in which gleamed the long blade of the knife.
He placed the sheet of paper before M. Leblanc.
"Write," said he.
The prisoner spoke at last.
"How do you expect me to write? I am bound."
"That's true, excuse me!" ejaculated Thenardier, "you are quite right."
And turning to Bigrenaille:—
"Untie the gentleman's right arm."
Panchaud, alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille, executed Thenardier's order.
When the prisoner's right arm was free, Thenardier dipped the pen in the ink and presented it to him.
"Understand thoroughly, sir, that you are in our power, at our discretion, that no human power can get you out of this, and that we shall be really grieved if we are forced to proceed to disagreeable extremities. I know neither your name, nor your address, but I warn you, that you will remain bound until the person charged with carrying the letter which you are about to write shall have returned. Now, be so good as to write."
"What?" demanded the prisoner.
"I will dictate."
M. Leblanc took the pen.
Thenardier began to dictate:—
The prisoner shuddered, and raised his eyes to Thenardier.
"Put down 'My dear daughter'—" said Thenardier.
M. Leblanc obeyed.
"You address her as thou, do you not?"
"Who?" asked M. Leblanc.
"Parbleu!" cried Thenardier, "the little one, the Lark."
M. Leblanc replied without the slightest apparent emotion:—
"I do not know what you mean."
"Go on, nevertheless," ejaculated Thenardier, and he continued to dictate:—
"Come immediately, I am in absolute need of thee. The person who will deliver this note to thee is instructed to conduct thee to me. I am waiting for thee. Come with confidence."
M. Leblanc had written the whole of this.
"Ah! erase 'come with confidence'; that might lead her to suppose that everything was not as it should be, and that distrust is possible."
M. Leblanc erased the three words.
"Now," pursued Thenardier, "sign it. What's your name?"
The prisoner laid down the pen and demanded:—
"For whom is this letter?"
"You know well," retorted Thenardier, "for the little one I just told you so."
It was evident that Thenardier avoided naming the young girl in question. He said "the Lark," he said "the little one," but he did not pronounce her name—the precaution of a clever man guarding his secret from his accomplices. To mention the name was to deliver the whole "affair" into their hands, and to tell them more about it than there was any need of their knowing.
He went on:—
"Sign. What is your name?"
"Urbain Fabre," said the prisoner.
Thenardier, with the movement of a cat, dashed his hand into his pocket and drew out the handkerchief which had been seized on M. Leblanc. He looked for the mark on it, and held it close to the candle.
"U. F. That's it. Urbain Fabre. Well, sign it U. F."
The prisoner signed.
"As two hands are required to fold the letter, give it to me, I will fold it."
That done, Thenardier resumed:—
"Address it, 'Mademoiselle Fabre,' at your house. I know that you live a long distance from here, near Saint-Jacquesdu-Haut-Pas, because you go to mass there every day, but I don't know in what street. I see that you understand your situation. As you have not lied about your name, you will not lie about your address. Write it yourself."
The prisoner paused thoughtfully for a moment, then he took the pen and wrote:—
"Mademoiselle Fabre, at M. Urbain Fabre's, Rue Saint-Dominique-D'Enfer, No. 17."
Thenardier seized the letter with a sort of feverish convulsion.
"Wife!" he cried.
The Thenardier woman hastened to him.
"Here's the letter. You know what you have to do. There is a carriage at the door. Set out at once, and return ditto."
And addressing the man with the meat-axe:—
"Since you have taken off your nose-screen, accompany the mistress. You will get up behind the fiacre. You know where you left the team?"
"Yes," said the man.
And depositing his axe in a corner, he followed Madame Thenardier.
As they set off, Thenardier thrust his head through the half-open door, and shouted into the corridor:—
"Above all things, don't lose the letter! remember that you carry two hundred thousand francs with you!"
The Thenardier's hoarse voice replied:—
"Be easy. I have it in my bosom."
A minute had not elapsed, when the sound of the cracking of a whip was heard, which rapidly retreated and died away.
"Good!" growled Thenardier. "They're going at a fine pace. At such a gallop, the bourgeoise will be back inside three-quarters of an hour."
He drew a chair close to the fireplace, folding his arms, and presenting his muddy boots to the brazier.
"My feet are cold!" said he.
Only five ruffians now remained in the den with Thenardier and the prisoner.
These men, through the black masks or paste which covered their faces, and made of them, at fear's pleasure, charcoal-burners, negroes, or demons, had a stupid and gloomy air, and it could be felt that they perpetrated a crime like a bit of work, tranquilly, without either wrath or mercy, with a sort of ennui. They were crowded together in one corner like brutes, and remained silent.
Thenardier warmed his feet.
The prisoner had relapsed into his taciturnity. A sombre calm had succeeded to the wild uproar which had filled the garret but a few moments before.
The candle, on which a large "stranger" had formed, cast but a dim light in the immense hovel, the brazier had grown dull, and all those monstrous heads cast misshapen shadows on the walls and ceiling.
No sound was audible except the quiet breathing of the old drunken man, who was fast asleep.
Marius waited in a state of anxiety that was augmented by every trifle. The enigma was more impenetrable than ever.
Who was this "little one" whom Thenardier had called the Lark? Was she his "Ursule"? The prisoner had not seemed to be affected by that word, "the Lark," and had replied in the most natural manner in the world: "I do not know what you mean." On the other hand, the two letters U. F. were explained; they meant Urbain Fabre; and Ursule was no longer named Ursule. This was what Marius perceived most clearly of all.
A sort of horrible fascination held him nailed to his post, from which he was observing and commanding this whole scene. There he stood, almost incapable of movement or reflection, as though annihilated by the abominable things viewed at such close quarters. He waited, in the hope of some incident, no matter of what nature, since he could not collect his thoughts and did not know upon what course to decide.
"In any case," he said, "if she is the Lark, I shall see her, for the Thenardier woman is to bring her hither. That will be the end, and then I will give my life and my blood if necessary, but I will deliver her! Nothing shall stop me."
Nearly half an hour passed in this manner. Thenardier seemed to be absorbed in gloomy reflections, the prisoner did not stir. Still, Marius fancied that at intervals, and for the last few moments, he had heard a faint, dull noise in the direction of the prisoner.
All at once, Thenardier addressed the prisoner:
"By the way, Monsieur Fabre, I might as well say it to you at once."
These few words appeared to be the beginning of an explanation. Marius strained his ears.
"My wife will be back shortly, don't get impatient. I think that the Lark really is your daughter, and it seems to me quite natural that you should keep her. Only, listen to me a bit. My wife will go and hunt her up with your letter. I told my wife to dress herself in the way she did, so that your young lady might make no difficulty about following her. They will both enter the carriage with my comrade behind. Somewhere, outside the barrier, there is a trap harnessed to two very good horses. Your young lady will be taken to it. She will alight from the fiacre. My comrade will enter the other vehicle with her, and my wife will come back here to tell us: 'It's done.' As for the young lady, no harm will be done to her; the trap will conduct her to a place where she will be quiet, and just as soon as you have handed over to me those little two hundred thousand francs, she will be returned to you. If you have me arrested, my comrade will give a turn of his thumb to the Lark, that's all."
The prisoner uttered not a syllable. After a pause, Thenardier continued:—
"It's very simple, as you see. There'll be no harm done unless you wish that there should be harm done. I'm telling you how things stand. I warn you so that you may be prepared."
He paused: the prisoner did not break the silence, and Thenardier resumed:—
"As soon as my wife returns and says to me: 'The Lark is on the way,' we will release you, and you will be free to go and sleep at home. You see that our intentions are not evil."
Terrible images passed through Marius' mind. What! That young girl whom they were abducting was not to be brought back? One of those monsters was to bear her off into the darkness? Whither? And what if it were she!
It was clear that it was she. Marius felt his heart stop beating.
What was he to do? Discharge the pistol? Place all those scoundrels in the hands of justice? But the horrible man with the meat-axe would, none the less, be out of reach with the young girl, and Marius reflected on Thenardier's words, of which he perceived the bloody significance: "If you have me arrested, my comrade will give a turn of his thumb to the Lark."
Now, it was not alone by the colonel's testament, it was by his own love, it was by the peril of the one he loved, that he felt himself restrained.
This frightful situation, which had already lasted above half an hour, was changing its aspect every moment.
Marius had sufficient strength of mind to review in succession all the most heart-breaking conjectures, seeking hope and finding none.
The tumult of his thoughts contrasted with the funereal silence of the den.
In the midst of this silence, the door at the bottom of the staircase was heard to open and shut again.
The prisoner made a movement in his bonds.
"Here's the bourgeoise," said Thenardier.
He had hardly uttered the words, when the Thenardier woman did in fact rush hastily into the room, red, panting, breathless, with flaming eyes, and cried, as she smote her huge hands on her thighs simultaneously:—
The ruffian who had gone with her made his appearance behind her and picked up his axe again.
"Nobody there! Rue Saint-Dominique, No. 17, no Monsieur Urbain Fabre! They know not what it means!"
She paused, choking, then went on:—
"Monsieur Thenardier! That old fellow has duped you! You are too good, you see! If it had been me, I'd have chopped the beast in four quarters to begin with! And if he had acted ugly, I'd have boiled him alive! He would have been obliged to speak, and say where the girl is, and where he keeps his shiners! That's the way I should have managed matters! People are perfectly right when they say that men are a deal stupider than women! Nobody at No. 17. It's nothing but a big carriage gate! No Monsieur Fabre in the Rue Saint-Dominique! And after all that racing and fee to the coachman and all! I spoke to both the porter and the portress, a fine, stout woman, and they know nothing about him!"
Marius breathed freely once more.
She, Ursule or the Lark, he no longer knew what to call her, was safe.
While his exasperated wife vociferated, Thenardier had seated himself on the table.
For several minutes he uttered not a word, but swung his right foot, which hung down, and stared at the brazier with an air of savage revery.
Finally, he said to the prisoner, with a slow and singularly ferocious tone:
"A false address? What did you expect to gain by that?"
"To gain time!" cried the prisoner in a thundering voice, and at the same instant he shook off his bonds; they were cut. The prisoner was only attached to the bed now by one leg.
Before the seven men had time to collect their senses and dash forward, he had bent down into the fireplace, had stretched out his hand to the brazier, and had then straightened himself up again, and now Thenardier, the female Thenardier, and the ruffians, huddled in amazement at the extremity of the hovel, stared at him in stupefaction, as almost free and in a formidable attitude, he brandished above his head the red-hot chisel, which emitted a threatening glow.
The judicial examination to which the ambush in the Gorbeau house eventually gave rise, established the fact that a large sou piece, cut and worked in a peculiar fashion, was found in the garret, when the police made their descent on it. This sou piece was one of those marvels of industry, which are engendered by the patience of the galleys in the shadows and for the shadows, marvels which are nothing else than instruments of escape. These hideous and delicate products of wonderful art are to jewellers' work what the metaphors of slang are to poetry. There are Benvenuto Cellinis in the galleys, just as there are Villons in language. The unhappy wretch who aspires to deliverance finds means sometimes without tools, sometimes with a common wooden-handled knife, to saw a sou into two thin plates, to hollow out these plates without affecting the coinage stamp, and to make a furrow on the edge of the sou in such a manner that the plates will adhere again. This can be screwed together and unscrewed at will; it is a box. In this box he hides a watch-spring, and this watch-spring, properly handled, cuts good-sized chains and bars of iron. The unfortunate convict is supposed to possess merely a sou; not at all, he possesses liberty. It was a large sou of this sort which, during the subsequent search of the police, was found under the bed near the window. They also found a tiny saw of blue steel which would fit the sou.
It is probable that the prisoner had this sou piece on his person at the moment when the ruffians searched him, that he contrived to conceal it in his hand, and that afterward, having his right hand free, he unscrewed it, and used it as a saw to cut the cords which fastened him, which would explain the faint noise and almost imperceptible movements which Marius had observed.
As he had not been able to bend down, for fear of betraying himself, he had not cut the bonds of his left leg.
The ruffians had recovered from their first surprise.
"Be easy," said Bigrenaille to Thenardier. "He still holds by one leg, and he can't get away. I'll answer for that. I tied that paw for him."
In the meanwhile, the prisoner had begun to speak:—
"You are wretches, but my life is not worth the trouble of defending it. When you think that you can make me speak, that you can make me write what I do not choose to write, that you can make me say what I do not choose to say—"
He stripped up his left sleeve, and added:—
At the same moment he extended his arm, and laid the glowing chisel which he held in his left hand by its wooden handle on his bare flesh.
The crackling of the burning flesh became audible, and the odor peculiar to chambers of torture filled the hovel.
Marius reeled in utter horror, the very ruffians shuddered, hardly a muscle of the old man's face contracted, and while the red-hot iron sank into the smoking wound, impassive and almost august, he fixed on Thenardier his beautiful glance, in which there was no hatred, and where suffering vanished in serene majesty.
With grand and lofty natures, the revolts of the flesh and the senses when subjected to physical suffering cause the soul to spring forth, and make it appear on the brow, just as rebellions among the soldiery force the captain to show himself.
"Wretches!" said he, "have no more fear of me than I have for you!"
And, tearing the chisel from the wound, he hurled it through the window, which had been left open; the horrible, glowing tool disappeared into the night, whirling as it flew, and fell far away on the snow.
The prisoner resumed:—
"Do what you please with me." He was disarmed.
"Seize him!" said Thenardier.
Two of the ruffians laid their hands on his shoulder, and the masked man with the ventriloquist's voice took up his station in front of him, ready to smash his skull at the slightest movement.
At the same time, Marius heard below him, at the base of the partition, but so near that he could not see who was speaking, this colloquy conducted in a low tone:—
"There is only one thing left to do."
"Cut his throat."
It was the husband and wife taking counsel together.
Thenardier walked slowly towards the table, opened the drawer, and took out the knife. Marius fretted with the handle of his pistol. Unprecedented perplexity! For the last hour he had had two voices in his conscience, the one enjoining him to respect his father's testament, the other crying to him to rescue the prisoner. These two voices continued uninterruptedly that struggle which tormented him to agony. Up to that moment he had cherished a vague hope that he should find some means of reconciling these two duties, but nothing within the limits of possibility had presented itself.
However, the peril was urgent, the last bounds of delay had been reached; Thenardier was standing thoughtfully a few paces distant from the prisoner.
Marius cast a wild glance about him, the last mechanical resource of despair. All at once a shudder ran through him.
At his feet, on the table, a bright ray of light from the full moon illuminated and seemed to point out to him a sheet of paper. On this paper he read the following line written that very morning, in large letters, by the eldest of the Thenardier girls:—
"THE BOBBIES ARE HERE."
An idea, a flash, crossed Marius' mind; this was the expedient of which he was in search, the solution of that frightful problem which was torturing him, of sparing the assassin and saving the victim.
He knelt down on his commode, stretched out his arm, seized the sheet of paper, softly detached a bit of plaster from the wall, wrapped the paper round it, and tossed the whole through the crevice into the middle of the den.
It was high time. Thenardier had conquered his last fears or his last scruples, and was advancing on the prisoner.
"Something is falling!" cried the Thenardier woman.
"What is it?" asked her husband.
The woman darted forward and picked up the bit of plaster. She handed it to her husband.
"Where did this come from?" demanded Thenardier.
"Pardie!" ejaculated his wife, "where do you suppose it came from? Through the window, of course."
"I saw it pass," said Bigrenaille.
Thenardier rapidly unfolded the paper and held it close to the candle.
"It's in Eponine's handwriting. The devil!"
He made a sign to his wife, who hastily drew near, and showed her the line written on the sheet of paper, then he added in a subdued voice:—
"Quick! The ladder! Let's leave the bacon in the mousetrap and decamp!"
"Without cutting that man's throat?" asked, the Thenardier woman.
"We haven't the time."
"Through what?" resumed Bigrenaille.
"Through the window," replied Thenardier. "Since Ponine has thrown the stone through the window, it indicates that the house is not watched on that side."
The mask with the ventriloquist's voice deposited his huge key on the floor, raised both arms in the air, and opened and clenched his fists, three times rapidly without uttering a word.
This was the signal like the signal for clearing the decks for action on board ship.
The ruffians who were holding the prisoner released him; in the twinkling of an eye the rope ladder was unrolled outside the window, and solidly fastened to the sill by the two iron hooks.
The prisoner paid no attention to what was going on around him. He seemed to be dreaming or praying.
As soon as the ladder was arranged, Thenardier cried:
"Come! the bourgeoise first!"
And he rushed headlong to the window.
But just as he was about to throw his leg over, Bigrenaille seized him roughly by the collar.
"Not much, come now, you old dog, after us!"
"After us!" yelled the ruffians.
"You are children," said Thenardier, "we are losing time. The police are on our heels."
"Well," said the ruffians, "let's draw lots to see who shall go down first."
"Are you mad! Are you crazy! What a pack of boobies! You want to waste time, do you? Draw lots, do you? By a wet finger, by a short straw! With written names! Thrown into a hat!—"
"Would you like my hat?" cried a voice on the threshold.
All wheeled round. It was Javert.
He had his hat in his hand, and was holding it out to them with a smile.
CHAPTER XXI—ONE SHOULD ALWAYS BEGIN BY ARRESTING THE VICTIMS
At nightfall, Javert had posted his men and had gone into ambush himself between the trees of the Rue de la Barrieredes-Gobelins which faced the Gorbeau house, on the other side of the boulevard. He had begun operations by opening "his pockets," and dropping into it the two young girls who were charged with keeping a watch on the approaches to the den. But he had only "caged" Azelma. As for Eponine, she was not at her post, she had disappeared, and he had not been able to seize her. Then Javert had made a point and had bent his ear to waiting for the signal agreed upon. The comings and goings of the fiacres had greatly agitated him. At last, he had grown impatient, and, sure that there was a nest there, sure of being in "luck," having recognized many of the ruffians who had entered, he had finally decided to go upstairs without waiting for the pistol-shot.
It will be remembered that he had Marius' pass-key.
He had arrived just in the nick of time.
The terrified ruffians flung themselves on the arms which they had abandoned in all the corners at the moment of flight. In less than a second, these seven men, horrible to behold, had grouped themselves in an attitude of defence, one with his meat-axe, another with his key, another with his bludgeon, the rest with shears, pincers, and hammers. Thenardier had his knife in his fist. The Thenardier woman snatched up an enormous paving-stone which lay in the angle of the window and served her daughters as an ottoman.
Javert put on his hat again, and advanced a couple of paces into the room, with arms folded, his cane under one arm, his sword in its sheath.
"Halt there," said he. "You shall not go out by the window, you shall go through the door. It's less unhealthy. There are seven of you, there are fifteen of us. Don't let's fall to collaring each other like men of Auvergne."
Bigrenaille drew out a pistol which he had kept concealed under his blouse, and put it in Thenardier's hand, whispering in the latter's ear:—
"It's Javert. I don't dare fire at that man. Do you dare?"
"Parbleu!" replied Thenardier.
"Well, then, fire."
Thenardier took the pistol and aimed at Javert.
Javert, who was only three paces from him, stared intently at him and contented himself with saying:—
"Come now, don't fire. You'll miss fire."
Thenardier pulled the trigger. The pistol missed fire.
"Didn't I tell you so!" ejaculated Javert.
Bigrenaille flung his bludgeon at Javert's feet.
"You're the emperor of the fiends! I surrender."
"And you?" Javert asked the rest of the ruffians.
"So do we."
Javert began again calmly:—
"That's right, that's good, I said so, you are nice fellows."
"I only ask one thing," said Bigrenaille, "and that is, that I may not be denied tobacco while I am in confinement."
"Granted," said Javert.
And turning round and calling behind him:—
"Come in now!"
A squad of policemen, sword in hand, and agents armed with bludgeons and cudgels, rushed in at Javert's summons. They pinioned the ruffians.
This throng of men, sparely lighted by the single candle, filled the den with shadows.
"Handcuff them all!" shouted Javert.
"Come on!" cried a voice which was not the voice of a man, but of which no one would ever have said: "It is a woman's voice."
The Thenardier woman had entrenched herself in one of the angles of the window, and it was she who had just given vent to this roar.
The policemen and agents recoiled.
She had thrown off her shawl, but retained her bonnet; her husband, who was crouching behind her, was almost hidden under the discarded shawl, and she was shielding him with her body, as she elevated the paving-stone above her head with the gesture of a giantess on the point of hurling a rock.
"Beware!" she shouted.
All crowded back towards the corridor. A broad open space was cleared in the middle of the garret.
The Thenardier woman cast a glance at the ruffians who had allowed themselves to be pinioned, and muttered in hoarse and guttural accents:—
Javert smiled, and advanced across the open space which the Thenardier was devouring with her eyes.
"Don't come near me," she cried, "or I'll crush you."
"What a grenadier!" ejaculated Javert; "you've got a beard like a man, mother, but I have claws like a woman."
And he continued to advance.
The Thenardier, dishevelled and terrible, set her feet far apart, threw herself backwards, and hurled the paving-stone at Javert's head. Javert ducked, the stone passed over him, struck the wall behind, knocked off a huge piece of plastering, and, rebounding from angle to angle across the hovel, now luckily almost empty, rested at Javert's feet.
At the same moment, Javert reached the Thenardier couple. One of his big hands descended on the woman's shoulder; the other on the husband's head.
"The handcuffs!" he shouted.
The policemen trooped in in force, and in a few seconds Javert's order had been executed.
The Thenardier female, overwhelmed, stared at her pinioned hands, and at those of her husband, who had dropped to the floor, and exclaimed, weeping:—
"They are in the jug," said Javert.
In the meanwhile, the agents had caught sight of the drunken man asleep behind the door, and were shaking him:—
He awoke, stammering:—
"Is it all over, Jondrette?"
"Yes," replied Javert.
The six pinioned ruffians were standing, and still preserved their spectral mien; all three besmeared with black, all three masked.
"Keep on your masks," said Javert.
And passing them in review with a glance of a Frederick II. at a Potsdam parade, he said to the three "chimney-builders":—
"Good day, Bigrenaille! good day, Brujon! good day, Deuxmilliards!"
Then turning to the three masked men, he said to the man with the meat-axe:—
"Good day, Gueulemer!"
And to the man with the cudgel:—
"Good day, Babet!"
And to the ventriloquist:—
"Your health, Claquesous."
At that moment, he caught sight of the ruffians' prisoner, who, ever since the entrance of the police, had not uttered a word, and had held his head down.
"Untie the gentleman!" said Javert, "and let no one go out!"
That said, he seated himself with sovereign dignity before the table, where the candle and the writing-materials still remained, drew a stamped paper from his pocket, and began to prepare his report.
When he had written the first lines, which are formulas that never vary, he raised his eyes:—
"Let the gentleman whom these gentlemen bound step forward."
The policemen glanced round them.
"Well," said Javert, "where is he?"
The prisoner of the ruffians, M. Leblanc, M. Urbain Fabre, the father of Ursule or the Lark, had disappeared.
The door was guarded, but the window was not. As soon as he had found himself released from his bonds, and while Javert was drawing up his report, he had taken advantage of confusion, the crowd, the darkness, and of a moment when the general attention was diverted from him, to dash out of the window.
An agent sprang to the opening and looked out. He saw no one outside.
The rope ladder was still shaking.
"The devil!" ejaculated Javert between his teeth, "he must have been the most valuable of the lot."
CHAPTER XXII—THE LITTLE ONE WHO WAS CRYING IN VOLUME TWO
On the day following that on which these events took place in the house on the Boulevard de l'Hopital, a child, who seemed to be coming from the direction of the bridge of Austerlitz, was ascending the side-alley on the right in the direction of the Barriere de Fontainebleau.
Night had fully come.
This lad was pale, thin, clad in rags, with linen trousers in the month of February, and was singing at the top of his voice.
At the corner of the Rue du Petit-Banquier, a bent old woman was rummaging in a heap of refuse by the light of a street lantern; the child jostled her as he passed, then recoiled, exclaiming:—
"Hello! And I took it for an enormous, enormous dog!"
He pronounced the word enormous the second time with a jeering swell of the voice which might be tolerably well represented by capitals: "an enormous, ENORMOUS dog."
The old woman straightened herself up in a fury.
"Nasty brat!" she grumbled. "If I hadn't been bending over, I know well where I would have planted my foot on you."
The boy was already far away.
"Kisss! kisss!" he cried. "After that, I don't think I was mistaken!"
The old woman, choking with indignation, now rose completely upright, and the red gleam of the lantern fully lighted up her livid face, all hollowed into angles and wrinkles, with crow's-feet meeting the corners of her mouth.
Her body was lost in the darkness, and only her head was visible. One would have pronounced her a mask of Decrepitude carved out by a light from the night.
The boy surveyed her.
"Madame," said he, "does not possess that style of beauty which pleases me."
He then pursued his road, and resumed his song:—
"Le roi Coupdesabot S'en allait a la chasse, A la chasse aux corbeaux—"
At the end of these three lines he paused. He had arrived in front of No. 50-52, and finding the door fastened, he began to assault it with resounding and heroic kicks, which betrayed rather the man's shoes that he was wearing than the child's feet which he owned.
In the meanwhile, the very old woman whom he had encountered at the corner of the Rue du Petit-Banquier hastened up behind him, uttering clamorous cries and indulging in lavish and exaggerated gestures.
"What's this? What's this? Lord God! He's battering the door down! He's knocking the house down."
The kicks continued.
The old woman strained her lungs.
"Is that the way buildings are treated nowadays?"
All at once she paused.
She had recognized the gamin.
"What! so it's that imp!"
"Why, it's the old lady," said the lad. "Good day, Bougonmuche. I have come to see my ancestors."
The old woman retorted with a composite grimace, and a wonderful improvisation of hatred taking advantage of feebleness and ugliness, which was, unfortunately, wasted in the dark:—
"There's no one here."
"Bah!" retorted the boy, "where's my father?"
"At La Force."
"Come, now! And my mother?"
"Well! And my sisters?"
"At the Madelonettes."
The lad scratched his head behind his ear, stared at Ma'am Bougon, and said:—
Then he executed a pirouette on his heel; a moment later, the old woman, who had remained on the door-step, heard him singing in his clear, young voice, as he plunged under the black elm-trees, in the wintry wind:—
"Le roi Coupdesabot S'en allait a la chasse, A la chasse aux corbeaux, Monte sur deux echasses. Quand on passait dessous, On lui payait deux sous."
[THE END OF VOLUME III. "MARIUS"]
THE IDYL IN THE RUE PLUMET AND THE EPIC IN THE RUE SAINT-DENIS
BOOK FIRST.—A FEW PAGES OF HISTORY
CHAPTER I—WELL CUT
1831 and 1832, the two years which are immediately connected with the Revolution of July, form one of the most peculiar and striking moments of history. These two years rise like two mountains midway between those which precede and those which follow them. They have a revolutionary grandeur. Precipices are to be distinguished there. The social masses, the very assizes of civilization, the solid group of superposed and adhering interests, the century-old profiles of the ancient French formation, appear and disappear in them every instant, athwart the storm clouds of systems, of passions, and of theories. These appearances and disappearances have been designated as movement and resistance. At intervals, truth, that daylight of the human soul, can be descried shining there.
This remarkable epoch is decidedly circumscribed and is beginning to be sufficiently distant from us to allow of our grasping the principal lines even at the present day.
We shall make the attempt.
The Restoration had been one of those intermediate phases, hard to define, in which there is fatigue, buzzing, murmurs, sleep, tumult, and which are nothing else than the arrival of a great nation at a halting-place.
These epochs are peculiar and mislead the politicians who desire to convert them to profit. In the beginning, the nation asks nothing but repose; it thirsts for but one thing, peace; it has but one ambition, to be small. Which is the translation of remaining tranquil. Of great events, great hazards, great adventures, great men, thank God, we have seen enough, we have them heaped higher than our heads. We would exchange Caesar for Prusias, and Napoleon for the King of Yvetot. "What a good little king was he!" We have marched since daybreak, we have reached the evening of a long and toilsome day; we have made our first change with Mirabeau, the second with Robespierre, the third with Bonaparte; we are worn out. Each one demands a bed.
Devotion which is weary, heroism which has grown old, ambitions which are sated, fortunes which are made, seek, demand, implore, solicit, what? A shelter. They have it. They take possession of peace, of tranquillity, of leisure; behold, they are content. But, at the same time certain facts arise, compel recognition, and knock at the door in their turn. These facts are the products of revolutions and wars, they are, they exist, they have the right to install themselves in society, and they do install themselves therein; and most of the time, facts are the stewards of the household and fouriers who do nothing but prepare lodgings for principles.
This, then, is what appears to philosophical politicians:—
At the same time that weary men demand repose, accomplished facts demand guarantees. Guarantees are the same to facts that repose is to men.
This is what England demanded of the Stuarts after the Protector; this is what France demanded of the Bourbons after the Empire.
These guarantees are a necessity of the times. They must be accorded. Princes "grant" them, but in reality, it is the force of things which gives them. A profound truth, and one useful to know, which the Stuarts did not suspect in 1662 and which the Bourbons did not even obtain a glimpse of in 1814.
The predestined family, which returned to France when Napoleon fell, had the fatal simplicity to believe that it was itself which bestowed, and that what it had bestowed it could take back again; that the House of Bourbon possessed the right divine, that France possessed nothing, and that the political right conceded in the charter of Louis XVIII. was merely a branch of the right divine, was detached by the House of Bourbon and graciously given to the people until such day as it should please the King to reassume it. Still, the House of Bourbon should have felt, from the displeasure created by the gift, that it did not come from it.
This house was churlish to the nineteenth century. It put on an ill-tempered look at every development of the nation. To make use of a trivial word, that is to say, of a popular and a true word, it looked glum. The people saw this.
It thought it possessed strength because the Empire had been carried away before it like a theatrical stage-setting. It did not perceive that it had, itself, been brought in in the same fashion. It did not perceive that it also lay in that hand which had removed Napoleon.
It thought that it had roots, because it was the past. It was mistaken; it formed a part of the past, but the whole past was France. The roots of French society were not fixed in the Bourbons, but in the nations. These obscure and lively roots constituted, not the right of a family, but the history of a people. They were everywhere, except under the throne.
The House of Bourbon was to France the illustrious and bleeding knot in her history, but was no longer the principal element of her destiny, and the necessary base of her politics. She could get along without the Bourbons; she had done without them for two and twenty years; there had been a break of continuity; they did not suspect the fact. And how should they have suspected it, they who fancied that Louis XVII. reigned on the 9th of Thermidor, and that Louis XVIII. was reigning at the battle of Marengo? Never, since the origin of history, had princes been so blind in the presence of facts and the portion of divine authority which facts contain and promulgate. Never had that pretension here below which is called the right of kings denied to such a point the right from on high.
A capital error which led this family to lay its hand once more on the guarantees "granted" in 1814, on the concessions, as it termed them. Sad. A sad thing! What it termed its concessions were our conquests; what it termed our encroachments were our rights.
When the hour seemed to it to have come, the Restoration, supposing itself victorious over Bonaparte and well-rooted in the country, that is to say, believing itself to be strong and deep, abruptly decided on its plan of action, and risked its stroke. One morning it drew itself up before the face of France, and, elevating its voice, it contested the collective title and the individual right of the nation to sovereignty, of the citizen to liberty. In other words, it denied to the nation that which made it a nation, and to the citizen that which made him a citizen.
This is the foundation of those famous acts which are called the ordinances of July. The Restoration fell.
It fell justly. But, we admit, it had not been absolutely hostile to all forms of progress. Great things had been accomplished, with it alongside.
Under the Restoration, the nation had grown accustomed to calm discussion, which had been lacking under the Republic, and to grandeur in peace, which had been wanting under the Empire. France free and strong had offered an encouraging spectacle to the other peoples of Europe. The Revolution had had the word under Robespierre; the cannon had had the word under Bonaparte; it was under Louis XVIII. and Charles X. that it was the turn of intelligence to have the word. The wind ceased, the torch was lighted once more. On the lofty heights, the pure light of mind could be seen flickering. A magnificent, useful, and charming spectacle. For a space of fifteen years, those great principles which are so old for the thinker, so new for the statesman, could be seen at work in perfect peace, on the public square; equality before the law, liberty of conscience, liberty of speech, liberty of the press, the accessibility of all aptitudes to all functions. Thus it proceeded until 1830. The Bourbons were an instrument of civilization which broke in the hands of Providence.
The fall of the Bourbons was full of grandeur, not on their side, but on the side of the nation. They quitted the throne with gravity, but without authority; their descent into the night was not one of those solemn disappearances which leave a sombre emotion in history; it was neither the spectral calm of Charles I., nor the eagle scream of Napoleon. They departed, that is all. They laid down the crown, and retained no aureole. They were worthy, but they were not august. They lacked, in a certain measure, the majesty of their misfortune. Charles X. during the voyage from Cherbourg, causing a round table to be cut over into a square table, appeared to be more anxious about imperilled etiquette than about the crumbling monarchy. This diminution saddened devoted men who loved their persons, and serious men who honored their race. The populace was admirable. The nation, attacked one morning with weapons, by a sort of royal insurrection, felt itself in the possession of so much force that it did not go into a rage. It defended itself, restrained itself, restored things to their places, the government to law, the Bourbons to exile, alas! and then halted! It took the old king Charles X. from beneath that dais which had sheltered Louis XIV. and set him gently on the ground. It touched the royal personages only with sadness and precaution. It was not one man, it was not a few men, it was France, France entire, France victorious and intoxicated with her victory, who seemed to be coming to herself, and who put into practice, before the eyes of the whole world, these grave words of Guillaume du Vair after the day of the Barricades:—
"It is easy for those who are accustomed to skim the favors of the great, and to spring, like a bird from bough to bough, from an afflicted fortune to a flourishing one, to show themselves harsh towards their Prince in his adversity; but as for me, the fortune of my Kings and especially of my afflicted Kings, will always be venerable to me."
The Bourbons carried away with them respect, but not regret. As we have just stated, their misfortune was greater than they were. They faded out in the horizon.
The Revolution of July instantly had friends and enemies throughout the entire world. The first rushed toward her with joy and enthusiasm, the others turned away, each according to his nature. At the first blush, the princes of Europe, the owls of this dawn, shut their eyes, wounded and stupefied, and only opened them to threaten. A fright which can be comprehended, a wrath which can be pardoned. This strange revolution had hardly produced a shock; it had not even paid to vanquished royalty the honor of treating it as an enemy, and of shedding its blood. In the eyes of despotic governments, who are always interested in having liberty calumniate itself, the Revolution of July committed the fault of being formidable and of remaining gentle. Nothing, however, was attempted or plotted against it. The most discontented, the most irritated, the most trembling, saluted it; whatever our egotism and our rancor may be, a mysterious respect springs from events in which we are sensible of the collaboration of some one who is working above man.
The Revolution of July is the triumph of right overthrowing the fact. A thing which is full of splendor.
Right overthrowing the fact. Hence the brilliancy of the Revolution of 1830, hence, also, its mildness. Right triumphant has no need of being violent.
Right is the just and the true.
The property of right is to remain eternally beautiful and pure. The fact, even when most necessary to all appearances, even when most thoroughly accepted by contemporaries, if it exist only as a fact, and if it contain only too little of right, or none at all, is infallibly destined to become, in the course of time, deformed, impure, perhaps, even monstrous. If one desires to learn at one blow, to what degree of hideousness the fact can attain, viewed at the distance of centuries, let him look at Machiavelli. Machiavelli is not an evil genius, nor a demon, nor a miserable and cowardly writer; he is nothing but the fact. And he is not only the Italian fact; he is the European fact, the fact of the sixteenth century. He seems hideous, and so he is, in the presence of the moral idea of the nineteenth.
This conflict of right and fact has been going on ever since the origin of society. To terminate this duel, to amalgamate the pure idea with the humane reality, to cause right to penetrate pacifically into the fact and the fact into right, that is the task of sages.
CHAPTER II—BADLY SEWED
But the task of sages is one thing, the task of clever men is another. The Revolution of 1830 came to a sudden halt.
As soon as a revolution has made the coast, the skilful make haste to prepare the shipwreck.
The skilful in our century have conferred on themselves the title of Statesmen; so that this word, statesmen, has ended by becoming somewhat of a slang word. It must be borne in mind, in fact, that wherever there is nothing but skill, there is necessarily pettiness. To say "the skilful" amounts to saying "the mediocre."
In the same way, to say "statesmen" is sometimes equivalent to saying "traitors." If, then, we are to believe the skilful, revolutions like the Revolution of July are severed arteries; a prompt ligature is indispensable. The right, too grandly proclaimed, is shaken. Also, right once firmly fixed, the state must be strengthened. Liberty once assured, attention must be directed to power.
Here the sages are not, as yet, separated from the skilful, but they begin to be distrustful. Power, very good. But, in the first place, what is power? In the second, whence comes it? The skilful do not seem to hear the murmured objection, and they continue their manoeuvres.
According to the politicians, who are ingenious in putting the mask of necessity on profitable fictions, the first requirement of a people after a revolution, when this people forms part of a monarchical continent, is to procure for itself a dynasty. In this way, say they, peace, that is to say, time to dress our wounds, and to repair the house, can be had after a revolution. The dynasty conceals the scaffolding and covers the ambulance. Now, it is not always easy to procure a dynasty.
If it is absolutely necessary, the first man of genius or even the first man of fortune who comes to hand suffices for the manufacturing of a king. You have, in the first case, Napoleon; in the second, Iturbide.
But the first family that comes to hand does not suffice to make a dynasty. There is necessarily required a certain modicum of antiquity in a race, and the wrinkle of the centuries cannot be improvised.
If we place ourselves at the point of view of the "statesmen," after making all allowances, of course, after a revolution, what are the qualities of the king which result from it? He may be and it is useful for him to be a revolutionary; that is to say, a participant in his own person in that revolution, that he should have lent a hand to it, that he should have either compromised or distinguished himself therein, that he should have touched the axe or wielded the sword in it.
What are the qualities of a dynasty? It should be national; that is to say, revolutionary at a distance, not through acts committed, but by reason of ideas accepted. It should be composed of past and be historic; be composed of future and be sympathetic.
All this explains why the early revolutions contented themselves with finding a man, Cromwell or Napoleon; and why the second absolutely insisted on finding a family, the House of Brunswick or the House of Orleans.
Royal houses resemble those Indian fig-trees, each branch of which, bending over to the earth, takes root and becomes a fig-tree itself. Each branch may become a dynasty. On the sole condition that it shall bend down to the people.
Such is the theory of the skilful.
Here, then, lies the great art: to make a little render to success the sound of a catastrophe in order that those who profit by it may tremble from it also, to season with fear every step that is taken, to augment the curve of the transition to the point of retarding progress, to dull that aurora, to denounce and retrench the harshness of enthusiasm, to cut all angles and nails, to wad triumph, to muffle up right, to envelop the giant-people in flannel, and to put it to bed very speedily, to impose a diet on that excess of health, to put Hercules on the treatment of a convalescent, to dilute the event with the expedient, to offer to spirits thirsting for the ideal that nectar thinned out with a potion, to take one's precautions against too much success, to garnish the revolution with a shade.
1830 practised this theory, already applied to England by 1688.
1830 is a revolution arrested midway. Half of progress, quasi-right. Now, logic knows not the "almost," absolutely as the sun knows not the candle.
Who arrests revolutions half-way? The bourgeoisie?
Because the bourgeoisie is interest which has reached satisfaction. Yesterday it was appetite, to-day it is plenitude, to-morrow it will be satiety.
The phenomenon of 1814 after Napoleon was reproduced in 1830 after Charles X.
The attempt has been made, and wrongly, to make a class of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is simply the contented portion of the people. The bourgeois is the man who now has time to sit down. A chair is not a caste.
But through a desire to sit down too soon, one may arrest the very march of the human race. This has often been the fault of the bourgeoisie.
One is not a class because one has committed a fault. Selfishness is not one of the divisions of the social order.
Moreover, we must be just to selfishness. The state to which that part of the nation which is called the bourgeoisie aspired after the shock of 1830 was not the inertia which is complicated with indifference and laziness, and which contains a little shame; it was not the slumber which presupposes a momentary forgetfulness accessible to dreams; it was the halt.
The halt is a word formed of a singular double and almost contradictory sense: a troop on the march, that is to say, movement; a stand, that is to say, repose.
The halt is the restoration of forces; it is repose armed and on the alert; it is the accomplished fact which posts sentinels and holds itself on its guard.
The halt presupposes the combat of yesterday and the combat of to-morrow.
It is the partition between 1830 and 1848.
What we here call combat may also be designated as progress.
The bourgeoisie then, as well as the statesmen, required a man who should express this word Halt. An Although-Because. A composite individuality, signifying revolution and signifying stability, in other terms, strengthening the present by the evident compatibility of the past with the future.
This man was "already found." His name was Louis Philippe d'Orleans.
The 221 made Louis Philippe King. Lafayette undertook the coronation.
He called it the best of republics. The town-hall of Paris took the place of the Cathedral of Rheims.
This substitution of a half-throne for a whole throne was "the work of 1830."
When the skilful had finished, the immense vice of their solution became apparent. All this had been accomplished outside the bounds of absolute right. Absolute right cried: "I protest!" then, terrible to say, it retired into the darkness.
CHAPTER III—LOUIS PHILIPPE
Revolutions have a terrible arm and a happy hand, they strike firmly and choose well. Even incomplete, even debased and abused and reduced to the state of a junior revolution like the Revolution of 1830, they nearly always retain sufficient providential lucidity to prevent them from falling amiss. Their eclipse is never an abdication.
Nevertheless, let us not boast too loudly; revolutions also may be deceived, and grave errors have been seen.
Let us return to 1830. 1830, in its deviation, had good luck. In the establishment which entitled itself order after the revolution had been cut short, the King amounted to more than royalty. Louis Philippe was a rare man.
The son of a father to whom history will accord certain attenuating circumstances, but also as worthy of esteem as that father had been of blame; possessing all private virtues and many public virtues; careful of his health, of his fortune, of his person, of his affairs, knowing the value of a minute and not always the value of a year; sober, serene, peaceable, patient; a good man and a good prince; sleeping with his wife, and having in his palace lackeys charged with the duty of showing the conjugal bed to the bourgeois, an ostentation of the regular sleeping-apartment which had become useful after the former illegitimate displays of the elder branch; knowing all the languages of Europe, and, what is more rare, all the languages of all interests, and speaking them; an admirable representative of the "middle class," but outstripping it, and in every way greater than it; possessing excellent sense, while appreciating the blood from which he had sprung, counting most of all on his intrinsic worth, and, on the question of his race, very particular, declaring himself Orleans and not Bourbon; thoroughly the first Prince of the Blood Royal while he was still only a Serene Highness, but a frank bourgeois from the day he became king; diffuse in public, concise in private; reputed, but not proved to be a miser; at bottom, one of those economists who are readily prodigal at their own fancy or duty; lettered, but not very sensitive to letters; a gentleman, but not a chevalier; simple, calm, and strong; adored by his family and his household; a fascinating talker, an undeceived statesman, inwardly cold, dominated by immediate interest, always governing at the shortest range, incapable of rancor and of gratitude, making use without mercy of superiority on mediocrity, clever in getting parliamentary majorities to put in the wrong those mysterious unanimities which mutter dully under thrones; unreserved, sometimes imprudent in his lack of reserve, but with marvellous address in that imprudence; fertile in expedients, in countenances, in masks; making France fear Europe and Europe France! Incontestably fond of his country, but preferring his family; assuming more domination than authority and more authority than dignity, a disposition which has this unfortunate property, that as it turns everything to success, it admits of ruse and does not absolutely repudiate baseness, but which has this valuable side, that it preserves politics from violent shocks, the state from fractures, and society from catastrophes; minute, correct, vigilant, attentive, sagacious, indefatigable; contradicting himself at times and giving himself the lie; bold against Austria at Ancona, obstinate against England in Spain, bombarding Antwerp, and paying off Pritchard; singing the Marseillaise with conviction, inaccessible to despondency, to lassitude, to the taste for the beautiful and the ideal, to daring generosity, to Utopia, to chimeras, to wrath, to vanity, to fear; possessing all the forms of personal intrepidity; a general at Valmy; a soldier at Jemappes; attacked eight times by regicides and always smiling. Brave as a grenadier, courageous as a thinker; uneasy only in the face of the chances of a European shaking up, and unfitted for great political adventures; always ready to risk his life, never his work; disguising his will in influence, in order that he might be obeyed as an intelligence rather than as a king; endowed with observation and not with divination; not very attentive to minds, but knowing men, that is to say requiring to see in order to judge; prompt and penetrating good sense, practical wisdom, easy speech, prodigious memory; drawing incessantly on this memory, his only point of resemblance with Caesar, Alexander, and Napoleon; knowing deeds, facts, details, dates, proper names, ignorant of tendencies, passions, the diverse geniuses of the crowd, the interior aspirations, the hidden and obscure uprisings of souls, in a word, all that can be designated as the invisible currents of consciences; accepted by the surface, but little in accord with France lower down; extricating himself by dint of tact; governing too much and not enough; his own first minister; excellent at creating out of the pettiness of realities an obstacle to the immensity of ideas; mingling a genuine creative faculty of civilization, of order and organization, an indescribable spirit of proceedings and chicanery, the founder and lawyer of a dynasty; having something of Charlemagne and something of an attorney; in short, a lofty and original figure, a prince who understood how to create authority in spite of the uneasiness of France, and power in spite of the jealousy of Europe. Louis Philippe will be classed among the eminent men of his century, and would be ranked among the most illustrious governors of history had he loved glory but a little, and if he had had the sentiment of what is great to the same degree as the feeling for what is useful.
Louis Philippe had been handsome, and in his old age he remained graceful; not always approved by the nation, he always was so by the masses; he pleased. He had that gift of charming. He lacked majesty; he wore no crown, although a king, and no white hair, although an old man; his manners belonged to the old regime and his habits to the new; a mixture of the noble and the bourgeois which suited 1830; Louis Philippe was transition reigning; he had preserved the ancient pronunciation and the ancient orthography which he placed at the service of opinions modern; he loved Poland and Hungary, but he wrote les Polonois, and he pronounced les Hongrais. He wore the uniform of the national guard, like Charles X., and the ribbon of the Legion of Honor, like Napoleon.
He went a little to chapel, not at all to the chase, never to the opera. Incorruptible by sacristans, by whippers-in, by ballet-dancers; this made a part of his bourgeois popularity. He had no heart. He went out with his umbrella under his arm, and this umbrella long formed a part of his aureole. He was a bit of a mason, a bit of a gardener, something of a doctor; he bled a postilion who had tumbled from his horse; Louis Philippe no more went about without his lancet, than did Henri IV. without his poniard. The Royalists jeered at this ridiculous king, the first who had ever shed blood with the object of healing.
For the grievances against Louis Philippe, there is one deduction to be made; there is that which accuses royalty, that which accuses the reign, that which accuses the King; three columns which all give different totals. Democratic right confiscated, progress becomes a matter of secondary interest, the protests of the street violently repressed, military execution of insurrections, the rising passed over by arms, the Rue Transnonain, the counsels of war, the absorption of the real country by the legal country, on half shares with three hundred thousand privileged persons,—these are the deeds of royalty; Belgium refused, Algeria too harshly conquered, and, as in the case of India by the English, with more barbarism than civilization, the breach of faith, to Abd-el-Kader, Blaye, Deutz bought, Pritchard paid,—these are the doings of the reign; the policy which was more domestic than national was the doing of the King.
As will be seen, the proper deduction having been made, the King's charge is decreased.
This is his great fault; he was modest in the name of France.
Whence arises this fault?
We will state it.
Louis Philippe was rather too much of a paternal king; that incubation of a family with the object of founding a dynasty is afraid of everything and does not like to be disturbed; hence excessive timidity, which is displeasing to the people, who have the 14th of July in their civil and Austerlitz in their military tradition.
Moreover, if we deduct the public duties which require to be fulfilled first of all, that deep tenderness of Louis Philippe towards his family was deserved by the family. That domestic group was worthy of admiration. Virtues there dwelt side by side with talents. One of Louis Philippe's daughters, Marie d'Orleans, placed the name of her race among artists, as Charles d'Orleans had placed it among poets. She made of her soul a marble which she named Jeanne d'Arc. Two of Louis Philippe's daughters elicited from Metternich this eulogium: "They are young people such as are rarely seen, and princes such as are never seen."
This, without any dissimulation, and also without any exaggeration, is the truth about Louis Philippe.
To be Prince Equality, to bear in his own person the contradiction of the Restoration and the Revolution, to have that disquieting side of the revolutionary which becomes reassuring in governing power, therein lay the fortune of Louis Philippe in 1830; never was there a more complete adaptation of a man to an event; the one entered into the other, and the incarnation took place. Louis Philippe is 1830 made man. Moreover, he had in his favor that great recommendation to the throne, exile. He had been proscribed, a wanderer, poor. He had lived by his own labor. In Switzerland, this heir to the richest princely domains in France had sold an old horse in order to obtain bread. At Reichenau, he gave lessons in mathematics, while his sister Adelaide did wool work and sewed. These souvenirs connected with a king rendered the bourgeoisie enthusiastic. He had, with his own hands, demolished the iron cage of Mont-Saint-Michel, built by Louis XI, and used by Louis XV. He was the companion of Dumouriez, he was the friend of Lafayette; he had belonged to the Jacobins' club; Mirabeau had slapped him on the shoulder; Danton had said to him: "Young man!" At the age of four and twenty, in '93, being then M. de Chartres, he had witnessed, from the depth of a box, the trial of Louis XVI., so well named that poor tyrant. The blind clairvoyance of the Revolution, breaking royalty in the King and the King with royalty, did so almost without noticing the man in the fierce crushing of the idea, the vast storm of the Assembly-Tribunal, the public wrath interrogating, Capet not knowing what to reply, the alarming, stupefied vacillation by that royal head beneath that sombre breath, the relative innocence of all in that catastrophe, of those who condemned as well as of the man condemned,—he had looked on those things, he had contemplated that giddiness; he had seen the centuries appear before the bar of the Assembly-Convention; he had beheld, behind Louis XVI., that unfortunate passer-by who was made responsible, the terrible culprit, the monarchy, rise through the shadows; and there had lingered in his soul the respectful fear of these immense justices of the populace, which are almost as impersonal as the justice of God.
The trace left in him by the Revolution was prodigious. Its memory was like a living imprint of those great years, minute by minute. One day, in the presence of a witness whom we are not permitted to doubt, he rectified from memory the whole of the letter A in the alphabetical list of the Constituent Assembly.
Louis Philippe was a king of the broad daylight. While he reigned the press was free, the tribune was free, conscience and speech were free. The laws of September are open to sight. Although fully aware of the gnawing power of light on privileges, he left his throne exposed to the light. History will do justice to him for this loyalty.
Louis Philippe, like all historical men who have passed from the scene, is to-day put on his trial by the human conscience. His case is, as yet, only in the lower court.
The hour when history speaks with its free and venerable accent, has not yet sounded for him; the moment has not come to pronounce a definite judgment on this king; the austere and illustrious historian Louis Blanc has himself recently softened his first verdict; Louis Philippe was elected by those two almosts which are called the 221 and 1830, that is to say, by a half-Parliament, and a half-revolution; and in any case, from the superior point of view where philosophy must place itself, we cannot judge him here, as the reader has seen above, except with certain reservations in the name of the absolute democratic principle; in the eyes of the absolute, outside these two rights, the right of man in the first place, the right of the people in the second, all is usurpation; but what we can say, even at the present day, that after making these reserves is, that to sum up the whole, and in whatever manner he is considered, Louis Philippe, taken in himself, and from the point of view of human goodness, will remain, to use the antique language of ancient history, one of the best princes who ever sat on a throne.
What is there against him? That throne. Take away Louis Philippe the king, there remains the man. And the man is good. He is good at times even to the point of being admirable. Often, in the midst of his gravest souvenirs, after a day of conflict with the whole diplomacy of the continent, he returned at night to his apartments, and there, exhausted with fatigue, overwhelmed with sleep, what did he do? He took a death sentence and passed the night in revising a criminal suit, considering it something to hold his own against Europe, but that it was a still greater matter to rescue a man from the executioner. He obstinately maintained his opinion against his keeper of the seals; he disputed the ground with the guillotine foot by foot against the crown attorneys, those chatterers of the law, as he called them. Sometimes the pile of sentences covered his table; he examined them all; it was anguish to him to abandon these miserable, condemned heads. One day, he said to the same witness to whom we have recently referred: "I won seven last night." During the early years of his reign, the death penalty was as good as abolished, and the erection of a scaffold was a violence committed against the King. The Greve having disappeared with the elder branch, a bourgeois place of execution was instituted under the name of the Barriere-Saint-Jacques; "practical men" felt the necessity of a quasi-legitimate guillotine; and this was one of the victories of Casimir Perier, who represented the narrow sides of the bourgeoisie, over Louis Philippe, who represented its liberal sides. Louis Philippe annotated Beccaria with his own hand. After the Fieschi machine, he exclaimed: "What a pity that I was not wounded! Then I might have pardoned!" On another occasion, alluding to the resistance offered by his ministry, he wrote in connection with a political criminal, who is one of the most generous figures of our day: "His pardon is granted; it only remains for me to obtain it." Louis Philippe was as gentle as Louis IX. and as kindly as Henri IV.
Now, to our mind, in history, where kindness is the rarest of pearls, the man who is kindly almost takes precedence of the man who is great.
Louis Philippe having been severely judged by some, harshly, perhaps, by others, it is quite natural that a man, himself a phantom at the present day, who knew that king, should come and testify in his favor before history; this deposition, whatever else it may be, is evidently and above all things, entirely disinterested; an epitaph penned by a dead man is sincere; one shade may console another shade; the sharing of the same shadows confers the right to praise it; it is not greatly to be feared that it will ever be said of two tombs in exile: "This one flattered the other."
CHAPTER IV—CRACKS BENEATH THE FOUNDATION
At the moment when the drama which we are narrating is on the point of penetrating into the depths of one of the tragic clouds which envelop the beginning of Louis Philippe's reign, it was necessary that there should be no equivoque, and it became requisite that this book should offer some explanation with regard to this king.
Louis Philippe had entered into possession of his royal authority without violence, without any direct action on his part, by virtue of a revolutionary change, evidently quite distinct from the real aim of the Revolution, but in which he, the Duc d'Orleans, exercised no personal initiative. He had been born a Prince, and he believed himself to have been elected King. He had not served this mandate on himself; he had not taken it; it had been offered to him, and he had accepted it; convinced, wrongly, to be sure, but convinced nevertheless, that the offer was in accordance with right and that the acceptance of it was in accordance with duty. Hence his possession was in good faith. Now, we say it in good conscience, Louis Philippe being in possession in perfect good faith, and the democracy being in good faith in its attack, the amount of terror discharged by the social conflicts weighs neither on the King nor on the democracy. A clash of principles resembles a clash of elements. The ocean defends the water, the hurricane defends the air, the King defends Royalty, the democracy defends the people; the relative, which is the monarchy, resists the absolute, which is the republic; society bleeds in this conflict, but that which constitutes its suffering to-day will constitute its safety later on; and, in any case, those who combat are not to be blamed; one of the two parties is evidently mistaken; the right is not, like the Colossus of Rhodes, on two shores at once, with one foot on the republic, and one in Royalty; it is indivisible, and all on one side; but those who are in error are so sincerely; a blind man is no more a criminal than a Vendean is a ruffian. Let us, then, impute to the fatality of things alone these formidable collisions. Whatever the nature of these tempests may be, human irresponsibility is mingled with them.