Part 12 out of 36
in his face. Jean Valjean recognized Javert perfectly.
IT IS LUCKY THAT THE PONT D'AUSTERLITZ BEARS CARRIAGES
Uncertainty was at an end for Jean Valjean: fortunately it still
lasted for the men. He took advantage of their hesitation.
It was time lost for them, but gained for him. He slipped from
under the gate where he had concealed himself, and went down the Rue
des Postes, towards the region of the Jardin des Plantes. Cosette was
beginning to be tired. He took her in his arms and carried her.
There were no passers-by, and the street lanterns had not been
lighted on account of there being a moon.
He redoubled his pace.
In a few strides he had reached the Goblet potteries, on the front of
which the moonlight rendered distinctly legible the ancient inscription:--
De Goblet fils c'est ici la fabrique;
Venez choisir des cruches et des broos,
Des pots a fleurs, des tuyaux, de la brique.
A tout venant le Coeur vend des Carreaux.
 This is the factory of Goblet Junior:
Come choose your jugs and crocks,
Flower-pots, pipes, bricks.
The Heart sells Diamonds to every comer.
He left behind him the Rue de la Clef, then the Fountain Saint-Victor,
skirted the Jardin des Plantes by the lower streets, and reached
the quay. There he turned round. The quay was deserted. The streets
were deserted. There was no one behind him. He drew a long breath.
He gained the Pont d'Austerlitz.
Tolls were still collected there at that epoch.
He presented himself at the toll office and handed over a sou.
"It is two sous," said the old soldier in charge of the bridge.
"You are carrying a child who can walk. Pay for two."
He paid, vexed that his passage should have aroused remark.
Every flight should be an imperceptible slipping away.
A heavy cart was crossing the Seine at the same time as himself,
and on its way, like him, to the right bank. This was of use to him.
He could traverse the bridge in the shadow of the cart.
Towards the middle of the Bridge, Cosette, whose feet were benumbed,
wanted to walk. He set her on the ground and took her hand again.
The bridge once crossed, he perceived some timber-yards on his right.
He directed his course thither. In order to reach them,
it was necessary to risk himself in a tolerably large unsheltered
and illuminated space. He did not hesitate. Those who were on
his track had evidently lost the scent, and Jean Valjean believed
himself to be out of danger. Hunted, yes; followed, no.
A little street, the Rue du Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, opened out
between two timber-yards enclosed in walls. This street was dark
and narrow and seemed made expressly for him. Before entering
it he cast a glance behind him,
From the point where he stood he could see the whole extent
of the Pont d'Austerlitz.
Four shadows were just entering on the bridge.
These shadows had their backs turned to the Jardin des Plantes
and were on their way to the right bank.
These four shadows were the four men.
Jean Valjean shuddered like the wild beast which is recaptured.
One hope remained to him; it was, that the men had not, perhaps,
stepped on the bridge, and had not caught sight of him while he
was crossing the large illuminated space, holding Cosette by the hand.
In that case, by plunging into the little street before him,
he might escape, if he could reach the timber-yards, the marshes,
the market-gardens, the uninhabited ground which was not built upon.
It seemed to him that he might commit himself to that silent
little street. He entered it.
TO WIT, THE PLAN OF PARIS IN 1727
Three hundred paces further on, he arrived at a point where
the street forked. It separated into two streets, which ran
in a slanting line, one to the right, and the other to the left.
Jean Valjean had before him what resembled the two branches
of a Y. Which should he choose? He did not hesitate, but took
the one on the right.
Because that to the left ran towards a suburb, that is to say,
towards inhabited regions, and the right branch towards the open country,
that is to say, towards deserted regions.
However, they no longer walked very fast. Cosette's pace retarded
He took her up and carried her again. Cosette laid her head
on the shoulder of the good man and said not a word.
He turned round from time to time and looked behind him.
He took care to keep always on the dark side of the street.
The street was straight in his rear. The first two or three times
that he turned round he saw nothing; the silence was profound,
and he continued his march somewhat reassured. All at once,
on turning round, he thought he perceived in the portion of the
street which he had just passed through, far off in the obscurity,
something which was moving.
He rushed forward precipitately rather than walked, hoping to find
some side-street, to make his escape through it, and thus to break
his scent once more.
He arrived at a wall.
This wall, however, did not absolutely prevent further progress;
it was a wall which bordered a transverse street, in which the one he
had taken ended.
Here again, he was obliged to come to a decision; should he go
to the right or to the left.
He glanced to the right. The fragmentary lane was prolonged
between buildings which were either sheds or barns, then ended at a
blind alley. The extremity of the cul-de-sac was distinctly visible,--
a lofty white wall.
He glanced to the left. On that side the lane was open,
and about two hundred paces further on, ran into a street
of which it was the affluent. On that side lay safety.
At the moment when Jean Valjean was meditating a turn to the left,
in an effort to reach the street which he saw at the end of the lane,
he perceived a sort of motionless, black statue at the corner of the
lane and the street towards which he was on the point of directing
It was some one, a man, who had evidently just been posted there,
and who was barring the passage and waiting.
Jean Valjean recoiled.
The point of Paris where Jean Valjean found himself, situated
between the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and la Rapee, is one of those
which recent improvements have transformed from top to bottom,--
resulting in disfigurement according to some, and in a transfiguration
according to others. The market-gardens, the timber-yards, and
the old buildings have been effaced. To-day, there are brand-new,
wide streets, arenas, circuses, hippodromes, railway stations, and
a prison, Mazas, there; progress, as the reader sees, with its antidote.
Half a century ago, in that ordinary, popular tongue, which is all
compounded of traditions, which persists in calling the Institut
les Quatre-Nations, and the Opera-Comique Feydeau, the precise
spot whither Jean Valjean had arrived was called le Petit Picpus.
The Porte Saint-Jacques, the Porte Paris, the Barriere des Sergents,
the Porcherons, la Galiote, les Celestins, les Capucins, le Mail,
la Bourbe, l'Arbre de Cracovie, la Petite-Pologne--these are the names
of old Paris which survive amid the new. The memory of the populace
hovers over these relics of the past.
Le Petit-Picpus, which, moreover, hardly ever had any existence,
and never was more than the outline of a quarter, had nearly the
monkish aspect of a Spanish town. The roads were not much paved;
the streets were not much built up. With the exception of the two
or three streets, of which we shall presently speak, all was wall
and solitude there. Not a shop, not a vehicle, hardly a candle
lighted here and there in the windows; all lights extinguished
after ten o'clock. Gardens, convents, timber-yards, marshes;
occasional lowly dwellings and great walls as high as the houses.
Such was this quarter in the last century. The Revolution snubbed
it soundly. The republican government demolished and cut through it.
Rubbish shoots were established there. Thirty years ago, this quarter
was disappearing under the erasing process of new buildings.
To-day, it has been utterly blotted out. The Petit-Picpus,
of which no existing plan has preserved a trace, is indicated
with sufficient clearness in the plan of 1727, published at Paris
by Denis Thierry, Rue Saint-Jacques, opposite the Rue du Platre;
and at Lyons, by Jean Girin, Rue Merciere, at the sign of Prudence.
Petit-Picpus had, as we have just mentioned, a Y of streets,
formed by the Rue du Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, which spread
out in two branches, taking on the left the name of Little
Picpus Street, and on the right the name of the Rue Polonceau.
The two limbs of the Y were connected at the apex as by a bar;
this bar was called Rue Droit-Mur. The Rue Polonceau ended there;
Rue Petit-Picpus passed on, and ascended towards the Lenoir market.
A person coming from the Seine reached the extremity of the
Rue Polonceau, and had on his right the Rue Droit-Mur, turning
abruptly at a right angle, in front of him the wall of that street,
and on his right a truncated prolongation of the Rue Droit-Mur, which
had no issue and was called the Cul-de-Sac Genrot.
It was here that Jean Valjean stood.
As we have just said, on catching sight of that black silhouette
standing on guard at the angle of the Rue Droit-Mur and the Rue
Petit-Picpus, he recoiled. There could be no doubt of it.
That phantom was lying in wait for him.
What was he to do?
The time for retreating was passed. That which he had perceived
in movement an instant before, in the distant darkness, was Javert
and his squad without a doubt. Javert was probably already at
the commencement of the street at whose end Jean Valjean stood.
Javert, to all appearances, was acquainted with this little labyrinth,
and had taken his precautions by sending one of his men to guard
the exit. These surmises, which so closely resembled proofs,
whirled suddenly, like a handful of dust caught up by an
unexpected gust of wind, through Jean Valjean's mournful brain.
He examined the Cul-de-Sac Genrot; there he was cut off.
He examined the Rue Petit-Picpus; there stood a sentinel. He saw
that black form standing out in relief against the white pavement,
illuminated by the moon; to advance was to fall into this man's hands;
to retreat was to fling himself into Javert's arms. Jean Valjean
felt himself caught, as in a net, which was slowly contracting;
he gazed heavenward in despair.
THE GROPINGS OF FLIGHT
In order to understand what follows, it is requisite to form an
exact idea of the Droit-Mur lane, and, in particular, of the angle
which one leaves on the left when one emerges from the Rue Polonceau
into this lane. Droit-Mur lane was almost entirely bordered on
the right, as far as the Rue Petit-Picpus, by houses of mean aspect;
on the left by a solitary building of severe outlines, composed of
numerous parts which grew gradually higher by a story or two as
they approached the Rue Petit-Picpus side; so that this building,
which was very lofty on the Rue Petit-Picpus side, was tolerably low
on the side adjoining the Rue Polonceau. There, at the angle of
which we have spoken, it descended to such a degree that it consisted
of merely a wall. This wall did not abut directly on the Street;
it formed a deeply retreating niche, concealed by its two corners
from two observers who might have been, one in the Rue Polonceau,
the other in the Rue Droit-Mur.
Beginning with these angles of the niche, the wall extended along
the Rue Polonceau as far as a house which bore the number 49,
and along the Rue Droit-Mur, where the fragment was much shorter,
as far as the gloomy building which we have mentioned and whose gable
it intersected, thus forming another retreating angle in the street.
This gable was sombre of aspect; only one window was visible, or,
to speak more correctly, two shutters covered with a sheet of zinc
and kept constantly closed.
The state of the places of which we are here giving a description
is rigorously exact, and will certainly awaken a very precise
memory in the mind of old inhabitants of the quarter.
The niche was entirely filled by a thing which resembled a
colossal and wretched door; it was a vast, formless assemblage
of perpendicular planks, the upper ones being broader than
the lower, bound together by long transverse strips of iron.
At one side there was a carriage gate of the ordinary dimensions,
and which had evidently not been cut more than fifty years previously.
A linden-tree showed its crest above the niche, and the wall was
covered with ivy on the side of the Rue Polonceau.
In the imminent peril in which Jean Valjean found himself,
this sombre building had about it a solitary and uninhabited look
which tempted him. He ran his eyes rapidly over it; he said to himself,
that if he could contrive to get inside it, he might save himself.
First he conceived an idea, then a hope.
In the central portion of the front of this building, on the Rue
Droit-Mur side, there were at all the windows of the different
stories ancient cistern pipes of lead. The various branches of the
pipes which led from one central pipe to all these little basins
sketched out a sort of tree on the front. These ramifications
of pipes with their hundred elbows imitated those old leafless
vine-stocks which writhe over the fronts of old farm-houses.
This odd espalier, with its branches of lead and iron, was the
first thing that struck Jean Valjean. He seated Cosette with
her back against a stone post, with an injunction to be silent,
and ran to the spot where the conduit touched the pavement.
Perhaps there was some way of climbing up by it and entering the house.
But the pipe was dilapidated and past service, and hardly hung to
its fastenings. Moreover, all the windows of this silent dwelling
were grated with heavy iron bars, even the attic windows in the roof.
And then, the moon fell full upon that facade, and the man who was
watching at the corner of the street would have seen Jean Valjean in
the act of climbing. And finally, what was to be done with Cosette?
How was she to be drawn up to the top of a three-story house?
He gave up all idea of climbing by means of the drain-pipe,
and crawled along the wall to get back into the Rue Polonceau.
When he reached the slant of the wall where he had left Cosette,
he noticed that no one could see him there. As we have just explained,
he was concealed from all eyes, no matter from which direction
they were approaching; besides this, he was in the shadow.
Finally, there were two doors; perhaps they might be forced.
The wall above which he saw the linden-tree and the ivy evidently
abutted on a garden where he could, at least, hide himself,
although there were as yet no leaves on the trees, and spend
the remainder of the night.
Time was passing; he must act quickly.
He felt over the carriage door, and immediately recognized the fact
that it was impracticable outside and in.
He approached the other door with more hope; it was frightfully decrepit;
its very immensity rendered it less solid; the planks were rotten;
the iron bands--there were only three of them--were rusted. It seemed
as though it might be possible to pierce this worm-eaten barrier.
On examining it he found that the door was not a door; it had
neither hinges, cross-bars, lock, nor fissure in the middle;
the iron bands traversed it from side to side without any break.
Through the crevices in the planks he caught a view of unhewn slabs
and blocks of stone roughly cemented together, which passers-by
might still have seen there ten years ago. He was forced to
acknowledge with consternation that this apparent door was simply
the wooden decoration of a building against which it was placed.
It was easy to tear off a plank; but then, one found one's self face
to face with a wall.
WHICH WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE WITH GAS LANTERNS
At that moment a heavy and measured sound began to be audible
at some distance. Jean Valjean risked a glance round the corner
of the street. Seven or eight soldiers, drawn up in a platoon,
had just debouched into the Rue Polonceau. He saw the gleam of
their bayonets. They were advancing towards him; these soldiers,
at whose head he distinguished Javert's tall figure, advanced slowly
and cautiously. They halted frequently; it was plain that they
were searching all the nooks of the walls and all the embrasures
of the doors and alleys.
This was some patrol that Javert had encountered--there could
be no mistake as to this surmise--and whose aid he had demanded.
Javert's two acolytes were marching in their ranks.
At the rate at which they were marching, and in consideration
of the halts which they were making, it would take them about
a quarter of an hour to reach the spot where Jean Valjean stood.
It was a frightful moment. A few minutes only separated Jean
Valjean from that terrible precipice which yawned before him for
the third time. And the galleys now meant not only the galleys,
but Cosette lost to him forever; that is to say, a life resembling
the interior of a tomb.
There was but one thing which was possible.
Jean Valjean had this peculiarity, that he carried, as one might say,
two beggar's pouches: in one he kept his saintly thoughts;
in the other the redoubtable talents of a convict. He rummaged
in the one or the other, according to circumstances.
Among his other resources, thanks to his numerous escapes
from the prison at Toulon, he was, as it will be remembered,
a past master in the incredible art of crawling up without
ladder or climbing-irons, by sheer muscular force, by leaning
on the nape of his neck, his shoulders, his hips, and his knees,
by helping himself on the rare projections of the stone, in the
right angle of a wall, as high as the sixth story, if need be;
an art which has rendered so celebrated and so alarming that corner
of the wall of the Conciergerie of Paris by which Battemolle,
condemned to death, made his escape twenty years ago.
Jean Valjean measured with his eyes the wall above which he espied
the linden; it was about eighteen feet in height. The angle
which it formed with the gable of the large building was filled,
at its lower extremity, by a mass of masonry of a triangular shape,
probably intended to preserve that too convenient corner from
the rubbish of those dirty creatures called the passers-by. This
practice of filling up corners of the wall is much in use in Paris.
This mass was about five feet in height; the space above the summit
of this mass which it was necessary to climb was not more than
The wall was surmounted by a flat stone without a coping.
Cosette was the difficulty, for she did not know how to climb a wall.
Should he abandon her? Jean Valjean did not once think of that.
It was impossible to carry her. A man's whole strength is required
to successfully carry out these singular ascents. The least burden
would disturb his centre of gravity and pull him downwards.
A rope would have been required; Jean Valjean had none. Where was he to
get a rope at midnight, in the Rue Polonceau? Certainly, if Jean Valjean
had had a kingdom, he would have given it for a rope at that moment.
All extreme situations have their lightning flashes which
sometimes dazzle, sometimes illuminate us.
Jean Valjean's despairing glance fell on the street lantern-post
of the blind alley Genrot.
At that epoch there were no gas-jets in the streets of Paris.
At nightfall lanterns placed at regular distances were lighted;
they were ascended and descended by means of a rope, which traversed
the street from side to side, and was adjusted in a groove of the post.
The pulley over which this rope ran was fastened underneath the lantern
in a little iron box, the key to which was kept by the lamp-lighter,
and the rope itself was protected by a metal case.
Jean Valjean, with the energy of a supreme struggle, crossed the
street at one bound, entered the blind alley, broke the latch of
the little box with the point of his knife, and an instant later he
was beside Cosette once more. He had a rope. These gloomy inventors
of expedients work rapidly when they are fighting against fatality.
We have already explained that the lanterns had not been lighted
that night. The lantern in the Cul-de-Sac Genrot was thus
naturally extinct, like the rest; and one could pass directly
under it without even noticing that it was no longer in its place.
Nevertheless, the hour, the place, the darkness, Jean Valjean's
absorption, his singular gestures, his goings and comings, all had
begun to render Cosette uneasy. Any other child than she would
have given vent to loud shrieks long before. She contented herself
with plucking Jean Valjean by the skirt of his coat. They could
hear the sound of the patrol's approach ever more and more distinctly.
"Father," said she, in a very low voice, "I am afraid. Who is
"Hush!" replied the unhappy man; "it is Madame Thenardier."
Cosette shuddered. He added:--
"Say nothing. Don't interfere with me. If you cry out, if you weep,
the Thenardier is lying in wait for you. She is coming to take
Then, without haste, but without making a useless movement,
with firm and curt precision, the more remarkable at a moment
when the patrol and Javert might come upon him at any moment,
he undid his cravat, passed it round Cosette's body under the armpits,
taking care that it should not hurt the child, fastened this cravat
to one end of the rope, by means of that knot which seafaring men
call a "swallow knot," took the other end of the rope in his teeth,
pulled off his shoes and stockings, which he threw over the wall,
stepped upon the mass of masonry, and began to raise himself in the
angle of the wall and the gable with as much solidity and certainty
as though he had the rounds of a ladder under his feet and elbows.
Half a minute had not elapsed when he was resting on his knees on
Cosette gazed at him in stupid amazement, without uttering a word.
Jean Valjean's injunction, and the name of Madame Thenardier,
had chilled her blood.
All at once she heard Jean Valjean's voice crying to her,
though in a very low tone:--
"Put your back against the wall."
"Don't say a word, and don't be alarmed," went on Jean Valjean.
And she felt herself lifted from the ground.
Before she had time to recover herself, she was on the top of the wall.
Jean Valjean grasped her, put her on his back, took her two tiny hands
in his large left hand, lay down flat on his stomach and crawled
along on top of the wall as far as the cant. As he had guessed,
there stood a building whose roof started from the top of the wooden
barricade and descended to within a very short distance of the ground,
with a gentle slope which grazed the linden-tree. A lucky circumstance,
for the wall was much higher on this side than on the street side.
Jean Valjean could only see the ground at a great depth below him.
He had just reached the slope of the roof, and had not yet left
the crest of the wall, when a violent uproar announced the arrival
of the patrol. The thundering voice of Javert was audible:--
"Search the blind alley! The Rue Droit-Mur is guarded! so is the Rue
Petit-Picpus. I'll answer for it that he is in the blind alley."
The soldiers rushed into the Genrot alley.
Jean Valjean allowed himself to slide down the roof, still holding
fast to Cosette, reached the linden-tree, and leaped to the ground.
Whether from terror or courage, Cosette had not breathed a sound,
though her hands were a little abraded.
THE BEGINNING OF AN ENIGMA
Jean Valjean found himself in a sort of garden which was very vast
and of singular aspect; one of those melancholy gardens which seem made
to be looked at in winter and at night. This garden was oblong in shape,
with an alley of large poplars at the further end, tolerably tall
forest trees in the corners, and an unshaded space in the centre,
where could be seen a very large, solitary tree, then several fruit-trees,
gnarled and bristling like bushes, beds of vegetables, a melon patch,
whose glass frames sparkled in the moonlight, and an old well.
Here and there stood stone benches which seemed black with moss.
The alleys were bordered with gloomy and very erect little shrubs.
The grass had half taken possession of them, and a green mould
covered the rest.
Jean Valjean had beside him the building whose roof had served him
as a means of descent, a pile of fagots, and, behind the fagots,
directly against the wall, a stone statue, whose mutilated face was
no longer anything more than a shapeless mask which loomed vaguely
through the gloom.
The building was a sort of ruin, where dismantled chambers were
distinguishable, one of which, much encumbered, seemed to serve as a shed.
The large building of the Rue Droit-Mur, which had a wing on the Rue
Petit-Picpus, turned two facades, at right angles, towards this garden.
These interior facades were even more tragic than the exterior.
All the windows were grated. Not a gleam of light was visible
at any one of them. The upper story had scuttles like prisons.
One of those facades cast its shadow on the other, which fell over the
garden like an immense black pall.
No other house was visible. The bottom of the garden was lost in mist
and darkness. Nevertheless, walls could be confusedly made out,
which intersected as though there were more cultivated land beyond,
and the low roofs of the Rue Polonceau.
Nothing more wild and solitary than this garden could be imagined.
There was no one in it, which was quite natural in view of the hour;
but it did not seem as though this spot were made for any one to walk in,
even in broad daylight.
Jean Valjean's first care had been to get hold of his shoes
and put them on again, then to step under the shed with Cosette.
A man who is fleeing never thinks himself sufficiently hidden.
The child, whose thoughts were still on the Thenardier, shared his
instinct for withdrawing from sight as much as possible.
Cosette trembled and pressed close to him. They heard the tumultuous
noise of the patrol searching the blind alley and the streets;
the blows of their gun-stocks against the stones; Javert's appeals
to the police spies whom he had posted, and his imprecations mingled
with words which could not be distinguished.
At the expiration of a quarter of an hour it seemed as though that
species of stormy roar were becoming more distant. Jean Valjean
held his breath.
He had laid his hand lightly on Cosette's mouth.
However, the solitude in which he stood was so strangely calm,
that this frightful uproar, close and furious as it was,
did not disturb him by so much as the shadow of a misgiving.
It seemed as though those walls had been built of the deaf stones
of which the Scriptures speak.
All at once, in the midst of this profound calm, a fresh sound arose;
a sound as celestial, divine, ineffable, ravishing, as the other had
been horrible. It was a hymn which issued from the gloom, a dazzling
burst of prayer and harmony in the obscure and alarming silence of
the night; women's voices, but voices composed at one and the same time
of the pure accents of virgins and the innocent accents of children,--
voices which are not of the earth, and which resemble those that the
newborn infant still hears, and which the dying man hears already.
This song proceeded from the gloomy edifice which towered above
the garden. At the moment when the hubbub of demons retreated, one
would have said that a choir of angels was approaching through the gloom.
Cosette and Jean Valjean fell on their knees.
They knew not what it was, they knew not where they were; but both
of them, the man and the child, the penitent and the innocent,
felt that they must kneel.
These voices had this strange characteristic, that they
did not prevent the building from seeming to be deserted.
It was a supernatural chant in an uninhabited house.
While these voices were singing, Jean Valjean thought of nothing.
He no longer beheld the night; he beheld a blue sky. It seemed to him
that he felt those wings which we all have within us, unfolding.
The song died away. It may have lasted a long time. Jean Valjean
could not have told. Hours of ecstasy are never more than a moment.
All fell silent again. There was no longer anything in the street;
there was nothing in the garden. That which had menaced,
that which had reassured him,--all had vanished. The breeze
swayed a few dry weeds on the crest of the wall, and they gave
out a faint, sweet, melancholy sound.
CONTINUATION OF THE ENIGMA
The night wind had risen, which indicated that it must be between
one and two o'clock in the morning. Poor Cosette said nothing.
As she had seated herself beside him and leaned her head against him,
Jean Valjean had fancied that she was asleep. He bent down and
looked at her. Cosette's eyes were wide open, and her thoughtful
air pained Jean Valjean.
She was still trembling.
"Are you sleepy?" said Jean Valjean.
"I am very cold," she replied.
A moment later she resumed:--
"Is she still there?"
"Who?" said Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean had already forgotten the means which he had employed
to make Cosette keep silent.
"Ah!" said he, "she is gone. You need fear nothing further."
The child sighed as though a load had been lifted from her breast.
The ground was damp, the shed open on all sides, the breeze grew
more keen every instant. The goodman took off his coat and wrapped
it round Cosette.
"Are you less cold now?" said he.
"Oh, yes, father."
"Well, wait for me a moment. I will soon be back."
He quitted the ruin and crept along the large building, seeking a
better shelter. He came across doors, but they were closed.
There were bars at all the windows of the ground floor.
Just after he had turned the inner angle of the edifice, he observed
that he was coming to some arched windows, where he perceived a light.
He stood on tiptoe and peeped through one of these windows.
They all opened on a tolerably vast hall, paved with large flagstones,
cut up by arcades and pillars, where only a tiny light and great
shadows were visible. The light came from a taper which was
burning in one corner. The apartment was deserted, and nothing
was stirring in it. Nevertheless, by dint of gazing intently he
thought he perceived on the ground something which appeared to be
covered with a winding-sheet, and which resembled a human form.
This form was lying face downward, flat on the pavement, with the
arms extended in the form of a cross, in the immobility of death.
One would have said, judging from a sort of serpent which undulated
over the floor, that this sinister form had a rope round its neck.
The whole chamber was bathed in that mist of places which are
sparely illuminated, which adds to horror.
Jean Valjean often said afterwards, that, although many funereal
spectres had crossed his path in life, he had never beheld anything more
blood-curdling and terrible than that enigmatical form accomplishing
some inexplicable mystery in that gloomy place, and beheld thus
at night. It was alarming to suppose that that thing was perhaps dead;
and still more alarming to think that it was perhaps alive.
He had the courage to plaster his face to the glass, and to watch whether
the thing would move. In spite of his remaining thus what seemed
to him a very long time, the outstretched form made no movement.
All at once he felt himself overpowered by an inexpressible terror,
and he fled. He began to run towards the shed, not daring to
look behind him. It seemed to him, that if he turned his head,
he should see that form following him with great strides and waving
He reached the ruin all out of breath. His knees were giving way
beneath him; the perspiration was pouring from him.
Where was he? Who could ever have imagined anything like that sort
of sepulchre in the midst of Paris! What was this strange house?
An edifice full of nocturnal mystery, calling to souls through the
darkness with the voice of angels, and when they came, offering them
abruptly that terrible vision; promising to open the radiant portals
of heaven, and then opening the horrible gates of the tomb! And it
actually was an edifice, a house, which bore a number on the street!
It was not a dream! He had to touch the stones to convince himself
that such was the fact.
Cold, anxiety, uneasiness, the emotions of the night, had given
him a genuine fever, and all these ideas were clashing together
in his brain.
He stepped up to Cosette. She was asleep.
THE ENIGMA BECOMES DOUBLY MYSTERIOUS
The child had laid her head on a stone and fallen asleep.
He sat down beside her and began to think. Little by little,
as he gazed at her, he grew calm and regained possession of his
freedom of mind.
He clearly perceived this truth, the foundation of his life henceforth,
that so long as she was there, so long as he had her near him,
he should need nothing except for her, he should fear nothing
except for her. He was not even conscious that he was very cold,
since he had taken off his coat to cover her.
Nevertheless, athwart this revery into which he had fallen he had
heard for some time a peculiar noise. It was like the tinkling
of a bell. This sound proceeded from the garden. It could be heard
distinctly though faintly. It resembled the faint, vague music
produced by the bells of cattle at night in the pastures.
This noise made Valjean turn round.
He looked and saw that there was some one in the garden.
A being resembling a man was walking amid the bell-glasses of the
melon beds, rising, stooping, halting, with regular movements,
as though he were dragging or spreading out something on the ground.
This person appeared to limp.
Jean Valjean shuddered with the continual tremor of the unhappy.
For them everything is hostile and suspicious. They distrust the day
because it enables people to see them, and the night because it
aids in surprising them. A little while before he had shivered
because the garden was deserted, and now he shivered because there
was some one there.
He fell back from chimerical terrors to real terrors. He said
to himself that Javert and the spies had, perhaps, not taken
their departure; that they had, no doubt, left people on the watch
in the street; that if this man should discover him in the garden,
he would cry out for help against thieves and deliver him up.
He took the sleeping Cosette gently in his arms and carried her behind
a heap of old furniture, which was out of use, in the most remote
corner of the shed. Cosette did not stir.
From that point he scrutinized the appearance of the being in the
melon patch. The strange thing about it was, that the sound of the
bell followed each of this man's movements. When the man approached,
the sound approached; when the man retreated, the sound retreated;
if he made any hasty gesture, a tremolo accompanied the gesture;
when he halted, the sound ceased. It appeared evident that the
bell was attached to that man; but what could that signify?
Who was this man who had a bell suspended about him like a ram or
As he put these questions to himself, he touched Cosette's hands.
They were icy cold.
"Ah! good God!" he cried.
He spoke to her in a low voice:--
She did not open her eyes.
He shook her vigorously.
She did not wake.
"Is she dead?" he said to himself, and sprang to his feet,
quivering from head to foot.
The most frightful thoughts rushed pell-mell through his mind.
There are moments when hideous surmises assail us like a cohort
of furies, and violently force the partitions of our brains.
When those we love are in question, our prudence invents every sort
of madness. He remembered that sleep in the open air on a cold night
may be fatal.
Cosette was pale, and had fallen at full length on the ground
at his feet, without a movement.
He listened to her breathing: she still breathed, but with a
respiration which seemed to him weak and on the point of extinction.
How was he to warm her back to life? How was he to rouse her?
All that was not connected with this vanished from his thoughts.
He rushed wildly from the ruin.
It was absolutely necessary that Cosette should be in bed and beside
a fire in less than a quarter of an hour.
THE MAN WITH THE BELL
He walked straight up to the man whom he saw in the garden.
He had taken in his hand the roll of silver which was in the pocket
of his waistcoat.
The man's head was bent down, and he did not see him approaching.
In a few strides Jean Valjean stood beside him.
Jean Valjean accosted him with the cry:--
"One hundred francs!"
The man gave a start and raised his eyes.
"You can earn a hundred francs," went on Jean Valjean, "if you
will grant me shelter for this night."
The moon shone full upon Jean Valjean's terrified countenance.
"What! so it is you, Father Madeleine!" said the man.
That name, thus pronounced, at that obscure hour, in that unknown spot,
by that strange man, made Jean Valjean start back.
He had expected anything but that. The person who thus addressed
him was a bent and lame old man, dressed almost like a peasant,
who wore on his left knee a leather knee-cap, whence hung a moderately
large bell. His face, which was in the shadow, was not distinguishable.
However, the goodman had removed his cap, and exclaimed,
trembling all over:--
"Ah, good God! How come you here, Father Madeleine? Where did
you enter? Dieu-Jesus! Did you fall from heaven? There is no
trouble about that: if ever you do fall, it will be from there.
And what a state you are in! You have no cravat; you have no hat;
you have no coat! Do you know, you would have frightened any one
who did not know you? No coat! Lord God! Are the saints going
mad nowadays? But how did you get in here?"
His words tumbled over each other. The goodman talked with a
rustic volubility, in which there was nothing alarming. All this
was uttered with a mixture of stupefaction and naive kindliness.
"Who are you? and what house is this?" demanded Jean Valjean.
"Ah! pardieu, this is too much!" exclaimed the old man.
"I am the person for whom you got the place here, and this house
is the one where you had me placed. What! You don't recognize me?"
"No," said Jean Valjean; "and how happens it that you know me?"
"You saved my life," said the man.
He turned. A ray of moonlight outlined his profile, and Jean
Valjean recognized old Fauchelevent.
"Ah!" said Jean Valjean, "so it is you? Yes, I recollect you."
"That is very lucky," said the old man, in a reproachful tone.
"And what are you doing here?" resumed Jean Valjean.
"Why, I am covering my melons, of course!"
In fact, at the moment when Jean Valjean accosted him, old Fauchelevent
held in his hand the end of a straw mat which he was occupied in
spreading over the melon bed. During the hour or thereabouts that he
had been in the garden he had already spread out a number of them.
It was this operation which had caused him to execute the peculiar
movements observed from the shed by Jean Valjean.
"I said to myself, `The moon is bright: it is going to freeze.
What if I were to put my melons into their greatcoats?' And," he added,
looking at Jean Valjean with a broad smile,--"pardieu! you ought
to have done the same! But how do you come here?"
Jean Valjean, finding himself known to this man, at least only under
the name of Madeleine, thenceforth advanced only with caution.
He multiplied his questions. Strange to say, their roles seemed
to be reversed. It was he, the intruder, who interrogated.
"And what is this bell which you wear on your knee?"
"This," replied Fauchelevent, "is so that I may be avoided."
"What! so that you may be avoided?"
Old Fauchelevent winked with an indescribable air.
"Ah, goodness! there are only women in this house--many young girls.
It appears that I should be a dangerous person to meet. The bell
gives them warning. When I come, they go.
"What house is this?"
"Come, you know well enough."
"But I do not."
"Not when you got me the place here as gardener?"
"Answer me as though I knew nothing."
"Well, then, this is the Petit-Picpus convent."
Memories recurred to Jean Valjean. Chance, that is to say, Providence,
had cast him into precisely that convent in the Quartier Saint-Antoine
where old Fauchelevent, crippled by the fall from his cart,
had been admitted on his recommendation two years previously.
He repeated, as though talking to himself:--
"The Petit-Picpus convent."
"Exactly," returned old Fauchelevent. "But to come to the point,
how the deuce did you manage to get in here, you, Father Madeleine?
No matter if you are a saint; you are a man as well, and no man
"You certainly are here."
"There is no one but me."
"Still," said Jean Valjean, "I must stay here."
"Ah, good God!" cried Fauchelevent.
Jean Valjean drew near to the old man, and said to him in a grave voice:--
"Father Fauchelevent, I saved your life."
"I was the first to recall it," returned Fauchelevent.
"Well, you can do to-day for me that which I did for you in the
Fauchelevent took in his aged, trembling, and wrinkled hands Jean
Valjean's two robust hands, and stood for several minutes as though
incapable of speaking. At length he exclaimed:--
"Oh! that would be a blessing from the good God, if I could make you
some little return for that! Save your life! Monsieur le Maire,
dispose of the old man!"
A wonderful joy had transfigured this old man. His countenance
seemed to emit a ray of light.
"What do you wish me to do?" he resumed.
"That I will explain to you. You have a chamber?"
"I have an isolated hovel yonder, behind the ruins of the old convent,
in a corner which no one ever looks into. There are three rooms
The hut was, in fact, so well hidden behind the ruins, and so
cleverly arranged to prevent it being seen, that Jean Valjean
had not perceived it.
"Good," said Jean Valjean. "Now I am going to ask two things
"What are they, Mr. Mayor?"
"In the first place, you are not to tell any one what you know about me.
In the second, you are not to try to find out anything more."
"As you please. I know that you can do nothing that is not honest,
that you have always been a man after the good God's heart.
And then, moreover, you it was who placed me here. That concerns you.
I am at your service."
"That is settled then. Now, come with me. We will go and get
"Ah!" said Fauchelevent, "so there is a child?"
He added not a word further, and followed Jean Valjean as a dog
follows his master.
Less than half an hour afterwards Cosette, who had grown rosy
again before the flame of a good fire, was lying asleep in the old
gardener's bed. Jean Valjean had put on his cravat and coat
once more; his hat, which he had flung over the wall, had been
found and picked up. While Jean Valjean was putting on his coat,
Fauchelevent had removed the bell and kneecap, which now hung on
a nail beside a vintage basket that adorned the wall. The two men
were warming themselves with their elbows resting on a table upon
which Fauchelevent had placed a bit of cheese, black bread, a bottle
of wine, and two glasses, and the old man was saying to Jean Valjean,
as he laid his hand on the latter's knee: "Ah! Father Madeleine!
You did not recognize me immediately; you save people's lives,
and then you forget them! That is bad! But they remember you!
You are an ingrate!"
WHICH EXPLAINS HOW JAVERT GOT ON THE SCENT
The events of which we have just beheld the reverse side, so to speak,
had come about in the simplest possible manner.
When Jean Valjean, on the evening of the very day when Javert had
arrested him beside Fantine's death-bed, had escaped from the town
jail of M. sur M., the police had supposed that he had betaken
himself to Paris. Paris is a maelstrom where everything is lost,
and everything disappears in this belly of the world, as in the
belly of the sea. No forest hides a man as does that crowd.
Fugitives of every sort know this. They go to Paris as to an abyss;
there are gulfs which save. The police know it also, and it
is in Paris that they seek what they have lost elsewhere.
They sought the ex-mayor of M. sur M. Javert was summoned to
Paris to throw light on their researches. Javert had, in fact,
rendered powerful assistance in the recapture of Jean Valjean.
Javert's zeal and intelligence on that occasion had been remarked
by M. Chabouillet, secretary of the Prefecture under Comte Angles.
M. Chabouillet, who had, moreover, already been Javert's patron,
had the inspector of M. sur M. attached to the police force of Paris.
There Javert rendered himself useful in divers and, though the word
may seem strange for such services, honorable manners.
He no longer thought of Jean Valjean,--the wolf of to-day causes these
dogs who are always on the chase to forget the wolf of yesterday,--when,
in December, 1823, he read a newspaper, he who never read newspapers;
but Javert, a monarchical man, had a desire to know the particulars
of the triumphal entry of the "Prince Generalissimo" into Bayonne.
Just as he was finishing the article, which interested him; a name,
the name of Jean Valjean, attracted his attention at the bottom of
a page. The paper announced that the convict Jean Valjean was dead,
and published the fact in such formal terms that Javert did not
doubt it. He confined himself to the remark, "That's a good entry."
Then he threw aside the paper, and thought no more about it.
Some time afterwards, it chanced that a police report was transmitted
from the prefecture of the Seine-et-Oise to the prefecture of police
in Paris, concerning the abduction of a child, which had taken place,
under peculiar circumstances, as it was said, in the commune
of Montfermeil. A little girl of seven or eight years of age,
the report said, who had been intrusted by her mother to an inn-keeper
of that neighborhood, had been stolen by a stranger; this child answered
to the name of Cosette, and was the daughter of a girl named Fantine,
who had died in the hospital, it was not known where or when.
This report came under Javert's eye and set him to thinking.
The name of Fantine was well known to him. He remembered that Jean
Valjean had made him, Javert, burst into laughter, by asking him
for a respite of three days, for the purpose of going to fetch that
creature's child. He recalled the fact that Jean Valjean had been
arrested in Paris at the very moment when he was stepping into the coach
for Montfermeil. Some signs had made him suspect at the time that
this was the second occasion of his entering that coach, and that he
had already, on the previous day, made an excursion to the neighborhood
of that village, for he had not been seen in the village itself.
What had he been intending to do in that region of Montfermeil?
It could not even be surmised. Javert understood it now.
Fantine's daughter was there. Jean Valjean was going there in
search of her. And now this child had been stolen by a stranger!
Who could that stranger be? Could it be Jean Valjean? But Jean
Valjean was dead. Javert, without saying anything to anybody,
took the coach from the Pewter Platter, Cul-de-Sac de la Planchette,
and made a trip to Montfermeil.
He expected to find a great deal of light on the subject there;
he found a great deal of obscurity.
For the first few days the Thenardiers had chattered in their rage.
The disappearance of the Lark had created a sensation in the village.
He immediately obtained numerous versions of the story, which ended
in the abduction of a child. Hence the police report. But their first
vexation having passed off, Thenardier, with his wonderful instinct,
had very quickly comprehended that it is never advisable to stir up
the prosecutor of the Crown, and that his complaints with regard
to the abduction of Cosette would have as their first result to fix
upon himself, and upon many dark affairs which he had on hand,
the glittering eye of justice. The last thing that owls desire
is to have a candle brought to them. And in the first place,
how explain the fifteen hundred francs which he had received?
He turned squarely round, put a gag on his wife's mouth,
and feigned astonishment when the stolen child was mentioned to him.
He understood nothing about it; no doubt he had grumbled for awhile
at having that dear little creature "taken from him" so hastily;
he should have liked to keep her two or three days longer,
out of tenderness; but her "grandfather" had come for her in the
most natural way in the world. He added the "grandfather," which
produced a good effect. This was the story that Javert hit upon
when he arrived at Montfermeil. The grandfather caused Jean Valjean
Nevertheless, Javert dropped a few questions, like plummets,
into Thenardier's history. "Who was that grandfather? and what was
his name?" Thenardier replied with simplicity: "He is a wealthy farmer.
I saw his passport. I think his name was M. Guillaume Lambert."
Lambert is a respectable and extremely reassuring name.
Thereupon Javert returned to Paris.
"Jean Valjean is certainly dead," said he, "and I am a ninny."
He had again begun to forget this history, when, in the course
of March, 1824, he heard of a singular personage who dwelt in the
parish of Saint-Medard and who had been surnamed "the mendicant
who gives alms." This person, the story ran, was a man of means,
whose name no one knew exactly, and who lived alone with a little
girl of eight years, who knew nothing about herself, save that she
had come from Montfermeil. Montfermeil! that name was always
coming up, and it made Javert prick up his ears. An old beggar
police spy, an ex-beadle, to whom this person had given alms,
added a few more details. This gentleman of property was very shy,--
never coming out except in the evening, speaking to no one, except,
occasionally to the poor, and never allowing any one to approach him.
He wore a horrible old yellow frock-coat, which was worth many millions,
being all wadded with bank-bills. This piqued Javert's curiosity
in a decided manner. In order to get a close look at this fantastic
gentleman without alarming him, he borrowed the beadle's outfit
for a day, and the place where the old spy was in the habit
of crouching every evening, whining orisons through his nose,
and playing the spy under cover of prayer.
"The suspected individual" did indeed approach Javert thus disguised,
and bestow alms on him. At that moment Javert raised his head,
and the shock which Jean Valjean received on recognizing Javert was
equal to the one received by Javert when he thought he recognized
However, the darkness might have misled him; Jean Valjean's death
was official; Javert cherished very grave doubts; and when in doubt,
Javert, the man of scruples, never laid a finger on any one's collar.
He followed his man to the Gorbeau house, and got "the old woman"
to talking, which was no difficult matter. The old woman confirmed
the fact regarding the coat lined with millions, and narrated
to him the episode of the thousand-franc bill. She had seen it!
She had handled it! Javert hired a room; that evening he installed
himself in it. He came and listened at the mysterious lodger's door,
hoping to catch the sound of his voice, but Jean Valjean saw his candle
through the key-hole, and foiled the spy by keeping silent.
On the following day Jean Valjean decamped; but the noise made by the fall
of the five-franc piece was noticed by the old woman, who, hearing the
rattling of coin, suspected that he might be intending to leave,
and made haste to warn Javert. At night, when Jean Valjean came out,
Javert was waiting for him behind the trees of the boulevard with two men.
Javert had demanded assistance at the Prefecture, but he had not
mentioned the name of the individual whom he hoped to seize;
that was his secret, and he had kept it for three reasons:
in the first place, because the slightest indiscretion might put Jean
Valjean on the alert; next, because, to lay hands on an ex-convict
who had made his escape and was reputed dead, on a criminal whom
justice had formerly classed forever as among malefactors of the most
dangerous sort, was a magnificent success which the old members
of the Parisian police would assuredly not leave to a new-comer
like Javert, and he was afraid of being deprived of his convict;
and lastly, because Javert, being an artist, had a taste for
the unforeseen. He hated those well-heralded successes which are
talked of long in advance and have had the bloom brushed off.
He preferred to elaborate his masterpieces in the dark and to unveil
them suddenly at the last.
Javert had followed Jean Valjean from tree to tree, then from
corner to corner of the street, and had not lost sight of him for
a single instant; even at the moments when Jean Valjean believed
himself to be the most secure Javert's eye had been on him.
Why had not Javert arrested Jean Valjean? Because he was still
It must be remembered that at that epoch the police was not precisely
at its ease; the free press embarrassed it; several arbitrary arrests
denounced by the newspapers, had echoed even as far as the Chambers,
and had rendered the Prefecture timid. Interference with individual
liberty was a grave matter. The police agents were afraid of making
a mistake; the prefect laid the blame on them; a mistake meant dismissal.
The reader can imagine the effect which this brief paragraph,
reproduced by twenty newspapers, would have caused in Paris:
"Yesterday, an aged grandfather, with white hair, a respectable
and well-to-do gentleman, who was walking with his grandchild,
aged eight, was arrested and conducted to the agency of the Prefecture
as an escaped convict!"
Let us repeat in addition that Javert had scruples of his own;
injunctions of his conscience were added to the injunctions of
the prefect. He was really in doubt.
Jean Valjean turned his back on him and walked in the dark.
Sadness, uneasiness, anxiety, depression, this fresh misfortune
of being forced to flee by night, to seek a chance refuge in Paris
for Cosette and himself, the necessity of regulating his pace
to the pace of the child--all this, without his being aware of it,
had altered Jean Valjean's walk, and impressed on his bearing
such senility, that the police themselves, incarnate in the person
of Javert, might, and did in fact, make a mistake. The impossibility
of approaching too close, his costume of an emigre preceptor,
the declaration of Thenardier which made a grandfather of him,
and, finally, the belief in his death in prison, added still
further to the uncertainty which gathered thick in Javert's mind.
For an instant it occurred to him to make an abrupt demand for
his papers; but if the man was not Jean Valjean, and if this man
was not a good, honest old fellow living on his income, he was
probably some merry blade deeply and cunningly implicated in the
obscure web of Parisian misdeeds, some chief of a dangerous band,
who gave alms to conceal his other talents, which was an old dodge.
He had trusty fellows, accomplices' retreats in case of emergencies,
in which he would, no doubt, take refuge. All these turns which he
was making through the streets seemed to indicate that he was not
a simple and honest man. To arrest him too hastily would be "to kill
the hen that laid the golden eggs." Where was the inconvenience
in waiting? Javert was very sure that he would not escape.
Thus he proceeded in a tolerably perplexed state of mind, putting to
himself a hundred questions about this enigmatical personage.
It was only quite late in the Rue de Pontoise, that, thanks to the
brilliant light thrown from a dram-shop, he decidedly recognized
There are in this world two beings who give a profound start,--
the mother who recovers her child and the tiger who recovers his prey.
Javert gave that profound start.
As soon as he had positively recognized Jean Valjean, the formidable
convict, he perceived that there were only three of them, and he asked
for reinforcements at the police station of the Rue de Pontoise.
One puts on gloves before grasping a thorn cudgel.
This delay and the halt at the Carrefour Rollin to consult
with his agents came near causing him to lose the trail.
He speedily divined, however, that Jean Valjean would want to put
the river between his pursuers and himself. He bent his head and
reflected like a blood-hound who puts his nose to the ground to make
sure that he is on the right scent. Javert, with his powerful
rectitude of instinct, went straight to the bridge of Austerlitz.
A word with the toll-keeper furnished him with the information
which he required: "Have you seen a man with a little girl?"
"I made him pay two sous," replied the toll-keeper. Javert reached
the bridge in season to see Jean Valjean traverse the small illuminated
spot on the other side of the water, leading Cosette by the hand.
He saw him enter the Rue du Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine; he remembered
the Cul-de-Sac Genrot arranged there like a trap, and of the sole
exit of the Rue Droit-Mur into the Rue Petit-Picpus. He made
sure of his back burrows, as huntsmen say; he hastily despatched
one of his agents, by a roundabout way, to guard that issue.
A patrol which was returning to the Arsenal post having passed him,
he made a requisition on it, and caused it to accompany him.
In such games soldiers are aces. Moreover, the principle is, that in
order to get the best of a wild boar, one must employ the science
of venery and plenty of dogs. These combinations having been effected,
feeling that Jean Valjean was caught between the blind alley Genrot
on the right, his agent on the left, and himself, Javert, in the rear,
he took a pinch of snuff.
Then he began the game. He experienced one ecstatic and infernal moment;
he allowed his man to go on ahead, knowing that he had him safe,
but desirous of postponing the moment of arrest as long as possible,
happy at the thought that he was taken and yet at seeing him free,
gloating over him with his gaze, with that voluptuousness of the
spider which allows the fly to flutter, and of the cat which lets
the mouse run. Claws and talons possess a monstrous sensuality,--
the obscure movements of the creature imprisoned in their pincers.
What a delight this strangling is!
Javert was enjoying himself. The meshes of his net were stoutly knotted.
He was sure of success; all he had to do now was to close his hand.
Accompanied as he was, the very idea of resistance was impossible,
however vigorous, energetic, and desperate Jean Valjean might be.
Javert advanced slowly, sounding, searching on his way all the nooks
of the street like so many pockets of thieves.
When he reached the centre of the web he found the fly no longer there.
His exasperation can be imagined.
He interrogated his sentinel of the Rues Droit-Mur and Petit-Picpus;
that agent, who had remained imperturbably at his post, had not seen
the man pass.
It sometimes happens that a stag is lost head and horns;
that is to say, he escapes although he has the pack on his
very heels, and then the oldest huntsmen know not what to say.
Duvivier, Ligniville, and Desprez halt short. In a discomfiture
of this sort, Artonge exclaims, "It was not a stag, but a sorcerer."
Javert would have liked to utter the same cry.
His disappointment bordered for a moment on despair and rage.
It is certain that Napoleon made mistakes during the war with Russia,
that Alexander committed blunders in the war in India, that Caesar
made mistakes in the war in Africa, that Cyrus was at fault in the
war in Scythia, and that Javert blundered in this campaign against
Jean Valjean. He was wrong, perhaps, in hesitating in his recognition
of the exconvict. The first glance should have sufficed him.
He was wrong in not arresting him purely and simply in the old building;
he was wrong in not arresting him when he positively recognized him
in the Rue de Pontoise. He was wrong in taking counsel with his
auxiliaries in the full light of the moon in the Carrefour Rollin.
Advice is certainly useful; it is a good thing to know and to
interrogate those of the dogs who deserve confidence; but the
hunter cannot be too cautious when he is chasing uneasy animals
like the wolf and the convict. Javert, by taking too much thought
as to how he should set the bloodhounds of the pack on the trail,
alarmed the beast by giving him wind of the dart, and so made him run.
Above all, he was wrong in that after he had picked up the scent
again on the bridge of Austerlitz, he played that formidable
and puerile game of keeping such a man at the end of a thread.
He thought himself stronger than he was, and believed that he could
play at the game of the mouse and the lion. At the same time,
he reckoned himself as too weak, when he judged it necessary to
obtain reinforcement. Fatal precaution, waste of precious time!
Javert committed all these blunders, and none the less was one of
the cleverest and most correct spies that ever existed. He was,
in the full force of the term, what is called in venery a knowing dog.
But what is there that is perfect?
Great strategists have their eclipses.
The greatest follies are often composed, like the largest ropes,
of a multitude of strands. Take the cable thread by thread,
take all the petty determining motives separately, and you can break
them one after the other, and you say, "That is all there is of it!"
Braid them, twist them together; the result is enormous: it is Attila
hesitating between Marcian on the east and Valentinian on the west;
it is Hannibal tarrying at Capua; it is Danton falling asleep at
However that may be, even at the moment when he saw that Jean
Valjean had escaped him, Javert did not lose his head.
Sure that the convict who had broken his ban could not be far off,
he established sentinels, he organized traps and ambuscades,
and beat the quarter all that night. The first thing he saw
was the disorder in the street lantern whose rope had been cut.
A precious sign which, however, led him astray, since it caused him
to turn all his researches in the direction of the Cul-de-Sac Genrot.
In this blind alley there were tolerably low walls which abutted on
gardens whose bounds adjoined the immense stretches of waste land.
Jean Valjean evidently must have fled in that direction. The fact is,
that had he penetrated a little further in the Cul-de-Sac Genrot,
he would probably have done so and have been lost. Javert explored
these gardens and these waste stretches as though he had been hunting
for a needle.
At daybreak he left two intelligent men on the outlook, and returned
to the Prefecture of Police, as much ashamed as a police spy
who had been captured by a robber might have been.
BOOK SIXTH.--LE PETIT-PICPUS
NUMBER 62 RUE PETIT-PICPUS
Nothing, half a century ago, more resembled every other carriage gate
than the carriage gate of Number 62 Rue Petit-Picpus. This entrance,
which usually stood ajar in the most inviting fashion, permitted a
view of two things, neither of which have anything very funereal
about them,--a courtyard surrounded by walls hung with vines,
and the face of a lounging porter. Above the wall, at the bottom
of the court, tall trees were visible. When a ray of sunlight
enlivened the courtyard, when a glass of wine cheered up the porter,
it was difficult to pass Number 62 Little Picpus Street without
carrying away a smiling impression of it. Nevertheless, it was
a sombre place of which one had had a glimpse.
The threshold smiled; the house prayed and wept.
If one succeeded in passing the porter, which was not easy,--
which was even nearly impossible for every one, for there was
an open sesame! which it was necessary to know,--if, the porter
once passed, one entered a little vestibule on the right,
on which opened a staircase shut in between two walls and so narrow
that only one person could ascend it at a time, if one did not
allow one's self to be alarmed by a daubing of canary yellow,
with a dado of chocolate which clothed this staircase, if one
ventured to ascend it, one crossed a first landing, then a second,
and arrived on the first story at a corridor where the yellow wash
and the chocolate-hued plinth pursued one with a peaceable persistency.
Staircase and corridor were lighted by two beautiful windows.
The corridor took a turn and became dark. If one doubled this cape,
one arrived a few paces further on, in front of a door which was all
the more mysterious because it was not fastened. If one opened it,
one found one's self in a little chamber about six feet square,
tiled, well-scrubbed, clean, cold, and hung with nankin paper with
green flowers, at fifteen sous the roll. A white, dull light fell
from a large window, with tiny panes, on the left, which usurped
the whole width of the room. One gazed about, but saw no one;
one listened, one heard neither a footstep nor a human murmur.
The walls were bare, the chamber was not furnished; there was not
even a chair.
One looked again, and beheld on the wall facing the door
a quadrangular hole, about a foot square, with a grating of
interlacing iron bars, black, knotted, solid, which formed squares--
I had almost said meshes--of less than an inch and a half in
diagonal length. The little green flowers of the nankin paper ran
in a calm and orderly manner to those iron bars, without being
startled or thrown into confusion by their funereal contact.
Supposing that a living being had been so wonderfully thin as to
essay an entrance or an exit through the square hole, this grating
would have prevented it. It did not allow the passage of the body,
but it did allow the passage of the eyes; that is to say, of the mind.
This seems to have occurred to them, for it had been re-enforced
by a sheet of tin inserted in the wall a little in the rear,
and pierced with a thousand holes more microscopic than the holes
of a strainer. At the bottom of this plate, an aperture had been
pierced exactly similar to the orifice of a letter box. A bit
of tape attached to a bell-wire hung at the right of the grated opening.
If the tape was pulled, a bell rang, and one heard a voice very near
at hand, which made one start.
"Who is there?" the voice demanded.
It was a woman's voice, a gentle voice, so gentle that it was mournful.
Here, again, there was a magical word which it was necessary to know.
If one did not know it, the voice ceased, the wall became silent
once more, as though the terrified obscurity of the sepulchre had
been on the other side of it.
If one knew the password, the voice resumed, "Enter on the right."
One then perceived on the right, facing the window, a glass door
surmounted by a frame glazed and painted gray. On raising the latch
and crossing the threshold, one experienced precisely the same
impression as when one enters at the theatre into a grated baignoire,
before the grating is lowered and the chandelier is lighted.
One was, in fact, in a sort of theatre-box, narrow, furnished with
two old chairs, and a much-frayed straw matting, sparely illuminated
by the vague light from the glass door; a regular box, with its front
just of a height to lean upon, bearing a tablet of black wood.
This box was grated, only the grating of it was not of gilded wood,
as at the opera; it was a monstrous lattice of iron bars,
hideously interlaced and riveted to the wall by enormous fastenings
which resembled clenched fists.
The first minutes passed; when one's eyes began to grow used to this
cellar-like half-twilight, one tried to pass the grating, but got no
further than six inches beyond it. There he encountered a barrier of
black shutters, re-enforced and fortified with transverse beams of wood
painted a gingerbread yellow. These shutters were divided into long,
narrow slats, and they masked the entire length of the grating.
They were always closed. At the expiration of a few moments
one heard a voice proceeding from behind these shutters, and saying:--
"I am here. What do you wish with me?"
It was a beloved, sometimes an adored, voice. No one was visible.
Hardly the sound of a breath was audible. It seemed as though it
were a spirit which had been evoked, that was speaking to you across
the walls of the tomb.
If one chanced to be within certain prescribed and very rare conditions,
the slat of one of the shutters opened opposite you; the evoked
spirit became an apparition. Behind the grating, behind the shutter,
one perceived so far as the grating permitted sight, a head,
of which only the mouth and the chin were visible; the rest was
covered with a black veil. One caught a glimpse of a black guimpe,
and a form that was barely defined, covered with a black shroud.
That head spoke with you, but did not look at you and never smiled
The light which came from behind you was adjusted in such a manner
that you saw her in the white, and she saw you in the black.
This light was symbolical.
Nevertheless, your eyes plunged eagerly through that opening which was
made in that place shut off from all glances. A profound vagueness
enveloped that form clad in mourning. Your eyes searched that vagueness,
and sought to make out the surroundings of the apparition.
At the expiration of a very short time you discovered that you could
see nothing. What you beheld was night, emptiness, shadows, a wintry
mist mingled with a vapor from the tomb, a sort of terrible peace,
a silence from which you could gather nothing, not even sighs,
a gloom in which you could distinguish nothing, not even phantoms.
What you beheld was the interior of a cloister.
It was the interior of that severe and gloomy edifice which was
called the Convent of the Bernardines of the Perpetual Adoration.
The box in which you stood was the parlor. The first voice which had
addressed you was that of the portress who always sat motionless
and silent, on the other side of the wall, near the square opening,
screened by the iron grating and the plate with its thousand holes,
as by a double visor. The obscurity which bathed the grated box
arose from the fact that the parlor, which had a window on the side
of the world, had none on the side of the convent. Profane eyes must
see nothing of that sacred place.
Nevertheless, there was something beyond that shadow; there was
a light; there was life in the midst of that death. Although this
was the most strictly walled of all convents, we shall endeavor
to make our way into it, and to take the reader in, and to say,
without transgressing the proper bounds, things which story-tellers
have never seen, and have, therefore, never described.
THE OBEDIENCE OF MARTIN VERGA
This convent, which in 1824 had already existed for many a long
year in the Rue Petit-Picpus, was a community of Bernardines
of the obedience of Martin Verga.
These Bernardines were attached, in consequence, not to Clairvaux,
like the Bernardine monks, but to Citeaux, like the Benedictine monks.
In other words, they were the subjects, not of Saint Bernard,
but of Saint Benoit.
Any one who has turned over old folios to any extent
knows that Martin Verga founded in 1425 a congregation
of Bernardines-Benedictines, with Salamanca
for the head of the order, and Alcala as the branch establishment.
This congregation had sent out branches throughout all the Catholic
countries of Europe.
There is nothing unusual in the Latin Church in these grafts of one
order on another. To mention only a single order of Saint-Benoit,
which is here in question: there are attached to this order,
without counting the obedience of Martin Verga, four congregations,--
two in Italy, Mont-Cassin and Sainte-Justine of Padua; two in France,
Cluny and Saint-Maur; and nine orders,--Vallombrosa, Granmont,
the Celestins, the Camaldules, the Carthusians, the Humilies,
the Olivateurs, the Silvestrins, and lastly, Citeaux; for Citeaux itself,
a trunk for other orders, is only an offshoot of Saint-Benoit.
Citeaux dates from Saint Robert, Abbe de Molesme, in the diocese
of Langres, in 1098. Now it was in 529 that the devil, having retired
to the desert of Subiaco--he was old--had he turned hermit?--
was chased from the ancient temple of Apollo, where he dwelt,
by Saint-Benoit, then aged seventeen.
After the rule of the Carmelites, who go barefoot, wear a bit
of willow on their throats, and never sit down, the harshest
rule is that of the Bernardines-Benedictines of Martin Verga.
They are clothed in black, with a guimpe, which, in accordance
with the express command of Saint-Benoit, mounts to the chin.
A robe of serge with large sleeves, a large woollen veil, the guimpe
which mounts to the chin cut square on the breast, the band which
descends over their brow to their eyes,--this is their dress.
All is black except the band, which is white. The novices wear
the same habit, but all in white. The professed nuns also wear
a rosary at their side.
The Bernardines-Benedictines of Martin Verga practise the Perpetual
Adoration, like the Benedictines called Ladies of the Holy Sacrament,
who, at the beginning of this century, had two houses in Paris,--
one at the Temple, the other in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve. However,
the Bernardines-Benedictines of the Petit-Picpus, of whom we are speaking,
were a totally different order from the Ladies of the Holy Sacrament,
cloistered in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve and at the Temple.
There were numerous differences in their rule; there were some in
their costume. The Bernardines-Benedictines of the Petit-Picpus
wore the black guimpe, and the Benedictines of the Holy Sacrament
and of the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve wore a white one, and had,
besides, on their breasts, a Holy Sacrament about three inches long,
in silver gilt or gilded copper. The nuns of the Petit-Picpus did not
wear this Holy Sacrament. The Perpetual Adoration, which was common
to the house of the Petit-Picpus and to the house of the Temple,
leaves those two orders perfectly distinct. Their only resemblance
lies in this practice of the Ladies of the Holy Sacrament and the
Bernardines of Martin Verga, just as there existed a similarity
in the study and the glorification of all the mysteries relating
to the infancy, the life, and death of Jesus Christ and the Virgin,
between the two orders, which were, nevertheless, widely separated,
and on occasion even hostile. The Oratory of Italy, established at
Florence by Philip de Neri, and the Oratory of France, established by
Pierre de Berulle. The Oratory of France claimed the precedence,
since Philip de Neri was only a saint, while Berulle was a cardinal.
Let us return to the harsh Spanish rule of Martin Verga.
The Bernardines-Benedictines of this obedience fast all the year round,
abstain from meat, fast in Lent and on many other days which are
peculiar to them, rise from their first sleep, from one to three
o'clock in the morning, to read their breviary and chant matins,
sleep in all seasons between serge sheets and on straw, make no use
of the bath, never light a fire, scourge themselves every Friday,
observe the rule of silence, speak to each other only during
the recreation hours, which are very brief, and wear drugget
chemises for six months in the year, from September 14th,
which is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, until Easter.
These six months are a modification: the rule says all the year,
but this drugget chemise, intolerable in the heat of summer,
produced fevers and nervous spasms. The use of it had to be restricted.
Even with this palliation, when the nuns put on this chemise on the
14th of September, they suffer from fever for three or four days.
Obedience, poverty, chastity, perseverance in their seclusion,--
these are their vows, which the rule greatly aggravates.
The prioress is elected for three years by the mothers, who are
called meres vocales because they have a voice in the chapter.
A prioress can only be re-elected twice, which fixes the longest
possible reign of a prioress at nine years.
They never see the officiating priest, who is always hidden from them
by a serge curtain nine feet in height. During the sermon, when the
preacher is in the chapel, they drop their veils over their faces.
They must always speak low, walk with their eyes on the ground and
their heads bowed. One man only is allowed to enter the convent,--
the archbishop of the diocese.
There is really one other,--the gardener. But he is always an
old man, and, in order that he may always be alone in the garden,
and that the nuns may be warned to avoid him, a bell is attached
to his knee.
Their submission to the prioress is absolute and passive.
It is the canonical subjection in the full force of its abnegation.
As at the voice of Christ, ut voci Christi, at a gesture,
at the first sign, ad nutum, ad primum signum, immediately,
with cheerfulness, with perseverance, with a certain blind obedience,
prompte, hilariter, perseveranter et caeca quadam obedientia,
as the file in the hand of the workman, quasi limam in manibus fabri,
without power to read or to write without express permission,
legere vel scribere non addiscerit sine expressa superioris licentia.
Each one of them in turn makes what they call reparation.
The reparation is the prayer for all the sins, for all the faults,
for all the dissensions, for all the violations, for all the iniquities,
for all the crimes committed on earth. For the space of twelve
consecutive hours, from four o'clock in the afternoon till four o'clock
in the morning, or from four o'clock in the morning until four o'clock
in the afternoon, the sister who is making reparation remains on her
knees on the stone before the Holy Sacrament, with hands clasped,
a rope around her neck. When her fatigue becomes unendurable,
she prostrates herself flat on her face against the earth, with her
arms outstretched in the form of a cross; this is her only relief.
In this attitude she prays for all the guilty in the universe.
This is great to sublimity.
As this act is performed in front of a post on which burns a candle,
it is called without distinction, to make reparation or to be at
the post. The nuns even prefer, out of humility, this last expression,
which contains an idea of torture and abasement.
To make reparation is a function in which the whole soul is absorbed.
The sister at the post would not turn round were a thunderbolt
to fall directly behind her.
Besides this, there is always a sister kneeling before the
Holy Sacrament. This station lasts an hour. They relieve
each other like soldiers on guard. This is the Perpetual Adoration.
The prioresses and the mothers almost always bear names stamped
with peculiar solemnity, recalling, not the saints and martyrs,
but moments in the life of Jesus Christ: as Mother Nativity,
Mother Conception, Mother Presentation, Mother Passion. But the names
of saints are not interdicted.
When one sees them, one never sees anything but their mouths.
All their teeth are yellow. No tooth-brush ever entered that convent.
Brushing one's teeth is at the top of a ladder at whose bottom is
the loss of one's soul.
They never say my. They possess nothing of their own, and they must not
attach themselves to anything. They call everything our; thus: our veil,
our chaplet; if they were speaking of their chemise, they would say
our chemise. Sometimes they grow attached to some petty object,--
to a book of hours, a relic, a medal that has been blessed. As soon
as they become aware that they are growing attached to this object,
they must give it up. They recall the words of Saint Therese,
to whom a great lady said, as she was on the point of entering
her order, "Permit me, mother, to send for a Bible to which I
am greatly attached." "Ah, you are attached to something!
In that case, do not enter our order!"
Every person whatever is forbidden to shut herself up, to have
a place of her own, a chamber. They live with their cells open.
When they meet, one says, "Blessed and adored be the most Holy
Sacrament of the altar!" The other responds, "Forever." The same
ceremony when one taps at the other's door. Hardly has she
touched the door when a soft voice on the other side is heard
to say hastily, "Forever!" Like all practices, this becomes
mechanical by force of habit; and one sometimes says forever
before the other has had time to say the rather long sentence,
"Praised and adored be the most Holy Sacrament of the altar."
Among the Visitandines the one who enters says: "Ave Maria,"
and the one whose cell is entered says, "Gratia plena." It is their
way of saying good day, which is in fact full of grace.
At each hour of the day three supplementary strokes sound from the
church bell of the convent. At this signal prioress, vocal mothers,
professed nuns, lay-sisters, novices, postulants, interrupt what
they are saying, what they are doing, or what they are thinking,
and all say in unison if it is five o'clock, for instance,
"At five o'clock and at all hours praised and adored be the most
Holy Sacrament of the altar!" If it is eight o'clock, "At eight
o'clock and at all hours!" and so on, according to the hour.
This custom, the object of which is to break the thread of thought
and to lead it back constantly to God, exists in many communities;
the formula alone varies. Thus at The Infant Jesus they say, "At this
hour and at every hour may the love of Jesus kindle my heart!"
The Bernardines-Benedictines of Martin Verga, cloistered fifty
years ago at Petit-Picpus, chant the offices to a solemn psalmody,
a pure Gregorian chant, and always with full voice during the whole
course of the office. Everywhere in the missal where an asterisk
occurs they pause, and say in a low voice, "Jesus-Marie-Joseph." For
the office of the dead they adopt a tone so low that the voices
of women can hardly descend to such a depth. The effect produced is
striking and tragic.
The nuns of the Petit-Picpus had made a vault under their grand
altar for the burial of their community. The Government,
as they say, does not permit this vault to receive coffins so they
leave the convent when they die. This is an affliction to them,
and causes them consternation as an infraction of the rules.
They had obtained a mediocre consolation at best,--permission to be
interred at a special hour and in a special corner in the ancient
Vaugirard cemetery, which was made of land which had formerly
belonged to their community.
On Fridays the nuns hear high mass, vespers, and all the offices,
as on Sunday. They scrupulously observe in addition all the little
festivals unknown to people of the world, of which the Church of France
was so prodigal in the olden days, and of which it is still prodigal
in Spain and Italy. Their stations in the chapel are interminable.
As for the number and duration of their prayers we can convey no better
idea of them than by quoting the ingenuous remark of one of them:
"The prayers of the postulants are frightful, the prayers of the
novices are still worse, and the prayers of the professed nuns are
Once a week the chapter assembles: the prioress presides;
the vocal mothers assist. Each sister kneels in turn on the stones,
and confesses aloud, in the presence of all, the faults and sins
which she has committed during the week. The vocal mothers consult
after each confession and inflict the penance aloud.
Besides this confession in a loud tone, for which all faults
in the least serious are reserved, they have for their venial
offences what they call the coulpe. To make one's coulpe means
to prostrate one's self flat on one's face during the office
in front of the prioress until the latter, who is never called
anything but our mother, notifies the culprit by a slight tap
of her foot against the wood of her stall that she can rise.
The coulpe or peccavi, is made for a very small matter--a broken glass,
a torn veil, an involuntary delay of a few seconds at an office,
a false note in church, etc.; this suffices, and the coulpe is made.
The coulpe is entirely spontaneous; it is the culpable person herself
(the word is etymologically in its place here) who judges herself
and inflicts it on herself. On festival days and Sundays four
mother precentors intone the offices before a large reading-desk
with four places. One day one of the mother precentors intoned
a psalm beginning with Ecce, and instead of Ecce she uttered aloud
the three notes do si sol; for this piece of absent-mindedness
she underwent a coulpe which lasted during the whole service:
what rendered the fault enormous was the fact that the chapter
When a nun is summoned to the parlor, even were it the prioress herself,
she drops her veil, as will be remembered, so that only her mouth
The prioress alone can hold communication with strangers.
The others can see only their immediate family, and that very rarely.
If, by chance, an outsider presents herself to see a nun, or one
whom she has known and loved in the outer world, a regular series
of negotiations is required. If it is a woman, the authorization
may sometimes be granted; the nun comes, and they talk to her
through the shutters, which are opened only for a mother or sister.
It is unnecessary to say that permission is always refused to men.
Such is the rule of Saint-Benoit, aggravated by Martin Verga.
These nuns are not gay, rosy, and fresh, as the daughters of other
orders often are. They are pale and grave. Between 1825 and 1830
three of them went mad.
One is a postulant for two years at least, often for four; a novice
for four. It is rare that the definitive vows can be pronounced
earlier than the age of twenty-three or twenty-four years.
The Bernardines-Benedictines of Martin Verga do not admit widows
to their order.
In their cells, they deliver themselves up to many unknown macerations,
of which they must never speak.
On the day when a novice makes her profession, she is dressed in her
handsomest attire, she is crowned with white roses, her hair is
brushed until it shines, and curled. Then she prostrates herself;
a great black veil is thrown over her, and the office for the dead
is sung. Then the nuns separate into two files; one file passes
close to her, saying in plaintive accents, "Our sister is dead";
and the other file responds in a voice of ecstasy, "Our sister is
alive in Jesus Christ!"
At the epoch when this story takes place, a boarding-school
was attached to the convent--a boarding-school for young girls
of noble and mostly wealthy families, among whom could be remarked
Mademoiselle de Saint-Aulaire and de Belissen, and an English girl
bearing the illustrious Catholic name of Talbot. These young girls,
reared by these nuns between four walls, grew up with a horror
of the world and of the age. One of them said to us one day,
"The sight of the street pavement made me shudder from head to foot."
They were dressed in blue, with a white cap and a Holy Spirit
of silver gilt or of copper on their breast. On certain grand
festival days, particularly Saint Martha's day, they were permitted,
as a high favor and a supreme happiness, to dress themselves
as nuns and to carry out the offices and practice of Saint-Benoit
for a whole day. In the early days the nuns were in the habit
of lending them their black garments. This seemed profane, and the
prioress forbade it. Only the novices were permitted to lend.
It is remarkable that these performances, tolerated and encouraged,
no doubt, in the convent out of a secret spirit of proselytism
and in order to give these children a foretaste of the holy habit,
were a genuine happiness and a real recreation for the scholars.
They simply amused themselves with it. It was new; it gave them
a change. Candid reasons of childhood, which do not, however,
succeed in making us worldlings comprehend the felicity of holding
a holy water sprinkler in one's hand and standing for hours together
singing hard enough for four in front of a reading-desk.
The pupils conformed, with the exception of the austerities,
to all the practices of the convent. There was a certain young
woman who entered the world, and who after many years of married
life had not succeeded in breaking herself of the habit of saying
in great haste whenever any one knocked at her door, "forever!"
Like the nuns, the pupils saw their relatives only in the parlor.
Their very mothers did not obtain permission to embrace them.
The following illustrates to what a degree severity on that point
was carried. One day a young girl received a visit from her mother,
who was accompanied by a little sister three years of age.
The young girl wept, for she wished greatly to embrace her sister.
Impossible. She begged that, at least, the child might be permitted
to pass her little hand through the bars so that she could kiss it.
This was almost indignantly refused.
None the less, these young girls filled this grave house with
At certain hours childhood sparkled in that cloister. The recreation
hour struck. A door swung on its hinges. The birds said,
"Good; here come the children!" An irruption of youth inundated
that garden intersected with a cross like a shroud. Radiant faces,
white foreheads, innocent eyes, full of merry light, all sorts of auroras,
were scattered about amid these shadows. After the psalmodies,
the bells, the peals, and knells and offices, the sound of these little
girls burst forth on a sudden more sweetly than the noise of bees.
The hive of joy was opened, and each one brought her honey.
They played, they called to each other, they formed into groups,
they ran about; pretty little white teeth chattered in the corners;
the veils superintended the laughs from a distance, shades kept watch
of the sunbeams, but what mattered it? Still they beamed and laughed.
Those four lugubrious walls had their moment of dazzling brilliancy.
They looked on, vaguely blanched with the reflection of so much
joy at this sweet swarming of the hives. It was like a shower
of roses falling athwart this house of mourning. The young girls
frolicked beneath the eyes of the nuns; the gaze of impeccability
does not embarrass innocence. Thanks to these children, there was,
among so many austere hours, one hour of ingenuousness. The little
ones skipped about; the elder ones danced. In this cloister play
was mingled with heaven. Nothing is so delightful and so august
as all these fresh, expanding young souls. Homer would have come
thither to laugh with Perrault; and there was in that black garden,
youth, health, noise, cries, giddiness, pleasure, happiness enough
to smooth out the wrinkles of all their ancestresses, those of the
epic as well as those of the fairy-tale, those of the throne as well
as those of the thatched cottage from Hecuba to la Mere-Grand.
In that house more than anywhere else, perhaps, arise those
children's sayings which are so graceful and which evoke a smile
that is full of thoughtfulness. It was between those four
gloomy walls that a child of five years exclaimed one day:
"Mother! one of the big girls has just told me that I have
only nine years and ten months longer to remain here. What happiness!"
It was here, too, that this memorable dialogue took place:--
A Vocal Mother. Why are you weeping, my child?
The child (aged six). I told Alix that I knew my French history.
She says that I do not know it, but I do.
Alix, the big girl (aged nine). No; she does not know it.
The Mother. How is that, my child?
Alix. She told me to open the book at random and to ask her any
question in the book, and she would answer it.
"She did not answer it."
"Let us see about it. What did you ask her?"
"I opened the book at random, as she proposed, and I put the first
question that I came across."
"And what was the question?"
"It was, `What happened after that?'"
It was there that that profound remark was made anent a rather
greedy paroquet which belonged to a lady boarder:--
"How well bred! it eats the top of the slice of bread and butter
just like a person!"
It was on one of the flagstones of this cloister that there was
once picked up a confession which had been written out in advance,
in order that she might not forget it, by a sinner of seven years:--
"Father, I accuse myself of having been avaricious.
"Father, I accuse myself of having been an adulteress.
"Father, I accuse myself of having raised my eyes to the gentlemen."
It was on one of the turf benches of this garden that a rosy mouth
six years of age improvised the following tale, which was listened
to by blue eyes aged four and five years:--
"There were three little cocks who owned a country where there
were a great many flowers. They plucked the flowers and put them
in their pockets. After that they plucked the leaves and put
them in their playthings. There was a wolf in that country;
there was a great deal of forest; and the wolf was in the forest;
and he ate the little cocks."
And this other poem:--
"There came a blow with a stick.
"It was Punchinello who bestowed it on the cat.
"It was not good for her; it hurt her.
"Then a lady put Punchinello in prison."
It was there that a little abandoned child, a foundling whom
the convent was bringing up out of charity, uttered this sweet and
heart-breaking saying. She heard the others talking of their mothers,
and she murmured in her corner:--
"As for me, my mother was not there when I was born!"