Part 16 out of 36
of to-day are demagogues, let us record it to their credit.
At Madame de T.'s the society was superior, taste was exquisite
and haughty, under the cover of a great show of politeness.
Manners there admitted of all sorts of involuntary refinements
which were the old regime itself, buried but still alive. Some of
these habits, especially in the matter of language, seem eccentric.
Persons but superficially acquainted with them would have taken
for provincial that which was only antique. A woman was called
Madame la Generale. Madame la Colonelle was not entirely disused.
The charming Madame de Leon, in memory, no doubt, of the Duchesses
de Longueville and de Chevreuse, preferred this appellation to her
title of Princesse. The Marquise de Crequy was also called Madame
It was this little high society which invented at the Tuileries
the refinement of speaking to the King in private as the King,
in the third person, and never as Your Majesty, the designation
of Your Majesty having been "soiled by the usurper."
Men and deeds were brought to judgment there. They jeered at the age,
which released them from the necessity of understanding it.
They abetted each other in amazement. They communicated
to each other that modicum of light which they possessed.
Methuselah bestowed information on Epimenides. The deaf man made
the blind man acquainted with the course of things. They declared
that the time which had elasped since Coblentz had not existed.
In the same manner that Louis XVIII. was by the grace of God,
in the five and twentieth year of his reign, the emigrants were,
by rights, in the five and twentieth year of their adolescence.
All was harmonious; nothing was too much alive; speech hardly
amounted to a breath; the newspapers, agreeing with the salons,
seemed a papyrus. There were some young people, but they were
rather dead. The liveries in the antechamber were antiquated.
These utterly obsolete personages were served by domestics of the
They all had the air of having lived a long time ago, and of obstinately
resisting the sepulchre. Nearly the whole dictionary consisted
of Conserver, Conservation, Conservateur; to be in good odor,--
that was the point. There are, in fact, aromatics in the opinions
of these venerable groups, and their ideas smelled of it.
It was a mummified society. The masters were embalmed, the servants
were stuffed with straw.
A worthy old marquise, an emigree and ruined, who had
but a solitary maid, continued to say: "My people."
What did they do in Madame de T.'s salon? They were ultra.
To be ultra; this word, although what it represents may not
have disappeared, has no longer any meaning at the present day.
Let us explain it.
To be ultra is to go beyond. It is to attack the sceptre in the name
of the throne, and the mitre in the name of the attar; it is to ill-treat
the thing which one is dragging, it is to kick over the traces;
it is to cavil at the fagot on the score of the amount of cooking
received by heretics; it is to reproach the idol with its small
amount of idolatry; it is to insult through excess of respect;
it is to discover that the Pope is not sufficiently papish,
that the King is not sufficiently royal, and that the night
has too much light; it is to be discontented with alabaster,
with snow, with the swan and the lily in the name of whiteness;
it is to be a partisan of things to the point of becoming their enemy;
it is to be so strongly for, as to be against.
The ultra spirit especially characterizes the first phase
of the Restoration.
Nothing in history resembles that quarter of an hour which begins in 1814
and terminates about 1820, with the advent of M. de Villele, the practical
man of the Right. These six years were an extraordinary moment;
at one and the same time brilliant and gloomy, smiling and sombre,
illuminated as by the radiance of dawn and entirely covered, at the
same time, with the shadows of the great catastrophes which still filled
the horizon and were slowly sinking into the past. There existed
in that light and that shadow, a complete little new and old world,
comic and sad, juvenile and senile, which was rubbing its eyes;
nothing resembles an awakening like a return; a group which regarded
France with ill-temper, and which France regarded with irony;
good old owls of marquises by the streetful, who had returned,
and of ghosts, the "former" subjects of amazement at everything,
brave and noble gentlemen who smiled at being in France but wept also,
delighted to behold their country once more, in despair at not finding
their monarchy; the nobility of the Crusades treating the nobility
of the Empire, that is to say, the nobility of the sword, with scorn;
historic races who had lost the sense of history; the sons of the
companions of Charlemagne disdaining the companions of Napoleon.
The swords, as we have just remarked, returned the insult; the sword
of Fontenoy was laughable and nothing but a scrap of rusty iron;
the sword of Marengo was odious and was only a sabre. Former days
did not recognize Yesterday. People no longer had the feeling for
what was grand. There was some one who called Bonaparte Scapin.
This Society no longer exists. Nothing of it, we repeat,
exists to-day. When we select from it some one figure at random,
and attempt to make it live again in thought, it seems as strange
to us as the world before the Deluge. It is because it, too, as a
matter of fact, has been engulfed in a deluge. It has disappeared
beneath two Revolutions. What billows are ideas! How quickly
they cover all that it is their mission to destroy and to bury,
and how promptly they create frightful gulfs!
Such was the physiognomy of the salons of those distant and candid
times when M. Martainville had more wit than Voltaire.
These salons had a literature and politics of their own.
They believed in Fievee. M. Agier laid down the law in them.
They commentated M. Colnet, the old bookseller and publicist of the
Quay Malaquais. Napoleon was to them thoroughly the Corsican Ogre.
Later on the introduction into history of M. le Marquis de Bonaparte,
Lieutenant-General of the King's armies, was a concession to the spirit
of the age.
These salons did not long preserve their purity. Beginning with 1818,
doctrinarians began to spring up in them, a disturbing shade.
Their way was to be Royalists and to excuse themselves for being so.
Where the ultras were very proud, the doctrinarians were rather ashamed.
They had wit; they had silence; their political dogma was
suitably impregnated with arrogance; they should have succeeded.
They indulged, and usefully too, in excesses in the matter of white
neckties and tightly buttoned coats. The mistake or the misfortune
of the doctrinarian party was to create aged youth. They assumed
the poses of wise men. They dreamed of engrafting a temperate
power on the absolute and excessive principle. They opposed,
and sometimes with rare intelligence, conservative liberalism
to the liberalism which demolishes. They were heard to say:
"Thanks for Royalism! It has rendered more than one service. It has
brought back tradition, worship, religion, respect. It is faithful,
brave, chivalric, loving, devoted. It has mingled, though with regret,
the secular grandeurs of the monarchy with the new grandeurs
of the nation. Its mistake is not to understand the Revolution,
the Empire, glory, liberty, young ideas, young generations,
the age. But this mistake which it makes with regard to us,--
have we not sometimes been guilty of it towards them? The Revolution,
whose heirs we are, ought to be intelligent on all points.
To attack Royalism is a misconstruction of liberalism. What an error!
And what blindness! Revolutionary France is wanting in respect
towards historic France, that is to say, towards its mother,
that is to say, towards itself. After the 5th of September,
the nobility of the monarchy is treated as the nobility of the Empire
was treated after the 5th of July. They were unjust to the eagle,
we are unjust to the fleur-de-lys. It seems that we must always
have something to proscribe! Does it serve any purpose to ungild
the crown of Louis XIV., to scrape the coat of arms of Henry IV.? We
scoff at M. de Vaublanc for erasing the N's from the bridge of Jena!
What was it that he did? What are we doing? Bouvines belongs to us
as well as Marengo. The fleurs-de-lys are ours as well as the N's.
That is our patrimony. To what purpose shall we diminish it?
We must not deny our country in the past any more than in the present.
Why not accept the whole of history? Why not love the whole
It is thus that doctrinarians criticised and protected Royalism,
which was displeased at criticism and furious at protection.
The ultras marked the first epoch of Royalism,
congregation characterized the second.
Skill follows ardor. Let us confine ourselves here to this sketch.
In the course of this narrative, the author of this book has
encountered in his path this curious moment of contemporary history;
he has been forced to cast a passing glance upon it, and to trace
once more some of the singular features of this society which is
unknown to-day. But he does it rapidly and without any bitter
or derisive idea. Souvenirs both respectful and affectionate,
for they touch his mother, attach him to this past. Moreover,
let us remark, this same petty world had a grandeur of its own.
One may smile at it, but one can neither despise nor hate it.
It was the France of former days.
Marius Pontmercy pursued some studies, as all children do. When he
emerged from the hands of Aunt Gillenormand, his grandfather confided
him to a worthy professor of the most purely classic innocence.
This young soul which was expanding passed from a prude to a
Marius went through his years of college, then he entered the
law school. He was a Royalist, fanatical and severe. He did
not love his grandfather much, as the latter's gayety and cynicism
repelled him, and his feelings towards his father were gloomy.
He was, on the whole, a cold and ardent, noble, generous, proud,
religious, enthusiastic lad; dignified to harshness, pure to shyness.
END OF THE BRIGAND
The conclusion of Marius' classical studies coincided with
M. Gillenormand's departure from society. The old man bade
farewell to the Faubourg Saint-Germain and to Madame de T.'s salon,
and established himself in the Mardis, in his house of the Rue
des Filles-du-Calvaire. There he had for servants, in addition to
the porter, that chambermaid, Nicolette, who had succeeded to Magnon,
and that short-breathed and pursy Basque, who have been mentioned above.
In 1827, Marius had just attained his seventeenth year. One evening,
on his return home, he saw his grandfather holding a letter in his hand.
"Marius," said M. Gillenormand, "you will set out for Vernon to-morrow."
"Why?" said Marius.
"To see your father."
Marius was seized with a trembling fit. He had thought of everything
except this--that he should one day be called upon to see his father.
Nothing could be more unexpected, more surprising, and, let us
admit it, more disagreeable to him. It was forcing estrangement into
reconciliation. It was not an affliction, but it was an unpleasant duty.
Marius, in addition to his motives of political antipathy,
was convinced that his father, the slasher, as M. Gillenormand
called him on his amiable days, did not love him; this was evident,
since he had abandoned him to others. Feeling that he was not beloved,
he did not love. "Nothing is more simple," he said to himself.
He was so astounded that he did not question M. Gillenormand.
The grandfather resumed:--
"It appears that he is ill. He demands your presence."
And after a pause, he added:--
"Set out to-morrow morning. I think there is a coach which leaves the
Cour des Fontaines at six o'clock, and which arrives in the evening.
Take it. He says that here is haste."
Then he crushed the letter in his hand and thrust it into his pocket.
Marius might have set out that very evening and have been with his
father on the following morning. A diligence from the Rue du
Bouloi took the trip to Rouen by night at that date, and passed
through Vernon. Neither Marius nor M.Gillenormand thought of making
inquiries about it.
The next day, at twilight, Marius reached Vernon. People were
just beginning to light their candles. He asked the first person
whom be met for "M. Pontmercy's house." For in his own mind,
he agreed with the Restoration, and like it, did not recognize
his father's claim to the title of either colonel or baron.
The house was pointed out to him. He rang; a woman with a little
lamp in her hand opened the door.
"M. Pontmercy?" said Marius.
The woman remained motionless.
"Is this his house?" demanded Marius.
The woman nodded affirmatively.
"Can I speak with him?"
The woman shook her head.
"But I am his son!" persisted Marius. "He is expecting me."
"He no longer expects you," said the woman.
Then he perceived that she was weeping.
She pointed to the door of a room on the ground-floor; he entered.
In that room, which was lighted by a tallow candle standing
on the chimney-piece, there were three men, one standing erect,
another kneeling, and one lying at full length, on the floor
in his shirt. The one on the floor was the colonel.
The other two were the doctor, and the priest, who was engaged
The colonel had been attacked by brain fever three days previously.
As he had a foreboding of evil at the very beginning of his illness,
he had written to M. Gillenormand to demand his son. The malady
had grown worse. On the very evening of Marius' arrival at Vernon,
the colonel had had an attack of delirium; he had risen from his bed,
in spite of the servant's efforts to prevent him, crying: "My son
is not coming! I shall go to meet him!" Then he ran out of his
room and fell prostrate on the floor of the antechamber. He had
The doctor had been summoned, and the cure. The doctor had arrived
too late. The son had also arrived too late.
By the dim light of the candle, a large tear could be distinguished
on the pale and prostrate colonel's cheek, where it had trickled
from his dead eye. The eye was extinguished, but the tear was
not yet dry. That tear was his son's delay.
Marius gazed upon that man whom he beheld for the first time,
on that venerable and manly face, on those open eyes which saw not,
on those white locks, those robust limbs, on which, here and there,
brown lines, marking sword-thrusts, and a sort of red stars,
which indicated bullet-holes, were visible. He contemplated that
gigantic sear which stamped heroism on that countenance upon which God
had imprinted goodness. He reflected that this man was his father,
and that this man was dead, and a chill ran over him.
The sorrow which he felt was the sorrow which he would have felt
in the presence of any other man whom he had chanced to behold
stretched out in death.
Anguish, poignant anguish, was in that chamber. The servant-woman was
lamenting in a corner, the cure was praying, and his sobs were audible,
the doctor was wiping his eyes; the corpse itself was weeping.
The doctor, the priest, and the woman gazed at Marius in the
midst of their affliction without uttering a word; he was the
stranger there. Marius, who was far too little affected, felt ashamed
and embarrassed at his own attitude; he held his hat in his hand;
and he dropped it on the floor, in order to produce the impression
that grief had deprived him of the strength to hold it.
At the same time, he experienced remorse, and he despised himself
for behaving in this manner. But was it his fault? He did not
love his father? Why should he!
The colonel had left nothing. The sale of big furniture barely
paid the expenses of his burial.
The servant found a scrap of paper, which she handed to Marius.
It contained the following, in the colonel's handwriting:--
"For my son.--The Emperor made me a Baron on the battle-field
of Waterloo. Since the Restoration disputes my right to this title
which I purchased with my blood, my son shall take it and bear it.
That he will be worthy of it is a matter of course." Below, the colonel
had added: "At that same battle of Waterloo, a sergeant saved my life.
The man's name was Thenardier. I think that he has recently been
keeping a little inn, in a village in the neighborhood of Paris,
at Chelles or Montfermeil. If my son meets him, he will do all
the good he can to Thenardier."
Marius took this paper and preserved it, not out of duty
to his father, but because of that vague respect for death
which is always imperious in the heart of man.
Nothing remained of the colonel. M. Gillenormand had his sword
and uniform sold to an old-clothes dealer. The neighbors devastated
the garden and pillaged the rare flowers. The other plants turned
to nettles and weeds, and died.
Marius remained only forty-eight hours at Vernon. After the interment
he returned to Paris, and applied himself again to his law studies,
with no more thought of his father than if the latter had never lived.
In two days the colonel was buried, and in three forgotten.
Marius wore crape on his hat. That was all.
THE UTILITY OF GOING TO MASS, IN ORDER TO BECOME A REVOLUTIONIST
Marius had preserved the religious habits of his childhood.
One Sunday, when he went to hear mass at Saint-Sulpice, at that same
chapel of the Virgin whither his aunt had led him when a small lad,
he placed himself behind a pillar, being more absent-minded and
thoughtful than usual on that occasion, and knelt down, without paying
any special heed, upon a chair of Utrecht velvet, on the back of
which was inscribed this name: Monsieur Mabeuf, warden. Mass had
hardly begun when an old man presented himself and said to Marius:--
"This is my place, sir."
Marius stepped aside promptly, and the old man took possession
of his chair.
The mass concluded, Marius still stood thoughtfully a few paces distant;
the old man approached him again and said:--
"I beg your pardon, sir, for having disturbed you a while ago,
and for again disturbing you at this moment; you must have thought
me intrusive, and I will explain myself."
"There is no need of that, Sir," said Marius.
"Yes!" went on the old man, "I do not wish you to have a bad
opinion of me. You see, I am attached to this place. It seems
to me that the mass is better from here. Why? I will tell you.
It is from this place, that I have watched a poor, brave father
come regularly, every two or three months, for the last ten years,
since he had no other opportunity and no other way of seeing
his child, because he was prevented by family arrangements.
He came at the hour when he knew that his son would be brought
to mass. The little one never suspected that his father was there.
Perhaps he did not even know that he had a father, poor innocent!
The father kept behind a pillar, so that he might not be seen.
He gazed at his child and he wept. He adored that little fellow,
poor man! I could see that. This spot has become sanctified in
my sight, and I have contracted a habit of coming hither to listen
to the mass. I prefer it to the stall to which I have a right,
in my capacity of warden. I knew that unhappy gentleman a little, too.
He had a father-in-law, a wealthy aunt, relatives, I don't know
exactly what all, who threatened to disinherit the child if he,
the father, saw him. He sacrificed himself in order that his son
might be rich and happy some day. He was separated from him
because of political opinions. Certainly, I approve of political
opinions, but there are people who do not know where to stop.
Mon Dieu! a man is not a monster because he was at Waterloo;
a father is not separated from his child for such a reason as that.
He was one of Bonaparte's colonels. He is dead, I believe. He lived
at Vernon, where I have a brother who is a cure, and his name was
something like Pontmarie or Montpercy. He had a fine sword-cut, on
"Pontmercy," suggested Marius, turning pale.
"Precisely, Pontmercy. Did you know him?"
"Sir," said Marius, "he was my father."
The old warden clasped his hands and exclaimed:--
"Ah! you are the child! Yes, that's true, he must be a man by
this time. Well! poor child, you may say that you had a father
who loved you dearly!"
Marius offered his arm to the old man and conducted him to his lodgings.
On the following day, he said to M. Gillenormand:--
"I have arranged a hunting-party with some friends. Will you
permit me to be absent for three days?"
"Four!" replied his grandfather. "Go and amuse yourself."
And he said to his daughter in a low tone, and with a wink,
"Some love affair!"
THE CONSEQUENCES OF HAVING MET A WARDEN
Where it was that Marius went will be disclosed a little further on.
Marius was absent for three days, then he returned to Paris,
went straight to the library of the law-school and asked for the
files of the Moniteur.
He read the Moniteur, he read all the histories of the Republic
and the Empire, the Memorial de Sainte-Helene, all the memoirs,
all the newspapers, the bulletins, the proclamations; he devoured
everything. The first time that he came across his father's name
in the bulletins of the grand army, he had a fever for a week.
He went to see the generals under whom Georges Pontmercy had served,
among others, Comte H. Church-warden Mabeuf, whom he went to see again,
told him about the life at Vernon, the colonel's retreat, his flowers,
his solitude. Marius came to a full knowledge of that rare, sweet,
and sublime man, that species of lion-lamb who had been his father.
In the meanwhile, occupied as he was with this study which absorbed
all his moments as well as his thoughts, he hardly saw the Gillenormands
at all. He made his appearance at meals; then they searched for him,
and he was not to be found. Father Gillenormand smiled. "Bah! bah!
He is just of the age for the girls!" Sometimes the old man added:
"The deuce! I thought it was only an affair of gallantry, It seems
that it is an affair of passion!"
It was a passion, in fact. Marius was on the high road to adoring
At the same time, his ideas underwent an extraordinary change.
The phases of this change were numerous and successive. As this is
the history of many minds of our day, we think it will prove useful
to follow these phases step by step and to indicate them all.
That history upon which he had just cast his eyes appalled him.
The first effect was to dazzle him.
Up to that time, the Republic, the Empire, had been to him only
monstrous words. The Republic, a guillotine in the twilight;
the Empire, a sword in the night. He had just taken a look at it,
and where he had expected to find only a chaos of shadows, he had beheld,
with a sort of unprecedented surprise, mingled with fear and joy,
stars sparkling, Mirabeau, Vergniaud, Saint-Just, Robespierre,
Camille, Desmoulins, Danton, and a sun arise, Napoleon. He did not
know where he stood. He recoiled, blinded by the brilliant lights.
Little by little, when his astonishment had passed off,
he grew accustomed to this radiance, he contemplated these deeds
without dizziness, he examined these personages without terror;
the Revolution and the Empire presented themselves luminously,
in perspective, before his mind's eye; he beheld each of these
groups of events and of men summed up in two tremendous facts:
the Republic in the sovereignty of civil right restored to the masses,
the Empire in the sovereignty of the French idea imposed on Europe;
he beheld the grand figure of the people emerge from the Revolution,
and the grand figure of France spring forth from the Empire.
He asserted in his conscience, that all this had been good.
What his dazzled state neglected in this, his first far too
synthetic estimation, we do not think it necessary to point out here.
It is the state of a mind on the march that we are recording.
Progress is not accomplished in one stage. That stated, once for all,
in connection with what precedes as well as with what is to follow,
He then perceived that, up to that moment, he had comprehended his
country no more than he had comprehended his father. He had not
known either the one or the other, and a sort of voluntary night
had obscured his eyes. Now he saw, and on the one hand he admired,
while on the other he adored.
He was filled with regret and remorse, and he reflected in despair
that all he had in his soul could now be said only to the tomb.
Oh! if his father had still been in existence, if he had still
had him, if God, in his compassion and his goodness, had permitted
his father to be still among the living, how he would have run,
how he would have precipitated himself, how he would have cried
to his father: "Father! Here I am! It is I! I have the same heart
as thou! I am thy son!" How he would have embraced that white head,
bathed his hair in tears, gazed upon his scar, pressed his hands,
adored his garment, kissed his feet! Oh! Why had his father died
so early, before his time, before the justice, the love of his
son had come to him? Marius had a continual sob in his heart,
which said to him every moment: "Alas!" At the same time,
he became more truly serious, more truly grave, more sure of his
thought and his faith. At each instant, gleams of the true came
to complete his reason. An inward growth seemed to be in progress
within him. He was conscious of a sort of natural enlargement,
which gave him two things that were new to him--his father and
As everything opens when one has a key, so he explained to himself
that which he had hated, he penetrated that which he had abhorred;
henceforth he plainly perceived the providential, divine and human
sense of the great things which he had been taught to detest,
and of the great men whom he had been instructed to curse. When he
reflected on his former opinions, which were but those of yesterday,
and which, nevertheless, seemed to him already so very ancient,
he grew indignant, yet he smiled.
From the rehabilitation of his father, he naturally passed
to the rehabilitation of Napoleon.
But the latter, we will confess, was not effected without labor.
From his infancy, he had been imbued with the judgments of the party
of 1814, on Bonaparte. Now, all the prejudices of the Restoration,
all its interests, all its instincts tended to disfigure Napoleon.
It execrated him even more than it did Robespierre. It had very
cleverly turned to sufficiently good account the fatigue of the nation,
and the hatred of mothers. Bonaparte had become an almost
fabulous monster, and in order to paint him to the imagination
of the people, which, as we lately pointed out, resembles the
imagination of children, the party of 1814 made him appear under
all sorts of terrifying masks in succession, from that which is
terrible though it remains grandiose to that which is terrible and
becomes grotesque, from Tiberius to the bugaboo. Thus, in speaking
of Bonaparte, one was free to sob or to puff up with laughter,
provided that hatred lay at the bottom. Marius had never entertained--
about that man, as he was called--any other ideas in his mind.
They had combined with the tenacity which existed in his nature.
There was in him a headstrong little man who hated Napoleon.
On reading history, on studying him, especially in the documents
and materials for history, the veil which concealed Napoleon
from the eyes of Marius was gradually rent. He caught a glimpse
of something immense, and he suspected that he had been deceived up
to that moment, on the score of Bonaparte as about all the rest;
each day he saw more distinctly; and he set about mounting, slowly,
step by step, almost regretfully in the beginning, then with
intoxication and as though attracted by an irresistible fascination,
first the sombre steps, then the vaguely illuminated steps,
at last the luminous and splendid steps of enthusiasm.
One night, he was alone in his little chamber near the roof.
His candle was burning; he was reading, with his elbows resting on
his table close to the open window. All sorts of reveries reached
him from space, and mingled with his thoughts. What a spectacle is
the night! One hears dull sounds, without knowing whence they proceed;
one beholds Jupiter, which is twelve hundred times larger than the earth,
glowing like a firebrand, the azure is black, the stars shine;
it is formidable.
He was perusing the bulletins of the grand army, those heroic
strophes penned on the field of battle; there, at intervals,
he beheld his father's name, always the name of the Emperor;
the whole of that great Empire presented itself to him; he felt
a flood swelling and rising within him; it seemed to him at moments
that his father passed close to him like a breath, and whispered
in his ear; he gradually got into a singular state; he thought that he
heard drums, cannon, trumpets, the measured tread of battalions,
the dull and distant gallop of the cavalry; from time to time,
his eyes were raised heavenward, and gazed upon the colossal
constellations as they gleamed in the measureless depths of space,
then they fell upon his book once more, and there they beheld other
colossal things moving confusedly. His heart contracted within him.
He was in a transport, trembling, panting. All at once, without
himself knowing what was in him, and what impulse he was obeying,
he sprang to his feet, stretched both arms out of the window,
gazed intently into the gloom, the silence, the infinite darkness,
the eternal immensity, and exclaimed: "Long live the Emperor!"
From that moment forth, all was over; the Ogre of Corsica,--
the usurper,--the tyrant,--the monster who was the lover of his
own sisters,--the actor who took lessons of Talma,--the poisoner
of Jaffa,--the tiger,--Buonaparte,--all this vanished, and gave
place in his mind to a vague and brilliant radiance in which shone,
at an inaccessible height, the pale marble phantom of Caesar.
The Emperor had been for his father only the well-beloved captain whom
one admires, for whom one sacrifices one's self; he was something more
to Marius. He was the predestined constructor of the French group,
succeeding the Roman group in the domination of the universe.
He was a prodigious architect, of a destruction, the continuer
of Charlemagne, of Louis XI., of Henry IV., of Richelieu, of Louis
XIV., and of the Committee of Public Safety, having his spots,
no doubt, his faults, his crimes even, being a man, that is to say;
but august in his faults, brilliant in his spots, powerful in
He was the predestined man, who had forced all nations to say:
"The great nation!" He was better than that, he was the very
incarnation of France, conquering Europe by the sword which
he grasped, and the world by the light which he shed. Marius saw
in Bonaparte the dazzling spectre which will always rise upon
the frontier, and which will guard the future. Despot but dictator;
a despot resulting from a republic and summing up a revolution.
Napoleon became for him the man-people as Jesus Christ is the man-God.
It will be perceived, that like all new converts to a religion,
his conversion intoxicated him, he hurled himself headlong into
adhesion and he went too far. His nature was so constructed;
once on the downward slope, it was almost impossible for him
to put on the drag. Fanaticism for the sword took possession
of him, and complicated in his mind his enthusiasm for the idea.
He did not perceive that, along with genius, and pell-mell, he
was admitting force, that is to say, that he was installing in two
compartments of his idolatry, on the one hand that which is divine,
on the other that which is brutal. In many respects, he had set
about deceiving himself otherwise. He admitted everything.
There is a way of encountering error while on one's way to the truth.
He had a violent sort of good faith which took everything in the lump.
In the new path which he had entered on, in judging the mistakes
of the old regime, as in measuring the glory of Napoleon, he neglected
the attenuating circumstances.
At all events, a tremendous step had been taken. Where he had formerly
beheld the fall of the monarchy, he now saw the advent of France.
His orientation had changed. What had been his East became the West.
He had turned squarely round.
All these revolutions were accomplished within him, without his
family obtaining an inkling of the case.
When, during this mysterious labor, he had entirely shed his old Bourbon
and ultra skin, when he had cast off the aristocrat, the Jacobite
and the Royalist, when he had become thoroughly a revolutionist,
profoundly democratic and republican, he went to an engraver on the
Quai des Orfevres and ordered a hundred cards bearing this name:
Le Baron Marius Pontmercy.
This was only the strictly logical consequence of the change which
had taken place in him, a change in which everything gravitated
round his father.
Only, as he did not know any one and could not sow his cards
with any porter, he put them in his pocket.
By another natural consequence, in proportion as he drew nearer
to his father, to the latter's memory, and to the things for which
the colonel had fought five and twenty years before, he receded
from his grandfather. We have long ago said, that M. Gillenormand's
temper did not please him. There already existed between them all
the dissonances of the grave young man and the frivolous old man.
The gayety of Geronte shocks and exasperates the melancholy
of Werther. So long as the same political opinions and the same
ideas had been common to them both, Marius had met M. Gillenormand
there as on a bridge. When the bridge fell, an abyss was formed.
And then, over and above all, Marius experienced unutterable
impulses to revolt, when he reflected that it was M. Gillenormand
who had, from stupid motives, torn him ruthlessly from the colonel,
thus depriving the father of the child, and the child of the father.
By dint of pity for his father, Marius had nearly arrived at aversion
for his grandfather.
Nothing of this sort, however, was betrayed on the exterior,
as we have already said. Only he grew colder and colder;
laconic at meals, and rare in the house. When his aunt scolded him
for it, he was very gentle and alleged his studies, his lectures,
the examinations, etc., as a pretext. His grandfather never departed
from his infallible diagnosis: "In love! I know all about it."
From time to time Marius absented himself.
"Where is it that he goes off like this?" said his aunt.
On one of these trips, which were always very brief,
he went to Montfermeil, in order to obey the injunction
which his father had left him, and he sought the old sergeant
to Waterloo, the inn-keeper Thenardier. Thenardier had failed,
the inn was closed, and no one knew what had become of him.
Marius was away from the house for four days on this quest.
"He is getting decidedly wild," said his grandfather.
They thought they had noticed that he wore something on his breast,
under his shirt, which was attached to his neck by a black ribbon.
We have mentioned a lancer.
He was a great-grand-nephew of M. Gillenormand, on the paternal side,
who led a garrison life, outside the family and far from the
domestic hearth. Lieutenant Theodule Gillenormand fulfilled all
the conditions required to make what is called a fine officer.
He had "a lady's waist," a victorious manner of trailing his
sword and of twirling his mustache in a hook. He visited Paris
very rarely, and so rarely that Marius had never seen him.
The cousins knew each other only by name. We think we have
said that Theodule was the favorite of Aunt Gillenormand,
who preferred him because she did not see him. Not seeing
people permits one to attribute to them all possible perfections.
One morning, Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder returned to her
apartment as much disturbed as her placidity was capable of allowing.
Marius had just asked his grandfather's permission to take a
little trip, adding that he meant to set out that very evening.
"Go!" had been his grandfather's reply, and M. Gillenormand
had added in an aside, as he raised his eyebrows to the top
of his forehead: "Here he is passing the night out again."
Mademoiselle Gillenormand had ascended to her chamber greatly puzzled,
and on the staircase had dropped this exclamation: "This is
too much!"--and this interrogation: "But where is it that he goes?"
She espied some adventure of the heart, more or less illicit,
a woman in the shadow, a rendezvous, a mystery, and she would
not have been sorry to thrust her spectacles into the affair.
Tasting a mystery resembles getting the first flavor of a scandal;
sainted souls do not detest this. There is some curiosity about
scandal in the secret compartments of bigotry.
So she was the prey of a vague appetite for learning a history.
In order to get rid of this curiosity which agitated her
a little beyond her wont, she took refuge in her talents,
and set about scalloping, with one layer of cotton after another,
one of those embroideries of the Empire and the Restoration,
in which there are numerous cart-wheels. The work was clumsy,
the worker cross. She had been seated at this for several hours
when the door opened. Mademoiselle Gillenormand raised her nose.
Lieutenant Theodule stood before her, making the regulation salute.
She uttered a cry of delight. One may be old, one may be a prude,
one may be pious, one may be an aunt, but it is always agreeable
to see a lancer enter one's chamber.
"You here, Theodule!" she exclaimed.
"On my way through town, aunt."
"Here goes!" said Theodule.
And he kissed her. Aunt Gillenormand went to her writing-desk
and opened it.
"You will remain with us a week at least?"
"I leave this very evening, aunt."
"It is not possible!"
"Remain, my little Theodule, I beseech you."
"My heart says `yes,' but my orders say `no.' The matter is simple.
They are changing our garrison; we have been at Melun, we are being
transferred to Gaillon. It is necessary to pass through Paris
in order to get from the old post to the new one. I said: `I am
going to see my aunt.'"
"Here is something for your trouble."
And she put ten louis into his hand.
"For my pleasure, you mean to say, my dear aunt."
Theodule kissed her again, and she experienced the joy of having some
of the skin scratched from her neck by the braidings on his uniform.
"Are you making the journey on horseback, with your regiment?"
she asked him.
"No, aunt. I wanted to see you. I have special permission.
My servant is taking my horse; I am travelling by diligence.
And, by the way, I want to ask you something."
"What is it?"
"Is my cousin Marius Pontmercy travelling so, too?"
"How do you know that?" said his aunt, suddenly pricked to the quick
with a lively curiosity.
"On my arrival, I went to the diligence to engage my seat in the coupe."
"A traveller had already come to engage a seat in the imperial.
I saw his name on the card."
"The wicked fellow!" exclaimed his aunt. "Ah! your cousin is not
a steady lad like yourself. To think that he is to pass the night
in a diligence!"
"Just as I am going to do."
"But you--it is your duty; in his case, it is wildness."
"Bosh!" said Theodule.
Here an event occurred to Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder,--
an idea struck her. If she had been a man, she would have slapped
her brow. She apostrophized Theodule:--
"Are you aware whether your cousin knows you?"
"No. I have seen him; but he has never deigned to notice me."
"So you are going to travel together?"
"He in the imperial, I in the coupe."
"Where does this diligence run?"
"Then that is where Marius is going?"
"Unless, like myself, he should stop on the way. I get down at Vernon,
in order to take the branch coach for Gaillon. I know nothing
of Marius' plan of travel."
"Marius! what an ugly name! what possessed them to name him Marius?
While you, at least, are called Theodule."
"I would rather be called Alfred," said the officer.
"I am listening, aunt."
"I am paying attention."
"Well, Marius absents himself!"
"He spends the night out."
"We should like to know what there is behind all this."
Theodule replied with the composure of a man of bronze:--
"Some petticoat or other."
And with that inward laugh which denotes certainty, he added:--
"That is evident," exclaimed his aunt, who thought she heard
M. Gillenormand speaking, and who felt her conviction become
irresistible at that word fillette, accentuated in almost the
very same fashion by the granduncle and the grandnephew. She resumed:--
"Do us a favor. Follow Marius a little. He does not know you,
it will be easy. Since a lass there is, try to get a sight of her.
You must write us the tale. It will amuse his grandfather."
Theodule had no excessive taste for this sort of spying; but he
was much touched by the ten louis, and he thought he saw a chance
for a possible sequel. He accepted the commission and said:
"As you please, aunt."
And he added in an aside, to himself: "Here I am a duenna."
Mademoiselle Gillenormand embraced him.
"You are not the man to play such pranks, Theodule. You obey discipline,
you are the slave of orders, you are a man of scruples and duty,
and you would not quit your family to go and see a creature."
The lancer made the pleased grimace of Cartouche when praised
for his probity.
Marius, on the evening following this dialogue, mounted the diligence
without suspecting that he was watched. As for the watcher,
the first thing he did was to fall asleep. His slumber was complete
and conscientious. Argus snored all night long.
At daybreak, the conductor of the diligence shouted: "Vernon! relay
of Vernon! Travellers for Vernon!" And Lieutenant Theodule woke.
"Good," he growled, still half asleep, "this is where I get out."
Then, as his memory cleared by degrees, the effect of waking,
he recalled his aunt, the ten louis, and the account which he
had undertaken to render of the deeds and proceedings of Marius.
This set him to laughing.
"Perhaps he is no longer in the coach," he thought, as he rebuttoned
the waistcoat of his undress uniform. "He may have stopped at Poissy;
he may have stopped at Triel; if he did not get out at Meulan,
he may have got out at Mantes, unless he got out at Rolleboise,
or if he did not go on as far as Pacy, with the choice of turning
to the left at Evreus, or to the right at Laroche-Guyon. Run
after him, aunty. What the devil am I to write to that good
At that moment a pair of black trousers descending from the imperial,
made its appearance at the window of the coupe.
"Can that be Marius?" said the lieutenant.
It was Marius.
A little peasant girl, all entangled with the horses and the postilions
at the end of the vehicle, was offering flowers to the travellers.
"Give your ladies flowers!" she cried.
Marius approached her and purchased the finest flowers in her
"Come now," said Theodule, leaping down from the coupe, "this piques
my curiosity. Who the deuce is he going to carry those flowers to?
She must be a splendidly handsome woman for so fine a bouquet.
I want to see her."
And no longer in pursuance of orders, but from personal curiosity,
like dogs who hunt on their own account, he set out to follow Marius.
Marius paid no attention to Theodule. Elegant women descended
from the diligence; he did not glance at them. He seemed to see
nothing around him.
"He is pretty deeply in love!" thought Theodule.
Marius directed his steps towards the church.
"Capital," said Theodule to himself. "Rendezvous seasoned with a
bit of mass are the best sort. Nothing is so exquisite as an ogle
which passes over the good God's head."
On arriving at the church, Marius did not enter it, but skirted
the apse. He disappeared behind one of the angles of the apse.
"The rendezvous is appointed outside," said Theodule. "Let's have
a look at the lass."
And he advanced on the tips of his boots towards the corner
which Marius had turned.
On arriving there, he halted in amazement.
Marius, with his forehead clasped in his hands, was kneeling upon
the grass on a grave. He had strewn his bouquet there. At the
extremity of the grave, on a little swelling which marked the head,
there stood a cross of black wood with this name in white letters:
COLONEL BARON PONTMERCY. Marius' sobs were audible.
The "lass" was a grave.
MARBLE AGAINST GRANITE
It was hither that Marius had come on the first occasion of his
absenting himself from Paris. It was hither that he had come
every time that M. Gillenormand had said: "He is sleeping out."
Lieutenant Theodule was absolutely put out of countenance by this
unexpected encounter with a sepulchre; he experienced a singular
and disagreeable sensation which he was incapable of analyzing,
and which was composed of respect for the tomb, mingled with respect
for the colonel. He retreated, leaving Marius alone in the cemetery,
and there was discipline in this retreat. Death appeared to him
with large epaulets, and he almost made the military salute to him.
Not knowing what to write to his aunt, he decided not to write at all;
and it is probable that nothing would have resulted from the discovery
made by Theodule as to the love affairs of Marius, if, by one
of those mysterious arrangements which are so frequent in chance,
the scene at Vernon had not had an almost immediate counter-shock
Marius returned from Vernon on the third day, in the middle of
the morning, descended at his grandfather's door, and, wearied by the two
nights spent in the diligence, and feeling the need of repairing his
loss of sleep by an hour at the swimming-school, he mounted rapidly to
his chamber, took merely time enough to throw off his travelling-coat, and
the black ribbon which he wore round his neck, and went off to the bath.
M.Gillenormand, who had risen betimes like all old men in good health,
had heard his entrance, and had made haste to climb, as quickly as his
old legs permitted, the stairs to the upper story where Marius lived,
in order to embrace him, and to question him while so doing,
and to find out where he had been.
But the youth had taken less time to descend than the old man
had to ascend, and when Father Gillenormand entered the attic,
Marius was no longer there.
The bed had not been disturbed, and on the bed lay, outspread,
but not defiantly the great-coat and the black ribbon.
"I like this better," said M. Gillenormand.
And a moment later, he made his entrance into the salon,
where Mademoiselle Gillenormand was already seated,
busily embroidering her cart-wheels.
The entrance was a triumphant one.
M. Gillenormand held in one hand the great-coat, and in the other
the neck-ribbon, and exclaimed:--
"Victory! We are about to penetrate the mystery! We are going
to learn the most minute details; we are going to lay our finger on
the debaucheries of our sly friend! Here we have the romance itself.
I have the portrait!"
In fact, a case of black shagreen, resembling a medallion portrait,
was suspended from the ribbon.
The old man took this case and gazed at it for some time without
opening it, with that air of enjoyment, rapture, and wrath,
with which a poor hungry fellow beholds an admirable dinner
which is not for him, pass under his very nose.
"For this evidently is a portrait. I know all about such things.
That is worn tenderly on the heart. How stupid they are!
Some abominable fright that will make us shudder, probably! Young men
have such bad taste nowadays!"
"Let us see, father," said the old spinster.
The case opened by the pressure of a spring. They found in it
nothing but a carefully folded paper.
"From the same to the same," said M. Gillenormand, bursting
with laughter. "I know what it is. A billet-doux."
"Ah! let us read it!" said the aunt.
And she put on her spectacles. They unfolded the paper and read
"For my son.--The Emperor made me a Baron on the battlefield
of Waterloo. Since the Restoration disputes my right to this title
which I purchased with my blood, my son shall take it and bear it.
That he will be worthy of it is a matter of course."
The feelings of father and daughter cannot be described. They felt
chilled as by the breath of a death's-head. They did not exchange
Only, M. Gillenormand said in a low voice and as though speaking
"It is the slasher's handwriting."
The aunt examined the paper, turned it about in all directions,
then put it back in its case.
At the same moment a little oblong packet, enveloped in blue paper,
fell from one of the pockets of the great-coat. Mademoiselle
Gillenormand picked it up and unfolded the blue paper.
It contained Marius' hundred cards. She handed one of them
to M. Gillenormand, who read: Le Baron Marius Pontmercy.
The old man rang the bell. Nicolette came. M. Gillenormand took
the ribbon, the case, and the coat, flung them all on the floor
in the middle of the room, and said:--
"Carry those duds away."
A full hour passed in the most profound silence. The old man and the
old spinster had seated themselves with their backs to each other,
and were thinking, each on his own account, the same things,
in all probability.
At the expiration of this hour, Aunt Gillenormand said:--"A pretty
state of things!"
A few moments later, Marius made his appearance. He entered.
Even before he had crossed the threshold, he saw his grandfather
holding one of his own cards in his hand, and on catching sight
of him, the latter exclaimed with his air of bourgeois and grinning
superiority which was something crushing:--
"Well! well! well! well! well! so you are a baron now. I present
you my compliments. What is the meaning of this?"
Marius reddened slightly and replied:--
"It means that I am the son of my father."
M. Gillenormand ceased to laugh, and said harshly:--
"I am your father."
"My father," retorted Marius, with downcast eyes and a severe air,
"was a humble and heroic man, who served the Republic and France
gloriously, who was great in the greatest history that men have
ever made, who lived in the bivouac for a quarter of a century,
beneath grape-shot and bullets, in snow and mud by day, beneath rain
at night, who captured two flags, who received twenty wounds, who died
forgotten and abandoned, and who never committed but one mistake,
which was to love too fondly two ingrates, his country and myself."
This was more than M. Gillenormand could bear to hear. At the
word republic, he rose, or, to speak more correctly, he sprang
to his feet. Every word that Marius had just uttered produced on
the visage of the old Royalist the effect of the puffs of air from
a forge upon a blazing brand. From a dull hue he had turned red,
from red, purple, and from purple, flame-colored.
"Marius!" he cried. "Abominable child! I do not know what your
father was! I do not wish to know! I know nothing about that,
and I do not know him! But what I do know is, that there
never was anything but scoundrels among those men! They were
all rascals, assassins, red-caps, thieves! I say all! I say all!
I know not one! I say all! Do you hear me, Marius! See here,
you are no more a baron than my slipper is! They were all bandits
in the service of Robespierre! All who served B-u-o-naparte
were brigands! They were all traitors who betrayed, betrayed,
betrayed their legitimate king! All cowards who fled before the
Prussians and the English at Waterloo! That is what I do know!
Whether Monsieur your father comes in that category, I do not know!
I am sorry for it, so much the worse, your humble servant!"
In his turn, it was Marius who was the firebrand and M. Gillenormand
who was the bellows. Marius quivered in every limb, he did
not know what would happen next, his brain was on fire. He was
the priest who beholds all his sacred wafers cast to the winds,
the fakir who beholds a passer-by spit upon his idol. It could
not be that such things had been uttered in his presence.
What was he to do? His father had just been trampled under foot
and stamped upon in his presence, but by whom? By his grandfather.
How was he to avenge the one without outraging the other?
It was impossible for him to insult his grandfather and it
was equally impossible for him to leave his father unavenged.
On the one hand was a sacred grave, on the other hoary locks.
He stood there for several moments, staggering as though intoxicated,
with all this whirlwind dashing through his head; then he raised
his eyes, gazed fixedly at his grandfather, and cried in a voice
"Down with the Bourbons, and that great hog of a Louis XVIII.!"
Louis XVIII. had been dead for four years; but it was all the same
The old man, who had been crimson, turned whiter than his hair.
He wheeled round towards a bust of M. le Duc de Berry, which stood
on the chimney-piece, and made a profound bow, with a sort of
peculiar majesty. Then he paced twice, slowly and in silence,
from the fireplace to the window and from the window to the fireplace,
traversing the whole length of the room, and making the polished
floor creak as though he had been a stone statue walking.
On his second turn, he bent over his daughter, who was watching this
encounter with the stupefied air of an antiquated lamb, and said to
her with a smile that was almost calm: "A baron like this gentleman,
and a bourgeois like myself cannot remain under the same roof."
And drawing himself up, all at once, pallid, trembling, terrible,
with his brow rendered more lofty by the terrible radiance of wrath,
he extended his arm towards Marius and shouted to him:--
Marius left the house.
On the following day, M. Gillenormand said to his daughter:
"You will send sixty pistoles every six months to that blood-drinker,
and you will never mention his name to me."
Having an immense reserve fund of wrath to get rid of, and not
knowing what to do with it, he continued to address his daughter
as you instead of thou for the next three months.
Marius, on his side, had gone forth in indignation. There was one
circumstance which, it must be admitted, aggravated his exasperation.
There are always petty fatalities of the sort which complicate
domestic dramas. They augment the grievances in such cases,
although, in reality, the wrongs are not increased by them.
While carrying Marius' "duds" precipitately to his chamber, at his
grandfather's command, Nicolette had, inadvertently, let fall,
probably, on the attic staircase, which was dark, that medallion
of black shagreen which contained the paper penned by the colonel.
Neither paper nor case could afterwards be found. Marius was
convinced that "Monsieur Gillenormand"--from that day forth he
never alluded to him otherwise--had flung "his father's testament"
in the fire. He knew by heart the few lines which the colonel
had written, and, consequently, nothing was lost. But the paper,
the writing, that sacred relic,--all that was his very heart.
What had been done with it?
Marius had taken his departure without saying whither he was going,
and without knowing where, with thirty francs, his watch, and a few
clothes in a hand-bag. He had entered a hackney-coach, had engaged
it by the hour, and had directed his course at hap-hazard towards
the Latin quarter.
What was to become of Marius?
BOOK FOURTH.--THE FRIENDS OF THE A B C
A GROUP WHICH BARELY MISSED BECOMING HISTORIC
At that epoch, which was, to all appearances indifferent, a certain
revolutionary quiver was vaguely current. Breaths which had started
forth from the depths of '89 and '93 were in the air. Youth was
on the point, may the reader pardon us the word, of moulting.
People were undergoing a transformation, almost without being
conscious of it, through the movement of the age. The needle
which moves round the compass also moves in souls. Each person
was taking that step in advance which he was bound to take.
The Royalists were becoming liberals, liberals were turning democrats.
It was a flood tide complicated with a thousand ebb movements;
the peculiarity of ebbs is to create intermixtures; hence the combination
of very singular ideas; people adored both Napoleon and liberty.
We are making history here. These were the mirages of that period.
Opinions traverse phases. Voltairian royalism, a quaint variety,
had a no less singular sequel, Bonapartist liberalism.
Other groups of minds were more serious. In that direction,
they sounded principles, they attached themselves to the right.
They grew enthusiastic for the absolute, they caught glimpses of
infinite realizations; the absolute, by its very rigidity, urges spirits
towards the sky and causes them to float in illimitable space.
There is nothing like dogma for bringing forth dreams. And there
is nothing like dreams for engendering the future. Utopia to-day,
flesh and blood to-morrow.
These advanced opinions had a double foundation. A beginning
of mystery menaced "the established order of things," which was
suspicious and underhand. A sign which was revolutionary
to the highest degree. The second thoughts of power meet the
second thoughts of the populace in the mine. The incubation
of insurrections gives the retort to the premeditation of coups d'etat.
There did not, as yet, exist in France any of those vast underlying
organizations, like the German tugendbund and Italian Carbonarism;
but here and there there were dark underminings, which were in process
of throwing off shoots. The Cougourde was being outlined at Aix;
there existed at Paris, among other affiliations of that nature,
the society of the Friends of the A B C.
What were these Friends of the A B C? A society which had for its object
apparently the education of children, in reality the elevation of man.
They declared themselves the Friends of the A B C,--the Abaisse,--
the debased,--that is to say, the people. They wished to elevate
the people. It was a pun which we should do wrong to smile at.
Puns are sometimes serious factors in politics; witness the Castratus
ad castra, which made a general of the army of Narses; witness:
Barbari et Barberini; witness: Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram,
The Friends of the A B C were not numerous, it was a secret society
in the state of embryo, we might almost say a coterie, if coteries
ended in heroes. They assembled in Paris in two localities,
near the fish-market, in a wine-shop called Corinthe, of which more
will be heard later on, and near the Pantheon in a little cafe
in the Rue Saint-Michel called the Cafe Musain, now torn down;
the first of these meeting-places was close to the workingman,
the second to the students.
The assemblies of the Friends of the A B C were usually held
in a back room of the Cafe Musain.
This hall, which was tolerably remote from the cafe, with which it
was connected by an extremely long corridor, had two windows and an
exit with a private stairway on the little Rue des Gres. There they
smoked and drank, and gambled and laughed. There they conversed
in very loud tones about everything, and in whispers of other things.
An old map of France under the Republic was nailed to the wall,--
a sign quite sufficient to excite the suspicion of a police agent.
The greater part of the Friends of the A B C were students,
who were on cordial terms with the working classes. Here are
the names of the principal ones. They belong, in a certain
measure, to history: Enjolras, Combeferre, Jean Prouvaire,
Feuilly, Courfeyrac, Bahorel, Lesgle or Laigle, Joly, Grantaire.
These young men formed a sort of family, through the bond
of friendship. All, with the exception of Laigle, were from the South.
This was a remarkable group. It vanished in the invisible depths
which lie behind us. At the point of this drama which we have
now reached, it will not perhaps be superfluous to throw a ray
of light upon these youthful heads, before the reader beholds
them plunging into the shadow of a tragic adventure.
Enjolras, whose name we have mentioned first of all,--the reader
shall see why later on,--was an only son and wealthy.
Enjolras was a charming young man, who was capable of being terrible.
He was angelically handsome. He was a savage Antinous. One would
have said, to see the pensive thoughtfulness of his glance, that he
had already, in some previous state of existence, traversed the
revolutionary apocalypse. He possessed the tradition of it as though
he had been a witness. He was acquainted with all the minute details
of the great affair. A pontifical and warlike nature, a singular
thing in a youth. He was an officiating priest and a man of war;
from the immediate point of view, a soldier of the democracy;
above the contemporary movement, the priest of the ideal. His eyes
were deep, his lids a little red, his lower lip was thick and easily
became disdainful, his brow was lofty. A great deal of brow in a face
is like a great deal of horizon in a view. Like certain young men
at the beginning of this century and the end of the last, who became
illustrious at an early age, he was endowed with excessive youth,
and was as rosy as a young girl, although subject to hours of pallor.
Already a man, he still seemed a child. His two and twenty years
appeared to be but seventeen; he was serious, it did not seem
as though he were aware there was on earth a thing called woman.
He had but one passion--the right; but one thought--to overthrow
the obstacle. On Mount Aventine, he would have been Gracchus;
in the Convention, he would have been Saint-Just. He hardly saw
the roses, he ignored spring, he did not hear the carolling
of the birds; the bare throat of Evadne would have moved him no
more than it would have moved Aristogeiton; he, like Harmodius,
thought flowers good for nothing except to conceal the sword.
He was severe in his enjoyments. He chastely dropped his eyes
before everything which was not the Republic. He was the marble
lover of liberty. His speech was harshly inspired, and had the
thrill of a hymn. He was subject to unexpected outbursts of soul.
Woe to the love-affair which should have risked itself beside him!
If any grisette of the Place Cambrai or the Rue Saint-Jean-de-Beauvais,
seeing that face of a youth escaped from college, that page's mien,
those long, golden lashes, those blue eyes, that hair billowing in
the wind, those rosy cheeks, those fresh lips, those exquisite teeth,
had conceived an appetite for that complete aurora, and had tried
her beauty on Enjolras, an astounding and terrible glance would
have promptly shown her the abyss, and would have taught her not
to confound the mighty cherub of Ezekiel with the gallant Cherubino
By the side of Enjolras, who represented the logic of the Revolution,
Combeferre represented its philosophy. Between the logic of the
Revolution and its philosophy there exists this difference--that its
logic may end in war, whereas its philosophy can end only in peace.
Combeferre complemented and rectified Enjolras. He was less lofty,
but broader. He desired to pour into all minds the extensive
principles of general ideas: he said: "Revolution, but civilization";
and around the mountain peak he opened out a vast view of the blue sky.
The Revolution was more adapted for breathing with Combeferre than
with Enjolras. Enjolras expressed its divine right, and Combeferre
its natural right. The first attached himself to Robespierre;
the second confined himself to Condorcet. Combeferre lived
the life of all the rest of the world more than did Enjolras.
If it had been granted to these two young men to attain to history,
the one would have been the just, the other the wise man.
Enjolras was the more virile, Combeferre the more humane. Homo and vir,
that was the exact effect of their different shades. Combeferre was
as gentle as Enjolras was severe, through natural whiteness.
He loved the word citizen, but he preferred the word man. He would
gladly have said: Hombre, like the Spanish. He read everything,
went to the theatres, attended the courses of public lecturers,
learned the polarization of light from Arago, grew enthusiastic
over a lesson in which Geoffrey Sainte-Hilaire explained the
double function of the external carotid artery, and the internal,
the one which makes the face, and the one which makes the brain;
he kept up with what was going on, followed science step by step,
compared Saint-Simon with Fourier, deciphered hieroglyphics,
broke the pebble which he found and reasoned on geology,
drew from memory a silkworm moth, pointed out the faulty French
in the Dictionary of the Academy, studied Puysegur and Deleuze,
affirmed nothing, not even miracles; denied nothing, not even ghosts;
turned over the files of the Moniteur, reflected. He declared
that the future lies in the hand of the schoolmaster, and busied
himself with educational questions. He desired that society
should labor without relaxation at the elevation of the moral
and intellectual level, at coining science, at putting ideas
into circulation, at increasing the mind in youthful persons,
and he feared lest the present poverty of method, the paltriness
from a literary point of view confined to two or three centuries
called classic, the tyrannical dogmatism of official pedants,
scholastic prejudices and routines should end by converting our
colleges into artificial oyster beds. He was learned, a purist,
exact, a graduate of the Polytechnic, a close student, and at the
same time, thoughtful "even to chimaeras," so his friends said.
He believed in all dreams, railroads, the suppression of suffering
in chirurgical operations, the fixing of images in the dark chamber,
the electric telegraph, the steering of balloons. Moreover, he was
not much alarmed by the citadels erected against the human mind
in every direction, by superstition, despotism, and prejudice.
He was one of those who think that science will eventually turn
the position. Enjolras was a chief, Combeferre was a guide.
One would have liked to fight under the one and to march behind
the other. It is not that Combeferre was not capable of fighting,
he did not refuse a hand-to-hand combat with the obstacle,
and to attack it by main force and explosively; but it suited
him better to bring the human race into accord with its destiny
gradually, by means of education, the inculcation of axioms,
the promulgation of positive laws; and, between two lights,
his preference was rather for illumination than for conflagration.
A conflagration can create an aurora, no doubt, but why not await
the dawn? A volcano illuminates, but daybreak furnishes a still
better illumination. Possibly, Combeferre preferred the whiteness
of the beautiful to the blaze of the sublime. A light troubled
by smoke, progress purchased at the expense of violence, only half
satisfied this tender and serious spirit. The headlong precipitation
of a people into the truth, a '93, terrified him; nevertheless,
stagnation was still more repulsive to him, in it he detected
putrefaction and death; on the whole, he preferred scum to miasma,
and he preferred the torrent to the cesspool, and the falls of Niagara
to the lake of Montfaucon. In short, he desired neither halt
nor haste. While his tumultuous friends, captivated by the absolute,
adored and invoked splendid revolutionary adventures, Combeferre was
inclined to let progress, good progress, take its own course;
he may have been cold, but he was pure; methodical, but irreproachable;
phlegmatic, but imperturbable. Combeferre would have knelt and
clasped his hands to enable the future to arrive in all its candor,
and that nothing might disturb the immense and virtuous evolution
of the races. The good must be innocent, he repeated incessantly.
And in fact, if the grandeur of the Revolution consists in keeping
the dazzling ideal fixedly in view, and of soaring thither athwart
the lightnings, with fire and blood in its talons, the beauty of
progress lies in being spotless; and there exists between Washington,
who represents the one, and Danton, who incarnates the other,
that difference which separates the swan from the angel with the wings
of an eagle.
Jean Prouvaire was a still softer shade than Combeferre. His name
was Jehan, owing to that petty momentary freak which mingled
with the powerful and profound movement whence sprang the very
essential study of the Middle Ages. Jean Prouvaire was in love;
he cultivated a pot of flowers, played on the flute, made verses,
loved the people, pitied woman, wept over the child, confounded God
and the future in the same confidence, and blamed the Revolution
for having caused the fall of a royal head, that of Andre Chenier.
His voice was ordinarily delicate, but suddenly grew manly.
He was learned even to erudition, and almost an Orientalist.
Above all, he was good; and, a very simple thing to those who know
how nearly goodness borders on grandeur, in the matter of poetry,
he preferred the immense. He knew Italian, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew;
and these served him only for the perusal of four poets:
Dante, Juvenal, AEschylus, and Isaiah. In French, he preferred
Corneille to Racine, and Agrippa d'Aubigne to Corneille.
He loved to saunter through fields of wild oats and corn-flowers,
and busied himself with clouds nearly as much as with events.
His mind had two attitudes, one on the side towards man, the other
on that towards God; he studied or he contemplated. All day long,
he buried himself in social questions, salary, capital, credit,
marriage, religion, liberty of thought, education, penal servitude,
poverty, association, property, production and sharing, the enigma
of this lower world which covers the human ant-hill with darkness;
and at night, he gazed upon the planets, those enormous beings.
Like Enjolras, he was wealthy and an only son. He spoke softly,
bowed his head, lowered his eyes, smiled with embarrassment,
dressed badly, had an awkward air, blushed at a mere nothing,
and was very timid. Yet he was intrepid.
Feuilly was a workingman, a fan-maker, orphaned both of father
and mother, who earned with difficulty three francs a day, and had
but one thought, to deliver the world. He had one other preoccupation,
to educate himself; he called this also, delivering himself.
He had taught himself to read and write; everything that he knew,
he had learned by himself. Feuilly had a generous heart. The range
of his embrace was immense. This orphan had adopted the peoples.
As his mother had failed him, he meditated on his country.
He brooded with the profound divination of the man of the people,
over what we now call the idea of the nationality, had learned history
with the express object of raging with full knowledge of the case.
In this club of young Utopians, occupied chiefly with France,
he represented the outside world. He had for his specialty Greece,
Poland, Hungary, Roumania, Italy. He uttered these names incessantly,
appropriately and inappropriately, with the tenacity of right.
The violations of Turkey on Greece and Thessaly, of Russia
on Warsaw, of Austria on Venice, enraged him. Above all things,
the great violence of 1772 aroused him. There is no more
sovereign eloquence than the true in indignation; he was eloquent
with that eloquence. He was inexhaustible on that infamous date
of 1772, on the subject of that noble and valiant race suppressed
by treason, and that three-sided crime, on that monstrous ambush,
the prototype and pattern of all those horrible suppressions
of states, which, since that time, have struck many a noble nation,
and have annulled their certificate of birth, so to speak.
All contemporary social crimes have their origin in the partition
of Poland. The partition of Poland is a theorem of which all present
political outrages are the corollaries. There has not been a despot,
nor a traitor for nearly a century back, who has not signed, approved,
counter-signed, and copied, ne variatur, the partition of Poland.
When the record of modern treasons was examined, that was the first
thing which made its appearance. The congress of Vienna consulted
that crime before consummating its own. 1772 sounded the onset;
1815 was the death of the game. Such was Feuilly's habitual text.
This poor workingman had constituted himself the tutor of Justice,
and she recompensed him by rendering him great. The fact is,
that there is eternity in right. Warsaw can no more be Tartar
than Venice can be Teuton. Kings lose their pains and their honor
in the attempt to make them so. Sooner or later, the submerged part
floats to the surface and reappears. Greece becomes Greece again,
Italy is once more Italy. The protest of right against the deed
persists forever. The theft of a nation cannot be allowed
by prescription. These lofty deeds of rascality have no future.
A nation cannot have its mark extracted like a pocket handkerchief.
Courfeyrac had a father who was called M. de Courfeyrac. One of
the false ideas of the bourgeoisie under the Restoration as regards
aristocracy and the nobility was to believe in the particle.
The particle, as every one knows, possesses no significance.
But the bourgeois of the epoch of la Minerve estimated so highly
that poor de, that they thought themselves bound to abdicate it.
M. de Chauvelin had himself called M. Chauvelin; M. de Caumartin,
M. Caumartin; M. de Constant de Robecque, Benjamin Constant;
M. de Lafayette, M. Lafayette. Courfeyrac had not wished to remain
behind the rest, and called himself plain Courfeyrac.
We might almost, so far as Courfeyrac is concerned, stop here,
and confine ourselves to saying with regard to what remains:
"For Courfeyrac, see Tholomyes."
Courfeyrac had, in fact, that animation of youth which may be
called the beaute du diable of the mind. Later on, this disappears
like the playfulness of the kitten, and all this grace ends,
with the bourgeois, on two legs, and with the tomcat, on four paws.
This sort of wit is transmitted from generation to generation
of the successive levies of youth who traverse the schools,
who pass it from hand to hand, quasi cursores, and is almost
always exactly the same; so that, as we have just pointed out,
any one who had listened to Courfeyrac in 1828 would have thought he
heard Tholomyes in 1817. Only, Courfeyrac was an honorable fellow.
Beneath the apparent similarities of the exterior mind, the difference
between him and Tholomyes was very great. The latent man which
existed in the two was totally different in the first from what it
was in the second. There was in Tholomyes a district attorney,
and in Courfeyrac a paladin.
Enjolras was the chief, Combeferre was the guide, Courfeyrac was
the centre. The others gave more light, he shed more warmth;
the truth is, that he possessed all the qualities of a centre,
roundness and radiance.
Bahorel had figured in the bloody tumult of June, 1822, on the
occasion of the burial of young Lallemand.
Bahorel was a good-natured mortal, who kept bad company, brave,
a spendthrift, prodigal, and to the verge of generosity, talkative,
and at times eloquent, bold to the verge of effrontery; the best
fellow possible; he had daring waistcoats, and scarlet opinions;
a wholesale blusterer, that is to say, loving nothing so much as
a quarrel, unless it were an uprising; and nothing so much as an uprising,
unless it were a revolution; always ready to smash a window-pane,
then to tear up the pavement, then to demolish a government,
just to see the effect of it; a student in his eleventh year.
He had nosed about the law, but did not practise it. He had taken
for his device: "Never a lawyer," and for his armorial bearings
a nightstand in which was visible a square cap. Every time that
he passed the law-school, which rarely happened, he buttoned up
his frock-coat,--the paletot had not yet been invented,--and took
hygienic precautions. Of the school porter he said: "What a fine
old man!" and of the dean, M. Delvincourt: "What a monument!"
In his lectures he espied subjects for ballads, and in his professors
occasions for caricature. He wasted a tolerably large allowance,
something like three thousand francs a year, in doing nothing.
He had peasant parents whom he had contrived to imbue with respect
for their son.
He said of them: "They are peasants and not bourgeois; that is
the reason they are intelligent."
Bahorel, a man of caprice, was scattered over numerous cafes;
the others had habits, he had none. He sauntered. To stray is human.
To saunter is Parisian. In reality, he had a penetrating mind and
was more of a thinker than appeared to view.
He served as a connecting link between the Friends of the A B C
and other still unorganized groups, which were destined to take
form later on.
In this conclave of young heads, there was one bald member.
The Marquis d'Avaray, whom Louis XVIII. made a duke for having
assisted him to enter a hackney-coach on the day when he emigrated,
was wont to relate, that in 1814, on his return to France, as the
King was disembarking at Calais, a man handed him a petition.
"What is your request?" said the King.
"Sire, a post-office."
"What is your name?"
The King frowned, glanced at the signature of the petition and beheld
the name written thus: LESGLE. This non-Bonoparte orthography
touched the King and he began to smile. "Sire," resumed the man
with the petition, "I had for ancestor a keeper of the hounds
surnamed Lesgueules. This surname furnished my name. I am
called Lesgueules, by contraction Lesgle, and by corruption l'Aigle."
This caused the King to smile broadly. Later on he gave the man
the posting office of Meaux, either intentionally or accidentally.
The bald member of the group was the son of this Lesgle, or Legle,
and he signed himself, Legle [de Meaux]. As an abbreviation,
his companions called him Bossuet.
Bossuet was a gay but unlucky fellow. His specialty was not to
succeed in anything. As an offset, he laughed at everything.
At five and twenty he was bald. His father had ended by owning
a house and a field; but he, the son, had made haste to lose
that house and field in a bad speculation. He had nothing left.
He possessed knowledge and wit, but all he did miscarried.
Everything failed him and everybody deceived him; what he was building
tumbled down on top of him. If he were splitting wood, he cut off
a finger. If he had a mistress, he speedily discovered that he
had a friend also. Some misfortune happened to him every moment,
hence his joviality. He said: "I live under falling tiles."
He was not easily astonished, because, for him, an accident was
what he had foreseen, he took his bad luck serenely, and smiled at
the teasing of fate, like a person who is listening to pleasantries.
He was poor, but his fund of good humor was inexhaustible.
He soon reached his last sou, never his last burst of laughter.
When adversity entered his doors, he saluted this old acquaintance
cordially, he tapped all catastrophes on the stomach; he was
familiar with fatality to the point of calling it by its nickname:
"Good day, Guignon," he said to it.
These persecutions of fate had rendered him inventive. He was full
of resources. He had no money, but he found means, when it seemed
good to him, to indulge in "unbridled extravagance." One night,
he went so far as to eat a "hundred francs" in a supper with a wench,
which inspired him to make this memorable remark in the midst of
the orgy: "Pull off my boots, you five-louis jade."
Bossuet was slowly directing his steps towards the profession
of a lawyer; he was pursuing his law studies after the manner
of Bahorel. Bossuet had not much domicile, sometimes none at all.
He lodged now with one, now with another, most often with Joly.
Joly was studying medicine. He was two years younger than Bossuet.
Joly was the "malade imaginaire" junior. What he had won in medicine
was to be more of an invalid than a doctor. At three and twenty he
thought himself a valetudinarian, and passed his life in inspecting
his tongue in the mirror. He affirmed that man becomes magnetic
like a needle, and in his chamber he placed his bed with its head
to the south, and the foot to the north, so that, at night,
the circulation of his blood might not be interfered with by the
great electric current of the globe. During thunder storms,
he felt his pulse. Otherwise, he was the gayest of them all.
All these young, maniacal, puny, merry incoherences lived in
harmony together, and the result was an eccentric and agreeable
being whom his comrades, who were prodigal of winged consonants,
called Jolllly . "You may fly away on the four L's," Jean Prouvaire
said to him.
 L'Aile, wing.
Joly had a trick of touching his nose with the tip of his cane,
which is an indication of a sagacious mind.
All these young men who differed so greatly, and who, on the whole,
can only be discussed seriously, held the same religion: Progress.
All were the direct sons of the French Revolution. The most giddy of
them became solemn when they pronounced that date: '89. Their fathers
in the flesh had been, either royalists, doctrinaires, it matters
not what; this confusion anterior to themselves, who were young,
did not concern them at all; the pure blood of principle ran in
their veins. They attached themselves, without intermediate shades,
to incorruptible right and absolute duty.
Affiliated and initiated, they sketched out the ideal underground.
Among all these glowing hearts and thoroughly convinced minds,
there was one sceptic. How came he there? By juxtaposition.
This sceptic's name was Grantaire, and he was in the habit of
signing himself with this rebus: R. Grantaire was a man who took
good care not to believe in anything. Moreover, he was one of the
students who had learned the most during their course at Paris;
he knew that the best coffee was to be had at the Cafe Lemblin,
and the best billiards at the Cafe Voltaire, that good cakes and
lasses were to be found at the Ermitage, on the Boulevard du Maine,
spatchcocked chickens at Mother Sauget's, excellent matelotes
at the Barriere de la Cunette, and a certain thin white wine at
the Barriere du Com pat. He knew the best place for everything;
in addition, boxing and foot-fencing and some dances; and he was a
thorough single-stick player. He was a tremendous drinker to boot.
He was inordinately homely: the prettiest boot-stitcher of that day,
Irma Boissy, enraged with his homeliness, pronounced sentence on him
as follows: "Grantaire is impossible"; but Grantaire's fatuity was
not to be disconcerted. He stared tenderly and fixedly at all women,
with the air of saying to them all: "If I only chose!" and of trying
to make his comrades believe that he was in general demand.
All those words: rights of the people, rights of man,
the social contract, the French Revolution, the Republic,
democracy, humanity, civilization, religion, progress, came very near
to signifying nothing whatever to Grantaire. He smiled at them.
Scepticism, that caries of the intelligence, had not left him
a single whole idea. He lived with irony. This was his axiom:
"There is but one certainty, my full glass." He sneered at all devotion
in all parties, the father as well as the brother, Robespierre junior
as well as Loizerolles. "They are greatly in advance to be dead,"
he exclaimed. He said of the crucifix: "There is a gibbet which has
been a success." A rover, a gambler, a libertine, often drunk,
he displeased these young dreamers by humming incessantly:
"J'aimons les filles, et j'aimons le bon vin." Air: Vive Henri IV.
However, this sceptic had one fanaticism. This fanaticism was
neither a dogma, nor an idea, nor an art, nor a science; it was
a man: Enjolras. Grantaire admired, loved, and venerated Enjolras.
To whom did this anarchical scoffer unite himself in this phalanx
of absolute minds? To the most absolute. In what manner had
Enjolras subjugated him? By his ideas? No. By his character.
A phenomenon which is often observable. A sceptic who adheres to a
believer is as simple as the law of complementary colors. That which
we lack attracts us. No one loves the light like the blind man.
The dwarf adores the drum-major. The toad always has his eyes
fixed on heaven. Why? In order to watch the bird in its flight.
Grantaire, in whom writhed doubt, loved to watch faith soar in Enjolras.
He had need of Enjolras. That chaste, healthy, firm, upright, hard,
candid nature charmed him, without his being clearly aware of it,
and without the idea of explaining it to himself having occurred
to him. He admired his opposite by instinct. His soft, yielding,
dislocated, sickly, shapeless ideas attached themselves to Enjolras
as to a spinal column. His moral backbone leaned on that firmness.
Grantaire in the presence of Enjolras became some one once more.
He was, himself, moreover, composed of two elements, which were,
to all appearance, incompatible. He was ironical and cordial.
His indifference loved. His mind could get along without belief,
but his heart could not get along without friendship.
A profound contradiction; for an affection is a conviction.
His nature was thus constituted. There are men who seem to be born
to be the reverse, the obverse, the wrong side. They are Pollux,
Patrocles, Nisus, Eudamidas, Ephestion, Pechmeja. They only exist
on condition that they are backed up with another man; their name
is a sequel, and is only written preceded by the conjunction and;
and their existence is not their own; it is the other side of an
existence which is not theirs. Grantaire was one of these men.
He was the obverse of Enjolras.
One might almost say that affinities begin with the letters of
the alphabet. In the series O and P are inseparable. You can,
at will, pronounce O and P or Orestes and Pylades.
Grantaire, Enjolras' true satellite, inhabited this circle of
young men; he lived there, he took no pleasure anywhere but there;
he followed them everywhere. His joy was to see these forms go
and come through the fumes of wine. They tolerated him on account
of his good humor.
Enjolras, the believer, disdained this sceptic; and, a sober
man himself, scorned this drunkard. He accorded him a little
lofty pity. Grantaire was an unaccepted Pylades. Always harshly
treated by Enjolras, roughly repulsed, rejected yet ever returning
to the charge, he said of Enjolras: "What fine marble!"
BLONDEAU'S FUNERAL ORATION BY BOSSUET
On a certain afternoon, which had, as will be seen hereafter,
some coincidence with the events heretofore related, Laigle de Meaux
was to be seen leaning in a sensual manner against the doorpost
of the Cafe Musain. He had the air of a caryatid on a vacation;
he carried nothing but his revery, however. He was staring at the
Place Saint-Michel. To lean one's back against a thing is equivalent
to lying down while standing erect, which attitude is not hated
by thinkers. Laigle de Meaux was pondering without melancholy,
over a little misadventure which had befallen him two days previously
at the law-school, and which had modified his personal plans
for the future, plans which were rather indistinct in any case.
Revery does not prevent a cab from passing by, nor the dreamer
from taking note of that cab. Laigle de Meaux, whose eyes
were straying about in a sort of diffuse lounging, perceived,
athwart his somnambulism, a two-wheeled vehicle proceeding
through the place, at a foot pace and apparently in indecision.
For whom was this cabriolet? Why was it driving at a walk?
Laigle took a survey. In it, beside the coachman, sat a young man,
and in front of the young man lay a rather bulky hand-bag. The
bag displayed to passers-by the following name inscribed in large
black letters on a card which was sewn to the stuff: MARIUS PONTMERCY.
This name caused Laigle to change his attitude. He drew himself
up and hurled this apostrophe at the young man in the cabriolet:--
"Monsieur Marius Pontmercy!"
The cabriolet thus addressed came to a halt.
The young man, who also seemed deeply buried in thought, raised his eyes:--
"Hey?" said he.
"You are M. Marius Pontmercy?"
"I was looking for you," resumed Laigle de Meaux.
"How so?" demanded Marius; for it was he: in fact, he had just
quitted his grandfather's, and had before him a face which he
now beheld for the first time. "I do not know you."
"Neither do I know you," responded Laigle.
Marius thought he had encountered a wag, the beginning of a mystification
in the open street. He was not in a very good humor at the moment.
He frowned. Laigle de Meaux went on imperturbably:--
"You were not at the school day before yesterday."
"That is possible."
"That is certain."
"You are a student?" demanded Marius.
"Yes, sir. Like yourself. Day before yesterday, I entered the school,
by chance. You know, one does have such freaks sometimes.
The professor was just calling the roll. You are not unaware that
they are very ridiculous on such occasions. At the third call,
unanswered, your name is erased from the list. Sixty francs in the gulf."
Marius began to listen.
"It was Blondeau who was making the call. You know Blondeau, he has
a very pointed and very malicious nose, and he delights to scent out
the absent. He slyly began with the letter P. I was not listening,
not being compromised by that letter. The call was not going badly.
No erasures; the universe was present. Blondeau was grieved.
I said to myself: `Blondeau, my love, you will not get the very
smallest sort of an execution to-day.' All at once Blondeau calls,
`Marius Pontmercy!' No one answers. Blondeau, filled with hope,
repeats more loudly: `Marius Pontmercy!' And he takes his pen.
Monsieur, I have bowels of compassion. I said to myself hastily:
`Here's a brave fellow who is going to get scratched out. Attention.
Here is a veritable mortal who is not exact. He's not a good student.
Here is none of your heavy-sides, a student who studies,
a greenhorn pedant, strong on letters, theology, science, and sapience,
one of those dull wits cut by the square; a pin by profession.
He is an honorable idler who lounges, who practises country jaunts,
who cultivates the grisette, who pays court to the fair sex,
who is at this very moment, perhaps, with my mistress. Let us
save him. Death to Blondeau!' At that moment, Blondeau dipped
his pen in, all black with erasures in the ink, cast his yellow
eyes round the audience room, and repeated for the third time:
`Marius Pontmercy!' I replied: `Present!' This is why you were not
"Monsieur!--" said Marius.
"And why I was," added Laigle de Meaux.
"I do not understand you," said Marius.
"Nothing is more simple. I was close to the desk to reply, and close
to the door for the purpose of flight. The professor gazed at me
with a certain intensity. All of a sudden, Blondeau, who must
be the malicious nose alluded to by Boileau, skipped to the letter
L. L is my letter. I am from Meaux, and my name is Lesgle."
"L'Aigle!" interrupted Marius, "what fine name!"
"Monsieur, Blondeau came to this fine name, and called:
`Laigle!' I reply: `Present!' Then Blondeau gazes at me, with the
gentleness of a tiger, and says to me: `lf you are Pontmercy,
you are not Laigle.' A phrase which has a disobliging air for you,
but which was lugubrious only for me. That said, he crossed me off."
"I am mortified, sir--"
"First of all," interposed Laigle, "I demand permission to embalm
Blondeau in a few phrases of deeply felt eulogium. I will assume
that he is dead. There will be no great change required in
his gauntness, in his pallor, in his coldness, and in his smell.
And I say: `Erudimini qui judicatis terram. Here lies Blondeau,
Blondeau the Nose, Blondeau Nasica, the ox of discipline,
bos disciplinae, the bloodhound of the password, the angel of the
roll-call, who was upright, square exact, rigid, honest, and hideous.
God crossed him off as he crossed me off.'"
"I am very sorry--"
"Young man," said Laigle de Meaux, "let this serve you as a lesson.
In future, be exact."
"I really beg you a thousand pardons."
"Do not expose your neighbor to the danger of having his name
"I am extremely sorry--"
Laigle burst out laughing.
"And I am delighted. I was on the brink of becoming a lawyer.
This erasure saves me. I renounce the triumphs of the bar.
I shall not defend the widow, and I shall not attack the orphan.
No more toga, no more stage. Here is my erasure all ready for me.
It is to you that I am indebted for it, Monsieur Pontmercy.
I intend to pay a solemn call of thanks upon you. Where do you
"In this cab," said Marius.
"A sign of opulence," retorted Laigle calmly. "I congratulate you.
You have there a rent of nine thousand francs per annum."
At that moment, Courfeyrac emerged from the cafe.
Marius smiled sadly.
"I have paid this rent for the last two hours, and I aspire
to get rid of it; but there is a sort of history attached to it,
and I don't know where to go."
"Come to my place, sir," said Courfeyrac.
"I have the priority," observed Laigle, "but I have no home."
"Hold your tongue, Bossuet," said Courfeyrac.
"Bossuet," said Marius, "but I thought that your name was Laigle."
"De Meaux," replied Laigle; "by metaphor, Bossuet."
Courfeyrac entered the cab.
"Coachman," said he, "hotel de la Porte-Saint-Jacques."
And that very evening, Marius found himself installed in a chamber
of the hotel de la Porte-Saint-Jacques side by side with Courfeyrac.
In a few days, Marius had become Courfeyrac's friend. Youth is
the season for prompt welding and the rapid healing of scars.
Marius breathed freely in Courfeyrac's society, a decidedly new