Part 22 out of 36
in the investigation directed against Thenardier in the matter
of his daughters, Eponine and Azelma were released. When Eponine
came out, Magnon, who was watching the gate of the Madelonettes,
handed her Brujon's note to Babet, charging her to look into
Eponine went to the Rue Plumet, recognized the gate and the garden,
observed the house, spied, lurked, and, a few days later,
brought to Magnon, who delivers in the Rue Clocheperce, a biscuit,
which Magnon transmitted to Babet's mistress in the Salpetriere.
A biscuit, in the shady symbolism of prisons, signifies: Nothing to
So that in less than a week from that time, as Brujon and Babet met
in the circle of La Force, the one on his way to the examination,
the other on his way from it:--
"Well?" asked Brujon, "the Rue P.?"
"Biscuit," replied Babet. Thus did the foetus of crime engendered
by Brujon in La Force miscarry.
This miscarriage had its consequences, however, which were perfectly
distinct from Brujon's programme. The reader will see what they were.
Often when we think we are knotting one thread, we are tying
APPARITION TO FATHER MABEUF
Marius no longer went to see any one, but he sometimes encountered
Father Mabeuf by chance.
While Marius was slowly descending those melancholy steps
which may be called the cellar stairs, and which lead to places
without light, where the happy can be heard walking overhead,
M. Mabeuf was descending on his side.
The Flora of Cauteretz no longer sold at all. The experiments on
indigo had not been successful in the little garden of Austerlitz,
which had a bad exposure. M. Mabeuf could cultivate there only
a few plants which love shade and dampness. Nevertheless, he did
not become discouraged. He had obtained a corner in the Jardin
des Plantes, with a good exposure, to make his trials with indigo "at
his own expense." For this purpose he had pawned his copperplates
of the Flora. He had reduced his breakfast to two eggs, and he left
one of these for his old servant, to whom he had paid no wages for
the last fifteen months. And often his breakfast was his only meal.
He no longer smiled with his infantile smile, he had grown morose
and no longer received visitors. Marius did well not to dream
of going thither. Sometimes, at the hour when M. Mabeuf was on
his way to the Jardin des Plantes, the old man and the young man
passed each other on the Boulevard de l'Hopital. They did not speak,
and only exchanged a melancholy sign of the head. A heart-breaking
thing it is that there comes a moment when misery looses bonds!
Two men who have been friends become two chance passers-by.
Royal the bookseller was dead. M. Mabeuf no longer knew his books,
his garden, or his indigo: these were the three forms which happiness,
pleasure, and hope had assumed for him. This sufficed him for
his living. He said to himself: "When I shall have made my balls
of blueing, I shall be rich, I will withdraw my copperplates from
the pawn-shop, I will put my Flora in vogue again with trickery,
plenty of money and advertisements in the newspapers and I will buy,
I know well where, a copy of Pierre de Medine's Art de Naviguer,
with wood-cuts, edition of 1655." In the meantime, he toiled
all day over his plot of indigo, and at night he returned home
to water his garden, and to read his books. At that epoch,
M. Mabeuf was nearly eighty years of age.
One evening he had a singular apparition.
He had returned home while it was still broad daylight.
Mother Plutarque, whose health was declining, was ill and in bed.
He had dined on a bone, on which a little meat lingered, and a bit
of bread that he had found on the kitchen table, and had seated
himself on an overturned stone post, which took the place of a bench
in his garden.
Near this bench there rose, after the fashion in orchard-gardens,
a sort of large chest, of beams and planks, much dilapidated,
a rabbit-hutch on the ground floor, a fruit-closet on the first.
There was nothing in the hutch, but there were a few apples in
the fruit-closet,--the remains of the winter's provision.
M. Mabeuf had set himself to turning over and reading, with the
aid of his glasses, two books of which he was passionately fond
and in which, a serious thing at his age, he was interested.
His natural timidity rendered him accessible to the acceptance of
superstitions in a certain degree. The first of these books was the
famous treatise of President Delancre, De l'inconstance des Demons;
the other was a quarto by Mutor de la Rubaudiere, Sur les Diables
de Vauvert et les Gobelins de la Bievre. This last-mentioned old
volume interested him all the more, because his garden had been
one of the spots haunted by goblins in former times. The twilight
had begun to whiten what was on high and to blacken all below.
As he read, over the top of the book which he held in his hand,
Father Mabeuf was surveying his plants, and among others
a magnificent rhododendron which was one of his consolations;
four days of heat, wind, and sun without a drop of rain, had passed;
the stalks were bending, the buds drooping, the leaves falling;
all this needed water, the rhododendron was particularly sad.
Father Mabeuf was one of those persons for whom plants have souls.
The old man had toiled all day over his indigo plot, he was worn out
with fatigue, but he rose, laid his books on the bench, and walked,
all bent over and with tottering footsteps, to the well, but when he
had grasped the chain, he could not even draw it sufficiently to
unhook it. Then he turned round and cast a glance of anguish toward
heaven which was becoming studded with stars.
The evening had that serenity which overwhelms the troubles of man
beneath an indescribably mournful and eternal joy. The night
promised to be as arid as the day had been.
"Stars everywhere!" thought the old man; "not the tiniest cloud!
Not a drop of water!"
And his head, which had been upraised for a moment, fell back upon
He raised it again, and once more looked at the sky, murmuring:--
"A tear of dew! A little pity!"
He tried again to unhook the chain of the well, and could not.
At that moment, he heard a voice saying:--
"Father Mabeuf, would you like to have me water your garden for you?"
At the same time, a noise as of a wild animal passing became
audible in the hedge, and he beheld emerging from the shrubbery
a sort of tall, slender girl, who drew herself up in front of him
and stared boldly at him. She had less the air of a human being
than of a form which had just blossomed forth from the twilight.
Before Father Mabeuf, who was easily terrified, and who was, as we
have said, quick to take alarm, was able to reply by a single syllable,
this being, whose movements had a sort of odd abruptness in the darkness,
had unhooked the chain, plunged in and withdrawn the bucket,
and filled the watering-pot, and the goodman beheld this apparition,
which had bare feet and a tattered petticoat, running about among
the flower-beds distributing life around her. The sound of the
watering-pot on the leaves filled Father Mabeuf's soul with ecstasy.
It seemed to him that the rhododendron was happy now.
The first bucketful emptied, the girl drew a second, then a third.
She watered the whole garden.
There was something about her, as she thus ran about among paths,
where her outline appeared perfectly black, waving her angular arms,
and with her fichu all in rags, that resembled a bat.
When she had finished, Father Mabeuf approached her with tears
in his eyes, and laid his hand on her brow.
"God will bless you," said he, "you are an angel since you take
care of the flowers."
"No," she replied. "I am the devil, but that's all the same to me."
The old man exclaimed, without either waiting for or hearing
"What a pity that I am so unhappy and so poor, and that I can
do nothing for you!"
"You can do something," said she.
"Tell me where M. Marius lives."
The old man did not understand. "What Monsieur Marius?"
He raised his glassy eyes and seemed to be seeking something
that had vanished.
"A young man who used to come here."
In the meantime, M. Mabeuf had searched his memory.
"Ah! yes--" he exclaimed. "I know what you mean. Wait!
Monsieur Marius--the Baron Marius Pontmercy, parbleu! He lives,--
or rather, he no longer lives,--ah well, I don't know."
As he spoke, he had bent over to train a branch of rhododendron,
and he continued:--
"Hold, I know now. He very often passes along the boulevard,
and goes in the direction of the Glaciere, Rue Croulebarbe.
The meadow of the Lark. Go there. It is not hard to meet him."
When M. Mabeuf straightened himself up, there was no longer any
one there; the girl had disappeared.
He was decidedly terrified.
"Really," he thought, "if my garden had not been watered, I should
think that she was a spirit."
An hour later, when he was in bed, it came back to him,
and as he fell asleep, at that confused moment when thought,
like that fabulous bird which changes itself into a fish in order
to cross the sea, little by little assumes the form of a dream
in order to traverse slumber, he said to himself in a bewildered way:--
"In sooth, that greatly resembles what Rubaudiere narrates
of the goblins. Could it have been a goblin?"
AN APPARITION TO MARIUS
Some days after this visit of a "spirit" to Farmer Mabeuf, one morning,--
it was on a Monday, the day when Marius borrowed the hundred-sou
piece from Courfeyrac for Thenardier--Marius had put this coin
in his pocket, and before carrying it to the clerk's office,
he had gone "to take a little stroll," in the hope that this would
make him work on his return. It was always thus, however. As soon
as he rose, he seated himself before a book and a sheet of paper
in order to scribble some translation; his task at that epoch
consisted in turning into French a celebrated quarrel between Germans,
the Gans and Savigny controversy; he took Savigny, he took Gans,
read four lines, tried to write one, could not, saw a star between him
and his paper, and rose from his chair, saying: "I shall go out.
That will put me in spirits."
And off he went to the Lark's meadow.
There he beheld more than ever the star, and less than ever Savigny
He returned home, tried to take up his work again, and did not succeed;
there was no means of re-knotting a single one of the threads which
were broken in his brain; then he said to himself: "I will not go
out to-morrow. It prevents my working." And he went out every day.
He lived in the Lark's meadow more than in Courfeyrac's lodgings.
That was his real address: Boulevard de la Sante, at the seventh
tree from the Rue Croulebarbe.
That morning he had quitted the seventh tree and had seated himself
on the parapet of the River des Gobelins. A cheerful sunlight
penetrated the freshly unfolded and luminous leaves.
He was dreaming of "Her." And his meditation turning to a reproach,
fell back upon himself; he reflected dolefully on his idleness,
his paralysis of soul, which was gaining on him, and of that night
which was growing more dense every moment before him, to such a point
that he no longer even saw the sun.
Nevertheless, athwart this painful extrication of indistinct ideas
which was not even a monologue, so feeble had action become in him,
and he had no longer the force to care to despair, athwart this
melancholy absorption, sensations from without did reach him.
He heard behind him, beneath him, on both banks of the river,
the laundresses of the Gobelins beating their linen, and above
his head, the birds chattering and singing in the elm-trees.
On the one hand, the sound of liberty, the careless happiness
of the leisure which has wings; on the other, the sound of toil.
What caused him to meditate deeply, and almost reflect, were two
All at once, in the midst of his dejected ecstasy, he heard
a familiar voice saying:--
"Come! Here he is!"
He raised his eyes, and recognized that wretched child who had come to him
one morning, the elder of the Thenardier daughters, Eponine; he knew
her name now. Strange to say, she had grown poorer and prettier,
two steps which it had not seemed within her power to take.
She had accomplished a double progress, towards the light and
towards distress. She was barefooted and in rags, as on the day
when she had so resolutely entered his chamber, only her rags were two
months older now, the holes were larger, the tatters more sordid.
It was the same harsh voice, the same brow dimmed and wrinkled with tan,
the same free, wild, and vacillating glance. She had besides,
more than formerly, in her face that indescribably terrified
and lamentable something which sojourn in a prison adds to wretchedness.
She had bits of straw and hay in her hair, not like Ophelia
through having gone mad from the contagion of Hamlet's madness,
but because she had slept in the loft of some stable.
And in spite of it all, she was beautiful. What a star art thou,
In the meantime, she had halted in front of Marius with a trace
of joy in her livid countenance, and something which resembled a smile.
She stood for several moments as though incapable of speech.
"So I have met you at last!" she said at length. "Father Mabeuf
was right, it was on this boulevard! How I have hunted for you!
If you only knew! Do you know? I have been in the jug. A fortnight!
They let me out! seeing that there was nothing against me,
and that, moreover, I had not reached years of discretion. I lack
two months of it. Oh! how I have hunted for you! These six weeks!
So you don't live down there any more?"
"No," said Marius.
"Ah! I understand. Because of that affair. Those take-downs
are disagreeable. You cleared out. Come now! Why do you wear old
hats like this! A young man like you ought to have fine clothes.
Do you know, Monsieur Marius, Father Mabeuf calls you Baron Marius,
I don't know what. It isn't true that you are a baron? Barons are
old fellows, they go to the Luxembourg, in front of the chateau,
where there is the most sun, and they read the Quotidienne for a sou.
I once carried a letter to a baron of that sort. He was over a hundred
years old. Say, where do you live now?"
Marius made no reply.
"Ah!" she went on, "you have a hole in your shirt. I must sew it
up for you."
She resumed with an expression which gradually clouded over:--
"You don't seem glad to see me."
Marius held his peace; she remained silent for a moment, then exclaimed:--
"But if I choose, nevertheless, I could force you to look glad!"
"What?" demanded Marius. "What do you mean?"
"Ah! you used to call me thou," she retorted.
"Well, then, what dost thou mean?"
She bit her lips; she seemed to hesitate, as though a prey to some
sort of inward conflict. At last she appeared to come to a decision.
"So much the worse, I don't care. You have a melancholy air,
I want you to be pleased. Only promise me that you will smile.
I want to see you smile and hear you say: `Ah, well, that's good.'
Poor Mr. Marius! you know? You promised me that you would give me
anything I like--"
"Yes! Only speak!"
She looked Marius full in the eye, and said:--
"I have the address."
Marius turned pale. All the blood flowed back to his heart.
"The address that you asked me to get!"
She added, as though with an effort:--
"The address--you know very well!"
"Yes!" stammered Marius.
"Of that young lady."
This word uttered, she sighed deeply.
Marius sprang from the parapet on which he had been sitting
and seized her hand distractedly.
"Oh! Well! lead me thither! Tell me! Ask of me anything you wish!
Where is it?"
"Come with me," she responded. "I don't know the street or number
very well; it is in quite the other direction from here, but I know
the house well, I will take you to it."
She withdrew her hand and went on, in a tone which could have rent
the heart of an observer, but which did not even graze Marius
in his intoxicated and ecstatic state:--
"Oh! how glad you are!"
A cloud swept across Marius' brow. He seized Eponine by the arm:--
"Swear one thing to me!"
"Swear!" said she, "what does that mean? Come! You want me to swear?"
And she laughed.
"Your father! promise me, Eponine! Swear to me that you will not
give this address to your father!"
She turned to him with a stupefied air.
"Eponine! How do you know that my name is Eponine?"
"Promise what I tell you!"
But she did not seem to hear him.
"That's nice! You have called me Eponine!"
Marius grasped both her arms at once.
"But answer me, in the name of Heaven! pay attention to what I am
saying to you, swear to me that you will not tell your father this
address that you know!"
"My father!" said she. "Ah yes, my father! Be at ease.
He's in close confinement. Besides, what do I care for my father!"
"But you do not promise me!" exclaimed Marius.
"Let go of me!" she said, bursting into a laugh, "how you do shake me!
Yes! Yes! I promise that! I swear that to you! What is that to me?
I will not tell my father the address. There! Is that right?
Is that it?"
"Nor to any one?" said Marius.
"Nor to any one."
"Now," resumed Marius, "take me there."
"Come along. Ah! how pleased he is!" said she.
After a few steps she halted.
"You are following me too closely, Monsieur Marius. Let me go
on ahead, and follow me so, without seeming to do it. A nice
young man like you must not be seen with a woman like me."
No tongue can express all that lay in that word, woman, thus pronounced
by that child.
She proceeded a dozen paces and then halted once more; Marius joined her.
She addressed him sideways, and without turning towards him:--
"By the way, you know that you promised me something?"
Marius fumbled in his pocket. All that he owned in the world
was the five francs intended for Thenardier the father. He took
them and laid them in Eponine's hand.
She opened her fingers and let the coin fall to the ground,
and gazed at him with a gloomy air.
"I don't want your money," said she.
BOOK THIRD.--THE HOUSE IN THE RUE PLUMET
THE HOUSE WITH A SECRET
About the middle of the last century, a chief justice in the Parliament
of Paris having a mistress and concealing the fact, for at that period
the grand seignors displayed their mistresses, and the bourgeois
concealed them, had "a little house" built in the Faubourg Saint-Germain,
in the deserted Rue Blomet, which is now called Rue Plumet,
not far from the spot which was then designated as Combat des Animaux.
This house was composed of a single-storied pavilion; two rooms
on the ground floor, two chambers on the first floor, a kitchen
down stairs, a boudoir up stairs, an attic under the roof, the whole
preceded by a garden with a large gate opening on the street.
This garden was about an acre and a half in extent. This was all
that could be seen by passers-by; but behind the pavilion there was
a narrow courtyard, and at the end of the courtyard a low building
consisting of two rooms and a cellar, a sort of preparation destined
to conceal a child and nurse in case of need. This building communicated
in the rear by a masked door which opened by a secret spring,
with a long, narrow, paved winding corridor, open to the sky,
hemmed in with two lofty walls, which, hidden with wonderful art,
and lost as it were between garden enclosures and cultivated land,
all of whose angles and detours it followed, ended in another door,
also with a secret lock which opened a quarter of a league away,
almost in another quarter, at the solitary extremity of the Rue
Through this the chief justice entered, so that even those who were
spying on him and following him would merely have observed that the
justice betook himself every day in a mysterious way somewhere,
and would never have suspected that to go to the Rue de Babylone
was to go to the Rue Blomet. Thanks to clever purchasers of land,
the magistrate had been able to make a secret, sewer-like passage on
his own property, and consequently, without interference. Later on,
he had sold in little parcels, for gardens and market gardens,
the lots of ground adjoining the corridor, and the proprietors
of these lots on both sides thought they had a party wall before
their eyes, and did not even suspect the long, paved ribbon winding
between two walls amid their flower-beds and their orchards.
Only the birds beheld this curiosity. It is probable that the
linnets and tomtits of the last century gossiped a great deal about
the chief justice.
The pavilion, built of stone in the taste of Mansard,
wainscoted and furnished in the Watteau style, rocaille on
the inside, old-fashioned on the outside, walled in with a
triple hedge of flowers, had something discreet, coquettish,
and solemn about it, as befits a caprice of love and magistracy.
This house and corridor, which have now disappeared, were in
existence fifteen years ago. In '93 a coppersmith had purchased
the house with the idea of demolishing it, but had not been able
to pay the price; the nation made him bankrupt. So that it was
the house which demolished the coppersmith. After that, the house
remained uninhabited, and fell slowly to ruin, as does every
dwelling to which the presence of man does not communicate life.
It had remained fitted with its old furniture, was always for sale
or to let, and the ten or a dozen people who passed through
the Rue Plumet were warned of the fact by a yellow and illegible
bit of writing which had hung on the garden wall since 1819.
Towards the end of the Restoration, these same passers-by might have
noticed that the bill had disappeared, and even that the shutters
on the first floor were open. The house was occupied, in fact.
The windows had short curtains, a sign that there was a woman about.
In the month of October, 1829, a man of a certain age had presented
himself and had hired the house just as it stood, including, of course,
the back building and the lane which ended in the Rue de Babylone.
He had had the secret openings of the two doors to this passage repaired.
The house, as we have just mentioned, was still very nearly
furnished with the justice's old fitting; the new tenant had
ordered some repairs, had added what was lacking here and there,
had replaced the paving-stones in the yard, bricks in the floors,
steps in the stairs, missing bits in the inlaid floors and the glass
in the lattice windows, and had finally installed himself there
with a young girl and an elderly maid-servant, without commotion,
rather like a person who is slipping in than like a man who is
entering his own house. The neighbors did not gossip about him,
for the reason that there were no neighbors.
This unobtrusive tenant was Jean Valjean, the young girl was Cosette.
The servant was a woman named Toussaint, whom Jean Valjean had
saved from the hospital and from wretchedness, and who was elderly,
a stammerer, and from the provinces, three qualities which had
decided Jean Valjean to take her with him. He had hired the
house under the name of M. Fauchelevent, independent gentleman.
In all that has been related heretofore, the reader has, doubtless,
been no less prompt than Thenardier to recognize Jean Valjean.
Why had Jean Valjean quitted the convent of the Petit-Picpus? What
Nothing had happened.
It will be remembered that Jean Valjean was happy in the convent,
so happy that his conscience finally took the alarm. He saw
Cosette every day, he felt paternity spring up and develop within
him more and more, he brooded over the soul of that child, he said
to himself that she was his, that nothing could take her from him,
that this would last indefinitely, that she would certainly become
a nun, being thereto gently incited every day, that thus the convent
was henceforth the universe for her as it was for him, that he
should grow old there, and that she would grow up there, that she
would grow old there, and that he should die there; that, in short,
delightful hope, no separation was possible. On reflecting upon this,
he fell into perplexity. He interrogated himself. He asked himself
if all that happiness were really his, if it were not composed of
the happiness of another, of the happiness of that child which he,
an old man, was confiscating and stealing; if that were not theft?
He said to himself, that this child had a right to know life before
renouncing it, that to deprive her in advance, and in some sort
without consulting her, of all joys, under the pretext of saving her
from all trials, to take advantage of her ignorance of her isolation,
in order to make an artificial vocation germinate in her,
was to rob a human creature of its nature and to lie to God.
And who knows if, when she came to be aware of all this some day,
and found herself a nun to her sorrow, Cosette would not come
to hate him? A last, almost selfish thought, and less heroic than
the rest, but which was intolerable to him. He resolved to quit
He resolved on this; he recognized with anguish, the fact
that it was necessary. As for objections, there were none.
Five years' sojourn between these four walls and of disappearance
had necessarily destroyed or dispersed the elements of fear.
He could return tranquilly among men. He had grown old,
and all had undergone a change. Who would recognize him now?
And then, to face the worst, there was danger only for himself,
and he had no right to condemn Cosette to the cloister for the reason
that he had been condemned to the galleys. Besides, what is danger
in comparison with the right? Finally, nothing prevented his being
prudent and taking his precautions.
As for Cosette's education, it was almost finished and complete.
His determination once taken, he awaited an opportunity.
It was not long in presenting itself. Old Fauchelevent died.
Jean Valjean demanded an audience with the revered prioress and told
her that, having come into a little inheritance at the death of
his brother, which permitted him henceforth to live without working,
he should leave the service of the convent and take his daughter
with him; but that, as it was not just that Cosette, since she had
not taken the vows, should have received her education gratuitously,
he humbly begged the Reverend Prioress to see fit that he
should offer to the community, as indemnity, for the five years
which Cosette had spent there, the sum of five thousand francs.
It was thus that Jean Valjean quitted the convent
of the Perpetual Adoration.
On leaving the convent, he took in his own arms the little valise
the key to which he still wore on his person, and would permit
no porter to touch it. This puzzled Cosette, because of the odor
of embalming which proceeded from it.
Let us state at once, that this trunk never quitted him more.
He always had it in his chamber. It was the first and only thing
sometimes, that he carried off in his moving when he moved about.
Cosette laughed at it, and called this valise his inseparable, saying:
"I am jealous of it."
Nevertheless, Jean Valjean did not reappear in the open air without
He discovered the house in the Rue Plumet, and hid himself from
sight there. Henceforth he was in the possession of the name:--
At the same time he hired two other apartments in Paris, in order
that he might attract less attention than if he were to remain
always in the same quarter, and so that he could, at need,
take himself off at the slightest disquietude which should assail him,
and in short, so that he might not again be caught unprovided
as on the night when he had so miraculously escaped from Javert.
These two apartments were very pitiable, poor in appearance,
and in two quarters which were far remote from each other, the one
in the Rue de l'Ouest, the other in the Rue de l'Homme Arme.
He went from time to time, now to the Rue de l'Homme Arme,
now to the Rue de l'Ouest, to pass a month or six weeks,
without taking Toussaint. He had himself served by the porters,
and gave himself out as a gentleman from the suburbs, living on
his funds, and having a little temporary resting-place in town.
This lofty virtue had three domiciles in Paris for the sake
of escaping from the police.
JEAN VALJEAN AS A NATIONAL GUARD
However, properly speaking, he lived in the Rue Plumet, and he
had arranged his existence there in the following fashion:--
Cosette and the servant occupied the pavilion; she had the big
sleeping-room with the painted pier-glasses, the boudoir with the
gilded fillets, the justice's drawing-room furnished with tapestries
and vast arm-chairs; she had the garden. Jean Valjean had a canopied
bed of antique damask in three colors and a beautiful Persian rug
purchased in the Rue du Figuier-Saint-Paul at Mother Gaucher's, put
into Cosette's chamber, and, in order to redeem the severity of these
magnificent old things, he had amalgamated with this bric-a-brac all
the gay and graceful little pieces of furniture suitable to young girls,
an etagere, a bookcase filled with gilt-edged books, an inkstand,
a blotting-book, paper, a work-table incrusted with mother of pearl,
a silver-gilt dressing-case, a toilet service in Japanese porcelain.
Long damask curtains with a red foundation and three colors,
like those on the bed, hung at the windows of the first floor.
On the ground floor, the curtains were of tapestry. All winter long,
Cosette's little house was heated from top to bottom. Jean Valjean
inhabited the sort of porter's lodge which was situated at the end
of the back courtyard, with a mattress on a folding-bed, a white
wood table, two straw chairs, an earthenware water-jug, a few old
volumes on a shelf, his beloved valise in one corner, and never
any fire. He dined with Cosette, and he had a loaf of black bread
on the table for his own use.
When Toussaint came, he had said to her: "It is the young lady who is
the mistress of this house."--"And you, monsieur?" Toussaint replied in
amazement.--"I am a much better thing than the master, I am the father."
Cosette had been taught housekeeping in the convent, and she
regulated their expenditure, which was very modest. Every day,
Jean Valjean put his arm through Cosette's and took her for a walk.
He led her to the Luxembourg, to the least frequented walk,
and every Sunday he took her to mass at Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas,
because that was a long way off. As it was a very poor quarter,
he bestowed alms largely there, and the poor people surrounded him
in church, which had drawn down upon him Thenardier's epistle:
"To the benevolent gentleman of the church of Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas."
He was fond of taking Cosette to visit the poor and the sick.
No stranger ever entered the house in the Rue Plumet. Toussaint brought
their provisions, and Jean Valjean went himself for water to a
fountain near by on the boulevard. Their wood and wine were put
into a half-subterranean hollow lined with rock-work which lay near
the Rue de Babylone and which had formerly served the chief-justice
as a grotto; for at the epoch of follies and "Little Houses" no love
was without a grotto.
In the door opening on the Rue de Babylone, there was a box destined
for the reception of letters and papers; only, as the three inhabitants
of the pavilion in the Rue Plumet received neither papers nor letters,
the entire usefulness of that box, formerly the go-between of a
love affair, and the confidant of a love-lorn lawyer, was now limited
to the tax-collector's notices, and the summons of the guard.
For M. Fauchelevent, independent gentleman, belonged to the national
guard; he had not been able to escape through the fine meshes of the
census of 1831. The municipal information collected at that time had
even reached the convent of the Petit-Picpus, a sort of impenetrable
and holy cloud, whence Jean Valjean had emerged in venerable guise,
and, consequently, worthy of mounting guard in the eyes of the townhall.
Three or four times a year, Jean Valjean donned his uniform and
mounted guard; he did this willingly, however; it was a correct
disguise which mixed him with every one, and yet left him solitary.
Jean Valjean had just attained his sixtieth birthday, the age
of legal exemption; but he did not appear to be over fifty;
moreover, he had no desire to escape his sergeant-major nor
to quibble with Comte de Lobau; he possessed no civil status,
he was concealing his name, he was concealing his identity,
so he concealed his age, he concealed everything; and, as we have
just said, he willingly did his duty as a national guard; the sum
of his ambition lay in resembling any other man who paid his taxes.
This man had for his ideal, within, the angel, without, the bourgeois.
Let us note one detail, however; when Jean Valjean went out with Cosette,
he dressed as the reader has already seen, and had the air of a
retired officer. When he went out alone, which was generally at night,
he was always dressed in a workingman's trousers and blouse, and wore
a cap which concealed his face. Was this precaution or humility?
Both. Cosette was accustomed to the enigmatical side of her destiny,
and hardly noticed her father's peculiarities. As for Toussaint,
she venerated Jean Valjean, and thought everything he did right.
One day, her butcher, who had caught a glimpse of Jean Valjean,
said to her: "That's a queer fish." She replied: "He's a saint."
Neither Jean Valjean nor Cosette nor Toussaint ever entered or emerged
except by the door on the Rue de Babylone. Unless seen through
the garden gate it would have been difficult to guess that they
lived in the Rue Plumet. That gate was always closed. Jean Valjean
had left the garden uncultivated, in order not to attract attention.
In this, possibly, he made a mistake.
FOLIIS AC FRONDIBUS
The garden thus left to itself for more than half a century had
become extraordinary and charming. The passers-by of forty years
ago halted to gaze at it, without a suspicion of the secrets which
it hid in its fresh and verdant depths. More than one dreamer
of that epoch often allowed his thoughts and his eyes to penetrate
indiscreetly between the bars of that ancient, padlocked gate,
twisted, tottering, fastened to two green and moss-covered pillars,
and oddly crowned with a pediment of undecipherable arabesque.
There was a stone bench in one corner, one or two mouldy statues,
several lattices which had lost their nails with time, were rotting
on the wall, and there were no walks nor turf; but there was
enough grass everywhere. Gardening had taken its departure,
and nature had returned. Weeds abounded, which was a great piece
of luck for a poor corner of land. The festival of gilliflowers
was something splendid. Nothing in this garden obstructed the
sacred effort of things towards life; venerable growth reigned
there among them. The trees had bent over towards the nettles,
the plant had sprung upward, the branch had inclined, that which crawls
on the earth had gone in search of that which expands in the air,
that which floats on the wind had bent over towards that which trails
in the moss; trunks, boughs, leaves, fibres, clusters, tendrils,
shoots, spines, thorns, had mingled, crossed, married, confounded
themselves in each other; vegetation in a deep and close embrace,
had celebrated and accomplished there, under the well-pleased
eye of the Creator, in that enclosure three hundred feet square,
the holy mystery of fraternity, symbol of the human fraternity.
This garden was no longer a garden, it was a colossal thicket,
that is to say, something as impenetrable as a forest, as peopled
as a city, quivering like a nest, sombre like a cathedral,
fragrant like a bouquet, solitary as a tomb, living as a throng.
In Floreal this enormous thicket, free behind its gate and within
its four walls, entered upon the secret labor of germination,
quivered in the rising sun, almost like an animal which drinks
in the breaths of cosmic love, and which feels the sap of April
rising and boiling in its veins, and shakes to the wind its
enormous wonderful green locks, sprinkled on the damp earth,
on the defaced statues, on the crumbling steps of the pavilion,
and even on the pavement of the deserted street, flowers like stars,
dew like pearls, fecundity, beauty, life, joy, perfumes. At midday,
a thousand white butterflies took refuge there, and it was a divine
spectacle to see that living summer snow whirling about there
in flakes amid the shade. There, in those gay shadows of verdure,
a throng of innocent voices spoke sweetly to the soul, and what the
twittering forgot to say the humming completed. In the evening,
a dreamy vapor exhaled from the garden and enveloped it; a shroud
of mist, a calm and celestial sadness covered it; the intoxicating
perfume of the honeysuckles and convolvulus poured out from every
part of it, like an exquisite and subtle poison; the last appeals
of the woodpeckers and the wagtails were audible as they dozed among
the branches; one felt the sacred intimacy of the birds and the trees;
by day the wings rejoice the leaves, by night the leaves protect
 From April 19 to May 20.
In winter the thicket was black, dripping, bristling, shivering,
and allowed some glimpse of the house. Instead of flowers on the branches
and dew in the flowers, the long silvery tracks of the snails were
visible on the cold, thick carpet of yellow leaves; but in any fashion,
under any aspect, at all seasons, spring, winter, summer, autumn,
this tiny enclosure breathed forth melancholy, contemplation,
solitude, liberty, the absence of man, the presence of God; and
the rusty old gate had the air of saying: "This garden belongs to me."
It was of no avail that the pavements of Paris were there on
every side, the classic and splendid hotels of the Rue de Varennes
a couple of paces away, the dome of the Invalides close at hand,
the Chamber of Deputies not far off; the carriages of the Rue de
Bourgogne and of the Rue Saint-Dominique rumbled luxuriously, in vain,
in the vicinity, in vain did the yellow, brown, white, and red
omnibuses cross each other's course at the neighboring cross-roads;
the Rue Plumet was the desert; and the death of the former proprietors,
the revolution which had passed over it, the crumbling away of
ancient fortunes, absence, forgetfulness, forty years of abandonment
and widowhood, had sufficed to restore to this privileged spot ferns,
mulleins, hemlock, yarrow, tall weeds, great crimped plants,
with large leaves of pale green cloth, lizards, beetles, uneasy and
rapid insects; to cause to spring forth from the depths of the earth
and to reappear between those four walls a certain indescribable
and savage grandeur; and for nature, which disconcerts the petty
arrangements of man, and which sheds herself always thoroughly
where she diffuses herself at all, in the ant as well as in
the eagle, to blossom out in a petty little Parisian garden with
as much rude force and majesty as in a virgin forest of the New World.
Nothing is small, in fact; any one who is subject to the profound
and penetrating influence of nature knows this. Although no
absolute satisfaction is given to philosophy, either to circumscribe
the cause or to limit the effect, the contemplator falls into
those unfathomable ecstasies caused by these decompositions
of force terminating in unity. Everything toils at everything.
Algebra is applied to the clouds; the radiation of the star profits
the rose; no thinker would venture to affirm that the perfume of the
hawthorn is useless to the constellations. Who, then, can calculate
the course of a molecule? How do we know that the creation of worlds
is not determined by the fall of grains of sand? Who knows the
reciprocal ebb and flow of the infinitely great and the infinitely
little, the reverberations of causes in the precipices of being,
and the avalanches of creation? The tiniest worm is of importance;
the great is little, the little is great; everything is balanced
in necessity; alarming vision for the mind. There are marvellous
relations between beings and things; in that inexhaustible whole,
from the sun to the grub, nothing despises the other; all have
need of each other. The light does not bear away terrestrial
perfumes into the azure depths, without knowing what it is doing;
the night distributes stellar essences to the sleeping flowers.
All birds that fly have round their leg the thread of the infinite.
Germination is complicated with the bursting forth of a meteor
and with the peck of a swallow cracking its egg, and it places on
one level the birth of an earthworm and the advent of Socrates.
Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two
possesses the larger field of vision? Choose. A bit of mould
is a pleiad of flowers; a nebula is an ant-hill of stars.
The same promiscuousness, and yet more unprecedented, exists between
the things of the intelligence and the facts of substance.
Elements and principles mingle, combine, wed, multiply with each other,
to such a point that the material and the moral world are brought
eventually to the same clearness. The phenomenon is perpetually
returning upon itself. In the vast cosmic exchanges the universal life
goes and comes in unknown quantities, rolling entirely in the invisible
mystery of effluvia, employing everything, not losing a single dream,
not a single slumber, sowing an animalcule here, crumbling to bits
a planet there, oscillating and winding, making of light a force
and of thought an element, disseminated and invisible, dissolving all,
except that geometrical point, the I; bringing everything back to
the soul-atom; expanding everything in God, entangling all activity,
from summit to base, in the obscurity of a dizzy mechanism,
attaching the flight of an insect to the movement of the earth,
subordinating, who knows? Were it only by the identity of the law,
the evolution of the comet in the firmament to the whirling
of the infusoria in the drop of water. A machine made of mind.
Enormous gearing, the prime motor of which is the gnat, and whose
final wheel is the zodiac.
CHANGE OF GATE
It seemed that this garden, created in olden days to conceal
wanton mysteries, had been transformed and become fitted to shelter
chaste mysteries. There were no longer either arbors, or bowling greens,
or tunnels, or grottos; there was a magnificent, dishevelled obscurity
falling like a veil over all. Paphos had been made over into Eden.
It is impossible to say what element of repentance had rendered
this retreat wholesome. This flower-girl now offered her blossom
to the soul. This coquettish garden, formerly decidedly compromised,
had returned to virginity and modesty. A justice assisted by a gardener,
a goodman who thought that he was a continuation of Lamoignon,
and another goodman who thought that he was a continuation of Lenotre,
had turned it about, cut, ruffled, decked, moulded it to gallantry;
nature had taken possession of it once more, had filled it with shade,
and had arranged it for love.
There was, also, in this solitude, a heart which was quite ready.
Love had only to show himself; he had here a temple composed
of verdure, grass, moss, the sight of birds, tender shadows,
agitated branches, and a soul made of sweetness, of faith, of candor,
of hope, of aspiration, and of illusion.
Cosette had left the convent when she was still almost a child;
she was a little more than fourteen, and she was at the "ungrateful age";
we have already said, that with the exception of her eyes, she was
homely rather than pretty; she had no ungraceful feature, but she
was awkward, thin, timid and bold at once, a grown-up little girl,
Her education was finished, that is to say, she has been taught religion,
and even and above all, devotion; then "history," that is to say
the thing that bears that name in convents, geography, grammar,
the participles, the kings of France, a little music, a little
drawing, etc.; but in all other respects she was utterly ignorant,
which is a great charm and a great peril. The soul of a young
girl should not be left in the dark; later on, mirages that are
too abrupt and too lively are formed there, as in a dark chamber.
She should be gently and discreetly enlightened, rather with the
reflection of realities than with their harsh and direct light.
A useful and graciously austere half-light which dissipates puerile
fears and obviates falls. There is nothing but the maternal instinct,
that admirable intuition composed of the memories of the virgin
and the experience of the woman, which knows how this half-light
is to be created and of what it should consist.
Nothing supplies the place of this instinct. All the nuns in
the world are not worth as much as one mother in the formation
of a young girl's soul.
Cosette had had no mother. She had only had many mothers,
in the plural.
As for Jean Valjean, he was, indeed, all tenderness, all solicitude;
but he was only an old man and he knew nothing at all.
Now, in this work of education, in this grave matter of preparing
a woman for life, what science is required to combat that vast
ignorance which is called innocence!
Nothing prepares a young girl for passions like the convent.
The convent turns the thoughts in the direction of the unknown.
The heart, thus thrown back upon itself, works downward within itself,
since it cannot overflow, and grows deep, since it cannot expand.
Hence visions, suppositions, conjectures, outlines of romances,
a desire for adventures, fantastic constructions, edifices built
wholly in the inner obscurity of the mind, sombre and secret abodes
where the passions immediately find a lodgement as soon as the open
gate permits them to enter. The convent is a compression which,
in order to triumph over the human heart, should last during the
On quitting the convent, Cosette could have found nothing more
sweet and more dangerous than the house in the Rue Plumet.
It was the continuation of solitude with the beginning of liberty;
a garden that was closed, but a nature that was acrid, rich, voluptuous,
and fragrant; the same dreams as in the convent, but with glimpses
of young men; a grating, but one that opened on the street.
Still, when she arrived there, we repeat, she was only a child.
Jean Valjean gave this neglected garden over to her. "Do what you
like with it," he said to her. This amused Cosette; she turned
over all the clumps and all the stones, she hunted for "beasts"; she
played in it, while awaiting the time when she would dream in it;
she loved this garden for the insects that she found beneath
her feet amid the grass, while awaiting the day when she would
love it for the stars that she would see through the boughs above
And then, she loved her father, that is to say, Jean Valjean,
with all her soul, with an innocent filial passion which made
the goodman a beloved and charming companion to her. It will be
remembered that M. Madeleine had been in the habit of reading a
great deal. Jean Valjean had continued this practice; he had come
to converse well; he possessed the secret riches and the eloquence
of a true and humble mind which has spontaneously cultivated itself.
He retained just enough sharpness to season his kindness; his mind
was rough and his heart was soft. During their conversations
in the Luxembourg, he gave her explanations of everything,
drawing on what he had read, and also on what he had suffered.
As she listened to him, Cosette's eyes wandered vaguely about.
This simple man sufficed for Cosette's thought, the same as the wild
garden sufficed for her eyes. When she had had a good chase after
the butterflies, she came panting up to him and said: "Ah! How I
have run!" He kissed her brow.
Cosette adored the goodman. She was always at his heels.
Where Jean Valjean was, there happiness was. Jean Valjean lived
neither in the pavilion nor the garden; she took greater pleasure
in the paved back courtyard, than in the enclosure filled with flowers,
and in his little lodge furnished with straw-seated chairs than
in the great drawing-room hung with tapestry, against which stood
tufted easy-chairs. Jean Valjean sometimes said to her, smiling at
his happiness in being importuned: "Do go to your own quarters!
Leave me alone a little!"
She gave him those charming and tender scoldings which are
so graceful when they come from a daughter to her father.
"Father, I am very cold in your rooms; why don't you have a carpet
here and a stove?"
"Dear child, there are so many people who are better than I
and who have not even a roof over their heads."
"Then why is there a fire in my rooms, and everything that is needed?"
"Because you are a woman and a child."
"Bah! must men be cold and feel uncomfortable?"
"That is good, I shall come here so often that you will be obliged
to have a fire."
And again she said to him:--
"Father, why do you eat horrible bread like that?"
"Because, my daughter."
"Well, if you eat it, I will eat it too."
Then, in order to prevent Cosette eating black bread, Jean Valjean
ate white bread.
Cosette had but a confused recollection of her childhood. She prayed
morning and evening for her mother whom she had never known.
The Thenardiers had remained with her as two hideous figures
in a dream. She remembered that she had gone "one day, at night,"
to fetch water in a forest. She thought that it had been very far
from Paris. It seemed to her that she had begun to live in an abyss,
and that it was Jean Valjean who had rescued her from it.
Her childhood produced upon her the effect of a time when there
had been nothing around her but millepeds, spiders, and serpents.
When she meditated in the evening, before falling asleep, as she
had not a very clear idea that she was Jean Valjean's daughter,
and that he was her father, she fancied that the soul of her mother had
passed into that good man and had come to dwell near her.
When he was seated, she leaned her cheek against his white hair,
and dropped a silent tear, saying to herself: "Perhaps this man is
Cosette, although this is a strange statement to make,
in the profound ignorance of a girl brought up in a convent,--
maternity being also absolutely unintelligible to virginity,--
had ended by fancying that she had had as little mother as possible.
She did not even know her mother's name. Whenever she asked Jean Valjean,
Jean Valjean remained silent. If she repeated her question,
he responded with a smile. Once she insisted; the smile ended in a tear.
This silence on the part of Jean Valjean covered Fantine with darkness.
Was it prudence? Was it respect? Was it a fear that he should
deliver this name to the hazards of another memory than his own?
So long as Cosette had been small, Jean Valjean had been willing to talk
to her of her mother; when she became a young girl, it was impossible
for him to do so. It seemed to him that he no longer dared. Was it
because of Cosette? Was it because of Fantine? He felt a certain
religious horror at letting that shadow enter Cosette's thought;
and of placing a third in their destiny. The more sacred this
shade was to him, the more did it seem that it was to be feared.
He thought of Fantine, and felt himself overwhelmed with silence.
Through the darkness, he vaguely perceived something which appeared
to have its finger on its lips. Had all the modesty which had been
in Fantine, and which had violently quitted her during her lifetime,
returned to rest upon her after her death, to watch in indignation
over the peace of that dead woman, and in its shyness, to keep her in
her grave? Was Jean Valjean unconsciously submitting to the pressure?
We who believe in death, are not among the number who will reject
this mysterious explanation.
Hence the impossibility of uttering, even for Cosette, that name
One day Cosette said to him:--
"Father, I saw my mother in a dream last night. She had two big wings.
My mother must have been almost a saint during her life."
"Through martyrdom," replied Jean Valjean.
However, Jean Valjean was happy.
When Cosette went out with him, she leaned on his arm, proud and happy,
in the plenitude of her heart. Jean Valjean felt his heart melt within
him with delight, at all these sparks of a tenderness so exclusive,
so wholly satisfied with himself alone. The poor man trembled,
inundated with angelic joy; he declared to himself ecstatically
that this would last all their lives; he told himself that he
really had not suffered sufficiently to merit so radiant a bliss,
and he thanked God, in the depths of his soul, for having permitted
him to be loved thus, he, a wretch, by that innocent being.
THE ROSE PERCEIVES THAT IT IS AN ENGINE OF WAR
One day, Cosette chanced to look at herself in her mirror,
and she said to herself: "Really!" It seemed to her almost that
she was pretty. This threw her in a singularly troubled state
of mind. Up to that moment she had never thought of her face.
She saw herself in her mirror, but she did not look at herself.
And then, she had so often been told that she was homely;
Jean Valjean alone said gently: "No indeed! no indeed!"
At all events, Cosette had always thought herself homely, and had
grown up in that belief with the easy resignation of childhood.
And here, all at once, was her mirror saying to her, as Jean Valjean
had said: "No indeed!" That night, she did not sleep. "What if I
were pretty!" she thought. "How odd it would be if I were pretty!"
And she recalled those of her companions whose beauty had produced
a sensation in the convent, and she said to herself: "What! Am I to
be like Mademoiselle So-and-So?"
The next morning she looked at herself again, not by accident this time,
and she was assailed with doubts: "Where did I get such an idea?"
said she; "no, I am ugly." She had not slept well, that was all,
her eyes were sunken and she was pale. She had not felt very joyous
on the preceding evening in the belief that she was beautiful,
but it made her very sad not to be able to believe in it any longer.
She did not look at herself again, and for more than a fortnight she
tried to dress her hair with her back turned to the mirror.
In the evening, after dinner, she generally embroidered in wool
or did some convent needlework in the drawing-room, and Jean
Valjean read beside her. Once she raised her eyes from her work,
and was rendered quite uneasy by the manner in which her father
was gazing at her.
On another occasion, she was passing along the street,
and it seemed to her that some one behind her, whom she
did not see, said: "A pretty woman! but badly dressed."
"Bah!" she thought, "he does not mean me. I am well dressed
and ugly." She was then wearing a plush hat and her merino gown.
At last, one day when she was in the garden, she heard poor old
Toussaint saying: "Do you notice how pretty Cosette is growing, sir?"
Cosette did not hear her father's reply, but Toussaint's words
caused a sort of commotion within her. She fled from the garden,
ran up to her room, flew to the looking-glass,--it was three
months since she had looked at herself,--and gave vent to a cry.
She had just dazzled herself.
She was beautiful and lovely; she could not help agreeing with
Toussaint and her mirror. Her figure was formed, her skin had
grown white, her hair was lustrous, an unaccustomed splendor had
been lighted in her blue eyes. The consciousness of her beauty
burst upon her in an instant, like the sudden advent of daylight;
other people noticed it also, Toussaint had said so, it was
evidently she of whom the passer-by had spoken, there could no
longer be any doubt of that; she descended to the garden again,
thinking herself a queen, imagining that she heard the birds singing,
though it was winter, seeing the sky gilded, the sun among the trees,
flowers in the thickets, distracted, wild, in inexpressible delight.
Jean Valjean, on his side, experienced a deep and undefinable
oppression at heart.
In fact, he had, for some time past, been contemplating with terror
that beauty which seemed to grow more radiant every day on Cosette's
sweet face. The dawn that was smiling for all was gloomy for him.
Cosette had been beautiful for a tolerably long time before she
became aware of it herself. But, from the very first day,
that unexpected light which was rising slowly and enveloping the whole
of the young girl's person, wounded Jean Valjean's sombre eye.
He felt that it was a change in a happy life, a life so happy
that he did not dare to move for fear of disarranging something.
This man, who had passed through all manner of distresses,
who was still all bleeding from the bruises of fate, who had been
almost wicked and who had become almost a saint, who, after having
dragged the chain of the galleys, was now dragging the invisible
but heavy chain of indefinite misery, this man whom the law had
not released from its grasp and who could be seized at any moment
and brought back from the obscurity of his virtue to the broad
daylight of public opprobrium, this man accepted all, excused all,
pardoned all, and merely asked of Providence, of man, of the law,
of society, of nature, of the world, one thing, that Cosette might
That Cosette might continue to love him! That God would not prevent
the heart of the child from coming to him, and from remaining with him!
Beloved by Cosette, he felt that he was healed, rested, appeased,
loaded with benefits, recompensed, crowned. Beloved by Cosette,
it was well with him! He asked nothing more! Had any one said
to him: "Do you want anything better?" he would have answered:
"No." God might have said to him: "Do you desire heaven?" and he
would have replied: "I should lose by it."
Everything which could affect this situation, if only on the surface,
made him shudder like the beginning of something new. He had never
known very distinctly himself what the beauty of a woman means;
but he understood instinctively, that it was something terrible.
He gazed with terror on this beauty, which was blossoming out ever
more triumphant and superb beside him, beneath his very eyes,
on the innocent and formidable brow of that child, from the depths
of her homeliness, of his old age, of his misery, of his reprobation.
He said to himself: "How beautiful she is! What is to become
There, moreover, lay the difference between his tenderness
and the tenderness of a mother. What he beheld with anguish,
a mother would have gazed upon with joy.
The first symptoms were not long in making their appearance.
On the very morrow of the day on which she had said to herself:
"Decidedly I am beautiful!" Cosette began to pay attention to
her toilet. She recalled the remark of that passer-by: "Pretty,
but badly dressed," the breath of an oracle which had passed
beside her and had vanished, after depositing in her heart one
of the two germs which are destined, later on, to fill the whole
life of woman, coquetry. Love is the other.
With faith in her beauty, the whole feminine soul expanded within her.
She conceived a horror for her merinos, and shame for her plush hat.
Her father had never refused her anything. She at once acquired
the whole science of the bonnet, the gown, the mantle, the boot,
the cuff, the stuff which is in fashion, the color which is becoming,
that science which makes of the Parisian woman something so charming,
so deep, and so dangerous. The words heady woman were invented for
In less than a month, little Cosette, in that Thebaid of the Rue
de Babylone, was not only one of the prettiest, but one of the
"best dressed" women in Paris, which means a great deal more.
She would have liked to encounter her "passer-by," to see
what he would say, and to "teach him a lesson!" The truth is,
that she was ravishing in every respect, and that she distinguished
the difference between a bonnet from Gerard and one from Herbaut
in the most marvellous way.
Jean Valjean watched these ravages with anxiety. He who felt
that he could never do anything but crawl, walk at the most,
beheld wings sprouting on Cosette.
Moreover, from the mere inspection of Cosette's toilet,
a woman would have recognized the fact that she had no mother.
Certain little proprieties, certain special conventionalities,
were not observed by Cosette. A mother, for instance, would have
told her that a young girl does not dress in damask.
The first day that Cosette went out in her black damask gown
and mantle, and her white crape bonnet, she took Jean Valjean's arm,
gay, radiant, rosy, proud, dazzling. "Father," she said, "how do
you like me in this guise?" Jean Valjean replied in a voice which
resembled the bitter voice of an envious man: "Charming!" He was the
same as usual during their walk. On their return home, he asked Cosette:--
"Won't you put on that other gown and bonnet again,--you know
the ones I mean?"
This took place in Cosette's chamber. Cosette turned towards
the wardrobe where her cast-off schoolgirl's clothes were hanging.
"That disguise!" said she. "Father, what do you want me to do with it?
Oh no, the idea! I shall never put on those horrors again.
With that machine on my head, I have the air of Madame Mad-dog."
Jean Valjean heaved a deep sigh.
From that moment forth, he noticed that Cosette, who had always
heretofore asked to remain at home, saying: "Father, I enjoy myself
more here with you," now was always asking to go out. In fact,
what is the use of having a handsome face and a delicious costume
if one does not display them?
He also noticed that Cosette had no longer the same taste for the
back garden. Now she preferred the garden, and did not dislike
to promenade back and forth in front of the railed fence.
Jean Valjean, who was shy, never set foot in the garden.
He kept to his back yard, like a dog.
Cosette, in gaining the knowledge that she was beautiful, lost the
grace of ignoring it. An exquisite grace, for beauty enhanced by
ingenuousness is ineffable, and nothing is so adorable as a dazzling
and innocent creature who walks along, holding in her hand the key
to paradise without being conscious of it. But what she had lost
in ingenuous grace, she gained in pensive and serious charm.
Her whole person, permeated with the joy of youth, of innocence,
and of beauty, breathed forth a splendid melancholy.
It was at this epoch that Marius, after the lapse of six months,
saw her once more at the Luxembourg.
THE BATTLE BEGUN
Cosette in her shadow, like Marius in his, was all ready to take fire.
Destiny, with its mysterious and fatal patience, slowly drew together
these two beings, all charged and all languishing with the stormy
electricity of passion, these two souls which were laden with love
as two clouds are laden with lightning, and which were bound
to overflow and mingle in a look like the clouds in a flash of fire.
The glance has been so much abused in love romances that it has
finally fallen into disrepute. One hardly dares to say, nowadays,
that two beings fell in love because they looked at each other.
That is the way people do fall in love, nevertheless, and the
only way. The rest is nothing, but the rest comes afterwards.
Nothing is more real than these great shocks which two souls convey
to each other by the exchange of that spark.
At that particular hour when Cosette unconsciously darted
that glance which troubled Marius, Marius had no suspicion
that he had also launched a look which disturbed Cosette.
He caused her the same good and the same evil.
She had been in the habit of seeing him for a long time, and she had
scrutinized him as girls scrutinize and see, while looking elsewhere.
Marius still considered Cosette ugly, when she had already begun
to think Marius handsome. But as he paid no attention to her,
the young man was nothing to her.
Still, she could not refrain from saying to herself that he had
beautiful hair, beautiful eyes, handsome teeth, a charming tone
of voice when she heard him conversing with his comrades, that he
held himself badly when he walked, if you like, but with a grace
that was all his own, that he did not appear to be at all stupid,
that his whole person was noble, gentle, simple, proud, and that,
in short, though he seemed to be poor, yet his air was fine.
On the day when their eyes met at last, and said to each other
those first, obscure, and ineffable things which the glance lisps,
Cosette did not immediately understand. She returned thoughtfully
to the house in the Rue de l'Ouest, where Jean Valjean, according to
his custom, had come to spend six weeks. The next morning, on waking,
she thought of that strange young man, so long indifferent and icy,
who now seemed to pay attention to her, and it did not appear to her
that this attention was the least in the world agreeable to her.
She was, on the contrary, somewhat incensed at this handsome and
disdainful individual. A substratum of war stirred within her.
It struck her, and the idea caused her a wholly childish joy, that she
was going to take her revenge at last.
Knowing that she was beautiful, she was thoroughly conscious,
though in an indistinct fashion, that she possessed a weapon.
Women play with their beauty as children do with a knife.
They wound themselves.
The reader will recall Marius' hesitations, his palpitations,
his terrors. He remained on his bench and did not approach.
This vexed Cosette. One day, she said to Jean Valjean:
"Father, let us stroll about a little in that direction."
Seeing that Marius did not come to her, she went to him. In such cases,
all women resemble Mahomet. And then, strange to say, the first
symptom of true love in a young man is timidity; in a young girl it
is boldness. This is surprising, and yet nothing is more simple.
It is the two sexes tending to approach each other and assuming,
each the other's qualities.
That day, Cosette's glance drove Marius beside himself, and Marius'
glance set Cosette to trembling. Marius went away confident,
and Cosette uneasy. From that day forth, they adored each other.
The first thing that Cosette felt was a confused and profound melancholy.
It seemed to her that her soul had become black since the day before.
She no longer recognized it. The whiteness of soul in young girls,
which is composed of coldness and gayety, resembles snow. It melts
in love, which is its sun.
Cosette did not know what love was. She had never heard the word
uttered in its terrestrial sense. On the books of profane music
which entered the convent, amour (love) was replaced by tambour (drum)
or pandour. This created enigmas which exercised the imaginations
of the big girls, such as: Ah, how delightful is the drum! or,
Pity is not a pandour. But Cosette had left the convent too early
to have occupied herself much with the "drum." Therefore, she did
not know what name to give to what she now felt. Is any one
the less ill because one does not know the name of one's malady?
She loved with all the more passion because she loved ignorantly.
She did not know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing,
useful or dangerous, eternal or temporary, allowable or prohibited;
she loved. She would have been greatly astonished, had any
one said to her: "You do not sleep? But that is forbidden!
You do not eat? Why, that is very bad! You have oppressions
and palpitations of the heart? That must not be! You blush
and turn pale, when a certain being clad in black appears at
the end of a certain green walk? But that is abominable!"
She would not have understood, and she would have replied:
"What fault is there of mine in a matter in which I have no power
and of which I know nothing?"
It turned out that the love which presented itself was exactly
suited to the state of her soul. It was a sort of admiration at
a distance, a mute contemplation, the deification of a stranger.
It was the apparition of youth to youth, the dream of nights
become a reality yet remaining a dream, the longed-for phantom
realized and made flesh at last, but having as yet, neither name,
nor fault, nor spot, nor exigence, nor defect; in a word,
the distant lover who lingered in the ideal, a chimaera with a form.
Any nearer and more palpable meeting would have alarmed Cosette
at this first stage, when she was still half immersed in the
exaggerated mists of the cloister. She had all the fears of children
and all the fears of nuns combined. The spirit of the convent,
with which she had been permeated for the space of five years,
was still in the process of slow evaporation from her person,
and made everything tremble around her. In this situation he
was not a lover, he was not even an admirer, he was a vision.
She set herself to adoring Marius as something charming, luminous,
As extreme innocence borders on extreme coquetry, she smiled at him
with all frankness.
Every day, she looked forward to the hour for their walk with impatience,
she found Marius there, she felt herself unspeakably happy,
and thought in all sincerity that she was expressing her whole
thought when she said to Jean Valjean:--
"What a delicious garden that Luxembourg is!"
Marius and Cosette were in the dark as to one another. They did
not address each other, they did not salute each other, they did
not know each other; they saw each other; and like stars of heaven
which are separated by millions of leagues, they lived by gazing
at each other.
It was thus that Cosette gradually became a woman and developed,
beautiful and loving, with a consciousness of her beauty,
and in ignorance of her love. She was a coquette to boot through
TO ONE SADNESS OPPOSE A SADNESS AND A HALF
All situations have their instincts. Old and eternal Mother Nature
warned Jean Valjean in a dim way of the presence of Marius.
Jean Valjean shuddered to the very bottom of his soul. Jean Valjean
saw nothing, knew nothing, and yet he scanned with obstinate attention,
the darkness in which he walked, as though he felt on one side of him
something in process of construction, and on the other, something which
was crumbling away. Marius, also warned, and, in accordance with
the deep law of God, by that same Mother Nature, did all he could
to keep out of sight of "the father." Nevertheless, it came to pass
that Jean Valjean sometimes espied him. Marius' manners were no
longer in the least natural. He exhibited ambiguous prudence and
awkward daring. He no longer came quite close to them as formerly.
He seated himself at a distance and pretended to be reading;
why did he pretend that? Formerly he had come in his old coat,
now he wore his new one every day; Jean Valjean was not sure that he
did not have his hair curled, his eyes were very queer, he wore gloves;
in short, Jean Valjean cordially detested this young man.
Cosette allowed nothing to be divined. Without knowing just what
was the matter with her she was convinced that there was something
in it, and that it must be concealed.
There was a coincidence between the taste for the toilet which had
recently come to Cosette, and the habit of new clothes developed
by that stranger which was very repugnant to Jean Valjean. It might
be accidental, no doubt, certainly, but it was a menacing accident.
He never opened his mouth to Cosette about this stranger. One day,
however, he could not refrain from so doing, and, with that vague
despair which suddenly casts the lead into the depths of its despair,
he said to her: "What a very pedantic air that young man has!"
Cosette, but a year before only an indifferent little girl,
would have replied: "Why, no, he is charming." Ten years later,
with the love of Marius in her heart, she would have answered:
"A pedant, and insufferable to the sight! You are right!"--
At the moment in life and the heart which she had then attained,
she contented herself with replying, with supreme calmness:
"That young man!"
As though she now beheld him for the first time in her life.
"How stupid I am!" thought Jean Valjean. "She had not noticed him.
It is I who have pointed him out to her."
Oh, simplicity of the old! oh, the depth of children!
It is one of the laws of those fresh years of suffering and trouble,
of those vivacious conflicts between a first love and the first
obstacles, that the young girl does not allow herself to be caught
in any trap whatever, and that the young man falls into every one.
Jean Valjean had instituted an undeclared war against Marius,
which Marius, with the sublime stupidity of his passion and his age,
did not divine. Jean Valjean laid a host of ambushes for him;
he changed his hour, he changed his bench, he forgot his handkerchief,
he came alone to the Luxembourg; Marius dashed headlong into
all these snares; and to all the interrogation marks planted
by Jean Valjean in his pathway, he ingenuously answered "yes."
But Cosette remained immured in her apparent unconcern and in her
imperturbable tranquillity, so that Jean Valjean arrived at the
following conclusion: "That ninny is madly in love with Cosette,
but Cosette does not even know that he exists."
None the less did he bear in his heart a mournful tremor.
The minute when Cosette would love might strike at any moment.
Does not everything begin with indifference?
Only once did Cosette make a mistake and alarm him. He rose from
his seat to depart, after a stay of three hours, and she said:
Jean Valjean had not discontinued his trips to the Luxembourg, as he
did not wish to do anything out of the way, and as, above all things,
he feared to arouse Cosette; but during the hours which were so
sweet to the lovers, while Cosette was sending her smile to the
intoxicated Marius, who perceived nothing else now, and who now saw
nothing in all the world but an adored and radiant face, Jean Valjean
was fixing on Marius flashing and terrible eyes. He, who had
finally come to believe himself incapable of a malevolent feeling,
experienced moments when Marius was present, in which he thought he
was becoming savage and ferocious once more, and he felt the old
depths of his soul, which had formerly contained so much wrath,
opening once more and rising up against that young man. It almost
seemed to him that unknown craters were forming in his bosom.
What! he was there, that creature! What was he there for?
He came creeping about, smelling out, examining, trying!
He came, saying: "Hey! Why not?" He came to prowl about his,
Jean Valjean's, life! to prowl about his happiness, with the
purpose of seizing it and bearing it away!
Jean Valjean added: "Yes, that's it! What is he in search of?
An adventure! What does he want? A love affair! A love affair!
And I? What! I have been first, the most wretched of men,
and then the most unhappy, and I have traversed sixty years of life
on my knees, I have suffered everything that man can suffer, I have
grown old without having been young, I have lived without a family,
without relatives, without friends, without life, without children,
I have left my blood on every stone, on every bramble, on every
mile-post, along every wall, I have been gentle, though others have
been hard to me, and kind, although others have been malicious,
I have become an honest man once more, in spite of everything,
I have repented of the evil that I have done and have forgiven
the evil that has been done to me, and at the moment when I
receive my recompense, at the moment when it is all over,
at the moment when I am just touching the goal, at the moment
when I have what I desire, it is well, it is good, I have paid,
I have earned it, all this is to take flight, all this will vanish,
and I shall lose Cosette, and I shall lose my life, my joy,
my soul, because it has pleased a great booby to come and lounge at
Then his eyes were filled with a sad and extraordinary gleam.
It was no longer a man gazing at a man; it was no longer an enemy
surveying an enemy. It was a dog scanning a thief.
The reader knows the rest. Marius pursued his senseless course.
One day he followed Cosette to the Rue de l'Ouest. Another day he
spoke to the porter. The porter, on his side, spoke, and said
to Jean Valjean: "Monsieur, who is that curious young man who is
asking for you?" On the morrow Jean Valjean bestowed on Marius
that glance which Marius at last perceived. A week later,
Jean Valjean had taken his departure. He swore to himself that he
would never again set foot either in the Luxembourg or in the Rue
de l'Ouest. He returned to the Rue Plumet.
Cosette did not complain, she said nothing, she asked no questions,
she did not seek to learn his reasons; she had already reached the point
where she was afraid of being divined, and of betraying herself.
Jean Valjean had no experience of these miseries, the only miseries
which are charming and the only ones with which he was not acquainted;
the consequence was that he did not understand the grave significance
of Cosette's silence.
He merely noticed that she had grown sad, and he grew gloomy.
On his side and on hers, inexperience had joined issue.
Once he made a trial. He asked Cosette:--
"Would you like to come to the Luxembourg?"
A ray illuminated Cosette's pale face.
"Yes," said she.
They went thither. Three months had elapsed. Marius no longer
went there. Marius was not there.
On the following day, Jean Valjean asked Cosette again:--
"Would you like to come to the Luxembourg?"
She replied, sadly and gently:--
Jean Valjean was hurt by this sadness, and heart-broken
at this gentleness.
What was going on in that mind which was so young and yet already
so impenetrable? What was on its way there within? What was taking place
in Cosette's soul? Sometimes, instead of going to bed, Jean Valjean
remained seated on his pallet, with his head in his hands, and he
passed whole nights asking himself: "What has Cosette in her mind?"
and in thinking of the things that she might be thinking about.
Oh! at such moments, what mournful glances did he cast towards
that cloister, that chaste peak, that abode of angels, that inaccessible
glacier of virtue! How he contemplated, with despairing ecstasy,
that convent garden, full of ignored flowers and cloistered virgins,
where all perfumes and all souls mount straight to heaven!
How he adored that Eden forever closed against him, whence he had
voluntarily and madly emerged! How he regretted his abnegation
and his folly in having brought Cosette back into the world,
poor hero of sacrifice, seized and hurled to the earth by his
very self-devotion! How he said to himself, "What have I done?"
However, nothing of all this was perceptible to Cosette.
No ill-temper, no harshness. His face was always serene and kind.
Jean Valjean's manners were more tender and more paternal than ever.
If anything could have betrayed his lack of joy, it was his
On her side, Cosette languished. She suffered from the absence of
Marius as she had rejoiced in his presence, peculiarly, without exactly
being conscious of it. When Jean Valjean ceased to take her on
their customary strolls, a feminine instinct murmured confusedly,
at the bottom of her heart, that she must not seem to set store
on the Luxembourg garden, and that if this proved to be a matter
of indifference to her, her father would take her thither once more.
But days, weeks, months, elapsed. Jean Valjean had tacitly accepted
Cosette's tacit consent. She regretted it. It was too late.
So Marius had disappeared; all was over. The day on which she returned
to the Luxembourg, Marius was no longer there. What was to be done?
Should she ever find him again? She felt an anguish at her heart,
which nothing relieved, and which augmented every day; she no
longer knew whether it was winter or summer, whether it was raining
or shining, whether the birds were singing, whether it was the season
for dahlias or daisies, whether the Luxembourg was more charming
than the Tuileries, whether the linen which the laundress brought
home was starched too much or not enough, whether Toussaint had
done "her marketing" well or ill; and she remained dejected,
absorbed, attentive to but a single thought, her eyes vague
and staring as when one gazes by night at a black and fathomless
spot where an apparition has vanished.
However, she did not allow Jean Valjean to perceive anything of this,
except her pallor.
She still wore her sweet face for him.
This pallor sufficed but too thoroughly to trouble Jean Valjean.
Sometimes he asked her:--
"What is the matter with you?"
She replied: "There is nothing the matter with me."
And after a silence, when she divined that he was sad also,
she would add:--
"And you, father--is there anything wrong with you?"
"With me? Nothing," said he.
These two beings who had loved each other so exclusively,
and with so touching an affection, and who had lived so long for
each other now suffered side by side, each on the other's account;
without acknowledging it to each other, without anger towards
each other, and with a smile.
Jean Valjean was the more unhappy of the two. Youth, even in
its sorrows, always possesses its own peculiar radiance.
At times, Jean Valjean suffered so greatly that he became puerile.
It is the property of grief to cause the childish side of man
to reappear. He had an unconquerable conviction that Cosette was
escaping from him. He would have liked to resist, to retain her,
to arouse her enthusiasm by some external and brilliant matter.
These ideas, puerile, as we have just said, and at the same time senile,
conveyed to him, by their very childishness, a tolerably just notion
of the influence of gold lace on the imaginations of young girls.
He once chanced to see a general on horseback, in full uniform,
pass along the street, Comte Coutard, the commandant of Paris.
He envied that gilded man; what happiness it would be, he said to himself,
if he could put on that suit which was an incontestable thing;
and if Cosette could behold him thus, she would be dazzled, and when
he had Cosette on his arm and passed the gates of the Tuileries,
the guard would present arms to him, and that would suffice for Cosette,
and would dispel her idea of looking at young men.
An unforeseen shock was added to these sad reflections.
In the isolated life which they led, and since they had come
to dwell in the Rue Plumet, they had contracted one habit.
They sometimes took a pleasure trip to see the sun rise, a mild
species of enjoyment which befits those who are entering life
and those who are quitting it.
For those who love solitude, a walk in the early morning is equivalent
to a stroll by night, with the cheerfulness of nature added.
The streets are deserted and the birds are singing. Cosette, a bird
herself, liked to rise early. These matutinal excursions were
planned on the preceding evening. He proposed, and she agreed.
It was arranged like a plot, they set out before daybreak,
and these trips were so many small delights for Cosette.
These innocent eccentricities please young people.
Jean Valjean's inclination led him, as we have seen, to the least
frequented spots, to solitary nooks, to forgotten places.
There then existed, in the vicinity of the barriers of Paris,
a sort of poor meadows, which were almost confounded with the city,
where grew in summer sickly grain, and which, in autumn,
after the harvest had been gathered, presented the appearance,
not of having been reaped, but peeled. Jean Valjean loved to haunt
these fields. Cosette was not bored there. It meant solitude
to him and liberty to her. There, she became a little girl
once more, she could run and almost play; she took off her hat,
laid it on Jean Valjean's knees, and gathered bunches of flowers.
She gazed at the butterflies on the flowers, but did not catch them;
gentleness and tenderness are born with love, and the young girl
who cherishes within her breast a trembling and fragile ideal has
mercy on the wing of a butterfly. She wove garlands of poppies,
which she placed on her head, and which, crossed and penetrated
with sunlight, glowing until they flamed, formed for her rosy face a
crown of burning embers.
Even after their life had grown sad, they kept up their custom
of early strolls.
One morning in October, therefore, tempted by the serene perfection
of the autumn of 1831, they set out, and found themselves at break
of day near the Barriere du Maine. It was not dawn, it was daybreak;
a delightful and stern moment. A few constellations here and there
in the deep, pale azure, the earth all black, the heavens all white,
a quiver amid the blades of grass, everywhere the mysterious
chill of twilight. A lark, which seemed mingled with the stars,
was carolling at a prodigious height, and one would have declared
that that hymn of pettiness calmed immensity. In the East,
the Valde-Grace projected its dark mass on the clear horizon
with the sharpness of steel; Venus dazzlingly brilliant was rising
behind that dome and had the air of a soul making its escape from
a gloomy edifice.
All was peace and silence; there was no one on the road;
a few stray laborers, of whom they caught barely a glimpse,
were on their way to their work along the side-paths.
Jean Valjean was sitting in a cross-walk on some planks deposited at
the gate of a timber-yard. His face was turned towards the highway,
his back towards the light; he had forgotten the sun which was on the
point of rising; he had sunk into one of those profound absorptions
in which the mind becomes concentrated, which imprison even the eye,
and which are equivalent to four walls. There are meditations
which may be called vertical; when one is at the bottom of them,
time is required to return to earth. Jean Valjean had plunged into
one of these reveries. He was thinking of Cosette, of the happiness
that was possible if nothing came between him and her, of the light
with which she filled his life, a light which was but the emanation
of her soul. He was almost happy in his revery. Cosette, who was
standing beside him, was gazing at the clouds as they turned rosy.
All at once Cosette exclaimed: "Father, I should think some one
was coming yonder." Jean Valjean raised his eyes.
Cosette was right. The causeway which leads to the ancient Barriere
du Maine is a prolongation, as the reader knows, of the Rue
de Sevres, and is cut at right angles by the inner boulevard.
At the elbow of the causeway and the boulevard, at the spot where
it branches, they heard a noise which it was difficult to account
for at that hour, and a sort of confused pile made its appearance.
Some shapeless thing which was coming from the boulevard was turning
into the road.
It grew larger, it seemed to move in an orderly manner,
though it was bristling and quivering; it seemed to be a vehicle,
but its load could not be distinctly made out. There were horses,
wheels, shouts; whips were cracking. By degrees the outlines
became fixed, although bathed in shadows. It was a vehicle,
in fact, which had just turned from the boulevard into the highway,
and which was directing its course towards the barrier near which sat
Jean Valjean; a second, of the same aspect, followed, then a third,
then a fourth; seven chariots made their appearance in succession,
the heads of the horses touching the rear of the wagon in front.
Figures were moving on these vehicles, flashes were visible
through the dusk as though there were naked swords there,
a clanking became audible which resembled the rattling of chains,
and as this something advanced, the sound of voices waxed louder,
and it turned into a terrible thing such as emerges from the cave
As it drew nearer, it assumed a form, and was outlined behind the trees
with the pallid hue of an apparition; the mass grew white; the day,
which was slowly dawning, cast a wan light on this swarming heap
which was at once both sepulchral and living, the heads of the figures
turned into the faces of corpses, and this is what it proved to be:--
Seven wagons were driving in a file along the road. The first
six were singularly constructed. They resembled coopers' drays;
they consisted of long ladders placed on two wheels and forming
barrows at their rear extremities. Each dray, or rather let us say,
each ladder, was attached to four horses harnessed tandem.
On these ladders strange clusters of men were being drawn.
In the faint light, these men were to be divined rather than seen.
Twenty-four on each vehicle, twelve on a side, back to back,
facing the passers-by, their legs dangling in the air,--this was
the manner in which these men were travelling, and behind their backs
they had something which clanked, and which was a chain, and on
their necks something which shone, and which was an iron collar.
Each man had his collar, but the chain was for all; so that if these
four and twenty men had occasion to alight from the dray and walk,
they were seized with a sort of inexorable unity, and were obliged
to wind over the ground with the chain for a backbone, somewhat after
the fashion of millepeds. In the back and front of each vehicle,
two men armed with muskets stood erect, each holding one end
of the chain under his foot. The iron necklets were square.
The seventh vehicle, a huge rack-sided baggage wagon, without a hood,
had four wheels and six horses, and carried a sonorous pile of
iron boilers, cast-iron pots, braziers, and chains, among which were
mingled several men who were pinioned and stretched at full length,
and who seemed to be ill. This wagon, all lattice-work, was
garnished with dilapidated hurdles which appeared to have served for
former punishments. These vehicles kept to the middle of the road.
On each side marched a double hedge of guards of infamous aspect,
wearing three-cornered hats, like the soldiers under the Directory,
shabby, covered with spots and holes, muffled in uniforms
of veterans and the trousers of undertakers' men, half gray,
half blue, which were almost hanging in rags, with red epaulets,
yellow shoulder belts, short sabres, muskets, and cudgels; they were
a species of soldier-blackguards. These myrmidons seemed composed
of the abjectness of the beggar and the authority of the executioner.
The one who appeared to be their chief held a postilion's whip
in his hand. All these details, blurred by the dimness of dawn,
became more and more clearly outlined as the light increased.
At the head and in the rear of the convoy rode mounted gendarmes,
serious and with sword in fist.
This procession was so long that when the first vehicle reached
the barrier, the last was barely debauching from the boulevard.
A throng, sprung, it is impossible to say whence, and formed in
a twinkling, as is frequently the case in Paris, pressed forward
from both sides of the road and looked on. In the neighboring lanes
the shouts of people calling to each other and the wooden shoes
of market-gardeners hastening up to gaze were audible.
The men massed upon the drays allowed themselves to be jolted
along in silence. They were livid with the chill of morning.
They all wore linen trousers, and their bare feet were thrust into
wooden shoes. The rest of their costume was a fantasy of wretchedness.
Their accoutrements were horribly incongruous; nothing is more funereal
than the harlequin in rags. Battered felt hats, tarpaulin caps,
hideous woollen nightcaps, and, side by side with a short blouse,
a black coat broken at the elbow; many wore women's headgear,
others had baskets on their heads; hairy breasts were visible,
and through the rent in their garments tattooed designs could be descried;
temples of Love, flaming hearts, Cupids; eruptions and unhealthy red
blotches could also be seen. Two or three had a straw rope attached
to the cross-bar of the dray, and suspended under them like a stirrup,
which supported their feet. One of them held in his hand and raised
to his mouth something which had the appearance of a black stone
and which he seemed to be gnawing; it was bread which he was eating.
There were no eyes there which were not either dry, dulled, or flaming
with an evil light. The escort troop cursed, the men in chains did
not utter a syllable; from time to time the sound of a blow became
audible as the cudgels descended on shoulder-blades or skulls;
some of these men were yawning; their rags were terrible; their feet
hung down, their shoulders oscillated, their heads clashed together,
their fetters clanked, their eyes glared ferociously, their fists
clenched or fell open inertly like the hands of corpses; in the rear
of the convoy ran a band of children screaming with laughter.
This file of vehicles, whatever its nature was, was mournful.
It was evident that to-morrow, that an hour hence, a pouring rain
might descend, that it might be followed by another and another,
and that their dilapidated garments would be drenched, that once soaked,
these men would not get dry again, that once chilled, they would
not again get warm, that their linen trousers would be glued to
their bones by the downpour, that the water would fill their shoes,
that no lashes from the whips would be able to prevent their jaws
from chattering, that the chain would continue to bind them
by the neck, that their legs would continue to dangle, and it was
impossible not to shudder at the sight of these human beings thus
bound and passive beneath the cold clouds of autumn, and delivered
over to the rain, to the blast, to all the furies of the air,
like trees and stones.
Blows from the cudgel were not omitted even in the case of the sick men,
who lay there knotted with ropes and motionless on the seventh wagon,
and who appeared to have been tossed there like sacks filled with misery.
Suddenly, the sun made its appearance; the immense light of the Orient
burst forth, and one would have said that it had set fire to all
those ferocious heads. Their tongues were unloosed; a conflagration
of grins, oaths, and songs exploded. The broad horizontal sheet
of light severed the file in two parts, illuminating heads and bodies,
leaving feet and wheels in the obscurity. Thoughts made their
appearance on these faces; it was a terrible moment; visible demons
with their masks removed, fierce souls laid bare. Though lighted up,
this wild throng remained in gloom. Some, who were gay, had in
their mouths quills through which they blew vermin over the crowd,
picking out the women; the dawn accentuated these lamentable
profiles with the blackness of its shadows; there was not one of
these creatures who was not deformed by reason of wretchedness;
and the whole was so monstrous that one would have said that the
sun's brilliancy had been changed into the glare of the lightning.
The wagon-load which headed the line had struck up a song, and were
shouting at the top of their voices with a haggard joviality,
a potpourri by Desaugiers, then famous, called The Vestal; the trees
shivered mournfully; in the cross-lanes, countenances of bourgeois
listened in an idiotic delight to these coarse strains droned by spectres.
All sorts of distress met in this procession as in chaos; here were
to be found the facial angles of every sort of beast, old men, youths,
bald heads, gray beards, cynical monstrosities, sour resignation,
savage grins, senseless attitudes, snouts surmounted by caps,
heads like those of young girls with corkscrew curls on the temples,
infantile visages, and by reason of that, horrible thin skeleton faces,
to which death alone was lacking. On the first cart was a negro,
who had been a slave, in all probability, and who could make
a comparison of his chains. The frightful leveller from below,
shame, had passed over these brows; at that degree of abasement,
the last transformations were suffered by all in their extremest depths,
and ignorance, converted into dulness, was the equal of intelligence
converted into despair. There was no choice possible between
these men who appeared to the eye as the flower of the mud.
It was evident that the person who had had the ordering of that
unclean procession had not classified them. These beings had been
fettered and coupled pell-mell, in alphabetical disorder, probably,
and loaded hap-hazard on those carts. Nevertheless, horrors,
when grouped together, always end by evolving a result; all additions
of wretched men give a sum total, each chain exhaled a common soul,
and each dray-load had its own physiognomy. By the side of the one
where they were singing, there was one where they were howling;
a third where they were begging; one could be seen in which they
were gnashing their teeth; another load menaced the spectators,
another blasphemed God; the last was as silent as the tomb.
Dante would have thought that he beheld his seven circles of hell
on the march. The march of the damned to their tortures, performed
in sinister wise, not on the formidable and flaming chariot of
the Apocalypse, but, what was more mournful than that, on the gibbet cart.
One of the guards, who had a hook on the end of his cudgel, made a
pretence from time to time, of stirring up this mass of human filth.
An old woman in the crowd pointed them out to her little boy five
years old, and said to him: "Rascal, let that be a warning to you!"
As the songs and blasphemies increased, the man who appeared to be
the captain of the escort cracked his whip, and at that signal
a fearful dull and blind flogging, which produced the sound of hail,
fell upon the seven dray-loads; many roared and foamed at the mouth;
which redoubled the delight of the street urchins who had hastened up,
a swarm of flies on these wounds.
Jean Valjean's eyes had assumed a frightful expression.
They were no longer eyes; they were those deep and glassy objects