Part 31 out of 36
The column, forced to retreat, remained massed in the street,
unprotected but terrible, and replied to the redoubt with a terrible
discharge of musketry. Any one who has seen fireworks will recall
the sheaf formed of interlacing lightnings which is called a bouquet.
Let the reader picture to himself this bouquet, no longer vertical
but horizontal, bearing a bullet, buck-shot or a biscaien at the
tip of each one of its jets of flame, and picking off dead men
one after another from its clusters of lightning. The barricade
was underneath it.
On both sides, the resolution was equal. The bravery exhibited
there was almost barbarous and was complicated with a sort of heroic
ferocity which began by the sacrifice of self.
This was the epoch when a National Guardsman fought like a Zouave.
The troop wished to make an end of it, insurrection was desirous
of fighting. The acceptance of the death agony in the flower
of youth and in the flush of health turns intrepidity into frenzy.
In this fray, each one underwent the broadening growth of the death hour.
The street was strewn with corpses.
The barricade had Enjolras at one of its extremities and Marius at
the other. Enjolras, who carried the whole barricade in his head,
reserved and sheltered himself; three soldiers fell, one after
the other, under his embrasure, without having even seen him;
Marius fought unprotected. He made himself a target. He stood
with more than half his body above the breastworks. There is no
more violent prodigal than the avaricious man who takes the bit in
his teeth; there is no man more terrible in action than a dreamer.
Marius was formidable and pensive. In battle he was as in a dream.
One would have pronounced him a phantom engaged in firing a gun.
The insurgents' cartridges were giving out; but not their sarcasms.
In this whirlwind of the sepulchre in which they stood, they laughed.
Courfeyrac was bare-headed.
"What have you done with your hat?" Bossuet asked him.
"They have finally taken it away from me with cannon-balls."
Or they uttered haughty comments.
"Can any one understand," exclaimed Feuilly bitterly, "those
men,--[and he cited names, well-known names, even celebrated names,
some belonging to the old army]--who had promised to join us,
and taken an oath to aid us, and who had pledged their honor to it,
and who are our generals, and who abandon us!"
And Combeferre restricted himself to replying with a grave smile.
"There are people who observe the rules of honor as one observes
the stars, from a great distance."
The interior of the barricade was so strewn with torn cartridges
that one would have said that there had been a snowstorm.
The assailants had numbers in their favor; the insurgents had position.
They were at the top of a wall, and they thundered point-blank
upon the soldiers tripping over the dead and wounded and entangled
in the escarpment. This barricade, constructed as it was and
admirably buttressed, was really one of those situations where a handful
of men hold a legion in check. Nevertheless, the attacking column,
constantly recruited and enlarged under the shower of bullets,
drew inexorably nearer, and now, little by little, step by step,
but surely, the army closed in around the barricade as the vice
grasps the wine-press.
One assault followed another. The horror of the situation
Then there burst forth on that heap of paving-stones, in that
Rue de la Chanvrerie, a battle worthy of a wall of Troy.
These haggard, ragged, exhausted men, who had had nothing to eat
for four and twenty hours, who had not slept, who had but a few
more rounds to fire, who were fumbling in their pockets which had
been emptied of cartridges, nearly all of whom were wounded,
with head or arm bandaged with black and blood-stained linen,
with holes in their clothes from which the blood trickled, and who
were hardly armed with poor guns and notched swords, became Titans.
The barricade was ten times attacked, approached, assailed, scaled,
and never captured.
In order to form an idea of this struggle, it is necessary to
imagine fire set to a throng of terrible courages, and then to gaze
at the conflagration. It was not a combat, it was the interior
of a furnace; there mouths breathed the flame; there countenances
were extraordinary. The human form seemed impossible there,
the combatants flamed forth there, and it was formidable to behold
the going and coming in that red glow of those salamanders of the fray.
The successive and simultaneous scenes of this grand slaughter we
renounce all attempts at depicting. The epic alone has the right
to fill twelve thousand verses with a battle.
One would have pronounced this that hell of Brahmanism,
the most redoubtable of the seventeen abysses,
which the Veda calls the Forest of Swords.
They fought hand to hand, foot to foot, with pistol shots, with blows
of the sword, with their fists, at a distance, close at hand,
from above, from below, from everywhere, from the roofs of the houses,
from the windows of the wine-shop, from the cellar windows,
whither some had crawled. They were one against sixty.
The facade of Corinthe, half demolished, was hideous. The window,
tattooed with grape-shot, had lost glass and frame and was nothing
now but a shapeless hole, tumultuously blocked with paving-stones.
Bossuet was killed; Feuilly was killed; Courfeyrac was killed;
Combeferre, transfixed by three blows from a bayonet in the
breast at the moment when he was lifting up a wounded soldier,
had only time to cast a glance to heaven when he expired.
Marius, still fighting, was so riddled with wounds, particularly in
the head, that his countenance disappeared beneath the blood,
and one would have said that his face was covered with a red kerchief.
Enjolras alone was not struck. When he had no longer any weapon,
he reached out his hands to right and left and an insurgent thrust
some arm or other into his fist. All he had left was the stumps
of four swords; one more than Francois I. at Marignan. Homer says:
"Diomedes cuts the throat of Axylus, son of Teuthranis, who dwelt
in happy Arisba; Euryalus, son of Mecistaeus, exterminates Dresos
and Opheltios, Esepius, and that Pedasus whom the naiad Abarbarea bore
to the blameless Bucolion; Ulysses overthrows Pidytes of Percosius;
Antilochus, Ablerus; Polypaetes, Astyalus; Polydamas, Otos, of Cyllene;
and Teucer, Aretaon. Meganthios dies under the blows of Euripylus'
pike. Agamemnon, king of the heroes, flings to earth Elatos,
born in the rocky city which is laved by the sounding river Satnois."
In our old poems of exploits, Esplandian attacks the giant marquis
Swantibore with a cobbler's shoulder-stick of fire, and the latter
defends himself by stoning the hero with towers which he plucks up
by the roots. Our ancient mural frescoes show us the two Dukes of
Bretagne and Bourbon, armed, emblazoned and crested in war-like guise,
on horseback and approaching each other, their battle-axes in hand,
masked with iron, gloved with iron, booted with iron, the one
caparisoned in ermine, the other draped in azure: Bretagne with
his lion between the two horns of his crown, Bourbon helmeted with
a monster fleur de lys on his visor. But, in order to be superb,
it is not necessary to wear, like Yvon, the ducal morion, to have
in the fist, like Esplandian, a living flame, or, like Phyles,
father of Polydamas, to have brought back from Ephyra a good suit of mail,
a present from the king of men, Euphetes; it suffices to give one's
life for a conviction or a loyalty. This ingenuous little soldier,
yesterday a peasant of Bauce or Limousin, who prowls with his clasp-knife
by his side, around the children's nurses in the Luxembourg garden,
this pale young student bent over a piece of anatomy or a book,
a blond youth who shaves his beard with scissors,--take both of them,
breathe upon them with a breath of duty, place them face to face
in the Carrefour Boucherat or in the blind alley Planche-Mibray,
and let the one fight for his flag, and the other for his ideal,
and let both of them imagine that they are fighting for their country;
the struggle will be colossal; and the shadow which this raw recruit
and this sawbones in conflict will produce in that grand epic field
where humanity is striving, will equal the shadow cast by Megaryon,
King of Lycia, tiger-filled, crushing in his embrace the immense
body of Ajax, equal to the gods.
FOOT TO FOOT
When there were no longer any of the leaders left alive,
except Enjolras and Marius at the two extremities of the barricade,
the centre, which had so long sustained Courfeyrac, Joly, Bossuet,
Feuilly and Combeferre, gave way. The cannon, though it had not
effected a practicable breach, had made a rather large hollow
in the middle of the redoubt; there, the summit of the wall had
disappeared before the balls, and had crumbled away; and the rubbish
which had fallen, now inside, now outside, had, as it accumulated,
formed two piles in the nature of slopes on the two sides
of the barrier, one on the inside, the other on the outside.
The exterior slope presented an inclined plane to the attack.
A final assault was there attempted, and this assault succeeded.
The mass bristling with bayonets and hurled forward at a run,
came up with irresistible force, and the serried front of battle
of the attacking column made its appearance through the smoke
on the crest of the battlements. This time, it was decisive.
The group of insurgents who were defending the centre retreated
Then the gloomy love of life awoke once more in some of them.
Many, finding themselves under the muzzles of this forest of guns,
did not wish to die. This is a moment when the instinct of
self-preservation emits howls, when the beast re-appears in men.
They were hemmed in by the lofty, six-story house which formed the
background of their redoubt. This house might prove their salvation.
The building was barricaded, and walled, as it were, from top to bottom.
Before the troops of the line had reached the interior of the redoubt,
there was time for a door to open and shut, the space of a flash
of lightning was sufficient for that, and the door of that house,
suddenly opened a crack and closed again instantly, was life
for these despairing men. Behind this house, there were streets,
possible flight, space. They set to knocking at that door with the
butts of their guns, and with kicks, shouting, calling, entreating,
wringing their hands. No one opened. From the little window
on the third floor, the head of the dead man gazed down upon them.
But Enjolras and Marius, and the seven or eight rallied about them,
sprang forward and protected them. Enjolras had shouted to
the soldiers: "Don't advance!" and as an officer had not obeyed,
Enjolras had killed the officer. He was now in the little inner court
of the redoubt, with his back planted against the Corinthe building,
a sword in one hand, a rifle in the other, holding open the door
of the wine-shop which he barred against assailants. He shouted
to the desperate men:--"There is but one door open; this one."--
And shielding them with his body, and facing an entire battalion alone,
he made them pass in behind him. All precipitated themselves thither.
Enjolras, executing with his rifle, which he now used like a cane,
what single-stick players call a "covered rose" round his head,
levelled the bayonets around and in front of him, and was the last
to enter; and then ensued a horrible moment, when the soldiers tried
to make their way in, and the insurgents strove to bar them out.
The door was slammed with such violence, that, as it fell back into
its frame, it showed the five fingers of a soldier who had been
clinging to it, cut off and glued to the post.
Marius remained outside. A shot had just broken his collar bone,
he felt that he was fainting and falling. At that moment, with eyes
already shut, he felt the shock of a vigorous hand seizing him,
and the swoon in which his senses vanished, hardly allowed him time
for the thought, mingled with a last memory of Cosette:--"I am
taken prisoner. I shall be shot."
Enjolras, not seeing Marius among those who had taken refuge in
the wine-shop, had the same idea. But they had reached a moment
when each man has not the time to meditate on his own death.
Enjolras fixed the bar across the door, and bolted it, and double-locked
it with key and chain, while those outside were battering furiously
at it, the soldiers with the butts of their muskets, the sappers
with their axes. The assailants were grouped about that door.
The siege of the wine-shop was now beginning.
The soldiers, we will observe, were full of wrath.
The death of the artillery-sergeant had enraged them, and then,
a still more melancholy circumstance. during the few hours which had
preceded the attack, it had been reported among them that the insurgents
were mutilating their prisoners, and that there was the headless body
of a soldier in the wine-shop. This sort of fatal rumor is the usual
accompaniment of civil wars, and it was a false report of this
kind which, later on, produced the catastrophe of the Rue Transnonain.
When the door was barricaded, Enjolras said to the others:
"Let us sell our lives dearly."
Then he approached the table on which lay Mabeuf and Gavroche.
Beneath the black cloth two straight and rigid forms were visible,
one large, the other small, and the two faces were vaguely outlined
beneath the cold folds of the shroud. A hand projected from beneath
the winding sheet and hung near the floor. It was that of the
Enjolras bent down and kissed that venerable hand, just as he
had kissed his brow on the preceding evening.
These were the only two kisses which he had bestowed in the course
of his life.
Let us abridge the tale. The barricade had fought like a gate
of Thebes; the wine-shop fought like a house of Saragossa.
These resistances are dogged. No quarter. No flag of truce possible.
Men are willing to die, provided their opponent will kill them.
When Suchet says:--"Capitulate,"--Palafox replies: "After the war
with cannon, the war with knives." Nothing was lacking in the capture
by assault of the Hucheloup wine-shop; neither paving-stones raining
from the windows and the roof on the besiegers and exasperating
the soldiers by crushing them horribly, nor shots fired from the
attic-windows and the cellar, nor the fury of attack, nor, finally,
when the door yielded, the frenzied madness of extermination.
The assailants, rushing into the wine-shop, their feet entangled
in the panels of the door which had been beaten in and flung on
the ground, found not a single combatant there. The spiral staircase,
hewn asunder with the axe, lay in the middle of the tap-room, a few
wounded men were just breathing their last, every one who was not
killed was on the first floor, and from there, through the hole
in the ceiling, which had formed the entrance of the stairs,
a terrific fire burst forth. It was the last of their cartridges.
When they were exhausted, when these formidable men on the point
of death had no longer either powder or ball, each grasped
in his hands two of the bottles which Enjolras had reserved,
and of which we have spoken, and held the scaling party in check
with these frightfully fragile clubs. They were bottles of aquafortis.
We relate these gloomy incidents of carnage as they occurred.
The besieged man, alas! converts everything into a weapon. Greek fire
did not disgrace Archimedes, boiling pitch did not disgrace Bayard.
All war is a thing of terror, and there is no choice in it.
The musketry of the besiegers, though confined and embarrassed by
being directed from below upwards, was deadly. The rim of the hole
in the ceiling was speedily surrounded by heads of the slain, whence
dripped long, red and smoking streams, the uproar was indescribable;
a close and burning smoke almost produced night over this combat.
Words are lacking to express horror when it has reached this pitch.
There were no longer men in this conflict, which was now infernal.
They were no longer giants matched with colossi. It resembled Milton
and Dante rather than Homer. Demons attacked, spectres resisted.
It was heroism become monstrous.
ORESTES FASTING AND PYLADES DRUNK
At length, by dint of mounting on each other's backs,
aiding themselves with the skeleton of the staircase, climbing up
the walls, clinging to the ceiling, slashing away at the very brink
of the trap-door, the last one who offered resistance, a score
of assailants, soldiers, National Guardsmen, municipal guardsmen,
in utter confusion, the majority disfigured by wounds in the face during
that redoubtable ascent, blinded by blood, furious, rendered savage,
made an irruption into the apartment on the first floor. There they
found only one man still on his feet, Enjolras. Without cartridges,
without sword, he had nothing in his hand now but the barrel of his gun
whose stock he had broken over the head of those who were entering.
He had placed the billiard table between his assailants and himself;
he had retreated into the corner of the room, and there, with haughty eye,
and head borne high, with this stump of a weapon in his hand, he was still
so alarming as to speedily create an empty space around him. A cry arose:
"He is the leader! It was he who slew the artillery-man. It is
well that he has placed himself there. Let him remain there.
Let us shoot him down on the spot."
"Shoot me," said Enjolras.
And flinging away his bit of gun-barrel, and folding his arms,
he offered his breast.
The audacity of a fine death always affects men. As soon as
Enjolras folded his arms and accepted his end, the din of strife
ceased in the room, and this chaos suddenly stilled into a sort
of sepulchral solemnity. The menacing majesty of Enjolras
disarmed and motionless, appeared to oppress this tumult, and this
young man, haughty, bloody, and charming, who alone had not a wound,
who was as indifferent as an invulnerable being, seemed, by the
authority of his tranquil glance, to constrain this sinister
rabble to kill him respectfully. His beauty, at that moment
augmented by his pride, was resplendent, and he was fresh and rosy
after the fearful four and twenty hours which had just elapsed,
as though he could no more be fatigued than wounded. It was
of him, possibly, that a witness spoke afterwards, before the council
of war: "There was an insurgent whom I heard called Apollo."
A National Guardsman who had taken aim at Enjolras, lowered
his gun, saying: "It seems to me that I am about to shoot a flower."
Twelve men formed into a squad in the corner opposite Enjolras,
and silently made ready their guns.
Then a sergeant shouted:
An officer intervened.
And addressing Enjolras:
"Do you wish to have your eyes bandaged?"
"Was it you who killed the artillery sergeant?"
Grantaire had waked up a few moments before.
Grantaire, it will be remembered, had been asleep ever since the
preceding evening in the upper room of the wine-shop, seated
on a chair and leaning on the table.
He realized in its fullest sense the old metaphor of "dead drunk."
The hideous potion of absinthe-porter and alcohol had thrown
him into a lethargy. His table being small, and not suitable
for the barricade, he had been left in possession of it.
He was still in the same posture, with his breast bent over
the table, his head lying flat on his arms, surrounded by glasses,
beer-jugs and bottles. His was the overwhelming slumber of the torpid
bear and the satiated leech. Nothing had had any effect upon it,
neither the fusillade, nor the cannon-balls, nor the grape-shot
which had made its way through the window into the room where he was.
Nor the tremendous uproar of the assault. He merely replied to
the cannonade, now and then, by a snore. He seemed to be waiting
there for a bullet which should spare him the trouble of waking.
Many corpses were strewn around him; and, at the first glance,
there was nothing to distinguish him from those profound sleepers
Noise does not rouse a drunken man; silence awakens him. The fall
of everything around him only augmented Grantaire's prostration;
the crumbling of all things was his lullaby. The sort of halt which
the tumult underwent in the presence of Enjolras was a shock to this
heavy slumber. It had the effect of a carriage going at full speed,
which suddenly comes to a dead stop. The persons dozing within it
wake up. Grantaire rose to his feet with a start, stretched out
his arms, rubbed his eyes, stared, yawned, and understood.
A fit of drunkenness reaching its end resembles a curtain which
is torn away. One beholds, at a single glance and as a whole,
all that it has concealed. All suddenly presents itself to the memory;
and the drunkard who has known nothing of what has been taking place
during the last twenty-four hours, has no sooner opened his eyes than
he is perfectly informed. Ideas recur to him with abrupt lucidity;
the obliteration of intoxication, a sort of steam which has obscured
the brain, is dissipated, and makes way for the clear and sharply
outlined importunity of realities.
Relegated, as he was, to one corner, and sheltered behind the
billiard-table, the soldiers whose eyes were fixed on Enjolras,
had not even noticed Grantaire, and the sergeant was preparing
to repeat his order: "Take aim!" when all at once, they heard
a strong voice shout beside them:
"Long live the Republic! I'm one of them."
Grantaire had risen. The immense gleam of the whole combat
which he had missed, and in which he had had no part,
appeared in the brilliant glance of the transfigured drunken man.
He repeated: "Long live the Republic!" crossed the room with a firm
stride and placed himself in front of the guns beside Enjolras.
"Finish both of us at one blow," said he.
And turning gently to Enjolras, he said to him:
"Do you permit it?"
Enjolras pressed his hand with a smile.
This smile was not ended when the report resounded.
Enjolras, pierced by eight bullets, remained leaning against the wall,
as though the balls had nailed him there. Only, his head was bowed.
Grantaire fell at his feet, as though struck by a thunderbolt.
A few moments later, the soldiers dislodged the last remaining insurgents,
who had taken refuge at the top of the house. They fired into the
attic through a wooden lattice. They fought under the very roof.
They flung bodies, some of them still alive, out through the windows.
Two light-infantrymen, who tried to lift the shattered omnibus,
were slain by two shots fired from the attic. A man in a blouse was
flung down from it, with a bayonet wound in the abdomen, and breathed
his last on the ground. A soldier and an insurgent slipped together
on the sloping slates of the roof, and, as they would not release
each other, they fell, clasped in a ferocious embrace. A similar
conflict went on in the cellar. Shouts, shots, a fierce trampling.
Then silence. The barricade was captured.
The soldiers began to search the houses round about, and to pursue
Marius was, in fact, a prisoner.
The hand which had seized him from behind and whose grasp he
had felt at the moment of his fall and his loss of consciousness
was that of Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean had taken no other part in the combat than to expose
himself in it. Had it not been for him, no one, in that supreme
phase of agony, would have thought of the wounded. Thanks to him,
everywhere present in the carnage, like a providence, those who
fell were picked up, transported to the tap-room, and cared for.
In the intervals, he reappeared on the barricade. But nothing
which could resemble a blow, an attack or even personal defence
proceeded from his hands. He held his peace and lent succor.
Moreover he had received only a few scratches. The bullets would
have none of him. If suicide formed part of what he had meditated
on coming to this sepulchre, to that spot, he had not succeeded.
But we doubt whether he had thought of suicide, an irreligious act.
Jean Valjean, in the thick cloud of the combat, did not appear to
see Marius; the truth is, that he never took his eyes from the latter.
When a shot laid Marius low, Jean Valjean leaped forward with the
agility of a tiger, fell upon him as on his prey, and bore him off.
The whirlwind of the attack was, at that moment, so violently
concentrated upon Enjolras and upon the door of the wine-shop, that
no one saw Jean Valjean sustaining the fainting Marius in his arms,
traverse the unpaved field of the barricade and disappear behind
the angle of the Corinthe building.
The reader will recall this angle which formed a sort of cape on
the street; it afforded shelter from the bullets, the grape-shot,
and all eyes, and a few square feet of space. There is sometimes
a chamber which does not burn in the midst of a conflagration,
and in the midst of raging seas, beyond a promontory or at the
extremity of a blind alley of shoals, a tranquil nook. It was
in this sort of fold in the interior trapezium of the barricade,
that Eponine had breathed her last.
There Jean Valjean halted, let Marius slide to the ground,
placed his back against the wall, and cast his eyes about him.
The situation was alarming.
For an instant, for two or three perhaps, this bit of wall was
a shelter, but how was he to escape from this massacre? He recalled
the anguish which he had suffered in the Rue Polonceau eight
years before, and in what manner he had contrived to make his escape;
it was difficult then, to-day it was impossible. He had before him
that deaf and implacable house, six stories in height, which appeared
to be inhabited only by a dead man leaning out of his window;
he had on his right the rather low barricade, which shut off the
Rue de la Petite Truanderie; to pass this obstacle seemed easy,
but beyond the crest of the barrier a line of bayonets was visible.
The troops of the line were posted on the watch behind that barricade.
It was evident, that to pass the barricade was to go in quest of the
fire of the platoon, and that any head which should run the risk
of lifting itself above the top of that wall of stones would serve
as a target for sixty shots. On his left he had the field of battle.
Death lurked round the corner of that wall.
What was to be done?
Only a bird could have extricated itself from this predicament.
And it was necessary to decide on the instant, to devise some
expedient, to come to some decision. Fighting was going on a few
paces away; fortunately, all were raging around a single point,
the door of the wine-shop; but if it should occur to one soldier,
to one single soldier, to turn the corner of the house,
or to attack him on the flank, all was over.
Jean Valjean gazed at the house facing him, he gazed at the
barricade at one side of him, then he looked at the ground,
with the violence of the last extremity, bewildered,
and as though he would have liked to pierce a hole there with his eyes.
By dint of staring, something vaguely striking in such an agony
began to assume form and outline at his feet, as though it had
been a power of glance which made the thing desired unfold.
A few paces distant he perceived, at the base of the small barrier
so pitilessly guarded and watched on the exterior, beneath a disordered
mass of paving-stones which partly concealed it, an iron grating,
placed flat and on a level with the soil. This grating,
made of stout, transverse bars, was about two feet square.
The frame of paving-stones which supported it had been torn up,
and it was, as it were, unfastened.
Through the bars a view could be had of a dark aperture,
something like the flue of a chimney, or the pipe of a cistern.
Jean Valjean darted forward. His old art of escape rose to his
brain like an illumination. To thrust aside the stones, to raise
the grating, to lift Marius, who was as inert as a dead body,
upon his shoulders, to descend, with this burden on his loins,
and with the aid of his elbows and knees into that sort of well,
fortunately not very deep, to let the heavy trap, upon which the
loosened stones rolled down afresh, fall into its place behind him,
to gain his footing on a flagged surface three metres below
the surface,--all this was executed like that which one does
in dreams, with the strength of a giant and the rapidity of an eagle;
this took only a few minutes.
Jean Valjean found himself with Marius, who was still unconscious,
in a sort of long, subterranean corridor.
There reigned profound peace, absolute silence, night.
The impression which he had formerly experienced when falling
from the wall into the convent recurred to him. Only, what he was
carrying to-day was not Cosette; it was Marius. He could barely
hear the formidable tumult in the wine-shop, taken by assault,
like a vague murmur overhead.
BOOK SECOND.--THE INTESTINE OF THE LEVIATHAN
THE LAND IMPOVERISHED BY THE SEA
Paris casts twenty-five millions yearly into the water. And this
without metaphor. How, and in what manner? Day and night.
With what object? With no object. With what intention?
With no intention. Why? For no reason. By means of what organ?
By means of its intestine. What is its intestine? The sewer.
Twenty-five millions is the most moderate approximative figure
which the valuations of special science have set upon it.
Science, after having long groped about, now knows that the most
fecundating and the most efficacious of fertilizers is human manure.
The Chinese, let us confess it to our shame, knew it before us.
Not a Chinese peasant--it is Eckberg who says this,--goes to town without
bringing back with him, at the two extremities of his bamboo pole,
two full buckets of what we designate as filth. Thanks to human dung,
the earth in China is still as young as in the days of Abraham.
Chinese wheat yields a hundred fold of the seed. There is no
guano comparable in fertility with the detritus of a capital.
A great city is the most mighty of dung-makers. Certain success
would attend the experiment of employing the city to manure
the plain. If our gold is manure, our manure, on the other hand,
What is done with this golden manure? It is swept into the abyss.
Fleets of vessels are despatched, at great expense, to collect the
dung of petrels and penguins at the South Pole, and the incalculable
element of opulence which we have on hand, we send to the sea.
All the human and animal manure which the world wastes, restored to
the land instead of being cast into the water, would suffice
to nourish the world.
Those heaps of filth at the gate-posts, those tumbrils of mud
which jolt through the street by night, those terrible casks of
the street department, those fetid drippings of subterranean mire,
which the pavements hide from you,--do you know what they are?
They are the meadow in flower, the green grass, wild thyme,
thyme and sage, they are game, they are cattle, they are the satisfied
bellows of great oxen in the evening, they are perfumed hay, they are
golden wheat, they are the bread on your table, they are the warm
blood in your veins, they are health, they are joy, they are life.
This is the will of that mysterious creation which is transformation
on earth and transfiguration in heaven.
Restore this to the great crucible; your abundance will flow forth
from it. The nutrition of the plains furnishes the nourishment
You have it in your power to lose this wealth, and to consider me
ridiculous to boot. This will form the master-piece of your ignorance.
Statisticians have calculated that France alone makes a deposit
of half a milliard every year, in the Atlantic, through the mouths
of her rivers. Note this: with five hundred millions we could
pay one quarter of the expenses of our budget. The cleverness
of man is such that he prefers to get rid of these five hundred
millions in the gutter. It is the very substance of the people
that is carried off, here drop by drop, there wave after wave,
the wretched outpour of our sewers into the rivers, and the gigantic
collection of our rivers into the ocean. Every hiccough of our
sewers costs us a thousand francs. From this spring two results,
the land impoverished, and the water tainted. Hunger arising
from the furrow, and disease from the stream.
It is notorious, for example, that at the present hour, the Thames
is poisoning London.
So far as Paris is concerned, it has become indispensable of late,
to transport the mouths of the sewers down stream, below the
A double tubular apparatus, provided with valves and sluices,
sucking up and driving back, a system of elementary drainage,
simple as the lungs of a man, and which is already in full working
order in many communities in England, would suffice to conduct
the pure water of the fields into our cities, and to send back
to the fields the rich water of the cities, and this easy exchange,
the simplest in the world, would retain among us the five hundred
millions now thrown away. People are thinking of other things.
The process actually in use does evil, with the intention of doing good.
The intention is good, the result is melancholy. Thinking to purge
the city, the population is blanched like plants raised in cellars.
A sewer is a mistake. When drainage, everywhere, with its double
function, restoring what it takes, shall have replaced the sewer,
which is a simple impoverishing washing, then, this being combined
with the data of a now social economy, the product of the earth will
be increased tenfold, and the problem of misery will be singularly
lightened. Add the suppression of parasitism, and it will be solved.
In the meanwhile, the public wealth flows away to the river,
and leakage takes place. Leakage is the word. Europe is being
ruined in this manner by exhaustion.
As for France, we have just cited its figures. Now, Paris contains
one twenty-fifth of the total population of France, and Parisian
guano being the richest of all, we understate the truth when we value
the loss on the part of Paris at twenty-five millions in the half
milliard which France annually rejects. These twenty-five millions,
employed in assistance and enjoyment, would double the splendor
of Paris. The city spends them in sewers. So that we may say that
Paris's great prodigality, its wonderful festival, its Beaujon folly,
its orgy, its stream of gold from full hands, its pomp, its luxury,
its magnificence, is its sewer system.
It is in this manner that, in the blindness of a poor
political economy, we drown and allow to float down
stream and to be lost in the gulfs the well-being
of all. There should be nets at Saint-Cloud for the public fortune.
Economically considered, the matter can be summed up thus:
Paris is a spendthrift. Paris, that model city, that patron of
well-arranged capitals, of which every nation strives to possess a copy,
that metropolis of the ideal, that august country of the initiative,
of impulse and of effort, that centre and that dwelling of minds,
that nation-city, that hive of the future, that marvellous combination
of Babylon and Corinth, would make a peasant of the Fo-Kian shrug
his shoulders, from the point of view which we have just indicated.
Imitate Paris and you will ruin yourselves.
Moreover, and particularly in this immemorial and senseless waste,
Paris is itself an imitator.
These surprising exhibitions of stupidity are not novel;
this is no young folly. The ancients did like the moderns.
"The sewers of Rome," says Liebig, "have absorbed all the well-being
of the Roman peasant." When the Campagna of Rome was ruined by
the Roman sewer, Rome exhausted Italy, and when she had put Italy
in her sewer, she poured in Sicily, then Sardinia, then Africa.
The sewer of Rome has engulfed the world. This cess-pool offered
its engulfment to the city and the universe. Urbi et orbi.
Eternal city, unfathomable sewer.
Rome sets the example for these things as well as for others.
Paris follows this example with all the stupidity peculiar
to intelligent towns.
For the requirements of the operation upon the subject of which we
have just explained our views, Paris has beneath it another Paris;
a Paris of sewers; which has its streets, its cross-roads, its squares,
its blind-alleys, its arteries, and its circulation, which is of mire
and minus the human form.
For nothing must be flattered, not even a great people; where there
is everything there is also ignominy by the side of sublimity;
and, if Paris contains Athens, the city of light, Tyre, the city
of might, Sparta, the city of virtue, Nineveh, the city of marvels,
it also contains Lutetia, the city of mud.
However, the stamp of its power is there also, and the Titanic sink
of Paris realizes, among monuments, that strange ideal realized
in humanity by some men like Macchiavelli, Bacon and Mirabeau,
The sub-soil of Paris, if the eye could penetrate its surface,
would present the aspect of a colossal madrepore. A sponge has no
more partitions and ducts than the mound of earth for a circuit of six
leagues round about, on which rests the great and ancient city.
Not to mention its catacombs, which are a separate cellar,
not to mention the inextricable trellis-work of gas pipes,
without reckoning the vast tubular system for the distribution
of fresh water which ends in the pillar fountains, the sewers
alone form a tremendous, shadowy net-work under the two banks;
a labyrinth which has its slope for its guiding thread.
There appears, in the humid mist, the rat which seems the product
to which Paris has given birth.
ANCIENT HISTORY OF THE SEWER
Let the reader imagine Paris lifted off like a cover, the subterranean
net-work of sewers, from a bird's eye view, will outline on the banks
a species of large branch grafted on the river. On the right bank,
the belt sewer will form the trunk of this branch, the secondary
ducts will form the branches, and those without exit the twigs.
This figure is but a summary one and half exact, the right angle,
which is the customary angle of this species of subterranean
ramifications, being very rare in vegetation.
A more accurate image of this strange geometrical plan can be formed
by supposing that one is viewing some eccentric oriental alphabet,
as intricate as a thicket, against a background of shadows,
and the misshapen letters should be welded one to another in
apparent confusion, and as at haphazard, now by their angles,
again by their extremities.
Sinks and sewers played a great part in the Middle Ages,
in the Lower Empire and in the Orient of old. The masses regarded
these beds of decomposition, these monstrous cradles of death,
with a fear that was almost religious. The vermin ditch of Benares
is no less conducive to giddiness than the lions' ditch of Babylon.
Teglath-Phalasar, according to the rabbinical books, swore by the sink
of Nineveh. It was from the sewer of Munster that John of Leyden
produced his false moon, and it was from the cess-pool of Kekscheb
that oriental menalchme, Mokanna, the veiled prophet of Khorassan,
caused his false sun to emerge.
The history of men is reflected in the history of sewers.
The Germoniae narrated Rome. The sewer of Paris has been
an ancient and formidable thing. It has been a sepulchre,
it has served as an asylum. Crime, intelligence, social protest,
liberty of conscience, thought, theft, all that human laws persecute
or have persecuted, is hidden in that hole; the maillotins in the
fourteenth century, the tire-laine of the fifteenth, the Huguenots
in the sixteenth, Morin's illuminated in the seventeenth,
the chauffeurs [brigands] in the eighteenth. A hundred years ago,
the nocturnal blow of the dagger emerged thence, the pickpocket in
danger slipped thither; the forest had its cave, Paris had its sewer.
Vagrancy, that Gallic picareria, accepted the sewer as the adjunct
of the Cour des Miracles, and at evening, it returned thither,
fierce and sly, through the Maubuee outlet, as into a bed-chamber.
 Steps on the Aventine Hill, leading to the Tiber, to which the
bodies of executed criminals were dragged by hooks to be thrown
into the Tiber.
It was quite natural, that those who had the blind-alley Vide-Gousset,
[Empty-Pocket] or the Rue Coupe-Gorge [Cut-Throat], for the scene
of their daily labor, should have for their domicile by night
the culvert of the Chemin-Vert, or the catch basin of Hurepoix.
Hence a throng of souvenirs. All sorts of phantoms haunt these long,
solitary corridors; everywhere is putrescence and miasma;
here and there are breathing-holes, where Villon within converses
with Rabelais without.
The sewer in ancient Paris is the rendezvous of all exhaustions
and of all attempts. Political economy therein spies a detritus,
social philosophy there beholds a residuum.
The sewer is the conscience of the city. Everything there
converges and confronts everything else. In that livid spot
there are shades, but there are no longer any secrets.
Each thing bears its true form, or at least, its definitive form.
The mass of filth has this in its favor, that it is not a liar.
Ingenuousness has taken refuge there. The mask of Basil is to be
found there, but one beholds its cardboard and its strings and the
inside as well as the outside, and it is accentuated by honest mud.
Scapin's false nose is its next-door neighbor. All the uncleannesses
of civilization, once past their use, fall into this trench of truth,
where the immense social sliding ends. They are there engulfed,
but they display themselves there. This mixture is a confession.
There, no more false appearances, no plastering over is possible,
filth removes its shirt, absolute denudation puts to the rout all
illusions and mirages, there is nothing more except what really exists,
presenting the sinister form of that which is coming to an end.
There, the bottom of a bottle indicates drunkenness, a basket-handle
tells a tale of domesticity; there the core of an apple which has
entertained literary opinions becomes an apple-core once more;
the effigy on the big sou becomes frankly covered with verdigris,
Caiphas' spittle meets Falstaff's puking, the louis-d'or which comes
from the gaming-house jostles the nail whence hangs the rope's end
of the suicide. a livid foetus rolls along, enveloped in the spangles
which danced at the Opera last Shrove-Tuesday, a cap which has
pronounced judgment on men wallows beside a mass of rottenness which
was formerly Margoton's petticoat; it is more than fraternization,
it is equivalent to addressing each other as thou. All which was
formerly rouged, is washed free. The last veil is torn away.
A sewer is a cynic. It tells everything.
The sincerity of foulness pleases us, and rests the soul. When one
has passed one's time in enduring upon earth the spectacle of the
great airs which reasons of state, the oath, political sagacity,
human justice, professional probity, the austerities of situation,
incorruptible robes all assume, it solaces one to enter a sewer
and to behold the mire which befits it.
This is instructive at the same time. We have just said that history
passes through the sewer. The Saint-Barthelemys filter through there,
drop by drop, between the paving-stones. Great public assassinations,
political and religious butcheries, traverse this underground
passage of civilization, and thrust their corpses there. For the
eye of the thinker, all historic murderers are to be found there,
in that hideous penumbra, on their knees, with a scrap of their
winding-sheet for an apron, dismally sponging out their work.
Louis XI. is there with Tristan, Francois I. with Duprat, Charles IX.
is there with his mother, Richelieu is there with Louis XIII.,
Louvois is there, Letellier is there, Hebert and Maillard are there,
scratching the stones, and trying to make the traces of their actions
disappear. Beneath these vaults one hears the brooms of spectres.
One there breathes the enormous fetidness of social catastrophes.
One beholds reddish reflections in the corners. There flows
a terrible stream, in which bloody hands have been washed.
The social observer should enter these shadows. They form a part
of his laboratory. Philosophy is the microscope of the thought.
Everything desires to flee from it, but nothing escapes it.
Tergiversation is useless. What side of oneself does one display
in evasions? the shameful side. Philosophy pursues with its glance,
probes the evil, and does not permit it to escape into nothingness.
In the obliteration of things which disappear, in the watching
of things which vanish, it recognizes all. It reconstructs the
purple from the rag, and the woman from the scrap of her dress.
From the cess-pool, it re-constitutes the city; from mud,
it reconstructs manners; from the potsherd it infers the amphora
or the jug. By the imprint of a finger-nail on a piece of parchment,
it recognizes the difference which separates the Jewry of the Judengasse
from the Jewry of the Ghetto. It re-discovers in what remains that
which has been, good, evil, the true, the blood-stain of the palace,
the ink-blot of the cavern, the drop of sweat from the brothel,
trials undergone, temptations welcomed, orgies cast forth,
the turn which characters have taken as they became abased,
the trace of prostitution in souls of which their grossness rendered
them capable, and on the vesture of the porters of Rome the mark of
The sewer of Paris in the Middle Ages was legendary. In the
sixteenth century, Henri II. attempted a bore, which failed.
Not a hundred years ago, the cess-pool, Mercier attests the fact,
was abandoned to itself, and fared as best it might.
Such was this ancient Paris, delivered over to quarrels, to indecision,
and to gropings. It was tolerably stupid for a long time.
Later on, '89 showed how understanding comes to cities. But in
the good, old times, the capital had not much head. It did not
know how to manage its own affairs either morally or materially,
and could not sweep out filth any better than it could abuses.
Everything presented an obstacle, everything raised a question.
The sewer, for example, was refractory to every itinerary.
One could no more find one's bearings in the sewer than one could
understand one's position in the city; above the unintelligible,
below the inextricable; beneath the confusion of tongues there reigned
the confusion of caverns; Daedalus backed up Babel.
Sometimes the Paris sewer took a notion to overflow, as though
this misunderstood Nile were suddenly seized with a fit of rage.
There occurred, infamous to relate, inundations of the sewer.
At times, that stomach of civilization digested badly, the cess-pool
flowed back into the throat of the city, and Paris got an after-taste
of her own filth. These resemblances of the sewer to remorse had
their good points; they were warnings; very badly accepted, however;
the city waxed indignant at the audacity of its mire, and did not
admit that the filth should return. Drive it out better.
The inundation of 1802 is one of the actual memories of Parisians
of the age of eighty. The mud spread in cross-form over the Place
des Victoires, where stands the statue of Louis XIV.; it entered the Rue
Saint-Honore by the two mouths to the sewer in the Champs-Elysees,
the Rue Saint-Florentin through the Saint-Florentin sewer,
the Rue Pierre-a-Poisson through the sewer de la Sonnerie,
the Rue Popincourt, through the sewer of the Chemin-Vert,
the Rue de la Roquette, through the sewer of the Rue de Lappe;
it covered the drain of the Rue des Champs-Elysees to the height
of thirty-five centimetres; and, to the South, through the vent of
the Seine, performing its functions in inverse sense, it penetrated
the Rue Mazarine, the Rue de l'Echaude, and the Rue des Marais,
where it stopped at a distance of one hundred and nine metres,
a few paces distant from the house in which Racine had lived,
respecting, in the seventeenth century, the poet more than the King.
It attained its maximum depth in the Rue Saint-Pierre, where it
rose to the height of three feet above the flag-stones of the
water-spout, and its maximum length in the Rue Saint-Sabin, where it
spread out over a stretch two hundred and thirty-eight metres in length.
At the beginning of this century, the sewer of Paris was still
a mysterious place. Mud can never enjoy a good fame; but in this
case its evil renown reached the verge of the terrible. Paris knew,
in a confused way, that she had under her a terrible cavern.
People talked of it as of that monstrous bed of Thebes in which
swarmed centipedes fifteen long feet in length, and which might have
served Behemoth for a bathtub. The great boots of the sewermen
never ventured further than certain well-known points. We were then
very near the epoch when the scavenger's carts, from the summit
of which Sainte-Foix fraternized with the Marquis de Crequi,
discharged their loads directly into the sewer. As for cleaning out,--
that function was entrusted to the pouring rains which encumbered
rather than swept away. Rome left some poetry to her sewer,
and called it the Gemoniae; Paris insulted hers, and entitled it
the Polypus-Hole. Science and superstition were in accord, in horror.
The Polypus hole was no less repugnant to hygiene than to legend.
The goblin was developed under the fetid covering of the Mouffetard sewer;
the corpses of the Marmousets had been cast into the sewer de
la Barillerie; Fagon attributed the redoubtable malignant fever of 1685
to the great hiatus of the sewer of the Marais, which remained yawning
until 1833 in the Rue Saint-Louis, almost opposite the sign of the
Gallant Messenger. The mouth of the sewer of the Rue de la Mortellerie
was celebrated for the pestilences which had their source there;
with its grating of iron, with points simulating a row of teeth,
it was like a dragon's maw in that fatal street, breathing forth
hell upon men. The popular imagination seasoned the sombre Parisian
sink with some indescribably hideous intermixture of the infinite.
The sewer had no bottom. The sewer was the lower world. The idea
of exploring these leprous regions did not even occur to the police.
To try that unknown thing, to cast the plummet into that shadow,
to set out on a voyage of discovery in that abyss--who would have dared?
It was alarming. Nevertheless, some one did present himself.
The cess-pool had its Christopher Columbus.
One day, in 1805, during one of the rare apparitions which the
Emperor made in Paris, the Minister of the Interior, some Decres
or Cretet or other, came to the master's intimate levee.
In the Carrousel there was audible the clanking of swords of all
those extraordinary soldiers of the great Republic, and of the
great Empire; then Napoleon's door was blocked with heroes;
men from the Rhine, from the Escaut, from the Adige, and from
the Nile; companions of Joubert, of Desaix, of Marceau, of Hoche,
of Kleber; the aerostiers of Fleurus, the grenadiers of Mayence,
the pontoon-builders of Genoa, hussars whom the Pyramids had looked
down upon, artillerists whom Junot's cannon-ball had spattered
with mud, cuirassiers who had taken by assault the fleet lying at
anchor in the Zuyderzee; some had followed Bonaparte upon the bridge
of Lodi, others had accompanied Murat in the trenches of Mantua,
others had preceded Lannes in the hollow road of Montebello.
The whole army of that day was present there, in the court-yard of
the Tuileries, represented by a squadron or a platoon, and guarding
Napoleon in repose; and that was the splendid epoch when the grand
army had Marengo behind it and Austerlitz before it.--"Sire,"
said the Minister of the Interior to Napoleon, "yesterday I saw
the most intrepid man in your Empire."--"What man is that?"
said the Emperor brusquely, "and what has he done?"--"He wants
to do something, Sire."--"What is it?"--"To visit the sewers of Paris."
This man existed and his name was Bruneseau.
The visit took place. It was a formidable campaign; a nocturnal
battle against pestilence and suffocation. It was, at the same time,
a voyage of discovery. One of the survivors of this expedition,
an intelligent workingman, who was very young at the time, related curious
details with regard to it, several years ago, which Bruneseau thought
himself obliged to omit in his report to the prefect of police,
as unworthy of official style. The processes of disinfection were,
at that epoch, extremely rudimentary. Hardly had Bruneseau crossed
the first articulations of that subterranean network, when eight
laborers out of the twenty refused to go any further. The operation
was complicated; the visit entailed the necessity of cleaning;
hence it was necessary to cleanse and at the same time, to proceed;
to note the entrances of water, to count the gratings and the vents,
to lay out in detail the branches, to indicate the currents at
the point where they parted, to define the respective bounds of the
divers basins, to sound the small sewers grafted on the principal
sewer, to measure the height under the key-stone of each drain,
and the width, at the spring of the vaults as well as at the bottom,
in order to determine the arrangements with regard to the level
of each water-entrance, either of the bottom of the arch, or on
the soil of the street. They advanced with toil. The lanterns
pined away in the foul atmosphere. From time to time, a fainting
sewerman was carried out. At certain points, there were precipices.
The soil had given away, the pavement had crumbled, the sewer
had changed into a bottomless well; they found nothing solid;
a man disappeared suddenly; they had great difficulty in getting
him out again. On the advice of Fourcroy, they lighted large cages
filled with tow steeped in resin, from time to time, in spots
which had been sufficiently disinfected. In some places, the wall
was covered with misshapen fungi,--one would have said tumors;
the very stone seemed diseased within this unbreathable atmosphere.
Bruneseau, in his exploration, proceeded down hill. At the point
of separation of the two water-conduits of the Grand-Hurleur, he
deciphered upon a projecting stone the date of 1550; this stone
indicated the limits where Philibert Delorme, charged by Henri II.
with visiting the subterranean drains of Paris, had halted.
This stone was the mark of the sixteenth century on the sewer;
Bruneseau found the handiwork of the seventeenth century once more
in the Ponceau drain of the old Rue Vielle-du-Temple, vaulted between
1600 and 1650; and the handiwork of the eighteenth in the western
section of the collecting canal, walled and vaulted in 1740.
These two vaults, especially the less ancient, that of 1740,
were more cracked and decrepit than the masonry of the belt sewer,
which dated from 1412, an epoch when the brook of fresh water of
Menilmontant was elevated to the dignity of the Grand Sewer of Paris,
an advancement analogous to that of a peasant who should become first
valet de chambre to the King; something like Gros-Jean transformed
Here and there, particularly beneath the Court-House, they thought
they recognized the hollows of ancient dungeons, excavated in the
very sewer itself. Hideous in-pace. An iron neck-collar was hanging
in one of these cells. They walled them all up. Some of their finds
were singular; among others, the skeleton of an ourang-outan, who had
disappeared from the Jardin des Plantes in 1800, a disappearance
probably connected with the famous and indisputable apparition of the
devil in the Rue des Bernardins, in the last year of the eighteenth
century. The poor devil had ended by drowning himself in the sewer.
Beneath this long, arched drain which terminated at the Arche-Marion,
a perfectly preserved rag-picker's basket excited the admiration
of all connoisseurs. Everywhere, the mire, which the sewermen came
to handle with intrepidity, abounded in precious objects, jewels of
gold and silver, precious stones, coins. If a giant had filtered
this cesspool, he would have had the riches of centuries in his lair.
At the point where the two branches of the Rue du Temple and of the
Rue Sainte-Avoye separate, they picked up a singular Huguenot medal
in copper, bearing on one side the pig hooded with a cardinal's hat,
and on the other, a wolf with a tiara on his head.
The most surprising rencounter was at the entrance to the Grand Sewer.
This entrance had formerly been closed by a grating of which nothing
but the hinges remained. From one of these hinges hung a dirty
and shapeless rag which, arrested there in its passage, no doubt,
had floated there in the darkness and finished its process of being
torn apart. Bruneseau held his lantern close to this rag and
examined it. It was of very fine batiste, and in one of the corners,
less frayed than the rest, they made out a heraldic coronet and
embroidered above these seven letters: LAVBESP. The crown was the
coronet of a Marquis, and the seven letters signified Laubespine.
They recognized the fact, that what they had before their eyes
was a morsel of the shroud of Marat. Marat in his youth had had
amorous intrigues. This was when he was a member of the household
of the Comte d'Artois, in the capacity of physician to the Stables.
From these love affairs, historically proved, with a great lady,
he had retained this sheet. As a waif or a souvenir. At his death,
as this was the only linen of any fineness which he had in his house,
they buried him in it. Some old women had shrouded him for the tomb
in that swaddling-band in which the tragic Friend of the people
had enjoyed voluptuousness. Bruneseau passed on. They left that
rag where it hung; they did not put the finishing touch to it.
Did this arise from scorn or from respect? Marat deserved both.
And then, destiny was there sufficiently stamped to make them
hesitate to touch it. Besides, the things of the sepulchre must
be left in the spot which they select. In short, the relic was
a strange one. A Marquise had slept in it; Marat had rotted in it;
it had traversed the Pantheon to end with the rats of the sewer.
This chamber rag, of which Watteau would formerly have joyfully
sketched every fold, had ended in becoming worthy of the fixed gaze
The whole visit to the subterranean stream of filth of Paris
lasted seven years, from 1805 to 1812. As he proceeded,
Bruneseau drew, directed, and completed considerable works;
in 1808 he lowered the arch of the Ponceau, and, everywhere creating
new lines, he pushed the sewer, in 1809, under the Rue Saint-Denis
as far as the fountain of the Innocents; in 1810, under the Rue
Froidmanteau and under the Salpetriere; in 1811 under the Rue
Neuve-des-Petits-Peres, under the Rue du Mail, under the Rue de
l'Echarpe, under the Place Royale; in 1812, under the Rue de la Paix,
and under the Chaussee d'Antin. At the same time, he had the whole
net-work disinfected and rendered healthful. In the second year
of his work, Bruneseau engaged the assistance of his son-in-law Nargaud.
It was thus that, at the beginning of the century, ancient society
cleansed its double bottom, and performed the toilet of its sewer.
There was that much clean, at all events.
Tortuous, cracked, unpaved, full of fissures, intersected by gullies,
jolted by eccentric elbows, mounting and descending illogically,
fetid, wild, fierce, submerged in obscurity, with cicatrices
on its pavements and scars on its walls, terrible,--such was,
retrospectively viewed, the antique sewer of Paris. Ramifications in
every direction, crossings, of trenches, branches, goose-feet, stars,
as in military mines, coecum, blind alleys, vaults lined with saltpetre,
pestiferous pools, scabby sweats, on the walls, drops dripping
from the ceilings, darkness; nothing could equal the horror
of this old, waste crypt, the digestive apparatus of Babylon,
a cavern, ditch, gulf pierced with streets, a titanic mole-burrow,
where the mind seems to behold that enormous blind mole, the past,
prowling through the shadows, in the filth which has been splendor.
This, we repeat, was the sewer of the past.
To-day the sewer is clean, cold, straight, correct. It almost
realizes the ideal of what is understood in England by the
word "respectable." It is proper and grayish; laid out by rule
and line; one might almost say as though it came out of a bandbox.
It resembles a tradesman who has become a councillor of state.
One can almost see distinctly there. The mire there comports
itself with decency. At first, one might readily mistake it
for one of those subterranean corridors, which were so common
in former days, and so useful in flights of monarchs and princes,
in those good old times, "when the people loved their kings."
The present sewer is a beautiful sewer; the pure style reigns there;
the classical rectilinear alexandrine which, driven out of poetry,
appears to have taken refuge in architecture, seems mingled
with all the stones of that long, dark and whitish vault;
each outlet is an arcade; the Rue de Rivoli serves as pattern even
in the sewer. However, if the geometrical line is in place anywhere,
it is certainly in the drainage trench of a great city.
There, everything should be subordinated to the shortest road.
The sewer has, nowadays, assumed a certain official aspect.
The very police reports, of which it sometimes forms the subject,
no longer are wanting in respect towards it. The words which
characterize it in administrative language are sonorous and dignified.
What used to be called a gut is now called a gallery; what used
to be called a hole is now called a surveying orifice. Villon would
no longer meet with his ancient temporary provisional lodging.
This net-work of cellars has its immemorial population of prowlers,
rodents, swarming in greater numbers than ever; from time to time,
an aged and veteran rat risks his head at the window of the sewer
and surveys the Parisians; but even these vermin grow tame,
so satisfied are they with their subterranean palace. The cesspool
no longer retains anything of its primitive ferocity. The rain,
which in former days soiled the sewer, now washes it. Nevertheless,
do not trust yourself too much to it. Miasmas still inhabit it.
It is more hypocritical than irreproachable. The prefecture
of police and the commission of health have done their best.
But, in spite of all the processes of disinfection, it exhales,
a vague, suspicious odor like Tartuffe after confession.
Let us confess, that, taking it all in all, this sweeping is a homage
which the sewer pays to civilization, and as, from this point of view,
Tartuffe's conscience is a progress over the Augean stables,
it is certain that the sewers of Paris have been improved.
It is more than progress; it is transmutation. Between the ancient
and the present sewer there is a revolution. What has effected
The man whom all the world forgets, and whom we have mentioned, Bruneseau.
The excavation of the sewer of Paris has been no slight task.
The last ten centuries have toiled at it without being able to
bring it to a termination, any more than they have been able to
finish Paris. The sewer, in fact, receives all the counter-shocks
of the growth of Paris. Within the bosom of the earth, it is a sort
of mysterious polyp with a thousand antennae, which expands below
as the city expands above. Every time that the city cuts a street,
the sewer stretches out an arm. The old monarchy had constructed
only twenty-three thousand three hundred metres of sewers; that was
where Paris stood in this respect on the first of January, 1806.
Beginning with this epoch, of which we shall shortly speak,
the work was usefully and energetically resumed and prosecuted;
Napoleon built--the figures are curious--four thousand eight
hundred and four metres; Louis XVIII., five thousand seven hundred
and nine; Charles X., ten thousand eight hundred and thirty-six;
Louis-Philippe, eighty-nine thousand and twenty; the Republic
of 1848, twenty-three thousand three hundred and eighty-one;
the present government, seventy thousand five hundred; in all,
at the present time, two hundred and twenty-six thousand six hundred
and ten metres; sixty leagues of sewers; the enormous entrails
of Paris. An obscure ramification ever at work; a construction
which is immense and ignored.
As the reader sees, the subterranean labyrinth of Paris is to-day
more than ten times what it was at the beginning of the century.
It is difficult to form any idea of all the perseverance and the efforts
which have been required to bring this cess-pool to the point of
relative perfection in which it now is. It was with great difficulty
that the ancient monarchical provostship and, during the last ten
years of the eighteenth century, the revolutionary mayoralty,
had succeeded in perforating the five leagues of sewer which existed
previous to 1806. All sorts of obstacles hindered this operation,
some peculiar to the soil, others inherent in the very prejudices
of the laborious population of Paris. Paris is built upon a soil
which is singularly rebellious to the pick, the hoe, the bore,
and to human manipulation. There is nothing more difficult to
pierce and to penetrate than the geological formation upon which
is superposed the marvellous historical formation called Paris;
as soon as work in any form whatsoever is begun and adventures
upon this stretch of alluvium, subterranean resistances abound.
There are liquid clays, springs, hard rocks, and those soft
and deep quagmires which special science calls moutardes.
The pick advances laboriously through the calcareous layers
alternating with very slender threads of clay, and schistose beds
in plates incrusted with oyster-shells, the contemporaries of the
pre-Adamite oceans. Sometimes a rivulet suddenly bursts through
a vault that has been begun, and inundates the laborers; or a layer
of marl is laid bare, and rolls down with the fury of a cataract,
breaking the stoutest supporting beams like glass. Quite recently,
at Villette, when it became necessary to pass the collecting sewer
under the Saint-Martin canal without interrupting navigation or
emptying the canal, a fissure appeared in the basin of the canal,
water suddenly became abundant in the subterranean tunnel, which was
beyond the power of the pumping engines; it was necessary to send
a diver to explore the fissure which had been made in the narrow
entrance of the grand basin, and it was not without great difficulty
that it was stopped up. Elsewhere near the Seine, and even at a
considerable distance from the river, as for instance, at Belleville,
Grand-Rue and Lumiere Passage, quicksands are encountered in which
one sticks fast, and in which a man sinks visibly. Add suffocation
by miasmas, burial by slides, and sudden crumbling of the earth.
Add the typhus, with which the workmen become slowly impregnated.
In our own day, after having excavated the gallery of Clichy,
with a banquette to receive the principal water-conduit of Ourcq,
a piece of work which was executed in a trench ten metres deep;
after having, in the midst of land-slides, and with the aid of
excavations often putrid, and of shoring up, vaulted the Bievre
from the Boulevard de l'Hopital, as far as the Seine; after having,
in order to deliver Paris from the floods of Montmartre and in order
to provide an outlet for that river-like pool nine hectares in extent,
which crouched near the Barriere des Martyrs, after having,
let us state, constructed the line of sewers from the Barriere Blanche
to the road of Aubervilliers, in four months, working day and night,
at a depth of eleven metres; after having--a thing heretofore unseen--
made a subterranean sewer in the Rue Barre-du-Bec, without a trench,
six metres below the surface, the superintendent, Monnot, died.
After having vaulted three thousand metres of sewer in all quarters
of the city, from the Rue Traversiere-Saint-Antoine to the Rue de
l'Ourcine, after having freed the Carrefour Censier-Mouffetard
from inundations of rain by means of the branch of the Arbalete,
after having built the Saint-Georges sewer, on rock and concrete
in the fluid sands, after having directed the formidable lowering of
the flooring of the vault timber in the Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth branch,
Duleau the engineer died. There are no bulletins for such acts of
bravery as these, which are more useful, nevertheless, than the brutal
slaughter of the field of battle.
The sewers of Paris in 1832 were far from being what they are
to-day. Bruneseau had given the impulse, but the cholera was
required to bring about the vast reconstruction which took place
later on. It is surprising to say, for example, that in 1821,
a part of the belt sewer, called the Grand Canal, as in Venice,
still stood stagnating uncovered to the sky, in the Rue des Gourdes.
It was only in 1821 that the city of Paris found in its pocket
the two hundred and sixty-thousand eighty francs and six centimes
required for covering this mass of filth. The three absorbing
wells, of the Combat, the Cunette, and Saint-Mande, with their
discharging mouths, their apparatus, their cesspools, and their
depuratory branches, only date from 1836. The intestinal sewer
of Paris has been made over anew, and, as we have said, it has
been extended more than tenfold within the last quarter of a century.
Thirty years ago, at the epoch of the insurrection of the 5th and 6th
of June, it was still, in many localities, nearly the same ancient sewer.
A very great number of streets which are now convex were then
sunken causeways. At the end of a slope, where the tributaries
of a street or cross-roads ended, there were often to be seen large,
square gratings with heavy bars, whose iron, polished by the footsteps
of the throng, gleamed dangerous and slippery for vehicles,
and caused horses to fall. The official language of the Roads
and Bridges gave to these gratings the expressive name of Cassis.
 From casser, to break: break-necks.
In 1832, in a number of streets, in the Rue de l'Etoile, the Rue
Saint-Louis, the Rue du Temple, the Rue Vielle-duTemple, the Rue
Notre-Dame de Nazareth, the Rue Folie-Mericourt, the Quai aux Fleurs,
the Rue du Petit-Muse, the Rue du Normandie, the Rue Pont-Aux-Biches,
the Rue des Marais, the Faubourg Saint-Martin, the Rue Notre Dame
des-Victoires, the Faubourg Montmartre, the Rue Grange-Bateliere,
in the Champs-Elysees, the Rue Jacob, the Rue de Tournon,
the ancient gothic sewer still cynically displayed its maw.
It consisted of enormous voids of stone catch-basins sometimes
surrounded by stone posts, with monumental effrontery.
Paris in 1806 still had nearly the same sewers numerically as stated
in 1663; five thousand three hundred fathoms. After Bruneseau,
on the 1st of January, 1832, it had forty thousand three hundred metres.
Between 1806 and 1831, there had been built, on an average,
seven hundred and fifty metres annually, afterwards eight and even
ten thousand metres of galleries were constructed every year,
in masonry, of small stones, with hydraulic mortar which hardens
under water, on a cement foundation. At two hundred francs the metre,
the sixty leagues of Paris' sewers of the present day represent
In addition to the economic progress which we have indicated
at the beginning, grave problems of public hygiene are connected
with that immense question: the sewers of Paris.
Paris is the centre of two sheets, a sheet of water and a sheet of air.
The sheet of water, lying at a tolerably great depth underground,
but already sounded by two bores, is furnished by the layer of green
clay situated between the chalk and the Jurassic lime-stone; this layer
may be represented by a disk five and twenty leagues in circumference;
a multitude of rivers and brooks ooze there; one drinks the Seine,
the Marne, the Yonne, the Oise, the Aisne, the Cher, the Vienne
and the Loire in a glass of water from the well of Grenelle.
The sheet of water is healthy, it comes from heaven in the first
place and next from the earth; the sheet of air is unhealthy,
it comes from the sewer. All the miasms of the cess-pool are mingled
with the breath of the city; hence this bad breath. The air taken
from above a dung-heap, as has been scientifically proved, is purer
than the air taken from above Paris. In a given time, with the aid
of progress, mechanisms become perfected, and as light increases,
the sheet of water will be employed to purify the sheet of air;
that is to say, to wash the sewer. The reader knows, that by "washing
the sewer" we mean: the restitution of the filth to the earth;
the return to the soil of dung and of manure to the fields.
Through this simple act, the entire social community will
experience a diminution of misery and an augmentation of health.
At the present hour, the radiation of diseases from Paris extends
to fifty leagues around the Louvre, taken as the hub of this
We might say that, for ten centuries, the cess-pool has been the disease
of Paris. The sewer is the blemish which Paris has in her blood.
The popular instinct has never been deceived in it. The occupation
of sewermen was formerly almost as perilous, and almost as repugnant
to the people, as the occupation of knacker, which was so long
held in horror and handed over to the executioner. High wages
were necessary to induce a mason to disappear in that fetid mine;
the ladder of the cess-pool cleaner hesitated to plunge into it;
it was said, in proverbial form: "to descend into the sewer is to
enter the grave;" and all sorts of hideous legends, as we have said,
covered this colossal sink with terror; a dread sink-hole which bears
the traces of the revolutions of the globe as of the revolutions
of man, and where are to be found vestiges of all cataclysms from
the shells of the Deluge to the rag of Marat.
BOOK THIRD.--MUD BUT THE SOUL
THE SEWER AND ITS SURPRISES
It was in the sewers of Paris that Jean Valjean found himself.
Still another resemblance between Paris and the sea. As in the ocean,
the diver may disappear there.
The transition was an unheard-of one. In the very heart of the city,
Jean Valjean had escaped from the city, and, in the twinkling of
an eye, in the time required to lift the cover and to replace it,
he had passed from broad daylight to complete obscurity,
from midday to midnight, from tumult to silence, from the whirlwind
of thunders to the stagnation of the tomb, and, by a vicissitude
far more tremendous even than that of the Rue Polonceau,
from the most extreme peril to the most absolute obscurity.
An abrupt fall into a cavern; a disappearance into the secret
trap-door of Paris; to quit that street where death was on
every side, for that sort of sepulchre where there was life,
was a strange instant. He remained for several seconds as
though bewildered; listening, stupefied. The waste-trap of safety
had suddenly yawned beneath him. Celestial goodness had, in
a manner, captured him by treachery. Adorable ambuscades of providence!
Only, the wounded man did not stir, and Jean Valjean did not know
whether that which he was carrying in that grave was a living being
or a dead corpse.
His first sensation was one of blindness. All of a sudden,
he could see nothing. It seemed to him too, that, in one instant,
he had become deaf. He no longer heard anything. The frantic
storm of murder which had been let loose a few feet above his
head did not reach him, thanks to the thickness of the earth
which separated him from it, as we have said, otherwise than
faintly and indistinctly, and like a rumbling, in the depths.
He felt that the ground was solid under his feet; that was all;
but that was enough. He extended one arm and then the other,
touched the walls on both sides, and perceived that the passage
was narrow; he slipped, and thus perceived that the pavement was wet.
He cautiously put forward one foot, fearing a hole, a sink, some gulf;
he discovered that the paving continued. A gust of fetidness informed
him of the place in which he stood.
After the lapse of a few minutes, he was no longer blind. A little light
fell through the man-hole through which he had descended, and his eyes
became accustomed to this cavern. He began to distinguish something.
The passage in which he had burrowed--no other word can better
express the situation--was walled in behind him. It was one
of those blind alleys, which the special jargon terms branches.
In front of him there was another wall, a wall like night.
The light of the air-hole died out ten or twelve paces from the point
where Jean Valjean stood, and barely cast a wan pallor on a few metres
of the damp walls of the sewer. Beyond, the opaqueness was massive;
to penetrate thither seemed horrible, an entrance into it appeared
like an engulfment. A man could, however, plunge into that wall
of fog and it was necessary so to do. Haste was even requisite.
It occurred to Jean Valjean that the grating which he had caught sight
of under the flag-stones might also catch the eye of the soldiery,
and that everything hung upon this chance. They also might descend
into that well and search it. There was not a minute to be lost.
He had deposited Marius on the ground, he picked him up again,--
that is the real word for it,--placed him on his shoulders once more,
and set out. He plunged resolutely into the gloom.
The truth is, that they were less safe than Jean Valjean fancied.
Perils of another sort and no less serious were awaiting them,
perchance. After the lightning-charged whirlwind of the combat,
the cavern of miasmas and traps; after chaos, the sewer.
Jean Valjean had fallen from one circle of hell into another.
When he had advanced fifty paces, he was obliged to halt. A problem
presented itself. The passage terminated in another gut which he
encountered across his path. There two ways presented themselves.
Which should he take? Ought he to turn to the left or to the right?
How was he to find his bearings in that black labyrinth?
This labyrinth, to which we have already called the reader's attention,
has a clue, which is its slope. To follow to the slope is to arrive
at the river.
This Jean Valjean instantly comprehended.
He said to himself that he was probably in the sewer des Halles;
that if he were to choose the path to the left and follow the slope,
he would arrive, in less than a quarter of an hour, at some mouth on
the Seine between the Pont au Change and the Pont-Neuf, that is to say,
he would make his appearance in broad daylight on the most densely
peopled spot in Paris. Perhaps he would come out on some man-hole
at the intersection of streets. Amazement of the passers-by at
beholding two bleeding men emerge from the earth at their feet.
Arrival of the police, a call to arms of the neighboring post
of guards. Thus they would be seized before they had even got out.
It would be better to plunge into that labyrinth, to confide
themselves to that black gloom, and to trust to Providence for
He ascended the incline, and turned to the right.
When he had turned the angle of the gallery, the distant glimmer
of an air-hole disappeared, the curtain of obscurity fell upon him
once more, and he became blind again. Nevertheless, he advanced
as rapidly as possible. Marius' two arms were passed round
his neck, and the former's feet dragged behind him. He held
both these arms with one hand, and groped along the wall with
the other. Marius' cheek touched his, and clung there, bleeding.
He felt a warm stream which came from Marius trickling down upon
him and making its way under his clothes. But a humid warmth
near his ear, which the mouth of the wounded man touched,
indicated respiration, and consequently, life. The passage along
which Jean Valjean was now proceeding was not so narrow as the first.
Jean Valjean walked through it with considerable difficulty.
The rain of the preceding day had not, as yet, entirely run off,
and it created a little torrent in the centre of the bottom, and he
was forced to hug the wall in order not to have his feet in the water.
Thus he proceeded in the gloom. He resembled the beings of the
night groping in the invisible and lost beneath the earth in veins
Still, little by little, whether it was that the distant air-holes
emitted a little wavering light in this opaque gloom, or whether
his eyes had become accustomed to the obscurity, some vague vision
returned to him, and he began once more to gain a confused idea,
now of the wall which he touched, now of the vault beneath which he
was passing. The pupil dilates in the dark, and the soul dilates
in misfortune and ends by finding God there.
It was not easy to direct his course.
The line of the sewer re-echoes, so to speak, the line of the
streets which lie above it. There were then in Paris two thousand
two hundred streets. Let the reader imagine himself beneath
that forest of gloomy branches which is called the sewer.
The system of sewers existing at that epoch, placed end to end,
would have given a length of eleven leagues. We have said above,
that the actual net-work, thanks to the special activity of the
last thirty years, was no less than sixty leagues in extent.
Jean Valjean began by committing a blunder. He thought that he was
beneath the Rue Saint-Denis, and it was a pity that it was not so.
Under the Rue Saint-Denis there is an old stone sewer which dates
from Louis XIII. and which runs straight to the collecting sewer,
called the Grand Sewer, with but a single elbow, on the right,
on the elevation of the ancient Cour des Miracles, and a single branch,
the Saint-Martin sewer, whose four arms describe a cross. But the gut
of the Petite-Truanderie the entrance to which was in the vicinity
of the Corinthe wine-shop has never communicated with the sewer
of the Rue Saint-Denis; it ended at the Montmartre sewer, and it
was in this that Jean Valjean was entangled. There opportunities
of losing oneself abound. The Montmartre sewer is one of the most
labyrinthine of the ancient network. Fortunately, Jean Valjean
had left behind him the sewer of the markets whose geometrical plan
presents the appearance of a multitude of parrots' roosts piled on
top of each other; but he had before him more than one embarrassing
encounter and more than one street corner--for they are streets--
presenting itself in the gloom like an interrogation point;
first, on his left, the vast sewer of the Platriere, a sort of
Chinese puzzle, thrusting out and entangling its chaos of Ts and Zs
under the Post-Office and under the rotunda of the Wheat Market,
as far as the Seine, where it terminates in a Y; secondly,
on his right, the curving corridor of the Rue du Cadran with its
three teeth, which are also blind courts; thirdly, on his left,
the branch of the Mail, complicated, almost at its inception,
with a sort of fork, and proceeding from zig-zag to zig-zag
until it ends in the grand crypt of the outlet of the Louvre,
truncated and ramified in every direction; and lastly, the blind
alley of a passage of the Rue des Jeuneurs, without counting little
ducts here and there, before reaching the belt sewer, which alone
could conduct him to some issue sufficiently distant to be safe.
Had Jean Valjean had any idea of all that we have here pointed out,
he would speedily have perceived, merely by feeling the wall,
that he was not in the subterranean gallery of the Rue Saint-Denis.
Instead of the ancient stone, instead of the antique architecture,
haughty and royal even in the sewer, with pavement and string courses
of granite and mortar costing eight hundred livres the fathom,
he would have felt under his hand contemporary cheapness,
economical expedients, porous stone filled with mortar on a
concrete foundation, which costs two hundred francs the metre,
and the bourgeoise masonry known as a petits materiaux--small stuff;
but of all this he knew nothing.
He advanced with anxiety, but with calmness, seeing nothing,
knowing nothing, buried in chance, that is to say, engulfed in providence.
By degrees, we will admit, a certain horror seized upon him.
The gloom which enveloped him penetrated his spirit. He walked
in an enigma. This aqueduct of the sewer is formidable;
it interlaces in a dizzy fashion. It is a melancholy thing to be
caught in this Paris of shadows. Jean Valjean was obliged to find
and even to invent his route without seeing it. In this unknown,
every step that he risked might be his last. How was he to get
out? should he find an issue? should he find it in time? would
that colossal subterranean sponge with its stone cavities,
allow itself to be penetrated and pierced? should he there encounter
some unexpected knot in the darkness? should he arrive at the
inextricable and the impassable? would Marius die there of hemorrhage
and he of hunger? should they end by both getting lost, and by
furnishing two skeletons in a nook of that night? He did not know.
He put all these questions to himself without replying to them.
The intestines of Paris form a precipice. Like the prophet,
he was in the belly of the monster.
All at once, he had a surprise. At the most unforeseen moment,
and without having ceased to walk in a straight line, he perceived
that he was no longer ascending; the water of the rivulet was
beating against his heels, instead of meeting him at his toes.
The sewer was now descending. Why? Was he about to arrive
suddenly at the Seine? This danger was a great one, but the peril
of retreating was still greater. He continued to advance.
It was not towards the Seine that he was proceeding. The ridge
which the soil of Paris forms on its right bank empties one of its
water-sheds into the Seine and the other into the Grand Sewer.
The crest of this ridge which determines the division of the waters
describes a very capricious line. The culminating point, which is
the point of separation of the currents, is in the Sainte-Avoye sewer,
beyond the Rue Michelle-Comte, in the sewer of the Louvre,
near the boulevards, and in the Montmartre sewer, near the Halles.
It was this culminating point that Jean Valjean had reached. He was
directing his course towards the belt sewer; he was on the right path.
But he did not know it.
Every time that he encountered a branch, he felt of its angles,
and if he found that the opening which presented itself was smaller
than the passage in which he was, he did not enter but continued
his route, rightly judging that every narrower way must needs terminate
in a blind alley, and could only lead him further from his goal,
that is to say, the outlet. Thus he avoided the quadruple trap
which was set for him in the darkness by the four labyrinths
which we have just enumerated.
At a certain moment, he perceived that he was emerging from beneath
the Paris which was petrified by the uprising, where the barricades
had suppressed circulation, and that he was entering beneath the living
and normal Paris. Overhead he suddenly heard a noise as of thunder,
distant but continuous. It was the rumbling of vehicles.
He had been walking for about half an hour, at least according
to the calculation which he made in his own mind, and he had not
yet thought of rest; he had merely changed the hand with which he
was holding Marius. The darkness was more profound than ever,
but its very depth reassured him.
All at once, he saw his shadow in front of him. It was outlined
on a faint, almost indistinct reddish glow, which vaguely empurpled
the flooring vault underfoot, and the vault overhead, and gilded
to his right and to his left the two viscous walls of the passage.
Stupefied, he turned round.
Behind him, in the portion of the passage which he had just
passed through, at a distance which appeared to him immense,
piercing the dense obscurity, flamed a sort of horrible star
which had the air of surveying him.
It was the gloomy star of the police which was rising in the sewer.
In the rear of that star eight or ten forms were moving about
in a confused way, black, upright, indistinct, horrible.
On the day of the sixth of June, a battue of the sewers had been ordered.
It was feared that the vanquished might have taken to them for refuge,
and Prefect Gisquet was to search occult Paris while General
Bugeaud swept public Paris; a double and connected operation
which exacted a double strategy on the part of the public force,
represented above by the army and below by the police. Three squads
of agents and sewermen explored the subterranean drain of Paris,
the first on the right bank, the second on the left bank, the third
in the city. The agents of police were armed with carabines,
with bludgeons, swords and poignards.
That which was directed at Jean Valjean at that moment, was the
lantern of the patrol of the right bank.
This patrol had just visited the curving gallery and the three
blind alleys which lie beneath the Rue du Cadran. While they were
passing their lantern through the depths of these blind alleys,
Jean Valjean had encountered on his path the entrance to the gallery,
had perceived that it was narrower than the principal passage
and had not penetrated thither. He had passed on. The police,
on emerging from the gallery du Cadran, had fancied that they
heard the sound of footsteps in the direction of the belt sewer.
They were, in fact, the steps of Jean Valjean. The sergeant in
command of the patrol had raised his lantern, and the squad had begun
to gaze into the mist in the direction whence the sound proceeded.
This was an indescribable moment for Jean Valjean.
Happily, if he saw the lantern well, the lantern saw him but ill.
It was light and he was shadow. He was very far off, and mingled
with the darkness of the place. He hugged the wall and halted.
Moreover, he did not understand what it was that was moving behind him.
The lack of sleep and food, and his emotions had caused him also to
pass into the state of a visionary. He beheld a gleam, and around
that gleam, forms. What was it? He did not comprehend.
Jean Valjean having paused, the sound ceased.
The men of the patrol listened, and heard nothing, they looked
and saw nothing. They held a consultation.
There existed at that epoch at this point of the Montmartre
sewer a sort of cross-roads called de service, which was
afterwards suppressed, on account of the little interior lake which
formed there, swallowing up the torrent of rain in heavy storms.
The patrol could form a cluster in this open space. Jean Valjean
saw these spectres form a sort of circle. These bull-dogs'
heads approached each other closely and whispered together.
The result of this council held by the watch dogs was, that they
had been mistaken, that there had been no noise, that it was useless
to get entangled in the belt sewer, that it would only be a waste
of time, but that they ought to hasten towards Saint-Merry;
that if there was anything to do, and any "bousingot" to track out,
it was in that quarter.
From time to time, parties re-sole their old insults. In 1832,
the word bousingot formed the interim between the word jacobin,
which had become obsolete, and the word demagogue which has since
rendered such excellent service.
The sergeant gave orders to turn to the left, towards the watershed
of the Seine.
If it had occurred to them to separate into two squads, and to go
in both directions, Jean Valjean would have been captured.
All hung on that thread. It is probable that the instructions
of the prefecture, foreseeing a possibility of combat and
insurgents in force, had forbidden the patrol to part company.
The patrol resumed its march, leaving Jean Valjean behind it.
Of all this movement, Jean Valjean perceived nothing, except the
eclipse of the lantern which suddenly wheeled round.
Before taking his departure, the Sergeant, in order to acquit
his policeman's conscience, discharged his gun in the direction of
Jean Valjean. The detonation rolled from echo to echo in the crypt,
like the rumbling of that titanic entrail. A bit of plaster which
fell into the stream and splashed up the water a few paces away from
Jean Valjean, warned him that the ball had struck the arch over his head.
Slow and measured steps resounded for some time on the timber work,
gradually dying away as they retreated to a greater distance;
the group of black forms vanished, a glimmer of light oscillated
and floated, communicating to the vault a reddish glow which grew
fainter, then disappeared; the silence became profound once more,
the obscurity became complete, blindness and deafness resumed
possession of the shadows; and Jean Valjean, not daring to stir as yet,
remained for a long time leaning with his back against the wall,
with straining ears, and dilated pupils, watching the disappearance
of that phantom patrol.
THE "SPUN" MAN
This justice must be rendered to the police of that period,
that even in the most serious public junctures, it imperturbably
fulfilled its duties connected with the sewers and surveillance.
A revolt was, in its eyes, no pretext for allowing malefactors
to take the bit in their own mouths, and for neglecting society
for the reason that the government was in peril. The ordinary
service was performed correctly in company with the extraordinary
service, and was not troubled by the latter. In the midst of an
incalculable political event already begun, under the pressure
of a possible revolution, a police agent, "spun" a thief without
allowing himself to be distracted by insurrection and barricades.
It was something precisely parallel which took place on the
afternoon of the 6th of June on the banks of the Seine, on the
slope of the right shore, a little beyond the Pont des Invalides.
There is no longer any bank there now. The aspect of the locality
On that bank, two men, separated by a certain distance,
seemed to be watching each other while mutually avoiding
each other. The one who was in advance was trying to get away,
the one in the rear was trying to overtake the other.
It was like a game of checkers played at a distance and in silence.
Neither seemed to be in any hurry, and both walked slowly, as though
each of them feared by too much haste to make his partner redouble
One would have said that it was an appetite following its prey,
and purposely without wearing the air of doing so. The prey was
crafty and on its guard.
The proper relations between the hunted pole-cat and the hunting dog
were observed. The one who was seeking to escape had an insignificant
mien and not an impressive appearance; the one who was seeking
to seize him was rude of aspect, and must have been rude to encounter.
The first, conscious that he was the more feeble, avoided the second;
but he avoided him in a manner which was deeply furious; any one
who could have observed him would have discerned in his eyes the
sombre hostility of flight, and all the menace that fear contains.
The shore was deserted; there were no passers-by; not even a boatman
nor a lighter-man was in the skiffs which were moored here and there.
It was not easy to see these two men, except from the quay opposite,
and to any person who had scrutinized them at that distance,
the man who was in advance would have appeared like a bristling,
tattered, and equivocal being, who was uneasy and trembling beneath
a ragged blouse, and the other like a classic and official personage,
wearing the frock-coat of authority buttoned to the chin.
Perchance the reader might recognize these two men, if he were
to see them closer at hand.
What was the object of the second man?
Probably to succeed in clothing the first more warmly.
When a man clothed by the state pursues a man in rags, it is in order
to make of him a man who is also clothed by the state. Only, the whole
question lies in the color. To be dressed in blue is glorious;
to be dressed in red is disagreeable.
There is a purple from below.
It is probably some unpleasantness and some purple of this sort
which the first man is desirous of shirking.
If the other allowed him to walk on, and had not seized him as yet,
it was, judging from all appearances, in the hope of seeing him lead up
to some significant meeting-place and to some group worth catching.
This delicate operation is called "spinning."
What renders this conjecture entirely probable is that the
buttoned-up man, on catching sight from the shore of a hackney-coach
on the quay as it was passing along empty, made a sign to the driver;
the driver understood, evidently recognized the person with whom
he had to deal, turned about and began to follow the two men
at the top of the quay, at a foot-pace. This was not observed
by the slouching and tattered personage who was in advance.
The hackney-coach rolled along the trees of the Champs-Elysees.
The bust of the driver, whip in hand, could be seen moving along
above the parapet.
One of the secret instructions of the police authorities to their
agents contains this article: "Always have on hand a hackney-coach,
in case of emergency."
While these two men were manoeuvring, each on his own side,
with irreproachable strategy, they approached an inclined plane on
the quay which descended to the shore, and which permitted cab-drivers
arriving from Passy to come to the river and water their horses.
This inclined plane was suppressed later on, for the sake of symmetry;
horses may die of thirst, but the eye is gratified.
It is probable that the man in the blouse had intended to ascend
this inclined plane, with a view to making his escape into the
Champs-Elysees, a place ornamented with trees, but, in return,
much infested with policemen, and where the other could easily
This point on the quay is not very far distant from the house brought
to Paris from Moret in 1824, by Colonel Brack, and designated
as "the house of Francois I." A guard house is situated close at hand.
To the great surprise of his watcher, the man who was being tracked
did not mount by the inclined plane for watering. He continued
to advance along the quay on the shore.
His position was visibly becoming critical.
What was he intending to do, if not to throw himself into the Seine?
Henceforth, there existed no means of ascending to the quay;
there was no other inclined plane, no staircase; and they were near
the spot, marked by the bend in the Seine towards the Pont de Jena,
where the bank, growing constantly narrower, ended in a slender tongue,
and was lost in the water. There he would inevitably find himself
blocked between the perpendicular wall on his right, the river on
his left and in front of him, and the authorities on his heels.
It is true that this termination of the shore was hidden from sight
by a heap of rubbish six or seven feet in height, produced by some
demolition or other. But did this man hope to conceal himself
effectually behind that heap of rubbish, which one need but skirt?
The expedient would have been puerile. He certainly was not
dreaming of such a thing. The innocence of thieves does not extend
to that point.
The pile of rubbish formed a sort of projection at the water's edge,
which was prolonged in a promontory as far as the wall of the quay.
The man who was being followed arrived at this little mound and went
round it, so that he ceased to be seen by the other.
The latter, as he did not see, could not be seen; he took advantage
of this fact to abandon all dissimulation and to walk very rapidly.
In a few moments, he had reached the rubbish heap and passed round it.
There he halted in sheer amazement. The man whom he had been pursuing
was no longer there.
Total eclipse of the man in the blouse.
The shore, beginning with the rubbish heap, was only about thirty
paces long, then it plunged into the water which beat against the
wall of the quay. The fugitive could not have thrown himself into
the Seine without being seen by the man who was following him.
What had become of him?
The man in the buttoned-up coat walked to the extremity of the shore,
and remained there in thought for a moment, his fists clenched,
his eyes searching. All at once he smote his brow. He had
just perceived, at the point where the land came to an end and the
water began, a large iron grating, low, arched, garnished with a
heavy lock and with three massive hinges. This grating, a sort
of door pierced at the base of the quay, opened on the river
as well as on the shore. A blackish stream passed under it.
This stream discharged into the Seine.
Beyond the heavy, rusty iron bars, a sort of dark and vaulted
corridor could be descried. The man folded his arms and stared
at the grating with an air of reproach.
As this gaze did not suffice, he tried to thrust it aside; he shook it,
it resisted solidly. It is probable that it had just been opened,
although no sound had been heard, a singular circumstance in so
rusty a grating; but it is certain that it had been closed again.
This indicated that the man before whom that door had just opened
had not a hook but a key.
This evidence suddenly burst upon the mind of the man who was trying
to move the grating, and evoked from him this indignant ejaculation:
"That is too much! A government key!"
Then, immediately regaining his composure, he expressed a whole
world of interior ideas by this outburst of monosyllables accented
almost ironically: "Come! Come! Come! Come!"
That said, and in the hope of something or other, either that he
should see the man emerge or other men enter, he posted himself on
the watch behind a heap of rubbish, with the patient rage of a pointer.
The hackney-coach, which regulated all its movements on his, had,
in its turn, halted on the quay above him, close to the parapet.
The coachman, foreseeing a prolonged wait, encased his horses'
muzzles in the bag of oats which is damp at the bottom, and which
is so familiar to Parisians, to whom, be it said in parenthesis,
the Government sometimes applies it. The rare passers-by on the Pont
de Jena turned their heads, before they pursued their way, to take
a momentary glance at these two motionless items in the landscape,
the man on the shore, the carriage on the quay.
HE ALSO BEARS HIS CROSS
Jean Valjean had resumed his march and had not again paused.
This march became more and more laborious. The level of
these vaults varies; the average height is about five feet,
six inches, and has been calculated for the stature of a man;
Jean Valjean was forced to bend over, in order not to strike Marius
against the vault; at every step he had to bend, then to rise,