Part 32 out of 36
and to feel incessantly of the wall. The moisture of the stones,
and the viscous nature of the timber framework furnished but poor
supports to which to cling, either for hand or foot. He stumbled
along in the hideous dung-heap of the city. The intermittent gleams
from the air-holes only appeared at very long intervals, and were
so wan that the full sunlight seemed like the light of the moon;
all the rest was mist, miasma, opaqueness, blackness. Jean Valjean
was both hungry and thirsty; especially thirsty; and this, like the sea,
was a place full of water where a man cannot drink. His strength,
which was prodigious, as the reader knows, and which had been
but little decreased by age, thanks to his chaste and sober life,
began to give way, nevertheless. Fatigue began to gain on him;
and as his strength decreased, it made the weight of his burden
increase. Marius, who was, perhaps, dead, weighed him down as inert
bodies weigh. Jean Valjean held him in such a manner that his chest
was not oppressed, and so that respiration could proceed as well
as possible. Between his legs he felt the rapid gliding of the rats.
One of them was frightened to such a degree that he bit him.
From time to time, a breath of fresh air reached him through
the vent-holes of the mouths of the sewer, and re-animated him.
It might have been three hours past midday when he reached the belt-sewer.
He was, at first, astonished at this sudden widening. He found himself,
all at once, in a gallery where his outstretched hands could not reach
the two walls, and beneath a vault which his head did not touch.
The Grand Sewer is, in fact, eight feet wide and seven feet high.
At the point where the Montmartre sewer joins the Grand Sewer,
two other subterranean galleries, that of the Rue de Provence,
and that of the Abattoir, form a square. Between these four ways,
a less sagacious man would have remained undecided. Jean Valjean
selected the broadest, that is to say, the belt-sewer. But
here the question again came up--should he descend or ascend?
He thought that the situation required haste, and that he must
now gain the Seine at any risk. In other terms, he must descend.
He turned to the left.
It was well that he did so, for it is an error to suppose that the
belt-sewer has two outlets, the one in the direction of Bercy,
the other towards Passy, and that it is, as its name indicates,
the subterranean girdle of the Paris on the right bank. The Grand Sewer,
which is, it must be remembered, nothing else than the old brook
of Menilmontant, terminates, if one ascends it, in a blind sack,
that is to say, at its ancient point of departure which was its source,
at the foot of the knoll of Menilmontant. There is no direct
communication with the branch which collects the waters of Paris
beginning with the Quartier Popincourt, and which falls into the
Seine through the Amelot sewer above the ancient Isle Louviers.
This branch, which completes the collecting sewer, is separated
from it, under the Rue Menilmontant itself, by a pile which marks
the dividing point of the waters, between upstream and downstream.
If Jean Valjean had ascended the gallery he would have arrived,
after a thousand efforts, and broken down with fatigue, and in
an expiring condition, in the gloom, at a wall. He would have
In case of necessity, by retracing his steps a little way, and entering
the passage of the Filles-du-Calvaire, on condition that he did not
hesitate at the subterranean crossing of the Carrefour Boucherat, and by
taking the corridor Saint-Louis, then the Saint-Gilles gut on the left,
then turning to the right and avoiding the Saint-Sebastian gallery,
he might have reached the Amelot sewer, and thence, provided that he
did not go astray in the sort of F which lies under the Bastille,
he might have attained the outlet on the Seine near the Arsenal.
But in order to do this, he must have been thoroughly familiar
with the enormous madrepore of the sewer in all its ramifications
and in all its openings. Now, we must again insist that he
knew nothing of that frightful drain which he was traversing;
and had any one asked him in what he was, he would have answered:
"In the night."
His instinct served him well. To descend was, in fact, possible safety.
He left on his right the two narrow passages which branch out in
the form of a claw under the Rue Laffitte and the Rue Saint-Georges
and the long, bifurcated corridor of the Chaussee d'Antin.
A little beyond an affluent, which was, probably, the Madeleine branch,
he halted. He was extremely weary. A passably large air-hole, probably
the man-hole in the Rue d'Anjou, furnished a light that was almost vivid.
Jean Valjean, with the gentleness of movement which a brother would
exercise towards his wounded brother, deposited Marius on the banquette
of the sewer. Marius' blood-stained face appeared under the wan
light of the air-hole like the ashes at the bottom of a tomb.
His eyes were closed, his hair was plastered down on his temples
like a painter's brushes dried in red wash; his hands hung limp
and dead. A clot of blood had collected in the knot of his cravat;
his limbs were cold, and blood was clotted at the corners of
his mouth; his shirt had thrust itself into his wounds, the cloth
of his coat was chafing the yawning gashes in the living flesh.
Jean Valjean, pushing aside the garments with the tips of his fingers,
laid his hand upon Marius' breast; his heart was still beating.
Jean Valjean tore up his shirt, bandaged the young man's wounds
as well as he was able and stopped the flowing blood; then bending
over Marius, who still lay unconscious and almost without breathing,
in that half light, he gazed at him with inexpressible hatred.
On disarranging Marius' garments, he had found two things in his pockets,
the roll which had been forgotten there on the preceding evening,
and Marius' pocketbook. He ate the roll and opened the pocketbook.
On the first page he found the four lines written by Marius.
The reader will recall them:
"My name is Marius Pontmercy. Carry my body to my grandfather,
M. Gillenormand, Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, No. 6, in the Marais."
Jean Valjean read these four lines by the light of the air-hole,
and remained for a moment as though absorbed in thought,
repeating in a low tone: "Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, number 6,
Monsieur Gillenormand." He replaced the pocketbook in Marius'
pocket. He had eaten, his strength had returned to him; he took
Marius up once more upon his back, placed the latter's head
carefully on his right shoulder, and resumed his descent of the sewer.
The Grand Sewer, directed according to the course of the valley
of Menilmontant, is about two leagues long. It is paved throughout
a notable portion of its extent.
This torch of the names of the streets of Paris, with which we
are illuminating for the reader Jean Valjean's subterranean march,
Jean Valjean himself did not possess. Nothing told him what
zone of the city he was traversing, nor what way he had made.
Only the growing pallor of the pools of light which he encountered
from time to time indicated to him that the sun was withdrawing from
the pavement, and that the day would soon be over; and the rolling
of vehicles overhead, having become intermittent instead of continuous,
then having almost ceased, he concluded that he was no longer under
central Paris, and that he was approaching some solitary region,
in the vicinity of the outer boulevards, or the extreme outer quays.
Where there are fewer houses and streets, the sewer has fewer air-holes.
The gloom deepened around Jean Valjean. Nevertheless, he continued
to advance, groping his way in the dark.
Suddenly this darkness became terrible.
IN THE CASE OF SAND AS IN THAT OF WOMAN, THERE IS A FINENESS WHICH
He felt that he was entering the water, and that he no longer
had a pavement under his feet, but only mud.
It sometimes happens, that on certain shores of Bretagne or Scotland
a man, either a traveller or a fisherman, while walking at low
tide on the beach far from shore, suddenly notices that for
several minutes past, he has been walking with some difficulty.
The beach under foot is like pitch; his soles stick fast to it;
it is no longer sand, it is bird-lime. The strand is perfectly dry,
but at every step that he takes, as soon as the foot is raised,
the print is filled with water. The eye, however, has perceived
no change; the immense beach is smooth and tranquil, all the sand
has the same aspect, nothing distinguishes the soil that is solid
from that which is not solid; the joyous little cloud of sand-lice
continues to leap tumultuously under the feet of the passer-by.
The man pursues his way, he walks on, turns towards the land,
endeavors to approach the shore. He is not uneasy. Uneasy about what?
Only he is conscious that the heaviness of his feet seems to be
increasing at every step that he takes. All at once he sinks in.
He sinks in two or three inches. Decidedly, he is not on the right road;
he halts to get his bearings. Suddenly he glances at his feet;
his feet have disappeared. The sand has covered them. He draws his
feet out of the sand, he tries to retrace his steps, he turns back,
he sinks in more deeply than before. The sand is up to his ankles,
he tears himself free from it and flings himself to the left,
the sand reaches to mid-leg, he flings himself to the right,
the sand comes up to his knees. Then, with indescribable terror,
he recognizes the fact that he is caught in a quicksand, and that he
has beneath him that frightful medium in which neither man can walk
nor fish can swim. He flings away his burden, if he have one,
he lightens himself, like a ship in distress; it is too late,
the sand is above his knees.
He shouts, he waves his hat, or his handkerchief, the sand
continually gains on him; if the beach is deserted, if the land is
too far away, if the bank of sand is too ill-famed, there is no hero
in the neighborhood, all is over, he is condemned to be engulfed.
He is condemned to that terrible interment, long, infallible, implacable,
which it is impossible to either retard or hasten, which lasts
for hours, which will not come to an end, which seizes you erect,
free, in the flush of health, which drags you down by the feet, which,
at every effort that you attempt, at every shout that you utter,
draws you a little lower, which has the air of punishing you for your
resistance by a redoubled grasp, which forces a man to return slowly
to earth, while leaving him time to survey the horizon, the trees,
the verdant country, the smoke of the villages on the plain,
the sails of the ships on the sea, the birds which fly and sing,
the sun and the sky. This engulfment is the sepulchre which assumes
a tide, and which mounts from the depths of the earth towards
a living man. Each minute is an inexorable layer-out of the dead.
The wretched man tries to sit down, to lie down, to climb;
every movement that he makes buries him deeper; he straightens
himself up, he sinks; he feels that he is being swallowed up;
he shrieks, implores, cries to the clouds, wrings his hands,
grows desperate. Behold him in the sand up to his belly, the sand
reaches to his breast, he is only a bust now. He uplifts his hands,
utters furious groans, clenches his nails on the beach, tries to
cling fast to that ashes, supports himself on his elbows in order
to raise himself from that soft sheath, and sobs frantically;
the sand mounts higher. The sand has reached his shoulders, the sand
reaches to his throat; only his face is visible now. His mouth
cries aloud, the sand fills it; silence. His eyes still gaze forth,
the sand closes them, night. Then his brow decreases, a little
hair quivers above the sand; a hand projects, pierces the surface
of the beach, waves and disappears. Sinister obliteration of a man.
Sometimes a rider is engulfed with his horse; sometimes the carter
is swallowed up with his cart; all founders in that strand.
It is shipwreck elsewhere than in the water. It is the earth drowning
a man. The earth, permeated with the ocean, becomes a pitfall.
It presents itself in the guise of a plain, and it yawns like a wave.
The abyss is subject to these treacheries.
This melancholy fate, always possible on certain sea beaches,
was also possible, thirty years ago, in the sewers of Paris.
Before the important works, undertaken in 1833, the subterranean
drain of Paris was subject to these sudden slides.
The water filtered into certain subjacent strata, which were
particularly friable; the foot-way, which was of flag-stones,
as in the ancient sewers, or of cement on concrete, as in the
new galleries, having no longer an underpinning, gave way.
A fold in a flooring of this sort means a crack, means crumbling.
The framework crumbled away for a certain length. This crevice,
the hiatus of a gulf of mire, was called a fontis, in the special tongue.
What is a fontis? It is the quicksands of the seashore suddenly
encountered under the surface of the earth; it is the beach of Mont
Saint-Michel in a sewer. The soaked soil is in a state of fusion,
as it were; all its molecules are in suspension in soft medium;
it is not earth and it is not water. The depth is sometimes
very great. Nothing can be more formidable than such an encounter.
If the water predominates, death is prompt, the man is swallowed up;
if earth predominates, death is slow.
Can any one picture to himself such a death? If being swallowed
by the earth is terrible on the seashore, what is it in a cess-pool?
Instead of the open air, the broad daylight, the clear horizon,
those vast sounds, those free clouds whence rains life, instead of
those barks descried in the distance, of that hope under all sorts
of forms, of probable passers-by, of succor possible up to the very
last moment,--instead of all this, deafness, blindness, a black vault,
the inside of a tomb already prepared, death in the mire beneath
a cover! slow suffocation by filth, a stone box where asphyxia
opens its claw in the mire and clutches you by the throat;
fetidness mingled with the death-rattle; slime instead of the strand,
sulfuretted hydrogen in place of the hurricane, dung in place
of the ocean! And to shout, to gnash one's teeth, and to writhe,
and to struggle, and to agonize, with that enormous city which
knows nothing of it all, over one's head!
Inexpressible is the horror of dying thus! Death sometimes redeems
his atrocity by a certain terrible dignity. On the funeral pile,
in shipwreck, one can be great; in the flames as in the foam, a superb
attitude is possible; one there becomes transfigured as one perishes.
But not here. Death is filthy. It is humiliating to expire.
The supreme floating visions are abject. Mud is synonymous with shame.
It is petty, ugly, infamous. To die in a butt of Malvoisie,
like Clarence, is permissible; in the ditch of a scavenger,
like Escoubleau, is horrible. To struggle therein is hideous;
at the same time that one is going through the death agony,
one is floundering about. There are shadows enough for hell,
and mire enough to render it nothing but a slough, and the dying
man knows not whether he is on the point of becoming a spectre or
Everywhere else the sepulchre is sinister; here it is deformed.
The depth of the fontis varied, as well as their length and their density,
according to the more or less bad quality of the sub-soil. Sometimes
a fontis was three or four feet deep, sometimes eight or ten;
sometimes the bottom was unfathomable. Here the mire was almost solid,
there almost liquid. In the Luniere fontis, it would have taken
a man a day to disappear, while he would have been devoured in five
minutes by the Philippeaux slough. The mire bears up more or less,
according to its density. A child can escape where a man will perish.
The first law of safety is to get rid of every sort of load.
Every sewerman who felt the ground giving way beneath him began
by flinging away his sack of tools, or his back-basket, or his hod.
The fontis were due to different causes: the friability of the soil;
some landslip at a depth beyond the reach of man; the violent
summer rains; the incessant flooding of winter; long, drizzling showers.
Sometimes the weight of the surrounding houses on a marly or sandy
soil forced out the vaults of the subterranean galleries and caused
them to bend aside, or it chanced that a flooring vault burst
and split under this crushing thrust. In this manner, the heaping
up of the Parthenon, obliterated, a century ago, a portion of the
vaults of Saint-Genevieve hill. When a sewer was broken in under
the pressure of the houses, the mischief was sometimes betrayed
in the street above by a sort of space, like the teeth of a saw,
between the paving-stones; this crevice was developed in an undulating
line throughout the entire length of the cracked vault, and then,
the evil being visible, the remedy could be promptly applied.
It also frequently happened, that the interior ravages were not
revealed by any external scar, and in that case, woe to the sewermen.
When they entered without precaution into the sewer, they were liable
to be lost. Ancient registers make mention of several scavengers
who were buried in fontis in this manner. They give many names;
among others, that of the sewerman who was swallowed up in a quagmire
under the man-hole of the Rue Careme-Prenant, a certain Blaise Poutrain;
this Blaise Poutrain was the brother of Nicholas Poutrain,
who was the last grave-digger of the cemetery called the Charnier
des Innocents, in 1785, the epoch when that cemetery expired.
There was also that young and charming Vicomte d'Escoubleau, of whom we
have just spoken, one of the heroes of the siege of Lerida, where they
delivered the assault in silk stockings, with violins at their head.
D'Escoubleau, surprised one night at his cousin's, the Duchess de
Sourdis', was drowned in a quagmire of the Beautreillis sewer,
in which he had taken refuge in order to escape from the Duke.
Madame de Sourdis, when informed of his death, demanded her
smelling-bottle, and forgot to weep, through sniffling at her salts.
In such cases, there is no love which holds fast; the sewer
extinguishes it. Hero refuses to wash the body of Leander.
Thisbe stops her nose in the presence of Pyramus and says: "Phew!"
Jean Valjean found himself in the presence of a fontis.
This sort of quagmire was common at that period in the subsoil
of the Champs-Elysees, difficult to handle in the hydraulic
works and a bad preservative of the subterranean constructions,
on account of its excessive fluidity. This fluidity exceeds even
the inconsistency of the sands of the Quartier Saint-Georges,
which could only be conquered by a stone construction on a
concrete foundation, and the clayey strata, infected with gas,
of the Quartier des Martyrs, which are so liquid that the only way
in which a passage was effected under the gallery des Martyrs was
by means of a cast-iron pipe. When, in 1836, the old stone sewer
beneath the Faubourg Saint-Honore, in which we now see Jean Valjean,
was demolished for the purpose of reconstructing it, the quicksand,
which forms the subsoil of the Champs-Elysees as far as the Seine,
presented such an obstacle, that the operation lasted nearly
six months, to the great clamor of the dwellers on the riverside,
particularly those who had hotels and carriages. The work was
more than unhealthy; it was dangerous. It is true that they
had four months and a half of rain, and three floods of the Seine.
The fontis which Jean Valjean had encountered was caused by the
downpour of the preceding day. The pavement, badly sustained
by the subjacent sand, had given way and had produced a stoppage
of the water. Infiltration had taken place, a slip had followed.
The dislocated bottom had sunk into the ooze. To what extent?
Impossible to say. The obscurity was more dense there than elsewhere.
It was a pit of mire in a cavern of night.
Jean Valjean felt the pavement vanishing beneath his feet.
He entered this slime. There was water on the surface, slime at
the bottom. He must pass it. To retrace his steps was impossible.
Marius was dying, and Jean Valjean exhausted. Besides, where was
he to go? Jean Valjean advanced. Moreover, the pit seemed,
for the first few steps, not to be very deep. But in proportion
as he advanced, his feet plunged deeper. Soon he had the slime
up to his calves and water above his knees. He walked on,
raising Marius in his arms, as far above the water as he could.
The mire now reached to his knees, and the water to his waist.
He could no longer retreat. This mud, dense enough for one man,
could not, obviously, uphold two. Marius and Jean Valjean would
have stood a chance of extricating themselves singly. Jean Valjean
continued to advance, supporting the dying man, who was, perhaps,
The water came up to his arm-pits; he felt that he was sinking;
it was only with difficulty that he could move in the depth of ooze
which he had now reached. The density, which was his support,
was also an obstacle. He still held Marius on high, and with an
unheard-of expenditure of force, he advanced still; but he was sinking.
He had only his head above the water now and his two arms holding
up Marius. In the old paintings of the deluge there is a mother
holding her child thus.
He sank still deeper, he turned his face to the rear, to escape
the water, and in order that he might be able to breathe;
anyone who had seen him in that gloom would have thought that what
he beheld was a mask floating on the shadows; he caught a faint
glimpse above him of the drooping head and livid face of Marius;
he made a desperate effort and launched his foot forward; his foot
struck something solid; a point of support. It was high time.
He straightened himself up, and rooted himself upon that point
of support with a sort of fury. This produced upon him the effect
of the first step in a staircase leading back to life.
The point of support, thus encountered in the mire at the supreme
moment, was the beginning of the other water-shed of the pavement,
which had bent but had not given way, and which had curved under
the water like a plank and in a single piece. Well built pavements
form a vault and possess this sort of firmness. This fragment
of the vaulting, partly submerged, but solid, was a veritable
inclined plane, and, once on this plane, he was safe. Jean Valjean
mounted this inclined plane and reached the other side of the quagmire.
As he emerged from the water, he came in contact with a stone
and fell upon his knees. He reflected that this was but just,
and he remained there for some time, with his soul absorbed in words
addressed to God.
He rose to his feet, shivering, chilled, foul-smelling, bowed
beneath the dying man whom he was dragging after him, all dripping
with slime, and his soul filled with a strange light.
ONE SOMETIMES RUNS AGROUND WHEN ONE FANCIES THAT ONE IS DISEMBARKING
He set out on his way once more.
However, although he had not left his life in the fontis, he seemed
to have left his strength behind him there. That supreme effort
had exhausted him. His lassitude was now such that he was obliged
to pause for breath every three or four steps, and lean against
the wall. Once he was forced to seat himself on the banquette in
order to alter Marius' position, and he thought that he should have
to remain there. But if his vigor was dead, his energy was not.
He rose again.
He walked on desperately, almost fast, proceeded thus for a
hundred paces, almost without drawing breath, and suddenly came
in contact with the wall. He had reached an elbow of the sewer, and,
arriving at the turn with head bent down, he had struck the wall.
He raised his eyes, and at the extremity of the vault, far, very far
away in front of him, he perceived a light. This time it was not
that terrible light; it was good, white light. It was daylight.
Jean Valjean saw the outlet.
A damned soul, who, in the midst of the furnace, should suddenly perceive
the outlet of Gehenna, would experience what Jean Valjean felt.
It would fly wildly with the stumps of its burned wings towards that
radiant portal. Jean Valjean was no longer conscious of fatigue,
he no longer felt Marius' weight, he found his legs once more
of steel, he ran rather than walked. As he approached, the outlet
became more and more distinctly defined. It was a pointed arch,
lower than the vault, which gradually narrowed, and narrower
than the gallery, which closed in as the vault grew lower.
The tunnel ended like the interior of a funnel; a faulty construction,
imitated from the wickets of penitentiaries, logical in a prison,
illogical in a sewer, and which has since been corrected.
Jean Valjean reached the outlet.
There he halted.
It certainly was the outlet, but he could not get out.
The arch was closed by a heavy grating, and the grating, which,
to all appearance, rarely swung on its rusty hinges, was clamped
to its stone jamb by a thick lock, which, red with rust, seemed like
an enormous brick. The keyhole could be seen, and the robust latch,
deeply sunk in the iron staple. The door was plainly double-locked.
It was one of those prison locks which old Paris was so fond of lavishing.
Beyond the grating was the open air, the river, the daylight,
the shore, very narrow but sufficient for escape. The distant
quays, Paris, that gulf in which one so easily hides oneself,
the broad horizon, liberty. On the right, down stream, the bridge
of Jena was discernible, on the left, upstream, the bridge
of the Invalides; the place would have been a propitious one in
which to await the night and to escape. It was one of the most
solitary points in Paris; the shore which faces the Grand-Caillou.
Flies were entering and emerging through the bars of the grating.
It might have been half-past eight o'clock in the evening.
The day was declining.
Jean Valjean laid Marius down along the wall, on the dry portion
of the vaulting, then he went to the grating and clenched both
fists round the bars; the shock which he gave it was frenzied,
but it did not move. The grating did not stir. Jean Valjean seized
the bars one after the other, in the hope that he might be able
to tear away the least solid, and to make of it a lever wherewith
to raise the door or to break the lock. Not a bar stirred.
The teeth of a tiger are not more firmly fixed in their sockets.
No lever; no prying possible. The obstacle was invincible.
There was no means of opening the gate.
Must he then stop there? What was he to do? What was to become
of him? He had not the strength to retrace his steps, to recommence
the journey which he had already taken. Besides, how was he
to again traverse that quagmire whence he had only extricated
himself as by a miracle? And after the quagmire, was there not
the police patrol, which assuredly could not be twice avoided?
And then, whither was he to go? What direction should he pursue?
To follow the incline would not conduct him to his goal. If he
were to reach another outlet, he would find it obstructed by a plug
or a grating. Every outlet was, undoubtedly, closed in that manner.
Chance had unsealed the grating through which he had entered,
but it was evident that all the other sewer mouths were barred.
He had only succeeded in escaping into a prison.
All was over. Everything that Jean Valjean had done was useless.
Exhaustion had ended in failure.
They were both caught in the immense and gloomy web of death, and Jean
Valjean felt the terrible spider running along those black strands
and quivering in the shadows. He turned his back to the grating,
and fell upon the pavement, hurled to earth rather than seated,
close to Marius, who still made no movement, and with his head bent
between his knees. This was the last drop of anguish.
Of what was he thinking during this profound depression?
Neither of himself nor of Marius. He was thinking of Cosette.
THE TORN COAT-TAIL
In the midst of this prostration, a hand was laid on his shoulder,
and a low voice said to him:
Some person in that gloom? Nothing so closely resembles a
dream as despair. Jean Valjean thought that he was dreaming.
He had heard no footsteps. Was it possible? He raised his eyes.
A man stood before him.
This man was clad in a blouse; his feet were bare; he held his shoes
in his left hand; he had evidently removed them in order to reach
Jean Valjean, without allowing his steps to be heard.
Jean Valjean did not hesitate for an instant. Unexpected as was
this encounter, this man was known to him. The man was Thenardier.
Although awakened, so to speak, with a start, Jean Valjean,
accustomed to alarms, and steeled to unforeseen shocks that must
be promptly parried, instantly regained possession of his presence
of mind. Moreover, the situation could not be made worse,
a certain degree of distress is no longer capable of a crescendo,
and Thenardier himself could add nothing to this blackness of this night.
A momentary pause ensued.
Thenardier, raising his right hand to a level with his forehead,
formed with it a shade, then he brought his eyelashes together,
by screwing up his eyes, a motion which, in connection with a slight
contraction of the mouth, characterizes the sagacious attention of a man
who is endeavoring to recognize another man. He did not succeed.
Jean Valjean, as we have just stated, had his back turned to the light,
and he was, moreover, so disfigured, so bemired, so bleeding that he
would have been unrecognizable in full noonday. On the contrary,
illuminated by the light from the grating, a cellar light,
it is true, livid, yet precise in its lividness, Thenardier, as the
energetic popular metaphor expresses it, immediately "leaped into"
Jean Valjean's eyes. This inequality of conditions sufficed
to assure some advantage to Jean Valjean in that mysterious duel
which was on the point of beginning between the two situations and
the two men. The encounter took place between Jean Valjean veiled
and Thenardier unmasked.
Jean Valjean immediately perceived that Thenardier did not recognize him.
They surveyed each other for a moment in that half-gloom, as though
taking each other's measure. Thenardier was the first to break
"How are you going to manage to get out?"
Jean Valjean made no reply. Thenardier continued:
"It's impossible to pick the lock of that gate. But still you must
get out of this."
"That is true," said Jean Valjean.
"Well, half shares then."
"What do you mean by that?"
"You have killed that man; that's all right. I have the key."
Thenardier pointed to Marius. He went on:
"I don't know you, but I want to help you. You must be a friend."
Jean Valjean began to comprehend. Thenardier took him for an assassin.
"Listen, comrade. You didn't kill that man without looking to see
what he had in his pockets. Give me my half. I'll open the door
And half drawing from beneath his tattered blouse a huge key,
"Do you want to see how a key to liberty is made? Look here."
Jean Valjean "remained stupid"--the expression belongs to the
elder Corneille--to such a degree that he doubted whether what he
beheld was real. It was providence appearing in horrible guise,
and his good angel springing from the earth in the form of Thenardier.
Thenardier thrust his fist into a large pocket concealed under
his blouse, drew out a rope and offered it to Jean Valjean.
"Hold on," said he, "I'll give you the rope to boot."
"What is the rope for?"
"You will need a stone also, but you can find one outside.
There's a heap of rubbish."
"What am I to do with a stone?"
"Idiot, you'll want to sling that stiff into the river, you'll need
a stone and a rope, otherwise it would float on the water."
Jean Valjean took the rope. There is no one who does not occasionally
accept in this mechanical way.
Thenardier snapped his fingers as though an idea had suddenly
occurred to him.
"Ah, see here, comrade, how did you contrive to get out of that
slough yonder? I haven't dared to risk myself in it. Phew! you
don't smell good."
After a pause he added:
"I'm asking you questions, but you're perfectly right not to answer.
It's an apprenticeship against that cursed quarter of an hour before
the examining magistrate. And then, when you don't talk at all,
you run no risk of talking too loud. That's no matter, as I can't
see your face and as I don't know your name, you are wrong in
supposing that I don't know who you are and what you want. I twig.
You've broken up that gentleman a bit; now you want to tuck him
away somewhere. The river, that great hider of folly, is what you want.
I'll get you out of your scrape. Helping a good fellow in a pinch
is what suits me to a hair."
While expressing his approval of Jean Valjean's silence, he endeavored to
force him to talk. He jostled his shoulder in an attempt to catch a sight
of his profile, and he exclaimed, without, however, raising his tone:
"Apropos of that quagmire, you're a hearty animal. Why didn't you
toss the man in there?"
Jean Valjean preserved silence.
Thenardier resumed, pushing the rag which served him as a cravat
to the level of his Adam's apple, a gesture which completes
the capable air of a serious man:
"After all, you acted wisely. The workmen, when they come to-morrow to
stop up that hole, would certainly have found the stiff abandoned there,
and it might have been possible, thread by thread, straw by straw,
to pick up the scent and reach you. Some one has passed through
the sewer. Who? Where did he get out? Was he seen to come out?
The police are full of cleverness. The sewer is treacherous and
tells tales of you. Such a find is a rarity, it attracts attention,
very few people make use of the sewers for their affairs,
while the river belongs to everybody. The river is the true grave.
At the end of a month they fish up your man in the nets at
Saint-Cloud. Well, what does one care for that? It's carrion!
Who killed that man? Paris. And justice makes no inquiries.
You have done well."
The more loquacious Thenardier became, the more mute was Jean Valjean.
Again Thenardier shook him by the shoulder.
"Now let's settle this business. Let's go shares. You have seen
my key, show me your money."
Thenardier was haggard, fierce, suspicious, rather menacing,
There was one singular circumstance; Thenardier's manners were
not simple; he had not the air of being wholly at his ease;
while affecting an air of mystery, he spoke low; from time to time
he laid his finger on his mouth, and muttered, "hush!" It was
difficult to divine why. There was no one there except themselves.
Jean Valjean thought that other ruffians might possibly be concealed
in some nook, not very far off, and that Thenardier did not care
to share with them.
"Let's settle up. How much did the stiff have in his bags?"
Jean Valjean searched his pockets.
It was his habit, as the reader will remember, to always have some
money about him. The mournful life of expedients to which he had
been condemned imposed this as a law upon him. On this occasion,
however, he had been caught unprepared. When donning his uniform
of a National Guardsman on the preceding evening, he had forgotten,
dolefully absorbed as he was, to take his pocket-book. He had
only some small change in his fob. He turned out his pocket,
all soaked with ooze, and spread out on the banquette of the vault
one louis d'or, two five-franc pieces, and five or six large sous.
Thenardier thrust out his lower lip with a significant twist
of the neck.
"You knocked him over cheap," said he.
He set to feeling the pockets of Jean Valjean and Marius,
with the greatest familiarity. Jean Valjean, who was chiefly
concerned in keeping his back to the light, let him have his way.
While handling Marius' coat, Thenardier, with the skill of a pickpocket,
and without being noticed by Jean Valjean, tore off a strip which he
concealed under his blouse, probably thinking that this morsel
of stuff might serve, later on, to identify the assassinated man
and the assassin. However, he found no more than the thirty francs.
"That's true," said he, "both of you together have no more than that."
And, forgetting his motto: "half shares," he took all.
He hesitated a little over the large sous. After due reflection,
he took them also, muttering:
"Never mind! You cut folks' throats too cheap altogether."
That done, he once more drew the big key from under his blouse.
"Now, my friend, you must leave. It's like the fair here, you pay
when you go out. You have paid, now clear out."
And he began to laugh.
Had he, in lending to this stranger the aid of his key, and in
making some other man than himself emerge from that portal,
the pure and disinterested intention of rescuing an assassin?
We may be permitted to doubt this.
Thenardier helped Jean Valjean to replace Marius on his shoulders,
then he betook himself to the grating on tiptoe, and barefooted,
making Jean Valjean a sign to follow him, looked out, laid his finger
on his mouth, and remained for several seconds, as though in suspense;
his inspection finished, he placed the key in the lock. The bolt
slipped back and the gate swung open. It neither grated nor squeaked.
It moved very softly.
It was obvious that this gate and those hinges, carefully oiled,
were in the habit of opening more frequently than was supposed.
This softness was suspicious; it hinted at furtive goings and comings,
silent entrances and exits of nocturnal men, and the wolf-like tread
The sewer was evidently an accomplice of some mysterious band.
This taciturn grating was a receiver of stolen goods.
Thenardier opened the gate a little way, allowing just sufficient
space for Jean Valjean to pass out, closed the grating again,
gave the key a double turn in the lock and plunged back into
the darkness, without making any more noise than a breath.
He seemed to walk with the velvet paws of a tiger.
A moment later, that hideous providence had retreated into
Jean Valjean found himself in the open air.
MARIUS PRODUCES ON SOME ONE WHO IS A JUDGE OF THE MATTER, THE EFFECT
OF BEING DEAD
He allowed Marius to slide down upon the shore.
They were in the open air!
The miasmas, darkness, horror lay behind him. The pure, healthful,
living, joyous air that was easy to breathe inundated him.
Everywhere around him reigned silence, but that charming silence when
the sun has set in an unclouded azure sky. Twilight had descended;
night was drawing on, the great deliverer, the friend of all those
who need a mantle of darkness that they may escape from an anguish.
The sky presented itself in all directions like an enormous calm.
The river flowed to his feet with the sound of a kiss. The aerial
dialogue of the nests bidding each other good night in the elms
of the Champs-Elysees was audible. A few stars, daintily piercing
the pale blue of the zenith, and visible to revery alone,
formed imperceptible little splendors amid the immensity. Evening was
unfolding over the head of Jean Valjean all the sweetness of the infinite.
It was that exquisite and undecided hour which says neither yes nor no.
Night was already sufficiently advanced to render it possible
to lose oneself at a little distance and yet there was sufficient
daylight to permit of recognition at close quarters.
For several seconds, Jean Valjean was irresistibly overcome by that
august and caressing serenity; such moments of oblivion do come
to men; suffering refrains from harassing the unhappy wretch;
everything is eclipsed in the thoughts; peace broods over the dreamer
like night; and, beneath the twilight which beams and in imitation
of the sky which is illuminated, the soul becomes studded with stars.
Jean Valjean could not refrain from contemplating that vast,
clear shadow which rested over him; thoughtfully he bathed in the sea
of ecstasy and prayer in the majestic silence of the eternal heavens.
Then he bent down swiftly to Marius, as though the sentiment
of duty had returned to him, and, dipping up water in the hollow
of his hand, he gently sprinkled a few drops on the latter's face.
Marius' eyelids did not open; but his half-open mouth still breathed.
Jean Valjean was on the point of dipping his hand in the river once more,
when, all at once, he experienced an indescribable embarrassment, such
as a person feels when there is some one behind him whom he does not see.
We have already alluded to this impression, with which everyone
He turned round.
Some one was, in fact, behind him, as there had been a short
A man of lofty stature, enveloped in a long coat, with folded arms,
and bearing in his right fist a bludgeon of which the leaden head
was visible, stood a few paces in the rear of the spot where Jean
Valjean was crouching over Marius.
With the aid of the darkness, it seemed a sort of apparition.
An ordinary man would have been alarmed because of the twilight,
a thoughtful man on account of the bludgeon. Jean Valjean
The reader has divined, no doubt, that Thenardier's pursuer was
no other than Javert. Javert, after his unlooked-for escape from
the barricade, had betaken himself to the prefecture of police,
had rendered a verbal account to the Prefect in person in a brief
audience, had then immediately gone on duty again, which implied--
the note, the reader will recollect, which had been captured on
his person--a certain surveillance of the shore on the right bank
of the Seine near the Champs-Elysees, which had, for some time past,
aroused the attention of the police. There he had caught sight
of Thenardier and had followed him. The reader knows the rest.
Thus it will be easily understood that that grating, so obligingly
opened to Jean Valjean, was a bit of cleverness on Thenardier's part.
Thenardier intuitively felt that Javert was still there;
the man spied upon has a scent which never deceives him; it was
necessary to fling a bone to that sleuth-hound. An assassin,
what a godsend! Such an opportunity must never be allowed
to slip. Thenardier, by putting Jean Valjean outside in his stead,
provided a prey for the police, forced them to relinquish his scent,
made them forget him in a bigger adventure, repaid Javert for
his waiting, which always flatters a spy, earned thirty francs,
and counted with certainty, so far as he himself was concerned,
on escaping with the aid of this diversion.
Jean Valjean had fallen from one danger upon another.
These two encounters, this falling one after the other,
from Thenardier upon Javert, was a rude shock.
Javert did not recognize Jean Valjean, who, as we have stated,
no longer looked like himself. He did not unfold his arms, he made
sure of his bludgeon in his fist, by an imperceptible movement,
and said in a curt, calm voice:
"Who are you?"
"Who is `I'?"
Javert thrust his bludgeon between his teeth, bent his knees,
inclined his body, laid his two powerful hands on the shoulders of
Jean Valjean, which were clamped within them as in a couple of vices,
scrutinized him, and recognized him. Their faces almost touched.
Javert's look was terrible.
Jean Valjean remained inert beneath Javert's grasp, like a lion
submitting to the claws of a lynx.
"Inspector Javert," said he, "you have me in your power. Moreover,
I have regarded myself as your prisoner ever since this morning.
I did not give you my address with any intention of escaping from you.
Take me. Only grant me one favor."
Javert did not appear to hear him. He kept his eyes riveted on
Jean Valjean. His chin being contracted, thrust his lips upwards
towards his nose, a sign of savage revery. At length he released
Jean Valjean, straightened himself stiffly up without bending,
grasped his bludgeon again firmly, and, as though in a dream,
he murmured rather than uttered this question:
"What are you doing here? And who is this man?"
He still abstained from addressing Jean Valjean as thou.
Jean Valjean replied, and the sound of his voice appeared to rouse Javert:
"It is with regard to him that I desire to speak to you.
Dispose of me as you see fit; but first help me to carry him home.
That is all that I ask of you."
Javert's face contracted as was always the case when any one seemed
to think him capable of making a concession. Nevertheless, he did
not say "no."
Again he bent over, drew from his pocket a handkerchief which he
moistened in the water and with which he then wiped Marius'
"This man was at the barricade," said he in a low voice and as
though speaking to himself. "He is the one they called Marius."
A spy of the first quality, who had observed everything,
listened to everything, and taken in everything, even when he thought
that he was to die; who had played the spy even in his agony,
and who, with his elbows leaning on the first step of the sepulchre,
had taken notes.
He seized Marius' hand and felt his pulse.
"He is wounded," said Jean Valjean.
"He is a dead man," said Javert.
Jean Valjean replied:
"No. Not yet."
"So you have brought him thither from the barricade?" remarked Javert.
His preoccupation must indeed have been very profound for him not
to insist on this alarming rescue through the sewer, and for him
not to even notice Jean Valjean's silence after his question.
Jean Valjean, on his side, seemed to have but one thought.
"He lives in the Marais, Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, with
his grandfather. I do not recollect his name."
Jean Valjean fumbled in Marius' coat, pulled out his pocket-book,
opened it at the page which Marius had pencilled, and held it
out to Javert.
There was still sufficient light to admit of reading. Besides this,
Javert possessed in his eye the feline phosphorescence of night birds.
He deciphered the few lines written by Marius, and muttered:
"Gillenormand, Rue des Filles-duCalvaire, No. 6."
Then he exclaimed: "Coachman!"
The reader will remember that the hackney-coach was waiting in case
Javert kept Marius' pocket-book.
A moment later, the carriage, which had descended by the inclined
plane of the watering-place, was on the shore. Marius was laid
upon the back seat, and Javert seated himself on the front seat
beside Jean Valjean.
The door slammed, and the carriage drove rapidly away, ascending the
quays in the direction of the Bastille.
They quitted the quays and entered the streets. The coachman,
a black form on his box, whipped up his thin horses. A glacial
silence reigned in the carriage. Marius, motionless, with his
body resting in the corner, and his head drooping on his breast,
his arms hanging, his legs stiff, seemed to be awaiting only a coffin;
Jean Valjean seemed made of shadow, and Javert of stone, and in that
vehicle full of night, whose interior, every time that it passed
in front of a street lantern, appeared to be turned lividly wan,
as by an intermittent flash of lightning, chance had united and seemed
to be bringing face to face the three forms of tragic immobility,
the corpse, the spectre, and the statue.
RETURN OF THE SON WHO WAS PRODIGAL OF HIS LIFE
At every jolt over the pavement, a drop of blood trickled
from Marius' hair.
Night had fully closed in when the carriage arrived at No. 6,
Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire.
Javert was the first to alight; he made sure with one glance
of the number on the carriage gate, and, raising the heavy knocker
of beaten iron, embellished in the old style, with a male goat
and a satyr confronting each other, he gave a violent peal.
The gate opened a little way and Javert gave it a push. The porter
half made his appearance yawning, vaguely awake, and with a candle
in his hand.
Everyone in the house was asleep. People go to bed betimes in
the Marais, especially on days when there is a revolt. This good,
old quarter, terrified at the Revolution, takes refuge in slumber,
as children, when they hear the Bugaboo coming, hide their heads
hastily under their coverlet.
In the meantime Jean Valjean and the coachman had taken Marius
out of the carriage, Jean Valjean supporting him under the armpits,
and the coachman under the knees.
As they thus bore Marius, Jean Valjean slipped his hand under
the latter's clothes, which were broadly rent, felt his breast,
and assured himself that his heart was still beating. It was even
beating a little less feebly, as though the movement of the carriage
had brought about a certain fresh access of life.
Javert addressed the porter in a tone befitting the government,
and the presence of the porter of a factious person.
"Some person whose name is Gillenormand?"
"Here. What do you want with him?"
"His son is brought back."
"His son?" said the porter stupidly.
"He is dead."
Jean Valjean, who, soiled and tattered, stood behind Javert,
and whom the porter was surveying with some horror, made a sign
to him with his head that this was not so.
The porter did not appear to understand either Javert's words
or Jean Valjean's sign.
"He went to the barricade, and here he is."
"To the barricade?" ejaculated the porter.
"He has got himself killed. Go waken his father."
The porter did not stir.
"Go along with you!" repeated Javert.
And he added:
"There will be a funeral here to-morrow."
For Javert, the usual incidents of the public highway were categorically
classed, which is the beginning of foresight and surveillance,
and each contingency had its own compartment; all possible facts were
arranged in drawers, as it were, whence they emerged on occasion, in
variable quantities; in the street, uproar, revolt, carnival, and funeral.
The porter contented himself with waking Basque. Basque woke Nicolette;
Nicolette roused great-aunt Gillenormand.
As for the grandfather, they let him sleep on, thinking that he
would hear about the matter early enough in any case.
Marius was carried up to the first floor, without any one in the
other parts of the house being aware of the fact, and deposited
on an old sofa in M. Gillenormand's antechamber; and while Basque
went in search of a physician, and while Nicolette opened the
linen-presses, Jean Valjean felt Javert touch him on the shoulder.
He understood and descended the stairs, having behind him the step
of Javert who was following him.
The porter watched them take their departure as he had watched
their arrival, in terrified somnolence.
They entered the carriage once more, and the coachman mounted
"Inspector Javert," said Jean, "grant me yet another favor."
"What is it?" demanded Javert roughly.
"Let me go home for one instant. Then you shall do whatever you
like with me."
Javert remained silent for a few moments, with his chin drawn
back into the collar of his great-coat, then he lowered the glass
"Driver," said he, "Rue de l'Homme Arme, No. 7."
CONCUSSION IN THE ABSOLUTE
They did not open their lips again during the whole space of their ride.
What did Jean Valjean want? To finish what he had begun; to warn Cosette,
to tell her where Marius was, to give her, possibly, some other
useful information, to take, if he could, certain final measures.
As for himself, so far as he was personally concerned, all was over;
he had been seized by Javert and had not resisted; any other man
than himself in like situation would, perhaps, have had some vague
thoughts connected with the rope which Thenardier had given him,
and of the bars of the first cell that he should enter; but, let us
impress it upon the reader, after the Bishop, there had existed in
Jean Valjean a profound hesitation in the presence of any violence,
even when directed against himself.
Suicide, that mysterious act of violence against the unknown which
may contain, in a measure, the death of the soul, was impossible
to Jean Valjean.
At the entrance to the Rue de l'Homme Arme, the carriage halted,
the way being too narrow to admit of the entrance of vehicles.
Javert and Jean Valjean alighted.
The coachman humbly represented to "monsieur l'Inspecteur,"
that the Utrecht velvet of his carriage was all spotted with the blood
of the assassinated man, and with mire from the assassin. That is
the way he understood it. He added that an indemnity was due him.
At the same time, drawing his certificate book from his pocket,
he begged the inspector to have the goodness to write him "a bit
of an attestation."
Javert thrust aside the book which the coachman held out to him,
"How much do you want, including your time of waiting and the drive?"
"It comes to seven hours and a quarter," replied the man, "and my
velvet was perfectly new. Eighty francs, Mr. Inspector."
Javert drew four napoleons from his pocket and dismissed the carriage.
Jean Valjean fancied that it was Javert's intention to conduct
him on foot to the post of the Blancs-Manteaux or to the post
of the Archives, both of which are close at hand.
They entered the street. It was deserted as usual. Javert followed
Jean Valjean. They reached No. 7. Jean Valjean knocked.
The door opened.
"It is well," said Javert. "Go up stairs."
He added with a strange expression, and as though he were exerting
an effort in speaking in this manner:
"I will wait for you here."
Jean Valjean looked at Javert. This mode of procedure was but
little in accord with Javert's habits. However, he could not be
greatly surprised that Javert should now have a sort of haughty
confidence in him, the confidence of the cat which grants the mouse
liberty to the length of its claws, seeing that Jean Valjean had
made up his mind to surrender himself and to make an end of it.
He pushed open the door, entered the house, called to the porter
who was in bed and who had pulled the cord from his couch: "It is I!"
and ascended the stairs.
On arriving at the first floor, he paused. All sorrowful roads
have their stations. The window on the landing-place, which was
a sash-window, was open. As in many ancient houses, the staircase
got its light from without and had a view on the street.
The street-lantern, situated directly opposite, cast some light
on the stairs, and thus effected some economy in illumination.
Jean Valjean, either for the sake of getting the air, or mechanically,
thrust his head out of this window. He leaned out over the street.
It is short, and the lantern lighted it from end to end.
Jean Valjean was overwhelmed with amazement; there was no longer
any one there.
Javert had taken his departure.
Basque and the porter had carried Marius into the drawing-room,
as he still lay stretched out, motionless, on the sofa upon
which he had been placed on his arrival. The doctor who had
been sent for had hastened thither. Aunt Gillenormand had risen.
Aunt Gillenormand went and came, in affright, wringing her hands and
incapable of doing anything but saying: "Heavens! is it possible?"
At times she added: "Everything will be covered with blood."
When her first horror had passed off, a certain philosophy of the
situation penetrated her mind, and took form in the exclamation:
"It was bound to end in this way!" She did not go so far as:
"I told you so!" which is customary on this sort of occasion.
At the physician's orders, a camp bed had been prepared beside the sofa.
The doctor examined Marius, and after having found that his pulse
was still beating, that the wounded man had no very deep wound on
his breast, and that the blood on the corners of his lips proceeded
from his nostrils, he had him placed flat on the bed, without a pillow,
with his head on the same level as his body, and even a trifle lower,
and with his bust bare in order to facilitate respiration.
Mademoiselle Gillenormand, on perceiving that they were undressing
Marius, withdrew. She set herself to telling her beads in her
The trunk had not suffered any internal injury; a bullet,
deadened by the pocket-book, had turned aside and made the tour
of his ribs with a hideous laceration, which was of no great depth,
and consequently, not dangerous. The long, underground journey had
completed the dislocation of the broken collar-bone, and the disorder
there was serious. The arms had been slashed with sabre cuts.
Not a single scar disfigured his face; but his head was fairly covered
with cuts; what would be the result of these wounds on the head?
Would they stop short at the hairy cuticle, or would they attack
the brain? As yet, this could not be decided. A grave symptom was
that they had caused a swoon, and that people do not always recover
from such swoons. Moreover, the wounded man had been exhausted
by hemorrhage. From the waist down, the barricade had protected
the lower part of the body from injury.
Basque and Nicolette tore up linen and prepared bandages; Nicolette
sewed them, Basque rolled them. As lint was lacking, the doctor,
for the time being, arrested the bleeding with layers of wadding.
Beside the bed, three candles burned on a table where the case
of surgical instruments lay spread out. The doctor bathed Marius'
face and hair with cold water. A full pail was reddened in an instant.
The porter, candle in hand, lighted them.
The doctor seemed to be pondering sadly. From time to time,
he made a negative sign with his head, as though replying to some
question which he had inwardly addressed to himself.
A bad sign for the sick man are these mysterious dialogues
of the doctor with himself.
At the moment when the doctor was wiping Marius' face, and lightly
touching his still closed eyes with his finger, a door opened
at the end of the drawing-room, and a long, pallid figure made
This was the grandfather.
The revolt had, for the past two days, deeply agitated, enraged and
engrossed the mind of M. Gillenormand. He had not been able to sleep
on the previous night, and he had been in a fever all day long.
In the evening, he had gone to bed very early, recommending that
everything in the house should be well barred, and he had fallen
into a doze through sheer fatigue.
Old men sleep lightly; M. Gillenormand's chamber adjoined
the drawing-room, and in spite of all the precautions that had
been taken, the noise had awakened him. Surprised at the rift
of light which he saw under his door, he had risen from his bed,
and had groped his way thither.
He stood astonished on the threshold, one hand on the handle of the
half-open door, with his head bent a little forward and quivering,
his body wrapped in a white dressing-gown, which was straight
and as destitute of folds as a winding-sheet; and he had the air
of a phantom who is gazing into a tomb.
He saw the bed, and on the mattress that young man, bleeding,
white with a waxen whiteness, with closed eyes and gaping mouth,
and pallid lips, stripped to the waist, slashed all over with
crimson wounds, motionless and brilliantly lighted up.
The grandfather trembled from head to foot as powerfully as ossified
limbs can tremble, his eyes, whose corneae were yellow on account
of his great age, were veiled in a sort of vitreous glitter,
his whole face assumed in an instant the earthy angles of a skull,
his arms fell pendent, as though a spring had broken, and his
amazement was betrayed by the outspreading of the fingers of his
two aged hands, which quivered all over, his knees formed an angle
in front, allowing, through the opening in his dressing-gown,
a view of his poor bare legs, all bristling with white hairs,
and he murmured:
"Sir," said Basque, "Monsieur has just been brought back.
He went to the barricade, and . . ."
"He is dead!" cried the old man in a terrible voice. "Ah! The rascal!"
Then a sort of sepulchral transformation straightened up this
centenarian as erect as a young man.
"Sir," said he, "you are the doctor. Begin by telling me one thing.
He is dead, is he not?"
The doctor, who was at the highest pitch of anxiety, remained silent.
M. Gillenormand wrung his hands with an outburst of terrible laughter.
"He is dead! He is dead! He is dead! He has got himself
killed on the barricades! Out of hatred to me! He did that to
spite me! Ah! You blood-drinker! This is the way he returns to me!
Misery of my life, he is dead!"
He went to the window, threw it wide open as though he were stifling,
and, erect before the darkness, he began to talk into the street,
to the night:
"Pierced, sabred, exterminated, slashed, hacked in pieces! Just look
at that, the villain! He knew well that I was waiting for him,
and that I had had his room arranged, and that I had placed at
the head of my bed his portrait taken when he was a little child!
He knew well that he had only to come back, and that I had been
recalling him for years, and that I remained by my fireside,
with my hands on my knees, not knowing what to do, and that I was mad
over it! You knew well, that you had but to return and to say:
`It is I,' and you would have been the master of the house, and that I
should have obeyed you, and that you could have done whatever you
pleased with your old numskull of a grandfather! you knew that well,
and you said:
"No, he is a Royalist, I will not go! And you went to the barricades,
and you got yourself killed out of malice! To revenge yourself
for what I said to you about Monsieur le Duc de Berry.
It is infamous! Go to bed then and sleep tranquilly! he is dead,
and this is my awakening."
The doctor, who was beginning to be uneasy in both quarters,
quitted Marius for a moment, went to M. Gillenormand, and took his arm.
The grandfather turned round, gazed at him with eyes which seemed
exaggerated in size and bloodshot, and said to him calmly:
"I thank you, sir. I am composed, I am a man, I witnessed the death
of Louis XVI., I know how to bear events. One thing is terrible and
that is to think that it is your newspapers which do all the mischief.
You will have scribblers, chatterers, lawyers, orators, tribunes,
discussions, progress, enlightenment, the rights of man, the liberty
of the press, and this is the way that your children will be brought
home to you. Ah! Marius! It is abominable! Killed! Dead before me!
A barricade! Ah, the scamp! Doctor, you live in this quarter,
I believe? Oh! I know you well. I see your cabriolet pass
my window. I am going to tell you. You are wrong to think that I
am angry. One does not fly into a rage against a dead man.
That would be stupid. This is a child whom I have reared.
I was already old while he was very young. He played in the
Tuileries garden with his little shovel and his little chair,
and in order that the inspectors might not grumble, I stopped up
the holes that he made in the earth with his shovel, with my cane.
One day he exclaimed: Down with Louis XVIII.! and off he went.
It was no fault of mine. He was all rosy and blond. His mother
is dead. Have you ever noticed that all little children are blond?
Why is it so? He is the son of one of those brigands of the Loire,
but children are innocent of their fathers' crimes. I remember when he
was no higher than that. He could not manage to pronounce his Ds.
He had a way of talking that was so sweet and indistinct that you
would have thought it was a bird chirping. I remember that once,
in front of the Hercules Farnese, people formed a circle to admire
him and marvel at him, he was so handsome, was that child!
He had a head such as you see in pictures. I talked in a deep voice,
and I frightened him with my cane, but he knew very well that it
was only to make him laugh. In the morning, when he entered my room,
I grumbled, but he was like the sunlight to me, all the same.
One cannot defend oneself against those brats. They take hold of you,
they hold you fast, they never let you go again. The truth is,
that there never was a cupid like that child. Now, what can you say
for your Lafayettes, your Benjamin Constants, and your Tirecuir de
Corcelles who have killed him? This cannot be allowed to pass in
He approached Marius, who still lay livid and motionless, and to
whom the physician had returned, and began once more to wring
his hands. The old man's pallid lips moved as though mechanically,
and permitted the passage of words that were barely audible,
like breaths in the death agony:
"Ah! heartless lad! Ah! clubbist! Ah! wretch! Ah! Septembrist!"
Reproaches in the low voice of an agonizing man, addressed to a corpse.
Little by little, as it is always indispensable that internal
eruptions should come to the light, the sequence of words returned,
but the grandfather appeared no longer to have the strength
to utter them, his voice was so weak, and extinct, that it seemed
to come from the other side of an abyss:
"It is all the same to me, I am going to die too, that I am.
And to think that there is not a hussy in Paris who would not have
been delighted to make this wretch happy! A scamp who, instead of
amusing himself and enjoying life, went off to fight and get himself
shot down like a brute! And for whom? Why? For the Republic!
Instead of going to dance at the Chaumiere, as it is the duty of young
folks to do! What's the use of being twenty years old? The Republic,
a cursed pretty folly! Poor mothers, beget fine boys, do! Come, he
is dead. That will make two funerals under the same carriage gate.
So you have got yourself arranged like this for the sake of General
Lamarque's handsome eyes! What had that General Lamarque done to you?
A slasher! A chatter-box! To get oneself killed for a dead man!
If that isn't enough to drive any one mad! Just think of it!
At twenty! And without so much as turning his head to see whether
he was not leaving something behind him! That's the way poor,
good old fellows are forced to die alone, now-adays. Perish in
your corner, owl! Well, after all, so much the better, that is
what I was hoping for, this will kill me on the spot. I am too old,
I am a hundred years old, I am a hundred thousand years old, I ought,
by rights, to have been dead long ago. This blow puts an end to it.
So all is over, what happiness! What is the good of making him
inhale ammonia and all that parcel of drugs? You are wasting
your trouble, you fool of a doctor! Come, he's dead, completely dead.
I know all about it, I am dead myself too. He hasn't done things
by half. Yes, this age is infamous, infamous and that's what I
think of you, of your ideas, of your systems, of your masters,
of your oracles, of your doctors, of your scape-graces of writers,
of your rascally philosophers, and of all the revolutions which,
for the last sixty years, have been frightening the flocks of crows
in the Tuileries! But you were pitiless in getting yourself killed
like this, I shall not even grieve over your death, do you understand,
At that moment, Marius slowly opened his eyes, and his glance,
still dimmed by lethargic wonder, rested on M. Gillenormand.
"Marius!" cried the old man. "Marius! My little Marius! my
child! my well-beloved son! You open your eyes, you gaze upon me,
you are alive, thanks!"
And he fell fainting.
BOOK FOURTH.--JAVERT DERAILED
Javert passed slowly down the Rue de l'Homme Arme.
He walked with drooping head for the first time in his life,
and likewise, for the first time in his life, with his hands behind
Up to that day, Javert had borrowed from Napoleon's attitudes,
only that which is expressive of resolution, with arms folded across
the chest; that which is expressive of uncertainty--with the hands behind
the back--had been unknown to him. Now, a change had taken place;
his whole person, slow and sombre, was stamped with anxiety.
He plunged into the silent streets.
Nevertheless, he followed one given direction.
He took the shortest cut to the Seine, reached the Quai des Ormes,
skirted the quay, passed the Greve, and halted at some distance
from the post of the Place du Chatelet, at the angle of the Pont
Notre-Dame. There, between the Notre-Dame and the Pont au Change
on the one hand, and the Quai de la Megisserie and the Quai aux
Fleurs on the other, the Seine forms a sort of square lake,
traversed by a rapid.
This point of the Seine is dreaded by mariners. Nothing is more
dangerous than this rapid, hemmed in, at that epoch, and irritated
by the piles of the mill on the bridge, now demolished.
The two bridges, situated thus close together, augment the peril;
the water hurries in formidable wise through the arches. It rolls
in vast and terrible waves; it accumulates and piles up there;
the flood attacks the piles of the bridges as though in an effort
to pluck them up with great liquid ropes. Men who fall in there
never re-appear; the best of swimmers are drowned there.
Javert leaned both elbows on the parapet, his chin resting
in both hands, and, while his nails were mechanically twined
in the abundance of his whiskers, he meditated.
A novelty, a revolution, a catastrophe had just taken place in the
depths of his being; and he had something upon which to examine himself.
Javert was undergoing horrible suffering.
For several hours, Javert had ceased to be simple. He was troubled;
that brain, so limpid in its blindness, had lost its transparency;
that crystal was clouded. Javert felt duty divided within his conscience,
and he could not conceal the fact from himself. When he had so
unexpectedly encountered Jean Valjean on the banks of the Seine,
there had been in him something of the wolf which regains his grip
on his prey, and of the dog who finds his master again.
He beheld before him two paths, both equally straight, but he
beheld two; and that terrified him; him, who had never in all his
life known more than one straight line. And, the poignant anguish
lay in this, that the two paths were contrary to each other.
One of these straight lines excluded the other. Which of the two
was the true one?
His situation was indescribable.
To owe his life to a malefactor, to accept that debt and to repay it;
to be, in spite of himself, on a level with a fugitive from justice,
and to repay his service with another service; to allow it to be said
to him, "Go," and to say to the latter in his turn: "Be free";
to sacrifice to personal motives duty, that general obligation,
and to be conscious, in those personal motives, of something that
was also general, and, perchance, superior, to betray society in
order to remain true to his conscience; that all these absurdities
should be realized and should accumulate upon him,--this was what
One thing had amazed him,--this was that Jean Valjean
should have done him a favor, and one thing petrified him,--
that he, Javert, should have done Jean Valjean a favor.
Where did he stand? He sought to comprehend his position, and could
no longer find his bearings.
What was he to do now? To deliver up Jean Valjean was bad;
to leave Jean Valjean at liberty was bad. In the first case,
the man of authority fell lower than the man of the galleys,
in the second, a convict rose above the law, and set his foot
upon it. In both cases, dishonor for him, Javert. There was
disgrace in any resolution at which he might arrive. Destiny has
some extremities which rise perpendicularly from the impossible,
and beyond which life is no longer anything but a precipice.
Javert had reached one of those extremities.
One of his anxieties consisted in being constrained to think.
The very violence of all these conflicting emotions forced him to it.
Thought was something to which he was unused, and which was
In thought there always exists a certain amount of internal rebellion;
and it irritated him to have that within him.
Thought on any subject whatever, outside of the restricted circle of
his functions, would have been for him in any case useless and a fatigue;
thought on the day which had just passed was a torture. Nevertheless,
it was indispensable that he should take a look into his conscience,
after such shocks, and render to himself an account of himself.
What he had just done made him shudder. He, Javert, had seen fit
to decide, contrary to all the regulations of the police, contrary to
the whole social and judicial organization, contrary to the entire code,
upon a release; this had suited him; he had substituted his own
affairs for the affairs of the public; was not this unjustifiable?
Every time that he brought himself face to face with this deed without
a name which he had committed, he trembled from head to foot.
Upon what should he decide? One sole resource remained to him;
to return in all haste to the Rue de l'Homme Arme, and commit Jean
Valjean to prison. It was clear that that was what he ought to do.
He could not.
Something barred his way in that direction.
Something? What? Is there in the world, anything outside of
the tribunals, executory sentences, the police and the authorities?
Javert was overwhelmed.
A galley-slave sacred! A convict who could not be touched by the law!
And that the deed of Javert!
Was it not a fearful thing that Javert and Jean Valjean, the man made
to proceed with vigor, the man made to submit,--that these two men
who were both the things of the law, should have come to such a pass,
that both of them had set themselves above the law? What then! such
enormities were to happen and no one was to be punished! Jean Valjean,
stronger than the whole social order, was to remain at liberty,
and he, Javert, was to go on eating the government's bread!
His revery gradually became terrible.
He might, athwart this revery, have also reproached himself
on the subject of that insurgent who had been taken to the Rue
des Filles-du-Calvaire; but he never even thought of that.
The lesser fault was lost in the greater. Besides, that insurgent
was, obviously, a dead man, and, legally, death puts an end to pursuit.
Jean Valjean was the load which weighed upon his spirit.
Jean Valjean disconcerted him. All the axioms which had served
him as points of support all his life long, had crumbled away
in the presence of this man. Jean Valjean's generosity towards
him, Javert, crushed him. Other facts which he now recalled,
and which he had formerly treated as lies and folly, now recurred
to him as realities. M. Madeleine re-appeared behind Jean Valjean,
and the two figures were superposed in such fashion that they now
formed but one, which was venerable. Javert felt that something
terrible was penetrating his soul--admiration for a convict.
Respect for a galley-slave--is that a possible thing? He shuddered
at it, yet could not escape from it. In vain did he struggle,
he was reduced to confess, in his inmost heart, the sublimity
of that wretch. This was odious.
A benevolent malefactor, merciful, gentle, helpful, clement,
a convict, returning good for evil, giving back pardon for hatred,
preferring pity to vengeance, preferring to ruin himself rather
than to ruin his enemy, saving him who had smitten him, kneeling on
the heights of virtue, more nearly akin to an angel than to a man.
Javert was constrained to admit to himself that this monster existed.
Things could not go on in this manner.
Certainly, and we insist upon this point, he had not yielded
without resistance to that monster, to that infamous angel,
to that hideous hero, who enraged almost as much as he amazed him.
Twenty times, as he sat in that carriage face to face with Jean Valjean,
the legal tiger had roared within him. A score of times he had
been tempted to fling himself upon Jean Valjean, to seize him
and devour him, that is to say, to arrest him. What more simple,
in fact? To cry out at the first post that they passed:--"Here
is a fugitive from justice, who has broken his ban!" to summon
the gendarmes and say to them: "This man is yours!" then to go off,
leaving that condemned man there, to ignore the rest and not to meddle
further in the matter. This man is forever a prisoner of the law;
the law may do with him what it will. What could be more just?
Javert had said all this to himself; he had wished to pass beyond,
to act, to apprehend the man, and then, as at present, he had not been
able to do it; and every time that his arm had been raised convulsively
towards Jean Valjean's collar, his hand had fallen back again,
as beneath an enormous weight, and in the depths of his thought he
had heard a voice, a strange voice crying to him:--"It is well.
Deliver up your savior. Then have the basin of Pontius Pilate
brought and wash your claws."
Then his reflections reverted to himself and beside Jean Valjean
glorified he beheld himself, Javert, degraded.
A convict was his benefactor!
But then, why had he permitted that man to leave him alive?
He had the right to be killed in that barricade. He should have
asserted that right. It would have been better to summon the other
insurgents to his succor against Jean Valjean, to get himself shot
His supreme anguish was the loss of certainty. He felt that he had
been uprooted. The code was no longer anything more than a stump
in his hand. He had to deal with scruples of an unknown species.
There had taken place within him a sentimental revelation entirely
distinct from legal affirmation, his only standard of measurement
hitherto. To remain in his former uprightness did not suffice.
A whole order of unexpected facts had cropped up and subjugated him.
A whole new world was dawning on his soul: kindness accepted
and repaid, devotion, mercy, indulgence, violences committed by pity
on austerity, respect for persons, no more definitive condemnation,
no more conviction, the possibility of a tear in the eye of the law,
no one knows what justice according to God, running in inverse sense
to justice according to men. He perceived amid the shadows the terrible
rising of an unknown moral sun; it horrified and dazzled him.
An owl forced to the gaze of an eagle.
He said to himself that it was true that there were exceptional
cases, that authority might be put out of countenance,
that the rule might be inadequate in the presence of a fact,
that everything could not be framed within the text of the code,
that the unforeseen compelled obedience, that the virtue of a
convict might set a snare for the virtue of the functionary,
that destiny did indulge in such ambushes, and he reflected with
despair that he himself had not even been fortified against a surprise.
He was forced to acknowledge that goodness did exist. This convict
had been good. And he himself, unprecedented circumstance,
had just been good also. So he was becoming depraved.
He found that he was a coward. He conceived a horror of himself.
Javert's ideal, was not to be human, to be grand, to be sublime;
it was to be irreproachable.
Now, he had just failed in this.
How had he come to such a pass? How had all this happened?
He could not have told himself. He clasped his head in both hands,
but in spite of all that he could do, he could not contrive to explain
it to himself.
He had certainly always entertained the intention of restoring
Jean Valjean to the law of which Jean Valjean was the captive,
and of which he, Javert, was the slave. Not for a single instant
while he held him in his grasp had he confessed to himself that he
entertained the idea of releasing him. It was, in some sort,
without his consciousness, that his hand had relaxed and had let him
All sorts of interrogation points flashed before his eyes. He put
questions to himself, and made replies to himself, and his replies
frightened him. He asked himself: "What has that convict done,
that desperate fellow, whom I have pursued even to persecution,
and who has had me under his foot, and who could have avenged himself,
and who owed it both to his rancor and to his safety, in leaving me
my life, in showing mercy upon me? His duty? No. Something more.
And I in showing mercy upon him in my turn--what have I done?
My duty? No. Something more. So there is something beyond duty?"
Here he took fright; his balance became disjointed; one of the scales
fell into the abyss, the other rose heavenward, and Javert was no
less terrified by the one which was on high than by the one which
was below. Without being in the least in the world what is called
Voltairian or a philosopher, or incredulous, being, on the contrary,
respectful by instinct, towards the established church, he knew it
only as an august fragment of the social whole; order was his dogma,
and sufficed for him; ever since he had attained to man's estate
and the rank of a functionary, he had centred nearly all his religion
in the police. Being,--and here we employ words without the least
irony and in their most serious acceptation, being, as we have said,
a spy as other men are priests. He had a superior, M. Gisquet;
up to that day he had never dreamed of that other superior,
This new chief, God, he became unexpectedly conscious of, and he felt
embarrassed by him. This unforeseen presence threw him off his bearings;
he did not know what to do with this superior, he, who was not
ignorant of the fact that the subordinate is bound always to bow,
that he must not disobey, nor find fault, nor discuss, and that,
in the presence of a superior who amazes him too greatly, the inferior
has no other resource than that of handing in his resignation.
But how was he to set about handing in his resignation to God?
However things might stand,--and it was to this point that he
reverted constantly,--one fact dominated everything else for him,
and that was, that he had just committed a terrible infraction
of the law. He had just shut his eyes on an escaped convict
who had broken his ban. He had just set a galley-slave at large.
He had just robbed the laws of a man who belonged to them.
That was what he had done. He no longer understood himself.
The very reasons for his action escaped him; only their vertigo
was left with him. Up to that moment he had lived with that blind
faith which gloomy probity engenders. This faith had quitted him,
this probity had deserted him. All that he had believed in
melted away. Truths which he did not wish to recognize were
besieging him, inexorably. Henceforth, he must be a different man.
He was suffering from the strange pains of a conscience abruptly
operated on for the cataract. He saw that which it was repugnant
to him to behold. He felt himself emptied, useless, put out of joint
with his past life, turned out, dissolved. Authority was dead
within him. He had no longer any reason for existing.
A terrible situation! to be touched.
To be granite and to doubt! to be the statue of Chastisement cast
in one piece in the mould of the law, and suddenly to become aware
of the fact that one cherishes beneath one's breast of bronze
something absurd and disobedient which almost resembles a heart!
To come to the pass of returning good for good, although one has
said to oneself up to that day that that good is evil! to be the
watch-dog, and to lick the intruder's hand! to be ice and melt!
to be the pincers and to turn into a hand! to suddenly feel one's
fingers opening! to relax one's grip,--what a terrible thing!
The man-projectile no longer acquainted with his route and retreating!
To be obliged to confess this to oneself: infallibility is
not infallible, there may exist error in the dogma, all has not
been said when a code speaks, society is not perfect, authority is
complicated with vacillation, a crack is possible in the immutable,
judges are but men, the law may err, tribunals may make a mistake!
to behold a rift in the immense blue pane of the firmament!
That which was passing in Javert was the Fampoux of a rectilinear
conscience, the derailment of a soul, the crushing of a probity
which had been irresistibly launched in a straight line and was
breaking against God. It certainly was singular that the stoker
of order, that the engineer of authority, mounted on the blind iron
horse with its rigid road, could be unseated by a flash of light!
that the immovable, the direct, the correct, the geometrical,
the passive, the perfect, could bend! that there should exist
for the locomotive a road to Damascus!
God, always within man, and refractory, He, the true conscience,
to the false; a prohibition to the spark to die out; an order to
the ray to remember the sun; an injunction to the soul to recognize
the veritable absolute when confronted with the fictitious absolute,
humanity which cannot be lost; the human heart indestructible;
that splendid phenomenon, the finest, perhaps, of all our interior
marvels, did Javert understand this? Did Javert penetrate it?
Did Javert account for it to himself? Evidently he did not.
But beneath the pressure of that incontestable incomprehensibility he
felt his brain bursting.
He was less the man transfigured than the victim of this prodigy.
In all this he perceived only the tremendous difficulty of existence.
It seemed to him that, henceforth, his respiration was repressed forever.
He was not accustomed to having something unknown hanging over
Up to this point, everything above him had been, to his gaze,
merely a smooth, limpid and simple surface; there was nothing
incomprehensible, nothing obscure; nothing that was not defined,
regularly disposed, linked, precise, circumscribed, exact, limited,
closed, fully provided for; authority was a plane surface; there was
no fall in it, no dizziness in its presence. Javert had never beheld
the unknown except from below. The irregular, the unforeseen,
the disordered opening of chaos, the possible slip over a precipice--
this was the work of the lower regions, of rebels, of the wicked,
of wretches. Now Javert threw himself back, and he was suddenly
terrified by this unprecedented apparition: a gulf on high.
What! one was dismantled from top to bottom! one was disconcerted,
absolutely! In what could one trust! That which had been agreed
upon was giving way! What! the defect in society's armor could
be discovered by a magnanimous wretch! What! an honest servitor
of the law could suddenly find himself caught between two crimes--
the crime of allowing a man to escape and the crime of arresting
him! everything was not settled in the orders given by the State
to the functionary! There might be blind alleys in duty! What,--
all this was real! was it true that an ex-ruffian, weighed down
with convictions, could rise erect and end by being in the right?
Was this credible? were there cases in which the law should retire
before transfigured crime, and stammer its excuses?--Yes, that was
the state of the case! and Javert saw it! and Javert had touched it!
and not only could he not deny it, but he had taken part in it.
These were realities. It was abominable that actual facts could
reach such deformity. If facts did their duty, they would confine
themselves to being proofs of the law; facts--it is God who sends them.
Was anarchy, then, on the point of now descending from on high?
Thus,--and in the exaggeration of anguish, and the optical illusion
of consternation, all that might have corrected and restrained
this impression was effaced, and society, and the human race,
and the universe were, henceforth, summed up in his eyes, in one
simple and terrible feature,--thus the penal laws, the thing judged,
the force due to legislation, the decrees of the sovereign courts,
the magistracy, the government, prevention, repression,
official cruelty, wisdom, legal infallibility, the principle
of authority, all the dogmas on which rest political and civil
security, sovereignty, justice, public truth, all this was rubbish,
a shapeless mass, chaos; he himself, Javert, the spy of order,
incorruptibility in the service of the police, the bull-dog providence
of society, vanquished and hurled to earth; and, erect, at the
summit of all that ruin, a man with a green cap on his head and a
halo round his brow; this was the astounding confusion to which
he had come; this was the fearful vision which he bore within his soul.
Was this to be endured? No.
A violent state, if ever such existed. There were only two ways
of escaping from it. One was to go resolutely to Jean Valjean,
and restore to his cell the convict from the galleys. The other . .
Javert quitted the parapet, and, with head erect this time,
betook himself, with a firm tread, towards the station-house indicated
by a lantern at one of the corners of the Place du Chatelet.
On arriving there, he saw through the window a sergeant of police,
and he entered. Policemen recognize each other by the very way
in which they open the door of a station-house. Javert mentioned
his name, showed his card to the sergeant, and seated himself at
the table of the post on which a candle was burning. On a table
lay a pen, a leaden inkstand and paper, provided in the event of
possible reports and the orders of the night patrols. This table,
still completed by its straw-seated chair, is an institution;
it exists in all police stations; it is invariably ornamented with a
box-wood saucer filled with sawdust and a wafer box of cardboard filled
with red wafers, and it forms the lowest stage of official style.
It is there that the literature of the State has its beginning.
Javert took a pen and a sheet of paper, and began to write.
This is what he wrote:
A FEW OBSERVATIONS FOR THE GOOD OF THE SERVICE.
"In the first place: I beg Monsieur le Prefet to cast his eyes
"Secondly: prisoners, on arriving after examination, take off
their shoes and stand barefoot on the flagstones while they are
being searched. Many of them cough on their return to prison.
This entails hospital expenses.
"Thirdly: the mode of keeping track of a man with relays of police
agents from distance to distance, is good, but, on important occasions,
it is requisite that at least two agents should never lose sight
of each other, so that, in case one agent should, for any cause,
grow weak in his service, the other may supervise him and take
"Fourthly: it is inexplicable why the special regulation of the prison
of the Madelonettes interdicts the prisoner from having a chair,
even by paying for it.
"Fifthly: in the Madelonettes there are only two bars to the canteen,
so that the canteen woman can touch the prisoners with her hand.
"Sixthly: the prisoners called barkers, who summon the other
prisoners to the parlor, force the prisoner to pay them two sous
to call his name distinctly. This is a theft.
"Seventhly: for a broken thread ten sous are withheld in the
weaving shop; this is an abuse of the contractor, since the cloth
is none the worse for it.
"Eighthly: it is annoying for visitors to La Force to be
obliged to traverse the boys' court in order to reach the parlor
"Ninthly: it is a fact that any day gendarmes can be overheard
relating in the court-yard of the prefecture the interrogations put
by the magistrates to prisoners. For a gendarme, who should be
sworn to secrecy, to repeat what he has heard in the examination
room is a grave disorder.
"Tenthly: Mme. Henry is an honest woman; her canteen is very neat;
but it is bad to have a woman keep the wicket to the mouse-trap
of the secret cells. This is unworthy of the Conciergerie of a
Javert wrote these lines in his calmest and most correct chirography,
not omitting a single comma, and making the paper screech under his pen.
Below the last line he signed:
"Inspector of the 1st class.
"The Post of the Place du Chatelet.
"June 7th, 1832, about one o'clock in the morning."
Javert dried the fresh ink on the paper, folded it like a letter,
sealed it, wrote on the back: Note for the administration, left it
on the table, and quitted the post. The glazed and grated door fell
to behind him.
Again he traversed the Place du Chatelet diagonally, regained the quay,
and returned with automatic precision to the very point which he
had abandoned a quarter of an hour previously, leaned on his elbows
and found himself again in the same attitude on the same paving-stone
of the parapet. He did not appear to have stirred.
The darkness was complete. It was the sepulchral moment which
follows midnight. A ceiling of clouds concealed the stars. Not a
single light burned in the houses of the city; no one was passing;
all of the streets and quays which could be seen were deserted;
Notre-Dame and the towers of the Court-House seemed features
of the night. A street lantern reddened the margin of the quay.
The outlines of the bridges lay shapeless in the mist one behind
the other. Recent rains had swollen the river.
The spot where Javert was leaning was, it will be remembered,
situated precisely over the rapids of the Seine, perpendicularly above
that formidable spiral of whirlpools which loose and knot themselves
again like an endless screw.
Javert bent his head and gazed. All was black. Nothing was to
be distinguished. A sound of foam was audible; but the river could not
be seen. At moments, in that dizzy depth, a gleam of light appeared,
and undulated vaguely, water possessing the power of taking light,
no one knows whence, and converting it into a snake. The light
vanished, and all became indistinct once more. Immensity seemed
thrown open there. What lay below was not water, it was a gulf.
The wall of the quay, abrupt, confused, mingled with the vapors,
instantly concealed from sight, produced the effect of an escarpment
of the infinite. Nothing was to be seen, but the hostile chill
of the water and the stale odor of the wet stones could be felt.
A fierce breath rose from this abyss. The flood in the river,
divined rather than perceived, the tragic whispering of the waves,
the melancholy vastness of the arches of the bridge, the imaginable
fall into that gloomy void, into all that shadow was full of horror.
Javert remained motionless for several minutes, gazing at this
opening of shadow; he considered the invisible with a fixity that
resembled attention. The water roared. All at once he took off
his hat and placed it on the edge of the quay. A moment later,
a tall black figure, which a belated passer-by in the distance
might have taken for a phantom, appeared erect upon the parapet
of the quay, bent over towards the Seine, then drew itself up again,
and fell straight down into the shadows; a dull splash followed;
and the shadow alone was in the secret of the convulsions of that
obscure form which had disappeared beneath the water.
BOOK FIFTH.--GRANDSON AND GRANDFATHER
IN WHICH THE TREE WITH THE ZINC PLASTER APPEARS AGAIN
Some time after the events which we have just recorded,
Sieur Boulatruelle experienced a lively emotion.
Sieur Boulatruelle was that road-mender of Montfermeil whom
the reader has already seen in the gloomy parts of this book.
Boulatruelle, as the reader may, perchance, recall, was a man
who was occupied with divers and troublesome matters. He broke
stones and damaged travellers on the highway.
Road-mender and thief as he was, he cherished one dream; he believed
in the treasures buried in the forest of Montfermeil. He hoped
some day to find the money in the earth at the foot of a tree;
in the meanwhile, he lived to search the pockets of passers-by.