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Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, trans. Isabel F. Hapgood

Part 36 out of 36

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"The proof that God is good is that she is here."

"Father!" said Cosette.

Jean Valjean continued:

"It is quite true that it would be charming for us to live together.
Their trees are full of birds. I would walk with Cosette.
It is sweet to be among living people who bid each other `good-day,'
who call to each other in the garden. People see each other from
early morning. We should each cultivate our own little corner.
She would make me eat her strawberries. I would make her gather
my roses. That would be charming. Only . . ."

He paused and said gently:

"It is a pity."

The tear did not fall, it retreated, and Jean Valjean replaced it
with a smile.

Cosette took both the old man's hands in hers.

"My God!" said she, "your hands are still colder than before.
Are you ill? Do you suffer?"

"I? No," replied Jean Valjean. "I am very well. Only . . ."

He paused.

"Only what?"

"I am going to die presently."

Cosette and Marius shuddered.

"To die!" exclaimed Marius.

"Yes, but that is nothing," said Jean Valjean.

He took breath, smiled and resumed:

"Cosette, thou wert talking to me, go on, so thy little robin
red-breast is dead? Speak, so that I may hear thy voice."

Marius gazed at the old man in amazement.

Cosette uttered a heartrending cry.

"Father! my father! you will live. You are going to live.
I insist upon your living, do you hear?"

Jean Valjean raised his head towards her with adoration.

"Oh! yes, forbid me to die. Who knows? Perhaps I shall obey.
I was on the verge of dying when you came. That stopped me,
it seemed to me that I was born again."

"You are full of strength and life," cried Marius. "Do you imagine
that a person can die like this? You have had sorrow, you shall
have no more. It is I who ask your forgiveness, and on my knees!
You are going to live, and to live with us, and to live a long time.
We take possession of you once more. There are two of us here who
will henceforth have no other thought than your happiness."

"You see," resumed Cosette, all bathed in tears, "that Marius says
that you shall not die."

Jean Valjean continued to smile.

"Even if you were to take possession of me, Monsieur Pontmercy,
would that make me other than I am? No, God has thought like you
and myself, and he does not change his mind; it is useful for me
to go. Death is a good arrangement. God knows better than we what
we need. May you be happy, may Monsieur Pontmercy have Cosette,
may youth wed the morning, may there be around you, my children,
lilacs and nightingales; may your life be a beautiful, sunny lawn,
may all the enchantments of heaven fill your souls, and now let me,
who am good for nothing, die; it is certain that all this is right.
Come, be reasonable, nothing is possible now, I am fully conscious that
all is over. And then, last night, I drank that whole jug of water.
How good thy husband is, Cosette! Thou art much better off with him
than with me."

A noise became audible at the door.

It was the doctor entering.

"Good-day, and farewell, doctor," said Jean Valjean. "Here are
my poor children."

Marius stepped up to the doctor. He addressed to him only this
single word: "Monsieur? . . ." But his manner of pronouncing it
contained a complete question.

The doctor replied to the question by an expressive glance.

"Because things are not agreeable," said Jean Valjean, "that is
no reason for being unjust towards God."

A silence ensued.

All breasts were oppressed.

Jean Valjean turned to Cosette. He began to gaze at her as though
he wished to retain her features for eternity.

In the depths of the shadow into which he had already descended,
ecstasy was still possible to him when gazing at Cosette.
The reflection of that sweet face lighted up his pale visage.

The doctor felt of his pulse.

"Ah! it was you that he wanted!" he murmured, looking at Cosette
and Marius.

And bending down to Marius' ear, he added in a very low voice:

"Too late."

Jean Valjean surveyed the doctor and Marius serenely, almost without
ceasing to gaze at Cosette.

These barely articulate words were heard to issue from his mouth:

"It is nothing to die; it is dreadful not to live."

All at once he rose to his feet. These accesses of strength
are sometimes the sign of the death agony. He walked with a firm
step to the wall, thrusting aside Marius and the doctor who tried
to help him, detached from the wall a little copper crucifix
which was suspended there, and returned to his seat with all the
freedom of movement of perfect health, and said in a loud voice,
as he laid the crucifix on the table:

"Behold the great martyr."

Then his chest sank in, his head wavered, as though the intoxication
of the tomb were seizing hold upon him.

His hands, which rested on his knees, began to press their nails
into the stuff of his trousers.

Cosette supported his shoulders, and sobbed, and tried to speak
to him, but could not.

Among the words mingled with that mournful saliva which
accompanies tears, they distinguished words like the following:

"Father, do not leave us. Is it possible that we have found you
only to lose you again?"

It might be said that agony writhes. It goes, comes,
advances towards the sepulchre, and returns towards life.
There is groping in the action of dying.

Jean Valjean rallied after this semi-swoon, shook his brow as though
to make the shadows fall away from it and became almost perfectly
lucid once more.

He took a fold of Cosette's sleeve and kissed it.

"He is coming back! doctor, he is coming back," cried Marius.

"You are good, both of you," said Jean Valjean. "I am going to tell
you what has caused me pain. What has pained me, Monsieur Pontmercy,
is that you have not been willing to touch that money.
That money really belongs to your wife. I will explain to you,
my children, and for that reason, also, I am glad to see you.
Black jet comes from England, white jet comes from Norway.
All this is in this paper, which you will read. For bracelets,
I invented a way of substituting for slides of soldered sheet iron,
slides of iron laid together. It is prettier, better and less costly.
You will understand how much money can be made in that way.
So Cosette's fortune is really hers. I give you these details,
in order that your mind may be set at rest."

The portress had come upstairs and was gazing in at the half-open door.
The doctor dismissed her.

But he could not prevent this zealous woman from exclaiming
to the dying man before she disappeared: "Would you like a priest?"

"I have had one," replied Jean Valjean.

And with his finger he seemed to indicate a point above his head
where one would have said that he saw some one.

It is probable, in fact, that the Bishop was present at this
death agony.

Cosette gently slipped a pillow under his loins.

Jean Valjean resumed:

"Have no fear, Monsieur Pontmercy, I adjure you. The six hundred
thousand francs really belong to Cosette. My life will have been
wasted if you do not enjoy them! We managed to do very well with
those glass goods. We rivalled what is called Berlin jewellery.
However, we could not equal the black glass of England. A gross,
which contains twelve hundred very well cut grains, only costs
three francs."

When a being who is dear to us is on the point of death, we gaze
upon him with a look which clings convulsively to him and which
would fain hold him back.

Cosette gave her hand to Marius, and both, mute with anguish,
not knowing what to say to the dying man, stood trembling and
despairing before him.

Jean Valjean sank moment by moment. He was failing; he was drawing
near to the gloomy horizon.

His breath had become intermittent; a little rattling interrupted it.
He found some difficulty in moving his forearm, his feet had lost
all movement, and in proportion as the wretchedness of limb
and feebleness of body increased, all the majesty of his soul
was displayed and spread over his brow. The light of the unknown
world was already visible in his eyes.

His face paled and smiled. Life was no longer there, it was
something else.

His breath sank, his glance grew grander. He was a corpse
on which the wings could be felt.

He made a sign to Cosette to draw near, then to Marius; the last
minute of the last hour had, evidently, arrived.

He began to speak to them in a voice so feeble that it seemed
to come from a distance, and one would have said that a wall
now rose between them and him.

"Draw near, draw near, both of you. I love you dearly. Oh! how
good it is to die like this! And thou lovest me also, my Cosette.
I knew well that thou still felt friendly towards thy poor old man.
How kind it was of thee to place that pillow under my loins!
Thou wilt weep for me a little, wilt thou not? Not too much.
I do not wish thee to have any real griefs. You must enjoy yourselves
a great deal, my children. I forgot to tell you that the profit was
greater still on the buckles without tongues than on all the rest.
A gross of a dozen dozens cost ten francs and sold for sixty.
It really was a good business. So there is no occasion for
surprise at the six hundred thousand francs, Monsieur Pontmercy.
It is honest money. You may be rich with a tranquil mind.
Thou must have a carriage, a box at the theatres now and then,
and handsome ball dresses, my Cosette, and then, thou must give good
dinners to thy friends, and be very happy. I was writing to Cosette
a while ago. She will find my letter. I bequeath to her the two
candlesticks which stand on the chimney-piece. They are of silver,
but to me they are gold, they are diamonds; they change candles
which are placed in them into wax-tapers. I do not know whether
the person who gave them to me is pleased with me yonder on high.
I have done what I could. My children, you will not forget that I
am a poor man, you will have me buried in the first plot of earth
that you find, under a stone to mark the spot. This is my wish.
No name on the stone. If Cosette cares to come for a little
while now and then, it will give me pleasure. And you too,
Monsieur Pontmercy. I must admit that I have not always loved you.
I ask your pardon for that. Now she and you form but one for me.
I feel very grateful to you. I am sure that you make Cosette happy.
If you only knew, Monsieur Pontmercy, her pretty rosy cheeks
were my delight; when I saw her in the least pale, I was sad.
In the chest of drawers, there is a bank-bill for five hundred francs.
I have not touched it. It is for the poor. Cosette, dost thou see
thy little gown yonder on the bed? dost thou recognize it? That was
ten years ago, however. How time flies! We have been very happy.
All is over. Do not weep, my children, I am not going very far,
I shall see you from there, you will only have to look at night,
and you will see me smile. Cosette, dost thou remember Montfermeil?
Thou wert in the forest, thou wert greatly terrified; dost thou
remember how I took hold of the handle of the water-bucket? That was
the first time that I touched thy poor, little hand. It was so cold!
Ah! your hands were red then, mademoiselle, they are very white now.
And the big doll! dost thou remember? Thou didst call her Catherine.
Thou regrettedest not having taken her to the convent!
How thou didst make me laugh sometimes, my sweet angel! When it
had been raining, thou didst float bits of straw on the gutters,
and watch them pass away. One day I gave thee a willow battledore
and a shuttlecock with yellow, blue and green feathers. Thou hast
forgotten it. Thou wert roguish so young! Thou didst play.
Thou didst put cherries in thy ears. Those are things of the past.
The forests through which one has passed with one's child,
the trees under which one has strolled, the convents where one has
concealed oneself, the games, the hearty laughs of childhood,
are shadows. I imagined that all that belonged to me. In that lay
my stupidity. Those Thenardiers were wicked. Thou must forgive them.
Cosette, the moment has come to tell thee the name of thy mother.
She was called Fantine. Remember that name--Fantine. Kneel whenever
thou utterest it. She suffered much. She loved thee dearly.
She had as much unhappiness as thou hast had happiness. That is
the way God apportions things. He is there on high, he sees us all,
and he knows what he does in the midst of his great stars.
I am on the verge of departure, my children. Love each other
well and always. There is nothing else but that in the world:
love for each other. You will think sometimes of the poor old
man who died here. Oh my Cosette, it is not my fault, indeed,
that I have not seen thee all this time, it cut me to the heart;
I went as far as the corner of the street, I must have produced
a queer effect on the people who saw me pass, I was like a madman,
I once went out without my hat. I no longer see clearly,
my children, I had still other things to say, but never mind.
Think a little of me. Come still nearer. I die happy. Give me
your dear and well-beloved heads, so that I may lay my hands upon

Cosette and Marius fell on their knees, in despair,
suffocating with tears, each beneath one of Jean Valjean's hands.
Those august hands no longer moved.

He had fallen backwards, the light of the candles illuminated him.

His white face looked up to heaven, he allowed Cosette and Marius
to cover his hands with kisses.

He was dead.

The night was starless and extremely dark. No doubt, in the gloom,
some immense angel stood erect with wings outspread, awaiting that soul.



In the cemetery of Pere-Lachaise, in the vicinity of the common
grave, far from the elegant quarter of that city of sepulchres,
far from all the tombs of fancy which display in the presence of
eternity all the hideous fashions of death, in a deserted corner,
beside an old wall, beneath a great yew tree over which climbs the
wild convolvulus, amid dandelions and mosses, there lies a stone.
That stone is no more exempt than others from the leprosy of time,
of dampness, of the lichens and from the defilement of the birds.
The water turns it green, the air blackens it. It is not near
any path, and people are not fond of walking in that direction,
because the grass is high and their feet are immediately wet.
When there is a little sunshine, the lizards come thither. All around
there is a quivering of weeds. In the spring, linnets warble in
the trees.

This stone is perfectly plain. In cutting it the only thought
was the requirements of the tomb, and no other care was taken than
to make the stone long enough and narrow enough to cover a man.

No name is to be read there.

Only, many years ago, a hand wrote upon it in pencil these four lines,
which have become gradually illegible beneath the rain and the dust,
and which are, to-day, probably effaced:

Il dort. Quoique le sort fut pour lui bien etrange,
Il vivait. Il mourut quand il n'eut plus son ange.
La chose simplement d'elle-meme arriva,
Comme la nuit se fait lorsque le jour s'en va.[70]

[70] He sleeps. Although his fate was very strange, he lived.
He died when he had no longer his angel. The thing came to pass simply,
of itself, as the night comes when day is gone.


Publisher of the Italian translation of Les Miserables in Milan.

HAUTEVILLE-HOUSE, October 18, 1862.

You are right, sir, when you tell me that Les Miserables is written
for all nations. I do not know whether it will be read by all, but I
wrote it for all. It is addressed to England as well as to Spain,
to Italy as well as to France, to Germany as well as to Ireland,
to Republics which have slaves as well as to Empires which have serfs.
Social problems overstep frontiers. The sores of the human race,
those great sores which cover the globe, do not halt at the red
or blue lines traced upon the map. In every place where man is
ignorant and despairing, in every place where woman is sold for bread,
wherever the child suffers for lack of the book which should
instruct him and of the hearth which should warm him, the book
of Les Miserables knocks at the door and says: "Open to me, I come
for you."

At the hour of civilization through which we are now passing,
and which is still so sombre, the miserable's name is Man; he is
agonizing in all climes, and he is groaning in all languages.

Your Italy is no more exempt from the evil than is our France.
Your admirable Italy has all miseries on the face of it. Does not
banditism, that raging form of pauperism, inhabit your mountains?
Few nations are more deeply eaten by that ulcer of convents which I
have endeavored to fathom. In spite of your possessing Rome,
Milan, Naples, Palermo, Turin, Florence, Sienna, Pisa, Mantua,
Bologna, Ferrara, Genoa, Venice, a heroic history, sublime ruins,
magnificent ruins, and superb cities, you are, like ourselves, poor.
You are covered with marvels and vermin. Assuredly, the sun of Italy
is splendid, but, alas, azure in the sky does not prevent rags on man.

Like us, you have prejudices, superstitions, tyrannies, fanaticisms,
blind laws lending assistance to ignorant customs. You taste nothing
of the present nor of the future without a flavor of the past being
mingled with it. You have a barbarian, the monk, and a savage,
the lazzarone. The social question is the same for you as for us.
There are a few less deaths from hunger with you, and a few more
from fever; your social hygiene is not much better than ours;
shadows, which are Protestant in England, are Catholic in Italy;
but, under different names, the vescovo is identical with the bishop,
and it always means night, and of pretty nearly the same quality.
To explain the Bible badly amounts to the same thing as to understand
the Gospel badly.

Is it necessary to emphasize this? Must this melancholy parallelism
be yet more completely verified? Have you not indigent persons?
Glance below. Have you not parasites? Glance up. Does not
that hideous balance, whose two scales, pauperism and parasitism,
so mournfully preserve their mutual equilibrium, oscillate before
you as it does before us? Where is your army of schoolmasters,
the only army which civilization acknowledges?

Where are your free and compulsory schools? Does every one
know how to read in the land of Dante and of Michael Angelo?
Have you made public schools of your barracks? Have you not,
like ourselves, an opulent war-budget and a paltry budget of education?
Have not you also that passive obedience which is so easily converted
into soldierly obedience? military establishment which pushes the
regulations to the extreme of firing upon Garibaldi; that is to say,
upon the living honor of Italy? Let us subject your social order
to examination, let us take it where it stands and as it stands,
let us view its flagrant offences, show me the woman and the child.
It is by the amount of protection with which these two feeble creatures
are surrounded that the degree of civilization is to be measured.
Is prostitution less heartrending in Naples than in Paris?
What is the amount of truth that springs from your laws, and what
amount of justice springs from your tribunals? Do you chance to be
so fortunate as to be ignorant of the meaning of those gloomy words:
public prosecution, legal infamy, prison, the scaffold, the executioner,
the death penalty? Italians, with you as with us, Beccaria is dead
and Farinace is alive. And then, let us scrutinize your state reasons.
Have you a government which comprehends the identity of morality
and politics? You have reached the point where you grant amnesty
to heroes! Something very similar has been done in France.
Stay, let us pass miseries in review, let each one contribute
his pile, you are as rich as we. Have you not, like ourselves,
two condemnations, religious condemnation pronounced by the priest,
and social condemnation decreed by the judge? Oh, great nation of Italy,
thou resemblest the great nation of France! Alas! our brothers,
you are, like ourselves, Miserables.

From the depths of the gloom wherein you dwell, you do not see
much more distinctly than we the radiant and distant portals
of Eden. Only, the priests are mistaken. These holy portals
are before and not behind us.

I resume. This book, Les Miserables, is no less your mirror than ours.
Certain men, certain castes, rise in revolt against this book,--
I understand that. Mirrors, those revealers of the truth, are hated;
that does not prevent them from being of use.

As for myself, I have written for all, with a profound love
for my own country, but without being engrossed by France more
than by any other nation. In proportion as I advance in life,
I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity.

This is, moreover, the tendency of our age, and the law of radiance
of the French Revolution; books must cease to be exclusively French,
Italian, German, Spanish, or English, and become European, I say
more, human, if they are to correspond to the enlargement of civilization.

Hence a new logic of art, and of certain requirements of composition
which modify everything, even the conditions, formerly narrow,
of taste and language, which must grow broader like all the rest.

In France, certain critics have reproached me, to my great delight,
with having transgressed the bounds of what they call "French taste";
I should be glad if this eulogium were merited.

In short, I am doing what I can, I suffer with the same
universal suffering, and I try to assuage it, I possess
only the puny forces of a man, and I cry to all: "Help me!"

This, sir, is what your letter prompts me to say; I say it
for you and for your country. If I have insisted so strongly,
it is because of one phrase in your letter. You write:--

"There are Italians, and they are numerous, who say: `This book,
Les Miserables, is a French book. It does not concern us. Let the French
read it as a history, we read it as a romance.'"--Alas! I repeat,
whether we be Italians or Frenchmen, misery concerns us all.
Ever since history has been written, ever since philosophy has meditated,
misery has been the garment of the human race; the moment has
at length arrived for tearing off that rag, and for replacing,
upon the naked limbs of the Man-People, the sinister fragment
of the past with the grand purple robe of the dawn.

If this letter seems to you of service in enlightening some
minds and in dissipating some prejudices, you are at liberty
to publish it, sir. Accept, I pray you, a renewed assurance
of my very distinguished sentiments.


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