Part 8 out of 36
experienced that sort of religious terror which seizes the masses
when something grand has been done.
In the meantime, the face of the President was stamped with sympathy
and sadness; he had exchanged a rapid sign with the district-attorney
and a few low-toned words with the assistant judges; he addressed
the public, and asked in accents which all understood:--
"Is there a physician present?"
The district-attorney took the word:--
"Gentlemen of the jury, the very strange and unexpected incident
which disturbs the audience inspires us, like yourselves,
only with a sentiment which it is unnecessary for us to express.
You all know, by reputation at least, the honorable M. Madeleine,
mayor of M. sur M.; if there is a physician in the audience,
we join the President in requesting him to attend to M. Madeleine,
and to conduct him to his home."
M.Madeleine did not allow the district-attorney to finish;
he interrupted him in accents full of suavity and authority.
These are the words which he uttered; here they are literally,
as they were written down, immediately after the trial by one
of the witnesses to this scene, and as they now ring in the ears
of those who heard them nearly forty years ago:--
"I thank you, Mr. District-Attorney, but I am not mad; you shall see;
you were on the point of committing a great error; release this man!
I am fulfilling a duty; I am that miserable criminal. I am the
only one here who sees the matter clearly, and I am telling you
the truth. God, who is on high, looks down on what I am doing at
this moment, and that suffices. You can take me, for here I am:
but I have done my best; I concealed myself under another name;
I have become rich; I have become a mayor; I have tried to re-enter
the ranks of the honest. It seems that that is not to be done.
In short, there are many things which I cannot tell. I will not narrate
the story of my life to you; you will hear it one of these days.
I robbed Monseigneur the Bishop, it is true; it is true that I
robbed Little Gervais; they were right in telling you that Jean
Valjean was a very vicious wretch. Perhaps it was not altogether
his fault. Listen, honorable judges! a man who has been so greatly
humbled as I have has neither any remonstrances to make to Providence,
nor any advice to give to society; but, you see, the infamy from
which I have tried to escape is an injurious thing; the galleys
make the convict what he is; reflect upon that, if you please.
Before going to the galleys, I was a poor peasant, with very
little intelligence, a sort of idiot; the galleys wrought a change
in me. I was stupid; I became vicious: I was a block of wood;
I became a firebrand. Later on, indulgence and kindness saved me,
as severity had ruined me. But, pardon me, you cannot understand
what I am saying. You will find at my house, among the ashes in
the fireplace, the forty-sou piece which I stole, seven years ago,
from little Gervais. I have nothing farther to add; take me.
Good God! the district-attorney shakes his head; you say, 'M. Madeleine
has gone mad!' you do not believe me! that is distressing. Do not,
at least, condemn this man! What! these men do not recognize me!
I wish Javert were here; he would recognize me."
Nothing can reproduce the sombre and kindly melancholy of tone
which accompanied these words.
He turned to the three convicts, and said:--
"Well, I recognize you; do you remember, Brevet?"
He paused, hesitated for an instant, and said:--
"Do you remember the knitted suspenders with a checked pattern
which you wore in the galleys?"
Brevet gave a start of surprise, and surveyed him from head to foot
with a frightened air. He continued:--
"Chenildieu, you who conferred on yourself the name of
`Jenie-Dieu,' your whole right shoulder bears a deep burn,
because you one day laid your shoulder against the chafing-dish
full of coals, in order to efface the three letters T. F. P.,
which are still visible, nevertheless; answer, is this true?"
"It is true," said Chenildieu.
He addressed himself to Cochepaille:--
"Cochepaille, you have, near the bend in your left arm, a date stamped
in blue letters with burnt powder; the date is that of the landing
of the Emperor at Cannes, March 1, 1815; pull up your sleeve!"
Cochepaille pushed up his sleeve; all eyes were focused on him
and on his bare arm.
A gendarme held a light close to it; there was the date.
The unhappy man turned to the spectators and the judges with a smile
which still rends the hearts of all who saw it whenever they think
of it. It was a smile of triumph; it was also a smile of despair.
"You see plainly," he said, "that I am Jean Valjean."
In that chamber there were no longer either judges, accusers,
nor gendarmes; there was nothing but staring eyes and sympathizing
hearts. No one recalled any longer the part that each might be
called upon to play; the district-attorney forgot he was there
for the purpose of prosecuting, the President that he was there
to preside, the counsel for the defence that he was there to defend.
It was a striking circumstance that no question was put, that no
authority intervened. The peculiarity of sublime spectacles is,
that they capture all souls and turn witnesses into spectators.
No one, probably, could have explained what he felt; no one,
probably, said to himself that he was witnessing the splendid
outburst of a grand light: all felt themselves inwardly dazzled.
It was evident that they had Jean Valjean before their eyes.
That was clear. The appearance of this man had sufficed to suffuse
with light that matter which had been so obscure but a moment previously,
without any further explanation: the whole crowd, as by a sort
of electric revelation, understood instantly and at a single glance
the simple and magnificent history of a man who was delivering
himself up so that another man might not be condemned in his stead.
The details, the hesitations, little possible oppositions,
were swallowed up in that vast and luminous fact.
It was an impression which vanished speedily, but which was
irresistible at the moment.
"I do not wish to disturb the court further," resumed Jean Valjean.
"I shall withdraw, since you do not arrest me. I have many things to do.
The district-attorney knows who I am; he knows whither I am going;
he can have me arrested when he likes."
He directed his steps towards the door. Not a voice was raised,
not an arm extended to hinder him. All stood aside. At that moment
there was about him that divine something which causes multitudes
to stand aside and make way for a man. He traversed the crowd slowly.
It was never known who opened the door, but it is certain that he
found the door open when he reached it. On arriving there he turned
round and said:--
"I am at your command, Mr. District-Attorney."
Then he addressed the audience:--
"All of you, all who are present--consider me worthy of pity,
do you not? Good God! When I think of what I was on the point
of doing, I consider that I am to be envied. Nevertheless, I should
have preferred not to have had this occur."
He withdrew, and the door closed behind him as it had opened,
for those who do certain sovereign things are always sure of being
served by some one in the crowd.
Less than an hour after this, the verdict of the jury freed
the said Champmathieu from all accusations; and Champmathieu,
being at once released, went off in a state of stupefaction, thinking
that all men were fools, and comprehending nothing of this vision.
BOOK EIGHTH.--A COUNTER-BLOW
IN WHAT MIRROR M. MADELEINE CONTEMPLATES HIS HAIR
The day had begun to dawn. Fantine had passed a sleepless and
feverish night, filled with happy visions; at daybreak she fell asleep.
Sister Simplice, who had been watching with her, availed herself
of this slumber to go and prepare a new potion of chinchona.
The worthy sister had been in the laboratory of the infirmary but
a few moments, bending over her drugs and phials, and scrutinizing
things very closely, on account of the dimness which the half-light
of dawn spreads over all objects. Suddenly she raised her head
and uttered a faint shriek. M. Madeleine stood before her;
he had just entered silently.
"Is it you, Mr. Mayor?" she exclaimed.
He replied in a low voice:--
"How is that poor woman?"
"Not so bad just now; but we have been very uneasy."
She explained to him what had passed: that Fantine had been
very ill the day before, and that she was better now, because she
thought that the mayor had gone to Montfermeil to get her child.
The sister dared not question the mayor; but she perceived plainly
from his air that he had not come from there.
"All that is good," said he; "you were right not to undeceive her."
"Yes," responded the sister; "but now, Mr. Mayor, she will see you
and will not see her child. What shall we say to her?"
He reflected for a moment.
"God will inspire us," said he.
"But we cannot tell a lie," murmured the sister, half aloud.
It was broad daylight in the room. The light fell full
on M. Madeleine's face. The sister chanced to raise her eyes to it.
"Good God, sir!" she exclaimed; "what has happened to you?
Your hair is perfectly white!"
"White!" said he.
Sister Simplice had no mirror. She rummaged in a drawer, and pulled
out the little glass which the doctor of the infirmary used to see
whether a patient was dead and whether he no longer breathed.
M. Madeleine took the mirror, looked at his hair, and said:--
He uttered the word indifferently, and as though his mind were
on something else.
The sister felt chilled by something strange of which she caught
a glimpse in all this.
"Can I see her?"
"Is not Monsieur le Maire going to have her child brought back to her?"
said the sister, hardly venturing to put the question.
"Of course; but it will take two or three days at least."
"If she were not to see Monsieur le Maire until that time," went on
the sister, timidly, "she would not know that Monsieur le Maire
had returned, and it would be easy to inspire her with patience;
and when the child arrived, she would naturally think Monsieur le
Maire had just come with the child. We should not have to enact
M. Madeleine seemed to reflect for a few moments; then he said
with his calm gravity:--
"No, sister, I must see her. I may, perhaps, be in haste."
The nun did not appear to notice this word "perhaps," which communicated
an obscure and singular sense to the words of the mayor's speech.
She replied, lowering her eyes and her voice respectfully:--
"In that case, she is asleep; but Monsieur le Maire may enter."
He made some remarks about a door which shut badly, and the noise of
which might awaken the sick woman; then he entered Fantine's chamber,
approached the bed and drew aside the curtains. She was asleep.
Her breath issued from her breast with that tragic sound which is
peculiar to those maladies, and which breaks the hearts of mothers
when they are watching through the night beside their sleeping
child who is condemned to death. But this painful respiration
hardly troubled a sort of ineffable serenity which overspread
her countenance, and which transfigured her in her sleep.
Her pallor had become whiteness; her cheeks were crimson; her long
golden lashes, the only beauty of her youth and her virginity
which remained to her, palpitated, though they remained closed
and drooping. Her whole person was trembling with an indescribable
unfolding of wings, all ready to open wide and bear her away,
which could be felt as they rustled, though they could not be seen.
To see her thus, one would never have dreamed that she was an invalid
whose life was almost despaired of. She resembled rather something
on the point of soaring away than something on the point of dying.
The branch trembles when a hand approaches it to pluck a flower,
and seems to both withdraw and to offer itself at one and the same time.
The human body has something of this tremor when the instant arrives
in which the mysterious fingers of Death are about to pluck the soul.
M. Madeleine remained for some time motionless beside that bed,
gazing in turn upon the sick woman and the crucifix, as he had done
two months before, on the day when he had come for the first time to see
her in that asylum. They were both still there in the same attitude--
she sleeping, he praying; only now, after the lapse of two months,
her hair was gray and his was white.
The sister had not entered with him. He stood beside the bed,
with his finger on his lips, as though there were some one in the
chamber whom he must enjoin to silence.
She opened her eyes, saw him, and said quietly, with a smile:--
She made no movement of either surprise or of joy; she was joy itself.
That simple question, "And Cosette?" was put with so profound
a faith, with so much certainty, with such a complete absence
of disquiet and of doubt, that he found not a word of reply.
"I knew that you were there. I was asleep, but I saw you.
I have seen you for a long, long time. I have been following you
with my eyes all night long. You were in a glory, and you had around
you all sorts of celestial forms."
He raised his glance to the crucifix.
"But," she resumed, "tell me where Cosette is. Why did not you
place her on my bed against the moment of my waking?"
He made some mechanical reply which he was never afterwards able
Fortunately, the doctor had been warned, and he now made his appearance.
He came to the aid of M. Madeleine.
"Calm yourself, my child," said the doctor; "your child is here."
Fantine's eyes beamed and filled her whole face with light.
She clasped her hands with an expression which contained all that is
possible to prayer in the way of violence and tenderness.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "bring her to me!"
Touching illusion of a mother! Cosette was, for her, still the
little child who is carried.
"Not yet," said the doctor, "not just now. You still have some fever.
The sight of your child would agitate you and do you harm.
You must be cured first."
She interrupted him impetuously:--
"But I am cured! Oh, I tell you that I am cured! What an ass
that doctor is! The idea! I want to see my child!"
"You see," said the doctor, "how excited you become. So long as you
are in this state I shall oppose your having your child. It is not
enough to see her; it is necessary that you should live for her.
When you are reasonable, I will bring her to you myself."
The poor mother bowed her head.
"I beg your pardon, doctor, I really beg your pardon. Formerly I
should never have spoken as I have just done; so many misfortunes
have happened to me, that I sometimes do not know what I am saying.
I understand you; you fear the emotion. I will wait as long
as you like, but I swear to you that it would not have harmed
me to see my daughter. I have been seeing her; I have not
taken my eyes from her since yesterday evening. Do you know?
If she were brought to me now, I should talk to her very gently.
That is all. Is it not quite natural that I should desire to see
my daughter, who has been brought to me expressly from Montfermeil?
I am not angry. I know well that I am about to be happy. All night
long I have seen white things, and persons who smiled at me.
When Monsieur le Docteur pleases, he shall bring me Cosette.
I have no longer any fever; I am well. I am perfectly conscious that
there is nothing the matter with me any more; but I am going to behave
as though I were ill, and not stir, to please these ladies here.
When it is seen that I am very calm, they will say, `She must have
M. Madeleine was sitting on a chair beside the bed. She turned
towards him; she was making a visible effort to be calm and "very good,"
as she expressed it in the feebleness of illness which resembles
infancy, in order that, seeing her so peaceable, they might make
no difficulty about bringing Cosette to her. But while she
controlled herself she could not refrain from questioning M. Madeleine.
"Did you have a pleasant trip, Monsieur le Maire? Oh! how good
you were to go and get her for me! Only tell me how she is.
Did she stand the journey well? Alas! she will not recognize me.
She must have forgotten me by this time, poor darling! Children have
no memories. They are like birds. A child sees one thing to-day
and another thing to-morrow, and thinks of nothing any longer.
And did she have white linen? Did those Thenardiers keep her clean?
How have they fed her? Oh! if you only knew how I have suffered,
putting such questions as that to myself during all the time of
my wretchedness. Now, it is all past. I am happy. Oh, how I should
like to see her! Do you think her pretty, Monsieur le Maire? Is not my
daughter beautiful? You must have been very cold in that diligence!
Could she not be brought for just one little instant? She might
be taken away directly afterwards. Tell me; you are the master;
it could be so if you chose!"
He took her hand. "Cosette is beautiful," he said, "Cosette is well.
You shall see her soon; but calm yourself; you are talking with
too much vivacity, and you are throwing your arms out from under
the clothes, and that makes you cough."
In fact, fits of coughing interrupted Fantine at nearly every word.
Fantine did not murmur; she feared that she had injured by her
too passionate lamentations the confidence which she was desirous
of inspiring, and she began to talk of indifferent things.
"Montfermeil is quite pretty, is it not? People go there on
pleasure parties in summer. Are the Thenardiers prosperous?
There are not many travellers in their parts. That inn of theirs
is a sort of a cook-shop."
M. Madeleine was still holding her hand, and gazing at her
with anxiety; it was evident that he had come to tell her things
before which his mind now hesitated. The doctor, having finished
his visit, retired. Sister Simplice remained alone with them.
But in the midst of this pause Fantine exclaimed:--
"I hear her! mon Dieu, I hear her!"
She stretched out her arm to enjoin silence about her, held her breath,
and began to listen with rapture.
There was a child playing in the yard--the child of the portress
or of some work-woman. It was one of those accidents which are
always occurring, and which seem to form a part of the mysterious
stage-setting of mournful scenes. The child--a little girl--
was going and coming, running to warm herself, laughing, singing at
the top of her voice. Alas! in what are the plays of children
not intermingled. It was this little girl whom Fantine heard singing.
"Oh!" she resumed, "it is my Cosette! I recognize her voice."
The child retreated as it had come; the voice died away.
Fantine listened for a while longer, then her face clouded over,
and M. Madeleine heard her say, in a low voice: "How wicked
that doctor is not to allow me to see my daughter! That man has
an evil countenance, that he has."
But the smiling background of her thoughts came to the front again.
She continued to talk to herself, with her head resting on the pillow:
"How happy we are going to be! We shall have a little garden the
very first thing; M. Madeleine has promised it to me. My daughter
will play in the garden. She must know her letters by this time.
I will make her spell. She will run over the grass after butterflies.
I will watch her. Then she will take her first communion. Ah! when
will she take her first communion?"
She began to reckon on her fingers.
"One, two, three, four--she is seven years old. In five years
she will have a white veil, and openwork stockings; she will look
like a little woman. O my good sister, you do not know how foolish
I become when I think of my daughter's first communion!"
She began to laugh.
He had released Fantine's hand. He listened to her words as one
listens to the sighing of the breeze, with his eyes on the ground,
his mind absorbed in reflection which had no bottom. All at once she
ceased speaking, and this caused him to raise his head mechanically.
Fantine had become terrible.
She no longer spoke, she no longer breathed; she had raised herself
to a sitting posture, her thin shoulder emerged from her chemise;
her face, which had been radiant but a moment before, was ghastly,
and she seemed to have fixed her eyes, rendered large with terror,
on something alarming at the other extremity of the room.
"Good God!" he exclaimed; "what ails you, Fantine?"
She made no reply; she did not remove her eyes from the object
which she seemed to see. She removed one hand from his arm,
and with the other made him a sign to look behind him.
He turned, and beheld Javert.
This is what had taken place.
The half-hour after midnight had just struck when M. Madeleine quitted
the Hall of Assizes in Arras. He regained his inn just in time to set
out again by the mail-wagon, in which he had engaged his place.
A little before six o'clock in the morning he had arrived at M. sur
M., and his first care had been to post a letter to M. Laffitte,
then to enter the infirmary and see Fantine.
However, he had hardly quitted the audience hall of the Court of Assizes,
when the district-attorney, recovering from his first shock,
had taken the word to deplore the mad deed of the honorable
mayor of M. sur M., to declare that his convictions had not been
in the least modified by that curious incident, which would be
explained thereafter, and to demand, in the meantime, the condemnation
of that Champmathieu, who was evidently the real Jean Valjean.
The district-attorney's persistence was visibly at variance
with the sentiments of every one, of the public, of the court,
and of the jury. The counsel for the defence had some difficulty
in refuting this harangue and in establishing that, in consequence
of the revelations of M. Madeleine, that is to say, of the real
Jean Valjean, the aspect of the matter had been thoroughly altered,
and that the jury had before their eyes now only an innocent man.
Thence the lawyer had drawn some epiphonemas, not very fresh,
unfortunately, upon judicial errors, etc., etc.; the President,
in his summing up, had joined the counsel for the defence,
and in a few minutes the jury had thrown Champmathieu out of the case.
Nevertheless, the district-attorney was bent on having a Jean Valjean;
and as he had no longer Champmathieu, he took Madeleine.
Immediately after Champmathieu had been set at liberty,
the district-attorney shut himself up with the President.
They conferred "as to the necessity of seizing the person of M. le
Maire of M. sur M." This phrase, in which there was a great deal
of of, is the district-attorney's, written with his own hand,
on the minutes of his report to the attorney-general. His first emotion
having passed off, the President did not offer many objections.
Justice must, after all, take its course. And then, when all was said,
although the President was a kindly and a tolerably intelligent man,
he was, at the same time, a devoted and almost an ardent royalist,
and he had been shocked to hear the Mayor of M. sur M. say the Emperor,
and not Bonaparte, when alluding to the landing at Cannes.
The order for his arrest was accordingly despatched.
The district-attorney forwarded it to M. sur M. by a special messenger,
at full speed, and entrusted its execution to Police Inspector Javert.
The reader knows that Javert had returned to M. sur M. immediately
after having given his deposition.
Javert was just getting out of bed when the messenger handed him
the order of arrest and the command to produce the prisoner.
The messenger himself was a very clever member of the police, who,
in two words, informed Javert of what had taken place at Arras.
The order of arrest, signed by the district-attorney, was couched
in these words: "Inspector Javert will apprehend the body of the
Sieur Madeleine, mayor of M. sur M., who, in this day's session
of the court, was recognized as the liberated convict, Jean Valjean."
Any one who did not know Javert, and who had chanced to see him
at the moment when he penetrated the antechamber of the infirmary,
could have divined nothing of what had taken place, and would
have thought his air the most ordinary in the world. He was cool,
calm, grave, his gray hair was perfectly smooth upon his temples,
and he had just mounted the stairs with his habitual deliberation.
Any one who was thoroughly acquainted with him, and who had examined
him attentively at the moment, would have shuddered. The buckle
of his leather stock was under his left ear instead of at the nape
of his neck. This betrayed unwonted agitation.
Javert was a complete character, who never had a wrinkle in his
duty or in his uniform; methodical with malefactors, rigid with
the buttons of his coat.
That he should have set the buckle of his stock awry,
it was indispensable that there should have taken place in him
one of those emotions which may be designated as internal earthquakes.
He had come in a simple way, had made a requisition on the
neighboring post for a corporal and four soldiers, had left
the soldiers in the courtyard, had had Fantine's room pointed
out to him by the portress, who was utterly unsuspicious,
accustomed as she was to seeing armed men inquiring for the mayor.
On arriving at Fantine's chamber, Javert turned the handle,
pushed the door open with the gentleness of a sick-nurse
or a police spy, and entered.
Properly speaking, he did not enter. He stood erect in the half-open
door, his hat on his head and his left hand thrust into his coat,
which was buttoned up to the chin. In the bend of his elbow
the leaden head of his enormous cane, which was hidden behind him,
could be seen.
Thus he remained for nearly a minute, without his presence
being perceived. All at once Fantine raised her eyes, saw him,
and made M. Madeleine turn round.
The instant that Madeleine's glance encountered Javert's glance, Javert,
without stirring, without moving from his post, without approaching
him, became terrible. No human sentiment can be as terrible as joy.
It was the visage of a demon who has just found his damned soul.
The satisfaction of at last getting hold of Jean Valjean caused all
that was in his soul to appear in his countenance. The depths having
been stirred up, mounted to the surface. The humiliation of having,
in some slight degree, lost the scent, and of having indulged,
for a few moments, in an error with regard to Champmathieu,
was effaced by pride at having so well and accurately divined in the
first place, and of having for so long cherished a just instinct.
Javert's content shone forth in his sovereign attitude. The deformity
of triumph overspread that narrow brow. All the demonstrations
of horror which a satisfied face can afford were there.
Javert was in heaven at that moment. Without putting the thing
clearly to himself, but with a confused intuition of the necessity
of his presence and of his success, he, Javert, personified justice,
light, and truth in their celestial function of crushing out evil.
Behind him and around him, at an infinite distance, he had authority,
reason, the case judged, the legal conscience, the public prosecution,
all the stars; he was protecting order, he was causing the law
to yield up its thunders, he was avenging society, he was lending
a helping hand to the absolute, he was standing erect in the midst
of a glory. There existed in his victory a remnant of defiance
and of combat. Erect, haughty, brilliant, he flaunted abroad
in open day the superhuman bestiality of a ferocious archangel.
The terrible shadow of the action which he was accomplishing caused
the vague flash of the social sword to be visible in his clenched fist;
happy and indignant, he held his heel upon crime, vice, rebellion,
perdition, hell; he was radiant, he exterminated, he smiled,
and there was an incontestable grandeur in this monstrous Saint Michael.
Javert, though frightful, had nothing ignoble about him.
Probity, sincerity, candor, conviction, the sense of duty,
are things which may become hideous when wrongly directed;
but which, even when hideous, remain grand: their majesty,
the majesty peculiar to the human conscience, clings to them in the
midst of horror; they are virtues which have one vice,--error.
The honest, pitiless joy of a fanatic in the full flood of his
atrocity preserves a certain lugubriously venerable radiance.
Without himself suspecting the fact, Javert in his formidable
happiness was to be pitied, as is every ignorant man who triumphs.
Nothing could be so poignant and so terrible as this face,
wherein was displayed all that may be designated as the evil of the good.
AUTHORITY REASSERTS ITS RIGHTS
Fantine had not seen Javert since the day on which the mayor had torn
her from the man. Her ailing brain comprehended nothing, but the
only thing which she did not doubt was that he had come to get her.
She could not endure that terrible face; she felt her life quitting her;
she hid her face in both hands, and shrieked in her anguish:--
"Monsieur Madeleine, save me!"
Jean Valjean--we shall henceforth not speak of him otherwise--
had risen. He said to Fantine in the gentlest and calmest of voices:--
"Be at ease; it is not for you that he is come."
Then he addressed Javert, and said:--
"I know what you want."
"Be quick about it!"
There lay in the inflection of voice which accompanied these words
something indescribably fierce and frenzied. Javert did not say,
"Be quick about it!" he said "Bequiabouit."
No orthography can do justice to the accent with which it was uttered:
it was no longer a human word: it was a roar.
He did not proceed according to his custom, he did not enter
into the matter, he exhibited no warrant of arrest. In his eyes,
Jean Valjean was a sort of mysterious combatant, who was not to be
laid hands upon, a wrestler in the dark whom he had had in his
grasp for the last five years, without being able to throw him.
This arrest was not a beginning, but an end. He confined himself
to saying, "Be quick about it!"
As he spoke thus, he did not advance a single step; he hurled at
Jean Valjean a glance which he threw out like a grappling-hook,
and with which he was accustomed to draw wretches violently to him.
It was this glance which Fantine had felt penetrating to the very
marrow of her bones two months previously.
At Javert's exclamation, Fantine opened her eyes once more.
But the mayor was there; what had she to fear?
Javert advanced to the middle of the room, and cried:--
"See here now! Art thou coming?"
The unhappy woman glanced about her. No one was present excepting
the nun and the mayor. To whom could that abject use of "thou"
be addressed? To her only. She shuddered.
Then she beheld a most unprecedented thing, a thing so unprecedented
that nothing equal to it had appeared to her even in the blackest
deliriums of fever.
She beheld Javert, the police spy, seize the mayor by the collar;
she saw the mayor bow his head. It seemed to her that the world was
coming to an end.
Javert had, in fact, grasped Jean Valjean by the collar.
"Monsieur le Maire!" shrieked Fantine.
Javert burst out laughing with that frightful laugh which displayed
all his gums.
"There is no longer any Monsieur le Maire here!"
Jean Valjean made no attempt to disengage the hand which grasped
the collar of his coat. He said:--
Javert interrupted him: "Call me Mr. Inspector."
"Monsieur," said Jean Valjean, "I should like to say a word to you
"Aloud! Say it aloud!" replied Javert; "people are in the habit
of talking aloud to me."
Jean Valjean went on in a lower tone:--
"I have a request to make of you--"
"I tell you to speak loud."
"But you alone should hear it--"
"What difference does that make to me? I shall not listen."
Jean Valjean turned towards him and said very rapidly
and in a very low voice:--
"Grant me three days' grace! three days in which to go and fetch
the child of this unhappy woman. I will pay whatever is necessary.
You shall accompany me if you choose."
"You are making sport of me!" cried Javert. "Come now, I did
not think you such a fool! You ask me to give you three days in
which to run away! You say that it is for the purpose of fetching
that creature's child! Ah! Ah! That's good! That's really capital!"
Fantine was seized with a fit of trembling.
"My child!" she cried, "to go and fetch my child! She is not here,
then! Answer me, sister; where is Cosette? I want my child!
Monsieur Madeleine! Monsieur le Maire!"
Javert stamped his foot.
"And now there's the other one! Will you hold your tongue, you hussy?
It's a pretty sort of a place where convicts are magistrates,
and where women of the town are cared for like countesses! Ah! But we
are going to change all that; it is high time!"
He stared intently at Fantine, and added, once more taking into
his grasp Jean Valjean's cravat, shirt and collar:--
"I tell you that there is no Monsieur Madeleine and that there is
no Monsieur le Maire. There is a thief, a brigand, a convict named
Jean Valjean! And I have him in my grasp! That's what there is!"
Fantine raised herself in bed with a bound, supporting herself on
her stiffened arms and on both hands: she gazed at Jean Valjean,
she gazed at Javert, she gazed at the nun, she opened her mouth
as though to speak; a rattle proceeded from the depths of her throat,
her teeth chattered; she stretched out her arms in her agony,
opening her hands convulsively, and fumbling about her like a
drowning person; then suddenly fell back on her pillow.
Her head struck the head-board of the bed and fell forwards
on her breast, with gaping mouth and staring, sightless eyes.
She was dead.
Jean Valjean laid his hand upon the detaining hand of Javert,
and opened it as he would have opened the hand of a baby; then he
said to Javert:--
"You have murdered that woman."
"Let's have an end of this!" shouted Javert, in a fury; "I am not
here to listen to argument. Let us economize all that; the guard
is below; march on instantly, or you'll get the thumb-screws!"
In the corner of the room stood an old iron bedstead, which was in a
decidedly decrepit state, and which served the sisters as a camp-bed
when they were watching with the sick. Jean Valjean stepped up
to this bed, in a twinkling wrenched off the head-piece, which was
already in a dilapidated condition, an easy matter to muscles like his,
grasped the principal rod like a bludgeon, and glanced at Javert.
Javert retreated towards the door. Jean Valjean, armed with his bar
of iron, walked slowly up to Fantine's couch. When he arrived there
he turned and said to Javert, in a voice that was barely audible:--
"I advise you not to disturb me at this moment."
One thing is certain, and that is, that Javert trembled.
It did occur to him to summon the guard, but Jean Valjean might
avail himself of that moment to effect his escape; so he remained,
grasped his cane by the small end, and leaned against the door-post,
without removing his eyes from Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean rested his elbow on the knob at the head of the bed,
and his brow on his hand, and began to contemplate the motionless
body of Fantine, which lay extended there. He remained thus,
mute, absorbed, evidently with no further thought of anything
connected with this life. Upon his face and in his attitude there
was nothing but inexpressible pity. After a few moments of this
meditation he bent towards Fantine, and spoke to her in a low voice.
What did he say to her? What could this man, who was reproved,
say to that woman, who was dead? What words were those? No one
on earth heard them. Did the dead woman hear them? There are
some touching illusions which are, perhaps, sublime realities.
The point as to which there exists no doubt is, that Sister Simplice,
the sole witness of the incident, often said that at the moment
that Jean Valjean whispered in Fantine's ear, she distinctly beheld
an ineffable smile dawn on those pale lips, and in those dim eyes,
filled with the amazement of the tomb.
Jean Valjean took Fantine's head in both his hands, and arranged it
on the pillow as a mother might have done for her child; then he tied
the string of her chemise, and smoothed her hair back under her cap.
That done, he closed her eyes.
Fantine's face seemed strangely illuminated at that moment.
Death, that signifies entrance into the great light.
Fantine's hand was hanging over the side of the bed. Jean Valjean
knelt down before that hand, lifted it gently, and kissed it.
Then he rose, and turned to Javert.
"Now," said he, "I am at your disposal."
A SUITABLE TOMB
Javert deposited Jean Valjean in the city prison.
The arrest of M. Madeleine occasioned a sensation, or rather,
an extraordinary commotion in M. sur M. We are sorry that we cannot
conceal the fact, that at the single word, "He was a convict,"
nearly every one deserted him. In less than two hours all the good
that he had done had been forgotten, and he was nothing but a "convict
from the galleys." It is just to add that the details of what had
taken place at Arras were not yet known. All day long conversations
like the following were to be heard in all quarters of the town:--
"You don't know? He was a liberated convict!" "Who?" "The mayor."
"Bah! M. Madeleine?" "Yes." "Really?" "His name was not Madeleine
at all; he had a frightful name, Bejean, Bojean, Boujean." "Ah!
Good God!" "He has been arrested." "Arrested!" "In prison,
in the city prison, while waiting to be transferred." "Until he
is transferred!" "He is to be transferred!" "Where is he to
be taken?" "He will be tried at the Assizes for a highway robbery
which he committed long ago." "Well! I suspected as much.
That man was too good, too perfect, too affected. He refused
the cross; he bestowed sous on all the little scamps he came across.
I always thought there was some evil history back of all that."
The "drawing-rooms" particularly abounded in remarks of this nature.
One old lady, a subscriber to the Drapeau Blanc, made the
following remark, the depth of which it is impossible to fathom:--
"I am not sorry. It will be a lesson to the Bonapartists!"
It was thus that the phantom which had been called M. Madeleine
vanished from M. sur M. Only three or four persons in all the town
remained faithful to his memory. The old portress who had served
him was among the number.
On the evening of that day the worthy old woman was sitting in her lodge,
still in a thorough fright, and absorbed in sad reflections.
The factory had been closed all day, the carriage gate was bolted,
the street was deserted. There was no one in the house but the
two nuns, Sister Perpetue and Sister Simplice, who were watching
beside the body of Fantine.
Towards the hour when M. Madeleine was accustomed to return home,
the good portress rose mechanically, took from a drawer the key
of M. Madeleine's chamber, and the flat candlestick which he used
every evening to go up to his quarters; then she hung the key on
the nail whence he was accustomed to take it, and set the candlestick
on one side, as though she was expecting him. Then she sat down
again on her chair, and became absorbed in thought once more.
The poor, good old woman bad done all this without being conscious
It was only at the expiration of two hours that she roused herself
from her revery, and exclaimed, "Hold! My good God Jesus!
And I hung his key on the nail!"
At that moment the small window in the lodge opened, a hand
passed through, seized the key and the candlestick, and lighted
the taper at the candle which was burning there.
The portress raised her eyes, and stood there with gaping mouth,
and a shriek which she confined to her throat.
She knew that hand, that arm, the sleeve of that coat.
It was M. Madeleine.
It was several seconds before she could speak; she had a seizure,
as she said herself, when she related the adventure afterwards.
"Good God, Monsieur le Maire," she cried at last, "I thought you were--"
She stopped; the conclusion of her sentence would have been lacking
in respect towards the beginning. Jean Valjean was still Monsieur
le Maire to her.
He finished her thought.
"In prison," said he. "I was there; I broke a bar of one of
the windows; I let myself drop from the top of a roof, and here I am.
I am going up to my room; go and find Sister Simplice for me.
She is with that poor woman, no doubt."
The old woman obeyed in all haste.
He gave her no orders; he was quite sure that she would guard him
better than he should guard himself.
No one ever found out how he had managed to get into the courtyard
without opening the big gates. He had, and always carried about him,
a pass-key which opened a little side-door; but he must have
been searched, and his latch-key must have been taken from him.
This point was never explained.
He ascended the staircase leading to his chamber. On arriving at the top,
he left his candle on the top step of his stairs, opened his door
with very little noise, went and closed his window and his shutters
by feeling, then returned for his candle and re-entered his room.
It was a useful precaution; it will be recollected that his window
could be seen from the street.
He cast a glance about him, at his table, at his chair, at his bed
which had not been disturbed for three days. No trace of the disorder
of the night before last remained. The portress had "done up"
his room; only she had picked out of the ashes and placed neatly
on the table the two iron ends of the cudgel and the forty-sou
piece which had been blackened by the fire.
He took a sheet of paper, on which he wrote: "These are the
two tips of my iron-shod cudgel and the forty-sou piece stolen
from Little Gervais, which I mentioned at the Court of Assizes,"
and he arranged this piece of paper, the bits of iron, and the
coin in such a way that they were the first things to be seen
on entering the room. From a cupboard he pulled out one of his
old shirts, which he tore in pieces. In the strips of linen thus
prepared he wrapped the two silver candlesticks. He betrayed
neither haste nor agitation; and while he was wrapping up the
Bishop's candlesticks, he nibbled at a piece of black bread. It was
probably the prison-bread which he had carried with him in his flight.
This was proved by the crumbs which were found on the floor
of the room when the authorities made an examination later on.
There came two taps at the door.
"Come in," said he.
It was Sister Simplice.
She was pale; her eyes were red; the candle which she carried trembled
in her hand. The peculiar feature of the violences of destiny is,
that however polished or cool we may be, they wring human nature
from our very bowels, and force it to reappear on the surface.
The emotions of that day had turned the nun into a woman once more.
She had wept, and she was trembling.
Jean Valjean had just finished writing a few lines on a paper,
which he handed to the nun, saying, "Sister, you will give this
to Monsieur le Cure."
The paper was not folded. She cast a glance upon it.
"You can read it," said he.
"I beg Monsieur le Cure to keep an eye on all that I leave behind me.
He will be so good as to pay out of it the expenses of my trial,
and of the funeral of the woman who died yesterday. The rest is for
The sister tried to speak, but she only managed to stammer a few
inarticulate sounds. She succeeded in saying, however:--
"Does not Monsieur le Maire desire to take a last look at that poor,
"No," said he; "I am pursued; it would only end in their arresting
me in that room, and that would disturb her."
He had hardly finished when a loud noise became audible on the staircase.
They heard a tumult of ascending footsteps, and the old portress
saying in her loudest and most piercing tones:--
"My good sir, I swear to you by the good God, that not a soul
has entered this house all day, nor all the evening, and that I
have not even left the door."
A man responded:--
"But there is a light in that room, nevertheless."
They recognized Javert's voice.
The chamber was so arranged that the door in opening masked the corner
of the wall on the right. Jean Valjean blew out the light and placed
himself in this angle. Sister Simplice fell on her knees near the table.
The door opened.
The whispers of many men and the protestations of the portress
were audible in the corridor.
The nun did not raise her eyes. She was praying.
The candle was on the chimney-piece, and gave but very little light.
Javert caught sight of the nun and halted in amazement.
It will be remembered that the fundamental point in Javert, his element,
the very air he breathed, was veneration for all authority.
This was impregnable, and admitted of neither objection nor restriction.
In his eyes, of course, the ecclesiastical authority was the chief
of all; he was religious, superficial and correct on this point
as on all others. In his eyes, a priest was a mind, who never makes
a mistake; a nun was a creature who never sins; they were souls
walled in from this world, with a single door which never opened
except to allow the truth to pass through.
On perceiving the sister, his first movement was to retire.
But there was also another duty which bound him and impelled
him imperiously in the opposite direction. His second movement
was to remain and to venture on at least one question.
This was Sister Simplice, who had never told a lie in her life.
Javert knew it, and held her in special veneration in consequence.
"Sister," said he, "are you alone in this room?"
A terrible moment ensued, during which the poor portress felt
as though she should faint.
The sister raised her eyes and answered:--
"Then," resumed Javert, "you will excuse me if I persist; it is
my duty; you have not seen a certain person--a man--this evening?
He has escaped; we are in search of him--that Jean Valjean;
you have not seen him?"
The sister replied:--
She lied. She had lied twice in succession, one after the other,
without hesitation, promptly, as a person does when sacrificing herself.
"Pardon me," said Javert, and he retired with a deep bow.
O sainted maid! you left this world many years ago; you have
rejoined your sisters, the virgins, and your brothers, the angels,
in the light; may this lie be counted to your credit in paradise!
The sister's affirmation was for Javert so decisive a thing that he
did not even observe the singularity of that candle which had but
just been extinguished, and which was still smoking on the table.
An hour later, a man, marching amid trees and mists, was rapidly
departing from M. sur M. in the direction of Paris. That man
was Jean Valjean. It has been established by the testimony of
two or three carters who met him, that he was carrying a bundle;
that he was dressed in a blouse. Where had he obtained that blouse?
No one ever found out. But an aged workman had died in the infirmary
of the factory a few days before, leaving behind him nothing
but his blouse. Perhaps that was the one.
One last word about Fantine.
We all have a mother,--the earth. Fantine was given back to that mother.
The cure thought that he was doing right, and perhaps he really was,
in reserving as much money as possible from what Jean Valjean
had left for the poor. Who was concerned, after all? A convict
and a woman of the town. That is why he had a very simple funeral
for Fantine, and reduced it to that strictly necessary form known
as the pauper's grave.
So Fantine was buried in the free corner of the cemetery
which belongs to anybody and everybody, and where the poor
are lost. Fortunately, God knows where to find the soul again.
Fantine was laid in the shade, among the first bones that came
to hand; she was subjected to the promiscuousness of ashes.
She was thrown into the public grave. Her grave resembled her bed.
[The end of Volume I. "Fantine"]
WHAT IS MET WITH ON THE WAY FROM NIVELLES
Last year (1861), on a beautiful May morning, a traveller, the person
who is telling this story, was coming from Nivelles, and directing
his course towards La Hulpe. He was on foot. He was pursuing
a broad paved road, which undulated between two rows of trees,
over the hills which succeed each other, raise the road and let it
fall again, and produce something in the nature of enormous waves.
He had passed Lillois and Bois-Seigneur-Isaac. In the west he
perceived the slate-roofed tower of Braine-l'Alleud, which has
the form of a reversed vase. He had just left behind a wood upon
an eminence; and at the angle of the cross-road, by the side
of a sort of mouldy gibbet bearing the inscription Ancient
Barrier No. 4, a public house, bearing on its front this sign:
At the Four Winds (Aux Quatre Vents). Echabeau, Private Cafe.
A quarter of a league further on, he arrived at the bottom of a
little valley, where there is water which passes beneath an arch
made through the embankment of the road. The clump of sparsely
planted but very green trees, which fills the valley on one side of
the road, is dispersed over the meadows on the other, and disappears
gracefully and as in order in the direction of Braine-l'Alleud.
On the right, close to the road, was an inn, with a four-wheeled cart
at the door, a large bundle of hop-poles, a plough, a heap of dried
brushwood near a flourishing hedge, lime smoking in a square hole,
and a ladder suspended along an old penthouse with straw partitions.
A young girl was weeding in a field, where a huge yellow poster,
probably of some outside spectacle, such as a parish festival,
was fluttering in the wind. At one corner of the inn, beside a pool
in which a flotilla of ducks was navigating, a badly paved path plunged
into the bushes. The wayfarer struck into this.
After traversing a hundred paces, skirting a wall of the
fifteenth century, surmounted by a pointed gable, with bricks set
in contrast, he found himself before a large door of arched stone,
with a rectilinear impost, in the sombre style of Louis XIV., flanked
by two flat medallions. A severe facade rose above this door;
a wall, perpendicular to the facade, almost touched the door,
and flanked it with an abrupt right angle. In the meadow
before the door lay three harrows, through which, in disorder,
grew all the flowers of May. The door was closed. The two decrepit
leaves which barred it were ornamented with an old rusty knocker.
The sun was charming; the branches had that soft shivering of May,
which seems to proceed rather from the nests than from the wind.
A brave little bird, probably a lover, was carolling in a distracted
manner in a large tree.
The wayfarer bent over and examined a rather large circular excavation,
resembling the hollow of a sphere, in the stone on the left,
at the foot of the pier of the door.
At this moment the leaves of the door parted, and a peasant
She saw the wayfarer, and perceived what he was looking at.
"It was a French cannon-ball which made that," she said to him.
And she added:--
"That which you see there, higher up in the door, near a nail,
is the hole of a big iron bullet as large as an egg. The bullet did
not pierce the wood."
"What is the name of this place?" inquired the wayfarer.
"Hougomont," said the peasant woman.
The traveller straightened himself up. He walked on a few paces,
and went off to look over the tops of the hedges. On the horizon
through the trees, he perceived a sort of little elevation,
and on this elevation something which at that distance resembled
He was on the battle-field of Waterloo.
Hougomont,--this was a funereal spot, the beginning of the obstacle,
the first resistance, which that great wood-cutter of Europe,
called Napoleon, encountered at Waterloo, the first knot under the
blows of his axe.
It was a chateau; it is no longer anything but a farm. For the antiquary,
Hougomont is Hugomons. This manor was built by Hugo, Sire of Somerel,
the same who endowed the sixth chaplaincy of the Abbey of Villiers.
The traveller pushed open the door, elbowed an ancient calash
under the porch, and entered the courtyard.
The first thing which struck him in this paddock was a door of the
sixteenth century, which here simulates an arcade, everything else
having fallen prostrate around it. A monumental aspect often has its
birth in ruin. In a wall near the arcade opens another arched door,
of the time of Henry IV., permitting a glimpse of the trees
of an orchard; beside this door, a manure-hole, some pickaxes,
some shovels, some carts, an old well, with its flagstone and its
iron reel, a chicken jumping, and a turkey spreading its tail,
a chapel surmounted by a small bell-tower, a blossoming pear-tree
trained in espalier against the wall of the chapel--behold the court,
the conquest of which was one of Napoleon's dreams. This corner
of earth, could he but have seized it, would, perhaps, have given
him the world likewise. Chickens are scattering its dust abroad
with their beaks. A growl is audible; it is a huge dog, who shows
his teeth and replaces the English.
The English behaved admirably there. Cooke's four companies
of guards there held out for seven hours against the fury of an army.
Hougomont viewed on the map, as a geometrical plan, comprising
buildings and enclosures, presents a sort of irregular rectangle,
one angle of which is nicked out. It is this angle which contains
the southern door, guarded by this wall, which commands it only
a gun's length away. Hougomont has two doors,--the southern door,
that of the chateau; and the northern door, belonging to the farm.
Napoleon sent his brother Jerome against Hougomont; the divisions
of Foy, Guilleminot, and Bachelu hurled themselves against it;
nearly the entire corps of Reille was employed against it, and miscarried;
Kellermann's balls were exhausted on this heroic section of wall.
Bauduin's brigade was not strong enough to force Hougomont on the north,
and the brigade of Soye could not do more than effect the beginning
of a breach on the south, but without taking it.
The farm buildings border the courtyard on the south. A bit of the
north door, broken by the French, hangs suspended to the wall.
It consists of four planks nailed to two cross-beams, on which the
scars of the attack are visible.
The northern door, which was beaten in by the French, and which has
had a piece applied to it to replace the panel suspended on the wall,
stands half-open at the bottom of the paddock; it is cut squarely
in the wall, built of stone below, of brick above which closes in the
courtyard on the north. It is a simple door for carts, such as exist
in all farms, with the two large leaves made of rustic planks:
beyond lie the meadows. The dispute over this entrance was furious.
For a long time, all sorts of imprints of bloody hands were visible
on the door-posts. It was there that Bauduin was killed.
The storm of the combat still lingers in this courtyard; its horror
is visible there; the confusion of the fray was petrified there;
it lives and it dies there; it was only yesterday. The walls
are in the death agony, the stones fall; the breaches cry aloud;
the holes are wounds; the drooping, quivering trees seem to be making
an effort to flee.
This courtyard was more built up in 1815 than it is to-day. Buildings
which have since been pulled down then formed redans and angles.
The English barricaded themselves there; the French made their way in,
but could not stand their ground. Beside the chapel, one wing of
the chateau, the only ruin now remaining of the manor of Hougomont,
rises in a crumbling state,--disembowelled, one might say.
The chateau served for a dungeon, the chapel for a block-house.
There men exterminated each other. The French, fired on from
every point,--from behind the walls, from the summits of the garrets,
from the depths of the cellars, through all the casements,
through all the air-holes, through every crack in the stones,--
fetched fagots and set fire to walls and men; the reply to the
grape-shot was a conflagration.
In the ruined wing, through windows garnished with bars of iron,
the dismantled chambers of the main building of brick are visible;
the English guards were in ambush in these rooms; the spiral
of the staircase, cracked from the ground floor to the very roof,
appears like the inside of a broken shell. The staircase has two stories;
the English, besieged on the staircase, and massed on its upper steps,
had cut off the lower steps. These consisted of large slabs
of blue stone, which form a heap among the nettles. Half a score
of steps still cling to the wall; on the first is cut the figure
of a trident. These inaccessible steps are solid in their niches.
All the rest resembles a jaw which has been denuded of its teeth.
There are two old trees there: one is dead; the other is wounded
at its base, and is clothed with verdure in April. Since 1815 it has
taken to growing through the staircase.
A massacre took place in the chapel. The interior, which has
recovered its calm, is singular. The mass has not been said there
since the carnage. Nevertheless, the altar has been left there--
an altar of unpolished wood, placed against a background of
roughhewn stone. Four whitewashed walls, a door opposite the altar,
two small arched windows; over the door a large wooden crucifix,
below the crucifix a square air-hole stopped up with a bundle of hay;
on the ground, in one corner, an old window-frame with the glass
all broken to pieces--such is the chapel. Near the altar there is
nailed up a wooden statue of Saint Anne, of the fifteenth century;
the head of the infant Jesus has been carried off by a large ball.
The French, who were masters of the chapel for a moment, and were
then dislodged, set fire to it. The flames filled this building;
it was a perfect furnace; the door was burned, the floor was burned,
the wooden Christ was not burned. The fire preyed upon his feet,
of which only the blackened stumps are now to be seen; then it stopped,--
a miracle, according to the assertion of the people of the neighborhood.
The infant Jesus, decapitated, was less fortunate than the Christ.
The walls are covered with inscriptions. Near the feet of Christ
this name is to be read: Henquinez. Then these others:
Conde de Rio Maior Marques y Marquesa de Almagro (Habana). There
are French names with exclamation points,--a sign of wrath.
The wall was freshly whitewashed in 1849. The nations insulted
each other there.
It was at the door of this chapel that the corpse was picked up
which held an axe in its hand; this corpse was Sub-Lieutenant Legros.
On emerging from the chapel, a well is visible on the left.
There are two in this courtyard. One inquires, Why is there no bucket
and pulley to this? It is because water is no longer drawn there.
Why is water not drawn there? Because it is full of skeletons.
The last person who drew water from the well was named
Guillaume van Kylsom. He was a peasant who lived at Hougomont,
and was gardener there. On the 18th of June, 1815, his family
fled and concealed themselves in the woods.
The forest surrounding the Abbey of Villiers sheltered these unfortunate
people who had been scattered abroad, for many days and nights.
There are at this day certain traces recognizable, such as old
boles of burned trees, which mark the site of these poor bivouacs
trembling in the depths of the thickets.
Guillaume van Kylsom remained at Hougomont, "to guard the chateau,"
and concealed himself in the cellar. The English discovered
him there. They tore him from his hiding-place, and the combatants
forced this frightened man to serve them, by administering blows
with the flats of their swords. They were thirsty; this Guillaume
brought them water. It was from this well that he drew it.
Many drank there their last draught. This well where drank so many
of the dead was destined to die itself.
After the engagement, they were in haste to bury the dead bodies.
Death has a fashion of harassing victory, and she causes the pest
to follow glory. The typhus is a concomitant of triumph.
This well was deep, and it was turned into a sepulchre. Three hundred
dead bodies were cast into it. With too much haste perhaps.
Were they all dead? Legend says they were not. It seems that on
the night succeeding the interment, feeble voices were heard calling
from the well.
This well is isolated in the middle of the courtyard. Three walls,
part stone, part brick, and simulating a small, square tower,
and folded like the leaves of a screen, surround it on all sides.
The fourth side is open. It is there that the water was drawn.
The wall at the bottom has a sort of shapeless loophole,
possibly the hole made by a shell. This little tower had a platform,
of which only the beams remain. The iron supports of the well on
the right form a cross. On leaning over, the eye is lost in a deep
cylinder of brick which is filled with a heaped-up mass of shadows.
The base of the walls all about the well is concealed in a growth
This well has not in front of it that large blue slab which forms
the table for all wells in Belgium. The slab has here been
replaced by a cross-beam, against which lean five or six shapeless
fragments of knotty and petrified wood which resemble huge bones.
There is no longer either pail, chain, or pulley; but there is
still the stone basin which served the overflow. The rain-water
collects there, and from time to time a bird of the neighboring
forests comes thither to drink, and then flies away. One house
in this ruin, the farmhouse, is still inhabited. The door of this
house opens on the courtyard. Upon this door, beside a pretty Gothic
lock-plate, there is an iron handle with trefoils placed slanting.
At the moment when the Hanoverian lieutenant, Wilda, grasped this
handle in order to take refuge in the farm, a French sapper hewed
off his hand with an axe.
The family who occupy the house had for their grandfather Guillaume
van Kylsom, the old gardener, dead long since. A woman with gray
hair said to us: "I was there. I was three years old. My sister,
who was older, was terrified and wept. They carried us off to
the woods. I went there in my mother's arms. We glued our ears
to the earth to hear. I imitated the cannon, and went boum! boum!"
A door opening from the courtyard on the left led into the orchard,
so we were told. The orchard is terrible.
It is in three parts; one might almost say, in three acts.
The first part is a garden, the second is an orchard, the third
is a wood. These three parts have a common enclosure: on the
side of the entrance, the buildings of the chateau and the farm;
on the left, a hedge; on the right, a wall; and at the end, a wall.
The wall on the right is of brick, the wall at the bottom is of stone.
One enters the garden first. It slopes downwards, is planted
with gooseberry bushes, choked with a wild growth of vegetation,
and terminated by a monumental terrace of cut stone, with balustrade
with a double curve.
It was a seignorial garden in the first French style which
preceded Le Notre; to-day it is ruins and briars. The pilasters
are surmounted by globes which resemble cannon-balls of stone.
Forty-three balusters can still be counted on their sockets; the rest
lie prostrate in the grass. Almost all bear scratches of bullets.
One broken baluster is placed on the pediment like a fractured leg.
It was in this garden, further down than the orchard, that six
light-infantry men of the 1st, having made their way thither,
and being unable to escape, hunted down and caught like bears
in their dens, accepted the combat with two Hanoverian companies,
one of which was armed with carbines. The Hanoverians lined
this balustrade and fired from above. The infantry men,
replying from below, six against two hundred, intrepid and with
no shelter save the currant-bushes, took a quarter of an hour to die.
One mounts a few steps and passes from the garden into the orchard,
properly speaking. There, within the limits of those few
square fathoms, fifteen hundred men fell in less than an hour.
The wall seems ready to renew the combat. Thirty-eight loopholes,
pierced by the English at irregular heights, are there still.
In front of the sixth are placed two English tombs of granite.
There are loopholes only in the south wall, as the principal attack came
from that quarter. The wall is hidden on the outside by a tall hedge;
the French came up, thinking that they had to deal only with a hedge,
crossed it, and found the wall both an obstacle and an ambuscade,
with the English guards behind it, the thirty-eight loopholes firing
at once a shower of grape-shot and balls, and Soye's brigade was broken
against it. Thus Waterloo began.
Nevertheless, the orchard was taken. As they had no ladders,
the French scaled it with their nails. They fought hand to hand
amid the trees. All this grass has been soaked in blood.
A battalion of Nassau, seven hundred strong, was overwhelmed there.
The outside of the wall, against which Kellermann's two batteries
were trained, is gnawed by grape-shot.
This orchard is sentient, like others, in the month of May.
It has its buttercups and its daisies; the grass is tall there;
the cart-horses browse there; cords of hair, on which linen
is drying, traverse the spaces between the trees and force the
passer-by to bend his head; one walks over this uncultivated land,
and one's foot dives into mole-holes. In the middle of the grass
one observes an uprooted tree-bole which lies there all verdant.
Major Blackmann leaned against it to die. Beneath a great tree
in the neighborhood fell the German general, Duplat, descended from
a French family which fled on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
An aged and falling apple-tree leans far over to one side,
its wound dressed with a bandage of straw and of clayey loam.
Nearly all the apple-trees are falling with age. There is not one
which has not had its bullet or its biscayan. The skeletons of dead
trees abound in this orchard. Crows fly through their branches,
and at the end of it is a wood full of violets.
 A bullet as large as an egg.
Bauduin, killed, Foy wounded, conflagration, massacre, carnage,
a rivulet formed of English blood, French blood, German blood
mingled in fury, a well crammed with corpses, the regiment of
Nassau and the regiment of Brunswick destroyed, Duplat killed,
Blackmann killed, the English Guards mutilated, twenty French battalions,
besides the forty from Reille's corps, decimated, three thousand
men in that hovel of Hougomont alone cut down, slashed to pieces,
shot, burned, with their throats cut,--and all this so that a peasant
can say to-day to the traveller: Monsieur, give me three francs,
and if you like, I will explain to you the affair of Waterloo!
THE EIGHTEENTH OF JUNE, 1815
Let us turn back,--that is one of the story-teller's rights,--
and put ourselves once more in the year 1815, and even a little
earlier than the epoch when the action narrated in the first part
of this book took place.
If it had not rained in the night between the 17th and the 18th
of June, 1815, the fate of Europe would have been different.
A few drops of water, more or less, decided the downfall of Napoleon.
All that Providence required in order to make Waterloo the end
of Austerlitz was a little more rain, and a cloud traversing the sky
out of season sufficed to make a world crumble.
The battle of Waterloo could not be begun until half-past eleven
o'clock, and that gave Blucher time to come up. Why? Because the
ground was wet. The artillery had to wait until it became a little
firmer before they could manoeuvre.
Napoleon was an artillery officer, and felt the effects of this.
The foundation of this wonderful captain was the man who, in the report
to the Directory on Aboukir, said: Such a one of our balls killed
six men. All his plans of battle were arranged for projectiles.
The key to his victory was to make the artillery converge on one point.
He treated the strategy of the hostile general like a citadel,
and made a breach in it. He overwhelmed the weak point with grape-shot;
he joined and dissolved battles with cannon. There was something
of the sharpshooter in his genius. To beat in squares, to pulverize
regiments, to break lines, to crush and disperse masses,--for him
everything lay in this, to strike, strike, strike incessantly,--
and he intrusted this task to the cannon-ball. A redoubtable method,
and one which, united with genius, rendered this gloomy athlete
of the pugilism of war invincible for the space of fifteen years.
On the 18th of June, 1815, he relied all the more on his artillery,
because he had numbers on his side. Wellington had only one hundred
and fifty-nine mouths of fire; Napoleon had two hundred and forty.
Suppose the soil dry, and the artillery capable of moving,
the action would have begun at six o'clock in the morning.
The battle would have been won and ended at two o'clock, three
hours before the change of fortune in favor of the Prussians.
What amount of blame attaches to Napoleon for the loss of this battle?
Is the shipwreck due to the pilot?
Was it the evident physical decline of Napoleon that complicated
this epoch by an inward diminution of force? Had the twenty years
of war worn out the blade as it had worn the scabbard, the soul
as well as the body? Did the veteran make himself disastrously
felt in the leader? In a word, was this genius, as many historians
of note have thought, suffering from an eclipse? Did he go into
a frenzy in order to disguise his weakened powers from himself?
Did he begin to waver under the delusion of a breath of adventure?
Had he become--a grave matter in a general--unconscious of peril?
Is there an age, in this class of material great men, who may be
called the giants of action, when genius grows short-sighted? Old
age has no hold on the geniuses of the ideal; for the Dantes and
Michael Angelos to grow old is to grow in greatness; is it to grow
less for the Hannibals and the Bonapartes? Had Napoleon lost the
direct sense of victory? Had he reached the point where he could
no longer recognize the reef, could no longer divine the snare,
no longer discern the crumbling brink of abysses? Had he lost
his power of scenting out catastrophes? He who had in former days
known all the roads to triumph, and who, from the summit of his
chariot of lightning, pointed them out with a sovereign finger,
had he now reached that state of sinister amazement when he could
lead his tumultuous legions harnessed to it, to the precipice?
Was he seized at the age of forty-six with a supreme madness?
Was that titanic charioteer of destiny no longer anything more than
an immense dare-devil?
We do not think so.
His plan of battle was, by the confession of all, a masterpiece.
To go straight to the centre of the Allies' line, to make a breach
in the enemy, to cut them in two, to drive the British half back on Hal,
and the Prussian half on Tongres, to make two shattered fragments
of Wellington and Blucher, to carry Mont-Saint-Jean, to seize Brussels,
to hurl the German into the Rhine, and the Englishman into the sea.
All this was contained in that battle, according to Napoleon.
Afterwards people would see.
Of course, we do not here pretend to furnish a history of the battle
of Waterloo; one of the scenes of the foundation of the story which
we are relating is connected with this battle, but this history
is not our subject; this history, moreover, has been finished,
and finished in a masterly manner, from one point of view by Napoleon,
and from another point of view by a whole pleiad of historians.
 Walter Scott, Lamartine, Vaulabelle, Charras, Quinet, Thiers.
As for us, we leave the historians at loggerheads; we are but a
distant witness, a passer-by on the plain, a seeker bending over
that soil all made of human flesh, taking appearances for realities,
perchance; we have no right to oppose, in the name of science,
a collection of facts which contain illusions, no doubt; we possess
neither military practice nor strategic ability which authorize
a system; in our opinion, a chain of accidents dominated the two
leaders at Waterloo; and when it becomes a question of destiny,
that mysterious culprit, we judge like that ingenious judge,
Those persons who wish to gain a clear idea of the battle of Waterloo
have only to place, mentally, on the ground, a capital A. The left limb
of the A is the road to Nivelles, the right limb is the road to Genappe,
the tie of the A is the hollow road to Ohain from Braine-l'Alleud. The
top of the A is Mont-Saint-Jean, where Wellington is; the lower left
tip is Hougomont, where Reille is stationed with Jerome Bonaparte;
the right tip is the Belle-Alliance, where Napoleon was. At the
centre of this chord is the precise point where the final word of the
battle was pronounced. It was there that the lion has been placed,
the involuntary symbol of the supreme heroism of the Imperial Guard.
The triangle included in the top of the A, between the two limbs
and the tie, is the plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean. The dispute over
this plateau constituted the whole battle. The wings of the two
armies extended to the right and left of the two roads to Genappe
and Nivelles; d'Erlon facing Picton, Reille facing Hill.
Behind the tip of the A, behind the plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean,
is the forest of Soignes.
As for the plain itself, let the reader picture to himself a vast
undulating sweep of ground; each rise commands the next rise,
and all the undulations mount towards Mont-Saint-Jean, and there
end in the forest.
Two hostile troops on a field of battle are two wrestlers. It is
a question of seizing the opponent round the waist. The one seeks
to trip up the other. They clutch at everything: a bush is a point
of support; an angle of the wall offers them a rest to the shoulder;
for the lack of a hovel under whose cover they can draw up,
a regiment yields its ground; an unevenness in the ground, a chance
turn in the landscape, a cross-path encountered at the right moment,
a grove, a ravine, can stay the heel of that colossus which is
called an army, and prevent its retreat. He who quits the field
is beaten; hence the necessity devolving on the responsible leader,
of examining the most insignificant clump of trees, and of studying
deeply the slightest relief in the ground.
The two generals had attentively studied the plain of Mont-Saint-Jean,
now called the plain of Waterloo. In the preceding year, Wellington,
with the sagacity of foresight, had examined it as the possible seat
of a great battle. Upon this spot, and for this duel, on the 18th
of June, Wellington had the good post, Napoleon the bad post.
The English army was stationed above, the French army below.
It is almost superfluous here to sketch the appearance of Napoleon
on horseback, glass in hand, upon the heights of Rossomme,
at daybreak, on June 18, 1815. All the world has seen him before we
can show him. That calm profile under the little three-cornered
hat of the school of Brienne, that green uniform, the white revers
concealing the star of the Legion of Honor, his great coat hiding
his epaulets, the corner of red ribbon peeping from beneath his vest,
his leather trousers, the white horse with the saddle-cloth of purple
velvet bearing on the corners crowned N's and eagles, Hessian boots
over silk stockings, silver spurs, the sword of Marengo,--that whole
figure of the last of the Caesars is present to all imaginations,
saluted with acclamations by some, severely regarded by others.
That figure stood for a long time wholly in the light; this arose
from a certain legendary dimness evolved by the majority of heroes,
and which always veils the truth for a longer or shorter time;
but to-day history and daylight have arrived.
That light called history is pitiless; it possesses this peculiar and
divine quality, that, pure light as it is, and precisely because it is
wholly light, it often casts a shadow in places where people had hitherto
beheld rays; from the same man it constructs two different phantoms,
and the one attacks the other and executes justice on it, and the
shadows of the despot contend with the brilliancy of the leader.
Hence arises a truer measure in the definitive judgments of nations.
Babylon violated lessens Alexander, Rome enchained lessens Caesar,
Jerusalem murdered lessens Titus, tyranny follows the tyrant.
It is a misfortune for a man to leave behind him the night which
bears his form.
THE QUID OBSCURUM OF BATTLES
Every one is acquainted with the first phase of this battle;
a beginning which was troubled, uncertain, hesitating, menacing to
both armies, but still more so for the English than for the French.
It had rained all night, the earth had been cut up by the downpour,
the water had accumulated here and there in the hollows of the plain
as if in casks; at some points the gear of the artillery carriages
was buried up to the axles, the circingles of the horses were dripping
with liquid mud. If the wheat and rye trampled down by this cohort
of transports on the march had not filled in the ruts and strewn a
litter beneath the wheels, all movement, particularly in the valleys,
in the direction of Papelotte would have been impossible.
The affair began late. Napoleon, as we have already explained,
was in the habit of keeping all his artillery well in hand,
like a pistol, aiming it now at one point, now at another,
of the battle; and it had been his wish to wait until the horse
batteries could move and gallop freely. In order to do that it
was necessary that the sun should come out and dry the soil.
But the sun did not make its appearance. It was no longer
the rendezvous of Austerlitz. When the first cannon was fired,
the English general, Colville, looked at his watch, and noted
that it was thirty-five minutes past eleven.
The action was begun furiously, with more fury, perhaps, than the
Emperor would have wished, by the left wing of the French resting
on Hougomont. At the same time Napoleon attacked the centre by
hurling Quiot's brigade on La Haie-Sainte, and Ney pushed forward
the right wing of the French against the left wing of the English,
which rested on Papelotte.
The attack on Hougomont was something of a feint; the plan was
to draw Wellington thither, and to make him swerve to the left.
This plan would have succeeded if the four companies of the English
guards and the brave Belgians of Perponcher's division had not held the
position solidly, and Wellington, instead of massing his troops there,
could confine himself to despatching thither, as reinforcements,
only four more companies of guards and one battalion from Brunswick.
The attack of the right wing of the French on Papelotte was calculated,
in fact, to overthrow the English left, to cut off the road
to Brussels, to bar the passage against possible Prussians,
to force Mont-Saint-Jean, to turn Wellington back on Hougomont,
thence on Braine-l'Alleud, thence on Hal; nothing easier.
With the exception of a few incidents this attack succeeded
Papelotte was taken; La Haie-Sainte was carried.
A detail to be noted. There was in the English infantry,
particularly in Kempt's brigade, a great many raw recruits. These young
soldiers were valiant in the presence of our redoubtable infantry;
their inexperience extricated them intrepidly from the dilemma;
they performed particularly excellent service as skirmishers:
the soldier skirmisher, left somewhat to himself, becomes, so to speak,
his own general. These recruits displayed some of the French
ingenuity and fury. This novice of an infantry had dash.
This displeased Wellington.
After the taking of La Haie-Sainte the battle wavered.
There is in this day an obscure interval, from mid-day to four o'clock;
the middle portion of this battle is almost indistinct, and participates
in the sombreness of the hand-to-hand conflict. Twilight reigns
over it. We perceive vast fluctuations in that fog, a dizzy mirage,
paraphernalia of war almost unknown to-day, pendant colbacks,
floating sabre-taches, cross-belts, cartridge-boxes for grenades,
hussar dolmans, red boots with a thousand wrinkles, heavy shakos
garlanded with torsades, the almost black infantry of Brunswick mingled
with the scarlet infantry of England, the English soldiers with great,
white circular pads on the slopes of their shoulders for epaulets,
the Hanoverian light-horse with their oblong casques of leather,
with brass hands and red horse-tails, the Scotch with their bare
knees and plaids, the great white gaiters of our grenadiers;
pictures, not strategic lines--what Salvator Rosa requires,
not what is suited to the needs of Gribeauval.
A certain amount of tempest is always mingled with a battle.
Quid obscurum, quid divinum. Each historian traces, to some extent,
the particular feature which pleases him amid this pellmell.
Whatever may be the combinations of the generals, the shock of armed
masses has an incalculable ebb. During the action the plans of
the two leaders enter into each other and become mutually thrown
out of shape. Such a point of the field of battle devours more
combatants than such another, just as more or less spongy soils
soak up more or less quickly the water which is poured on them.
It becomes necessary to pour out more soldiers than one would like;
a series of expenditures which are the unforeseen. The line of battle
waves and undulates like a thread, the trails of blood gush illogically,
the fronts of the armies waver, the regiments form capes and gulfs
as they enter and withdraw; all these reefs are continually moving
in front of each other. Where the infantry stood the artillery arrives,
the cavalry rushes in where the artillery was, the battalions are
like smoke. There was something there; seek it. It has disappeared;
the open spots change place, the sombre folds advance and retreat,
a sort of wind from the sepulchre pushes forward, hurls back,
distends, and disperses these tragic multitudes. What is a fray?
an oscillation? The immobility of a mathematical plan expresses
a minute, not a day. In order to depict a battle, there is required
one of those powerful painters who have chaos in their brushes.
Rembrandt is better than Vandermeulen; Vandermeulen, exact at noon,
lies at three o'clock. Geometry is deceptive; the hurricane alone
is trustworthy. That is what confers on Folard the right to
contradict Polybius. Let us add, that there is a certain instant
when the battle degenerates into a combat, becomes specialized,
and disperses into innumerable detailed feats, which, to borrow
the expression of Napoleon himself, "belong rather to the biography
of the regiments than to the history of the army." The historian has,
in this case, the evident right to sum up the whole. He cannot
do more than seize the principal outlines of the struggle, and it
is not given to any one narrator, however conscientious he may be,
to fix, absolutely, the form of that horrible cloud which is called
This, which is true of all great armed encounters, is particularly
applicable to Waterloo.
Nevertheless, at a certain moment in the afternoon the battle came
to a point.
FOUR O'CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON
Towards four o'clock the condition of the English army was serious.
The Prince of Orange was in command of the centre, Hill of the
right wing, Picton of the left wing. The Prince of Orange,
desperate and intrepid, shouted to the Hollando-Belgians: "Nassau!
Brunswick! Never retreat!" Hill, having been weakened, had come up
to the support of Wellington; Picton was dead. At the very moment
when the English had captured from the French the flag of the 105th
of the line, the French had killed the English general, Picton, with a
bullet through the head. The battle had, for Wellington, two bases
of action, Hougomont and La Haie-Sainte; Hougomont still held out,
but was on fire; La Haie-Sainte was taken. Of the German battalion
which defended it, only forty-two men survived; all the officers,
except five, were either dead or captured. Three thousand combatants
had been massacred in that barn. A sergeant of the English Guards,
the foremost boxer in England, reputed invulnerable by his companions,
had been killed there by a little French drummer-boy. Baring had
been dislodged, Alten put to the sword. Many flags had been lost,
one from Alten's division, and one from the battalion of Lunenburg,
carried by a prince of the house of Deux-Ponts. The Scotch Grays no
longer existed; Ponsonby's great dragoons had been hacked to pieces.
That valiant cavalry had bent beneath the lancers of Bro and
beneath the cuirassiers of Travers; out of twelve hundred horses,
six hundred remained; out of three lieutenant-colonels, two lay
on the earth,--Hamilton wounded, Mater slain. Ponsonby had fallen,
riddled by seven lance-thrusts. Gordon was dead. Marsh was dead.
Two divisions, the fifth and the sixth, had been annihilated.
Hougomont injured, La Haie-Sainte taken, there now existed but
one rallying-point, the centre. That point still held firm.
Wellington reinforced it. He summoned thither Hill, who was
at Merle-Braine; he summoned Chasse, who was at Braine-l'Alleud.
The centre of the English army, rather concave, very dense,
and very compact, was strongly posted. It occupied the plateau
of Mont-Saint-Jean, having behind it the village, and in front of it
the slope, which was tolerably steep then. It rested on that stout
stone dwelling which at that time belonged to the domain of Nivelles,
and which marks the intersection of the roads--a pile of the
sixteenth century, and so robust that the cannon-balls rebounded from
it without injuring it. All about the plateau the English had cut
the hedges here and there, made embrasures in the hawthorn-trees, thrust
the throat of a cannon between two branches, embattled the shrubs.
There artillery was ambushed in the brushwood. This punic labor,
incontestably authorized by war, which permits traps, was so well done,
that Haxo, who had been despatched by the Emperor at nine o'clock
in the morning to reconnoitre the enemy's batteries, had discovered
nothing of it, and had returned and reported to Napoleon that there
were no obstacles except the two barricades which barred the road
to Nivelles and to Genappe. It was at the season when the grain
is tall; on the edge of the plateau a battalion of Kempt's brigade,
the 95th, armed with carabines, was concealed in the tall wheat.
Thus assured and buttressed, the centre of the Anglo-Dutch army was
well posted. The peril of this position lay in the forest of Soignes,
then adjoining the field of battle, and intersected by the ponds
of Groenendael and Boitsfort. An army could not retreat thither
without dissolving; the regiments would have broken up immediately there.
The artillery would have been lost among the morasses. The retreat,
according to many a man versed in the art,--though it is disputed
by others,--would have been a disorganized flight.
To this centre, Wellington added one of Chasse's brigades taken
from the right wing, and one of Wincke's brigades taken from the
left wing, plus Clinton's division. To his English, to the regiments
of Halkett, to the brigades of Mitchell, to the guards of Maitland,
he gave as reinforcements and aids, the infantry of Brunswick,
Nassau's contingent, Kielmansegg's Hanoverians, and Ompteda's
Germans. This placed twenty-six battalions under his hand.
The right wing, as Charras says, was thrown back on the centre.
An enormous battery was masked by sacks of earth at the spot
where there now stands what is called the "Museum of Waterloo."
Besides this, Wellington had, behind a rise in the ground,
Somerset's Dragoon Guards, fourteen hundred horse strong.
It was the remaining half of the justly celebrated English cavalry.
Ponsonby destroyed, Somerset remained.
The battery, which, if completed, would have been almost a redoubt,
was ranged behind a very low garden wall, backed up with a coating
of bags of sand and a large slope of earth. This work was not finished;
there had been no time to make a palisade for it.
Wellington, uneasy but impassive, was on horseback, and there
remained the whole day in the same attitude, a little in advance
of the old mill of Mont-Saint-Jean, which is still in existence,
beneath an elm, which an Englishman, an enthusiastic vandal,
purchased later on for two hundred francs, cut down, and carried off.
Wellington was coldly heroic. The bullets rained about him.
His aide-de-camp, Gordon, fell at his side. Lord Hill, pointing to a
shell which had burst, said to him: "My lord, what are your orders
in case you are killed?" "To do like me," replied Wellington.
To Clinton he said laconically, "To hold this spot to the last man."
The day was evidently turning out ill. Wellington shouted to his
old companions of Talavera, of Vittoria, of Salamanca: "Boys, can
retreat be thought of? Think of old England!"
Towards four o'clock, the English line drew back. Suddenly nothing
was visible on the crest of the plateau except the artillery
and the sharpshooters; the rest had disappeared: the regiments,
dislodged by the shells and the French bullets, retreated into the bottom,
now intersected by the back road of the farm of Mont-Saint-Jean;
a retrograde movement took place, the English front hid itself,
Wellington drew back. "The beginning of retreat!" cried Napoleon.
NAPOLEON IN A GOOD HUMOR
The Emperor, though ill and discommoded on horseback by a
local trouble, had never been in a better humor than on that day.
His impenetrability had been smiling ever since the morning. On the
18th of June, that profound soul masked by marble beamed blindly.
The man who had been gloomy at Austerlitz was gay at Waterloo.
The greatest favorites of destiny make mistakes. Our joys are
composed of shadow. The supreme smile is God's alone.
Ridet Caesar, Pompeius flebit, said the legionaries of the
Fulminatrix Legion. Pompey was not destined to weep on that occasion,
but it is certain that Caesar laughed. While exploring on horseback
at one o'clock on the preceding night, in storm and rain, in company
with Bertrand, the communes in the neighborhood of Rossomme,
satisfied at the sight of the long line of the English camp-fires
illuminating the whole horizon from Frischemont to Braine-l'Alleud,
it had seemed to him that fate, to whom he had assigned a day on the
field of Waterloo, was exact to the appointment; he stopped his horse,
and remained for some time motionless, gazing at the lightning
and listening to the thunder; and this fatalist was heard to cast
into the darkness this mysterious saying, "We are in accord."
Napoleon was mistaken. They were no longer in accord.
He took not a moment for sleep; every instant of that night was marked
by a joy for him. He traversed the line of the principal outposts,
halting here and there to talk to the sentinels. At half-past two,
near the wood of Hougomont, he heard the tread of a column on
the march; he thought at the moment that it was a retreat on the part
of Wellington. He said: "It is the rear-guard of the English
getting under way for the purpose of decamping. I will take
prisoners the six thousand English who have just arrived at Ostend."
He conversed expansively; he regained the animation which he had
shown at his landing on the first of March, when he pointed out
to the Grand-Marshal the enthusiastic peasant of the Gulf Juan,
and cried, "Well, Bertrand, here is a reinforcement already!"
On the night of the 17th to the 18th of June he rallied Wellington.
"That little Englishman needs a lesson," said Napoleon. The rain
redoubled in violence; the thunder rolled while the Emperor
At half-past three o'clock in the morning, he lost one illusion;
officers who had been despatched to reconnoitre announced to him
that the enemy was not making any movement. Nothing was stirring;
not a bivouac-fire had been extinguished; the English army was asleep.
The silence on earth was profound; the only noise was in the heavens.
At four o'clock, a peasant was brought in to him by the scouts;
this peasant had served as guide to a brigade of English cavalry,
probably Vivian's brigade, which was on its way to take up a position
in the village of Ohain, at the extreme left. At five o'clock,
two Belgian deserters reported to him that they had just quitted
their regiment, and that the English army was ready for battle.
"So much the better!" exclaimed Napoleon. "I prefer to overthrow them
rather than to drive them back."
In the morning he dismounted in the mud on the slope which forms
an angle with the Plancenoit road, had a kitchen table and a peasant's
chair brought to him from the farm of Rossomme, seated himself,
with a truss of straw for a carpet, and spread out on the table
the chart of the battle-field, saying to Soult as he did so,
"A pretty checker-board."
In consequence of the rains during the night, the transports
of provisions, embedded in the soft roads, had not been able
to arrive by morning; the soldiers had had no sleep; they were
wet and fasting. This did not prevent Napoleon from exclaiming
cheerfully to Ney, "We have ninety chances out of a hundred."
At eight o'clock the Emperor's breakfast was brought to him.
He invited many generals to it. During breakfast, it was said
that Wellington had been to a ball two nights before, in Brussels,
at the Duchess of Richmond's; and Soult, a rough man of war,
with a face of an archbishop, said, "The ball takes place to-day."
The Emperor jested with Ney, who said, "Wellington will not be so
simple as to wait for Your Majesty." That was his way, however.
"He was fond of jesting," says Fleury de Chaboulon. "A merry
humor was at the foundation of his character," says Gourgaud.
"He abounded in pleasantries, which were more peculiar than witty,"
says Benjamin Constant. These gayeties of a giant are worthy
of insistence. It was he who called his grenadiers "his grumblers";
he pinched their ears; he pulled their mustaches. "The Emperor