Les Misérables by Victor Hugo 3


But at that moment Fantine was joyous.

She had passed a very bad night; her cough was frightful; her fever
had doubled in intensity; she had had dreams: in the morning, when the
doctor paid his visit, she was delirious; he assumed an alarmed look,
and ordered that he should be informed as soon as M. Madeleine arrived.

All the morning she was melancholy, said but little, and laid plaits
in her sheets, murmuring the while, in a low voice, calculations
which seemed to be calculations of distances. Her eyes were hollow and
staring. They seemed almost extinguished at intervals, then lighted up
again and shone like stars. It seems as though, at the approach of a
certain dark hour, the light of heaven fills those who are quitting the
light of earth.

Each time that Sister Simplice asked her how she felt, she replied
invariably, "Well. I should like to see M. Madeleine."

Some months before this, at the moment when Fantine had just lost her
last modesty, her last shame, and her last joy, she was the shadow of
herself; now she was the spectre of herself. Physical suffering had
completed the work of moral suffering. This creature of five and twenty
had a wrinkled brow, flabby cheeks, pinched nostrils, teeth from which
the gums had receded, a leaden complexion, a bony neck, prominent
shoulder-blades, frail limbs, a clayey skin, and her golden hair was
growing out sprinkled with gray. Alas! how illness improvises old-age!

At mid-day the physician returned, gave some directions, inquired
whether the mayor had made his appearance at the infirmary, and shook
his head.

M. Madeleine usually came to see the invalid at three o'clock. As
exactness is kindness, he was exact.

About half-past two, Fantine began to be restless. In the course of
twenty minutes, she asked the nun more than ten times, "What time is it,

Three o'clock struck. At the third stroke, Fantine sat up in bed; she
who could, in general, hardly turn over, joined her yellow, fleshless
hands in a sort of convulsive clasp, and the nun heard her utter one
of those profound sighs which seem to throw off dejection. Then Fantine
turned and looked at the door.

No one entered; the door did not open.

She remained thus for a quarter of an hour, her eyes riveted on the
door, motionless and apparently holding her breath. The sister dared not
speak to her. The clock struck a quarter past three. Fantine fell back
on her pillow.

She said nothing, but began to plait the sheets once more.

Half an hour passed, then an hour, no one came; every time the clock
struck, Fantine started up and looked towards the door, then fell back

Her thought was clearly perceptible, but she uttered no name, she made
no complaint, she blamed no one. But she coughed in a melancholy way.
One would have said that something dark was descending upon her. She was
livid and her lips were blue. She smiled now and then.

Five o'clock struck. Then the sister heard her say, very low and gently,
"He is wrong not to come to-day, since I am going away to-morrow."

Sister Simplice herself was surprised at M. Madeleine's delay.

In the meantime, Fantine was staring at the tester of her bed. She
seemed to be endeavoring to recall something. All at once she began to
sing in a voice as feeble as a breath. The nun listened. This is what
Fantine was singing:--

          "Lovely things we will buy
           As we stroll the faubourgs through.
           Roses are pink, corn-flowers are blue,
           I love my love, corn-flowers are blue.

"Yestere'en the Virgin Mary came near my stove, in a broidered mantle
clad, and said to me, 'Here, hide 'neath my veil the child whom you
one day begged from me. Haste to the city, buy linen, buy a needle, buy

          "Lovely things we will buy
           As we stroll the faubourgs through.

"Dear Holy Virgin, beside my stove I have set a cradle with ribbons
decked. God may give me his loveliest star; I prefer the child thou hast
granted me. 'Madame, what shall I do with this linen fine?'--'Make of it
clothes for thy new-born babe.'

          "Roses are pink and corn-flowers are blue,
           I love my love, and corn-flowers are blue.

"'Wash this linen.'--'Where?'--'In the stream. Make of it, soiling
not, spoiling not, a petticoat fair with its bodice fine, which I will
embroider and fill with flowers.'--'Madame, the child is no longer here;
what is to be done?'--'Then make of it a winding-sheet in which to bury

          "Lovely things we will buy
           As we stroll the faubourgs through,
           Roses are pink, corn-flowers are blue,
           I love my love, corn-flowers are blue."

This song was an old cradle romance with which she had, in former days,
lulled her little Cosette to sleep, and which had never recurred to her
mind in all the five years during which she had been parted from her
child. She sang it in so sad a voice, and to so sweet an air, that it
was enough to make any one, even a nun, weep. The sister, accustomed as
she was to austerities, felt a tear spring to her eyes.

The clock struck six. Fantine did not seem to hear it. She no longer
seemed to pay attention to anything about her.

Sister Simplice sent a serving-maid to inquire of the portress of the
factory, whether the mayor had returned, and if he would not come to the
infirmary soon. The girl returned in a few minutes.

Fantine was still motionless and seemed absorbed in her own thoughts.

The servant informed Sister Simplice in a very low tone, that the
mayor had set out that morning before six o'clock, in a little tilbury
harnessed to a white horse, cold as the weather was; that he had gone
alone, without even a driver; that no one knew what road he had taken;
that people said he had been seen to turn into the road to Arras; that
others asserted that they had met him on the road to Paris. That when he
went away he had been very gentle, as usual, and that he had merely told
the portress not to expect him that night.

While the two women were whispering together, with their backs turned
to Fantine's bed, the sister interrogating, the servant conjecturing,
Fantine, with the feverish vivacity of certain organic maladies, which
unite the free movements of health with the frightful emaciation of
death, had raised herself to her knees in bed, with her shrivelled hands
resting on the bolster, and her head thrust through the opening of the
curtains, and was listening. All at once she cried:--

"You are speaking of M. Madeleine! Why are you talking so low? What is
he doing? Why does he not come?"

Her voice was so abrupt and hoarse that the two women thought they heard
the voice of a man; they wheeled round in affright.

"Answer me!" cried Fantine.

The servant stammered:--

"The portress told me that he could not come to-day."

"Be calm, my child," said the sister; "lie down again."

Fantine, without changing her attitude, continued in a loud voice, and
with an accent that was both imperious and heart-rending:--

"He cannot come? Why not? You know the reason. You are whispering it to
each other there. I want to know it."

The servant-maid hastened to say in the nun's ear, "Say that he is busy
with the city council."

Sister Simplice blushed faintly, for it was a lie that the maid had
proposed to her.

On the other hand, it seemed to her that the mere communication of the
truth to the invalid would, without doubt, deal her a terrible blow, and
that this was a serious matter in Fantine's present state. Her flush
did not last long; the sister raised her calm, sad eyes to Fantine, and
said, "Monsieur le Maire has gone away."

Fantine raised herself and crouched on her heels in the bed: her eyes
sparkled; indescribable joy beamed from that melancholy face.

"Gone!" she cried; "he has gone to get Cosette."

Then she raised her arms to heaven, and her white face became ineffable;
her lips moved; she was praying in a low voice.

When her prayer was finished, "Sister," she said, "I am willing to lie
down again; I will do anything you wish; I was naughty just now; I beg
your pardon for having spoken so loud; it is very wrong to talk loudly;
I know that well, my good sister, but, you see, I am very happy: the
good God is good; M. Madeleine is good; just think! he has gone to
Montfermeil to get my little Cosette."

She lay down again, with the nun's assistance, helped the nun to arrange
her pillow, and kissed the little silver cross which she wore on her
neck, and which Sister Simplice had given her.

"My child," said the sister, "try to rest now, and do not talk any

Fantine took the sister's hand in her moist hands, and the latter was
pained to feel that perspiration.

"He set out this morning for Paris; in fact, he need not even go through
Paris; Montfermeil is a little to the left as you come thence. Do you
remember how he said to me yesterday, when I spoke to him of Cosette,
Soon, soon? He wants to give me a surprise, you know! he made me sign a
letter so that she could be taken from the Thenardiers; they cannot
say anything, can they? they will give back Cosette, for they have been
paid; the authorities will not allow them to keep the child since they
have received their pay. Do not make signs to me that I must not talk,
sister! I am extremely happy; I am doing well; I am not ill at all any
more; I am going to see Cosette again; I am even quite hungry; it is
nearly five years since I saw her last; you cannot imagine how much
attached one gets to children, and then, she will be so pretty; you will
see! If you only knew what pretty little rosy fingers she had! In the
first place, she will have very beautiful hands; she had ridiculous
hands when she was only a year old; like this! she must be a big girl
now; she is seven years old; she is quite a young lady; I call her
Cosette, but her name is really Euphrasie. Stop! this morning I was
looking at the dust on the chimney-piece, and I had a sort of idea come
across me, like that, that I should see Cosette again soon. Mon Dieu!
how wrong it is not to see one's children for years! One ought to
reflect that life is not eternal. Oh, how good M. le Maire is to go! it
is very cold! it is true; he had on his cloak, at least? he will be
here to-morrow, will he not? to-morrow will be a festival day; to-morrow
morning, sister, you must remind me to put on my little cap that has
lace on it. What a place that Montfermeil is! I took that journey on
foot once; it was very long for me, but the diligences go very quickly!
he will be here to-morrow with Cosette: how far is it from here to

The sister, who had no idea of distances, replied, "Oh, I think that he
will be here to-morrow."

"To-morrow! to-morrow!" said Fantine, "I shall see Cosette to-morrow!
you see, good sister of the good God, that I am no longer ill; I am mad;
I could dance if any one wished it."

A person who had seen her a quarter of an hour previously would not have
understood the change; she was all rosy now; she spoke in a lively and
natural voice; her whole face was one smile; now and then she talked,
she laughed softly; the joy of a mother is almost infantile.

"Well," resumed the nun, "now that you are happy, mind me, and do not
talk any more."

Fantine laid her head on her pillow and said in a low voice: "Yes,
lie down again; be good, for you are going to have your child; Sister
Simplice is right; every one here is right."

And then, without stirring, without even moving her head, she began to
stare all about her with wide-open eyes and a joyous air, and she said
nothing more.

The sister drew the curtains together again, hoping that she would
fall into a doze. Between seven and eight o'clock the doctor came; not
hearing any sound, he thought Fantine was asleep, entered softly, and
approached the bed on tiptoe; he opened the curtains a little, and, by
the light of the taper, he saw Fantine's big eyes gazing at him.

She said to him, "She will be allowed to sleep beside me in a little
bed, will she not, sir?"

The doctor thought that she was delirious. She added:--

"See! there is just room."

The doctor took Sister Simplice aside, and she explained matters to him;
that M. Madeleine was absent for a day or two, and that in their doubt
they had not thought it well to undeceive the invalid, who believed that
the mayor had gone to Montfermeil; that it was possible, after all, that
her guess was correct: the doctor approved.

He returned to Fantine's bed, and she went on:--

"You see, when she wakes up in the morning, I shall be able to say good
morning to her, poor kitten, and when I cannot sleep at night, I can
hear her asleep; her little gentle breathing will do me good."

"Give me your hand," said the doctor.

She stretched out her arm, and exclaimed with a laugh:--

"Ah, hold! in truth, you did not know it; I am cured; Cosette will
arrive to-morrow."

The doctor was surprised; she was better; the pressure on her chest
had decreased; her pulse had regained its strength; a sort of life had
suddenly supervened and reanimated this poor, worn-out creature.

"Doctor," she went on, "did the sister tell you that M. le Maire has
gone to get that mite of a child?"

The doctor recommended silence, and that all painful emotions should be
avoided; he prescribed an infusion of pure chinchona, and, in case the
fever should increase again during the night, a calming potion. As he
took his departure, he said to the sister:--

"She is doing better; if good luck willed that the mayor should
actually arrive to-morrow with the child, who knows? there are crises
so astounding; great joy has been known to arrest maladies; I know well
that this is an organic disease, and in an advanced state, but all those
things are such mysteries: we may be able to save her."


It was nearly eight o'clock in the evening when the cart, which we
left on the road, entered the porte-cochere of the Hotel de la Poste in
Arras; the man whom we have been following up to this moment alighted
from it, responded with an abstracted air to the attentions of the
people of the inn, sent back the extra horse, and with his own hands
led the little white horse to the stable; then he opened the door of a
billiard-room which was situated on the ground floor, sat down there,
and leaned his elbows on a table; he had taken fourteen hours for
the journey which he had counted on making in six; he did himself the
justice to acknowledge that it was not his fault, but at bottom, he was
not sorry.

The landlady of the hotel entered.

"Does Monsieur wish a bed? Does Monsieur require supper?"

He made a sign of the head in the negative.

"The stableman says that Monsieur's horse is extremely fatigued."

Here he broke his silence.

"Will not the horse be in a condition to set out again to-morrow

"Oh, Monsieur! he must rest for two days at least."

He inquired:--

"Is not the posting-station located here?"

"Yes, sir."

The hostess conducted him to the office; he showed his passport, and
inquired whether there was any way of returning that same night to M.
sur M. by the mail-wagon; the seat beside the post-boy chanced to be
vacant; he engaged it and paid for it. "Monsieur," said the clerk,
"do not fail to be here ready to start at precisely one o'clock in the

This done, he left the hotel and began to wander about the town.

He was not acquainted with Arras; the streets were dark, and he
walked on at random; but he seemed bent upon not asking the way of the
passers-by. He crossed the little river Crinchon, and found himself in a
labyrinth of narrow alleys where he lost his way. A citizen was passing
along with a lantern. After some hesitation, he decided to apply to this
man, not without having first glanced behind and in front of him, as
though he feared lest some one should hear the question which he was
about to put.

"Monsieur," said he, "where is the court-house, if you please."

"You do not belong in town, sir?" replied the bourgeois, who was an
oldish man; "well, follow me. I happen to be going in the direction of
the court-house, that is to say, in the direction of the hotel of the
prefecture; for the court-house is undergoing repairs just at this
moment, and the courts are holding their sittings provisionally in the

"Is it there that the Assizes are held?" he asked.

"Certainly, sir; you see, the prefecture of to-day was the bishop's
palace before the Revolution. M. de Conzie, who was bishop in '82, built
a grand hall there. It is in this grand hall that the court is held."

On the way, the bourgeois said to him:--

"If Monsieur desires to witness a case, it is rather late. The sittings
generally close at six o'clock."

When they arrived on the grand square, however, the man pointed out to
him four long windows all lighted up, in the front of a vast and gloomy

"Upon my word, sir, you are in luck; you have arrived in season. Do you
see those four windows? That is the Court of Assizes. There is light
there, so they are not through. The matter must have been greatly
protracted, and they are holding an evening session. Do you take an
interest in this affair? Is it a criminal case? Are you a witness?"

He replied:--

"I have not come on any business; I only wish to speak to one of the

"That is different," said the bourgeois. "Stop, sir; here is the door
where the sentry stands. You have only to ascend the grand staircase."

He conformed to the bourgeois's directions, and a few minutes later he
was in a hall containing many people, and where groups, intermingled
with lawyers in their gowns, were whispering together here and there.

It is always a heart-breaking thing to see these congregations of men
robed in black, murmuring together in low voices, on the threshold of
the halls of justice. It is rare that charity and pity are the outcome
of these words. Condemnations pronounced in advance are more likely
to be the result. All these groups seem to the passing and thoughtful
observer so many sombre hives where buzzing spirits construct in concert
all sorts of dark edifices.

This spacious hall, illuminated by a single lamp, was the old hall of
the episcopal palace, and served as the large hall of the palace
of justice. A double-leaved door, which was closed at that moment,
separated it from the large apartment where the court was sitting.

The obscurity was such that he did not fear to accost the first lawyer
whom he met.

"What stage have they reached, sir?" he asked.

"It is finished," said the lawyer.


This word was repeated in such accents that the lawyer turned round.

"Excuse me sir; perhaps you are a relative?"

"No; I know no one here. Has judgment been pronounced?"

"Of course. Nothing else was possible."

"To penal servitude?"

"For life."

He continued, in a voice so weak that it was barely audible:--

"Then his identity was established?"

"What identity?" replied the lawyer. "There was no identity to be
established. The matter was very simple. The woman had murdered her
child; the infanticide was proved; the jury threw out the question of
premeditation, and she was condemned for life."

"So it was a woman?" said he.

"Why, certainly. The Limosin woman. Of what are you speaking?"

"Nothing. But since it is all over, how comes it that the hall is still

"For another case, which was begun about two hours ago."

"What other case?"

"Oh! this one is a clear case also. It is about a sort of blackguard;
a man arrested for a second offence; a convict who has been guilty of
theft. I don't know his name exactly. There's a bandit's phiz for you!
I'd send him to the galleys on the strength of his face alone."

"Is there any way of getting into the court-room, sir?" said he.

"I really think that there is not. There is a great crowd. However,
the hearing has been suspended. Some people have gone out, and when the
hearing is resumed, you might make an effort."

"Where is the entrance?"

"Through yonder large door."

The lawyer left him. In the course of a few moments he had experienced,
almost simultaneously, almost intermingled with each other, all possible
emotions. The words of this indifferent spectator had, in turn, pierced
his heart like needles of ice and like blades of fire. When he saw that
nothing was settled, he breathed freely once more; but he could not have
told whether what he felt was pain or pleasure.

He drew near to many groups and listened to what they were saying. The
docket of the session was very heavy; the president had appointed
for the same day two short and simple cases. They had begun with the
infanticide, and now they had reached the convict, the old offender, the
"return horse." This man had stolen apples, but that did not appear to
be entirely proved; what had been proved was, that he had already been
in the galleys at Toulon. It was that which lent a bad aspect to
his case. However, the man's examination and the depositions of the
witnesses had been completed, but the lawyer's plea, and the speech
of the public prosecutor were still to come; it could not be
finished before midnight. The man would probably be condemned; the
attorney-general was very clever, and never missed his culprits; he was
a brilliant fellow who wrote verses.

An usher stood at the door communicating with the hall of the Assizes.
He inquired of this usher:--

"Will the door be opened soon, sir?"

"It will not be opened at all," replied the usher.

"What! It will not be opened when the hearing is resumed? Is not the
hearing suspended?"

"The hearing has just been begun again," replied the usher, "but the
door will not be opened again."


"Because the hall is full."

"What! There is not room for one more?"

"Not another one. The door is closed. No one can enter now."

The usher added after a pause: "There are, to tell the truth, two
or three extra places behind Monsieur le President, but Monsieur le
President only admits public functionaries to them."

So saying, the usher turned his back.

He retired with bowed head, traversed the antechamber, and slowly
descended the stairs, as though hesitating at every step. It is probable
that he was holding counsel with himself. The violent conflict which had
been going on within him since the preceding evening was not yet ended;
and every moment he encountered some new phase of it. On reaching the
landing-place, he leaned his back against the balusters and folded his
arms. All at once he opened his coat, drew out his pocket-book, took
from it a pencil, tore out a leaf, and upon that leaf he wrote rapidly,
by the light of the street lantern, this line: M. Madeleine, Mayor of M.
sur M.; then he ascended the stairs once more with great strides, made
his way through the crowd, walked straight up to the usher, handed him
the paper, and said in an authoritative manner:--

"Take this to Monsieur le President."

The usher took the paper, cast a glance upon it, and obeyed.


Although he did not suspect the fact, the mayor of M. sur M. enjoyed
a sort of celebrity. For the space of seven years his reputation for
virtue had filled the whole of Bas Boulonnais; it had eventually passed
the confines of a small district and had been spread abroad through
two or three neighboring departments. Besides the service which he had
rendered to the chief town by resuscitating the black jet industry,
there was not one out of the hundred and forty communes of the
arrondissement of M. sur M. which was not indebted to him for some
benefit. He had even at need contrived to aid and multiply the
industries of other arrondissements. It was thus that he had, when
occasion offered, supported with his credit and his funds the linen
factory at Boulogne, the flax-spinning industry at Frevent, and the
hydraulic manufacture of cloth at Boubers-sur-Canche. Everywhere the
name of M. Madeleine was pronounced with veneration. Arras and Douai
envied the happy little town of M. sur M. its mayor.

The Councillor of the Royal Court of Douai, who was presiding over this
session of the Assizes at Arras, was acquainted, in common with the rest
of the world, with this name which was so profoundly and universally
honored. When the usher, discreetly opening the door which connected
the council-chamber with the court-room, bent over the back of the
President's arm-chair and handed him the paper on which was inscribed
the line which we have just perused, adding: "The gentleman desires to
be present at the trial," the President, with a quick and deferential
movement, seized a pen and wrote a few words at the bottom of the paper
and returned it to the usher, saying, "Admit him."

The unhappy man whose history we are relating had remained near the door
of the hall, in the same place and the same attitude in which the usher
had left him. In the midst of his revery he heard some one saying to
him, "Will Monsieur do me the honor to follow me?" It was the same usher
who had turned his back upon him but a moment previously, and who was
now bowing to the earth before him. At the same time, the usher handed
him the paper. He unfolded it, and as he chanced to be near the light,
he could read it.

"The President of the Court of Assizes presents his respects to M.

He crushed the paper in his hand as though those words contained for him
a strange and bitter aftertaste.

He followed the usher.

A few minutes later he found himself alone in a sort of wainscoted
cabinet of severe aspect, lighted by two wax candles, placed upon a
table with a green cloth. The last words of the usher who had just
quitted him still rang in his ears: "Monsieur, you are now in the
council-chamber; you have only to turn the copper handle of yonder door,
and you will find yourself in the court-room, behind the President's
chair." These words were mingled in his thoughts with a vague memory of
narrow corridors and dark staircases which he had recently traversed.

The usher had left him alone. The supreme moment had arrived. He sought
to collect his faculties, but could not. It is chiefly at the moment
when there is the greatest need for attaching them to the painful
realities of life, that the threads of thought snap within the brain. He
was in the very place where the judges deliberated and condemned. With
stupid tranquillity he surveyed this peaceful and terrible apartment,
where so many lives had been broken, which was soon to ring with his
name, and which his fate was at that moment traversing. He stared at
the wall, then he looked at himself, wondering that it should be that
chamber and that it should be he.

He had eaten nothing for four and twenty hours; he was worn out by the
jolts of the cart, but he was not conscious of it. It seemed to him that
he felt nothing.

He approached a black frame which was suspended on the wall, and which
contained, under glass, an ancient autograph letter of Jean Nicolas
Pache, mayor of Paris and minister, and dated, through an error, no
doubt, the 9th of June, of the year II., and in which Pache forwarded to
the commune the list of ministers and deputies held in arrest by them.
Any spectator who had chanced to see him at that moment, and who had
watched him, would have imagined, doubtless, that this letter struck him
as very curious, for he did not take his eyes from it, and he read it
two or three times. He read it without paying any attention to it, and
unconsciously. He was thinking of Fantine and Cosette.

As he dreamed, he turned round, and his eyes fell upon the brass knob
of the door which separated him from the Court of Assizes. He had almost
forgotten that door. His glance, calm at first, paused there, remained
fixed on that brass handle, then grew terrified, and little by little
became impregnated with fear. Beads of perspiration burst forth among
his hair and trickled down upon his temples.

At a certain moment he made that indescribable gesture of a sort of
authority mingled with rebellion, which is intended to convey, and which
does so well convey, "Pardieu! who compels me to this?" Then he wheeled
briskly round, caught sight of the door through which he had entered in
front of him, went to it, opened it, and passed out. He was no longer
in that chamber; he was outside in a corridor, a long, narrow corridor,
broken by steps and gratings, making all sorts of angles, lighted
here and there by lanterns similar to the night taper of invalids, the
corridor through which he had approached. He breathed, he listened; not
a sound in front, not a sound behind him, and he fled as though pursued.

When he had turned many angles in this corridor, he still listened. The
same silence reigned, and there was the same darkness around him. He was
out of breath; he staggered; he leaned against the wall. The stone was
cold; the perspiration lay ice-cold on his brow; he straightened himself
up with a shiver.

Then, there alone in the darkness, trembling with cold and with
something else, too, perchance, he meditated.

He had meditated all night long; he had meditated all the day: he heard
within him but one voice, which said, "Alas!"

A quarter of an hour passed thus. At length he bowed his head, sighed
with agony, dropped his arms, and retraced his steps. He walked slowly,
and as though crushed. It seemed as though some one had overtaken him in
his flight and was leading him back.

He re-entered the council-chamber. The first thing he caught sight of
was the knob of the door. This knob, which was round and of polished
brass, shone like a terrible star for him. He gazed at it as a lamb
might gaze into the eye of a tiger.

He could not take his eyes from it. From time to time he advanced a step
and approached the door.

Had he listened, he would have heard the sound of the adjoining hall
like a sort of confused murmur; but he did not listen, and he did not

Suddenly, without himself knowing how it happened, he found himself near
the door; he grasped the knob convulsively; the door opened.

He was in the court-room.


He advanced a pace, closed the door mechanically behind him, and
remained standing, contemplating what he saw.

It was a vast and badly lighted apartment, now full of uproar, now full
of silence, where all the apparatus of a criminal case, with its petty
and mournful gravity in the midst of the throng, was in process of

At the one end of the hall, the one where he was, were judges, with
abstracted air, in threadbare robes, who were gnawing their nails or
closing their eyelids; at the other end, a ragged crowd; lawyers in
all sorts of attitudes; soldiers with hard but honest faces; ancient,
spotted woodwork, a dirty ceiling, tables covered with serge that was
yellow rather than green; doors blackened by handmarks; tap-room
lamps which emitted more smoke than light, suspended from nails in
the wainscot; on the tables candles in brass candlesticks; darkness,
ugliness, sadness; and from all this there was disengaged an austere and
august impression, for one there felt that grand human thing which is
called the law, and that grand divine thing which is called justice.

No one in all that throng paid any attention to him; all glances were
directed towards a single point, a wooden bench placed against a small
door, in the stretch of wall on the President's left; on this bench,
illuminated by several candles, sat a man between two gendarmes.

This man was the man.

He did not seek him; he saw him; his eyes went thither naturally, as
though they had known beforehand where that figure was.

He thought he was looking at himself, grown old; not absolutely the same
in face, of course, but exactly similar in attitude and aspect, with his
bristling hair, with that wild and uneasy eye, with that blouse, just as
it was on the day when he entered D----, full of hatred, concealing
his soul in that hideous mass of frightful thoughts which he had spent
nineteen years in collecting on the floor of the prison.

He said to himself with a shudder, "Good God! shall I become like that

This creature seemed to be at least sixty; there was something
indescribably coarse, stupid, and frightened about him.

At the sound made by the opening door, people had drawn aside to make
way for him; the President had turned his head, and, understanding that
the personage who had just entered was the mayor of M. sur M., he had
bowed to him; the attorney-general, who had seen M. Madeleine at M.
sur M., whither the duties of his office had called him more than once,
recognized him and saluted him also: he had hardly perceived it; he was
the victim of a sort of hallucination; he was watching.

Judges, clerks, gendarmes, a throng of cruelly curious heads, all these
he had already beheld once, in days gone by, twenty-seven years before;
he had encountered those fatal things once more; there they were; they
moved; they existed; it was no longer an effort of his memory, a mirage
of his thought; they were real gendarmes and real judges, a real
crowd, and real men of flesh and blood: it was all over; he beheld the
monstrous aspects of his past reappear and live once more around him,
with all that there is formidable in reality.

All this was yawning before him.

He was horrified by it; he shut his eyes, and exclaimed in the deepest
recesses of his soul, "Never!"

And by a tragic play of destiny which made all his ideas tremble, and
rendered him nearly mad, it was another self of his that was there! all
called that man who was being tried Jean Valjean.

Under his very eyes, unheard-of vision, he had a sort of representation
of the most horrible moment of his life, enacted by his spectre.

Everything was there; the apparatus was the same, the hour of the night,
the faces of the judges, of soldiers, and of spectators; all were the
same, only above the President's head there hung a crucifix, something
which the courts had lacked at the time of his condemnation: God had
been absent when he had been judged.

There was a chair behind him; he dropped into it, terrified at the
thought that he might be seen; when he was seated, he took advantage of
a pile of cardboard boxes, which stood on the judge's desk, to conceal
his face from the whole room; he could now see without being seen; he
had fully regained consciousness of the reality of things; gradually he
recovered; he attained that phase of composure where it is possible to

M. Bamatabois was one of the jurors.

He looked for Javert, but did not see him; the seat of the witnesses was
hidden from him by the clerk's table, and then, as we have just said,
the hall was sparely lighted.

At the moment of this entrance, the defendant's lawyer had just finished
his plea.

The attention of all was excited to the highest pitch; the affair had
lasted for three hours: for three hours that crowd had been watching a
strange man, a miserable specimen of humanity, either profoundly stupid
or profoundly subtle, gradually bending beneath the weight of a terrible
likeness. This man, as the reader already knows, was a vagabond who had
been found in a field carrying a branch laden with ripe apples, broken
in the orchard of a neighbor, called the Pierron orchard. Who was this
man? an examination had been made; witnesses had been heard, and they
were unanimous; light had abounded throughout the entire debate; the
accusation said: "We have in our grasp not only a marauder, a stealer
of fruit; we have here, in our hands, a bandit, an old offender who
has broken his ban, an ex-convict, a miscreant of the most dangerous
description, a malefactor named Jean Valjean, whom justice has long been
in search of, and who, eight years ago, on emerging from the galleys
at Toulon, committed a highway robbery, accompanied by violence, on the
person of a child, a Savoyard named Little Gervais; a crime provided
for by article 383 of the Penal Code, the right to try him for which
we reserve hereafter, when his identity shall have been judicially
established. He has just committed a fresh theft; it is a case of a
second offence; condemn him for the fresh deed; later on he will be
judged for the old crime." In the face of this accusation, in the face
of the unanimity of the witnesses, the accused appeared to be astonished
more than anything else; he made signs and gestures which were meant to
convey No, or else he stared at the ceiling: he spoke with difficulty,
replied with embarrassment, but his whole person, from head to foot, was
a denial; he was an idiot in the presence of all these minds ranged in
order of battle around him, and like a stranger in the midst of this
society which was seizing fast upon him; nevertheless, it was a question
of the most menacing future for him; the likeness increased every
moment, and the entire crowd surveyed, with more anxiety than he did
himself, that sentence freighted with calamity, which descended
ever closer over his head; there was even a glimpse of a possibility
afforded; besides the galleys, a possible death penalty, in case his
identity were established, and the affair of Little Gervais were to end
thereafter in condemnation. Who was this man? what was the nature of his
apathy? was it imbecility or craft? Did he understand too well, or did
he not understand at all? these were questions which divided the crowd,
and seemed to divide the jury; there was something both terrible and
puzzling in this case: the drama was not only melancholy; it was also

The counsel for the defence had spoken tolerably well, in that
provincial tongue which has long constituted the eloquence of the bar,
and which was formerly employed by all advocates, at Paris as well as at
Romorantin or at Montbrison, and which to-day, having become classic, is
no longer spoken except by the official orators of magistracy, to whom
it is suited on account of its grave sonorousness and its majestic
stride; a tongue in which a husband is called a consort, and a woman
a spouse; Paris, the centre of art and civilization; the king,
the monarch; Monseigneur the Bishop, a sainted pontiff; the
district-attorney, the eloquent interpreter of public prosecution; the
arguments, the accents which we have just listened to; the age of Louis
XIV., the grand age; a theatre, the temple of Melpomene; the reigning
family, the august blood of our kings; a concert, a musical solemnity;
the General Commandant of the province, the illustrious warrior, who,
etc.; the pupils in the seminary, these tender levities; errors imputed
to newspapers, the imposture which distills its venom through the
columns of those organs; etc. The lawyer had, accordingly, begun with an
explanation as to the theft of the apples,--an awkward matter couched
in fine style; but Benigne Bossuet himself was obliged to allude to a
chicken in the midst of a funeral oration, and he extricated himself
from the situation in stately fashion. The lawyer established the fact
that the theft of the apples had not been circumstantially proved.
His client, whom he, in his character of counsel, persisted in calling
Champmathieu, had not been seen scaling that wall nor breaking that
branch by any one. He had been taken with that branch (which the lawyer
preferred to call a bough) in his possession; but he said that he had
found it broken off and lying on the ground, and had picked it up.
Where was there any proof to the contrary? No doubt that branch had been
broken off and concealed after the scaling of the wall, then thrown away
by the alarmed marauder; there was no doubt that there had been a
thief in the case. But what proof was there that that thief had been
Champmathieu? One thing only. His character as an ex-convict. The
lawyer did not deny that that character appeared to be, unhappily,
well attested; the accused had resided at Faverolles; the accused had
exercised the calling of a tree-pruner there; the name of Champmathieu
might well have had its origin in Jean Mathieu; all that was true,--in
short, four witnesses recognize Champmathieu, positively and without
hesitation, as that convict, Jean Valjean; to these signs, to this
testimony, the counsel could oppose nothing but the denial of his
client, the denial of an interested party; but supposing that he was
the convict Jean Valjean, did that prove that he was the thief of the
apples? that was a presumption at the most, not a proof. The prisoner,
it was true, and his counsel, "in good faith," was obliged to admit it,
had adopted "a bad system of defence." He obstinately denied everything,
the theft and his character of convict. An admission upon this last
point would certainly have been better, and would have won for him the
indulgence of his judges; the counsel had advised him to do this; but
the accused had obstinately refused, thinking, no doubt, that he would
save everything by admitting nothing. It was an error; but ought not the
paucity of this intelligence to be taken into consideration? This man
was visibly stupid. Long-continued wretchedness in the galleys, long
misery outside the galleys, had brutalized him, etc. He defended himself
badly; was that a reason for condemning him? As for the affair with
Little Gervais, the counsel need not discuss it; it did not enter into
the case. The lawyer wound up by beseeching the jury and the court, if
the identity of Jean Valjean appeared to them to be evident, to apply
to him the police penalties which are provided for a criminal who has
broken his ban, and not the frightful chastisement which descends upon
the convict guilty of a second offence.

The district-attorney answered the counsel for the defence. He was
violent and florid, as district-attorneys usually are.

He congratulated the counsel for the defence on his "loyalty," and
skilfully took advantage of this loyalty. He reached the accused through
all the concessions made by his lawyer. The advocate had seemed to admit
that the prisoner was Jean Valjean. He took note of this. So this man
was Jean Valjean. This point had been conceded to the accusation and
could no longer be disputed. Here, by means of a clever
autonomasia which went back to the sources and causes of crime, the
district-attorney thundered against the immorality of the romantic
school, then dawning under the name of the Satanic school, which
had been bestowed upon it by the critics of the Quotidienne and the
Oriflamme; he attributed, not without some probability, to the influence
of this perverse literature the crime of Champmathieu, or rather,
to speak more correctly, of Jean Valjean. Having exhausted these
considerations, he passed on to Jean Valjean himself. Who was this Jean
Valjean? Description of Jean Valjean: a monster spewed forth, etc.
The model for this sort of description is contained in the tale of
Theramene, which is not useful to tragedy, but which every day renders
great services to judicial eloquence. The audience and the jury
"shuddered." The description finished, the district-attorney resumed
with an oratorical turn calculated to raise the enthusiasm of the
journal of the prefecture to the highest pitch on the following day: And
it is such a man, etc., etc., etc., vagabond, beggar, without means of
existence, etc., etc., inured by his past life to culpable deeds, and
but little reformed by his sojourn in the galleys, as was proved by the
crime committed against Little Gervais, etc., etc.; it is such a man,
caught upon the highway in the very act of theft, a few paces from a
wall that had been scaled, still holding in his hand the object
stolen, who denies the crime, the theft, the climbing the wall; denies
everything; denies even his own identity! In addition to a hundred
other proofs, to which we will not recur, four witnesses recognize
him--Javert, the upright inspector of police; Javert, and three of
his former companions in infamy, the convicts Brevet, Chenildieu, and
Cochepaille. What does he offer in opposition to this overwhelming
unanimity? His denial. What obduracy! You will do justice, gentlemen
of the jury, etc., etc. While the district-attorney was speaking, the
accused listened to him open-mouthed, with a sort of amazement in which
some admiration was assuredly blended. He was evidently surprised that
a man could talk like that. From time to time, at those "energetic"
moments of the prosecutor's speech, when eloquence which cannot contain
itself overflows in a flood of withering epithets and envelops the
accused like a storm, he moved his head slowly from right to left and
from left to right in the sort of mute and melancholy protest with which
he had contented himself since the beginning of the argument. Two or
three times the spectators who were nearest to him heard him say in
a low voice, "That is what comes of not having asked M. Baloup." The
district-attorney directed the attention of the jury to this stupid
attitude, evidently deliberate, which denoted not imbecility, but craft,
skill, a habit of deceiving justice, and which set forth in all its
nakedness the "profound perversity" of this man. He ended by making
his reserves on the affair of Little Gervais and demanding a severe

At that time, as the reader will remember, it was penal servitude for

The counsel for the defence rose, began by complimenting Monsieur
l'Avocat-General on his "admirable speech," then replied as best he
could; but he weakened; the ground was evidently slipping away from
under his feet.


The moment for closing the debate had arrived. The President had the
accused stand up, and addressed to him the customary question, "Have you
anything to add to your defence?"

The man did not appear to understand, as he stood there, twisting in his
hands a terrible cap which he had.

The President repeated the question.

This time the man heard it. He seemed to understand. He made a motion
like a man who is just waking up, cast his eyes about him, stared at
the audience, the gendarmes, his counsel, the jury, the court, laid
his monstrous fist on the rim of woodwork in front of his bench,
took another look, and all at once, fixing his glance upon the
district-attorney, he began to speak. It was like an eruption.
It seemed, from the manner in which the words escaped from his
mouth,--incoherent, impetuous, pell-mell, tumbling over each other,--as
though they were all pressing forward to issue forth at once. He said:--

"This is what I have to say. That I have been a wheelwright in Paris,
and that it was with Monsieur Baloup. It is a hard trade. In the
wheelwright's trade one works always in the open air, in courtyards,
under sheds when the masters are good, never in closed workshops,
because space is required, you see. In winter one gets so cold that one
beats one's arms together to warm one's self; but the masters don't like
it; they say it wastes time. Handling iron when there is ice between
the paving-stones is hard work. That wears a man out quickly. One is old
while he is still quite young in that trade. At forty a man is done for.
I was fifty-three. I was in a bad state. And then, workmen are so mean!
When a man is no longer young, they call him nothing but an old bird,
old beast! I was not earning more than thirty sous a day. They paid me
as little as possible. The masters took advantage of my age--and then I
had my daughter, who was a laundress at the river. She earned a little
also. It sufficed for us two. She had trouble, also; all day long up to
her waist in a tub, in rain, in snow. When the wind cuts your face, when
it freezes, it is all the same; you must still wash. There are people
who have not much linen, and wait until late; if you do not wash, you
lose your custom. The planks are badly joined, and water drops on you
from everywhere; you have your petticoats all damp above and below. That
penetrates. She has also worked at the laundry of the Enfants-Rouges,
where the water comes through faucets. You are not in the tub there; you
wash at the faucet in front of you, and rinse in a basin behind you. As
it is enclosed, you are not so cold; but there is that hot steam, which
is terrible, and which ruins your eyes. She came home at seven o'clock
in the evening, and went to bed at once, she was so tired. Her husband
beat her. She is dead. We have not been very happy. She was a good girl,
who did not go to the ball, and who was very peaceable. I remember
one Shrove-Tuesday when she went to bed at eight o'clock. There, I am
telling the truth; you have only to ask. Ah, yes! how stupid I am! Paris
is a gulf. Who knows Father Champmathieu there? But M. Baloup does, I
tell you. Go see at M. Baloup's; and after all, I don't know what is
wanted of me."

The man ceased speaking, and remained standing. He had said these things
in a loud, rapid, hoarse voice, with a sort of irritated and savage
ingenuousness. Once he paused to salute some one in the crowd. The sort
of affirmations which he seemed to fling out before him at random came
like hiccoughs, and to each he added the gesture of a wood-cutter who is
splitting wood. When he had finished, the audience burst into a laugh.
He stared at the public, and, perceiving that they were laughing, and
not understanding why, he began to laugh himself.

It was inauspicious.

The President, an attentive and benevolent man, raised his voice.

He reminded "the gentlemen of the jury" that "the sieur Baloup, formerly
a master-wheelwright, with whom the accused stated that he had served,
had been summoned in vain. He had become bankrupt, and was not to be
found." Then turning to the accused, he enjoined him to listen to what
he was about to say, and added: "You are in a position where reflection
is necessary. The gravest presumptions rest upon you, and may induce
vital results. Prisoner, in your own interests, I summon you for the
last time to explain yourself clearly on two points. In the first place,
did you or did you not climb the wall of the Pierron orchard, break
the branch, and steal the apples; that is to say, commit the crime
of breaking in and theft? In the second place, are you the discharged
convict, Jean Valjean--yes or no?"

The prisoner shook his head with a capable air, like a man who has
thoroughly understood, and who knows what answer he is going to make. He
opened his mouth, turned towards the President, and said:--

"In the first place--"

Then he stared at his cap, stared at the ceiling, and held his peace.

"Prisoner," said the district-attorney, in a severe voice; "pay
attention. You are not answering anything that has been asked of you.
Your embarrassment condemns you. It is evident that your name is not
Champmathieu; that you are the convict, Jean Valjean, concealed first
under the name of Jean Mathieu, which was the name of his mother; that
you went to Auvergne; that you were born at Faverolles, where you were
a pruner of trees. It is evident that you have been guilty of entering,
and of the theft of ripe apples from the Pierron orchard. The gentlemen
of the jury will form their own opinion."

[Illustration: Father Champmathieu on Trial]

The prisoner had finally resumed his seat; he arose abruptly when the
district-attorney had finished, and exclaimed:--

"You are very wicked; that you are! This what I wanted to say; I could
not find words for it at first. I have stolen nothing. I am a man who
does not have something to eat every day. I was coming from Ailly; I
was walking through the country after a shower, which had made the whole
country yellow: even the ponds were overflowed, and nothing sprang from
the sand any more but the little blades of grass at the wayside. I
found a broken branch with apples on the ground; I picked up the branch
without knowing that it would get me into trouble. I have been in
prison, and they have been dragging me about for the last three months;
more than that I cannot say; people talk against me, they tell me,
'Answer!' The gendarme, who is a good fellow, nudges my elbow, and says
to me in a low voice, 'Come, answer!' I don't know how to explain; I
have no education; I am a poor man; that is where they wrong me, because
they do not see this. I have not stolen; I picked up from the ground
things that were lying there. You say, Jean Valjean, Jean Mathieu! I
don't know those persons; they are villagers. I worked for M. Baloup,
Boulevard de l'Hopital; my name is Champmathieu. You are very clever to
tell me where I was born; I don't know myself: it's not everybody
who has a house in which to come into the world; that would be too
convenient. I think that my father and mother were people who strolled
along the highways; I know nothing different. When I was a child,
they called me young fellow; now they call me old fellow; those are my
baptismal names; take that as you like. I have been in Auvergne; I have
been at Faverolles. Pardi. Well! can't a man have been in Auvergne, or
at Faverolles, without having been in the galleys? I tell you that I
have not stolen, and that I am Father Champmathieu; I have been with M.
Baloup; I have had a settled residence. You worry me with your nonsense,
there! Why is everybody pursuing me so furiously?"

The district-attorney had remained standing; he addressed the

"Monsieur le President, in view of the confused but exceedingly clever
denials of the prisoner, who would like to pass himself off as an idiot,
but who will not succeed in so doing,--we shall attend to that,--we
demand that it shall please you and that it shall please the court to
summon once more into this place the convicts Brevet, Cochepaille, and
Chenildieu, and Police-Inspector Javert, and question them for the last
time as to the identity of the prisoner with the convict Jean Valjean."

"I would remind the district-attorney," said the President, "that
Police-Inspector Javert, recalled by his duties to the capital of a
neighboring arrondissement, left the court-room and the town as soon as
he had made his deposition; we have accorded him permission, with the
consent of the district-attorney and of the counsel for the prisoner."

"That is true, Mr. President," responded the district-attorney. "In the
absence of sieur Javert, I think it my duty to remind the gentlemen of
the jury of what he said here a few hours ago. Javert is an estimable
man, who does honor by his rigorous and strict probity to inferior but
important functions. These are the terms of his deposition: 'I do not
even stand in need of circumstantial proofs and moral presumptions to
give the lie to the prisoner's denial. I recognize him perfectly. The
name of this man is not Champmathieu; he is an ex-convict named Jean
Valjean, and is very vicious and much to be feared. It is only with
extreme regret that he was released at the expiration of his term. He
underwent nineteen years of penal servitude for theft. He made five or
six attempts to escape. Besides the theft from Little Gervais, and from
the Pierron orchard, I suspect him of a theft committed in the house of
His Grace the late Bishop of D---- I often saw him at the time when I
was adjutant of the galley-guard at the prison in Toulon. I repeat that
I recognize him perfectly.'"

This extremely precise statement appeared to produce a vivid impression
on the public and on the jury. The district-attorney concluded by
insisting, that in default of Javert, the three witnesses Brevet,
Chenildieu, and Cochepaille should be heard once more and solemnly

The President transmitted the order to an usher, and, a moment later,
the door of the witnesses' room opened. The usher, accompanied by a
gendarme ready to lend him armed assistance, introduced the convict
Brevet. The audience was in suspense; and all breasts heaved as though
they had contained but one soul.

The ex-convict Brevet wore the black and gray waistcoat of the central
prisons. Brevet was a person sixty years of age, who had a sort of
business man's face, and the air of a rascal. The two sometimes go
together. In prison, whither fresh misdeeds had led him, he had become
something in the nature of a turnkey. He was a man of whom his superiors
said, "He tries to make himself of use." The chaplains bore good
testimony as to his religious habits. It must not be forgotten that this
passed under the Restoration.

"Brevet," said the President, "you have undergone an ignominious
sentence, and you cannot take an oath."

Brevet dropped his eyes.

"Nevertheless," continued the President, "even in the man whom the law
has degraded, there may remain, when the divine mercy permits it, a
sentiment of honor and of equity. It is to this sentiment that I
appeal at this decisive hour. If it still exists in you,--and I hope
it does,--reflect before replying to me: consider on the one hand, this
man, whom a word from you may ruin; on the other hand, justice, which a
word from you may enlighten. The instant is solemn; there is still time
to retract if you think you have been mistaken. Rise, prisoner. Brevet,
take a good look at the accused, recall your souvenirs, and tell us on
your soul and conscience, if you persist in recognizing this man as your
former companion in the galleys, Jean Valjean?"

Brevet looked at the prisoner, then turned towards the court.

"Yes, Mr. President, I was the first to recognize him, and I stick to
it; that man is Jean Valjean, who entered at Toulon in 1796, and left in
1815. I left a year later. He has the air of a brute now; but it must be
because age has brutalized him; he was sly at the galleys: I recognize
him positively."

"Take your seat," said the President. "Prisoner, remain standing."

Chenildieu was brought in, a prisoner for life, as was indicated by his
red cassock and his green cap. He was serving out his sentence at the
galleys of Toulon, whence he had been brought for this case. He was a
small man of about fifty, brisk, wrinkled, frail, yellow, brazen-faced,
feverish, who had a sort of sickly feebleness about all his limbs and
his whole person, and an immense force in his glance. His companions in
the galleys had nicknamed him I-deny-God (Je-nie Dieu, Chenildieu).

The President addressed him in nearly the same words which he had
used to Brevet. At the moment when he reminded him of his infamy which
deprived him of the right to take an oath, Chenildieu raised his
head and looked the crowd in the face. The President invited him to
reflection, and asked him as he had asked Brevet, if he persisted in
recognition of the prisoner.

Chenildieu burst out laughing.

"Pardieu, as if I didn't recognize him! We were attached to the same
chain for five years. So you are sulking, old fellow?"

"Go take your seat," said the President.

The usher brought in Cochepaille. He was another convict for life, who
had come from the galleys, and was dressed in red, like Chenildieu, was
a peasant from Lourdes, and a half-bear of the Pyrenees. He had guarded
the flocks among the mountains, and from a shepherd he had slipped into
a brigand. Cochepaille was no less savage and seemed even more stupid
than the prisoner. He was one of those wretched men whom nature has
sketched out for wild beasts, and on whom society puts the finishing
touches as convicts in the galleys.

The President tried to touch him with some grave and pathetic words,
and asked him, as he had asked the other two, if he persisted, without
hesitation or trouble, in recognizing the man who was standing before

"He is Jean Valjean," said Cochepaille. "He was even called
Jean-the-Screw, because he was so strong."

Each of these affirmations from these three men, evidently sincere and
in good faith, had raised in the audience a murmur of bad augury for the
prisoner,--a murmur which increased and lasted longer each time that a
fresh declaration was added to the proceeding.

The prisoner had listened to them, with that astounded face which was,
according to the accusation, his principal means of defence; at the
first, the gendarmes, his neighbors, had heard him mutter between his
teeth: "Ah, well, he's a nice one!" after the second, he said, a little
louder, with an air that was almost that of satisfaction, "Good!" at the
third, he cried, "Famous!"

The President addressed him:--

"Have you heard, prisoner? What have you to say?"

He replied:--

"I say, 'Famous!'"

An uproar broke out among the audience, and was communicated to the
jury; it was evident that the man was lost.

"Ushers," said the President, "enforce silence! I am going to sum up the

At that moment there was a movement just beside the President; a voice
was heard crying:--

"Brevet! Chenildieu! Cochepaille! look here!"

All who heard that voice were chilled, so lamentable and terrible was
it; all eyes were turned to the point whence it had proceeded. A man,
placed among the privileged spectators who were seated behind the
court, had just risen, had pushed open the half-door which separated the
tribunal from the audience, and was standing in the middle of the hall;
the President, the district-attorney, M. Bamatabois, twenty persons,
recognized him, and exclaimed in concert:--

"M. Madeleine!"


It was he, in fact. The clerk's lamp illumined his countenance. He held
his hat in his hand; there was no disorder in his clothing; his coat
was carefully buttoned; he was very pale, and he trembled slightly;
his hair, which had still been gray on his arrival in Arras, was now
entirely white: it had turned white during the hour he had sat there.

All heads were raised: the sensation was indescribable; there was
a momentary hesitation in the audience, the voice had been so
heart-rending; the man who stood there appeared so calm that they did
not understand at first. They asked themselves whether he had indeed
uttered that cry; they could not believe that that tranquil man had been
the one to give that terrible outcry.

This indecision only lasted a few seconds. Even before the President
and the district-attorney could utter a word, before the ushers and the
gendarmes could make a gesture, the man whom all still called, at that
moment, M. Madeleine, had advanced towards the witnesses Cochepaille,
Brevet, and Chenildieu.

"Do you not recognize me?" said he.

All three remained speechless, and indicated by a sign of the head that
they did not know him. Cochepaille, who was intimidated, made a military
salute. M. Madeleine turned towards the jury and the court, and said in
a gentle voice:--

"Gentlemen of the jury, order the prisoner to be released! Mr.
President, have me arrested. He is not the man whom you are in search
of; it is I: I am Jean Valjean."

Not a mouth breathed; the first commotion of astonishment had been
followed by a silence like that of the grave; those within the hall
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

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.



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.

He inquired:--

"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 a lie."

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

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:--

"And Cosette?"


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. She continued:--

"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 to

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 her child.'"

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

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

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

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


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."

Javert replied:--

"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 in

"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

"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."


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 had done all this without being conscious of it.

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

The paper was not folded. She cast a glance upon it.

"You can read it," said he.

She read:--

"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 poor."

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,
unhappy woman?"

"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.

Javert entered.

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

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 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.


[Illustration: Frontispiece Volume Two  2frontispiece]

[Illustration: Titlepage Volume Two  2titlepage]




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 woman

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

"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 a lion.

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

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

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

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

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 of nettles.

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.[6] 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.

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!


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

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.[7]

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, the populace.


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

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.


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

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 pell-mell. 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 a

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


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

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.


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 was speaking.

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

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 did nothing but play pranks on us,"
is the remark of one of them. During the mysterious trip from the island
of Elba to France, on the 27th of February, on the open sea, the French
brig of war, Le Zephyr, having encountered the brig L'Inconstant, on
which Napoleon was concealed, and having asked the news of Napoleon
from L'Inconstant, the Emperor, who still wore in his hat the white and
amaranthine cockade sown with bees, which he had adopted at the isle of
Elba, laughingly seized the speaking-trumpet, and answered for himself,
"The Emperor is well." A man who laughs like that is on familiar terms
with events. Napoleon indulged in many fits of this laughter during the
breakfast at Waterloo. After breakfast he meditated for a quarter of an
hour; then two generals seated themselves on the truss of straw, pen in
hand and their paper on their knees, and the Emperor dictated to them
the order of battle.

At nine o'clock, at the instant when the French army, ranged in echelons
and set in motion in five columns, had deployed--the divisions in two
lines, the artillery between the brigades, the music at their head; as
they beat the march, with rolls on the drums and the blasts of trumpets,
mighty, vast, joyous, a sea of casques, of sabres, and of bayonets on
the horizon, the Emperor was touched, and twice exclaimed, "Magnificent!

Between nine o'clock and half-past ten the whole army, incredible as it
may appear, had taken up its position and ranged itself in six lines,
forming, to repeat the Emperor's expression, "the figure of six V's."
A few moments after the formation of the battle-array, in the midst of
that profound silence, like that which heralds the beginning of a storm,
which precedes engagements, the Emperor tapped Haxo on the shoulder, as
he beheld the three batteries of twelve-pounders, detached by his orders
from the corps of Erlon, Reille, and Lobau, and destined to begin the
action by taking Mont-Saint-Jean, which was situated at the intersection
of the Nivelles and the Genappe roads, and said to him, "There are four
and twenty handsome maids, General."

Sure of the issue, he encouraged with a smile, as they passed before
him, the company of sappers of the first corps, which he had appointed
to barricade Mont-Saint-Jean as soon as the village should be carried.
All this serenity had been traversed by but a single word of haughty
pity; perceiving on his left, at a spot where there now stands a large
tomb, those admirable Scotch Grays, with their superb horses, massing
themselves, he said, "It is a pity."

Then he mounted his horse, advanced beyond Rossomme, and selected for
his post of observation a contracted elevation of turf to the right of
the road from Genappe to Brussels, which was his second station during
the battle. The third station, the one adopted at seven o'clock in the
evening, between La Belle-Alliance and La Haie-Sainte, is formidable;
it is a rather elevated knoll, which still exists, and behind which the
guard was massed on a slope of the plain. Around this knoll the balls
rebounded from the pavements of the road, up to Napoleon himself. As at
Brienne, he had over his head the shriek of the bullets and of the
heavy artillery. Mouldy cannon-balls, old sword-blades, and shapeless
projectiles, eaten up with rust, were picked up at the spot where his
horse' feet stood. Scabra rubigine. A few years ago, a shell of sixty
pounds, still charged, and with its fuse broken off level with the bomb,
was unearthed. It was at this last post that the Emperor said to his
guide, Lacoste, a hostile and terrified peasant, who was attached to the
saddle of a hussar, and who turned round at every discharge of canister
and tried to hide behind Napoleon: "Fool, it is shameful! You'll get
yourself killed with a ball in the back." He who writes these lines has
himself found, in the friable soil of this knoll, on turning over
the sand, the remains of the neck of a bomb, disintegrated, by the
oxidization of six and forty years, and old fragments of iron which
parted like elder-twigs between the fingers.

Every one is aware that the variously inclined undulations of the
plains, where the engagement between Napoleon and Wellington took place,
are no longer what they were on June 18, 1815. By taking from this
mournful field the wherewithal to make a monument to it, its real relief
has been taken away, and history, disconcerted, no longer finds her
bearings there. It has been disfigured for the sake of glorifying
it. Wellington, when he beheld Waterloo once more, two years later,
exclaimed, "They have altered my field of battle!" Where the great
pyramid of earth, surmounted by the lion, rises to-day, there was a
hillock which descended in an easy slope towards the Nivelles road, but
which was almost an escarpment on the side of the highway to Genappe.
The elevation of this escarpment can still be measured by the height of
the two knolls of the two great sepulchres which enclose the road from
Genappe to Brussels: one, the English tomb, is on the left; the other,
the German tomb, is on the right. There is no French tomb. The whole
of that plain is a sepulchre for France. Thanks to the thousands upon
thousands of cartloads of earth employed in the hillock one hundred and
fifty feet in height and half a mile in circumference, the plateau
of Mont-Saint-Jean is now accessible by an easy slope. On the day of
battle, particularly on the side of La Haie-Sainte, it was abrupt and
difficult of approach. The slope there is so steep that the English
cannon could not see the farm, situated in the bottom of the valley,
which was the centre of the combat. On the 18th of June, 1815, the rains
had still farther increased this acclivity, the mud complicated the
problem of the ascent, and the men not only slipped back, but stuck fast
in the mire. Along the crest of the plateau ran a sort of trench whose
presence it was impossible for the distant observer to divine.

What was this trench? Let us explain. Braine-l'Alleud is a Belgian
village; Ohain is another. These villages, both of them concealed in
curves of the landscape, are connected by a road about a league and a
half in length, which traverses the plain along its undulating level,
and often enters and buries itself in the hills like a furrow, which
makes a ravine of this road in some places. In 1815, as at the present
day, this road cut the crest of the plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean between
the two highways from Genappe and Nivelles; only, it is now on a level
with the plain; it was then a hollow way. Its two slopes have been
appropriated for the monumental hillock. This road was, and still is,
a trench throughout the greater portion of its course; a hollow trench,
sometimes a dozen feet in depth, and whose banks, being too steep,
crumbled away here and there, particularly in winter, under driving
rains. Accidents happened here. The road was so narrow at the
Braine-l'Alleud entrance that a passer-by was crushed by a cart, as is
proved by a stone cross which stands near the cemetery, and which gives
the name of the dead, Monsieur Bernard Debrye, Merchant of Brussels,
and the date of the accident, February, 1637.[8] It was so deep on
the table-land of Mont-Saint-Jean that a peasant, Mathieu Nicaise,
was crushed there, in 1783, by a slide from the slope, as is stated on
another stone cross, the top of which has disappeared in the process of
clearing the ground, but whose overturned pedestal is still visible on
the grassy slope to the left of the highway between La Haie-Sainte and
the farm of Mont-Saint-Jean.

On the day of battle, this hollow road whose existence was in no way
indicated, bordering the crest of Mont-Saint-Jean, a trench at the
summit of the escarpment, a rut concealed in the soil, was invisible;
that is to say, terrible.


So, on the morning of Waterloo, Napoleon was content.

He was right; the plan of battle conceived by him was, as we have seen,
really admirable.

The battle once begun, its very various changes,--the resistance of
Hougomont; the tenacity of La Haie-Sainte; the killing of Bauduin; the
disabling of Foy; the unexpected wall against which Soye's brigade was
shattered; Guilleminot's fatal heedlessness when he had neither petard
nor powder sacks; the miring of the batteries; the fifteen unescorted
pieces overwhelmed in a hollow way by Uxbridge; the small effect of the
bombs falling in the English lines, and there embedding themselves in
the rain-soaked soil, and only succeeding in producing volcanoes of mud,
so that the canister was turned into a splash; the uselessness of Pire's
demonstration on Braine-l'Alleud; all that cavalry, fifteen squadrons,
almost exterminated; the right wing of the English badly alarmed, the
left wing badly cut into; Ney's strange mistake in massing, instead of
echelonning the four divisions of the first corps; men delivered over to
grape-shot, arranged in ranks twenty-seven deep and with a frontage
of two hundred; the frightful holes made in these masses by the
cannon-balls; attacking columns disorganized; the side-battery suddenly
unmasked on their flank; Bourgeois, Donzelot, and Durutte compromised;
Quiot repulsed; Lieutenant Vieux, that Hercules graduated at the
Polytechnic School, wounded at the moment when he was beating in with an
axe the door of La Haie-Sainte under the downright fire of the English
barricade which barred the angle of the road from Genappe to Brussels;
Marcognet's division caught between the infantry and the cavalry, shot
down at the very muzzle of the guns amid the grain by Best and Pack, put
to the sword by Ponsonby; his battery of seven pieces spiked; the Prince
of Saxe-Weimar holding and guarding, in spite of the Comte d'Erlon, both
Frischemont and Smohain; the flag of the 105th taken, the flag of the
45th captured; that black Prussian hussar stopped by runners of the
flying column of three hundred light cavalry on the scout between Wavre
and Plancenoit; the alarming things that had been said by prisoners;
Grouchy's delay; fifteen hundred men killed in the orchard of Hougomont
in less than an hour; eighteen hundred men overthrown in a still shorter
time about La Haie-Sainte,--all these stormy incidents passing like the
clouds of battle before Napoleon, had hardly troubled his gaze and
had not overshadowed that face of imperial certainty. Napoleon was
accustomed to gaze steadily at war; he never added up the heart-rending
details, cipher by cipher; ciphers mattered little to him, provided that
they furnished the total, victory; he was not alarmed if the beginnings
did go astray, since he thought himself the master and the possessor
at the end; he knew how to wait, supposing himself to be out of the
question, and he treated destiny as his equal: he seemed to say to fate,
Thou wilt not dare.

Composed half of light and half of shadow, Napoleon thought himself
protected in good and tolerated in evil. He had, or thought that he had,
a connivance, one might almost say a complicity, of events in his favor,
which was equivalent to the invulnerability of antiquity.

Nevertheless, when one has Beresina, Leipzig, and Fontainebleau behind
one, it seems as though one might distrust Waterloo. A mysterious frown
becomes perceptible in the depths of the heavens.

At the moment when Wellington retreated, Napoleon shuddered. He suddenly
beheld the table-land of Mont-Saint-Jean cleared, and the van of the
English army disappear. It was rallying, but hiding itself. The Emperor
half rose in his stirrups. The lightning of victory flashed from his

Wellington, driven into a corner at the forest of Soignes and
destroyed--that was the definitive conquest of England by France; it was
Crecy, Poitiers, Malplaquet, and Ramillies avenged. The man of Marengo
was wiping out Agincourt.

So the Emperor, meditating on this terrible turn of fortune, swept his
glass for the last time over all the points of the field of battle. His
guard, standing behind him with grounded arms, watched him from below
with a sort of religion. He pondered; he examined the slopes, noted the
declivities, scrutinized the clumps of trees, the square of rye, the
path; he seemed to be counting each bush. He gazed with some intentness
at the English barricades of the two highways,--two large abatis of
trees, that on the road to Genappe above La Haie-Sainte, armed with two
cannon, the only ones out of all the English artillery which commanded
the extremity of the field of battle, and that on the road to Nivelles
where gleamed the Dutch bayonets of Chasse's brigade. Near this
barricade he observed the old chapel of Saint Nicholas, painted white,
which stands at the angle of the cross-road near Braine-l'Alleud; he
bent down and spoke in a low voice to the guide Lacoste. The guide made
a negative sign with his head, which was probably perfidious.

The Emperor straightened himself up and fell to thinking.

Wellington had drawn back.

All that remained to do was to complete this retreat by crushing him.

Napoleon turning round abruptly, despatched an express at full speed to
Paris to announce that the battle was won.

Napoleon was one of those geniuses from whom thunder darts.

He had just found his clap of thunder.

He gave orders to Milhaud's cuirassiers to carry the table-land of


There were three thousand five hundred of them. They formed a front a
quarter of a league in extent. They were giant men, on colossal horses.
There were six and twenty squadrons of them; and they had behind them to
support them Lefebvre-Desnouettes's division,--the one hundred and six
picked gendarmes, the light cavalry of the Guard, eleven hundred and
ninety-seven men, and the lancers of the guard of eight hundred and
eighty lances. They wore casques without horse-tails, and cuirasses
of beaten iron, with horse-pistols in their holsters, and long
sabre-swords. That morning the whole army had admired them, when, at
nine o'clock, with braying of trumpets and all the music playing "Let us
watch o'er the Safety of the Empire," they had come in a solid column,
with one of their batteries on their flank, another in their centre, and
deployed in two ranks between the roads to Genappe and Frischemont,
and taken up their position for battle in that powerful second line,
so cleverly arranged by Napoleon, which, having on its extreme left
Kellermann's cuirassiers and on its extreme right Milhaud's cuirassiers,
had, so to speak, two wings of iron.

Aide-de-camp Bernard carried them the Emperor's orders. Ney drew his
sword and placed himself at their head. The enormous squadrons were set
in motion.

Then a formidable spectacle was seen.

All their cavalry, with upraised swords, standards and trumpets flung to
the breeze, formed in columns by divisions, descended, by a simultaneous
movement and like one man, with the precision of a brazen battering-ram
which is effecting a breach, the hill of La Belle Alliance, plunged into
the terrible depths in which so many men had already fallen, disappeared
there in the smoke, then emerging from that shadow, reappeared on the
other side of the valley, still compact and in close ranks, mounting at
a full trot, through a storm of grape-shot which burst upon them,
the terrible muddy slope of the table-land of Mont-Saint-Jean. They
ascended, grave, threatening, imperturbable; in the intervals between
the musketry and the artillery, their colossal trampling was audible.
Being two divisions, there were two columns of them; Wathier's division
held the right, Delort's division was on the left. It seemed as though
two immense adders of steel were to be seen crawling towards the crest
of the table-land. It traversed the battle like a prodigy.

Nothing like it had been seen since the taking of the great redoubt of
the Muskowa by the heavy cavalry; Murat was lacking here, but Ney was
again present. It seemed as though that mass had become a monster and
had but one soul. Each column undulated and swelled like the ring of a
polyp. They could be seen through a vast cloud of smoke which was rent
here and there. A confusion of helmets, of cries, of sabres, a stormy
heaving of the cruppers of horses amid the cannons and the flourish of
trumpets, a terrible and disciplined tumult; over all, the cuirasses
like the scales on the hydra.

These narrations seemed to belong to another age. Something parallel to
this vision appeared, no doubt, in the ancient Orphic epics, which told
of the centaurs, the old hippanthropes, those Titans with human
heads and equestrian chests who scaled Olympus at a gallop, horrible,
invulnerable, sublime--gods and beasts.

Odd numerical coincidence,--twenty-six battalions rode to meet
twenty-six battalions. Behind the crest of the plateau, in the shadow of
the masked battery, the English infantry, formed into thirteen squares,
two battalions to the square, in two lines, with seven in the first
line, six in the second, the stocks of their guns to their shoulders,
taking aim at that which was on the point of appearing, waited, calm,
mute, motionless. They did not see the cuirassiers, and the cuirassiers
did not see them. They listened to the rise of this flood of men. They
heard the swelling noise of three thousand horse, the alternate and
symmetrical tramp of their hoofs at full trot, the jingling of the
cuirasses, the clang of the sabres and a sort of grand and savage
breathing. There ensued a most terrible silence; then, all at once,
a long file of uplifted arms, brandishing sabres, appeared above the
crest, and casques, trumpets, and standards, and three thousand heads
with gray mustaches, shouting, "Vive l'Empereur!" All this cavalry
debouched on the plateau, and it was like the appearance of an

All at once, a tragic incident; on the English left, on our right, the
head of the column of cuirassiers reared up with a frightful clamor. On
arriving at the culminating point of the crest, ungovernable, utterly
given over to fury and their course of extermination of the squares and
cannon, the cuirassiers had just caught sight of a trench,--a trench
between them and the English. It was the hollow road of Ohain.

It was a terrible moment. The ravine was there, unexpected, yawning,
directly under the horses' feet, two fathoms deep between its double
slopes; the second file pushed the first into it, and the third pushed
on the second; the horses reared and fell backward, landed on their
haunches, slid down, all four feet in the air, crushing and overwhelming
the riders; and there being no means of retreat,--the whole column being
no longer anything more than a projectile,--the force which had been
acquired to crush the English crushed the French; the inexorable ravine
could only yield when filled; horses and riders rolled there pell-mell,
grinding each other, forming but one mass of flesh in this gulf: when
this trench was full of living men, the rest marched over them and
passed on. Almost a third of Dubois's brigade fell into that abyss.

This began the loss of the battle.

A local tradition, which evidently exaggerates matters, says that two
thousand horses and fifteen hundred men were buried in the hollow road
of Ohain. This figure probably comprises all the other corpses which
were flung into this ravine the day after the combat.

Let us note in passing that it was Dubois's sorely tried brigade which,
an hour previously, making a charge to one side, had captured the flag
of the Lunenburg battalion.

Napoleon, before giving the order for this charge of Milhaud's
cuirassiers, had scrutinized the ground, but had not been able to see
that hollow road, which did not even form a wrinkle on the surface of
the plateau. Warned, nevertheless, and put on the alert by the little
white chapel which marks its angle of junction with the Nivelles
highway, he had probably put a question as to the possibility of an
obstacle, to the guide Lacoste. The guide had answered No. We might
almost affirm that Napoleon's catastrophe originated in that sign of a
peasant's head.

Other fatalities were destined to arise.

Was it possible that Napoleon should have won that battle? We answer No.
Why? Because of Wellington? Because of Blucher? No. Because of God.

Bonaparte victor at Waterloo; that does not come within the law of the
nineteenth century. Another series of facts was in preparation, in which
there was no longer any room for Napoleon. The ill will of events had
declared itself long before.

It was time that this vast man should fall.

The excessive weight of this man in human destiny disturbed the balance.
This individual alone counted for more than a universal group. These
plethoras of all human vitality concentrated in a single head; the world
mounting to the brain of one man,--this would be mortal to civilization
were it to last. The moment had arrived for the incorruptible and
supreme equity to alter its plan. Probably the principles and the
elements, on which the regular gravitations of the moral, as of the
material, world depend, had complained. Smoking blood, over-filled
cemeteries, mothers in tears,--these are formidable pleaders. When
the earth is suffering from too heavy a burden, there are mysterious
groanings of the shades, to which the abyss lends an ear.

Napoleon had been denounced in the infinite and his fall had been
decided on.

He embarrassed God.

Waterloo is not a battle; it is a change of front on the part of the


The battery was unmasked at the same moment with the ravine.

Sixty cannons and the thirteen squares darted lightning point-blank on
the cuirassiers. The intrepid General Delort made the military salute to
the English battery.

The whole of the flying artillery of the English had re-entered the
squares at a gallop. The cuirassiers had not had even the time for a
halt. The disaster of the hollow road had decimated, but not discouraged
them. They belonged to that class of men who, when diminished in number,
increase in courage.

Wathier's column alone had suffered in the disaster; Delort's column,
which Ney had deflected to the left, as though he had a presentiment of
an ambush, had arrived whole.

The cuirassiers hurled themselves on the English squares.

At full speed, with bridles loose, swords in their teeth pistols in
fist,--such was the attack.

There are moments in battles in which the soul hardens the man until
the soldier is changed into a statue, and when all this flesh turns into
granite. The English battalions, desperately assaulted, did not stir.

Then it was terrible.

All the faces of the English squares were attacked at once. A frenzied
whirl enveloped them. That cold infantry remained impassive. The first
rank knelt and received the cuirassiers on their bayonets, the second
ranks shot them down; behind the second rank the cannoneers charged
their guns, the front of the square parted, permitted the passage of
an eruption of grape-shot, and closed again. The cuirassiers replied
by crushing them. Their great horses reared, strode across the ranks,
leaped over the bayonets and fell, gigantic, in the midst of these four
living wells. The cannon-balls ploughed furrows in these cuirassiers;
the cuirassiers made breaches in the squares. Files of men disappeared,
ground to dust under the horses. The bayonets plunged into the bellies
of these centaurs; hence a hideousness of wounds which has probably
never been seen anywhere else. The squares, wasted by this mad cavalry,
closed up their ranks without flinching. Inexhaustible in the matter of
grape-shot, they created explosions in their assailants' midst. The form
of this combat was monstrous. These squares were no longer battalions,
they were craters; those cuirassiers were no longer cavalry, they were
a tempest. Each square was a volcano attacked by a cloud; lava contended
with lightning.

The square on the extreme right, the most exposed of all, being in the
air, was almost annihilated at the very first shock. lt was formed
of the 75th regiment of Highlanders. The bagpipe-player in the centre
dropped his melancholy eyes, filled with the reflections of the
forests and the lakes, in profound inattention, while men were being
exterminated around him, and seated on a drum, with his pibroch under
his arm, played the Highland airs. These Scotchmen died thinking of Ben
Lothian, as did the Greeks recalling Argos. The sword of a cuirassier,
which hewed down the bagpipes and the arm which bore it, put an end to
the song by killing the singer.

The cuirassiers, relatively few in number, and still further diminished
by the catastrophe of the ravine, had almost the whole English army
against them, but they multiplied themselves so that each man of them
was equal to ten. Nevertheless, some Hanoverian battalions yielded.
Wellington perceived it, and thought of his cavalry. Had Napoleon at
that same moment thought of his infantry, he would have won the battle.
This forgetfulness was his great and fatal mistake.

All at once, the cuirassiers, who had been the assailants, found
themselves assailed. The English cavalry was at their back. Before
them two squares, behind them Somerset; Somerset meant fourteen hundred
dragoons of the guard. On the right, Somerset had Dornberg with the
German light-horse, and on his left, Trip with the Belgian carabineers;
the cuirassiers attacked on the flank and in front, before and in the
rear, by infantry and cavalry, had to face all sides. What mattered it
to them? They were a whirlwind. Their valor was something indescribable.

In addition to this, they had behind them the battery, which was still
thundering. It was necessary that it should be so, or they could never
have been wounded in the back. One of their cuirasses, pierced on the
shoulder by a ball from a biscayan,[9] is in the collection of the
Waterloo Museum.

For such Frenchmen nothing less than such Englishmen was needed. It
was no longer a hand-to-hand conflict; it was a shadow, a fury, a dizzy
transport of souls and courage, a hurricane of lightning swords. In an
instant the fourteen hundred dragoon guards numbered only eight hundred.
Fuller, their lieutenant-colonel, fell dead. Ney rushed up with
the lancers and Lefebvre-Desnouettes's light-horse. The plateau
of Mont-Saint-Jean was captured, recaptured, captured again. The
cuirassiers quitted the cavalry to return to the infantry; or, to put
it more exactly, the whole of that formidable rout collared each other
without releasing the other. The squares still held firm.

There were a dozen assaults. Ney had four horses killed under him. Half
the cuirassiers remained on the plateau. This conflict lasted two hours.

The English army was profoundly shaken. There is no doubt that, had they
not been enfeebled in their first shock by the disaster of the hollow
road the cuirassiers would have overwhelmed the centre and decided the
victory. This extraordinary cavalry petrified Clinton, who had seen
Talavera and Badajoz. Wellington, three-quarters vanquished, admired
heroically. He said in an undertone, "Sublime!"

The cuirassiers annihilated seven squares out of thirteen, took or
spiked sixty pieces of ordnance, and captured from the English regiments
six flags, which three cuirassiers and three chasseurs of the Guard bore
to the Emperor, in front of the farm of La Belle Alliance.

Wellington's situation had grown worse. This strange battle was like a
duel between two raging, wounded men, each of whom, still fighting and
still resisting, is expending all his blood.

Which of the two will be the first to fall?

The conflict on the plateau continued.

What had become of the cuirassiers? No one could have told. One thing
is certain, that on the day after the battle, a cuirassier and his
horse were found dead among the woodwork of the scales for vehicles at
Mont-Saint-Jean, at the very point where the four roads from Nivelles,
Genappe, La Hulpe, and Brussels meet and intersect each other. This
horseman had pierced the English lines. One of the men who picked up the
body still lives at Mont-Saint-Jean. His name is Dehaze. He was eighteen
years old at that time.

Wellington felt that he was yielding. The crisis was at hand.

The cuirassiers had not succeeded, since the centre was not broken
through. As every one was in possession of the plateau, no one held it,
and in fact it remained, to a great extent, with the English. Wellington
held the village and the culminating plain; Ney had only the crest and
the slope. They seemed rooted in that fatal soil on both sides.

But the weakening of the English seemed irremediable. The bleeding
of that army was horrible. Kempt, on the left wing, demanded
reinforcements. "There are none," replied Wellington; "he must let
himself be killed!" Almost at that same moment, a singular coincidence
which paints the exhaustion of the two armies, Ney demanded infantry
from Napoleon, and Napoleon exclaimed, "Infantry! Where does he expect
me to get it? Does he think I can make it?"

Nevertheless, the English army was in the worse case of the two. The
furious onsets of those great squadrons with cuirasses of iron and
breasts of steel had ground the infantry to nothing. A few men clustered
round a flag marked the post of a regiment; such and such a battalion
was commanded only by a captain or a lieutenant; Alten's division,
already so roughly handled at La Haie-Sainte, was almost destroyed;
the intrepid Belgians of Van Kluze's brigade strewed the rye-fields
all along the Nivelles road; hardly anything was left of those Dutch
grenadiers, who, intermingled with Spaniards in our ranks in 1811,
fought against Wellington; and who, in 1815, rallied to the
English standard, fought against Napoleon. The loss in officers was
considerable. Lord Uxbridge, who had his leg buried on the following
day, had his knee shattered. If, on the French side, in that tussle
of the cuirassiers, Delort, l'Heritier, Colbert, Dnop, Travers, and
Blancard were disabled, on the side of the English there was Alten
wounded, Barne wounded, Delancey killed, Van Meeren killed, Ompteda
killed, the whole of Wellington's staff decimated, and England had the
worse of it in that bloody scale. The second regiment of foot-guards
had lost five lieutenant-colonels, four captains, and three ensigns;
the first battalion of the 30th infantry had lost 24 officers and 1,200
soldiers; the 79th Highlanders had lost 24 officers wounded, 18 officers
killed, 450 soldiers killed. The Hanoverian hussars of Cumberland, a
whole regiment, with Colonel Hacke at its head, who was destined to be
tried later on and cashiered, had turned bridle in the presence of the
fray, and had fled to the forest of Soignes, sowing defeat all the way
to Brussels. The transports, ammunition-wagons, the baggage-wagons, the
wagons filled with wounded, on perceiving that the French were gaining
ground and approaching the forest, rushed headlong thither. The Dutch,
mowed down by the French cavalry, cried, "Alarm!" From Vert-Coucou to
Groentendael, for a distance of nearly two leagues in the direction
of Brussels, according to the testimony of eye-witnesses who are still
alive, the roads were encumbered with fugitives. This panic was such
that it attacked the Prince de Conde at Mechlin, and Louis XVIII. at
Ghent. With the exception of the feeble reserve echelonned behind the
ambulance established at the farm of Mont-Saint-Jean, and of Vivian's
and Vandeleur's brigades, which flanked the left wing, Wellington had
no cavalry left. A number of batteries lay unhorsed. These facts are
attested by Siborne; and Pringle, exaggerating the disaster, goes so far
as to say that the Anglo-Dutch army was reduced to thirty-four thousand
men. The Iron Duke remained calm, but his lips blanched. Vincent, the
Austrian commissioner, Alava, the Spanish commissioner, who were present
at the battle in the English staff, thought the Duke lost. At five
o'clock Wellington drew out his watch, and he was heard to murmur these
sinister words, "Blucher, or night!"

It was at about that moment that a distant line of bayonets gleamed on
the heights in the direction of Frischemont.

Here comes the change of face in this giant drama.


The painful surprise of Napoleon is well known. Grouchy hoped for,
Blucher arriving. Death instead of life.

Fate has these turns; the throne of the world was expected; it was Saint
Helena that was seen.

If the little shepherd who served as guide to Bulow, Blucher's
lieutenant, had advised him to debouch from the forest above
Frischemont, instead of below Plancenoit, the form of the nineteenth
century might, perhaps, have been different. Napoleon would have won the
battle of Waterloo. By any other route than that below Plancenoit,
the Prussian army would have come out upon a ravine impassable for
artillery, and Bulow would not have arrived.

Now the Prussian general, Muffling, declares that one hour's delay, and
Blucher would not have found Wellington on his feet. "The battle was

It was time that Bulow should arrive, as will be seen. He had, moreover,
been very much delayed. He had bivouacked at Dion-le-Mont, and had set
out at daybreak; but the roads were impassable, and his divisions stuck
fast in the mire. The ruts were up to the hubs of the cannons. Moreover,
he had been obliged to pass the Dyle on the narrow bridge of Wavre;
the street leading to the bridge had been fired by the French, so
the caissons and ammunition-wagons could not pass between two rows of
burning houses, and had been obliged to wait until the conflagration was
extinguished. It was mid-day before Bulow's vanguard had been able to
reach Chapelle-Saint-Lambert.

Had the action been begun two hours earlier, it would have been over
at four o'clock, and Blucher would have fallen on the battle won by
Napoleon. Such are these immense risks proportioned to an infinite which
we cannot comprehend.

The Emperor had been the first, as early as mid-day, to descry with his
field-glass, on the extreme horizon, something which had attracted his
attention. He had said, "I see yonder a cloud, which seems to me to be
troops." Then he asked the Duc de Dalmatie, "Soult, what do you see in
the direction of Chapelle-Saint-Lambert?" The marshal, levelling his
glass, answered, "Four or five thousand men, Sire; evidently Grouchy."
But it remained motionless in the mist. All the glasses of the staff
had studied "the cloud" pointed out by the Emperor. Some said: "It is
trees." The truth is, that the cloud did not move. The Emperor detached
Domon's division of light cavalry to reconnoitre in that quarter.

Bulow had not moved, in fact. His vanguard was very feeble, and could
accomplish nothing. He was obliged to wait for the body of the army
corps, and he had received orders to concentrate his forces before
entering into line; but at five o'clock, perceiving Wellington's peril,
Blucher ordered Bulow to attack, and uttered these remarkable words: "We
must give air to the English army."

A little later, the divisions of Losthin, Hiller, Hacke, and Ryssel
deployed before Lobau's corps, the cavalry of Prince William of Prussia
debouched from the forest of Paris, Plancenoit was in flames, and the
Prussian cannon-balls began to rain even upon the ranks of the guard in
reserve behind Napoleon.


Every one knows the rest,--the irruption of a third army; the battle
broken to pieces; eighty-six mouths of fire thundering simultaneously;
Pirch the first coming up with Bulow; Zieten's cavalry led by Blucher
in person, the French driven back; Marcognet swept from the plateau of
Ohain; Durutte dislodged from Papelotte; Donzelot and Quiot retreating;
Lobau caught on the flank; a fresh battle precipitating itself on our
dismantled regiments at nightfall; the whole English line resuming the
offensive and thrust forward; the gigantic breach made in the French
army; the English grape-shot and the Prussian grape-shot aiding each
other; the extermination; disaster in front; disaster on the flank; the
Guard entering the line in the midst of this terrible crumbling of all

Conscious that they were about to die, they shouted, "Vive l'Empereur!"
History records nothing more touching than that agony bursting forth in

The sky had been overcast all day long. All of a sudden, at that very
moment,--it was eight o'clock in the evening--the clouds on the horizon
parted, and allowed the grand and sinister glow of the setting sun to
pass through, athwart the elms on the Nivelles road. They had seen it
rise at Austerlitz.

Each battalion of the Guard was commanded by a general for this final
catastrophe. Friant, Michel, Roguet, Harlet, Mallet, Poret de Morvan,
were there. When the tall caps of the grenadiers of the Guard, with
their large plaques bearing the eagle appeared, symmetrical, in line,
tranquil, in the midst of that combat, the enemy felt a respect for
France; they thought they beheld twenty victories entering the field
of battle, with wings outspread, and those who were the conquerors,
believing themselves to be vanquished, retreated; but Wellington
shouted, "Up, Guards, and aim straight!" The red regiment of English
guards, lying flat behind the hedges, sprang up, a cloud of grape-shot
riddled the tricolored flag and whistled round our eagles; all hurled
themselves forwards, and the final carnage began. In the darkness, the
Imperial Guard felt the army losing ground around it, and in the vast
shock of the rout it heard the desperate flight which had taken the
place of the "Vive l'Empereur!" and, with flight behind it, it continued
to advance, more crushed, losing more men at every step that it took.
There were none who hesitated, no timid men in its ranks. The soldier in
that troop was as much of a hero as the general. Not a man was missing
in that suicide.

Ney, bewildered, great with all the grandeur of accepted death, offered
himself to all blows in that tempest. He had his fifth horse killed
under him there. Perspiring, his eyes aflame, foaming at the mouth, with
uniform unbuttoned, one of his epaulets half cut off by a sword-stroke
from a horseguard, his plaque with the great eagle dented by a bullet;
bleeding, bemired, magnificent, a broken sword in his hand, he said,
"Come and see how a Marshal of France dies on the field of battle!" But
in vain; he did not die. He was haggard and angry. At Drouet d'Erlon he
hurled this question, "Are you not going to get yourself killed?" In
the midst of all that artillery engaged in crushing a handful of men,
he shouted: "So there is nothing for me! Oh! I should like to have all
these English bullets enter my bowels!" Unhappy man, thou wert reserved
for French bullets!


The rout behind the Guard was melancholy.

The army yielded suddenly on all sides at once,--Hougomont, La
Haie-Sainte, Papelotte, Plancenoit. The cry "Treachery!" was followed by
a cry of "Save yourselves who can!" An army which is disbanding is
like a thaw. All yields, splits, cracks, floats, rolls, falls, jostles,
hastens, is precipitated. The disintegration is unprecedented. Ney
borrows a horse, leaps upon it, and without hat, cravat, or sword,
places himself across the Brussels road, stopping both English and
French. He strives to detain the army, he recalls it to its duty, he
insults it, he clings to the rout. He is overwhelmed. The soldiers fly
from him, shouting, "Long live Marshal Ney!" Two of Durutte's regiments
go and come in affright as though tossed back and forth between the
swords of the Uhlans and the fusillade of the brigades of Kempt, Best,
Pack, and Rylandt; the worst of hand-to-hand conflicts is the defeat;
friends kill each other in order to escape; squadrons and battalions
break and disperse against each other, like the tremendous foam of
battle. Lobau at one extremity, and Reille at the other, are drawn into
the tide. In vain does Napoleon erect walls from what is left to him of
his Guard; in vain does he expend in a last effort his last serviceable
squadrons. Quiot retreats before Vivian, Kellermann before Vandeleur,
Lobau before Bulow, Morand before Pirch, Domon and Subervic before
Prince William of Prussia; Guyot, who led the Emperor's squadrons to the
charge, falls beneath the feet of the English dragoons. Napoleon gallops
past the line of fugitives, harangues, urges, threatens, entreats
them. All the mouths which in the morning had shouted, "Long live
the Emperor!" remain gaping; they hardly recognize him. The Prussian
cavalry, newly arrived, dashes forwards, flies, hews, slashes, kills,
exterminates. Horses lash out, the cannons flee; the soldiers of the
artillery-train unharness the caissons and use the horses to make their
escape; transports overturned, with all four wheels in the air, clog the
road and occasion massacres. Men are crushed, trampled down, others walk
over the dead and the living. Arms are lost. A dizzy multitude fills the
roads, the paths, the bridges, the plains, the hills, the valleys,
the woods, encumbered by this invasion of forty thousand men. Shouts
despair, knapsacks and guns flung among the rye, passages forced at
the point of the sword, no more comrades, no more officers, no more
generals, an inexpressible terror. Zieten putting France to the sword at
its leisure. Lions converted into goats. Such was the flight.

At Genappe, an effort was made to wheel about, to present a battle
front, to draw up in line. Lobau rallied three hundred men. The entrance
to the village was barricaded, but at the first volley of Prussian
canister, all took to flight again, and Lobau was taken. That volley of
grape-shot can be seen to-day imprinted on the ancient gable of a brick
building on the right of the road at a few minutes' distance before you
enter Genappe. The Prussians threw themselves into Genappe, furious, no
doubt, that they were not more entirely the conquerors. The pursuit was
stupendous. Blucher ordered extermination. Roguet had set the lugubrious
example of threatening with death any French grenadier who should bring
him a Prussian prisoner. Blucher outdid Roguet. Duhesme, the general
of the Young Guard, hemmed in at the doorway of an inn at Genappe,
surrendered his sword to a huzzar of death, who took the sword and slew
the prisoner. The victory was completed by the assassination of the
vanquished. Let us inflict punishment, since we are history: old
Blucher disgraced himself. This ferocity put the finishing touch to the
disaster. The desperate route traversed Genappe, traversed Quatre-Bras,
traversed Gosselies, traversed Frasnes, traversed Charleroi, traversed
Thuin, and only halted at the frontier. Alas! and who, then, was fleeing
in that manner? The Grand Army.

This vertigo, this terror, this downfall into ruin of the loftiest
bravery which ever astounded history,--is that causeless? No. The shadow
of an enormous right is projected athwart Waterloo. It is the day of
destiny. The force which is mightier than man produced that day. Hence
the terrified wrinkle of those brows; hence all those great souls
surrendering their swords. Those who had conquered Europe have fallen
prone on the earth, with nothing left to say nor to do, feeling the
present shadow of a terrible presence. Hoc erat in fatis. That day the
perspective of the human race underwent a change. Waterloo is the
hinge of the nineteenth century. The disappearance of the great man was
necessary to the advent of the great century. Some one, a person to whom
one replies not, took the responsibility on himself. The panic of heroes
can be explained. In the battle of Waterloo there is something more than
a cloud, there is something of the meteor. God has passed by.

At nightfall, in a meadow near Genappe, Bernard and Bertrand seized by
the skirt of his coat and detained a man, haggard, pensive, sinister,
gloomy, who, dragged to that point by the current of the rout, had just
dismounted, had passed the bridle of his horse over his arm, and with
wild eye was returning alone to Waterloo. It was Napoleon, the immense
somnambulist of this dream which had crumbled, essaying once more to


Several squares of the Guard, motionless amid this stream of the defeat,
as rocks in running water, held their own until night. Night came,
death also; they awaited that double shadow, and, invincible, allowed
themselves to be enveloped therein. Each regiment, isolated from the
rest, and having no bond with the army, now shattered in every part,
died alone. They had taken up position for this final action, some on
the heights of Rossomme, others on the plain of Mont-Saint-Jean. There,
abandoned, vanquished, terrible, those gloomy squares endured their
death-throes in formidable fashion. Ulm, Wagram, Jena, Friedland, died
with them.

At twilight, towards nine o'clock in the evening, one of them was left
at the foot of the plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean. In that fatal valley,
at the foot of that declivity which the cuirassiers had ascended, now
inundated by the masses of the English, under the converging fires
of the victorious hostile cavalry, under a frightful density of
projectiles, this square fought on. It was commanded by an obscure
officer named Cambronne. At each discharge, the square diminished and
replied. It replied to the grape-shot with a fusillade, continually
contracting its four walls. The fugitives pausing breathless for a
moment in the distance, listened in the darkness to that gloomy and
ever-decreasing thunder.

When this legion had been reduced to a handful, when nothing was left
of their flag but a rag, when their guns, the bullets all gone, were no
longer anything but clubs, when the heap of corpses was larger than the
group of survivors, there reigned among the conquerors, around those men
dying so sublimely, a sort of sacred terror, and the English artillery,
taking breath, became silent. This furnished a sort of respite. These
combatants had around them something in the nature of a swarm of
spectres, silhouettes of men on horseback, the black profiles of cannon,
the white sky viewed through wheels and gun-carriages, the colossal
death's-head, which the heroes saw constantly through the smoke, in the
depths of the battle, advanced upon them and gazed at them. Through the
shades of twilight they could hear the pieces being loaded; the matches
all lighted, like the eyes of tigers at night, formed a circle round
their heads; all the lintstocks of the English batteries approached the
cannons, and then, with emotion, holding the supreme moment suspended
above these men, an English general, Colville according to some,
Maitland according to others, shouted to them, "Surrender, brave
Frenchmen!" Cambronne replied, "-----."

{EDITOR'S COMMENTARY: Another edition of this book has the word "Merde!"
in lieu of the ----- above.}


If any French reader object to having his susceptibilities offended, one
would have to refrain from repeating in his presence what is perhaps
the finest reply that a Frenchman ever made. This would enjoin us from
consigning something sublime to History.

At our own risk and peril, let us violate this injunction.

Now, then, among those giants there was one Titan,--Cambronne.

To make that reply and then perish, what could be grander? For being
willing to die is the same as to die; and it was not this man's fault if
he survived after he was shot.

The winner of the battle of Waterloo was not Napoleon, who was put to
flight; nor Wellington, giving way at four o'clock, in despair at five;
nor Blucher, who took no part in the engagement. The winner of Waterloo
was Cambronne.

To thunder forth such a reply at the lightning-flash that kills you is
to conquer!

Thus to answer the Catastrophe, thus to speak to Fate, to give this
pedestal to the future lion, to hurl such a challenge to the midnight
rainstorm, to the treacherous wall of Hougomont, to the sunken road of
Ohain, to Grouchy's delay, to Blucher's arrival, to be Irony itself in
the tomb, to act so as to stand upright though fallen, to drown in
two syllables the European coalition, to offer kings privies which
the Caesars once knew, to make the lowest of words the most lofty by
entwining with it the glory of France, insolently to end Waterloo with
Mardigras, to finish Leonidas with Rabellais, to set the crown on this
victory by a word impossible to speak, to lose the field and preserve
history, to have the laugh on your side after such a carnage,--this is

It was an insult such as a thunder-cloud might hurl! It reaches the
grandeur of AEschylus!

Cambronne's reply produces the effect of a violent break. 'Tis like the
breaking of a heart under a weight of scorn. 'Tis the overflow of agony
bursting forth. Who conquered? Wellington? No! Had it not been for
Blucher, he was lost. Was it Blucher? No! If Wellington had not begun,
Blucher could not have finished. This Cambronne, this man spending his
last hour, this unknown soldier, this infinitesimal of war, realizes
that here is a falsehood, a falsehood in a catastrophe, and so doubly
agonizing; and at the moment when his rage is bursting forth because of
it, he is offered this mockery,--life! How could he restrain himself?
Yonder are all the kings of Europe, the general's flushed with victory,
the Jupiter's darting thunderbolts; they have a hundred thousand
victorious soldiers, and back of the hundred thousand a million; their
cannon stand with yawning mouths, the match is lighted; they grind down
under their heels the Imperial guards, and the grand army; they have
just crushed Napoleon, and only Cambronne remains,--only this earthworm
is left to protest. He will protest. Then he seeks for the appropriate
word as one seeks for a sword. His mouth froths, and the froth is the
word. In face of this mean and mighty victory, in face of this victory
which counts none victorious, this desperate soldier stands erect. He
grants its overwhelming immensity, but he establishes its triviality;
and he does more than spit upon it. Borne down by numbers, by superior
force, by brute matter, he finds in his soul an expression: "Excrement!"
We repeat it,--to use that word, to do thus, to invent such an
expression, is to be the conqueror!

The spirit of mighty days at that portentous moment made its descent
on that unknown man. Cambronne invents the word for Waterloo as Rouget
invents the "Marseillaise," under the visitation of a breath from on
high. An emanation from the divine whirlwind leaps forth and comes
sweeping over these men, and they shake, and one of them sings the song
supreme, and the other utters the frightful cry.

This challenge of titanic scorn Cambronne hurls not only at Europe in
the name of the Empire,--that would be a trifle: he hurls it at the past
in the name of the Revolution. It is heard, and Cambronne is recognized
as possessed by the ancient spirit of the Titans. Danton seems to be
speaking! Kleber seems to be bellowing!

At that word from Cambronne, the English voice responded, "Fire!"
The batteries flamed, the hill trembled, from all those brazen mouths
belched a last terrible gush of grape-shot; a vast volume of smoke,
vaguely white in the light of the rising moon, rolled out, and when the
smoke dispersed, there was no longer anything there. That formidable
remnant had been annihilated; the Guard was dead. The four walls of the
living redoubt lay prone, and hardly was there discernible, here and
there, even a quiver in the bodies; it was thus that the French legions,
greater than the Roman legions, expired on Mont-Saint-Jean, on the soil
watered with rain and blood, amid the gloomy grain, on the spot where
nowadays Joseph, who drives the post-wagon from Nivelles, passes
whistling, and cheerfully whipping up his horse at four o'clock in the


The battle of Waterloo is an enigma. It is as obscure to those who won
it as to those who lost it. For Napoleon it was a panic;[10] Blucher
sees nothing in it but fire; Wellington understands nothing in regard
to it. Look at the reports. The bulletins are confused, the commentaries
involved. Some stammer, others lisp. Jomini divides the battle of
Waterloo into four moments; Muffling cuts it up into three changes;
Charras alone, though we hold another judgment than his on some points,
seized with his haughty glance the characteristic outlines of that
catastrophe of human genius in conflict with divine chance. All the
other historians suffer from being somewhat dazzled, and in this dazzled
state they fumble about. It was a day of lightning brilliancy; in fact,
a crumbling of the military monarchy which, to the vast stupefaction of
kings, drew all the kingdoms after it--the fall of force, the defeat of

In this event, stamped with superhuman necessity, the part played by men
amounts to nothing.

If we take Waterloo from Wellington and Blucher, do we thereby deprive
England and Germany of anything? No. Neither that illustrious England
nor that august Germany enter into the problem of Waterloo. Thank
Heaven, nations are great, independently of the lugubrious feats of
the sword. Neither England, nor Germany, nor France is contained in
a scabbard. At this epoch when Waterloo is only a clashing of swords,
above Blucher, Germany has Schiller; above Wellington, England has
Byron. A vast dawn of ideas is the peculiarity of our century, and in
that aurora England and Germany have a magnificent radiance. They
are majestic because they think. The elevation of level which they
contribute to civilization is intrinsic with them; it proceeds from
themselves and not from an accident. The aggrandizement which they have
brought to the nineteenth century has not Waterloo as its source. It is
only barbarous peoples who undergo rapid growth after a victory. That is
the temporary vanity of torrents swelled by a storm. Civilized people,
especially in our day, are neither elevated nor abased by the good or
bad fortune of a captain. Their specific gravity in the human species
results from something more than a combat. Their honor, thank God! their
dignity, their intelligence, their genius, are not numbers which those
gamblers, heroes and conquerors, can put in the lottery of battles.
Often a battle is lost and progress is conquered. There is less glory
and more liberty. The drum holds its peace; reason takes the word. It is
a game in which he who loses wins. Let us, therefore, speak of Waterloo
coldly from both sides. Let us render to chance that which is due
to chance, and to God that which is due to God. What is Waterloo? A
victory? No. The winning number in the lottery.

The quine [11] won by Europe, paid by France.

It was not worth while to place a lion there.

Waterloo, moreover, is the strangest encounter in history. Napoleon and
Wellington. They are not enemies; they are opposites. Never did God,
who is fond of antitheses, make a more striking contrast, a more
extraordinary comparison. On one side, precision, foresight, geometry,
prudence, an assured retreat, reserves spared, with an obstinate
coolness, an imperturbable method, strategy, which takes advantage
of the ground, tactics, which preserve the equilibrium of battalions,
carnage, executed according to rule, war regulated, watch in hand,
nothing voluntarily left to chance, the ancient classic courage,
absolute regularity; on the other, intuition, divination, military
oddity, superhuman instinct, a flaming glance, an indescribable
something which gazes like an eagle, and which strikes like the
lightning, a prodigious art in disdainful impetuosity, all the mysteries
of a profound soul, associated with destiny; the stream, the plain, the
forest, the hill, summoned, and in a manner, forced to obey, the despot
going even so far as to tyrannize over the field of battle; faith in
a star mingled with strategic science, elevating but perturbing it.
Wellington was the Bareme of war; Napoleon was its Michael Angelo; and
on this occasion, genius was vanquished by calculation. On both sides
some one was awaited. It was the exact calculator who succeeded.
Napoleon was waiting for Grouchy; he did not come. Wellington expected
Blucher; he came.

Wellington is classic war taking its revenge. Bonaparte, at his dawning,
had encountered him in Italy, and beaten him superbly. The old owl had
fled before the young vulture. The old tactics had been not only struck
as by lightning, but disgraced. Who was that Corsican of six and twenty?
What signified that splendid ignoramus, who, with everything against
him, nothing in his favor, without provisions, without ammunition,
without cannon, without shoes, almost without an army, with a mere
handful of men against masses, hurled himself on Europe combined,
and absurdly won victories in the impossible? Whence had issued that
fulminating convict, who almost without taking breath, and with the same
set of combatants in hand, pulverized, one after the other, the five
armies of the emperor of Germany, upsetting Beaulieu on Alvinzi, Wurmser
on Beaulieu, Melas on Wurmser, Mack on Melas? Who was this novice in
war with the effrontery of a luminary? The academical military school
excommunicated him, and as it lost its footing; hence, the implacable
rancor of the old Caesarism against the new; of the regular sword
against the flaming sword; and of the exchequer against genius. On the
18th of June, 1815, that rancor had the last word. and beneath Lodi,
Montebello, Montenotte, Mantua, Arcola, it wrote: Waterloo. A triumph of
the mediocres which is sweet to the majority. Destiny consented to this
irony. In his decline, Napoleon found Wurmser, the younger, again in
front of him.

In fact, to get Wurmser, it sufficed to blanch the hair of Wellington.

Waterloo is a battle of the first order, won by a captain of the second.

That which must be admired in the battle of Waterloo, is England; the
English firmness, the English resolution, the English blood; the superb
thing about England there, no offence to her, was herself. It was not
her captain; it was her army.

Wellington, oddly ungrateful, declares in a letter to Lord Bathurst,
that his army, the army which fought on the 18th of June, 1815, was a
"detestable army." What does that sombre intermingling of bones buried
beneath the furrows of Waterloo think of that?

England has been too modest in the matter of Wellington. To make
Wellington so great is to belittle England. Wellington is nothing but
a hero like many another. Those Scotch Grays, those Horse Guards, those
regiments of Maitland and of Mitchell, that infantry of Pack and Kempt,
that cavalry of Ponsonby and Somerset, those Highlanders playing the
pibroch under the shower of grape-shot, those battalions of Rylandt,
those utterly raw recruits, who hardly knew how to handle a musket
holding their own against Essling's and Rivoli's old troops,--that is
what was grand. Wellington was tenacious; in that lay his merit, and we
are not seeking to lessen it: but the least of his foot-soldiers and of
his cavalry would have been as solid as he. The iron soldier is worth
as much as the Iron Duke. As for us, all our glorification goes to the
English soldier, to the English army, to the English people. If trophy
there be, it is to England that the trophy is due. The column of
Waterloo would be more just, if, instead of the figure of a man, it bore
on high the statue of a people.

But this great England will be angry at what we are saying here. She
still cherishes, after her own 1688 and our 1789, the feudal illusion.
She believes in heredity and hierarchy. This people, surpassed by none
in power and glory, regards itself as a nation, and not as a people. And
as a people, it willingly subordinates itself and takes a lord for its
head. As a workman, it allows itself to be disdained; as a soldier, it
allows itself to be flogged.

It will be remembered, that at the battle of Inkermann a sergeant who
had, it appears, saved the army, could not be mentioned by Lord Paglan,
as the English military hierarchy does not permit any hero below the
grade of an officer to be mentioned in the reports.

That which we admire above all, in an encounter of the nature of
Waterloo, is the marvellous cleverness of chance. A nocturnal rain, the
wall of Hougomont, the hollow road of Ohain, Grouchy deaf to the cannon,
Napoleon's guide deceiving him, Bulow's guide enlightening him,--the
whole of this cataclysm is wonderfully conducted.

On the whole, let us say it plainly, it was more of a massacre than of a
battle at Waterloo.

Of all pitched battles, Waterloo is the one which has the smallest front
for such a number of combatants. Napoleon three-quarters of a league;
Wellington, half a league; seventy-two thousand combatants on each side.
From this denseness the carnage arose.

The following calculation has been made, and the following proportion
established: Loss of men: at Austerlitz, French, fourteen per cent;
Russians, thirty per cent; Austrians, forty-four per cent. At Wagram,
French, thirteen per cent; Austrians, fourteen. At the Moskowa, French,
thirty-seven per cent; Russians, forty-four. At Bautzen, French,
thirteen per cent; Russians and Prussians, fourteen. At Waterloo,
French, fifty-six per cent; the Allies, thirty-one. Total for Waterloo,
forty-one per cent; one hundred and forty-four thousand combatants;
sixty thousand dead.

To-day the field of Waterloo has the calm which belongs to the earth,
the impassive support of man, and it resembles all plains.

At night, moreover, a sort of visionary mist arises from it; and if a
traveller strolls there, if he listens, if he watches, if he dreams
like Virgil in the fatal plains of Philippi, the hallucination of the
catastrophe takes possession of him. The frightful 18th of June lives
again; the false monumental hillock disappears, the lion vanishes in
air, the battle-field resumes its reality, lines of infantry undulate
over the plain, furious gallops traverse the horizon; the frightened
dreamer beholds the flash of sabres, the gleam of bayonets, the flare of
bombs, the tremendous interchange of thunders; he hears, as it were,
the death rattle in the depths of a tomb, the vague clamor of the battle
phantom; those shadows are grenadiers, those lights are cuirassiers;
that skeleton Napoleon, that other skeleton is Wellington; all this no
longer exists, and yet it clashes together and combats still; and the
ravines are empurpled, and the trees quiver, and there is fury even in
the clouds and in the shadows; all those terrible heights, Hougomont,
Mont-Saint-Jean, Frischemont, Papelotte, Plancenoit, appear confusedly
crowned with whirlwinds of spectres engaged in exterminating each other.


There exists a very respectable liberal school which does not hate
Waterloo. We do not belong to it. To us, Waterloo is but the stupefied
date of liberty. That such an eagle should emerge from such an egg is
certainly unexpected.

If one places one's self at the culminating point of view of the
question, Waterloo is intentionally a counter-revolutionary victory. It
is Europe against France; it is Petersburg, Berlin, and Vienna against
Paris; it is the statu quo against the initiative; it is the 14th
of July, 1789, attacked through the 20th of March, 1815; it is the
monarchies clearing the decks in opposition to the indomitable French
rioting. The final extinction of that vast people which had been in
eruption for twenty-six years--such was the dream. The solidarity of the
Brunswicks, the Nassaus, the Romanoffs, the Hohenzollerns, the Hapsburgs
with the Bourbons. Waterloo bears divine right on its crupper. It is
true, that the Empire having been despotic, the kingdom by the natural
reaction of things, was forced to be liberal, and that a constitutional
order was the unwilling result of Waterloo, to the great regret of the
conquerors. It is because revolution cannot be really conquered, and
that being providential and absolutely fatal, it is always cropping
up afresh: before Waterloo, in Bonaparte overthrowing the old thrones;
after Waterloo, in Louis XVIII. granting and conforming to the charter.
Bonaparte places a postilion on the throne of Naples, and a sergeant
on the throne of Sweden, employing inequality to demonstrate equality;
Louis XVIII. at Saint-Ouen countersigns the declaration of the rights
of man. If you wish to gain an idea of what revolution is, call it
Progress; and if you wish to acquire an idea of the nature of progress,
call it To-morrow. To-morrow fulfils its work irresistibly, and it is
already fulfilling it to-day. It always reaches its goal strangely. It
employs Wellington to make of Foy, who was only a soldier, an orator.
Foy falls at Hougomont and rises again in the tribune. Thus does
progress proceed. There is no such thing as a bad tool for that workman.
It does not become disconcerted, but adjusts to its divine work the
man who has bestridden the Alps, and the good old tottering invalid
of Father Elysee. It makes use of the gouty man as well as of the
conqueror; of the conqueror without, of the gouty man within. Waterloo,
by cutting short the demolition of European thrones by the sword, had
no other effect than to cause the revolutionary work to be continued in
another direction. The slashers have finished; it was the turn of the
thinkers. The century that Waterloo was intended to arrest has pursued
its march. That sinister victory was vanquished by liberty.

In short, and incontestably, that which triumphed at Waterloo; that
which smiled in Wellington's rear; that which brought him all the
marshals' staffs of Europe, including, it is said, the staff of a
marshal of France; that which joyously trundled the barrows full of
bones to erect the knoll of the lion; that which triumphantly inscribed
on that pedestal the date "June 18, 1815"; that which encouraged
Blucher, as he put the flying army to the sword; that which, from the
heights of the plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean, hovered over France as over
its prey, was the counter-revolution. It was the counter-revolution
which murmured that infamous word "dismemberment." On arriving in Paris,
it beheld the crater close at hand; it felt those ashes which scorched
its feet, and it changed its mind; it returned to the stammer of a

Let us behold in Waterloo only that which is in Waterloo. Of intentional
liberty there is none. The counter-revolution was involuntarily liberal,
in the same manner as, by a corresponding phenomenon, Napoleon was
involuntarily revolutionary. On the 18th of June, 1815, the mounted
Robespierre was hurled from his saddle.


End of the dictatorship. A whole European system crumbled away.

The Empire sank into a gloom which resembled that of the Roman world as
it expired. Again we behold the abyss, as in the days of the barbarians;
only the barbarism of 1815, which must be called by its pet name of the
counter-revolution, was not long breathed, soon fell to panting, and
halted short. The Empire was bewept,--let us acknowledge the fact,--and
bewept by heroic eyes. If glory lies in the sword converted into a
sceptre, the Empire had been glory in person. It had diffused over the
earth all the light which tyranny can give a sombre light. We will say
more; an obscure light. Compared to the true daylight, it is night. This
disappearance of night produces the effect of an eclipse.

Louis XVIII. re-entered Paris. The circling dances of the 8th of July
effaced the enthusiasms of the 20th of March. The Corsican became the
antithesis of the Bearnese. The flag on the dome of the Tuileries was
white. The exile reigned. Hartwell's pine table took its place in front
of the fleur-de-lys-strewn throne of Louis XIV. Bouvines and Fontenoy
were mentioned as though they had taken place on the preceding
day, Austerlitz having become antiquated. The altar and the throne
fraternized majestically. One of the most undisputed forms of the health
of society in the nineteenth century was established over France, and
over the continent. Europe adopted the white cockade. Trestaillon was
celebrated. The device non pluribus impar re-appeared on the stone rays
representing a sun upon the front of the barracks on the Quai d'Orsay.
Where there had been an Imperial Guard, there was now a red house. The
Arc du Carrousel, all laden with badly borne victories, thrown out
of its element among these novelties, a little ashamed, it may be, of
Marengo and Arcola, extricated itself from its predicament with the
statue of the Duc d'Angouleme. The cemetery of the Madeleine, a terrible
pauper's grave in 1793, was covered with jasper and marble, since the
bones of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette lay in that dust.

In the moat of Vincennes a sepulchral shaft sprang from the earth,
recalling the fact that the Duc d'Enghien had perished in the very
month when Napoleon was crowned. Pope Pius VII., who had performed the
coronation very near this death, tranquilly bestowed his blessing on the
fall as he had bestowed it on the elevation. At Schoenbrunn there was
a little shadow, aged four, whom it was seditious to call the King of
Rome. And these things took place, and the kings resumed their thrones,
and the master of Europe was put in a cage, and the old regime became
the new regime, and all the shadows and all the light of the earth
changed place, because, on the afternoon of a certain summer's day, a
shepherd said to a Prussian in the forest, "Go this way, and not that!"

This 1815 was a sort of lugubrious April. Ancient unhealthy and
poisonous realities were covered with new appearances. A lie wedded
1789; the right divine was masked under a charter; fictions became
constitutional; prejudices, superstitions and mental reservations, with
Article 14 in the heart, were varnished over with liberalism. It was the
serpent's change of skin.

Man had been rendered both greater and smaller by Napoleon. Under this
reign of splendid matter, the ideal had received the strange name of
ideology! It is a grave imprudence in a great man to turn the future
into derision. The populace, however, that food for cannon which is so
fond of the cannoneer, sought him with its glance. Where is he? What is
he doing? "Napoleon is dead," said a passer-by to a veteran of Marengo
and Waterloo. "He dead!" cried the soldier; "you don't know him."
Imagination distrusted this man, even when overthrown. The depths of
Europe were full of darkness after Waterloo. Something enormous remained
long empty through Napoleon's disappearance.

The kings placed themselves in this void. Ancient Europe profited by
it to undertake reforms. There was a Holy Alliance; Belle-Alliance,
Beautiful Alliance, the fatal field of Waterloo had said in advance.

In presence and in face of that antique Europe reconstructed, the
features of a new France were sketched out. The future, which the
Emperor had rallied, made its entry. On its brow it bore the star,
Liberty. The glowing eyes of all young generations were turned on it.
Singular fact! people were, at one and the same time, in love with
the future, Liberty, and the past, Napoleon. Defeat had rendered the
vanquished greater. Bonaparte fallen seemed more lofty than Napoleon
erect. Those who had triumphed were alarmed. England had him guarded by
Hudson Lowe, and France had him watched by Montchenu. His folded arms
became a source of uneasiness to thrones. Alexander called him "my
sleeplessness." This terror was the result of the quantity of
revolution which was contained in him. That is what explains and excuses
Bonapartist liberalism. This phantom caused the old world to tremble.
The kings reigned, but ill at their ease, with the rock of Saint Helena
on the horizon.

While Napoleon was passing through the death struggle at Longwood, the
sixty thousand men who had fallen on the field of Waterloo were quietly
rotting, and something of their peace was shed abroad over the world.
The Congress of Vienna made the treaties in 1815, and Europe called this
the Restoration.

This is what Waterloo was.

But what matters it to the Infinite? all that tempest, all that cloud,
that war, then that peace? All that darkness did not trouble for a
moment the light of that immense Eye before which a grub skipping from
one blade of grass to another equals the eagle soaring from belfry to
belfry on the towers of Notre Dame.


Let us return--it is a necessity in this book--to that fatal

On the 18th of June the moon was full. Its light favored Blucher's
ferocious pursuit, betrayed the traces of the fugitives, delivered
up that disastrous mass to the eager Prussian cavalry, and aided the
massacre. Such tragic favors of the night do occur sometimes during

After the last cannon-shot had been fired, the plain of Mont-Saint-Jean
remained deserted.

The English occupied the encampment of the French; it is the usual sign
of victory to sleep in the bed of the vanquished. They established their
bivouac beyond Rossomme. The Prussians, let loose on the retreating
rout, pushed forward. Wellington went to the village of Waterloo to draw
up his report to Lord Bathurst.

If ever the sic vos non vobis was applicable, it certainly is to that
village of Waterloo. Waterloo took no part, and lay half a league from
the scene of action. Mont-Saint-Jean was cannonaded, Hougomont was
burned, La Haie-Sainte was taken by assault, Papelotte was burned,
Plancenoit was burned, La Belle-Alliance beheld the embrace of the two
conquerors; these names are hardly known, and Waterloo, which worked not
in the battle, bears off all the honor.

We are not of the number of those who flatter war; when the occasion
presents itself, we tell the truth about it. War has frightful beauties
which we have not concealed; it has also, we acknowledge, some hideous
features. One of the most surprising is the prompt stripping of the
bodies of the dead after the victory. The dawn which follows a battle
always rises on naked corpses.

Who does this? Who thus soils the triumph? What hideous, furtive hand is
that which is slipped into the pocket of victory? What pickpockets
are they who ply their trade in the rear of glory? Some
philosophers--Voltaire among the number--affirm that it is precisely
those persons have made the glory. It is the same men, they say; there
is no relief corps; those who are erect pillage those who are prone
on the earth. The hero of the day is the vampire of the night. One has
assuredly the right, after all, to strip a corpse a bit when one is the
author of that corpse. For our own part, we do not think so; it seems
to us impossible that the same hand should pluck laurels and purloin the
shoes from a dead man.

One thing is certain, which is, that generally after conquerors follow
thieves. But let us leave the soldier, especially the contemporary
soldier, out of the question.

Every army has a rear-guard, and it is that which must be blamed.
Bat-like creatures, half brigands and lackeys; all the sorts of
vespertillos that that twilight called war engenders; wearers of
uniforms, who take no part in the fighting; pretended invalids;
formidable limpers; interloping sutlers, trotting along in little carts,
sometimes accompanied by their wives, and stealing things which they
sell again; beggars offering themselves as guides to officers; soldiers'
servants; marauders; armies on the march in days gone by,--we are not
speaking of the present,--dragged all this behind them, so that in the
special language they are called "stragglers." No army, no nation,
was responsible for those beings; they spoke Italian and followed the
Germans, then spoke French and followed the English. It was by one of
these wretches, a Spanish straggler who spoke French, that the Marquis
of Fervacques, deceived by his Picard jargon, and taking him for one
of our own men, was traitorously slain and robbed on the battle-field
itself, in the course of the night which followed the victory of
Cerisoles. The rascal sprang from this marauding. The detestable maxim,
Live on the enemy! produced this leprosy, which a strict discipline
alone could heal. There are reputations which are deceptive; one does
not always know why certain generals, great in other directions, have
been so popular. Turenne was adored by his soldiers because he tolerated
pillage; evil permitted constitutes part of goodness. Turenne was so
good that he allowed the Palatinate to be delivered over to fire and
blood. The marauders in the train of an army were more or less in
number, according as the chief was more or less severe. Hoche and
Marceau had no stragglers; Wellington had few, and we do him the justice
to mention it.

Nevertheless, on the night from the 18th to the 19th of June, the dead
were robbed. Wellington was rigid; he gave orders that any one caught in
the act should be shot; but rapine is tenacious. The marauders stole in
one corner of the battlefield while others were being shot in another.

The moon was sinister over this plain.

Towards midnight, a man was prowling about, or rather, climbing in the
direction of the hollow road of Ohain. To all appearance he was one of
those whom we have just described,--neither English nor French, neither
peasant nor soldier, less a man than a ghoul attracted by the scent
of the dead bodies having theft for his victory, and come to rifle
Waterloo. He was clad in a blouse that was something like a great coat;
he was uneasy and audacious; he walked forwards and gazed behind him.
Who was this man? The night probably knew more of him than the day. He
had no sack, but evidently he had large pockets under his coat. From
time to time he halted, scrutinized the plain around him as though to
see whether he were observed, bent over abruptly, disturbed something
silent and motionless on the ground, then rose and fled. His sliding
motion, his attitudes, his mysterious and rapid gestures, caused him
to resemble those twilight larvae which haunt ruins, and which ancient
Norman legends call the Alleurs.

Certain nocturnal wading birds produce these silhouettes among the

A glance capable of piercing all that mist deeply would have perceived
at some distance a sort of little sutler's wagon with a fluted wicker
hood, harnessed to a famished nag which was cropping the grass across
its bit as it halted, hidden, as it were, behind the hovel which adjoins
the highway to Nivelles, at the angle of the road from Mont-Saint-Jean
to Braine l'Alleud; and in the wagon, a sort of woman seated on coffers
and packages. Perhaps there was some connection between that wagon and
that prowler.

The darkness was serene. Not a cloud in the zenith. What matters it if
the earth be red! the moon remains white; these are the indifferences of
the sky. In the fields, branches of trees broken by grape-shot, but not
fallen, upheld by their bark, swayed gently in the breeze of night.
A breath, almost a respiration, moved the shrubbery. Quivers which
resembled the departure of souls ran through the grass.

In the distance the coming and going of patrols and the general rounds
of the English camp were audible.

Hougomont and La Haie-Sainte continued to burn, forming, one in the
west, the other in the east, two great flames which were joined by the
cordon of bivouac fires of the English, like a necklace of rubies
with two carbuncles at the extremities, as they extended in an immense
semicircle over the hills along the horizon.

We have described the catastrophe of the road of Ohain. The heart is
terrified at the thought of what that death must have been to so many
brave men.

If there is anything terrible, if there exists a reality which surpasses
dreams, it is this: to live, to see the sun; to be in full possession
of virile force; to possess health and joy; to laugh valiantly; to rush
towards a glory which one sees dazzling in front of one; to feel in
one's breast lungs which breathe, a heart which beats, a will which
reasons; to speak, think, hope, love; to have a mother, to have a wife,
to have children; to have the light--and all at once, in the space of a
shout, in less than a minute, to sink into an abyss; to fall, to
roll, to crush, to be crushed; to see ears of wheat, flowers, leaves,
branches; not to be able to catch hold of anything; to feel one's sword
useless, men beneath one, horses on top of one; to struggle in vain,
since one's bones have been broken by some kick in the darkness; to feel
a heel which makes one's eyes start from their sockets; to bite horses'
shoes in one's rage; to stifle, to yell, to writhe; to be beneath, and
to say to one's self, "But just a little while ago I was a living man!"

There, where that lamentable disaster had uttered its death-rattle,
all was silence now. The edges of the hollow road were encumbered with
horses and riders, inextricably heaped up. Terrible entanglement! There
was no longer any slope, for the corpses had levelled the road with the
plain, and reached the brim like a well-filled bushel of barley. A
heap of dead bodies in the upper part, a river of blood in the lower
part--such was that road on the evening of the 18th of June, 1815. The
blood ran even to the Nivelles highway, and there overflowed in a large
pool in front of the abatis of trees which barred the way, at a spot
which is still pointed out.

It will be remembered that it was at the opposite point, in the
direction of the Genappe road, that the destruction of the cuirassiers
had taken place. The thickness of the layer of bodies was proportioned
to the depth of the hollow road. Towards the middle, at the point
where it became level, where Delort's division had passed, the layer of
corpses was thinner.

The nocturnal prowler whom we have just shown to the reader was going
in that direction. He was searching that vast tomb. He gazed about. He
passed the dead in some sort of hideous review. He walked with his feet
in the blood.

All at once he paused.

A few paces in front of him, in the hollow road, at the point where
the pile of dead came to an end, an open hand, illumined by the moon,
projected from beneath that heap of men. That hand had on its finger
something sparkling, which was a ring of gold.

The man bent over, remained in a crouching attitude for a moment, and
when he rose there was no longer a ring on the hand.

He did not precisely rise; he remained in a stooping and frightened
attitude, with his back turned to the heap of dead, scanning the horizon
on his knees, with the whole upper portion of his body supported on his
two forefingers, which rested on the earth, and his head peering above
the edge of the hollow road. The jackal's four paws suit some actions.

Then coming to a decision, he rose to his feet.

At that moment, he gave a terrible start. He felt some one clutch him
from behind.

He wheeled round; it was the open hand, which had closed, and had seized
the skirt of his coat.

An honest man would have been terrified; this man burst into a laugh.

"Come," said he, "it's only a dead body. I prefer a spook to a

But the hand weakened and released him. Effort is quickly exhausted in
the grave.

"Well now," said the prowler, "is that dead fellow alive? Let's see."

He bent down again, fumbled among the heap, pushed aside everything that
was in his way, seized the hand, grasped the arm, freed the head, pulled
out the body, and a few moments later he was dragging the lifeless, or
at least the unconscious, man, through the shadows of hollow road. He
was a cuirassier, an officer, and even an officer of considerable rank;
a large gold epaulette peeped from beneath the cuirass; this officer
no longer possessed a helmet. A furious sword-cut had scarred his face,
where nothing was discernible but blood.

However, he did not appear to have any broken limbs, and, by some happy
chance, if that word is permissible here, the dead had been vaulted
above him in such a manner as to preserve him from being crushed. His
eyes were still closed.

On his cuirass he wore the silver cross of the Legion of Honor.

The prowler tore off this cross, which disappeared into one of the gulfs
which he had beneath his great coat.

Then he felt of the officer's fob, discovered a watch there, and took
possession of it. Next he searched his waistcoat, found a purse and
pocketed it.

When he had arrived at this stage of succor which he was administering
to this dying man, the officer opened his eyes.

"Thanks," he said feebly.

The abruptness of the movements of the man who was manipulating him, the
freshness of the night, the air which he could inhale freely, had roused
him from his lethargy.

The prowler made no reply. He raised his head. A sound of footsteps was
audible in the plain; some patrol was probably approaching.

The officer murmured, for the death agony was still in his voice:--

"Who won the battle?"

"The English," answered the prowler.

The officer went on:--

"Look in my pockets; you will find a watch and a purse. Take them."

It was already done.

The prowler executed the required feint, and said:--

"There is nothing there."

"I have been robbed," said the officer; "I am sorry for that. You should
have had them."

The steps of the patrol became more and more distinct.

"Some one is coming," said the prowler, with the movement of a man who
is taking his departure.

The officer raised his arm feebly, and detained him.

"You have saved my life. Who are you?"

The prowler answered rapidly, and in a low voice:--

"Like yourself, I belonged to the French army. I must leave you. If they
were to catch me, they would shoot me. I have saved your life. Now get
out of the scrape yourself."

"What is your rank?"


"What is your name?"


"I shall not forget that name," said the officer; "and do you remember
mine. My name is Pontmercy."