Les Misérables by Victor Hugo 4



Jean Valjean had been recaptured.

The reader will be grateful to us if we pass rapidly over the sad
details. We will confine ourselves to transcribing two paragraphs
published by the journals of that day, a few months after the surprising
events which had taken place at M. sur M.

These articles are rather summary. It must be remembered, that at that
epoch the Gazette des Tribunaux was not yet in existence.

We borrow the first from the Drapeau Blanc. It bears the date of July
25, 1823.

An arrondissement of the Pas de Calais has just been the theatre of an
event quite out of the ordinary course. A man, who was a stranger in the
Department, and who bore the name of M. Madeleine, had, thanks to the
new methods, resuscitated some years ago an ancient local industry, the
manufacture of jet and of black glass trinkets. He had made his fortune
in the business, and that of the arrondissement as well, we will admit.
He had been appointed mayor, in recognition of his services. The police
discovered that M. Madeleine was no other than an ex-convict who had
broken his ban, condemned in 1796 for theft, and named Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean has been recommitted to prison. It appears that previous
to his arrest he had succeeded in withdrawing from the hands of M.
Laffitte, a sum of over half a million which he had lodged there, and
which he had, moreover, and by perfectly legitimate means, acquired in
his business. No one has been able to discover where Jean Valjean has
concealed this money since his return to prison at Toulon.

The second article, which enters a little more into detail, is an
extract from the Journal de Paris, of the same date.

A former convict, who had been liberated, named Jean Valjean, has just
appeared before the Court of Assizes of the Var, under circumstances
calculated to attract attention. This wretch had succeeded in escaping
the vigilance of the police, he had changed his name, and had succeeded
in getting himself appointed mayor of one of our small northern towns;
in this town he had established a considerable commerce. He has at last
been unmasked and arrested, thanks to the indefatigable zeal of the
public prosecutor. He had for his concubine a woman of the town, who
died of a shock at the moment of his arrest. This scoundrel, who is
endowed with Herculean strength, found means to escape; but three or
four days after his flight the police laid their hands on him once more,
in Paris itself, at the very moment when he was entering one of those
little vehicles which run between the capital and the village of
Montfermeil (Seine-et-Oise). He is said to have profited by this
interval of three or four days of liberty, to withdraw a considerable
sum deposited by him with one of our leading bankers. This sum has been
estimated at six or seven hundred thousand francs. If the indictment is
to be trusted, he has hidden it in some place known to himself alone,
and it has not been possible to lay hands on it. However that may be,
the said Jean Valjean has just been brought before the Assizes of the
Department of the Var as accused of highway robbery accompanied with
violence, about eight years ago, on the person of one of those honest
children who, as the patriarch of Ferney has said, in immortal verse,

          ". . . Arrive from Savoy every year,
           And who, with gentle hands, do clear
           Those long canals choked up with soot."

This bandit refused to defend himself. It was proved by the skilful and
eloquent representative of the public prosecutor, that the theft was
committed in complicity with others, and that Jean Valjean was a member
of a band of robbers in the south. Jean Valjean was pronounced guilty
and was condemned to the death penalty in consequence. This criminal
refused to lodge an appeal. The king, in his inexhaustible clemency, has
deigned to commute his penalty to that of penal servitude for life. Jean
Valjean was immediately taken to the prison at Toulon.

The reader has not forgotten that Jean Valjean had religious habits at
M. sur M. Some papers, among others the Constitutional, presented this
commutation as a triumph of the priestly party.

Jean Valjean changed his number in the galleys. He was called 9,430.

However, and we will mention it at once in order that we may not be
obliged to recur to the subject, the prosperity of M. sur M. vanished
with M. Madeleine; all that he had foreseen during his night of fever
and hesitation was realized; lacking him, there actually was a soul
lacking. After this fall, there took place at M. sur M. that egotistical
division of great existences which have fallen, that fatal dismemberment
of flourishing things which is accomplished every day, obscurely, in
the human community, and which history has noted only once, because it
occurred after the death of Alexander. Lieutenants are crowned kings;
superintendents improvise manufacturers out of themselves. Envious
rivalries arose. M. Madeleine's vast workshops were shut; his buildings
fell to ruin, his workmen were scattered. Some of them quitted the
country, others abandoned the trade. Thenceforth, everything was done
on a small scale, instead of on a grand scale; for lucre instead of
the general good. There was no longer a centre; everywhere there
was competition and animosity. M. Madeleine had reigned over all and
directed all. No sooner had he fallen, than each pulled things to
himself; the spirit of combat succeeded to the spirit of organization,
bitterness to cordiality, hatred of one another to the benevolence of
the founder towards all; the threads which M. Madeleine had set were
tangled and broken, the methods were adulterated, the products were
debased, confidence was killed; the market diminished, for lack of
orders; salaries were reduced, the workshops stood still, bankruptcy
arrived. And then there was nothing more for the poor. All had vanished.

The state itself perceived that some one had been crushed somewhere.
Less than four years after the judgment of the Court of Assizes
establishing the identity of Jean Valjean and M. Madeleine, for the
benefit of the galleys, the cost of collecting taxes had doubled in the
arrondissement of M. sur M.; and M. de Villele called attention to the
fact in the rostrum, in the month of February, 1827.


Before proceeding further, it will be to the purpose to narrate in some
detail, a singular occurrence which took place at about the same epoch,
in Montfermeil, and which is not lacking in coincidence with certain
conjectures of the indictment.

There exists in the region of Montfermeil a very ancient superstition,
which is all the more curious and all the more precious, because
a popular superstition in the vicinity of Paris is like an aloe in
Siberia. We are among those who respect everything which is in the
nature of a rare plant. Here, then, is the superstition of Montfermeil:
it is thought that the devil, from time immemorial, has selected the
forest as a hiding-place for his treasures. Goodwives affirm that it is
no rarity to encounter at nightfall, in secluded nooks of the forest,
a black man with the air of a carter or a wood-chopper, wearing wooden
shoes, clad in trousers and a blouse of linen, and recognizable by the
fact, that, instead of a cap or hat, he has two immense horns on his
head. This ought, in fact, to render him recognizable. This man is
habitually engaged in digging a hole. There are three ways of profiting
by such an encounter. The first is to approach the man and speak to him.
Then it is seen that the man is simply a peasant, that he appears black
because it is nightfall; that he is not digging any hole whatever, but
is cutting grass for his cows, and that what had been taken for horns
is nothing but a dung-fork which he is carrying on his back, and whose
teeth, thanks to the perspective of evening, seemed to spring from his
head. The man returns home and dies within the week. The second way is
to watch him, to wait until he has dug his hole, until he has filled it
and has gone away; then to run with great speed to the trench, to
open it once more and to seize the "treasure" which the black man
has necessarily placed there. In this case one dies within the month.
Finally, the last method is not to speak to the black man, not to look
at him, and to flee at the best speed of one's legs. One then dies
within the year.

As all three methods are attended with their special inconveniences, the
second, which at all events, presents some advantages, among others that
of possessing a treasure, if only for a month, is the one most generally
adopted. So bold men, who are tempted by every chance, have quite
frequently, as we are assured, opened the holes excavated by the black
man, and tried to rob the devil. The success of the operation appears
to be but moderate. At least, if the tradition is to be believed, and in
particular the two enigmatical lines in barbarous Latin, which an
evil Norman monk, a bit of a sorcerer, named Tryphon has left on
this subject. This Tryphon is buried at the Abbey of Saint-Georges de
Bocherville, near Rouen, and toads spawn on his grave.

Accordingly, enormous efforts are made. Such trenches are ordinarily
extremely deep; a man sweats, digs, toils all night--for it must be done
at night; he wets his shirt, burns out his candle, breaks his mattock,
and when he arrives at the bottom of the hole, when he lays his hand on
the "treasure," what does he find? What is the devil's treasure? A sou,
sometimes a crown-piece, a stone, a skeleton, a bleeding body, sometimes
a spectre folded in four like a sheet of paper in a portfolio,
sometimes nothing. This is what Tryphon's verses seem to announce to the
indiscreet and curious:--

          "Fodit, et in fossa thesauros condit opaca,
           As, nummas, lapides, cadaver, simulacra, nihilque."

It seems that in our day there is sometimes found a powder-horn with
bullets, sometimes an old pack of cards greasy and worn, which has
evidently served the devil. Tryphon does not record these two finds,
since Tryphon lived in the twelfth century, and since the devil does not
appear to have had the wit to invent powder before Roger Bacon's time,
and cards before the time of Charles VI.

Moreover, if one plays at cards, one is sure to lose all that one
possesses! and as for the powder in the horn, it possesses the property
of making your gun burst in your face.

Now, a very short time after the epoch when it seemed to the prosecuting
attorney that the liberated convict Jean Valjean during his flight of
several days had been prowling around Montfermeil, it was remarked in
that village that a certain old road-laborer, named Boulatruelle, had
"peculiar ways" in the forest. People thereabouts thought they knew that
this Boulatruelle had been in the galleys. He was subjected to
certain police supervision, and, as he could find work nowhere, the
administration employed him at reduced rates as a road-mender on the
cross-road from Gagny to Lagny.

This Boulatruelle was a man who was viewed with disfavor by the
inhabitants of the district as too respectful, too humble, too prompt in
removing his cap to every one, and trembling and smiling in the presence
of the gendarmes,--probably affiliated to robber bands, they said;
suspected of lying in ambush at verge of copses at nightfall. The only
thing in his favor was that he was a drunkard.

This is what people thought they had noticed:--

Of late, Boulatruelle had taken to quitting his task of stone-breaking
and care of the road at a very early hour, and to betaking himself to
the forest with his pickaxe. He was encountered towards evening in
the most deserted clearings, in the wildest thickets; and he had the
appearance of being in search of something, and sometimes he was digging
holes. The goodwives who passed took him at first for Beelzebub; then
they recognized Boulatruelle, and were not in the least reassured
thereby. These encounters seemed to cause Boulatruelle a lively
displeasure. It was evident that he sought to hide, and that there was
some mystery in what he was doing.

It was said in the village: "It is clear that the devil has appeared.
Boulatruelle has seen him, and is on the search. In sooth, he is cunning
enough to pocket Lucifer's hoard."

The Voltairians added, "Will Boulatruelle catch the devil, or will the
devil catch Boulatruelle?" The old women made a great many signs of the

In the meantime, Boulatruelle's manoeuvres in the forest ceased; and he
resumed his regular occupation of roadmending; and people gossiped of
something else.

Some persons, however, were still curious, surmising that in all this
there was probably no fabulous treasure of the legends, but some
fine windfall of a more serious and palpable sort than the devil's
bank-bills, and that the road-mender had half discovered the secret. The
most "puzzled" were the school-master and Thenardier, the proprietor of
the tavern, who was everybody's friend, and had not disdained to ally
himself with Boulatruelle.

"He has been in the galleys," said Thenardier. "Eh! Good God! no one
knows who has been there or will be there."

One evening the schoolmaster affirmed that in former times the law would
have instituted an inquiry as to what Boulatruelle did in the forest,
and that the latter would have been forced to speak, and that he would
have been put to the torture in case of need, and that Boulatruelle
would not have resisted the water test, for example. "Let us put him to
the wine test," said Thenardier.

They made an effort, and got the old road-mender to drinking.
Boulatruelle drank an enormous amount, but said very little. He combined
with admirable art, and in masterly proportions, the thirst of a
gormandizer with the discretion of a judge. Nevertheless, by dint of
returning to the charge and of comparing and putting together the few
obscure words which he did allow to escape him, this is what Thenardier
and the schoolmaster imagined that they had made out:--

One morning, when Boulatruelle was on his way to his work, at daybreak,
he had been surprised to see, at a nook of the forest in the underbrush,
a shovel and a pickaxe, concealed, as one might say.

However, he might have supposed that they were probably the shovel and
pick of Father Six-Fours, the water-carrier, and would have thought no
more about it. But, on the evening of that day, he saw, without being
seen himself, as he was hidden by a large tree, "a person who did not
belong in those parts, and whom he, Boulatruelle, knew well," directing
his steps towards the densest part of the wood. Translation by
Thenardier: A comrade of the galleys. Boulatruelle obstinately refused
to reveal his name. This person carried a package--something square,
like a large box or a small trunk. Surprise on the part of Boulatruelle.
However, it was only after the expiration of seven or eight minutes that
the idea of following that "person" had occurred to him. But it was too
late; the person was already in the thicket, night had descended, and
Boulatruelle had not been able to catch up with him. Then he had
adopted the course of watching for him at the edge of the woods. "It was
moonlight." Two or three hours later, Boulatruelle had seen this person
emerge from the brushwood, carrying no longer the coffer, but a shovel
and pick. Boulatruelle had allowed the person to pass, and had not
dreamed of accosting him, because he said to himself that the other man
was three times as strong as he was, and armed with a pickaxe, and that
he would probably knock him over the head on recognizing him, and on
perceiving that he was recognized. Touching effusion of two old comrades
on meeting again. But the shovel and pick had served as a ray of light
to Boulatruelle; he had hastened to the thicket in the morning, and had
found neither shovel nor pick. From this he had drawn the inference that
this person, once in the forest, had dug a hole with his pick, buried
the coffer, and reclosed the hole with his shovel. Now, the coffer was
too small to contain a body; therefore it contained money. Hence his
researches. Boulatruelle had explored, sounded, searched the entire
forest and the thicket, and had dug wherever the earth appeared to him
to have been recently turned up. In vain.

He had "ferreted out" nothing. No one in Montfermeil thought any more
about it. There were only a few brave gossips, who said, "You may be
certain that the mender on the Gagny road did not take all that trouble
for nothing; he was sure that the devil had come."


Towards the end of October, in that same year, 1823, the inhabitants of
Toulon beheld the entry into their port, after heavy weather, and for
the purpose of repairing some damages, of the ship Orion, which was
employed later at Brest as a school-ship, and which then formed a part
of the Mediterranean squadron.

This vessel, battered as it was,--for the sea had handled it
roughly,--produced a fine effect as it entered the roads. It flew some
colors which procured for it the regulation salute of eleven guns, which
it returned, shot for shot; total, twenty-two. It has been calculated
that what with salvos, royal and military politenesses, courteous
exchanges of uproar, signals of etiquette, formalities of roadsteads and
citadels, sunrises and sunsets, saluted every day by all fortresses and
all ships of war, openings and closings of ports, etc., the civilized
world, discharged all over the earth, in the course of four and twenty
hours, one hundred and fifty thousand useless shots. At six francs the
shot, that comes to nine hundred thousand francs a day, three hundred
millions a year, which vanish in smoke. This is a mere detail. All this
time the poor were dying of hunger.

The year 1823 was what the Restoration called "the epoch of the Spanish

This war contained many events in one, and a quantity of peculiarities.
A grand family affair for the house of Bourbon; the branch of France
succoring and protecting the branch of Madrid, that is to say,
performing an act devolving on the elder; an apparent return to our
national traditions, complicated by servitude and by subjection to the
cabinets of the North; M. le Duc d'Angouleme, surnamed by the liberal
sheets the hero of Andujar, compressing in a triumphal attitude that
was somewhat contradicted by his peaceable air, the ancient and very
powerful terrorism of the Holy Office at variance with the chimerical
terrorism of the liberals; the sansculottes resuscitated, to the great
terror of dowagers, under the name of descamisados; monarchy opposing an
obstacle to progress described as anarchy; the theories of '89 roughly
interrupted in the sap; a European halt, called to the French idea,
which was making the tour of the world; beside the son of France as
generalissimo, the Prince de Carignan, afterwards Charles Albert,
enrolling himself in that crusade of kings against people as a
volunteer, with grenadier epaulets of red worsted; the soldiers of the
Empire setting out on a fresh campaign, but aged, saddened, after eight
years of repose, and under the white cockade; the tricolored standard
waved abroad by a heroic handful of Frenchmen, as the white standard had
been thirty years earlier at Coblentz; monks mingled with our troops;
the spirit of liberty and of novelty brought to its senses by bayonets;
principles slaughtered by cannonades; France undoing by her arms that
which she had done by her mind; in addition to this, hostile leaders
sold, soldiers hesitating, cities besieged by millions; no military
perils, and yet possible explosions, as in every mine which is surprised
and invaded; but little bloodshed, little honor won, shame for some,
glory for no one. Such was this war, made by the princes descended from
Louis XIV., and conducted by generals who had been under Napoleon. Its
sad fate was to recall neither the grand war nor grand politics.

Some feats of arms were serious; the taking of the Trocadero, among
others, was a fine military action; but after all, we repeat, the
trumpets of this war give back a cracked sound, the whole effect was
suspicious; history approves of France for making a difficulty about
accepting this false triumph. It seemed evident that certain Spanish
officers charged with resistance yielded too easily; the idea of
corruption was connected with the victory; it appears as though generals
and not battles had been won, and the conquering soldier returned
humiliated. A debasing war, in short, in which the Bank of France could
be read in the folds of the flag.

Soldiers of the war of 1808, on whom Saragossa had fallen in formidable
ruin, frowned in 1823 at the easy surrender of citadels, and began to
regret Palafox. It is the nature of France to prefer to have Rostopchine
rather than Ballesteros in front of her.

From a still more serious point of view, and one which it is also proper
to insist upon here, this war, which wounded the military spirit
of France, enraged the democratic spirit. It was an enterprise of
inthralment. In that campaign, the object of the French soldier, the
son of democracy, was the conquest of a yoke for others. A hideous
contradiction. France is made to arouse the soul of nations, not to
stifle it. All the revolutions of Europe since 1792 are the French
Revolution: liberty darts rays from France. That is a solar fact. Blind
is he who will not see! It was Bonaparte who said it.

The war of 1823, an outrage on the generous Spanish nation, was then,
at the same time, an outrage on the French Revolution. It was France
who committed this monstrous violence; by foul means, for, with the
exception of wars of liberation, everything that armies do is by foul
means. The words passive obedience indicate this. An army is a strange
masterpiece of combination where force results from an enormous sum
of impotence. Thus is war, made by humanity against humanity, despite
humanity, explained.

As for the Bourbons, the war of 1823 was fatal to them. They took it for
a success. They did not perceive the danger that lies in having an idea
slain to order. They went astray, in their innocence, to such a degree
that they introduced the immense enfeeblement of a crime into their
establishment as an element of strength. The spirit of the ambush
entered into their politics. 1830 had its germ in 1823. The Spanish
campaign became in their counsels an argument for force and for
adventures by right Divine. France, having re-established elrey netto
in Spain, might well have re-established the absolute king at home. They
fell into the alarming error of taking the obedience of the soldier for
the consent of the nation. Such confidence is the ruin of thrones. It is
not permitted to fall asleep, either in the shadow of a machineel tree,
nor in the shadow of an army.

Let us return to the ship Orion.

During the operations of the army commanded by the prince generalissimo,
a squadron had been cruising in the Mediterranean. We have just stated
that the Orion belonged to this fleet, and that accidents of the sea had
brought it into port at Toulon.

The presence of a vessel of war in a port has something about it which
attracts and engages a crowd. It is because it is great, and the crowd
loves what is great.

A ship of the line is one of the most magnificent combinations of the
genius of man with the powers of nature.

A ship of the line is composed, at the same time, of the heaviest and
the lightest of possible matter, for it deals at one and the same time
with three forms of substance,--solid, liquid, and fluid,--and it must
do battle with all three. It has eleven claws of iron with which to
seize the granite on the bottom of the sea, and more wings and more
antennae than winged insects, to catch the wind in the clouds. Its
breath pours out through its hundred and twenty cannons as through
enormous trumpets, and replies proudly to the thunder. The ocean seeks
to lead it astray in the alarming sameness of its billows, but the
vessel has its soul, its compass, which counsels it and always shows it
the north. In the blackest nights, its lanterns supply the place of
the stars. Thus, against the wind, it has its cordage and its canvas;
against the water, wood; against the rocks, its iron, brass, and lead;
against the shadows, its light; against immensity, a needle.

If one wishes to form an idea of all those gigantic proportions which,
taken as a whole, constitute the ship of the line, one has only to enter
one of the six-story covered construction stocks, in the ports of Brest
or Toulon. The vessels in process of construction are under a bell-glass
there, as it were. This colossal beam is a yard; that great column of
wood which stretches out on the earth as far as the eye can reach is
the main-mast. Taking it from its root in the stocks to its tip in the
clouds, it is sixty fathoms long, and its diameter at its base is
three feet. The English main-mast rises to a height of two hundred and
seventeen feet above the water-line. The navy of our fathers employed
cables, ours employs chains. The simple pile of chains on a ship of a
hundred guns is four feet high, twenty feet in breadth, and eight
feet in depth. And how much wood is required to make this ship? Three
thousand cubic metres. It is a floating forest.

And moreover, let this be borne in mind, it is only a question here of
the military vessel of forty years ago, of the simple sailing-vessel;
steam, then in its infancy, has since added new miracles to that prodigy
which is called a war vessel. At the present time, for example, the
mixed vessel with a screw is a surprising machine, propelled by three
thousand square metres of canvas and by an engine of two thousand five
hundred horse-power.

Not to mention these new marvels, the ancient vessel of Christopher
Columbus and of De Ruyter is one of the masterpieces of man. It is as
inexhaustible in force as is the Infinite in gales; it stores up
the wind in its sails, it is precise in the immense vagueness of the
billows, it floats, and it reigns.

There comes an hour, nevertheless, when the gale breaks that sixty-foot
yard like a straw, when the wind bends that mast four hundred feet tall,
when that anchor, which weighs tens of thousands, is twisted in the jaws
of the waves like a fisherman's hook in the jaws of a pike, when those
monstrous cannons utter plaintive and futile roars, which the hurricane
bears forth into the void and into night, when all that power and all
that majesty are engulfed in a power and majesty which are superior.

Every time that immense force is displayed to culminate in an immense
feebleness it affords men food for thought, Hence in the ports curious
people abound around these marvellous machines of war and of navigation,
without being able to explain perfectly to themselves why. Every day,
accordingly, from morning until night, the quays, sluices, and the
jetties of the port of Toulon were covered with a multitude of idlers
and loungers, as they say in Paris, whose business consisted in staring
at the Orion.

The Orion was a ship that had been ailing for a long time; in the course
of its previous cruises thick layers of barnacles had collected on its
keel to such a degree as to deprive it of half its speed; it had gone
into the dry dock the year before this, in order to have the barnacles
scraped off, then it had put to sea again; but this cleaning had
affected the bolts of the keel: in the neighborhood of the Balearic
Isles the sides had been strained and had opened; and, as the plating
in those days was not of sheet iron, the vessel had sprung a leak.
A violent equinoctial gale had come up, which had first staved in
a grating and a porthole on the larboard side, and damaged the
foretop-gallant-shrouds; in consequence of these injuries, the Orion had
run back to Toulon.

It anchored near the Arsenal; it was fully equipped, and repairs were
begun. The hull had received no damage on the starboard, but some of the
planks had been unnailed here and there, according to custom, to permit
of air entering the hold.

One morning the crowd which was gazing at it witnessed an accident.

[Illustration: The Ship Orion, An Accident 2b2-1-the-ship-orion]

The crew was busy bending the sails; the topman, who had to take the
upper corner of the main-top-sail on the starboard, lost his balance;
he was seen to waver; the multitude thronging the Arsenal quay uttered a
cry; the man's head overbalanced his body; the man fell around the yard,
with his hands outstretched towards the abyss; on his way he seized the
footrope, first with one hand, then with the other, and remained hanging
from it: the sea lay below him at a dizzy depth; the shock of his fall
had imparted to the foot-rope a violent swinging motion; the man swayed
back and forth at the end of that rope, like a stone in a sling.

It was incurring a frightful risk to go to his assistance; not one
of the sailors, all fishermen of the coast, recently levied for the
service, dared to attempt it. In the meantime, the unfortunate topman
was losing his strength; his anguish could not be discerned on his face,
but his exhaustion was visible in every limb; his arms were contracted
in horrible twitchings; every effort which he made to re-ascend served
but to augment the oscillations of the foot-rope; he did not shout, for
fear of exhausting his strength. All were awaiting the minute when he
should release his hold on the rope, and, from instant to instant, heads
were turned aside that his fall might not be seen. There are moments
when a bit of rope, a pole, the branch of a tree, is life itself, and
it is a terrible thing to see a living being detach himself from it and
fall like a ripe fruit.

All at once a man was seen climbing into the rigging with the agility
of a tiger-cat; this man was dressed in red; he was a convict; he wore a
green cap; he was a life convict. On arriving on a level with the top, a
gust of wind carried away his cap, and allowed a perfectly white head to
be seen: he was not a young man.

A convict employed on board with a detachment from the galleys had, in
fact, at the very first instant, hastened to the officer of the watch,
and, in the midst of the consternation and the hesitation of the crew,
while all the sailors were trembling and drawing back, he had asked
the officer's permission to risk his life to save the topman; at an
affirmative sign from the officer he had broken the chain riveted to his
ankle with one blow of a hammer, then he had caught up a rope, and had
dashed into the rigging: no one noticed, at the instant, with what ease
that chain had been broken; it was only later on that the incident was

In a twinkling he was on the yard; he paused for a few seconds and
appeared to be measuring it with his eye; these seconds, during which
the breeze swayed the topman at the extremity of a thread, seemed
centuries to those who were looking on. At last, the convict raised his
eyes to heaven and advanced a step: the crowd drew a long breath. He was
seen to run out along the yard: on arriving at the point, he fastened
the rope which he had brought to it, and allowed the other end to hang
down, then he began to descend the rope, hand over hand, and then,--and
the anguish was indescribable,--instead of one man suspended over the
gulf, there were two.

One would have said it was a spider coming to seize a fly, only here the
spider brought life, not death. Ten thousand glances were fastened on
this group; not a cry, not a word; the same tremor contracted every
brow; all mouths held their breath as though they feared to add the
slightest puff to the wind which was swaying the two unfortunate men.

In the meantime, the convict had succeeded in lowering himself to a
position near the sailor. It was high time; one minute more, and the
exhausted and despairing man would have allowed himself to fall into
the abyss. The convict had moored him securely with the cord to which
he clung with one hand, while he was working with the other. At last, he
was seen to climb back on the yard, and to drag the sailor up after him;
he held him there a moment to allow him to recover his strength, then he
grasped him in his arms and carried him, walking on the yard himself to
the cap, and from there to the main-top, where he left him in the hands
of his comrades.

At that moment the crowd broke into applause: old convict-sergeants
among them wept, and women embraced each other on the quay, and all
voices were heard to cry with a sort of tender rage, "Pardon for that

He, in the meantime, had immediately begun to make his descent to rejoin
his detachment. In order to reach them the more speedily, he dropped
into the rigging, and ran along one of the lower yards; all eyes were
following him. At a certain moment fear assailed them; whether it was
that he was fatigued, or that his head turned, they thought they saw him
hesitate and stagger. All at once the crowd uttered a loud shout: the
convict had fallen into the sea.

The fall was perilous. The frigate Algesiras was anchored alongside the
Orion, and the poor convict had fallen between the two vessels: it was
to be feared that he would slip under one or the other of them. Four men
flung themselves hastily into a boat; the crowd cheered them on;
anxiety again took possession of all souls; the man had not risen to
the surface; he had disappeared in the sea without leaving a ripple, as
though he had fallen into a cask of oil: they sounded, they dived. In
vain. The search was continued until the evening: they did not even find
the body.

On the following day the Toulon newspaper printed these lines:--

"Nov. 17, 1823. Yesterday, a convict belonging to the detachment on
board of the Orion, on his return from rendering assistance to a sailor,
fell into the sea and was drowned. The body has not yet been found; it
is supposed that it is entangled among the piles of the Arsenal point:
this man was committed under the number 9,430, and his name was Jean



Montfermeil is situated between Livry and Chelles, on the southern edge
of that lofty table-land which separates the Ourcq from the Marne. At
the present day it is a tolerably large town, ornamented all the year
through with plaster villas, and on Sundays with beaming bourgeois. In
1823 there were at Montfermeil neither so many white houses nor so
many well-satisfied citizens: it was only a village in the forest. Some
pleasure-houses of the last century were to be met with there, to be
sure, which were recognizable by their grand air, their balconies in
twisted iron, and their long windows, whose tiny panes cast all sorts
of varying shades of green on the white of the closed shutters; but
Montfermeil was none the less a village. Retired cloth-merchants and
rusticating attorneys had not discovered it as yet; it was a peaceful
and charming place, which was not on the road to anywhere: there people
lived, and cheaply, that peasant rustic life which is so bounteous and
so easy; only, water was rare there, on account of the elevation of the

It was necessary to fetch it from a considerable distance; the end of
the village towards Gagny drew its water from the magnificent ponds
which exist in the woods there. The other end, which surrounds the
church and which lies in the direction of Chelles, found drinking-water
only at a little spring half-way down the slope, near the road to
Chelles, about a quarter of an hour from Montfermeil.

Thus each household found it hard work to keep supplied with water. The
large houses, the aristocracy, of which the Thenardier tavern formed a
part, paid half a farthing a bucketful to a man who made a business of
it, and who earned about eight sous a day in his enterprise of supplying
Montfermeil with water; but this good man only worked until seven
o'clock in the evening in summer, and five in winter; and night once
come and the shutters on the ground floor once closed, he who had no
water to drink went to fetch it for himself or did without it.

This constituted the terror of the poor creature whom the reader has
probably not forgotten,--little Cosette. It will be remembered that
Cosette was useful to the Thenardiers in two ways: they made the mother
pay them, and they made the child serve them. So when the mother ceased
to pay altogether, the reason for which we have read in preceding
chapters, the Thenardiers kept Cosette. She took the place of a servant
in their house. In this capacity she it was who ran to fetch water when
it was required. So the child, who was greatly terrified at the idea of
going to the spring at night, took great care that water should never be
lacking in the house.

Christmas of the year 1823 was particularly brilliant at Montfermeil.
The beginning of the winter had been mild; there had been neither snow
nor frost up to that time. Some mountebanks from Paris had obtained
permission of the mayor to erect their booths in the principal street of
the village, and a band of itinerant merchants, under protection of the
same tolerance, had constructed their stalls on the Church Square,
and even extended them into Boulanger Alley, where, as the reader will
perhaps remember, the Thenardiers' hostelry was situated. These people
filled the inns and drinking-shops, and communicated to that tranquil
little district a noisy and joyous life. In order to play the part of
a faithful historian, we ought even to add that, among the curiosities
displayed in the square, there was a menagerie, in which frightful
clowns, clad in rags and coming no one knew whence, exhibited to
the peasants of Montfermeil in 1823 one of those horrible Brazilian
vultures, such as our Royal Museum did not possess until 1845, and which
have a tricolored cockade for an eye. I believe that naturalists call
this bird Caracara Polyborus; it belongs to the order of the Apicides,
and to the family of the vultures. Some good old Bonapartist soldiers,
who had retired to the village, went to see this creature with great
devotion. The mountebanks gave out that the tricolored cockade was a
unique phenomenon made by God expressly for their menagerie.

On Christmas eve itself, a number of men, carters, and peddlers, were
seated at table, drinking and smoking around four or five candles in
the public room of Thenardier's hostelry. This room resembled all
drinking-shop rooms,--tables, pewter jugs, bottles, drinkers, smokers;
but little light and a great deal of noise. The date of the year 1823
was indicated, nevertheless, by two objects which were then fashionable
in the bourgeois class: to wit, a kaleidoscope and a lamp of ribbed tin.
The female Thenardier was attending to the supper, which was roasting in
front of a clear fire; her husband was drinking with his customers and
talking politics.

Besides political conversations which had for their principal subjects
the Spanish war and M. le Duc d'Angouleme, strictly local parentheses,
like the following, were audible amid the uproar:--

"About Nanterre and Suresnes the vines have flourished greatly. When
ten pieces were reckoned on there have been twelve. They have yielded a
great deal of juice under the press." "But the grapes cannot be ripe?"
"In those parts the grapes should not be ripe; the wine turns oily as
soon as spring comes." "Then it is very thin wine?" "There are wines
poorer even than these. The grapes must be gathered while green." Etc.

Or a miller would call out:--

"Are we responsible for what is in the sacks? We find in them a quantity
of small seed which we cannot sift out, and which we are obliged to send
through the mill-stones; there are tares, fennel, vetches, hempseed,
fox-tail, and a host of other weeds, not to mention pebbles, which
abound in certain wheat, especially in Breton wheat. I am not fond of
grinding Breton wheat, any more than long-sawyers like to saw beams with
nails in them. You can judge of the bad dust that makes in grinding. And
then people complain of the flour. They are in the wrong. The flour is
no fault of ours."

In a space between two windows a mower, who was seated at table with a
landed proprietor who was fixing on a price for some meadow work to be
performed in the spring, was saying:--

"It does no harm to have the grass wet. It cuts better. Dew is a good
thing, sir. It makes no difference with that grass. Your grass is young
and very hard to cut still. It's terribly tender. It yields before the
iron." Etc.

Cosette was in her usual place, seated on the cross-bar of the kitchen
table near the chimney. She was in rags; her bare feet were thrust into
wooden shoes, and by the firelight she was engaged in knitting woollen
stockings destined for the young Thenardiers. A very young kitten was
playing about among the chairs. Laughter and chatter were audible in
the adjoining room, from two fresh children's voices: it was Eponine and

In the chimney-corner a cat-o'-nine-tails was hanging on a nail.

At intervals the cry of a very young child, which was somewhere in the
house, rang through the noise of the dram-shop. It was a little boy
who had been born to the Thenardiers during one of the preceding
winters,--"she did not know why," she said, "the result of the
cold,"--and who was a little more than three years old. The mother had
nursed him, but she did not love him. When the persistent clamor of the
brat became too annoying, "Your son is squalling," Thenardier would
say; "do go and see what he wants." "Bah!" the mother would reply, "he
bothers me." And the neglected child continued to shriek in the dark.


So far in this book the Thenardiers have been viewed only in profile;
the moment has arrived for making the circuit of this couple, and
considering it under all its aspects.

Thenardier had just passed his fiftieth birthday; Madame Thenardier was
approaching her forties, which is equivalent to fifty in a woman; so
that there existed a balance of age between husband and wife.

Our readers have possibly preserved some recollection of this Thenardier
woman, ever since her first appearance,--tall, blond, red, fat, angular,
square, enormous, and agile; she belonged, as we have said, to the
race of those colossal wild women, who contort themselves at fairs with
paving-stones hanging from their hair. She did everything about the
house,--made the beds, did the washing, the cooking, and everything
else. Cosette was her only servant; a mouse in the service of an
elephant. Everything trembled at the sound of her voice,--window panes,
furniture, and people. Her big face, dotted with red blotches,
presented the appearance of a skimmer. She had a beard. She was an ideal
market-porter dressed in woman's clothes. She swore splendidly; she
boasted of being able to crack a nut with one blow of her fist. Except
for the romances which she had read, and which made the affected lady
peep through the ogress at times, in a very queer way, the idea would
never have occurred to any one to say of her, "That is a woman."
This Thenardier female was like the product of a wench engrafted on a
fishwife. When one heard her speak, one said, "That is a gendarme"; when
one saw her drink, one said, "That is a carter"; when one saw her handle
Cosette, one said, "That is the hangman." One of her teeth projected
when her face was in repose.

Thenardier was a small, thin, pale, angular, bony, feeble man, who had
a sickly air and who was wonderfully healthy. His cunning began here;
he smiled habitually, by way of precaution, and was almost polite to
everybody, even to the beggar to whom he refused half a farthing. He had
the glance of a pole-cat and the bearing of a man of letters. He greatly
resembled the portraits of the Abbe Delille. His coquetry consisted in
drinking with the carters. No one had ever succeeded in rendering him
drunk. He smoked a big pipe. He wore a blouse, and under his blouse an
old black coat. He made pretensions to literature and to materialism.
There were certain names which he often pronounced to support whatever
things he might be saying,--Voltaire, Raynal, Parny, and, singularly
enough, Saint Augustine. He declared that he had "a system." In
addition, he was a great swindler. A filousophe [philosophe], a
scientific thief. The species does exist. It will be remembered that he
pretended to have served in the army; he was in the habit of relating
with exuberance, how, being a sergeant in the 6th or the 9th light
something or other, at Waterloo, he had alone, and in the presence of a
squadron of death-dealing hussars, covered with his body and saved
from death, in the midst of the grape-shot, "a general, who had been
dangerously wounded." Thence arose for his wall the flaring sign, and
for his inn the name which it bore in the neighborhood, of "the cabaret
of the Sergeant of Waterloo." He was a liberal, a classic, and a
Bonapartist. He had subscribed for the Champ d'Asile. It was said in the
village that he had studied for the priesthood.

We believe that he had simply studied in Holland for an inn-keeper. This
rascal of composite order was, in all probability, some Fleming from
Lille, in Flanders, a Frenchman in Paris, a Belgian at Brussels, being
comfortably astride of both frontiers. As for his prowess at Waterloo,
the reader is already acquainted with that. It will be perceived that
he exaggerated it a trifle. Ebb and flow, wandering, adventure, was
the leven of his existence; a tattered conscience entails a fragmentary
life, and, apparently at the stormy epoch of June 18, 1815, Thenardier
belonged to that variety of marauding sutlers of which we have spoken,
beating about the country, selling to some, stealing from others, and
travelling like a family man, with wife and children, in a rickety
cart, in the rear of troops on the march, with an instinct for always
attaching himself to the victorious army. This campaign ended, and
having, as he said, "some quibus," he had come to Montfermeil and set up
an inn there.

This quibus, composed of purses and watches, of gold rings and silver
crosses, gathered in harvest-time in furrows sown with corpses, did
not amount to a large total, and did not carry this sutler turned
eating-house-keeper very far.

Thenardier had that peculiar rectilinear something about his gestures
which, accompanied by an oath, recalls the barracks, and by a sign
of the cross, the seminary. He was a fine talker. He allowed it to be
thought that he was an educated man. Nevertheless, the schoolmaster had
noticed that he pronounced improperly.[12]

He composed the travellers' tariff card in a superior manner, but
practised eyes sometimes spied out orthographical errors in it.
Thenardier was cunning, greedy, slothful, and clever. He did not disdain
his servants, which caused his wife to dispense with them. This giantess
was jealous. It seemed to her that that thin and yellow little man must
be an object coveted by all.

Thenardier, who was, above all, an astute and well-balanced man, was a
scamp of a temperate sort. This is the worst species; hypocrisy enters
into it.

It is not that Thenardier was not, on occasion, capable of wrath to
quite the same degree as his wife; but this was very rare, and at such
times, since he was enraged with the human race in general, as he bore
within him a deep furnace of hatred. And since he was one of those
people who are continually avenging their wrongs, who accuse everything
that passes before them of everything which has befallen them, and who
are always ready to cast upon the first person who comes to hand, as a
legitimate grievance, the sum total of the deceptions, the bankruptcies,
and the calamities of their lives,--when all this leaven was stirred up
in him and boiled forth from his mouth and eyes, he was terrible. Woe to
the person who came under his wrath at such a time!

In addition to his other qualities, Thenardier was attentive and
penetrating, silent or talkative, according to circumstances, and always
highly intelligent. He had something of the look of sailors, who are
accustomed to screw up their eyes to gaze through marine glasses.
Thenardier was a statesman.

Every new-comer who entered the tavern said, on catching sight of Madame
Thenardier, "There is the master of the house." A mistake. She was not
even the mistress. The husband was both master and mistress. She worked;
he created. He directed everything by a sort of invisible and constant
magnetic action. A word was sufficient for him, sometimes a sign; the
mastodon obeyed. Thenardier was a sort of special and sovereign being in
Madame Thenardier's eyes, though she did not thoroughly realize it.
She was possessed of virtues after her own kind; if she had ever had a
disagreement as to any detail with "Monsieur Thenardier,"--which was
an inadmissible hypothesis, by the way,--she would not have blamed
her husband in public on any subject whatever. She would never have
committed "before strangers" that mistake so often committed by women,
and which is called in parliamentary language, "exposing the crown."
Although their concord had only evil as its result, there was
contemplation in Madame Thenardier's submission to her husband. That
mountain of noise and of flesh moved under the little finger of that
frail despot. Viewed on its dwarfed and grotesque side, this was that
grand and universal thing, the adoration of mind by matter; for certain
ugly features have a cause in the very depths of eternal beauty. There
was an unknown quantity about Thenardier; hence the absolute empire
of the man over that woman. At certain moments she beheld him like a
lighted candle; at others she felt him like a claw.

This woman was a formidable creature who loved no one except her
children, and who did not fear any one except her husband. She was a
mother because she was mammiferous. But her maternity stopped short with
her daughters, and, as we shall see, did not extend to boys. The man had
but one thought,--how to enrich himself.

He did not succeed in this. A theatre worthy of this great talent was
lacking. Thenardier was ruining himself at Montfermeil, if ruin is
possible to zero; in Switzerland or in the Pyrenees this penniless scamp
would have become a millionaire; but an inn-keeper must browse where
fate has hitched him.

It will be understood that the word inn-keeper is here employed in a
restricted sense, and does not extend to an entire class.

In this same year, 1823, Thenardier was burdened with about fifteen
hundred francs' worth of petty debts, and this rendered him anxious.

Whatever may have been the obstinate injustice of destiny in this case,
Thenardier was one of those men who understand best, with the most
profundity and in the most modern fashion, that thing which is a virtue
among barbarous peoples and an object of merchandise among civilized
peoples,--hospitality. Besides, he was an admirable poacher, and quoted
for his skill in shooting. He had a certain cold and tranquil laugh,
which was particularly dangerous.

His theories as a landlord sometimes burst forth in lightning flashes.
He had professional aphorisms, which he inserted into his wife's mind.
"The duty of the inn-keeper," he said to her one day, violently, and in
a low voice, "is to sell to the first comer, stews, repose, light, fire,
dirty sheets, a servant, lice, and a smile; to stop passers-by, to empty
small purses, and to honestly lighten heavy ones; to shelter travelling
families respectfully: to shave the man, to pluck the woman, to pick
the child clean; to quote the window open, the window shut, the
chimney-corner, the arm-chair, the chair, the ottoman, the stool, the
feather-bed, the mattress and the truss of straw; to know how much
the shadow uses up the mirror, and to put a price on it; and, by five
hundred thousand devils, to make the traveller pay for everything, even
for the flies which his dog eats!"

This man and this woman were ruse and rage wedded--a hideous and
terrible team.

While the husband pondered and combined, Madame Thenardier thought not
of absent creditors, took no heed of yesterday nor of to-morrow, and
lived in a fit of anger, all in a minute.

Such were these two beings. Cosette was between them, subjected to their
double pressure, like a creature who is at the same time being ground up
in a mill and pulled to pieces with pincers. The man and the woman each
had a different method: Cosette was overwhelmed with blows--this was the
woman's; she went barefooted in winter--that was the man's doing.

Cosette ran up stairs and down, washed, swept, rubbed, dusted, ran,
fluttered about, panted, moved heavy articles, and weak as she was,
did the coarse work. There was no mercy for her; a fierce mistress and
venomous master. The Thenardier hostelry was like a spider's web, in
which Cosette had been caught, and where she lay trembling. The ideal
of oppression was realized by this sinister household. It was something
like the fly serving the spiders.

The poor child passively held her peace.

What takes place within these souls when they have but just quitted God,
find themselves thus, at the very dawn of life, very small and in the
midst of men all naked!


Four new travellers had arrived.

Cosette was meditating sadly; for, although she was only eight years
old, she had already suffered so much that she reflected with the
lugubrious air of an old woman. Her eye was black in consequence of a
blow from Madame Thenardier's fist, which caused the latter to remark
from time to time, "How ugly she is with her fist-blow on her eye!"

Cosette was thinking that it was dark, very dark, that the pitchers and
caraffes in the chambers of the travellers who had arrived must have
been filled and that there was no more water in the cistern.

She was somewhat reassured because no one in the Thenardier
establishment drank much water. Thirsty people were never lacking there;
but their thirst was of the sort which applies to the jug rather than to
the pitcher. Any one who had asked for a glass of water among all those
glasses of wine would have appeared a savage to all these men. But there
came a moment when the child trembled; Madame Thenardier raised the
cover of a stew-pan which was boiling on the stove, then seized a glass
and briskly approached the cistern. She turned the faucet; the child
had raised her head and was following all the woman's movements. A thin
stream of water trickled from the faucet, and half filled the glass.
"Well," said she, "there is no more water!" A momentary silence ensued.
The child did not breathe.

"Bah!" resumed Madame Thenardier, examining the half-filled glass, "this
will be enough."

Cosette applied herself to her work once more, but for a quarter of an
hour she felt her heart leaping in her bosom like a big snow-flake.

She counted the minutes that passed in this manner, and wished it were
the next morning.

From time to time one of the drinkers looked into the street, and
exclaimed, "It's as black as an oven!" or, "One must needs be a cat
to go about the streets without a lantern at this hour!" And Cosette

All at once one of the pedlers who lodged in the hostelry entered, and
said in a harsh voice:--

"My horse has not been watered."

"Yes, it has," said Madame Thenardier.

"I tell you that it has not," retorted the pedler.

Cosette had emerged from under the table.

"Oh, yes, sir!" said she, "the horse has had a drink; he drank out of a
bucket, a whole bucketful, and it was I who took the water to him, and I
spoke to him."

It was not true; Cosette lied.

"There's a brat as big as my fist who tells lies as big as the house,"
exclaimed the pedler. "I tell you that he has not been watered, you
little jade! He has a way of blowing when he has had no water, which I
know well."

Cosette persisted, and added in a voice rendered hoarse with anguish,
and which was hardly audible:--

"And he drank heartily."

"Come," said the pedler, in a rage, "this won't do at all, let my horse
be watered, and let that be the end of it!"

Cosette crept under the table again.

"In truth, that is fair!" said Madame Thenardier, "if the beast has not
been watered, it must be."

Then glancing about her:--

"Well, now! Where's that other beast?"

She bent down and discovered Cosette cowering at the other end of the
table, almost under the drinkers' feet.

"Are you coming?" shrieked Madame Thenardier.

Cosette crawled out of the sort of hole in which she had hidden herself.
The Thenardier resumed:--

"Mademoiselle Dog-lack-name, go and water that horse."

"But, Madame," said Cosette, feebly, "there is no water."

The Thenardier threw the street door wide open:--

"Well, go and get some, then!"

Cosette dropped her head, and went for an empty bucket which stood near
the chimney-corner.

This bucket was bigger than she was, and the child could have set down
in it at her ease.

The Thenardier returned to her stove, and tasted what was in the
stewpan, with a wooden spoon, grumbling the while:--

"There's plenty in the spring. There never was such a malicious creature
as that. I think I should have done better to strain my onions."

Then she rummaged in a drawer which contained sous, pepper, and

"See here, Mam'selle Toad," she added, "on your way back, you will get a
big loaf from the baker. Here's a fifteen-sou piece."

Cosette had a little pocket on one side of her apron; she took the coin
without saying a word, and put it in that pocket.

Then she stood motionless, bucket in hand, the open door before her. She
seemed to be waiting for some one to come to her rescue.

"Get along with you!" screamed the Thenardier.

Cosette went out. The door closed behind her.


The line of open-air booths starting at the church, extended, as the
reader will remember, as far as the hostelry of the Thenardiers. These
booths were all illuminated, because the citizens would soon pass on
their way to the midnight mass, with candles burning in paper funnels,
which, as the schoolmaster, then seated at the table at the Thenardiers'
observed, produced "a magical effect." In compensation, not a star was
visible in the sky.

The last of these stalls, established precisely opposite the
Thenardiers' door, was a toy-shop all glittering with tinsel, glass,
and magnificent objects of tin. In the first row, and far forwards, the
merchant had placed on a background of white napkins, an immense doll,
nearly two feet high, who was dressed in a robe of pink crepe, with gold
wheat-ears on her head, which had real hair and enamel eyes. All that
day, this marvel had been displayed to the wonderment of all passers-by
under ten years of age, without a mother being found in Montfermeil
sufficiently rich or sufficiently extravagant to give it to her child.
Eponine and Azelma had passed hours in contemplating it, and Cosette
herself had ventured to cast a glance at it, on the sly, it is true.

At the moment when Cosette emerged, bucket in hand, melancholy and
overcome as she was, she could not refrain from lifting her eyes to
that wonderful doll, towards the lady, as she called it. The poor child
paused in amazement. She had not yet beheld that doll close to. The
whole shop seemed a palace to her: the doll was not a doll; it was a
vision. It was joy, splendor, riches, happiness, which appeared in
a sort of chimerical halo to that unhappy little being so profoundly
engulfed in gloomy and chilly misery. With the sad and innocent sagacity
of childhood, Cosette measured the abyss which separated her from
that doll. She said to herself that one must be a queen, or at least a
princess, to have a "thing" like that. She gazed at that beautiful pink
dress, that beautiful smooth hair, and she thought, "How happy that doll
must be!" She could not take her eyes from that fantastic stall. The
more she looked, the more dazzled she grew. She thought she was gazing
at paradise. There were other dolls behind the large one, which seemed
to her to be fairies and genii. The merchant, who was pacing back and
forth in front of his shop, produced on her somewhat the effect of being
the Eternal Father.

In this adoration she forgot everything, even the errand with which she
was charged.

All at once the Thenardier's coarse voice recalled her to reality:
"What, you silly jade! you have not gone? Wait! I'll give it to you! I
want to know what you are doing there! Get along, you little monster!"

The Thenardier had cast a glance into the street, and had caught sight
of Cosette in her ecstasy.

Cosette fled, dragging her pail, and taking the longest strides of which
she was capable.


As the Thenardier hostelry was in that part of the village which is
near the church, it was to the spring in the forest in the direction of
Chelles that Cosette was obliged to go for her water.

She did not glance at the display of a single other merchant. So long
as she was in Boulanger Lane and in the neighborhood of the church, the
lighted stalls illuminated the road; but soon the last light from the
last stall vanished. The poor child found herself in the dark. She
plunged into it. Only, as a certain emotion overcame her, she made as
much motion as possible with the handle of the bucket as she walked
along. This made a noise which afforded her company.

The further she went, the denser the darkness became. There was no one
in the streets. However, she did encounter a woman, who turned around
on seeing her, and stood still, muttering between her teeth: "Where can
that child be going? Is it a werewolf child?" Then the woman recognized
Cosette. "Well," said she, "it's the Lark!"

In this manner Cosette traversed the labyrinth of tortuous and deserted
streets which terminate in the village of Montfermeil on the side of
Chelles. So long as she had the houses or even the walls only on both
sides of her path, she proceeded with tolerable boldness. From time
to time she caught the flicker of a candle through the crack of a
shutter--this was light and life; there were people there, and it
reassured her. But in proportion as she advanced, her pace slackened
mechanically, as it were. When she had passed the corner of the last
house, Cosette paused. It had been hard to advance further than the last
stall; it became impossible to proceed further than the last house. She
set her bucket on the ground, thrust her hand into her hair, and
began slowly to scratch her head,--a gesture peculiar to children when
terrified and undecided what to do. It was no longer Montfermeil; it
was the open fields. Black and desert space was before her. She gazed in
despair at that darkness, where there was no longer any one, where there
were beasts, where there were spectres, possibly. She took a good
look, and heard the beasts walking on the grass, and she distinctly saw
spectres moving in the trees. Then she seized her bucket again; fear had
lent her audacity. "Bah!" said she; "I will tell him that there was no
more water!" And she resolutely re-entered Montfermeil.

Hardly had she gone a hundred paces when she paused and began to scratch
her head again. Now it was the Thenardier who appeared to her, with her
hideous, hyena mouth, and wrath flashing in her eyes. The child cast a
melancholy glance before her and behind her. What was she to do? What
was to become of her? Where was she to go? In front of her was the
spectre of the Thenardier; behind her all the phantoms of the night
and of the forest. It was before the Thenardier that she recoiled. She
resumed her path to the spring, and began to run. She emerged from
the village, she entered the forest at a run, no longer looking at or
listening to anything. She only paused in her course when her breath
failed her; but she did not halt in her advance. She went straight
before her in desperation.

As she ran she felt like crying.

The nocturnal quivering of the forest surrounded her completely.

She no longer thought, she no longer saw. The immensity of night was
facing this tiny creature. On the one hand, all shadow; on the other, an

It was only seven or eight minutes' walk from the edge of the woods to
the spring. Cosette knew the way, through having gone over it many times
in daylight. Strange to say, she did not get lost. A remnant of instinct
guided her vaguely. But she did not turn her eyes either to right or to
left, for fear of seeing things in the branches and in the brushwood. In
this manner she reached the spring.

It was a narrow, natural basin, hollowed out by the water in a clayey
soil, about two feet deep, surrounded with moss and with those tall,
crimped grasses which are called Henry IV.'s frills, and paved with
several large stones. A brook ran out of it, with a tranquil little

Cosette did not take time to breathe. It was very dark, but she was in
the habit of coming to this spring. She felt with her left hand in the
dark for a young oak which leaned over the spring, and which usually
served to support her, found one of its branches, clung to it, bent
down, and plunged the bucket in the water. She was in a state of such
violent excitement that her strength was trebled. While thus bent over,
she did not notice that the pocket of her apron had emptied itself into
the spring. The fifteen-sou piece fell into the water. Cosette neither
saw nor heard it fall. She drew out the bucket nearly full, and set it
on the grass.

That done, she perceived that she was worn out with fatigue. She would
have liked to set out again at once, but the effort required to fill the
bucket had been such that she found it impossible to take a step. She
was forced to sit down. She dropped on the grass, and remained crouching

She shut her eyes; then she opened them again, without knowing why, but
because she could not do otherwise. The agitated water in the bucket
beside her was describing circles which resembled tin serpents.

Overhead the sky was covered with vast black clouds, which were like
masses of smoke. The tragic mask of shadow seemed to bend vaguely over
the child.

Jupiter was setting in the depths.

The child stared with bewildered eyes at this great star, with which she
was unfamiliar, and which terrified her. The planet was, in fact, very
near the horizon and was traversing a dense layer of mist which imparted
to it a horrible ruddy hue. The mist, gloomily empurpled, magnified the
star. One would have called it a luminous wound.

A cold wind was blowing from the plain. The forest was dark, not a leaf
was moving; there were none of the vague, fresh gleams of summertide.
Great boughs uplifted themselves in frightful wise. Slender and
misshapen bushes whistled in the clearings. The tall grasses undulated
like eels under the north wind. The nettles seemed to twist long arms
furnished with claws in search of prey. Some bits of dry heather, tossed
by the breeze, flew rapidly by, and had the air of fleeing in terror
before something which was coming after. On all sides there were
lugubrious stretches.

The darkness was bewildering. Man requires light. Whoever buries himself
in the opposite of day feels his heart contract. When the eye sees
black, the heart sees trouble. In an eclipse in the night, in the sooty
opacity, there is anxiety even for the stoutest of hearts. No one walks
alone in the forest at night without trembling. Shadows and trees--two
formidable densities. A chimerical reality appears in the indistinct
depths. The inconceivable is outlined a few paces distant from you with
a spectral clearness. One beholds floating, either in space or in one's
own brain, one knows not what vague and intangible thing, like the
dreams of sleeping flowers. There are fierce attitudes on the horizon.
One inhales the effluvia of the great black void. One is afraid to
glance behind him, yet desirous of doing so. The cavities of night,
things grown haggard, taciturn profiles which vanish when one advances,
obscure dishevelments, irritated tufts, livid pools, the lugubrious
reflected in the funereal, the sepulchral immensity of silence, unknown
but possible beings, bendings of mysterious branches, alarming torsos of
trees, long handfuls of quivering plants,--against all this one has no
protection. There is no hardihood which does not shudder and which does
not feel the vicinity of anguish. One is conscious of something hideous,
as though one's soul were becoming amalgamated with the darkness. This
penetration of the shadows is indescribably sinister in the case of a

Forests are apocalypses, and the beating of the wings of a tiny soul
produces a sound of agony beneath their monstrous vault.

Without understanding her sensations, Cosette was conscious that she was
seized upon by that black enormity of nature; it was no longer terror
alone which was gaining possession of her; it was something more
terrible even than terror; she shivered. There are no words to express
the strangeness of that shiver which chilled her to the very bottom of
her heart; her eye grew wild; she thought she felt that she should not
be able to refrain from returning there at the same hour on the morrow.

Then, by a sort of instinct, she began to count aloud, one, two, three,
four, and so on up to ten, in order to escape from that singular state
which she did not understand, but which terrified her, and, when she had
finished, she began again; this restored her to a true perception of
the things about her. Her hands, which she had wet in drawing the water,
felt cold; she rose; her terror, a natural and unconquerable terror, had
returned: she had but one thought now,--to flee at full speed through
the forest, across the fields to the houses, to the windows, to the
lighted candles. Her glance fell upon the water which stood before her;
such was the fright which the Thenardier inspired in her, that she dared
not flee without that bucket of water: she seized the handle with both
hands; she could hardly lift the pail.

In this manner she advanced a dozen paces, but the bucket was full; it
was heavy; she was forced to set it on the ground once more. She took
breath for an instant, then lifted the handle of the bucket again, and
resumed her march, proceeding a little further this time, but again she
was obliged to pause. After some seconds of repose she set out again.
She walked bent forward, with drooping head, like an old woman; the
weight of the bucket strained and stiffened her thin arms. The iron
handle completed the benumbing and freezing of her wet and tiny hands;
she was forced to halt from time to time, and each time that she did so,
the cold water which splashed from the pail fell on her bare legs. This
took place in the depths of a forest, at night, in winter, far from all
human sight; she was a child of eight: no one but God saw that sad thing
at the moment.

And her mother, no doubt, alas!

For there are things that make the dead open their eyes in their graves.

She panted with a sort of painful rattle; sobs contracted her throat,
but she dared not weep, so afraid was she of the Thenardier, even at a
distance: it was her custom to imagine the Thenardier always present.

However, she could not make much headway in that manner, and she went
on very slowly. In spite of diminishing the length of her stops, and
of walking as long as possible between them, she reflected with anguish
that it would take her more than an hour to return to Montfermeil in
this manner, and that the Thenardier would beat her. This anguish was
mingled with her terror at being alone in the woods at night; she was
worn out with fatigue, and had not yet emerged from the forest. On
arriving near an old chestnut-tree with which she was acquainted, made
a last halt, longer than the rest, in order that she might get well
rested; then she summoned up all her strength, picked up her bucket
again, and courageously resumed her march, but the poor little desperate
creature could not refrain from crying, "O my God! my God!"

At that moment she suddenly became conscious that her bucket no longer
weighed anything at all: a hand, which seemed to her enormous, had just
seized the handle, and lifted it vigorously. She raised her head. A
large black form, straight and erect, was walking beside her through the
darkness; it was a man who had come up behind her, and whose approach
she had not heard. This man, without uttering a word, had seized the
handle of the bucket which she was carrying.

There are instincts for all the encounters of life.

The child was not afraid.


On the afternoon of that same Christmas Day, 1823, a man had walked
for rather a long time in the most deserted part of the Boulevard de
l'Hopital in Paris. This man had the air of a person who is seeking
lodgings, and he seemed to halt, by preference, at the most modest
houses on that dilapidated border of the faubourg Saint-Marceau.

We shall see further on that this man had, in fact, hired a chamber in
that isolated quarter.

This man, in his attire, as in all his person, realized the type of what
may be called the well-bred mendicant,--extreme wretchedness combined
with extreme cleanliness. This is a very rare mixture which inspires
intelligent hearts with that double respect which one feels for the man
who is very poor, and for the man who is very worthy. He wore a very
old and very well brushed round hat; a coarse coat, worn perfectly
threadbare, of an ochre yellow, a color that was not in the least
eccentric at that epoch; a large waistcoat with pockets of a venerable
cut; black breeches, worn gray at the knee, stockings of black worsted;
and thick shoes with copper buckles. He would have been pronounced a
preceptor in some good family, returned from the emigration. He would
have been taken for more than sixty years of age, from his perfectly
white hair, his wrinkled brow, his livid lips, and his countenance,
where everything breathed depression and weariness of life. Judging from
his firm tread, from the singular vigor which stamped all his movements,
he would have hardly been thought fifty. The wrinkles on his brow were
well placed, and would have disposed in his favor any one who observed
him attentively. His lip contracted with a strange fold which seemed
severe, and which was humble. There was in the depth of his glance an
indescribable melancholy serenity. In his left hand he carried a little
bundle tied up in a handkerchief; in his right he leaned on a sort of a
cudgel, cut from some hedge. This stick had been carefully trimmed, and
had an air that was not too threatening; the most had been made of its
knots, and it had received a coral-like head, made from red wax: it was
a cudgel, and it seemed to be a cane.

There are but few passers-by on that boulevard, particularly in the
winter. The man seemed to avoid them rather than to seek them, but this
without any affectation.

At that epoch, King Louis XVIII. went nearly every day to Choisy-le-Roi:
it was one of his favorite excursions. Towards two o'clock, almost
invariably, the royal carriage and cavalcade was seen to pass at full
speed along the Boulevard de l'Hopital.

This served in lieu of a watch or clock to the poor women of the quarter
who said, "It is two o'clock; there he is returning to the Tuileries."

And some rushed forward, and others drew up in line, for a passing king
always creates a tumult; besides, the appearance and disappearance of
Louis XVIII. produced a certain effect in the streets of Paris. It was
rapid but majestic. This impotent king had a taste for a fast gallop;
as he was not able to walk, he wished to run: that cripple would gladly
have had himself drawn by the lightning. He passed, pacific and severe,
in the midst of naked swords. His massive coach, all covered with
gilding, with great branches of lilies painted on the panels, thundered
noisily along. There was hardly time to cast a glance upon it. In the
rear angle on the right there was visible on tufted cushions of white
satin a large, firm, and ruddy face, a brow freshly powdered a l'oiseau
royal, a proud, hard, crafty eye, the smile of an educated man, two
great epaulets with bullion fringe floating over a bourgeois coat, the
Golden Fleece, the cross of Saint Louis, the cross of the Legion of
Honor, the silver plaque of the Saint-Esprit, a huge belly, and a wide
blue ribbon: it was the king. Outside of Paris, he held his hat decked
with white ostrich plumes on his knees enwrapped in high English
gaiters; when he re-entered the city, he put on his hat and saluted
rarely; he stared coldly at the people, and they returned it in kind.
When he appeared for the first time in the Saint-Marceau quarter,
the whole success which he produced is contained in this remark of an
inhabitant of the faubourg to his comrade, "That big fellow yonder is
the government."

This infallible passage of the king at the same hour was, therefore, the
daily event of the Boulevard de l'Hopital.

The promenader in the yellow coat evidently did not belong in the
quarter, and probably did not belong in Paris, for he was ignorant as to
this detail. When, at two o'clock, the royal carriage, surrounded by a
squadron of the body-guard all covered with silver lace, debouched
on the boulevard, after having made the turn of the Salpetriere, he
appeared surprised and almost alarmed. There was no one but himself in
this cross-lane. He drew up hastily behind the corner of the wall of an
enclosure, though this did not prevent M. le Duc de Havre from spying
him out.

M. le Duc de Havre, as captain of the guard on duty that day, was seated
in the carriage, opposite the king. He said to his Majesty, "Yonder
is an evil-looking man." Members of the police, who were clearing the
king's route, took equal note of him: one of them received an order to
follow him. But the man plunged into the deserted little streets of the
faubourg, and as twilight was beginning to fall, the agent lost trace of
him, as is stated in a report addressed that same evening to M. le Comte
d'Angles, Minister of State, Prefect of Police.

When the man in the yellow coat had thrown the agent off his track,
he redoubled his pace, not without turning round many a time to assure
himself that he was not being followed. At a quarter-past four, that is
to say, when night was fully come, he passed in front of the theatre
of the Porte Saint-Martin, where The Two Convicts was being played that
day. This poster, illuminated by the theatre lanterns, struck him; for,
although he was walking rapidly, he halted to read it. An instant later
he was in the blind alley of La Planchette, and he entered the Plat
d'Etain [the Pewter Platter], where the office of the coach for Lagny
was then situated. This coach set out at half-past four. The horses were
harnessed, and the travellers, summoned by the coachman, were hastily
climbing the lofty iron ladder of the vehicle.

The man inquired:--

"Have you a place?"

"Only one--beside me on the box," said the coachman.

"I will take it."

"Climb up."

Nevertheless, before setting out, the coachman cast a glance at the
traveller's shabby dress, at the diminutive size of his bundle, and made
him pay his fare.

"Are you going as far as Lagny?" demanded the coachman.

"Yes," said the man.

The traveller paid to Lagny.

They started. When they had passed the barrier, the coachman tried
to enter into conversation, but the traveller only replied in
monosyllables. The coachman took to whistling and swearing at his

The coachman wrapped himself up in his cloak. It was cold. The man
did not appear to be thinking of that. Thus they passed Gournay and

Towards six o'clock in the evening they reached Chelles. The coachman
drew up in front of the carters' inn installed in the ancient buildings
of the Royal Abbey, to give his horses a breathing spell.

"I get down here," said the man.

He took his bundle and his cudgel and jumped down from the vehicle.

An instant later he had disappeared.

He did not enter the inn.

When the coach set out for Lagny a few minutes later, it did not
encounter him in the principal street of Chelles.

The coachman turned to the inside travellers.

"There," said he, "is a man who does not belong here, for I do not know
him. He had not the air of owning a sou, but he does not consider money;
he pays to Lagny, and he goes only as far as Chelles. It is night; all
the houses are shut; he does not enter the inn, and he is not to be
found. So he has dived through the earth."

The man had not plunged into the earth, but he had gone with great
strides through the dark, down the principal street of Chelles, then he
had turned to the right before reaching the church, into the cross-road
leading to Montfermeil, like a person who was acquainted with the
country and had been there before.

He followed this road rapidly. At the spot where it is intersected by
the ancient tree-bordered road which runs from Gagny to Lagny, he heard
people coming. He concealed himself precipitately in a ditch, and there
waited until the passers-by were at a distance. The precaution was
nearly superfluous, however; for, as we have already said, it was a very
dark December night. Not more than two or three stars were visible in
the sky.

It is at this point that the ascent of the hill begins. The man did not
return to the road to Montfermeil; he struck across the fields to the
right, and entered the forest with long strides.

Once in the forest he slackened his pace, and began a careful
examination of all the trees, advancing, step by step, as though seeking
and following a mysterious road known to himself alone. There came a
moment when he appeared to lose himself, and he paused in indecision. At
last he arrived, by dint of feeling his way inch by inch, at a clearing
where there was a great heap of whitish stones. He stepped up briskly to
these stones, and examined them attentively through the mists of night,
as though he were passing them in review. A large tree, covered with
those excrescences which are the warts of vegetation, stood a few paces
distant from the pile of stones. He went up to this tree and passed
his hand over the bark of the trunk, as though seeking to recognize and
count all the warts.

Opposite this tree, which was an ash, there was a chestnut-tree,
suffering from a peeling of the bark, to which a band of zinc had been
nailed by way of dressing. He raised himself on tiptoe and touched this
band of zinc.

Then he trod about for awhile on the ground comprised in the space
between the tree and the heap of stones, like a person who is trying to
assure himself that the soil has not recently been disturbed.

That done, he took his bearings, and resumed his march through the

It was the man who had just met Cosette.

As he walked through the thicket in the direction of Montfermeil, he had
espied that tiny shadow moving with a groan, depositing a burden on
the ground, then taking it up and setting out again. He drew near, and
perceived that it was a very young child, laden with an enormous bucket
of water. Then he approached the child, and silently grasped the handle
of the bucket.


Cosette, as we have said, was not frightened.

The man accosted her. He spoke in a voice that was grave and almost

"My child, what you are carrying is very heavy for you."

Cosette raised her head and replied:--

"Yes, sir."

"Give it to me," said the man; "I will carry it for you."

Cosette let go of the bucket-handle. The man walked along beside her.

"It really is very heavy," he muttered between his teeth. Then he

"How old are you, little one?"

"Eight, sir."

"And have you come from far like this?"

"From the spring in the forest."

"Are you going far?"

"A good quarter of an hour's walk from here."

The man said nothing for a moment; then he remarked abruptly:--

"So you have no mother."

"I don't know," answered the child.

Before the man had time to speak again, she added:--

"I don't think so. Other people have mothers. I have none."

And after a silence she went on:--

"I think that I never had any."

The man halted; he set the bucket on the ground, bent down and placed
both hands on the child's shoulders, making an effort to look at her and
to see her face in the dark.

Cosette's thin and sickly face was vaguely outlined by the livid light
in the sky.

"What is your name?" said the man.


The man seemed to have received an electric shock. He looked at her once
more; then he removed his hands from Cosette's shoulders, seized the
bucket, and set out again.

After a moment he inquired:--

"Where do you live, little one?"

"At Montfermeil, if you know where that is."

"That is where we are going?"

"Yes, sir."

He paused; then began again:--

"Who sent you at such an hour to get water in the forest?"

"It was Madame Thenardier."

The man resumed, in a voice which he strove to render indifferent, but
in which there was, nevertheless, a singular tremor:--

"What does your Madame Thenardier do?"

"She is my mistress," said the child. "She keeps the inn."

"The inn?" said the man. "Well, I am going to lodge there to-night. Show
me the way."

"We are on the way there," said the child.

The man walked tolerably fast. Cosette followed him without difficulty.
She no longer felt any fatigue. From time to time she raised her eyes
towards the man, with a sort of tranquillity and an indescribable
confidence. She had never been taught to turn to Providence and to pray;
nevertheless, she felt within her something which resembled hope and
joy, and which mounted towards heaven.

Several minutes elapsed. The man resumed:--

"Is there no servant in Madame Thenardier's house?"

"No, sir."

"Are you alone there?"

"Yes, sir."

Another pause ensued. Cosette lifted up her voice:--

"That is to say, there are two little girls."

"What little girls?"

"Ponine and Zelma."

This was the way the child simplified the romantic names so dear to the
female Thenardier.

"Who are Ponine and Zelma?"

"They are Madame Thenardier's young ladies; her daughters, as you would

"And what do those girls do?"

"Oh!" said the child, "they have beautiful dolls; things with gold in
them, all full of affairs. They play; they amuse themselves."

"All day long?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you?"

"I? I work."

"All day long?"

The child raised her great eyes, in which hung a tear, which was not
visible because of the darkness, and replied gently:--

"Yes, sir."

After an interval of silence she went on:--

"Sometimes, when I have finished my work and they let me, I amuse
myself, too."

"How do you amuse yourself?"

"In the best way I can. They let me alone; but I have not many
playthings. Ponine and Zelma will not let me play with their dolls. I
have only a little lead sword, no longer than that."

The child held up her tiny finger.

"And it will not cut?"

"Yes, sir," said the child; "it cuts salad and the heads of flies."

They reached the village. Cosette guided the stranger through the
streets. They passed the bakeshop, but Cosette did not think of the
bread which she had been ordered to fetch. The man had ceased to ply her
with questions, and now preserved a gloomy silence.

When they had left the church behind them, the man, on perceiving all
the open-air booths, asked Cosette:--

"So there is a fair going on here?"

"No, sir; it is Christmas."

As they approached the tavern, Cosette timidly touched his arm:--


"What, my child?"

"We are quite near the house."


"Will you let me take my bucket now?"


"If Madame sees that some one has carried it for me, she will beat me."

The man handed her the bucket. An instant later they were at the tavern


Cosette could not refrain from casting a sidelong glance at the big
doll, which was still displayed at the toy-merchant's; then she knocked.
The door opened. The Thenardier appeared with a candle in her hand.

"Ah! so it's you, you little wretch! good mercy, but you've taken your
time! The hussy has been amusing herself!"

"Madame," said Cosette, trembling all over, "here's a gentleman who
wants a lodging."

The Thenardier speedily replaced her gruff air by her amiable grimace,
a change of aspect common to tavern-keepers, and eagerly sought the
new-comer with her eyes.

"This is the gentleman?" said she.

"Yes, Madame," replied the man, raising his hand to his hat.

Wealthy travellers are not so polite. This gesture, and an inspection
of the stranger's costume and baggage, which the Thenardier passed in
review with one glance, caused the amiable grimace to vanish, and the
gruff mien to reappear. She resumed dryly:--

"Enter, my good man."

The "good man" entered. The Thenardier cast a second glance at him, paid
particular attention to his frock-coat, which was absolutely threadbare,
and to his hat, which was a little battered, and, tossing her head,
wrinkling her nose, and screwing up her eyes, she consulted her husband,
who was still drinking with the carters. The husband replied by that
imperceptible movement of the forefinger, which, backed up by an
inflation of the lips, signifies in such cases: A regular beggar.
Thereupon, the Thenardier exclaimed:--

"Ah! see here, my good man; I am very sorry, but I have no room left."

"Put me where you like," said the man; "in the attic, in the stable. I
will pay as though I occupied a room."

"Forty sous."

"Forty sous; agreed."

"Very well, then!"

"Forty sous!" said a carter, in a low tone, to the Thenardier woman;
"why, the charge is only twenty sous!"

"It is forty in his case," retorted the Thenardier, in the same tone. "I
don't lodge poor folks for less."

"That's true," added her husband, gently; "it ruins a house to have such
people in it."

In the meantime, the man, laying his bundle and his cudgel on a bench,
had seated himself at a table, on which Cosette made haste to place a
bottle of wine and a glass. The merchant who had demanded the bucket of
water took it to his horse himself. Cosette resumed her place under the
kitchen table, and her knitting.

The man, who had barely moistened his lips in the wine which he had
poured out for himself, observed the child with peculiar attention.

Cosette was ugly. If she had been happy, she might have been pretty. We
have already given a sketch of that sombre little figure. Cosette was
thin and pale; she was nearly eight years old, but she seemed to be
hardly six. Her large eyes, sunken in a sort of shadow, were almost put
out with weeping. The corners of her mouth had that curve of habitual
anguish which is seen in condemned persons and desperately sick people.
Her hands were, as her mother had divined, "ruined with chilblains." The
fire which illuminated her at that moment brought into relief all the
angles of her bones, and rendered her thinness frightfully apparent.
As she was always shivering, she had acquired the habit of pressing her
knees one against the other. Her entire clothing was but a rag which
would have inspired pity in summer, and which inspired horror in winter.
All she had on was hole-ridden linen, not a scrap of woollen. Her skin
was visible here and there and everywhere black and blue spots could be
descried, which marked the places where the Thenardier woman had touched
her. Her naked legs were thin and red. The hollows in her neck were
enough to make one weep. This child's whole person, her mien, her
attitude, the sound of her voice, the intervals which she allowed to
elapse between one word and the next, her glance, her silence, her
slightest gesture, expressed and betrayed one sole idea,--fear.

Fear was diffused all over her; she was covered with it, so to speak;
fear drew her elbows close to her hips, withdrew her heels under her
petticoat, made her occupy as little space as possible, allowed her only
the breath that was absolutely necessary, and had become what might be
called the habit of her body, admitting of no possible variation except
an increase. In the depths of her eyes there was an astonished nook
where terror lurked.

Her fear was such, that on her arrival, wet as she was, Cosette did not
dare to approach the fire and dry herself, but sat silently down to her
work again.

The expression in the glance of that child of eight years was habitually
so gloomy, and at times so tragic, that it seemed at certain moments as
though she were on the verge of becoming an idiot or a demon.

As we have stated, she had never known what it is to pray; she had never
set foot in a church. "Have I the time?" said the Thenardier.

The man in the yellow coat never took his eyes from Cosette.

All at once, the Thenardier exclaimed:--

"By the way, where's that bread?"

Cosette, according to her custom whenever the Thenardier uplifted her
voice, emerged with great haste from beneath the table.

She had completely forgotten the bread. She had recourse to the
expedient of children who live in a constant state of fear. She lied.

"Madame, the baker's shop was shut."

"You should have knocked."

"I did knock, Madame."


"He did not open the door."

"I'll find out to-morrow whether that is true," said the Thenardier;
"and if you are telling me a lie, I'll lead you a pretty dance. In the
meantime, give me back my fifteen-sou piece."

Cosette plunged her hand into the pocket of her apron, and turned green.
The fifteen-sou piece was not there.

"Ah, come now," said Madame Thenardier, "did you hear me?"

Cosette turned her pocket inside out; there was nothing in it. What
could have become of that money? The unhappy little creature could not
find a word to say. She was petrified.

"Have you lost that fifteen-sou piece?" screamed the Thenardier,
hoarsely, "or do you want to rob me of it?"

At the same time, she stretched out her arm towards the
cat-o'-nine-tails which hung on a nail in the chimney-corner.

This formidable gesture restored to Cosette sufficient strength to

"Mercy, Madame, Madame! I will not do so any more!"

The Thenardier took down the whip.

In the meantime, the man in the yellow coat had been fumbling in the fob
of his waistcoat, without any one having noticed his movements. Besides,
the other travellers were drinking or playing cards, and were not paying
attention to anything.

Cosette contracted herself into a ball, with anguish, within the angle
of the chimney, endeavoring to gather up and conceal her poor half-nude
limbs. The Thenardier raised her arm.

"Pardon me, Madame," said the man, "but just now I caught sight of
something which had fallen from this little one's apron pocket, and
rolled aside. Perhaps this is it."

At the same time he bent down and seemed to be searching on the floor
for a moment.

"Exactly; here it is," he went on, straightening himself up.

And he held out a silver coin to the Thenardier.

"Yes, that's it," said she.

It was not it, for it was a twenty-sou piece; but the Thenardier found
it to her advantage. She put the coin in her pocket, and confined
herself to casting a fierce glance at the child, accompanied with the
remark, "Don't let this ever happen again!"

Cosette returned to what the Thenardier called "her kennel," and her
large eyes, which were riveted on the traveller, began to take on an
expression such as they had never worn before. Thus far it was only an
innocent amazement, but a sort of stupefied confidence was mingled with

"By the way, would you like some supper?" the Thenardier inquired of the

He made no reply. He appeared to be absorbed in thought.

"What sort of a man is that?" she muttered between her teeth. "He's some
frightfully poor wretch. He hasn't a sou to pay for a supper. Will he
even pay me for his lodging? It's very lucky, all the same, that it did
not occur to him to steal the money that was on the floor."

In the meantime, a door had opened, and Eponine and Azelma entered.

They were two really pretty little girls, more bourgeois than peasant
in looks, and very charming; the one with shining chestnut tresses,
the other with long black braids hanging down her back, both vivacious,
neat, plump, rosy, and healthy, and a delight to the eye. They were
warmly clad, but with so much maternal art that the thickness of the
stuffs did not detract from the coquetry of arrangement. There was a
hint of winter, though the springtime was not wholly effaced. Light
emanated from these two little beings. Besides this, they were on the
throne. In their toilettes, in their gayety, in the noise which they
made, there was sovereignty. When they entered, the Thenardier said to
them in a grumbling tone which was full of adoration, "Ah! there you
are, you children!"

Then drawing them, one after the other to her knees, smoothing their
hair, tying their ribbons afresh, and then releasing them with
that gentle manner of shaking off which is peculiar to mothers, she
exclaimed, "What frights they are!"

They went and seated themselves in the chimney-corner. They had a doll,
which they turned over and over on their knees with all sorts of joyous
chatter. From time to time Cosette raised her eyes from her knitting,
and watched their play with a melancholy air.

Eponine and Azelma did not look at Cosette. She was the same as a dog
to them. These three little girls did not yet reckon up four and twenty
years between them, but they already represented the whole society of
man; envy on the one side, disdain on the other.

The doll of the Thenardier sisters was very much faded, very old, and
much broken; but it seemed none the less admirable to Cosette, who had
never had a doll in her life, a real doll, to make use of the expression
which all children will understand.

All at once, the Thenardier, who had been going back and forth in the
room, perceived that Cosette's mind was distracted, and that, instead of
working, she was paying attention to the little ones at their play.

"Ah! I've caught you at it!" she cried. "So that's the way you work!
I'll make you work to the tune of the whip; that I will."

The stranger turned to the Thenardier, without quitting his chair.

"Bah, Madame," he said, with an almost timid air, "let her play!"

Such a wish expressed by a traveller who had eaten a slice of mutton and
had drunk a couple of bottles of wine with his supper, and who had not
the air of being frightfully poor, would have been equivalent to an
order. But that a man with such a hat should permit himself such a
desire, and that a man with such a coat should permit himself to have a
will, was something which Madame Thenardier did not intend to tolerate.
She retorted with acrimony:--

"She must work, since she eats. I don't feed her to do nothing."

"What is she making?" went on the stranger, in a gentle voice which
contrasted strangely with his beggarly garments and his porter's

The Thenardier deigned to reply:--

"Stockings, if you please. Stockings for my little girls, who have none,
so to speak, and who are absolutely barefoot just now."

The man looked at Cosette's poor little red feet, and continued:--

"When will she have finished this pair of stockings?"

"She has at least three or four good days' work on them still, the lazy

"And how much will that pair of stockings be worth when she has finished

The Thenardier cast a glance of disdain on him.

"Thirty sous at least."

"Will you sell them for five francs?" went on the man.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed a carter who was listening, with a loud laugh;
"five francs! the deuce, I should think so! five balls!"

Thenardier thought it time to strike in.

"Yes, sir; if such is your fancy, you will be allowed to have that pair
of stockings for five francs. We can refuse nothing to travellers."

"You must pay on the spot," said the Thenardier, in her curt and
peremptory fashion.

"I will buy that pair of stockings," replied the man, "and," he added,
drawing a five-franc piece from his pocket, and laying it on the table,
"I will pay for them."

Then he turned to Cosette.

"Now I own your work; play, my child."

The carter was so much touched by the five-franc piece, that he
abandoned his glass and hastened up.

"But it's true!" he cried, examining it. "A real hind wheel! and not

Thenardier approached and silently put the coin in his pocket.

The Thenardier had no reply to make. She bit her lips, and her face
assumed an expression of hatred.

In the meantime, Cosette was trembling. She ventured to ask:--

"Is it true, Madame? May I play?"

"Play!" said the Thenardier, in a terrible voice.

"Thanks, Madame," said Cosette.

And while her mouth thanked the Thenardier, her whole little soul
thanked the traveller.

Thenardier had resumed his drinking; his wife whispered in his ear:--

"Who can this yellow man be?"

"I have seen millionaires with coats like that," replied Thenardier, in
a sovereign manner.

Cosette had dropped her knitting, but had not left her seat. Cosette
always moved as little as possible. She picked up some old rags and her
little lead sword from a box behind her.

Eponine and Azelma paid no attention to what was going on. They had just
executed a very important operation; they had just got hold of the
cat. They had thrown their doll on the ground, and Eponine, who was
the elder, was swathing the little cat, in spite of its mewing and its
contortions, in a quantity of clothes and red and blue scraps. While
performing this serious and difficult work she was saying to her sister
in that sweet and adorable language of children, whose grace, like the
splendor of the butterfly's wing, vanishes when one essays to fix it

"You see, sister, this doll is more amusing than the other. She twists,
she cries, she is warm. See, sister, let us play with her. She shall be
my little girl. I will be a lady. I will come to see you, and you shall
look at her. Gradually, you will perceive her whiskers, and that will
surprise you. And then you will see her ears, and then you will see her
tail and it will amaze you. And you will say to me, 'Ah! Mon Dieu!' and
I will say to you: 'Yes, Madame, it is my little girl. Little girls are
made like that just at present.'"

Azelma listened admiringly to Eponine.

In the meantime, the drinkers had begun to sing an obscene song, and
to laugh at it until the ceiling shook. Thenardier accompanied and
encouraged them.

As birds make nests out of everything, so children make a doll out of
anything which comes to hand. While Eponine and Azelma were bundling up
the cat, Cosette, on her side, had dressed up her sword. That done, she
laid it in her arms, and sang to it softly, to lull it to sleep.

The doll is one of the most imperious needs and, at the same time, one
of the most charming instincts of feminine childhood. To care for, to
clothe, to deck, to dress, to undress, to redress, to teach, scold a
little, to rock, to dandle, to lull to sleep, to imagine that something
is some one,--therein lies the whole woman's future. While dreaming and
chattering, making tiny outfits, and baby clothes, while sewing little
gowns, and corsages and bodices, the child grows into a young girl, the
young girl into a big girl, the big girl into a woman. The first child
is the continuation of the last doll.

A little girl without a doll is almost as unhappy, and quite as
impossible, as a woman without children.

So Cosette had made herself a doll out of the sword.

Madame Thenardier approached the yellow man; "My husband is right," she
thought; "perhaps it is M. Laffitte; there are such queer rich men!"

She came and set her elbows on the table.

"Monsieur," said she. At this word, Monsieur, the man turned; up to that
time, the Thenardier had addressed him only as brave homme or bonhomme.

"You see, sir," she pursued, assuming a sweetish air that was even more
repulsive to behold than her fierce mien, "I am willing that the child
should play; I do not oppose it, but it is good for once, because you
are generous. You see, she has nothing; she must needs work."

"Then this child is not yours?" demanded the man.

"Oh! mon Dieu! no, sir! she is a little beggar whom we have taken in
through charity; a sort of imbecile child. She must have water on the
brain; she has a large head, as you see. We do what we can for her, for
we are not rich; we have written in vain to her native place, and have
received no reply these six months. It must be that her mother is dead."

"Ah!" said the man, and fell into his revery once more.

"Her mother didn't amount to much," added the Thenardier; "she abandoned
her child."

During the whole of this conversation Cosette, as though warned by some
instinct that she was under discussion, had not taken her eyes from the
Thenardier's face; she listened vaguely; she caught a few words here and

Meanwhile, the drinkers, all three-quarters intoxicated, were repeating
their unclean refrain with redoubled gayety; it was a highly spiced and
wanton song, in which the Virgin and the infant Jesus were introduced.
The Thenardier went off to take part in the shouts of laughter. Cosette,
from her post under the table, gazed at the fire, which was reflected
from her fixed eyes. She had begun to rock the sort of baby which she
had made, and, as she rocked it, she sang in a low voice, "My mother is
dead! my mother is dead! my mother is dead!"

On being urged afresh by the hostess, the yellow man, "the millionaire,"
consented at last to take supper.

"What does Monsieur wish?"

"Bread and cheese," said the man.

"Decidedly, he is a beggar" thought Madame Thenardier.

The drunken men were still singing their song, and the child under the
table was singing hers.

All at once, Cosette paused; she had just turned round and caught sight
of the little Thenardiers' doll, which they had abandoned for the cat
and had left on the floor a few paces from the kitchen table.

Then she dropped the swaddled sword, which only half met her needs, and
cast her eyes slowly round the room. Madame Thenardier was whispering to
her husband and counting over some money; Ponine and Zelma were playing
with the cat; the travellers were eating or drinking or singing; not
a glance was fixed on her. She had not a moment to lose; she crept out
from under the table on her hands and knees, made sure once more that no
one was watching her; then she slipped quickly up to the doll and seized
it. An instant later she was in her place again, seated motionless, and
only turned so as to cast a shadow on the doll which she held in her
arms. The happiness of playing with a doll was so rare for her that it
contained all the violence of voluptuousness.

No one had seen her, except the traveller, who was slowly devouring his
meagre supper.

This joy lasted about a quarter of an hour.

But with all the precautions that Cosette had taken she did not perceive
that one of the doll's legs stuck out and that the fire on the hearth
lighted it up very vividly. That pink and shining foot, projecting from
the shadow, suddenly struck the eye of Azelma, who said to Eponine,
"Look! sister."

The two little girls paused in stupefaction; Cosette had dared to take
their doll!

Eponine rose, and, without releasing the cat, she ran to her mother, and
began to tug at her skirt.

"Let me alone!" said her mother; "what do you want?"

"Mother," said the child, "look there!"

And she pointed to Cosette.

Cosette, absorbed in the ecstasies of possession, no longer saw or heard

Madame Thenardier's countenance assumed that peculiar expression which
is composed of the terrible mingled with the trifles of life, and which
has caused this style of woman to be named megaeras.

On this occasion, wounded pride exasperated her wrath still further.
Cosette had overstepped all bounds; Cosette had laid violent hands on
the doll belonging to "these young ladies." A czarina who should see
a muzhik trying on her imperial son's blue ribbon would wear no other

She shrieked in a voice rendered hoarse with indignation:--


Cosette started as though the earth had trembled beneath her; she turned

"Cosette!" repeated the Thenardier.

Cosette took the doll and laid it gently on the floor with a sort of
veneration, mingled with despair; then, without taking her eyes from
it, she clasped her hands, and, what is terrible to relate of a child
of that age, she wrung them; then--not one of the emotions of the day,
neither the trip to the forest, nor the weight of the bucket of water,
nor the loss of the money, nor the sight of the whip, nor even the sad
words which she had heard Madame Thenardier utter had been able to wring
this from her--she wept; she burst out sobbing.

Meanwhile, the traveller had risen to his feet.

"What is the matter?" he said to the Thenardier.

"Don't you see?" said the Thenardier, pointing to the corpus delicti
which lay at Cosette's feet.

"Well, what of it?" resumed the man.

"That beggar," replied the Thenardier, "has permitted herself to touch
the children's doll!"

"All this noise for that!" said the man; "well, what if she did play
with that doll?"

"She touched it with her dirty hands!" pursued the Thenardier, "with her
frightful hands!"

Here Cosette redoubled her sobs.

"Will you stop your noise?" screamed the Thenardier.

The man went straight to the street door, opened it, and stepped out.

As soon as he had gone, the Thenardier profited by his absence to give
Cosette a hearty kick under the table, which made the child utter loud

The door opened again, the man re-appeared; he carried in both hands the
fabulous doll which we have mentioned, and which all the village brats
had been staring at ever since the morning, and he set it upright in
front of Cosette, saying:--

"Here; this is for you."

It must be supposed that in the course of the hour and more which he had
spent there he had taken confused notice through his revery of that
toy shop, lighted up by fire-pots and candles so splendidly that it was
visible like an illumination through the window of the drinking-shop.

Cosette raised her eyes; she gazed at the man approaching her with that
doll as she might have gazed at the sun; she heard the unprecedented
words, "It is for you"; she stared at him; she stared at the doll; then
she slowly retreated, and hid herself at the extreme end, under the
table in a corner of the wall.

She no longer cried; she no longer wept; she had the appearance of no
longer daring to breathe.

The Thenardier, Eponine, and Azelma were like statues also; the very
drinkers had paused; a solemn silence reigned through the whole room.

Madame Thenardier, petrified and mute, recommenced her conjectures: "Who
is that old fellow? Is he a poor man? Is he a millionaire? Perhaps he is
both; that is to say, a thief."

The face of the male Thenardier presented that expressive fold which
accentuates the human countenance whenever the dominant instinct appears
there in all its bestial force. The tavern-keeper stared alternately at
the doll and at the traveller; he seemed to be scenting out the man, as
he would have scented out a bag of money. This did not last longer than
the space of a flash of lightning. He stepped up to his wife and said to
her in a low voice:--

"That machine costs at least thirty francs. No nonsense. Down on your
belly before that man!"

Gross natures have this in common with naive natures, that they possess
no transition state.

"Well, Cosette," said the Thenardier, in a voice that strove to be
sweet, and which was composed of the bitter honey of malicious women,
"aren't you going to take your doll?"

Cosette ventured to emerge from her hole.

"The gentleman has given you a doll, my little Cosette," said
Thenardier, with a caressing air. "Take it; it is yours."

Cosette gazed at the marvellous doll in a sort of terror. Her face was
still flooded with tears, but her eyes began to fill, like the sky at
daybreak, with strange beams of joy. What she felt at that moment was
a little like what she would have felt if she had been abruptly told,
"Little one, you are the Queen of France."

It seemed to her that if she touched that doll, lightning would dart
from it.

This was true, up to a certain point, for she said to herself that the
Thenardier would scold and beat her.

Nevertheless, the attraction carried the day. She ended by drawing near
and murmuring timidly as she turned towards Madame Thenardier:--

"May I, Madame?"

No words can render that air, at once despairing, terrified, and

"Pardi!" cried the Thenardier, "it is yours. The gentleman has given it
to you."

"Truly, sir?" said Cosette. "Is it true? Is the 'lady' mine?"

The stranger's eyes seemed to be full of tears. He appeared to have
reached that point of emotion where a man does not speak for fear lest
he should weep. He nodded to Cosette, and placed the "lady's" hand in
her tiny hand.

Cosette hastily withdrew her hand, as though that of the "lady" scorched
her, and began to stare at the floor. We are forced to add that at that
moment she stuck out her tongue immoderately. All at once she wheeled
round and seized the doll in a transport.

"I shall call her Catherine," she said.

It was an odd moment when Cosette's rags met and clasped the ribbons and
fresh pink muslins of the doll.

"Madame," she resumed, "may I put her on a chair?"

"Yes, my child," replied the Thenardier.

It was now the turn of Eponine and Azelma to gaze at Cosette with envy.

Cosette placed Catherine on a chair, then seated herself on the floor
in front of her, and remained motionless, without uttering a word, in an
attitude of contemplation.

"Play, Cosette," said the stranger.

"Oh! I am playing," returned the child.

This stranger, this unknown individual, who had the air of a visit which
Providence was making on Cosette, was the person whom the Thenardier
hated worse than any one in the world at that moment. However, it was
necessary to control herself. Habituated as she was to dissimulation
through endeavoring to copy her husband in all his actions, these
emotions were more than she could endure. She made haste to send her
daughters to bed, then she asked the man's permission to send Cosette
off also; "for she has worked hard all day," she added with a maternal
air. Cosette went off to bed, carrying Catherine in her arms.

From time to time the Thenardier went to the other end of the room where
her husband was, to relieve her soul, as she said. She exchanged with
her husband words which were all the more furious because she dared not
utter them aloud.

"Old beast! What has he got in his belly, to come and upset us in this
manner! To want that little monster to play! to give away forty-franc
dolls to a jade that I would sell for forty sous, so I would! A little
more and he will be saying Your Majesty to her, as though to the Duchess
de Berry! Is there any sense in it? Is he mad, then, that mysterious old

"Why! it is perfectly simple," replied Thenardier, "if that amuses him!
It amuses you to have the little one work; it amuses him to have her
play. He's all right. A traveller can do what he pleases when he pays
for it. If the old fellow is a philanthropist, what is that to you? If
he is an imbecile, it does not concern you. What are you worrying for,
so long as he has money?"

The language of a master, and the reasoning of an innkeeper, neither of
which admitted of any reply.

The man had placed his elbows on the table, and resumed his thoughtful
attitude. All the other travellers, both pedlers and carters, had
withdrawn a little, and had ceased singing. They were staring at him
from a distance, with a sort of respectful awe. This poorly dressed
man, who drew "hind-wheels" from his pocket with so much ease, and
who lavished gigantic dolls on dirty little brats in wooden shoes, was
certainly a magnificent fellow, and one to be feared.

Many hours passed. The midnight mass was over, the chimes had ceased,
the drinkers had taken their departure, the drinking-shop was closed,
the public room was deserted, the fire extinct, the stranger still
remained in the same place and the same attitude. From time to time he
changed the elbow on which he leaned. That was all; but he had not said
a word since Cosette had left the room.

The Thenardiers alone, out of politeness and curiosity, had remained in
the room.

"Is he going to pass the night in that fashion?" grumbled the
Thenardier. When two o'clock in the morning struck, she declared herself
vanquished, and said to her husband, "I'm going to bed. Do as you like."
Her husband seated himself at a table in the corner, lighted a candle,
and began to read the Courrier Francais.

A good hour passed thus. The worthy inn-keeper had perused the Courrier
Francais at least three times, from the date of the number to the
printer's name. The stranger did not stir.

Thenardier fidgeted, coughed, spit, blew his nose, and creaked his
chair. Not a movement on the man's part. "Is he asleep?" thought
Thenardier. The man was not asleep, but nothing could arouse him.

At last Thenardier took off his cap, stepped gently up to him, and
ventured to say:--

"Is not Monsieur going to his repose?"

Not going to bed would have seemed to him excessive and familiar. To
repose smacked of luxury and respect. These words possess the mysterious
and admirable property of swelling the bill on the following day. A
chamber where one sleeps costs twenty sous; a chamber in which one
reposes costs twenty francs.

"Well!" said the stranger, "you are right. Where is your stable?"

"Sir!" exclaimed Thenardier, with a smile, "I will conduct you, sir."

He took the candle; the man picked up his bundle and cudgel, and
Thenardier conducted him to a chamber on the first floor, which was of
rare splendor, all furnished in mahogany, with a low bedstead, curtained
with red calico.

"What is this?" said the traveller.

"It is really our bridal chamber," said the tavern-keeper. "My wife and
I occupy another. This is only entered three or four times a year."

"I should have liked the stable quite as well," said the man, abruptly.

Thenardier pretended not to hear this unamiable remark.

He lighted two perfectly fresh wax candles which figured on the
chimney-piece. A very good fire was flickering on the hearth.

On the chimney-piece, under a glass globe, stood a woman's head-dress in
silver wire and orange flowers.

"And what is this?" resumed the stranger.

"That, sir," said Thenardier, "is my wife's wedding bonnet."

The traveller surveyed the object with a glance which seemed to say,
"There really was a time, then, when that monster was a maiden?"

Thenardier lied, however. When he had leased this paltry building for
the purpose of converting it into a tavern, he had found this chamber
decorated in just this manner, and had purchased the furniture and
obtained the orange flowers at second hand, with the idea that this
would cast a graceful shadow on "his spouse," and would result in what
the English call respectability for his house.

When the traveller turned round, the host had disappeared. Thenardier
had withdrawn discreetly, without venturing to wish him a good night,
as he did not wish to treat with disrespectful cordiality a man whom he
proposed to fleece royally the following morning.

The inn-keeper retired to his room. His wife was in bed, but she was not
asleep. When she heard her husband's step she turned over and said to

"Do you know, I'm going to turn Cosette out of doors to-morrow."

Thenardier replied coldly:--

"How you do go on!"

They exchanged no further words, and a few moments later their candle
was extinguished.

As for the traveller, he had deposited his cudgel and his bundle in a
corner. The landlord once gone, he threw himself into an arm-chair and
remained for some time buried in thought. Then he removed his shoes,
took one of the two candles, blew out the other, opened the door, and
quitted the room, gazing about him like a person who is in search of
something. He traversed a corridor and came upon a staircase. There he
heard a very faint and gentle sound like the breathing of a child. He
followed this sound, and came to a sort of triangular recess built under
the staircase, or rather formed by the staircase itself. This recess was
nothing else than the space under the steps. There, in the midst of all
sorts of old papers and potsherds, among dust and spiders' webs, was a
bed--if one can call by the name of bed a straw pallet so full of holes
as to display the straw, and a coverlet so tattered as to show the
pallet. No sheets. This was placed on the floor.

In this bed Cosette was sleeping.

The man approached and gazed down upon her.

Cosette was in a profound sleep; she was fully dressed. In the winter
she did not undress, in order that she might not be so cold.

Against her breast was pressed the doll, whose large eyes, wide open,
glittered in the dark. From time to time she gave vent to a deep sigh as
though she were on the point of waking, and she strained the doll almost
convulsively in her arms. Beside her bed there was only one of her
wooden shoes.

A door which stood open near Cosette's pallet permitted a view of a
rather large, dark room. The stranger stepped into it. At the further
extremity, through a glass door, he saw two small, very white beds.
They belonged to Eponine and Azelma. Behind these beds, and half hidden,
stood an uncurtained wicker cradle, in which the little boy who had
cried all the evening lay asleep.

The stranger conjectured that this chamber connected with that of the
Thenardier pair. He was on the point of retreating when his eye fell
upon the fireplace--one of those vast tavern chimneys where there is
always so little fire when there is any fire at all, and which are
so cold to look at. There was no fire in this one, there was not even
ashes; but there was something which attracted the stranger's gaze,
nevertheless. It was two tiny children's shoes, coquettish in shape
and unequal in size. The traveller recalled the graceful and immemorial
custom in accordance with which children place their shoes in the
chimney on Christmas eve, there to await in the darkness some sparkling
gift from their good fairy. Eponine and Azelma had taken care not to
omit this, and each of them had set one of her shoes on the hearth.

The traveller bent over them.

The fairy, that is to say, their mother, had already paid her visit, and
in each he saw a brand-new and shining ten-sou piece.

The man straightened himself up, and was on the point of withdrawing,
when far in, in the darkest corner of the hearth, he caught sight
of another object. He looked at it, and recognized a wooden shoe, a
frightful shoe of the coarsest description, half dilapidated and all
covered with ashes and dried mud. It was Cosette's sabot. Cosette, with
that touching trust of childhood, which can always be deceived yet never
discouraged, had placed her shoe on the hearth-stone also.

Hope in a child who has never known anything but despair is a sweet and
touching thing.

There was nothing in this wooden shoe.

The stranger fumbled in his waistcoat, bent over and placed a louis d'or
in Cosette's shoe.

Then he regained his own chamber with the stealthy tread of a wolf.


On the following morning, two hours at least before day-break,
Thenardier, seated beside a candle in the public room of the tavern, pen
in hand, was making out the bill for the traveller with the yellow coat.

His wife, standing beside him, and half bent over him, was following
him with her eyes. They exchanged not a word. On the one hand, there was
profound meditation, on the other, the religious admiration with which
one watches the birth and development of a marvel of the human mind. A
noise was audible in the house; it was the Lark sweeping the stairs.

After the lapse of a good quarter of an hour, and some erasures,
Thenardier produced the following masterpiece:--


  Supper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     3 francs.
  Chamber  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    10   "
  Candle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     5   "
  Fire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     4   "
  Service  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     1   "
                     Total . . . . . .    23 francs.

Service was written servisse.

"Twenty-three francs!" cried the woman, with an enthusiasm which was
mingled with some hesitation.

Like all great artists, Thenardier was dissatisfied.

"Peuh!" he exclaimed.

It was the accent of Castlereagh auditing France's bill at the Congress
of Vienna.

"Monsieur Thenardier, you are right; he certainly owes that," murmured
the wife, who was thinking of the doll bestowed on Cosette in the
presence of her daughters. "It is just, but it is too much. He will not
pay it."

Thenardier laughed coldly, as usual, and said:--

"He will pay."

This laugh was the supreme assertion of certainty and authority. That
which was asserted in this manner must needs be so. His wife did not

She set about arranging the table; her husband paced the room. A moment
later he added:--

"I owe full fifteen hundred francs!"

He went and seated himself in the chimney-corner, meditating, with his
feet among the warm ashes.

"Ah! by the way," resumed his wife, "you don't forget that I'm going to
turn Cosette out of doors to-day? The monster! She breaks my heart with
that doll of hers! I'd rather marry Louis XVIII. than keep her another
day in the house!"

Thenardier lighted his pipe, and replied between two puffs:--

"You will hand that bill to the man."

Then he went out.

Hardly had he left the room when the traveller entered.

Thenardier instantly reappeared behind him and remained motionless in
the half-open door, visible only to his wife.

The yellow man carried his bundle and his cudgel in his hand.

"Up so early?" said Madame Thenardier; "is Monsieur leaving us already?"

As she spoke thus, she was twisting the bill about in her hands with an
embarrassed air, and making creases in it with her nails. Her hard
face presented a shade which was not habitual with it,--timidity and

To present such a bill to a man who had so completely the air "of a poor
wretch" seemed difficult to her.

The traveller appeared to be preoccupied and absent-minded. He

"Yes, Madame, I am going."

"So Monsieur has no business in Montfermeil?"

"No, I was passing through. That is all. What do I owe you, Madame," he

The Thenardier silently handed him the folded bill.

The man unfolded the paper and glanced at it; but his thoughts were
evidently elsewhere.

"Madame," he resumed, "is business good here in Montfermeil?"

"So so, Monsieur," replied the Thenardier, stupefied at not witnessing
another sort of explosion.

She continued, in a dreary and lamentable tone:--

"Oh! Monsieur, times are so hard! and then, we have so few bourgeois in
the neighborhood! All the people are poor, you see. If we had not, now
and then, some rich and generous travellers like Monsieur, we should
not get along at all. We have so many expenses. Just see, that child is
costing us our very eyes."

"What child?"

"Why, the little one, you know! Cosette--the Lark, as she is called

"Ah!" said the man.

She went on:--

"How stupid these peasants are with their nicknames! She has more the
air of a bat than of a lark. You see, sir, we do not ask charity, and we
cannot bestow it. We earn nothing and we have to pay out a great deal.
The license, the imposts, the door and window tax, the hundredths!
Monsieur is aware that the government demands a terrible deal of money.
And then, I have my daughters. I have no need to bring up other people's

The man resumed, in that voice which he strove to render indifferent,
and in which there lingered a tremor:--

"What if one were to rid you of her?"

"Who? Cosette?"


The landlady's red and violent face brightened up hideously.

"Ah! sir, my dear sir, take her, keep her, lead her off, carry her
away, sugar her, stuff her with truffles, drink her, eat her, and the
blessings of the good holy Virgin and of all the saints of paradise be
upon you!"


"Really! You will take her away?"

"I will take her away."


"Immediately. Call the child."

"Cosette!" screamed the Thenardier.

"In the meantime," pursued the man, "I will pay you what I owe you. How
much is it?"

He cast a glance on the bill, and could not restrain a start of

"Twenty-three francs!"

He looked at the landlady, and repeated:--

"Twenty-three francs?"

There was in the enunciation of these words, thus repeated, an accent
between an exclamation and an interrogation point.

The Thenardier had had time to prepare herself for the shock. She
replied, with assurance:--

"Good gracious, yes, sir, it is twenty-three francs."

The stranger laid five five-franc pieces on the table.

"Go and get the child," said he.

At that moment Thenardier advanced to the middle of the room, and

"Monsieur owes twenty-six sous."

"Twenty-six sous!" exclaimed his wife.

"Twenty sous for the chamber," resumed Thenardier, coldly, "and six sous
for his supper. As for the child, I must discuss that matter a little
with the gentleman. Leave us, wife."

Madame Thenardier was dazzled as with the shock caused by unexpected
lightning flashes of talent. She was conscious that a great actor was
making his entrance on the stage, uttered not a word in reply, and left
the room.

As soon as they were alone, Thenardier offered the traveller a chair.
The traveller seated himself; Thenardier remained standing, and his face
assumed a singular expression of good-fellowship and simplicity.

"Sir," said he, "what I have to say to you is this, that I adore that

The stranger gazed intently at him.

"What child?"

Thenardier continued:--

"How strange it is, one grows attached. What money is that? Take back
your hundred-sou piece. I adore the child."

"Whom do you mean?" demanded the stranger.

"Eh! our little Cosette! Are you not intending to take her away from
us? Well, I speak frankly; as true as you are an honest man, I will not
consent to it. I shall miss that child. I saw her first when she was a
tiny thing. It is true that she costs us money; it is true that she has
her faults; it is true that we are not rich; it is true that I have paid
out over four hundred francs for drugs for just one of her illnesses!
But one must do something for the good God's sake. She has neither
father nor mother. I have brought her up. I have bread enough for
her and for myself. In truth, I think a great deal of that child. You
understand, one conceives an affection for a person; I am a good sort
of a beast, I am; I do not reason; I love that little girl; my wife is
quick-tempered, but she loves her also. You see, she is just the same as
our own child. I want to keep her to babble about the house."

The stranger kept his eye intently fixed on Thenardier. The latter

"Excuse me, sir, but one does not give away one's child to a passer-by,
like that. I am right, am I not? Still, I don't say--you are rich; you
have the air of a very good man,--if it were for her happiness. But one
must find out that. You understand: suppose that I were to let her go
and to sacrifice myself, I should like to know what becomes of her; I
should not wish to lose sight of her; I should like to know with whom
she is living, so that I could go to see her from time to time; so that
she may know that her good foster-father is alive, that he is watching
over her. In short, there are things which are not possible. I do not
even know your name. If you were to take her away, I should say: 'Well,
and the Lark, what has become of her?' One must, at least, see some
petty scrap of paper, some trifle in the way of a passport, you know!"

The stranger, still surveying him with that gaze which penetrates, as
the saying goes, to the very depths of the conscience, replied in a
grave, firm voice:--

"Monsieur Thenardier, one does not require a passport to travel five
leagues from Paris. If I take Cosette away, I shall take her away, and
that is the end of the matter. You will not know my name, you will not
know my residence, you will not know where she is; and my intention is
that she shall never set eyes on you again so long as she lives. I break
the thread which binds her foot, and she departs. Does that suit you?
Yes or no?"

Since geniuses, like demons, recognize the presence of a superior God by
certain signs, Thenardier comprehended that he had to deal with a very
strong person. It was like an intuition; he comprehended it with his
clear and sagacious promptitude. While drinking with the carters,
smoking, and singing coarse songs on the preceding evening, he had
devoted the whole of the time to observing the stranger, watching him
like a cat, and studying him like a mathematician. He had watched him,
both on his own account, for the pleasure of the thing, and through
instinct, and had spied upon him as though he had been paid for so
doing. Not a movement, not a gesture, on the part of the man in the
yellow great-coat had escaped him. Even before the stranger had so
clearly manifested his interest in Cosette, Thenardier had divined his
purpose. He had caught the old man's deep glances returning constantly
to the child. Who was this man? Why this interest? Why this hideous
costume, when he had so much money in his purse? Questions which he put
to himself without being able to solve them, and which irritated him. He
had pondered it all night long. He could not be Cosette's father. Was he
her grandfather? Then why not make himself known at once? When one has
a right, one asserts it. This man evidently had no right over Cosette.
What was it, then? Thenardier lost himself in conjectures. He caught
glimpses of everything, but he saw nothing. Be that as it may, on
entering into conversation with the man, sure that there was some secret
in the case, that the latter had some interest in remaining in the
shadow, he felt himself strong; when he perceived from the stranger's
clear and firm retort, that this mysterious personage was mysterious in
so simple a way, he became conscious that he was weak. He had expected
nothing of the sort. His conjectures were put to the rout. He rallied
his ideas. He weighed everything in the space of a second. Thenardier
was one of those men who take in a situation at a glance. He decided
that the moment had arrived for proceeding straightforward, and quickly
at that. He did as great leaders do at the decisive moment, which they
know that they alone recognize; he abruptly unmasked his batteries.

"Sir," said he, "I am in need of fifteen hundred francs."

The stranger took from his side pocket an old pocketbook of black
leather, opened it, drew out three bank-bills, which he laid on the
table. Then he placed his large thumb on the notes and said to the

"Go and fetch Cosette."

While this was taking place, what had Cosette been doing?

On waking up, Cosette had run to get her shoe. In it she had found the
gold piece. It was not a Napoleon; it was one of those perfectly new
twenty-franc pieces of the Restoration, on whose effigy the little
Prussian queue had replaced the laurel wreath. Cosette was dazzled. Her
destiny began to intoxicate her. She did not know what a gold piece was;
she had never seen one; she hid it quickly in her pocket, as though
she had stolen it. Still, she felt that it really was hers; she guessed
whence her gift had come, but the joy which she experienced was full of
fear. She was happy; above all she was stupefied. Such magnificent and
beautiful things did not appear real. The doll frightened her, the
gold piece frightened her. She trembled vaguely in the presence of this
magnificence. The stranger alone did not frighten her. On the contrary,
he reassured her. Ever since the preceding evening, amid all her
amazement, even in her sleep, she had been thinking in her little
childish mind of that man who seemed to be so poor and so sad, and who
was so rich and so kind. Everything had changed for her since she had
met that good man in the forest. Cosette, less happy than the most
insignificant swallow of heaven, had never known what it was to take
refuge under a mother's shadow and under a wing. For the last five
years, that is to say, as far back as her memory ran, the poor child had
shivered and trembled. She had always been exposed completely naked
to the sharp wind of adversity; now it seemed to her she was clothed.
Formerly her soul had seemed cold, now it was warm. Cosette was no
longer afraid of the Thenardier. She was no longer alone; there was some
one there.

She hastily set about her regular morning duties. That louis, which she
had about her, in the very apron pocket whence the fifteen-sou piece had
fallen on the night before, distracted her thoughts. She dared not touch
it, but she spent five minutes in gazing at it, with her tongue hanging
out, if the truth must be told. As she swept the staircase, she paused,
remained standing there motionless, forgetful of her broom and of the
entire universe, occupied in gazing at that star which was blazing at
the bottom of her pocket.

It was during one of these periods of contemplation that the Thenardier
joined her. She had gone in search of Cosette at her husband's orders.
What was quite unprecedented, she neither struck her nor said an
insulting word to her.

"Cosette," she said, almost gently, "come immediately."

An instant later Cosette entered the public room.

The stranger took up the bundle which he had brought and untied it. This
bundle contained a little woollen gown, an apron, a fustian bodice, a
kerchief, a petticoat, woollen stockings, shoes--a complete outfit for a
girl of seven years. All was black.

"My child," said the man, "take these, and go and dress yourself

Daylight was appearing when those of the inhabitants of Montfermeil who
had begun to open their doors beheld a poorly clad old man leading a
little girl dressed in mourning, and carrying a pink doll in her arms,
pass along the road to Paris. They were going in the direction of Livry.

It was our man and Cosette.

No one knew the man; as Cosette was no longer in rags, many did not
recognize her. Cosette was going away. With whom? She did not know.
Whither? She knew not. All that she understood was that she was leaving
the Thenardier tavern behind her. No one had thought of bidding her
farewell, nor had she thought of taking leave of any one. She was
leaving that hated and hating house.

Poor, gentle creature, whose heart had been repressed up to that hour!

Cosette walked along gravely, with her large eyes wide open, and gazing
at the sky. She had put her louis in the pocket of her new apron. From
time to time, she bent down and glanced at it; then she looked at the
good man. She felt something as though she were beside the good God.


Madame Thenardier had allowed her husband to have his own way, as was
her wont. She had expected great results. When the man and Cosette had
taken their departure, Thenardier allowed a full quarter of an hour
to elapse; then he took her aside and showed her the fifteen hundred

"Is that all?" said she.

It was the first time since they had set up housekeeping that she had
dared to criticise one of the master's acts.

The blow told.

"You are right, in sooth," said he; "I am a fool. Give me my hat."

He folded up the three bank-bills, thrust them into his pocket, and ran
out in all haste; but he made a mistake and turned to the right first.
Some neighbors, of whom he made inquiries, put him on the track again;
the Lark and the man had been seen going in the direction of Livry. He
followed these hints, walking with great strides, and talking to himself
the while:--

"That man is evidently a million dressed in yellow, and I am an animal.
First he gave twenty sous, then five francs, then fifty francs, then
fifteen hundred francs, all with equal readiness. He would have given
fifteen thousand francs. But I shall overtake him."

And then, that bundle of clothes prepared beforehand for the child; all
that was singular; many mysteries lay concealed under it. One does not
let mysteries out of one's hand when one has once grasped them. The
secrets of the wealthy are sponges of gold; one must know how to subject
them to pressure. All these thoughts whirled through his brain. "I am an
animal," said he.

When one leaves Montfermeil and reaches the turn which the road takes
that runs to Livry, it can be seen stretching out before one to a great
distance across the plateau. On arriving there, he calculated that he
ought to be able to see the old man and the child. He looked as far as
his vision reached, and saw nothing. He made fresh inquiries, but he had
wasted time. Some passers-by informed him that the man and child of whom
he was in search had gone towards the forest in the direction of Gagny.
He hastened in that direction.

They were far in advance of him; but a child walks slowly, and he walked
fast; and then, he was well acquainted with the country.

All at once he paused and dealt himself a blow on his forehead like a
man who has forgotten some essential point and who is ready to retrace
his steps.

"I ought to have taken my gun," said he to himself.

Thenardier was one of those double natures which sometimes pass through
our midst without our being aware of the fact, and who disappear without
our finding them out, because destiny has only exhibited one side of
them. It is the fate of many men to live thus half submerged. In a
calm and even situation, Thenardier possessed all that is required to
make--we will not say to be--what people have agreed to call an honest
trader, a good bourgeois. At the same time certain circumstances being
given, certain shocks arriving to bring his under-nature to the surface,
he had all the requisites for a blackguard. He was a shopkeeper in
whom there was some taint of the monster. Satan must have occasionally
crouched down in some corner of the hovel in which Thenardier dwelt, and
have fallen a-dreaming in the presence of this hideous masterpiece.

After a momentary hesitation:--

"Bah!" he thought; "they will have time to make their escape."

And he pursued his road, walking rapidly straight ahead, and with almost
an air of certainty, with the sagacity of a fox scenting a covey of

In truth, when he had passed the ponds and had traversed in an oblique
direction the large clearing which lies on the right of the Avenue de
Bellevue, and reached that turf alley which nearly makes the circuit of
the hill, and covers the arch of the ancient aqueduct of the Abbey of
Chelles, he caught sight, over the top of the brushwood, of the hat on
which he had already erected so many conjectures; it was that man's hat.
The brushwood was not high. Thenardier recognized the fact that the man
and Cosette were sitting there. The child could not be seen on account
of her small size, but the head of her doll was visible.

Thenardier was not mistaken. The man was sitting there, and letting
Cosette get somewhat rested. The inn-keeper walked round the brushwood
and presented himself abruptly to the eyes of those whom he was in
search of.

"Pardon, excuse me, sir," he said, quite breathless, "but here are your
fifteen hundred francs."

So saying, he handed the stranger the three bank-bills.

The man raised his eyes.

"What is the meaning of this?"

Thenardier replied respectfully:--

"It means, sir, that I shall take back Cosette."

Cosette shuddered, and pressed close to the old man.

He replied, gazing to the very bottom of Thenardier's eyes the while,
and enunciating every syllable distinctly:--

"You are go-ing to take back Co-sette?"

"Yes, sir, I am. I will tell you; I have considered the matter. In fact,
I have not the right to give her to you. I am an honest man, you see;
this child does not belong to me; she belongs to her mother. It was her
mother who confided her to me; I can only resign her to her mother. You
will say to me, 'But her mother is dead.' Good; in that case I can only
give the child up to the person who shall bring me a writing, signed by
her mother, to the effect that I am to hand the child over to the person
therein mentioned; that is clear."

The man, without making any reply, fumbled in his pocket, and Thenardier
beheld the pocket-book of bank-bills make its appearance once more.

The tavern-keeper shivered with joy.

"Good!" thought he; "let us hold firm; he is going to bribe me!"

Before opening the pocket-book, the traveller cast a glance about him:
the spot was absolutely deserted; there was not a soul either in the
woods or in the valley. The man opened his pocket-book once more and
drew from it, not the handful of bills which Thenardier expected, but a
simple little paper, which he unfolded and presented fully open to the
inn-keeper, saying:--

"You are right; read!"

Thenardier took the paper and read:--

                              "M. SUR M., March 25, 1823.


               You will deliver Cosette to this person.
               You will be paid for all the little things.
               I have the honor to salute you with respect,

"You know that signature?" resumed the man.

It certainly was Fantine's signature; Thenardier recognized it.

There was no reply to make; he experienced two violent vexations, the
vexation of renouncing the bribery which he had hoped for, and the
vexation of being beaten; the man added:--

"You may keep this paper as your receipt."

Thenardier retreated in tolerably good order.

"This signature is fairly well imitated," he growled between his teeth;
"however, let it go!"

Then he essayed a desperate effort.

"It is well, sir," he said, "since you are the person, but I must be
paid for all those little things. A great deal is owing to me."

The man rose to his feet, filliping the dust from his thread-bare

"Monsieur Thenardier, in January last, the mother reckoned that she owed
you one hundred and twenty francs. In February, you sent her a bill of
five hundred francs; you received three hundred francs at the end of
February, and three hundred francs at the beginning of March. Since then
nine months have elapsed, at fifteen francs a month, the price agreed
upon, which makes one hundred and thirty-five francs. You had received
one hundred francs too much; that makes thirty-five still owing you. I
have just given you fifteen hundred francs."

Thenardier's sensations were those of the wolf at the moment when he
feels himself nipped and seized by the steel jaw of the trap.

"Who is this devil of a man?" he thought.

He did what the wolf does: he shook himself. Audacity had succeeded with
him once.

"Monsieur-I-don't-know-your-name," he said resolutely, and this time
casting aside all respectful ceremony, "I shall take back Cosette if you
do not give me a thousand crowns."

The stranger said tranquilly:--

"Come, Cosette."

He took Cosette by his left hand, and with his right he picked up his
cudgel, which was lying on the ground.

Thenardier noted the enormous size of the cudgel and the solitude of the

The man plunged into the forest with the child, leaving the inn-keeper
motionless and speechless.

While they were walking away, Thenardier scrutinized his huge shoulders,
which were a little rounded, and his great fists.

Then, bringing his eyes back to his own person, they fell upon his
feeble arms and his thin hands. "I really must have been exceedingly
stupid not to have thought to bring my gun," he said to himself, "since
I was going hunting!"

However, the inn-keeper did not give up.

"I want to know where he is going," said he, and he set out to follow
them at a distance. Two things were left on his hands, an irony in
the shape of the paper signed Fantine, and a consolation, the fifteen
hundred francs.

The man led Cosette off in the direction of Livry and Bondy. He walked
slowly, with drooping head, in an attitude of reflection and sadness.
The winter had thinned out the forest, so that Thenardier did not lose
them from sight, although he kept at a good distance. The man turned
round from time to time, and looked to see if he was being followed.
All at once he caught sight of Thenardier. He plunged suddenly into
the brushwood with Cosette, where they could both hide themselves. "The
deuce!" said Thenardier, and he redoubled his pace.

The thickness of the undergrowth forced him to draw nearer to them. When
the man had reached the densest part of the thicket, he wheeled
round. It was in vain that Thenardier sought to conceal himself in the
branches; he could not prevent the man seeing him. The man cast upon him
an uneasy glance, then elevated his head and continued his course. The
inn-keeper set out again in pursuit. Thus they continued for two or
three hundred paces. All at once the man turned round once more; he saw
the inn-keeper. This time he gazed at him with so sombre an air that
Thenardier decided that it was "useless" to proceed further. Thenardier
retraced his steps.


Jean Valjean was not dead.

When he fell into the sea, or rather, when he threw himself into it, he
was not ironed, as we have seen. He swam under water until he reached a
vessel at anchor, to which a boat was moored. He found means of hiding
himself in this boat until night. At night he swam off again, and
reached the shore a little way from Cape Brun. There, as he did not lack
money, he procured clothing. A small country-house in the neighborhood
of Balaguier was at that time the dressing-room of escaped convicts,--a
lucrative specialty. Then Jean Valjean, like all the sorry fugitives
who are seeking to evade the vigilance of the law and social fatality,
pursued an obscure and undulating itinerary. He found his first
refuge at Pradeaux, near Beausset. Then he directed his course towards
Grand-Villard, near Briancon, in the Hautes-Alpes. It was a fumbling and
uneasy flight,--a mole's track, whose branchings are untraceable. Later
on, some trace of his passage into Ain, in the territory of Civrieux,
was discovered; in the Pyrenees, at Accons; at the spot called
Grange-de-Doumec, near the market of Chavailles, and in the environs of
Perigueux at Brunies, canton of La Chapelle-Gonaguet. He reached Paris.
We have just seen him at Montfermeil.

His first care on arriving in Paris had been to buy mourning clothes
for a little girl of from seven to eight years of age; then to procure
a lodging. That done, he had betaken himself to Montfermeil. It will
be remembered that already, during his preceding escape, he had made a
mysterious trip thither, or somewhere in that neighborhood, of which the
law had gathered an inkling.

However, he was thought to be dead, and this still further increased the
obscurity which had gathered about him. At Paris, one of the journals
which chronicled the fact fell into his hands. He felt reassured and
almost at peace, as though he had really been dead.

On the evening of the day when Jean Valjean rescued Cosette from the
claws of the Thenardiers, he returned to Paris. He re-entered it at
nightfall, with the child, by way of the Barrier Monceaux. There
he entered a cabriolet, which took him to the esplanade of the
Observatoire. There he got out, paid the coachman, took Cosette by
the hand, and together they directed their steps through the
darkness,--through the deserted streets which adjoin the Ourcine and the
Glaciere, towards the Boulevard de l'Hopital.

The day had been strange and filled with emotions for Cosette. They
had eaten some bread and cheese purchased in isolated taverns, behind
hedges; they had changed carriages frequently; they had travelled short
distances on foot. She made no complaint, but she was weary, and Jean
Valjean perceived it by the way she dragged more and more on his hand
as she walked. He took her on his back. Cosette, without letting go
of Catherine, laid her head on Jean Valjean's shoulder, and there fell


[Illustration: The Gorbeau Hovel  2b3-10-gorbeau-house]


Forty years ago, a rambler who had ventured into that unknown country of
the Salpetriere, and who had mounted to the Barriere d'Italie by way
of the boulevard, reached a point where it might be said that Paris
disappeared. It was no longer solitude, for there were passers-by; it
was not the country, for there were houses and streets; it was not the
city, for the streets had ruts like highways, and the grass grew in
them; it was not a village, the houses were too lofty. What was it,
then? It was an inhabited spot where there was no one; it was a desert
place where there was some one; it was a boulevard of the great city, a
street of Paris; more wild at night than the forest, more gloomy by day
than a cemetery.

It was the old quarter of the Marche-aux-Chevaux.

The rambler, if he risked himself outside the four decrepit walls of
this Marche-aux-Chevaux; if he consented even to pass beyond the Rue du
Petit-Banquier, after leaving on his right a garden protected by high
walls; then a field in which tan-bark mills rose like gigantic beaver
huts; then an enclosure encumbered with timber, with a heap of stumps,
sawdust, and shavings, on which stood a large dog, barking; then a long,
low, utterly dilapidated wall, with a little black door in mourning,
laden with mosses, which were covered with flowers in the spring; then,
in the most deserted spot, a frightful and decrepit building, on which
ran the inscription in large letters: POST NO BILLS,--this daring
rambler would have reached little known latitudes at the corner of the
Rue des Vignes-Saint-Marcel. There, near a factory, and between two
garden walls, there could be seen, at that epoch, a mean building,
which, at the first glance, seemed as small as a thatched hovel, and
which was, in reality, as large as a cathedral. It presented its side
and gable to the public road; hence its apparent diminutiveness. Nearly
the whole of the house was hidden. Only the door and one window could be

This hovel was only one story high.

The first detail that struck the observer was, that the door could never
have been anything but the door of a hovel, while the window, if it
had been carved out of dressed stone instead of being in rough masonry,
might have been the lattice of a lordly mansion.

The door was nothing but a collection of worm-eaten planks roughly bound
together by cross-beams which resembled roughly hewn logs. It
opened directly on a steep staircase of lofty steps, muddy, chalky,
plaster-stained, dusty steps, of the same width as itself, which
could be seen from the street, running straight up like a ladder and
disappearing in the darkness between two walls. The top of the shapeless
bay into which this door shut was masked by a narrow scantling in the
centre of which a triangular hole had been sawed, which served both as
wicket and air-hole when the door was closed. On the inside of the
door the figures 52 had been traced with a couple of strokes of a brush
dipped in ink, and above the scantling the same hand had daubed the
number 50, so that one hesitated. Where was one? Above the door it said,
"Number 50"; the inside replied, "no, Number 52." No one knows what
dust-colored figures were suspended like draperies from the triangular

The window was large, sufficiently elevated, garnished with Venetian
blinds, and with a frame in large square panes; only these large panes
were suffering from various wounds, which were both concealed and
betrayed by an ingenious paper bandage. And the blinds, dislocated and
unpasted, threatened passers-by rather than screened the occupants.
The horizontal slats were missing here and there and had been naively
replaced with boards nailed on perpendicularly; so that what began as
a blind ended as a shutter. This door with an unclean, and this window
with an honest though dilapidated air, thus beheld on the same house,
produced the effect of two incomplete beggars walking side by side,
with different miens beneath the same rags, the one having always been a
mendicant, and the other having once been a gentleman.

The staircase led to a very vast edifice which resembled a shed which
had been converted into a house. This edifice had, for its intestinal
tube, a long corridor, on which opened to right and left sorts of
compartments of varied dimensions which were inhabitable under stress
of circumstances, and rather more like stalls than cells. These chambers
received their light from the vague waste grounds in the neighborhood.

All this was dark, disagreeable, wan, melancholy, sepulchral; traversed
according as the crevices lay in the roof or in the door, by cold rays
or by icy winds. An interesting and picturesque peculiarity of this sort
of dwelling is the enormous size of the spiders.

To the left of the entrance door, on the boulevard side, at about the
height of a man from the ground, a small window which had been walled up
formed a square niche full of stones which the children had thrown there
as they passed by.

A portion of this building has recently been demolished. From what still
remains of it one can form a judgment as to what it was in former days.
As a whole, it was not over a hundred years old. A hundred years is
youth in a church and age in a house. It seems as though man's lodging
partook of his ephemeral character, and God's house of his eternity.

The postmen called the house Number 50-52; but it was known in the
neighborhood as the Gorbeau house.

Let us explain whence this appellation was derived.

Collectors of petty details, who become herbalists of anecdotes, and
prick slippery dates into their memories with a pin, know that there
was in Paris, during the last century, about 1770, two attorneys at the
Chatelet named, one Corbeau (Raven), the other Renard (Fox). The two
names had been forestalled by La Fontaine. The opportunity was too fine
for the lawyers; they made the most of it. A parody was immediately
put in circulation in the galleries of the court-house, in verses that
limped a little:--

          Maitre Corbeau, sur un dossier perche,[13]
               Tenait dans son bee une saisie executoire;
          Maitre Renard, par l'odeur alleche,
               Lui fit a peu pres cette histoire:
                    He! bonjour.  Etc.

The two honest practitioners, embarrassed by the jests, and finding the
bearing of their heads interfered with by the shouts of laughter which
followed them, resolved to get rid of their names, and hit upon the
expedient of applying to the king.

Their petition was presented to Louis XV. on the same day when the
Papal Nuncio, on the one hand, and the Cardinal de la Roche-Aymon on the
other, both devoutly kneeling, were each engaged in putting on, in his
Majesty's presence, a slipper on the bare feet of Madame du Barry, who
had just got out of bed. The king, who was laughing, continued to laugh,
passed gayly from the two bishops to the two lawyers, and bestowed on
these limbs of the law their former names, or nearly so. By the kings
command, Maitre Corbeau was permitted to add a tail to his initial
letter and to call himself Gorbeau. Maitre Renard was less lucky; all he
obtained was leave to place a P in front of his R, and to call himself
Prenard; so that the second name bore almost as much resemblance as the

Now, according to local tradition, this Maitre Gorbeau had been the
proprietor of the building numbered 50-52 on the Boulevard de l'Hopital.
He was even the author of the monumental window.

Hence the edifice bore the name of the Gorbeau house.

Opposite this house, among the trees of the boulevard, rose a great elm
which was three-quarters dead; almost directly facing it opens the Rue
de la Barriere des Gobelins, a street then without houses, unpaved,
planted with unhealthy trees, which was green or muddy according to the
season, and which ended squarely in the exterior wall of Paris. An odor
of copperas issued in puffs from the roofs of the neighboring factory.

The barrier was close at hand. In 1823 the city wall was still in

This barrier itself evoked gloomy fancies in the mind. It was the
road to Bicetre. It was through it that, under the Empire and the
Restoration, prisoners condemned to death re-entered Paris on the day
of their execution. It was there, that, about 1829, was committed that
mysterious assassination, called "The assassination of the Fontainebleau
barrier," whose authors justice was never able to discover; a melancholy
problem which has never been elucidated, a frightful enigma which has
never been unriddled. Take a few steps, and you come upon that fatal Rue
Croulebarbe, where Ulbach stabbed the goat-girl of Ivry to the sound of
thunder, as in the melodramas. A few paces more, and you arrive at the
abominable pollarded elms of the Barriere Saint-Jacques, that expedient
of the philanthropist to conceal the scaffold, that miserable and
shameful Place de Grove of a shop-keeping and bourgeois society, which
recoiled before the death penalty, neither daring to abolish it with
grandeur, nor to uphold it with authority.

Leaving aside this Place Saint-Jacques, which was, as it were,
predestined, and which has always been horrible, probably the most
mournful spot on that mournful boulevard, seven and thirty years ago,
was the spot which even to-day is so unattractive, where stood the
building Number 50-52.

Bourgeois houses only began to spring up there twenty-five years later.
The place was unpleasant. In addition to the gloomy thoughts which
assailed one there, one was conscious of being between the Salpetriere,
a glimpse of whose dome could be seen, and Bicetre, whose outskirts one
was fairly touching; that is to say, between the madness of women and
the madness of men. As far as the eye could see, one could perceive
nothing but the abattoirs, the city wall, and the fronts of a few
factories, resembling barracks or monasteries; everywhere about stood
hovels, rubbish, ancient walls blackened like cerecloths, new white
walls like winding-sheets; everywhere parallel rows of trees, buildings
erected on a line, flat constructions, long, cold rows, and the
melancholy sadness of right angles. Not an unevenness of the ground,
not a caprice in the architecture, not a fold. The ensemble was glacial,
regular, hideous. Nothing oppresses the heart like symmetry. It is
because symmetry is ennui, and ennui is at the very foundation of grief.
Despair yawns. Something more terrible than a hell where one suffers
may be imagined, and that is a hell where one is bored. If such a hell
existed, that bit of the Boulevard de l'Hopital might have formed the
entrance to it.

Nevertheless, at nightfall, at the moment when the daylight is
vanishing, especially in winter, at the hour when the twilight breeze
tears from the elms their last russet leaves, when the darkness is deep
and starless, or when the moon and the wind are making openings in the
clouds and losing themselves in the shadows, this boulevard suddenly
becomes frightful. The black lines sink inwards and are lost in the
shades, like morsels of the infinite. The passer-by cannot refrain from
recalling the innumerable traditions of the place which are connected
with the gibbet. The solitude of this spot, where so many crimes have
been committed, had something terrible about it. One almost had a
presentiment of meeting with traps in that darkness; all the confused
forms of the darkness seemed suspicious, and the long, hollow square, of
which one caught a glimpse between each tree, seemed graves: by day it
was ugly; in the evening melancholy; by night it was sinister.

In summer, at twilight, one saw, here and there, a few old women seated
at the foot of the elm, on benches mouldy with rain. These good old
women were fond of begging.

However, this quarter, which had a superannuated rather than an antique
air, was tending even then to transformation. Even at that time any one
who was desirous of seeing it had to make haste. Each day some detail of
the whole effect was disappearing. For the last twenty years the station
of the Orleans railway has stood beside the old faubourg and distracted
it, as it does to-day. Wherever it is placed on the borders of a
capital, a railway station is the death of a suburb and the birth of a
city. It seems as though, around these great centres of the movements of
a people, the earth, full of germs, trembled and yawned, to engulf the
ancient dwellings of men and to allow new ones to spring forth, at the
rattle of these powerful machines, at the breath of these monstrous
horses of civilization which devour coal and vomit fire. The old houses
crumble and new ones rise.

Since the Orleans railway has invaded the region of the Salpetriere,
the ancient, narrow streets which adjoin the moats Saint-Victor and the
Jardin des Plantes tremble, as they are violently traversed three or
four times each day by those currents of coach fiacres and omnibuses
which, in a given time, crowd back the houses to the right and the left;
for there are things which are odd when said that are rigorously exact;
and just as it is true to say that in large cities the sun makes the
southern fronts of houses to vegetate and grow, it is certain that the
frequent passage of vehicles enlarges streets. The symptoms of a new
life are evident. In this old provincial quarter, in the wildest nooks,
the pavement shows itself, the sidewalks begin to crawl and to grow
longer, even where there are as yet no pedestrians. One morning,--a
memorable morning in July, 1845,--black pots of bitumen were seen
smoking there; on that day it might be said that civilization had
arrived in the Rue de l'Ourcine, and that Paris had entered the suburb
of Saint-Marceau.


It was in front of this Gorbeau house that Jean Valjean halted. Like
wild birds, he had chosen this desert place to construct his nest.

He fumbled in his waistcoat pocket, drew out a sort of a pass-key,
opened the door, entered, closed it again carefully, and ascended the
staircase, still carrying Cosette.

At the top of the stairs he drew from his pocket another key, with
which he opened another door. The chamber which he entered, and which
he closed again instantly, was a kind of moderately spacious attic,
furnished with a mattress laid on the floor, a table, and several
chairs; a stove in which a fire was burning, and whose embers were
visible, stood in one corner. A lantern on the boulevard cast a vague
light into this poor room. At the extreme end there was a dressing-room
with a folding bed; Jean Valjean carried the child to this bed and laid
her down there without waking her.

He struck a match and lighted a candle. All this was prepared beforehand
on the table, and, as he had done on the previous evening, he began
to scrutinize Cosette's face with a gaze full of ecstasy, in which the
expression of kindness and tenderness almost amounted to aberration. The
little girl, with that tranquil confidence which belongs only to extreme
strength and extreme weakness, had fallen asleep without knowing with
whom she was, and continued to sleep without knowing where she was.

Jean Valjean bent down and kissed that child's hand.

Nine months before he had kissed the hand of the mother, who had also
just fallen asleep.

The same sad, piercing, religious sentiment filled his heart.

He knelt beside Cosette's bed.

lt was broad daylight, and the child still slept. A wan ray of the
December sun penetrated the window of the attic and lay upon the
ceiling in long threads of light and shade. All at once a heavily laden
carrier's cart, which was passing along the boulevard, shook the frail
bed, like a clap of thunder, and made it quiver from top to bottom.

"Yes, madame!" cried Cosette, waking with a start, "here I am! here I

And she sprang out of bed, her eyes still half shut with the heaviness
of sleep, extending her arms towards the corner of the wall.

"Ah! mon Dieu, my broom!" said she.

She opened her eyes wide now, and beheld the smiling countenance of Jean

"Ah! so it is true!" said the child. "Good morning, Monsieur."

Children accept joy and happiness instantly and familiarly, being
themselves by nature joy and happiness.

Cosette caught sight of Catherine at the foot of her bed, and took
possession of her, and, as she played, she put a hundred questions to
Jean Valjean. Where was she? Was Paris very large? Was Madame Thenardier
very far away? Was she to go back? etc., etc. All at once she exclaimed,
"How pretty it is here!"

It was a frightful hole, but she felt free.

"Must I sweep?" she resumed at last.

"Play!" said Jean Valjean.

The day passed thus. Cosette, without troubling herself to understand
anything, was inexpressibly happy with that doll and that kind man.


On the following morning, at daybreak, Jean Valjean was still by
Cosette's bedside; he watched there motionless, waiting for her to wake.

Some new thing had come into his soul.

Jean Valjean had never loved anything; for twenty-five years he had been
alone in the world. He had never been father, lover, husband, friend. In
the prison he had been vicious, gloomy, chaste, ignorant, and shy.
The heart of that ex-convict was full of virginity. His sister and his
sister's children had left him only a vague and far-off memory which
had finally almost completely vanished; he had made every effort to
find them, and not having been able to find them, he had forgotten them.
Human nature is made thus; the other tender emotions of his youth, if he
had ever had any, had fallen into an abyss.

When he saw Cosette, when he had taken possession of her, carried her
off, and delivered her, he felt his heart moved within him.

All the passion and affection within him awoke, and rushed towards that
child. He approached the bed, where she lay sleeping, and trembled with
joy. He suffered all the pangs of a mother, and he knew not what it
meant; for that great and singular movement of a heart which begins to
love is a very obscure and a very sweet thing.

Poor old man, with a perfectly new heart!

Only, as he was five and fifty, and Cosette eight years of age, all that
might have been love in the whole course of his life flowed together
into a sort of ineffable light.

It was the second white apparition which he had encountered. The Bishop
had caused the dawn of virtue to rise on his horizon; Cosette caused the
dawn of love to rise.

The early days passed in this dazzled state.

Cosette, on her side, had also, unknown to herself, become another
being, poor little thing! She was so little when her mother left her,
that she no longer remembered her. Like all children, who resemble young
shoots of the vine, which cling to everything, she had tried to love;
she had not succeeded. All had repulsed her,--the Thenardiers, their
children, other children. She had loved the dog, and he had died, after
which nothing and nobody would have anything to do with her. It is a sad
thing to say, and we have already intimated it, that, at eight years of
age, her heart was cold. It was not her fault; it was not the faculty
of loving that she lacked; alas! it was the possibility. Thus, from the
very first day, all her sentient and thinking powers loved this kind
man. She felt that which she had never felt before--a sensation of

The man no longer produced on her the effect of being old or poor; she
thought Jean Valjean handsome, just as she thought the hovel pretty.

These are the effects of the dawn, of childhood, of joy. The novelty of
the earth and of life counts for something here. Nothing is so charming
as the coloring reflection of happiness on a garret. We all have in our
past a delightful garret.

Nature, a difference of fifty years, had set a profound gulf between
Jean Valjean and Cosette; destiny filled in this gulf. Destiny suddenly
united and wedded with its irresistible power these two uprooted
existences, differing in age, alike in sorrow. One, in fact, completed
the other. Cosette's instinct sought a father, as Jean Valjean's
instinct sought a child. To meet was to find each other. At the
mysterious moment when their hands touched, they were welded together.
When these two souls perceived each other, they recognized each other as
necessary to each other, and embraced each other closely.

Taking the words in their most comprehensive and absolute sense, we
may say that, separated from every one by the walls of the tomb, Jean
Valjean was the widower, and Cosette was the orphan: this situation
caused Jean Valjean to become Cosette's father after a celestial

And in truth, the mysterious impression produced on Cosette in the
depths of the forest of Chelles by the hand of Jean Valjean grasping
hers in the dark was not an illusion, but a reality. The entrance of
that man into the destiny of that child had been the advent of God.

Moreover, Jean Valjean had chosen his refuge well. There he seemed
perfectly secure.

The chamber with a dressing-room, which he occupied with Cosette, was
the one whose window opened on the boulevard. This being the only window
in the house, no neighbors' glances were to be feared from across the
way or at the side.

The ground-floor of Number 50-52, a sort of dilapidated penthouse,
served as a wagon-house for market-gardeners, and no communication
existed between it and the first story. It was separated by the
flooring, which had neither traps nor stairs, and which formed the
diaphragm of the building, as it were. The first story contained, as we
have said, numerous chambers and several attics, only one of which
was occupied by the old woman who took charge of Jean Valjean's
housekeeping; all the rest was uninhabited.

It was this old woman, ornamented with the name of the principal lodger,
and in reality intrusted with the functions of portress, who had let
him the lodging on Christmas eve. He had represented himself to her as a
gentleman of means who had been ruined by Spanish bonds, who was coming
there to live with his little daughter. He had paid her six months in
advance, and had commissioned the old woman to furnish the chamber and
dressing-room, as we have seen. It was this good woman who had lighted
the fire in the stove, and prepared everything on the evening of their

Week followed week; these two beings led a happy life in that hovel.

Cosette laughed, chattered, and sang from daybreak. Children have their
morning song as well as birds.

It sometimes happened that Jean Valjean clasped her tiny red hand, all
cracked with chilblains, and kissed it. The poor child, who was used
to being beaten, did not know the meaning of this, and ran away in

At times she became serious and stared at her little black gown. Cosette
was no longer in rags; she was in mourning. She had emerged from misery,
and she was entering into life.

Jean Valjean had undertaken to teach her to read. Sometimes, as he made
the child spell, he remembered that it was with the idea of doing evil
that he had learned to read in prison. This idea had ended in teaching a
child to read. Then the ex-convict smiled with the pensive smile of the

He felt in it a premeditation from on high, the will of some one who
was not man, and he became absorbed in revery. Good thoughts have their
abysses as well as evil ones.

To teach Cosette to read, and to let her play, this constituted nearly
the whole of Jean Valjean's existence. And then he talked of her mother,
and he made her pray.

She called him father, and knew no other name for him.

He passed hours in watching her dressing and undressing her doll, and in
listening to her prattle. Life, henceforth, appeared to him to be full
of interest; men seemed to him good and just; he no longer reproached
any one in thought; he saw no reason why he should not live to be a very
old man, now that this child loved him. He saw a whole future stretching
out before him, illuminated by Cosette as by a charming light. The best
of us are not exempt from egotistical thoughts. At times, he reflected
with a sort of joy that she would be ugly.

This is only a personal opinion; but, to utter our whole thought, at the
point where Jean Valjean had arrived when he began to love Cosette, it
is by no means clear to us that he did not need this encouragement in
order that he might persevere in well-doing. He had just viewed the
malice of men and the misery of society under a new aspect--incomplete
aspects, which unfortunately only exhibited one side of the truth,
the fate of woman as summed up in Fantine, and public authority as
personified in Javert. He had returned to prison, this time for having
done right; he had quaffed fresh bitterness; disgust and lassitude were
overpowering him; even the memory of the Bishop probably suffered
a temporary eclipse, though sure to reappear later on luminous and
triumphant; but, after all, that sacred memory was growing dim.
Who knows whether Jean Valjean had not been on the eve of growing
discouraged and of falling once more? He loved and grew strong again.
Alas! he walked with no less indecision than Cosette. He protected her,
and she strengthened him. Thanks to him, she could walk through life;
thanks to her, he could continue in virtue. He was that child's stay,
and she was his prop. Oh, unfathomable and divine mystery of the
balances of destiny!


Jean Valjean was prudent enough never to go out by day. Every evening,
at twilight, he walked for an hour or two, sometimes alone, often with
Cosette, seeking the most deserted side alleys of the boulevard, and
entering churches at nightfall. He liked to go to Saint-Medard, which is
the nearest church. When he did not take Cosette with him, she remained
with the old woman; but the child's delight was to go out with the good
man. She preferred an hour with him to all her rapturous tete-a-tetes
with Catherine. He held her hand as they walked, and said sweet things
to her.

It turned out that Cosette was a very gay little person.

The old woman attended to the housekeeping and cooking and went to

They lived soberly, always having a little fire, but like people in
very moderate circumstances. Jean Valjean had made no alterations in
the furniture as it was the first day; he had merely had the glass door
leading to Cosette's dressing-room replaced by a solid door.

He still wore his yellow coat, his black breeches, and his old hat.
In the street, he was taken for a poor man. It sometimes happened that
kind-hearted women turned back to bestow a sou on him. Jean Valjean
accepted the sou with a deep bow. It also happened occasionally that he
encountered some poor wretch asking alms; then he looked behind him
to make sure that no one was observing him, stealthily approached the
unfortunate man, put a piece of money into his hand, often a silver
coin, and walked rapidly away. This had its disadvantages. He began
to be known in the neighborhood under the name of the beggar who gives

The old principal lodger, a cross-looking creature, who was
thoroughly permeated, so far as her neighbors were concerned, with the
inquisitiveness peculiar to envious persons, scrutinized Jean Valjean
a great deal, without his suspecting the fact. She was a little deaf,
which rendered her talkative. There remained to her from her past, two
teeth,--one above, the other below,--which she was continually knocking
against each other. She had questioned Cosette, who had not been able
to tell her anything, since she knew nothing herself except that she had
come from Montfermeil. One morning, this spy saw Jean Valjean, with
an air which struck the old gossip as peculiar, entering one of the
uninhabited compartments of the hovel. She followed him with the step
of an old cat, and was able to observe him without being seen, through a
crack in the door, which was directly opposite him. Jean Valjean had his
back turned towards this door, by way of greater security, no doubt. The
old woman saw him fumble in his pocket and draw thence a case, scissors,
and thread; then he began to rip the lining of one of the skirts of his
coat, and from the opening he took a bit of yellowish paper, which he
unfolded. The old woman recognized, with terror, the fact that it was
a bank-bill for a thousand francs. It was the second or third only that
she had seen in the course of her existence. She fled in alarm.

A moment later, Jean Valjean accosted her, and asked her to go and
get this thousand-franc bill changed for him, adding that it was his
quarterly income, which he had received the day before. "Where?" thought
the old woman. "He did not go out until six o'clock in the evening, and
the government bank certainly is not open at that hour." The old
woman went to get the bill changed, and mentioned her surmises. That
thousand-franc note, commented on and multiplied, produced a vast
amount of terrified discussion among the gossips of the Rue des Vignes

A few days later, it chanced that Jean Valjean was sawing some wood, in
his shirt-sleeves, in the corridor. The old woman was in the chamber,
putting things in order. She was alone. Cosette was occupied in admiring
the wood as it was sawed. The old woman caught sight of the coat hanging
on a nail, and examined it. The lining had been sewed up again. The good
woman felt of it carefully, and thought she observed in the skirts and
revers thicknesses of paper. More thousand-franc bank-bills, no doubt!

She also noticed that there were all sorts of things in the pockets.
Not only the needles, thread, and scissors which she had seen, but a big
pocket-book, a very large knife, and--a suspicious circumstance--several
wigs of various colors. Each pocket of this coat had the air of being in
a manner provided against unexpected accidents.

Thus the inhabitants of the house reached the last days of winter.


Near Saint-Medard's church there was a poor man who was in the habit of
crouching on the brink of a public well which had been condemned, and
on whom Jean Valjean was fond of bestowing charity. He never passed this
man without giving him a few sous. Sometimes he spoke to him. Those who
envied this mendicant said that he belonged to the police. He was an
ex-beadle of seventy-five, who was constantly mumbling his prayers.

One evening, as Jean Valjean was passing by, when he had not Cosette
with him, he saw the beggar in his usual place, beneath the lantern
which had just been lighted. The man seemed engaged in prayer, according
to his custom, and was much bent over. Jean Valjean stepped up to him
and placed his customary alms in his hand. The mendicant raised his
eyes suddenly, stared intently at Jean Valjean, then dropped his head
quickly. This movement was like a flash of lightning. Jean Valjean was
seized with a shudder. It seemed to him that he had just caught sight,
by the light of the street lantern, not of the placid and beaming
visage of the old beadle, but of a well-known and startling face. He
experienced the same impression that one would have on finding one's
self, all of a sudden, face to face, in the dark, with a tiger. He
recoiled, terrified, petrified, daring neither to breathe, to speak,
to remain, nor to flee, staring at the beggar who had dropped his head,
which was enveloped in a rag, and no longer appeared to know that he
was there. At this strange moment, an instinct--possibly the mysterious
instinct of self-preservation,--restrained Jean Valjean from uttering a
word. The beggar had the same figure, the same rags, the same appearance
as he had every day. "Bah!" said Jean Valjean, "I am mad! I am dreaming!
Impossible!" And he returned profoundly troubled.

He hardly dared to confess, even to himself, that the face which he
thought he had seen was the face of Javert.

That night, on thinking the matter over, he regretted not having
questioned the man, in order to force him to raise his head a second

On the following day, at nightfall, he went back. The beggar was at his
post. "Good day, my good man," said Jean Valjean, resolutely, handing
him a sou. The beggar raised his head, and replied in a whining voice,
"Thanks, my good sir." It was unmistakably the ex-beadle.

Jean Valjean felt completely reassured. He began to laugh. "How the
deuce could I have thought that I saw Javert there?" he thought. "Am I
going to lose my eyesight now?" And he thought no more about it.

A few days afterwards,--it might have been at eight o'clock in the
evening,--he was in his room, and engaged in making Cosette spell aloud,
when he heard the house door open and then shut again. This struck him
as singular. The old woman, who was the only inhabitant of the house
except himself, always went to bed at nightfall, so that she might not
burn out her candles. Jean Valjean made a sign to Cosette to be quiet.
He heard some one ascending the stairs. It might possibly be the old
woman, who might have fallen ill and have been out to the apothecary's.
Jean Valjean listened.

The step was heavy, and sounded like that of a man; but the old woman
wore stout shoes, and there is nothing which so strongly resembles the
step of a man as that of an old woman. Nevertheless, Jean Valjean blew
out his candle.

He had sent Cosette to bed, saying to her in a low voice, "Get into bed
very softly"; and as he kissed her brow, the steps paused.

Jean Valjean remained silent, motionless, with his back towards the
door, seated on the chair from which he had not stirred, and holding his
breath in the dark.

After the expiration of a rather long interval, he turned round, as he
heard nothing more, and, as he raised his eyes towards the door of his
chamber, he saw a light through the keyhole. This light formed a sort
of sinister star in the blackness of the door and the wall. There was
evidently some one there, who was holding a candle in his hand and

Several minutes elapsed thus, and the light retreated. But he heard no
sound of footsteps, which seemed to indicate that the person who had
been listening at the door had removed his shoes.

Jean Valjean threw himself, all dressed as he was, on his bed, and could
not close his eyes all night.

At daybreak, just as he was falling into a doze through fatigue, he was
awakened by the creaking of a door which opened on some attic at the
end of the corridor, then he heard the same masculine footstep which had
ascended the stairs on the preceding evening. The step was approaching.
He sprang off the bed and applied his eye to the keyhole, which was
tolerably large, hoping to see the person who had made his way by night
into the house and had listened at his door, as he passed. It was a
man, in fact, who passed, this time without pausing, in front of Jean
Valjean's chamber. The corridor was too dark to allow of the person's
face being distinguished; but when the man reached the staircase, a
ray of light from without made it stand out like a silhouette, and Jean
Valjean had a complete view of his back. The man was of lofty stature,
clad in a long frock-coat, with a cudgel under his arm. The formidable
neck and shoulders belonged to Javert.

Jean Valjean might have attempted to catch another glimpse of him
through his window opening on the boulevard, but he would have been
obliged to open the window: he dared not.

It was evident that this man had entered with a key, and like himself.
Who had given him that key? What was the meaning of this?

When the old woman came to do the work, at seven o'clock in the morning,
Jean Valjean cast a penetrating glance on her, but he did not question
her. The good woman appeared as usual.

As she swept up she remarked to him:--

"Possibly Monsieur may have heard some one come in last night?"

At that age, and on that boulevard, eight o'clock in the evening was the
dead of the night.

"That is true, by the way," he replied, in the most natural tone
possible. "Who was it?"

"It was a new lodger who has come into the house," said the old woman.

"And what is his name?"

"I don't know exactly; Dumont, or Daumont, or some name of that sort."

"And who is this Monsieur Dumont?"

The old woman gazed at him with her little polecat eyes, and answered:--

"A gentleman of property, like yourself."

Perhaps she had no ulterior meaning. Jean Valjean thought he perceived

When the old woman had taken her departure, he did up a hundred francs
which he had in a cupboard, into a roll, and put it in his pocket. In
spite of all the precautions which he took in this operation so that he
might not be heard rattling silver, a hundred-sou piece escaped from his
hands and rolled noisily on the floor.

When darkness came on, he descended and carefully scrutinized both sides
of the boulevard. He saw no one. The boulevard appeared to be absolutely
deserted. It is true that a person can conceal himself behind trees.

He went up stairs again.

"Come." he said to Cosette.

He took her by the hand, and they both went out.



An observation here becomes necessary, in view of the pages which the
reader is about to peruse, and of others which will be met with further

The author of this book, who regrets the necessity of mentioning
himself, has been absent from Paris for many years. Paris has been
transformed since he quitted it. A new city has arisen, which is, after
a fashion, unknown to him. There is no need for him to say that he loves
Paris: Paris is his mind's natal city. In consequence of demolitions and
reconstructions, the Paris of his youth, that Paris which he bore away
religiously in his memory, is now a Paris of days gone by. He must
be permitted to speak of that Paris as though it still existed. It is
possible that when the author conducts his readers to a spot and says,
"In such a street there stands such and such a house," neither street
nor house will any longer exist in that locality. Readers may verify
the facts if they care to take the trouble. For his own part, he is
unacquainted with the new Paris, and he writes with the old Paris before
his eyes in an illusion which is precious to him. It is a delight to him
to dream that there still lingers behind him something of that which he
beheld when he was in his own country, and that all has not vanished.
So long as you go and come in your native land, you imagine that those
streets are a matter of indifference to you; that those windows,
those roofs, and those doors are nothing to you; that those walls are
strangers to you; that those trees are merely the first encountered
haphazard; that those houses, which you do not enter, are useless to
you; that the pavements which you tread are merely stones. Later on,
when you are no longer there, you perceive that the streets are dear to
you; that you miss those roofs, those doors; and that those walls are
necessary to you, those trees are well beloved by you; that you entered
those houses which you never entered, every day, and that you have left
a part of your heart, of your blood, of your soul, in those pavements.
All those places which you no longer behold, which you may never
behold again, perchance, and whose memory you have cherished, take on
a melancholy charm, recur to your mind with the melancholy of an
apparition, make the holy land visible to you, and are, so to speak,
the very form of France, and you love them; and you call them up as they
are, as they were, and you persist in this, and you will submit to no
change: for you are attached to the figure of your fatherland as to the
face of your mother.

May we, then, be permitted to speak of the past in the present? That
said, we beg the reader to take note of it, and we continue.

Jean Valjean instantly quitted the boulevard and plunged into the
streets, taking the most intricate lines which he could devise,
returning on his track at times, to make sure that he was not being

[Illustration: The Black Hunt  2b5-1-black-hunt]

This manoeuvre is peculiar to the hunted stag. On soil where an
imprint of the track may be left, this manoeuvre possesses, among other
advantages, that of deceiving the huntsmen and the dogs, by throwing
them on the wrong scent. In venery this is called false re-imbushment.

The moon was full that night. Jean Valjean was not sorry for this. The
moon, still very close to the horizon, cast great masses of light and
shadow in the streets. Jean Valjean could glide along close to the
houses on the dark side, and yet keep watch on the light side. He did
not, perhaps, take sufficiently into consideration the fact that the
dark side escaped him. Still, in the deserted lanes which lie near the
Rue Poliveau, he thought he felt certain that no one was following him.

Cosette walked on without asking any questions. The sufferings of the
first six years of her life had instilled something passive into her
nature. Moreover,--and this is a remark to which we shall frequently
have occasion to recur,--she had grown used, without being herself
aware of it, to the peculiarities of this good man and to the freaks of
destiny. And then she was with him, and she felt safe.

Jean Valjean knew no more where he was going than did Cosette. He
trusted in God, as she trusted in him. It seemed as though he also were
clinging to the hand of some one greater than himself; he thought he
felt a being leading him, though invisible. However, he had no settled
idea, no plan, no project. He was not even absolutely sure that it was
Javert, and then it might have been Javert, without Javert knowing that
he was Jean Valjean. Was not he disguised? Was not he believed to be
dead? Still, queer things had been going on for several days. He wanted
no more of them. He was determined not to return to the Gorbeau house.
Like the wild animal chased from its lair, he was seeking a hole in
which he might hide until he could find one where he might dwell.

Jean Valjean described many and varied labyrinths in the Mouffetard
quarter, which was already asleep, as though the discipline of the
Middle Ages and the yoke of the curfew still existed; he combined in
various manners, with cunning strategy, the Rue Censier and the Rue
Copeau, the Rue du Battoir-Saint-Victor and the Rue du Puits l'Ermite.
There are lodging houses in this locality, but he did not even enter
one, finding nothing which suited him. He had no doubt that if any one
had chanced to be upon his track, they would have lost it.

As eleven o'clock struck from Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, he was traversing
the Rue de Pontoise, in front of the office of the commissary of police,
situated at No. 14. A few moments later, the instinct of which we have
spoken above made him turn round. At that moment he saw distinctly,
thanks to the commissary's lantern, which betrayed them, three men
who were following him closely, pass, one after the other, under that
lantern, on the dark side of the street. One of the three entered the
alley leading to the commissary's house. The one who marched at their
head struck him as decidedly suspicious.

"Come, child," he said to Cosette; and he made haste to quit the Rue

He took a circuit, turned into the Passage des Patriarches, which was
closed on account of the hour, strode along the Rue de l'Epee-de-Bois
and the Rue de l'Arbalete, and plunged into the Rue des Postes.

At that time there was a square formed by the intersection of
streets, where the College Rollin stands to-day, and where the Rue
Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve turns off.

It is understood, of course, that the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve is an
old street, and that a posting-chaise does not pass through the Rue des
Postes once in ten years. In the thirteenth century this Rue des Postes
was inhabited by potters, and its real name is Rue des Pots.

The moon cast a livid light into this open space. Jean Valjean went into
ambush in a doorway, calculating that if the men were still following
him, he could not fail to get a good look at them, as they traversed
this illuminated space.

In point of fact, three minutes had not elapsed when the men made their
appearance. There were four of them now. All were tall, dressed in long,
brown coats, with round hats, and huge cudgels in their hands. Their
great stature and their vast fists rendered them no less alarming
than did their sinister stride through the darkness. One would have
pronounced them four spectres disguised as bourgeois.

They halted in the middle of the space and formed a group, like men in
consultation. They had an air of indecision. The one who appeared to be
their leader turned round and pointed hastily with his right hand in the
direction which Jean Valjean had taken; another seemed to indicate the
contrary direction with considerable obstinacy. At the moment when the
first man wheeled round, the moon fell full in his face. Jean Valjean
recognized Javert perfectly.


Uncertainty was at an end for Jean Valjean: fortunately it still lasted
for the men. He took advantage of their hesitation. It was time lost for
them, but gained for him. He slipped from under the gate where he had
concealed himself, and went down the Rue des Postes, towards the region
of the Jardin des Plantes. Cosette was beginning to be tired. He took
her in his arms and carried her. There were no passers-by, and the
street lanterns had not been lighted on account of there being a moon.

He redoubled his pace.

In a few strides he had reached the Goblet potteries, on the front
of which the moonlight rendered distinctly legible the ancient

               De Goblet fils c'est ici la fabrique;[14]
               Venez choisir des cruches et des broos,
               Des pots a fleurs, des tuyaux, de la brique.
               A tout venant le Coeur vend des Carreaux.

He left behind him the Rue de la Clef, then the Fountain Saint-Victor,
skirted the Jardin des Plantes by the lower streets, and reached the
quay. There he turned round. The quay was deserted. The streets were
deserted. There was no one behind him. He drew a long breath.

He gained the Pont d'Austerlitz.

Tolls were still collected there at that epoch.

He presented himself at the toll office and handed over a sou.

"It is two sous," said the old soldier in charge of the bridge. "You are
carrying a child who can walk. Pay for two."

He paid, vexed that his passage should have aroused remark. Every flight
should be an imperceptible slipping away.

A heavy cart was crossing the Seine at the same time as himself, and on
its way, like him, to the right bank. This was of use to him. He could
traverse the bridge in the shadow of the cart.

Towards the middle of the Bridge, Cosette, whose feet were benumbed,
wanted to walk. He set her on the ground and took her hand again.

The bridge once crossed, he perceived some timber-yards on his right. He
directed his course thither. In order to reach them, it was necessary to
risk himself in a tolerably large unsheltered and illuminated space.
He did not hesitate. Those who were on his track had evidently lost the
scent, and Jean Valjean believed himself to be out of danger. Hunted,
yes; followed, no.

A little street, the Rue du Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, opened out
between two timber-yards enclosed in walls. This street was dark and
narrow and seemed made expressly for him. Before entering it he cast a
glance behind him.

From the point where he stood he could see the whole extent of the Pont

Four shadows were just entering on the bridge.

These shadows had their backs turned to the Jardin des Plantes and were
on their way to the right bank.

These four shadows were the four men.

Jean Valjean shuddered like the wild beast which is recaptured.

One hope remained to him; it was, that the men had not, perhaps, stepped
on the bridge, and had not caught sight of him while he was crossing the
large illuminated space, holding Cosette by the hand.

In that case, by plunging into the little street before him, he
might escape, if he could reach the timber-yards, the marshes, the
market-gardens, the uninhabited ground which was not built upon.

It seemed to him that he might commit himself to that silent little
street. He entered it.


Three hundred paces further on, he arrived at a point where the street
forked. It separated into two streets, which ran in a slanting line, one
to the right, and the other to the left.

Jean Valjean had before him what resembled the two branches of a Y.
Which should he choose? He did not hesitate, but took the one on the


Because that to the left ran towards a suburb, that is to say, towards
inhabited regions, and the right branch towards the open country, that
is to say, towards deserted regions.

However, they no longer walked very fast. Cosette's pace retarded Jean

He took her up and carried her again. Cosette laid her head on the
shoulder of the good man and said not a word.

He turned round from time to time and looked behind him. He took care to
keep always on the dark side of the street. The street was straight
in his rear. The first two or three times that he turned round he saw
nothing; the silence was profound, and he continued his march somewhat
reassured. All at once, on turning round, he thought he perceived in the
portion of the street which he had just passed through, far off in the
obscurity, something which was moving.

He rushed forward precipitately rather than walked, hoping to find some
side-street, to make his escape through it, and thus to break his scent
once more.

He arrived at a wall.

This wall, however, did not absolutely prevent further progress; it was
a wall which bordered a transverse street, in which the one he had taken

Here again, he was obliged to come to a decision; should he go to the
right or to the left.

He glanced to the right. The fragmentary lane was prolonged between
buildings which were either sheds or barns, then ended at a blind alley.
The extremity of the cul-de-sac was distinctly visible,--a lofty white

He glanced to the left. On that side the lane was open, and about
two hundred paces further on, ran into a street of which it was the
affluent. On that side lay safety.

At the moment when Jean Valjean was meditating a turn to the left, in
an effort to reach the street which he saw at the end of the lane, he
perceived a sort of motionless, black statue at the corner of the lane
and the street towards which he was on the point of directing his steps.

It was some one, a man, who had evidently just been posted there, and
who was barring the passage and waiting.

Jean Valjean recoiled.

The point of Paris where Jean Valjean found himself, situated between
the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and la Rapee, is one of those which recent
improvements have transformed from top to bottom,--resulting in
disfigurement according to some, and in a transfiguration according to
others. The market-gardens, the timber-yards, and the old buildings
have been effaced. To-day, there are brand-new, wide streets, arenas,
circuses, hippodromes, railway stations, and a prison, Mazas, there;
progress, as the reader sees, with its antidote.

Half a century ago, in that ordinary, popular tongue, which is all
compounded of traditions, which persists in calling the Institut les
Quatre-Nations, and the Opera-Comique Feydeau, the precise spot
whither Jean Valjean had arrived was called le Petit Picpus. The
Porte Saint-Jacques, the Porte Paris, the Barriere des Sergents, the
Porcherons, la Galiote, les Celestins, les Capucins, le Mail, la Bourbe,
l'Arbre de Cracovie, la Petite-Pologne--these are the names of old Paris
which survive amid the new. The memory of the populace hovers over these
relics of the past.

Le Petit-Picpus, which, moreover, hardly ever had any existence, and
never was more than the outline of a quarter, had nearly the monkish
aspect of a Spanish town. The roads were not much paved; the streets
were not much built up. With the exception of the two or three streets,
of which we shall presently speak, all was wall and solitude there. Not
a shop, not a vehicle, hardly a candle lighted here and there in the
windows; all lights extinguished after ten o'clock. Gardens, convents,
timber-yards, marshes; occasional lowly dwellings and great walls as
high as the houses.

Such was this quarter in the last century. The Revolution snubbed
it soundly. The republican government demolished and cut through it.
Rubbish shoots were established there. Thirty years ago, this quarter
was disappearing under the erasing process of new buildings. To-day,
it has been utterly blotted out. The Petit-Picpus, of which no existing
plan has preserved a trace, is indicated with sufficient clearness
in the plan of 1727, published at Paris by Denis Thierry, Rue
Saint-Jacques, opposite the Rue du Platre; and at Lyons, by Jean Girin,
Rue Merciere, at the sign of Prudence. Petit-Picpus had, as
we have just mentioned, a Y of streets, formed by the Rue du
Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, which spread out in two branches, taking on
the left the name of Little Picpus Street, and on the right the name of
the Rue Polonceau. The two limbs of the Y were connected at the apex
as by a bar; this bar was called Rue Droit-Mur. The Rue Polonceau ended
there; Rue Petit-Picpus passed on, and ascended towards the Lenoir
market. A person coming from the Seine reached the extremity of the Rue
Polonceau, and had on his right the Rue Droit-Mur, turning abruptly at a
right angle, in front of him the wall of that street, and on his right a
truncated prolongation of the Rue Droit-Mur, which had no issue and was
called the Cul-de-Sac Genrot.

It was here that Jean Valjean stood.

As we have just said, on catching sight of that black silhouette
standing on guard at the angle of the Rue Droit-Mur and the Rue
Petit-Picpus, he recoiled. There could be no doubt of it. That phantom
was lying in wait for him.

What was he to do?

The time for retreating was passed. That which he had perceived in
movement an instant before, in the distant darkness, was Javert and his
squad without a doubt. Javert was probably already at the commencement
of the street at whose end Jean Valjean stood. Javert, to all
appearances, was acquainted with this little labyrinth, and had taken
his precautions by sending one of his men to guard the exit. These
surmises, which so closely resembled proofs, whirled suddenly, like a
handful of dust caught up by an unexpected gust of wind, through Jean
Valjean's mournful brain. He examined the Cul-de-Sac Genrot; there he
was cut off. He examined the Rue Petit-Picpus; there stood a sentinel.
He saw that black form standing out in relief against the white
pavement, illuminated by the moon; to advance was to fall into this
man's hands; to retreat was to fling himself into Javert's arms. Jean
Valjean felt himself caught, as in a net, which was slowly contracting;
he gazed heavenward in despair.


In order to understand what follows, it is requisite to form an exact
idea of the Droit-Mur lane, and, in particular, of the angle which one
leaves on the left when one emerges from the Rue Polonceau into this
lane. Droit-Mur lane was almost entirely bordered on the right, as far
as the Rue Petit-Picpus, by houses of mean aspect; on the left by a
solitary building of severe outlines, composed of numerous parts which
grew gradually higher by a story or two as they approached the Rue
Petit-Picpus side; so that this building, which was very lofty on the
Rue Petit-Picpus side, was tolerably low on the side adjoining the Rue
Polonceau. There, at the angle of which we have spoken, it descended to
such a degree that it consisted of merely a wall. This wall did not abut
directly on the Street; it formed a deeply retreating niche, concealed
by its two corners from two observers who might have been, one in the
Rue Polonceau, the other in the Rue Droit-Mur.

Beginning with these angles of the niche, the wall extended along the
Rue Polonceau as far as a house which bore the number 49, and along the
Rue Droit-Mur, where the fragment was much shorter, as far as the gloomy
building which we have mentioned and whose gable it intersected, thus
forming another retreating angle in the street. This gable was sombre
of aspect; only one window was visible, or, to speak more correctly, two
shutters covered with a sheet of zinc and kept constantly closed.

The state of the places of which we are here giving a description is
rigorously exact, and will certainly awaken a very precise memory in the
mind of old inhabitants of the quarter.

The niche was entirely filled by a thing which resembled a colossal
and wretched door; it was a vast, formless assemblage of perpendicular
planks, the upper ones being broader than the lower, bound together by
long transverse strips of iron. At one side there was a carriage gate of
the ordinary dimensions, and which had evidently not been cut more than
fifty years previously.

A linden-tree showed its crest above the niche, and the wall was covered
with ivy on the side of the Rue Polonceau.

In the imminent peril in which Jean Valjean found himself, this sombre
building had about it a solitary and uninhabited look which tempted him.
He ran his eyes rapidly over it; he said to himself, that if he could
contrive to get inside it, he might save himself. First he conceived an
idea, then a hope.

In the central portion of the front of this building, on the Rue
Droit-Mur side, there were at all the windows of the different stories
ancient cistern pipes of lead. The various branches of the pipes which
led from one central pipe to all these little basins sketched out a sort
of tree on the front. These ramifications of pipes with their hundred
elbows imitated those old leafless vine-stocks which writhe over the
fronts of old farm-houses.

This odd espalier, with its branches of lead and iron, was the first
thing that struck Jean Valjean. He seated Cosette with her back against
a stone post, with an injunction to be silent, and ran to the spot where
the conduit touched the pavement. Perhaps there was some way of climbing
up by it and entering the house. But the pipe was dilapidated and past
service, and hardly hung to its fastenings. Moreover, all the windows
of this silent dwelling were grated with heavy iron bars, even the attic
windows in the roof. And then, the moon fell full upon that facade, and
the man who was watching at the corner of the street would have seen
Jean Valjean in the act of climbing. And finally, what was to be done
with Cosette? How was she to be drawn up to the top of a three-story

He gave up all idea of climbing by means of the drain-pipe, and crawled
along the wall to get back into the Rue Polonceau.

When he reached the slant of the wall where he had left Cosette, he
noticed that no one could see him there. As we have just explained, he
was concealed from all eyes, no matter from which direction they were
approaching; besides this, he was in the shadow. Finally, there were
two doors; perhaps they might be forced. The wall above which he saw the
linden-tree and the ivy evidently abutted on a garden where he could, at
least, hide himself, although there were as yet no leaves on the trees,
and spend the remainder of the night.

Time was passing; he must act quickly.

He felt over the carriage door, and immediately recognized the fact that
it was impracticable outside and in.

He approached the other door with more hope; it was frightfully
decrepit; its very immensity rendered it less solid; the planks were
rotten; the iron bands--there were only three of them--were rusted. It
seemed as though it might be possible to pierce this worm-eaten barrier.

On examining it he found that the door was not a door; it had neither
hinges, cross-bars, lock, nor fissure in the middle; the iron bands
traversed it from side to side without any break. Through the crevices
in the planks he caught a view of unhewn slabs and blocks of stone
roughly cemented together, which passers-by might still have seen there
ten years ago. He was forced to acknowledge with consternation that this
apparent door was simply the wooden decoration of a building against
which it was placed. It was easy to tear off a plank; but then, one
found one's self face to face with a wall.


At that moment a heavy and measured sound began to be audible at some
distance. Jean Valjean risked a glance round the corner of the street.
Seven or eight soldiers, drawn up in a platoon, had just debouched
into the Rue Polonceau. He saw the gleam of their bayonets. They were
advancing towards him; these soldiers, at whose head he distinguished
Javert's tall figure, advanced slowly and cautiously. They halted
frequently; it was plain that they were searching all the nooks of the
walls and all the embrasures of the doors and alleys.

This was some patrol that Javert had encountered--there could be no
mistake as to this surmise--and whose aid he had demanded.

Javert's two acolytes were marching in their ranks.

At the rate at which they were marching, and in consideration of the
halts which they were making, it would take them about a quarter of
an hour to reach the spot where Jean Valjean stood. It was a frightful
moment. A few minutes only separated Jean Valjean from that terrible
precipice which yawned before him for the third time. And the galleys
now meant not only the galleys, but Cosette lost to him forever; that is
to say, a life resembling the interior of a tomb.

There was but one thing which was possible.

Jean Valjean had this peculiarity, that he carried, as one might say,
two beggar's pouches: in one he kept his saintly thoughts; in the other
the redoubtable talents of a convict. He rummaged in the one or the
other, according to circumstances.

Among his other resources, thanks to his numerous escapes from the
prison at Toulon, he was, as it will be remembered, a past master in the
incredible art of crawling up without ladder or climbing-irons, by sheer
muscular force, by leaning on the nape of his neck, his shoulders, his
hips, and his knees, by helping himself on the rare projections of the
stone, in the right angle of a wall, as high as the sixth story, if need
be; an art which has rendered so celebrated and so alarming that corner
of the wall of the Conciergerie of Paris by which Battemolle, condemned
to death, made his escape twenty years ago.

Jean Valjean measured with his eyes the wall above which he espied the
linden; it was about eighteen feet in height. The angle which it formed
with the gable of the large building was filled, at its lower extremity,
by a mass of masonry of a triangular shape, probably intended to
preserve that too convenient corner from the rubbish of those dirty
creatures called the passers-by. This practice of filling up corners of
the wall is much in use in Paris.

This mass was about five feet in height; the space above the summit of
this mass which it was necessary to climb was not more than fourteen

The wall was surmounted by a flat stone without a coping.

Cosette was the difficulty, for she did not know how to climb a wall.
Should he abandon her? Jean Valjean did not once think of that. It
was impossible to carry her. A man's whole strength is required to
successfully carry out these singular ascents. The least burden would
disturb his centre of gravity and pull him downwards.

A rope would have been required; Jean Valjean had none. Where was he to
get a rope at midnight, in the Rue Polonceau? Certainly, if Jean Valjean
had had a kingdom, he would have given it for a rope at that moment.

All extreme situations have their lightning flashes which sometimes
dazzle, sometimes illuminate us.

Jean Valjean's despairing glance fell on the street lantern-post of the
blind alley Genrot.

At that epoch there were no gas-jets in the streets of Paris. At
nightfall lanterns placed at regular distances were lighted; they were
ascended and descended by means of a rope, which traversed the street
from side to side, and was adjusted in a groove of the post. The pulley
over which this rope ran was fastened underneath the lantern in a little
iron box, the key to which was kept by the lamp-lighter, and the rope
itself was protected by a metal case.

Jean Valjean, with the energy of a supreme struggle, crossed the street
at one bound, entered the blind alley, broke the latch of the little box
with the point of his knife, and an instant later he was beside Cosette
once more. He had a rope. These gloomy inventors of expedients work
rapidly when they are fighting against fatality.

We have already explained that the lanterns had not been lighted that
night. The lantern in the Cul-de-Sac Genrot was thus naturally extinct,
like the rest; and one could pass directly under it without even
noticing that it was no longer in its place.

Nevertheless, the hour, the place, the darkness, Jean Valjean's
absorption, his singular gestures, his goings and comings, all had begun
to render Cosette uneasy. Any other child than she would have given vent
to loud shrieks long before. She contented herself with plucking Jean
Valjean by the skirt of his coat. They could hear the sound of the
patrol's approach ever more and more distinctly.

"Father," said she, in a very low voice, "I am afraid. Who is coming

"Hush!" replied the unhappy man; "it is Madame Thenardier."

Cosette shuddered. He added:--

"Say nothing. Don't interfere with me. If you cry out, if you weep, the
Thenardier is lying in wait for you. She is coming to take you back."

Then, without haste, but without making a useless movement, with firm
and curt precision, the more remarkable at a moment when the patrol and
Javert might come upon him at any moment, he undid his cravat, passed it
round Cosette's body under the armpits, taking care that it should not
hurt the child, fastened this cravat to one end of the rope, by means of
that knot which seafaring men call a "swallow knot," took the other end
of the rope in his teeth, pulled off his shoes and stockings, which
he threw over the wall, stepped upon the mass of masonry, and began
to raise himself in the angle of the wall and the gable with as much
solidity and certainty as though he had the rounds of a ladder under his
feet and elbows. Half a minute had not elapsed when he was resting on
his knees on the wall.

Cosette gazed at him in stupid amazement, without uttering a word. Jean
Valjean's injunction, and the name of Madame Thenardier, had chilled her

All at once she heard Jean Valjean's voice crying to her, though in a
very low tone:--

"Put your back against the wall."

She obeyed.

"Don't say a word, and don't be alarmed," went on Jean Valjean.

And she felt herself lifted from the ground.

Before she had time to recover herself, she was on the top of the wall.

Jean Valjean grasped her, put her on his back, took her two tiny hands
in his large left hand, lay down flat on his stomach and crawled along
on top of the wall as far as the cant. As he had guessed, there stood
a building whose roof started from the top of the wooden barricade and
descended to within a very short distance of the ground, with a gentle
slope which grazed the linden-tree. A lucky circumstance, for the wall
was much higher on this side than on the street side. Jean Valjean could
only see the ground at a great depth below him.

He had just reached the slope of the roof, and had not yet left the
crest of the wall, when a violent uproar announced the arrival of the
patrol. The thundering voice of Javert was audible:--

"Search the blind alley! The Rue Droit-Mur is guarded! so is the Rue
Petit-Picpus. I'll answer for it that he is in the blind alley."

The soldiers rushed into the Genrot alley.

Jean Valjean allowed himself to slide down the roof, still holding fast
to Cosette, reached the linden-tree, and leaped to the ground. Whether
from terror or courage, Cosette had not breathed a sound, though her
hands were a little abraded.


Jean Valjean found himself in a sort of garden which was very vast and
of singular aspect; one of those melancholy gardens which seem made to
be looked at in winter and at night. This garden was oblong in shape,
with an alley of large poplars at the further end, tolerably tall forest
trees in the corners, and an unshaded space in the centre, where could
be seen a very large, solitary tree, then several fruit-trees, gnarled
and bristling like bushes, beds of vegetables, a melon patch, whose
glass frames sparkled in the moonlight, and an old well. Here and
there stood stone benches which seemed black with moss. The alleys were
bordered with gloomy and very erect little shrubs. The grass had half
taken possession of them, and a green mould covered the rest.

Jean Valjean had beside him the building whose roof had served him as
a means of descent, a pile of fagots, and, behind the fagots, directly
against the wall, a stone statue, whose mutilated face was no longer
anything more than a shapeless mask which loomed vaguely through the

The building was a sort of ruin, where dismantled chambers were
distinguishable, one of which, much encumbered, seemed to serve as a

The large building of the Rue Droit-Mur, which had a wing on the Rue
Petit-Picpus, turned two facades, at right angles, towards this garden.
These interior facades were even more tragic than the exterior. All
the windows were grated. Not a gleam of light was visible at any one of
them. The upper story had scuttles like prisons. One of those facades
cast its shadow on the other, which fell over the garden like an immense
black pall.

No other house was visible. The bottom of the garden was lost in mist
and darkness. Nevertheless, walls could be confusedly made out, which
intersected as though there were more cultivated land beyond, and the
low roofs of the Rue Polonceau.

Nothing more wild and solitary than this garden could be imagined. There
was no one in it, which was quite natural in view of the hour; but it
did not seem as though this spot were made for any one to walk in, even
in broad daylight.

Jean Valjean's first care had been to get hold of his shoes and put them
on again, then to step under the shed with Cosette. A man who is fleeing
never thinks himself sufficiently hidden. The child, whose thoughts were
still on the Thenardier, shared his instinct for withdrawing from sight
as much as possible.

Cosette trembled and pressed close to him. They heard the tumultuous
noise of the patrol searching the blind alley and the streets; the blows
of their gun-stocks against the stones; Javert's appeals to the police
spies whom he had posted, and his imprecations mingled with words which
could not be distinguished.

At the expiration of a quarter of an hour it seemed as though that
species of stormy roar were becoming more distant. Jean Valjean held his

He had laid his hand lightly on Cosette's mouth.

However, the solitude in which he stood was so strangely calm, that this
frightful uproar, close and furious as it was, did not disturb him by so
much as the shadow of a misgiving. It seemed as though those walls had
been built of the deaf stones of which the Scriptures speak.

All at once, in the midst of this profound calm, a fresh sound arose; a
sound as celestial, divine, ineffable, ravishing, as the other had been
horrible. It was a hymn which issued from the gloom, a dazzling burst
of prayer and harmony in the obscure and alarming silence of the night;
women's voices, but voices composed at one and the same time of the pure
accents of virgins and the innocent accents of children,--voices which
are not of the earth, and which resemble those that the newborn infant
still hears, and which the dying man hears already. This song proceeded
from the gloomy edifice which towered above the garden. At the moment
when the hubbub of demons retreated, one would have said that a choir of
angels was approaching through the gloom.

Cosette and Jean Valjean fell on their knees.

They knew not what it was, they knew not where they were; but both of
them, the man and the child, the penitent and the innocent, felt that
they must kneel.

These voices had this strange characteristic, that they did not prevent
the building from seeming to be deserted. It was a supernatural chant in
an uninhabited house.

While these voices were singing, Jean Valjean thought of nothing. He no
longer beheld the night; he beheld a blue sky. It seemed to him that he
felt those wings which we all have within us, unfolding.

The song died away. It may have lasted a long time. Jean Valjean could
not have told. Hours of ecstasy are never more than a moment.

All fell silent again. There was no longer anything in the street;
there was nothing in the garden. That which had menaced, that which had
reassured him,--all had vanished. The breeze swayed a few dry weeds
on the crest of the wall, and they gave out a faint, sweet, melancholy


The night wind had risen, which indicated that it must be between one
and two o'clock in the morning. Poor Cosette said nothing. As she had
seated herself beside him and leaned her head against him, Jean Valjean
had fancied that she was asleep. He bent down and looked at her.
Cosette's eyes were wide open, and her thoughtful air pained Jean

She was still trembling.

"Are you sleepy?" said Jean Valjean.

"I am very cold," she replied.

A moment later she resumed:--

"Is she still there?"

"Who?" said Jean Valjean.

"Madame Thenardier."

Jean Valjean had already forgotten the means which he had employed to
make Cosette keep silent.

"Ah!" said he, "she is gone. You need fear nothing further."

The child sighed as though a load had been lifted from her breast.

The ground was damp, the shed open on all sides, the breeze grew more
keen every instant. The goodman took off his coat and wrapped it round

"Are you less cold now?" said he.

"Oh, yes, father."

"Well, wait for me a moment. I will soon be back."

He quitted the ruin and crept along the large building, seeking a better
shelter. He came across doors, but they were closed. There were bars at
all the windows of the ground floor.

Just after he had turned the inner angle of the edifice, he observed
that he was coming to some arched windows, where he perceived a light.
He stood on tiptoe and peeped through one of these windows. They all
opened on a tolerably vast hall, paved with large flagstones, cut up
by arcades and pillars, where only a tiny light and great shadows were
visible. The light came from a taper which was burning in one
corner. The apartment was deserted, and nothing was stirring in it.
Nevertheless, by dint of gazing intently he thought he perceived on the
ground something which appeared to be covered with a winding-sheet, and
which resembled a human form. This form was lying face downward, flat
on the pavement, with the arms extended in the form of a cross, in the
immobility of death. One would have said, judging from a sort of serpent
which undulated over the floor, that this sinister form had a rope round
its neck.

The whole chamber was bathed in that mist of places which are sparely
illuminated, which adds to horror.

Jean Valjean often said afterwards, that, although many funereal
spectres had crossed his path in life, he had never beheld anything more
blood-curdling and terrible than that enigmatical form accomplishing
some inexplicable mystery in that gloomy place, and beheld thus at
night. It was alarming to suppose that that thing was perhaps dead; and
still more alarming to think that it was perhaps alive.

He had the courage to plaster his face to the glass, and to watch
whether the thing would move. In spite of his remaining thus what seemed
to him a very long time, the outstretched form made no movement. All
at once he felt himself overpowered by an inexpressible terror, and he
fled. He began to run towards the shed, not daring to look behind him.
It seemed to him, that if he turned his head, he should see that form
following him with great strides and waving its arms.

He reached the ruin all out of breath. His knees were giving way beneath
him; the perspiration was pouring from him.

Where was he? Who could ever have imagined anything like that sort of
sepulchre in the midst of Paris! What was this strange house? An edifice
full of nocturnal mystery, calling to souls through the darkness with
the voice of angels, and when they came, offering them abruptly that
terrible vision; promising to open the radiant portals of heaven, and
then opening the horrible gates of the tomb! And it actually was an
edifice, a house, which bore a number on the street! It was not a dream!
He had to touch the stones to convince himself that such was the fact.

Cold, anxiety, uneasiness, the emotions of the night, had given him a
genuine fever, and all these ideas were clashing together in his brain.

He stepped up to Cosette. She was asleep.


The child had laid her head on a stone and fallen asleep.

He sat down beside her and began to think. Little by little, as he gazed
at her, he grew calm and regained possession of his freedom of mind.

He clearly perceived this truth, the foundation of his life henceforth,
that so long as she was there, so long as he had her near him, he should
need nothing except for her, he should fear nothing except for her. He
was not even conscious that he was very cold, since he had taken off his
coat to cover her.

Nevertheless, athwart this revery into which he had fallen he had heard
for some time a peculiar noise. It was like the tinkling of a bell. This
sound proceeded from the garden. It could be heard distinctly though
faintly. It resembled the faint, vague music produced by the bells of
cattle at night in the pastures.

This noise made Valjean turn round.

He looked and saw that there was some one in the garden.

A being resembling a man was walking amid the bell-glasses of the melon
beds, rising, stooping, halting, with regular movements, as though he
were dragging or spreading out something on the ground. This person
appeared to limp.

Jean Valjean shuddered with the continual tremor of the unhappy. For
them everything is hostile and suspicious. They distrust the day
because it enables people to see them, and the night because it aids
in surprising them. A little while before he had shivered because the
garden was deserted, and now he shivered because there was some one

He fell back from chimerical terrors to real terrors. He said to himself
that Javert and the spies had, perhaps, not taken their departure; that
they had, no doubt, left people on the watch in the street; that if this
man should discover him in the garden, he would cry out for help against
thieves and deliver him up. He took the sleeping Cosette gently in his
arms and carried her behind a heap of old furniture, which was out of
use, in the most remote corner of the shed. Cosette did not stir.

From that point he scrutinized the appearance of the being in the
melon patch. The strange thing about it was, that the sound of the bell
followed each of this man's movements. When the man approached, the
sound approached; when the man retreated, the sound retreated; if he
made any hasty gesture, a tremolo accompanied the gesture; when he
halted, the sound ceased. It appeared evident that the bell was attached
to that man; but what could that signify? Who was this man who had a
bell suspended about him like a ram or an ox?

As he put these questions to himself, he touched Cosette's hands. They
were icy cold.

"Ah! good God!" he cried.

He spoke to her in a low voice:--


She did not open her eyes.

He shook her vigorously.

She did not wake.

"Is she dead?" he said to himself, and sprang to his feet, quivering
from head to foot.

The most frightful thoughts rushed pell-mell through his mind. There
are moments when hideous surmises assail us like a cohort of furies, and
violently force the partitions of our brains. When those we love are in
question, our prudence invents every sort of madness. He remembered that
sleep in the open air on a cold night may be fatal.

Cosette was pale, and had fallen at full length on the ground at his
feet, without a movement.

He listened to her breathing: she still breathed, but with a respiration
which seemed to him weak and on the point of extinction.

How was he to warm her back to life? How was he to rouse her? All that
was not connected with this vanished from his thoughts. He rushed wildly
from the ruin.

It was absolutely necessary that Cosette should be in bed and beside a
fire in less than a quarter of an hour.


He walked straight up to the man whom he saw in the garden. He had taken
in his hand the roll of silver which was in the pocket of his waistcoat.

The man's head was bent down, and he did not see him approaching. In a
few strides Jean Valjean stood beside him.

Jean Valjean accosted him with the cry:--

"One hundred francs!"

The man gave a start and raised his eyes.

"You can earn a hundred francs," went on Jean Valjean, "if you will
grant me shelter for this night."

The moon shone full upon Jean Valjean's terrified countenance.

"What! so it is you, Father Madeleine!" said the man.

That name, thus pronounced, at that obscure hour, in that unknown spot,
by that strange man, made Jean Valjean start back.

He had expected anything but that. The person who thus addressed him was
a bent and lame old man, dressed almost like a peasant, who wore on his
left knee a leather knee-cap, whence hung a moderately large bell. His
face, which was in the shadow, was not distinguishable.

However, the goodman had removed his cap, and exclaimed, trembling all

"Ah, good God! How come you here, Father Madeleine? Where did you enter?
Dieu-Jesus! Did you fall from heaven? There is no trouble about that:
if ever you do fall, it will be from there. And what a state you are in!
You have no cravat; you have no hat; you have no coat! Do you know, you
would have frightened any one who did not know you? No coat! Lord God!
Are the saints going mad nowadays? But how did you get in here?"

His words tumbled over each other. The goodman talked with a rustic
volubility, in which there was nothing alarming. All this was uttered
with a mixture of stupefaction and naive kindliness.

"Who are you? and what house is this?" demanded Jean Valjean.

"Ah! pardieu, this is too much!" exclaimed the old man. "I am the person
for whom you got the place here, and this house is the one where you had
me placed. What! You don't recognize me?"

"No," said Jean Valjean; "and how happens it that you know me?"

"You saved my life," said the man.

He turned. A ray of moonlight outlined his profile, and Jean Valjean
recognized old Fauchelevent.

"Ah!" said Jean Valjean, "so it is you? Yes, I recollect you."

"That is very lucky," said the old man, in a reproachful tone.

"And what are you doing here?" resumed Jean Valjean.

"Why, I am covering my melons, of course!"

In fact, at the moment when Jean Valjean accosted him, old Fauchelevent
held in his hand the end of a straw mat which he was occupied in
spreading over the melon bed. During the hour or thereabouts that he had
been in the garden he had already spread out a number of them. It was
this operation which had caused him to execute the peculiar movements
observed from the shed by Jean Valjean.

He continued:--

"I said to myself, 'The moon is bright: it is going to freeze. What if I
were to put my melons into their greatcoats?' And," he added, looking at
Jean Valjean with a broad smile,--"pardieu! you ought to have done the
same! But how do you come here?"

Jean Valjean, finding himself known to this man, at least only under the
name of Madeleine, thenceforth advanced only with caution. He multiplied
his questions. Strange to say, their roles seemed to be reversed. It was
he, the intruder, who interrogated.

"And what is this bell which you wear on your knee?"

"This," replied Fauchelevent, "is so that I may be avoided."

"What! so that you may be avoided?"

Old Fauchelevent winked with an indescribable air.

"Ah, goodness! there are only women in this house--many young girls. It
appears that I should be a dangerous person to meet. The bell gives them
warning. When I come, they go."

"What house is this?"

"Come, you know well enough."

"But I do not."

"Not when you got me the place here as gardener?"

"Answer me as though I knew nothing."

"Well, then, this is the Petit-Picpus convent."

Memories recurred to Jean Valjean. Chance, that is to say, Providence,
had cast him into precisely that convent in the Quartier Saint-Antoine
where old Fauchelevent, crippled by the fall from his cart, had been
admitted on his recommendation two years previously. He repeated, as
though talking to himself:--

"The Petit-Picpus convent."

"Exactly," returned old Fauchelevent. "But to come to the point, how the
deuce did you manage to get in here, you, Father Madeleine? No matter if
you are a saint; you are a man as well, and no man enters here."

"You certainly are here."

"There is no one but me."

"Still," said Jean Valjean, "I must stay here."

"Ah, good God!" cried Fauchelevent.

Jean Valjean drew near to the old man, and said to him in a grave

"Father Fauchelevent, I saved your life."

"I was the first to recall it," returned Fauchelevent.

"Well, you can do to-day for me that which I did for you in the olden

Fauchelevent took in his aged, trembling, and wrinkled hands Jean
Valjean's two robust hands, and stood for several minutes as though
incapable of speaking. At length he exclaimed:--

"Oh! that would be a blessing from the good God, if I could make you
some little return for that! Save your life! Monsieur le Maire, dispose
of the old man!"

A wonderful joy had transfigured this old man. His countenance seemed to
emit a ray of light.

"What do you wish me to do?" he resumed.

"That I will explain to you. You have a chamber?"

"I have an isolated hovel yonder, behind the ruins of the old convent,
in a corner which no one ever looks into. There are three rooms in it."

The hut was, in fact, so well hidden behind the ruins, and so cleverly
arranged to prevent it being seen, that Jean Valjean had not perceived

"Good," said Jean Valjean. "Now I am going to ask two things of you."

"What are they, Mr. Mayor?"

"In the first place, you are not to tell any one what you know about me.
In the second, you are not to try to find out anything more."

"As you please. I know that you can do nothing that is not honest,
that you have always been a man after the good God's heart. And then,
moreover, you it was who placed me here. That concerns you. I am at your

"That is settled then. Now, come with me. We will go and get the child."

"Ah!" said Fauchelevent, "so there is a child?"

He added not a word further, and followed Jean Valjean as a dog follows
his master.

Less than half an hour afterwards Cosette, who had grown rosy again
before the flame of a good fire, was lying asleep in the old gardener's
bed. Jean Valjean had put on his cravat and coat once more; his hat,
which he had flung over the wall, had been found and picked up. While
Jean Valjean was putting on his coat, Fauchelevent had removed the
bell and kneecap, which now hung on a nail beside a vintage basket that
adorned the wall. The two men were warming themselves with their elbows
resting on a table upon which Fauchelevent had placed a bit of cheese,
black bread, a bottle of wine, and two glasses, and the old man was
saying to Jean Valjean, as he laid his hand on the latter's knee:
"Ah! Father Madeleine! You did not recognize me immediately; you save
people's lives, and then you forget them! That is bad! But they remember
you! You are an ingrate!"


The events of which we have just beheld the reverse side, so to speak,
had come about in the simplest possible manner.

When Jean Valjean, on the evening of the very day when Javert had
arrested him beside Fantine's death-bed, had escaped from the town jail
of M. sur M., the police had supposed that he had betaken himself to
Paris. Paris is a maelstrom where everything is lost, and everything
disappears in this belly of the world, as in the belly of the sea. No
forest hides a man as does that crowd. Fugitives of every sort know
this. They go to Paris as to an abyss; there are gulfs which save. The
police know it also, and it is in Paris that they seek what they
have lost elsewhere. They sought the ex-mayor of M. sur M. Javert was
summoned to Paris to throw light on their researches. Javert had, in
fact, rendered powerful assistance in the recapture of Jean Valjean.
Javert's zeal and intelligence on that occasion had been remarked by
M. Chabouillet, secretary of the Prefecture under Comte Angles. M.
Chabouillet, who had, moreover, already been Javert's patron, had the
inspector of M. sur M. attached to the police force of Paris. There
Javert rendered himself useful in divers and, though the word may seem
strange for such services, honorable manners.

He no longer thought of Jean Valjean,--the wolf of to-day causes these
dogs who are always on the chase to forget the wolf of yesterday,--when,
in December, 1823, he read a newspaper, he who never read newspapers;
but Javert, a monarchical man, had a desire to know the particulars of
the triumphal entry of the "Prince Generalissimo" into Bayonne. Just as
he was finishing the article, which interested him; a name, the name of
Jean Valjean, attracted his attention at the bottom of a page. The paper
announced that the convict Jean Valjean was dead, and published the fact
in such formal terms that Javert did not doubt it. He confined himself
to the remark, "That's a good entry." Then he threw aside the paper, and
thought no more about it.

Some time afterwards, it chanced that a police report was transmitted
from the prefecture of the Seine-et-Oise to the prefecture of police in
Paris, concerning the abduction of a child, which had taken place, under
peculiar circumstances, as it was said, in the commune of Montfermeil.
A little girl of seven or eight years of age, the report said, who had
been intrusted by her mother to an inn-keeper of that neighborhood, had
been stolen by a stranger; this child answered to the name of Cosette,
and was the daughter of a girl named Fantine, who had died in the
hospital, it was not known where or when.

This report came under Javert's eye and set him to thinking.

The name of Fantine was well known to him. He remembered that Jean
Valjean had made him, Javert, burst into laughter, by asking him for a
respite of three days, for the purpose of going to fetch that creature's
child. He recalled the fact that Jean Valjean had been arrested in Paris
at the very moment when he was stepping into the coach for Montfermeil.
Some signs had made him suspect at the time that this was the second
occasion of his entering that coach, and that he had already, on the
previous day, made an excursion to the neighborhood of that village, for
he had not been seen in the village itself. What had he been intending
to do in that region of Montfermeil? It could not even be surmised.
Javert understood it now. Fantine's daughter was there. Jean Valjean was
going there in search of her. And now this child had been stolen by a
stranger! Who could that stranger be? Could it be Jean Valjean? But Jean
Valjean was dead. Javert, without saying anything to anybody, took the
coach from the Pewter Platter, Cul-de-Sac de la Planchette, and made a
trip to Montfermeil.

He expected to find a great deal of light on the subject there; he found
a great deal of obscurity.

For the first few days the Thenardiers had chattered in their rage. The
disappearance of the Lark had created a sensation in the village. He
immediately obtained numerous versions of the story, which ended in the
abduction of a child. Hence the police report. But their first vexation
having passed off, Thenardier, with his wonderful instinct, had
very quickly comprehended that it is never advisable to stir up the
prosecutor of the Crown, and that his complaints with regard to the
abduction of Cosette would have as their first result to fix upon
himself, and upon many dark affairs which he had on hand, the glittering
eye of justice. The last thing that owls desire is to have a candle
brought to them. And in the first place, how explain the fifteen hundred
francs which he had received? He turned squarely round, put a gag on
his wife's mouth, and feigned astonishment when the stolen child was
mentioned to him. He understood nothing about it; no doubt he had
grumbled for awhile at having that dear little creature "taken from him"
so hastily; he should have liked to keep her two or three days longer,
out of tenderness; but her "grandfather" had come for her in the most
natural way in the world. He added the "grandfather," which produced a
good effect. This was the story that Javert hit upon when he arrived at
Montfermeil. The grandfather caused Jean Valjean to vanish.

Nevertheless, Javert dropped a few questions, like plummets, into
Thenardier's history. "Who was that grandfather? and what was his name?"
Thenardier replied with simplicity: "He is a wealthy farmer. I saw his
passport. I think his name was M. Guillaume Lambert."

Lambert is a respectable and extremely reassuring name. Thereupon Javert
returned to Paris.

"Jean Valjean is certainly dead," said he, "and I am a ninny."

He had again begun to forget this history, when, in the course of
March, 1824, he heard of a singular personage who dwelt in the parish of
Saint-Medard and who had been surnamed "the mendicant who gives alms."
This person, the story ran, was a man of means, whose name no one knew
exactly, and who lived alone with a little girl of eight years, who
knew nothing about herself, save that she had come from Montfermeil.
Montfermeil! that name was always coming up, and it made Javert prick
up his ears. An old beggar police spy, an ex-beadle, to whom this person
had given alms, added a few more details. This gentleman of property was
very shy,--never coming out except in the evening, speaking to no one,
except, occasionally to the poor, and never allowing any one to approach
him. He wore a horrible old yellow frock-coat, which was worth many
millions, being all wadded with bank-bills. This piqued Javert's
curiosity in a decided manner. In order to get a close look at this
fantastic gentleman without alarming him, he borrowed the beadle's
outfit for a day, and the place where the old spy was in the habit of
crouching every evening, whining orisons through his nose, and playing
the spy under cover of prayer.

"The suspected individual" did indeed approach Javert thus disguised,
and bestow alms on him. At that moment Javert raised his head, and the
shock which Jean Valjean received on recognizing Javert was equal to the
one received by Javert when he thought he recognized Jean Valjean.

However, the darkness might have misled him; Jean Valjean's death was
official; Javert cherished very grave doubts; and when in doubt, Javert,
the man of scruples, never laid a finger on any one's collar.

He followed his man to the Gorbeau house, and got "the old woman" to
talking, which was no difficult matter. The old woman confirmed the fact
regarding the coat lined with millions, and narrated to him the episode
of the thousand-franc bill. She had seen it! She had handled it! Javert
hired a room; that evening he installed himself in it. He came and
listened at the mysterious lodger's door, hoping to catch the sound of
his voice, but Jean Valjean saw his candle through the key-hole, and
foiled the spy by keeping silent.

On the following day Jean Valjean decamped; but the noise made by the
fall of the five-franc piece was noticed by the old woman, who, hearing
the rattling of coin, suspected that he might be intending to leave, and
made haste to warn Javert. At night, when Jean Valjean came out, Javert
was waiting for him behind the trees of the boulevard with two men.

Javert had demanded assistance at the Prefecture, but he had not
mentioned the name of the individual whom he hoped to seize; that was
his secret, and he had kept it for three reasons: in the first place,
because the slightest indiscretion might put Jean Valjean on the alert;
next, because, to lay hands on an ex-convict who had made his escape
and was reputed dead, on a criminal whom justice had formerly classed
forever as among malefactors of the most dangerous sort, was a
magnificent success which the old members of the Parisian police would
assuredly not leave to a new-comer like Javert, and he was afraid of
being deprived of his convict; and lastly, because Javert, being an
artist, had a taste for the unforeseen. He hated those well-heralded
successes which are talked of long in advance and have had the bloom
brushed off. He preferred to elaborate his masterpieces in the dark and
to unveil them suddenly at the last.

Javert had followed Jean Valjean from tree to tree, then from corner
to corner of the street, and had not lost sight of him for a single
instant; even at the moments when Jean Valjean believed himself to
be the most secure Javert's eye had been on him. Why had not Javert
arrested Jean Valjean? Because he was still in doubt.

It must be remembered that at that epoch the police was not precisely
at its ease; the free press embarrassed it; several arbitrary arrests
denounced by the newspapers, had echoed even as far as the Chambers, and
had rendered the Prefecture timid. Interference with individual liberty
was a grave matter. The police agents were afraid of making a mistake;
the prefect laid the blame on them; a mistake meant dismissal. The
reader can imagine the effect which this brief paragraph, reproduced
by twenty newspapers, would have caused in Paris: "Yesterday, an aged
grandfather, with white hair, a respectable and well-to-do gentleman,
who was walking with his grandchild, aged eight, was arrested and
conducted to the agency of the Prefecture as an escaped convict!"

Let us repeat in addition that Javert had scruples of his own;
injunctions of his conscience were added to the injunctions of the
prefect. He was really in doubt.

Jean Valjean turned his back on him and walked in the dark.

Sadness, uneasiness, anxiety, depression, this fresh misfortune of being
forced to flee by night, to seek a chance refuge in Paris for Cosette
and himself, the necessity of regulating his pace to the pace of
the child--all this, without his being aware of it, had altered Jean
Valjean's walk, and impressed on his bearing such senility, that the
police themselves, incarnate in the person of Javert, might, and did in
fact, make a mistake. The impossibility of approaching too close, his
costume of an emigre preceptor, the declaration of Thenardier which made
a grandfather of him, and, finally, the belief in his death in prison,
added still further to the uncertainty which gathered thick in Javert's

For an instant it occurred to him to make an abrupt demand for his
papers; but if the man was not Jean Valjean, and if this man was not a
good, honest old fellow living on his income, he was probably some merry
blade deeply and cunningly implicated in the obscure web of Parisian
misdeeds, some chief of a dangerous band, who gave alms to conceal
his other talents, which was an old dodge. He had trusty fellows,
accomplices' retreats in case of emergencies, in which he would, no
doubt, take refuge. All these turns which he was making through the
streets seemed to indicate that he was not a simple and honest man. To
arrest him too hastily would be "to kill the hen that laid the golden
eggs." Where was the inconvenience in waiting? Javert was very sure that
he would not escape.

Thus he proceeded in a tolerably perplexed state of mind, putting to
himself a hundred questions about this enigmatical personage.

It was only quite late in the Rue de Pontoise, that, thanks to the
brilliant light thrown from a dram-shop, he decidedly recognized Jean

There are in this world two beings who give a profound start,--the
mother who recovers her child and the tiger who recovers his prey.
Javert gave that profound start.

As soon as he had positively recognized Jean Valjean, the formidable
convict, he perceived that there were only three of them, and he asked
for reinforcements at the police station of the Rue de Pontoise. One
puts on gloves before grasping a thorn cudgel.

This delay and the halt at the Carrefour Rollin to consult with his
agents came near causing him to lose the trail. He speedily divined,
however, that Jean Valjean would want to put the river between his
pursuers and himself. He bent his head and reflected like a blood-hound
who puts his nose to the ground to make sure that he is on the right
scent. Javert, with his powerful rectitude of instinct, went straight to
the bridge of Austerlitz. A word with the toll-keeper furnished him with
the information which he required: "Have you seen a man with a little
girl?" "I made him pay two sous," replied the toll-keeper. Javert
reached the bridge in season to see Jean Valjean traverse the small
illuminated spot on the other side of the water, leading Cosette by
the hand. He saw him enter the Rue du Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine; he
remembered the Cul-de-Sac Genrot arranged there like a trap, and of the
sole exit of the Rue Droit-Mur into the Rue Petit-Picpus. He made sure
of his back burrows, as huntsmen say; he hastily despatched one of his
agents, by a roundabout way, to guard that issue. A patrol which was
returning to the Arsenal post having passed him, he made a requisition
on it, and caused it to accompany him. In such games soldiers are aces.
Moreover, the principle is, that in order to get the best of a wild
boar, one must employ the science of venery and plenty of dogs. These
combinations having been effected, feeling that Jean Valjean was caught
between the blind alley Genrot on the right, his agent on the left, and
himself, Javert, in the rear, he took a pinch of snuff.

Then he began the game. He experienced one ecstatic and infernal moment;
he allowed his man to go on ahead, knowing that he had him safe, but
desirous of postponing the moment of arrest as long as possible, happy
at the thought that he was taken and yet at seeing him free, gloating
over him with his gaze, with that voluptuousness of the spider which
allows the fly to flutter, and of the cat which lets the mouse run.
Claws and talons possess a monstrous sensuality,--the obscure movements
of the creature imprisoned in their pincers. What a delight this
strangling is!

Javert was enjoying himself. The meshes of his net were stoutly knotted.
He was sure of success; all he had to do now was to close his hand.

Accompanied as he was, the very idea of resistance was impossible,
however vigorous, energetic, and desperate Jean Valjean might be.

[Illustration: Javert on the Hunt  2b5-10-javert-on-the-hunt]

Javert advanced slowly, sounding, searching on his way all the nooks of
the street like so many pockets of thieves.

When he reached the centre of the web he found the fly no longer there.

His exasperation can be imagined.

He interrogated his sentinel of the Rues Droit-Mur and Petit-Picpus;
that agent, who had remained imperturbably at his post, had not seen the
man pass.

It sometimes happens that a stag is lost head and horns; that is to
say, he escapes although he has the pack on his very heels, and then the
oldest huntsmen know not what to say. Duvivier, Ligniville, and Desprez
halt short. In a discomfiture of this sort, Artonge exclaims, "It was
not a stag, but a sorcerer." Javert would have liked to utter the same

His disappointment bordered for a moment on despair and rage.

It is certain that Napoleon made mistakes during the war with Russia,
that Alexander committed blunders in the war in India, that Caesar made
mistakes in the war in Africa, that Cyrus was at fault in the war
in Scythia, and that Javert blundered in this campaign against Jean
Valjean. He was wrong, perhaps, in hesitating in his recognition of the
exconvict. The first glance should have sufficed him. He was wrong in
not arresting him purely and simply in the old building; he was wrong
in not arresting him when he positively recognized him in the Rue de
Pontoise. He was wrong in taking counsel with his auxiliaries in the
full light of the moon in the Carrefour Rollin. Advice is certainly
useful; it is a good thing to know and to interrogate those of the dogs
who deserve confidence; but the hunter cannot be too cautious when he is
chasing uneasy animals like the wolf and the convict. Javert, by taking
too much thought as to how he should set the bloodhounds of the pack on
the trail, alarmed the beast by giving him wind of the dart, and so
made him run. Above all, he was wrong in that after he had picked up the
scent again on the bridge of Austerlitz, he played that formidable and
puerile game of keeping such a man at the end of a thread. He thought
himself stronger than he was, and believed that he could play at the
game of the mouse and the lion. At the same time, he reckoned himself
as too weak, when he judged it necessary to obtain reinforcement. Fatal
precaution, waste of precious time! Javert committed all these blunders,
and none the less was one of the cleverest and most correct spies that
ever existed. He was, in the full force of the term, what is called in
venery a knowing dog. But what is there that is perfect?

Great strategists have their eclipses.

The greatest follies are often composed, like the largest ropes, of
a multitude of strands. Take the cable thread by thread, take all the
petty determining motives separately, and you can break them one after
the other, and you say, "That is all there is of it!" Braid them, twist
them together; the result is enormous: it is Attila hesitating between
Marcian on the east and Valentinian on the west; it is Hannibal tarrying
at Capua; it is Danton falling asleep at Arcis-sur-Aube.

However that may be, even at the moment when he saw that Jean Valjean
had escaped him, Javert did not lose his head. Sure that the convict who
had broken his ban could not be far off, he established sentinels, he
organized traps and ambuscades, and beat the quarter all that night. The
first thing he saw was the disorder in the street lantern whose rope
had been cut. A precious sign which, however, led him astray, since it
caused him to turn all his researches in the direction of the Cul-de-Sac
Genrot. In this blind alley there were tolerably low walls which abutted
on gardens whose bounds adjoined the immense stretches of waste land.
Jean Valjean evidently must have fled in that direction. The fact is,
that had he penetrated a little further in the Cul-de-Sac Genrot, he
would probably have done so and have been lost. Javert explored these
gardens and these waste stretches as though he had been hunting for a

At daybreak he left two intelligent men on the outlook, and returned to
the Prefecture of Police, as much ashamed as a police spy who had been
captured by a robber might have been.



Nothing, half a century ago, more resembled every other carriage gate
than the carriage gate of Number 62 Rue Petit-Picpus. This entrance,
which usually stood ajar in the most inviting fashion, permitted a
view of two things, neither of which have anything very funereal about
them,--a courtyard surrounded by walls hung with vines, and the face
of a lounging porter. Above the wall, at the bottom of the court, tall
trees were visible. When a ray of sunlight enlivened the courtyard, when
a glass of wine cheered up the porter, it was difficult to pass Number
62 Little Picpus Street without carrying away a smiling impression of
it. Nevertheless, it was a sombre place of which one had had a glimpse.

The threshold smiled; the house prayed and wept.

If one succeeded in passing the porter, which was not easy,--which was
even nearly impossible for every one, for there was an open sesame!
which it was necessary to know,--if, the porter once passed, one entered
a little vestibule on the right, on which opened a staircase shut in
between two walls and so narrow that only one person could ascend it at
a time, if one did not allow one's self to be alarmed by a daubing of
canary yellow, with a dado of chocolate which clothed this staircase, if
one ventured to ascend it, one crossed a first landing, then a second,
and arrived on the first story at a corridor where the yellow wash and
the chocolate-hued plinth pursued one with a peaceable persistency.
Staircase and corridor were lighted by two beautiful windows. The
corridor took a turn and became dark. If one doubled this cape, one
arrived a few paces further on, in front of a door which was all the
more mysterious because it was not fastened. If one opened it, one
found one's self in a little chamber about six feet square, tiled,
well-scrubbed, clean, cold, and hung with nankin paper with green
flowers, at fifteen sous the roll. A white, dull light fell from a large
window, with tiny panes, on the left, which usurped the whole width
of the room. One gazed about, but saw no one; one listened, one heard
neither a footstep nor a human murmur. The walls were bare, the chamber
was not furnished; there was not even a chair.

One looked again, and beheld on the wall facing the door a quadrangular
hole, about a foot square, with a grating of interlacing iron bars,
black, knotted, solid, which formed squares--I had almost said
meshes--of less than an inch and a half in diagonal length. The little
green flowers of the nankin paper ran in a calm and orderly manner to
those iron bars, without being startled or thrown into confusion by
their funereal contact. Supposing that a living being had been so
wonderfully thin as to essay an entrance or an exit through the square
hole, this grating would have prevented it. It did not allow the passage
of the body, but it did allow the passage of the eyes; that is to
say, of the mind. This seems to have occurred to them, for it had been
re-enforced by a sheet of tin inserted in the wall a little in the rear,
and pierced with a thousand holes more microscopic than the holes of
a strainer. At the bottom of this plate, an aperture had been pierced
exactly similar to the orifice of a letter box. A bit of tape attached
to a bell-wire hung at the right of the grated opening.

If the tape was pulled, a bell rang, and one heard a voice very near at
hand, which made one start.

"Who is there?" the voice demanded.

It was a woman's voice, a gentle voice, so gentle that it was mournful.

Here, again, there was a magical word which it was necessary to know. If
one did not know it, the voice ceased, the wall became silent once more,
as though the terrified obscurity of the sepulchre had been on the other
side of it.

If one knew the password, the voice resumed, "Enter on the right."

One then perceived on the right, facing the window, a glass door
surmounted by a frame glazed and painted gray. On raising the latch and
crossing the threshold, one experienced precisely the same impression
as when one enters at the theatre into a grated baignoire, before the
grating is lowered and the chandelier is lighted. One was, in fact, in
a sort of theatre-box, narrow, furnished with two old chairs, and a
much-frayed straw matting, sparely illuminated by the vague light from
the glass door; a regular box, with its front just of a height to lean
upon, bearing a tablet of black wood. This box was grated, only
the grating of it was not of gilded wood, as at the opera; it was a
monstrous lattice of iron bars, hideously interlaced and riveted to the
wall by enormous fastenings which resembled clenched fists.

The first minutes passed; when one's eyes began to grow used to this
cellar-like half-twilight, one tried to pass the grating, but got no
further than six inches beyond it. There he encountered a barrier of
black shutters, re-enforced and fortified with transverse beams of wood
painted a gingerbread yellow. These shutters were divided into long,
narrow slats, and they masked the entire length of the grating. They
were always closed. At the expiration of a few moments one heard a voice
proceeding from behind these shutters, and saying:--

"I am here. What do you wish with me?"

It was a beloved, sometimes an adored, voice. No one was visible. Hardly
the sound of a breath was audible. It seemed as though it were a spirit
which had been evoked, that was speaking to you across the walls of the

If one chanced to be within certain prescribed and very rare conditions,
the slat of one of the shutters opened opposite you; the evoked spirit
became an apparition. Behind the grating, behind the shutter, one
perceived so far as the grating permitted sight, a head, of which only
the mouth and the chin were visible; the rest was covered with a black
veil. One caught a glimpse of a black guimpe, and a form that was barely
defined, covered with a black shroud. That head spoke with you, but did
not look at you and never smiled at you.

The light which came from behind you was adjusted in such a manner that
you saw her in the white, and she saw you in the black. This light was

Nevertheless, your eyes plunged eagerly through that opening which
was made in that place shut off from all glances. A profound vagueness
enveloped that form clad in mourning. Your eyes searched that vagueness,
and sought to make out the surroundings of the apparition. At the
expiration of a very short time you discovered that you could see
nothing. What you beheld was night, emptiness, shadows, a wintry mist
mingled with a vapor from the tomb, a sort of terrible peace, a silence
from which you could gather nothing, not even sighs, a gloom in which
you could distinguish nothing, not even phantoms.

What you beheld was the interior of a cloister.

It was the interior of that severe and gloomy edifice which was called
the Convent of the Bernardines of the Perpetual Adoration. The box in
which you stood was the parlor. The first voice which had addressed you
was that of the portress who always sat motionless and silent, on the
other side of the wall, near the square opening, screened by the iron
grating and the plate with its thousand holes, as by a double visor.
The obscurity which bathed the grated box arose from the fact that the
parlor, which had a window on the side of the world, had none on the
side of the convent. Profane eyes must see nothing of that sacred place.

Nevertheless, there was something beyond that shadow; there was a light;
there was life in the midst of that death. Although this was the most
strictly walled of all convents, we shall endeavor to make our way into
it, and to take the reader in, and to say, without transgressing the
proper bounds, things which story-tellers have never seen, and have,
therefore, never described.


This convent, which in 1824 had already existed for many a long year in
the Rue Petit-Picpus, was a community of Bernardines of the obedience of
Martin Verga.

These Bernardines were attached, in consequence, not to Clairvaux, like
the Bernardine monks, but to Citeaux, like the Benedictine monks. In
other words, they were the subjects, not of Saint Bernard, but of Saint

Any one who has turned over old folios to any extent knows that Martin
Verga founded in 1425 a congregation of Bernardines-Benedictines,
with Salamanca for the head of the order, and Alcala as the branch

This congregation had sent out branches throughout all the Catholic
countries of Europe.

There is nothing unusual in the Latin Church in these grafts of one
order on another. To mention only a single order of Saint-Benoit, which
is here in question: there are attached to this order, without counting
the obedience of Martin Verga, four congregations,--two in Italy,
Mont-Cassin and Sainte-Justine of Padua; two in France, Cluny and
Saint-Maur; and nine orders,--Vallombrosa, Granmont, the Celestins,
the Camaldules, the Carthusians, the Humilies, the Olivateurs, the
Silvestrins, and lastly, Citeaux; for Citeaux itself, a trunk for other
orders, is only an offshoot of Saint-Benoit. Citeaux dates from Saint
Robert, Abbe de Molesme, in the diocese of Langres, in 1098. Now it was
in 529 that the devil, having retired to the desert of Subiaco--he
was old--had he turned hermit?--was chased from the ancient temple of
Apollo, where he dwelt, by Saint-Benoit, then aged seventeen.

After the rule of the Carmelites, who go barefoot, wear a bit of willow
on their throats, and never sit down, the harshest rule is that of the
Bernardines-Benedictines of Martin Verga. They are clothed in black,
with a guimpe, which, in accordance with the express command of
Saint-Benoit, mounts to the chin. A robe of serge with large sleeves,
a large woollen veil, the guimpe which mounts to the chin cut square on
the breast, the band which descends over their brow to their eyes,--this
is their dress. All is black except the band, which is white. The
novices wear the same habit, but all in white. The professed nuns also
wear a rosary at their side.

The Bernardines-Benedictines of Martin Verga practise the Perpetual
Adoration, like the Benedictines called Ladies of the Holy Sacrament,
who, at the beginning of this century, had two houses in Paris,--one at
the Temple, the other in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve. However, the
Bernardines-Benedictines of the Petit-Picpus, of whom we are speaking,
were a totally different order from the Ladies of the Holy Sacrament,
cloistered in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve and at the Temple. There
were numerous differences in their rule; there were some in their
costume. The Bernardines-Benedictines of the Petit-Picpus wore the
black guimpe, and the Benedictines of the Holy Sacrament and of the
Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve wore a white one, and had, besides, on their
breasts, a Holy Sacrament about three inches long, in silver gilt or
gilded copper. The nuns of the Petit-Picpus did not wear this Holy
Sacrament. The Perpetual Adoration, which was common to the house of
the Petit-Picpus and to the house of the Temple, leaves those two orders
perfectly distinct. Their only resemblance lies in this practice of the
Ladies of the Holy Sacrament and the Bernardines of Martin Verga, just
as there existed a similarity in the study and the glorification of
all the mysteries relating to the infancy, the life, and death of Jesus
Christ and the Virgin, between the two orders, which were, nevertheless,
widely separated, and on occasion even hostile. The Oratory of Italy,
established at Florence by Philip de Neri, and the Oratory of France,
established by Pierre de Berulle. The Oratory of France claimed the
precedence, since Philip de Neri was only a saint, while Berulle was a

Let us return to the harsh Spanish rule of Martin Verga.

The Bernardines-Benedictines of this obedience fast all the year
round, abstain from meat, fast in Lent and on many other days which are
peculiar to them, rise from their first sleep, from one to three o'clock
in the morning, to read their breviary and chant matins, sleep in all
seasons between serge sheets and on straw, make no use of the bath,
never light a fire, scourge themselves every Friday, observe the rule of
silence, speak to each other only during the recreation hours, which are
very brief, and wear drugget chemises for six months in the year, from
September 14th, which is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, until Easter.
These six months are a modification: the rule says all the year, but
this drugget chemise, intolerable in the heat of summer, produced fevers
and nervous spasms. The use of it had to be restricted. Even with this
palliation, when the nuns put on this chemise on the 14th of September,
they suffer from fever for three or four days. Obedience, poverty,
chastity, perseverance in their seclusion,--these are their vows, which
the rule greatly aggravates.

The prioress is elected for three years by the mothers, who are called
meres vocales because they have a voice in the chapter. A prioress can
only be re-elected twice, which fixes the longest possible reign of a
prioress at nine years.

They never see the officiating priest, who is always hidden from them
by a serge curtain nine feet in height. During the sermon, when the
preacher is in the chapel, they drop their veils over their faces. They
must always speak low, walk with their eyes on the ground and their
heads bowed. One man only is allowed to enter the convent,--the
archbishop of the diocese.

There is really one other,--the gardener. But he is always an old man,
and, in order that he may always be alone in the garden, and that the
nuns may be warned to avoid him, a bell is attached to his knee.

Their submission to the prioress is absolute and passive. It is the
canonical subjection in the full force of its abnegation. As at the
voice of Christ, ut voci Christi, at a gesture, at the first sign,
ad nutum, ad primum signum, immediately, with cheerfulness, with
perseverance, with a certain blind obedience, prompte, hilariter,
perseveranter et caeca quadam obedientia, as the file in the hand of the
workman, quasi limam in manibus fabri, without power to read or to write
without express permission, legere vel scribere non addiscerit sine
expressa superioris licentia.

Each one of them in turn makes what they call reparation. The reparation
is the prayer for all the sins, for all the faults, for all the
dissensions, for all the violations, for all the iniquities, for all the
crimes committed on earth. For the space of twelve consecutive hours,
from four o'clock in the afternoon till four o'clock in the morning, or
from four o'clock in the morning until four o'clock in the afternoon,
the sister who is making reparation remains on her knees on the stone
before the Holy Sacrament, with hands clasped, a rope around her neck.
When her fatigue becomes unendurable, she prostrates herself flat on
her face against the earth, with her arms outstretched in the form of a
cross; this is her only relief. In this attitude she prays for all the
guilty in the universe. This is great to sublimity.

As this act is performed in front of a post on which burns a candle, it
is called without distinction, to make reparation or to be at the post.
The nuns even prefer, out of humility, this last expression, which
contains an idea of torture and abasement.

To make reparation is a function in which the whole soul is absorbed.
The sister at the post would not turn round were a thunderbolt to fall
directly behind her.

Besides this, there is always a sister kneeling before the Holy
Sacrament. This station lasts an hour. They relieve each other like
soldiers on guard. This is the Perpetual Adoration.

The prioresses and the mothers almost always bear names stamped with
peculiar solemnity, recalling, not the saints and martyrs, but moments
in the life of Jesus Christ: as Mother Nativity, Mother Conception,
Mother Presentation, Mother Passion. But the names of saints are not

When one sees them, one never sees anything but their mouths.

All their teeth are yellow. No tooth-brush ever entered that convent.
Brushing one's teeth is at the top of a ladder at whose bottom is the
loss of one's soul.

They never say my. They possess nothing of their own, and they must not
attach themselves to anything. They call everything our; thus: our veil,
our chaplet; if they were speaking of their chemise, they would say our
chemise. Sometimes they grow attached to some petty object,--to a book
of hours, a relic, a medal that has been blessed. As soon as they become
aware that they are growing attached to this object, they must give it
up. They recall the words of Saint Therese, to whom a great lady said,
as she was on the point of entering her order, "Permit me, mother, to
send for a Bible to which I am greatly attached." "Ah, you are attached
to something! In that case, do not enter our order!"

Every person whatever is forbidden to shut herself up, to have a place
of her own, a chamber. They live with their cells open. When they meet,
one says, "Blessed and adored be the most Holy Sacrament of the altar!"
The other responds, "Forever." The same ceremony when one taps at the
other's door. Hardly has she touched the door when a soft voice on the
other side is heard to say hastily, "Forever!" Like all practices, this
becomes mechanical by force of habit; and one sometimes says forever
before the other has had time to say the rather long sentence, "Praised
and adored be the most Holy Sacrament of the altar."

Among the Visitandines the one who enters says: "Ave Maria," and the one
whose cell is entered says, "Gratia plena." It is their way of saying
good day, which is in fact full of grace.

At each hour of the day three supplementary strokes sound from the
church bell of the convent. At this signal prioress, vocal mothers,
professed nuns, lay-sisters, novices, postulants, interrupt what they
are saying, what they are doing, or what they are thinking, and all say
in unison if it is five o'clock, for instance, "At five o'clock and at
all hours praised and adored be the most Holy Sacrament of the altar!"
If it is eight o'clock, "At eight o'clock and at all hours!" and so on,
according to the hour.

This custom, the object of which is to break the thread of thought
and to lead it back constantly to God, exists in many communities; the
formula alone varies. Thus at The Infant Jesus they say, "At this
hour and at every hour may the love of Jesus kindle my heart!" The
Bernardines-Benedictines of Martin Verga, cloistered fifty years ago at
Petit-Picpus, chant the offices to a solemn psalmody, a pure Gregorian
chant, and always with full voice during the whole course of the office.
Everywhere in the missal where an asterisk occurs they pause, and say in
a low voice, "Jesus-Marie-Joseph." For the office of the dead they adopt
a tone so low that the voices of women can hardly descend to such a
depth. The effect produced is striking and tragic.

The nuns of the Petit-Picpus had made a vault under their grand altar
for the burial of their community. The Government, as they say, does not
permit this vault to receive coffins so they leave the convent when they
die. This is an affliction to them, and causes them consternation as an
infraction of the rules.

They had obtained a mediocre consolation at best,--permission to be
interred at a special hour and in a special corner in the ancient
Vaugirard cemetery, which was made of land which had formerly belonged
to their community.

On Fridays the nuns hear high mass, vespers, and all the offices, as on
Sunday. They scrupulously observe in addition all the little festivals
unknown to people of the world, of which the Church of France was so
prodigal in the olden days, and of which it is still prodigal in Spain
and Italy. Their stations in the chapel are interminable. As for the
number and duration of their prayers we can convey no better idea of
them than by quoting the ingenuous remark of one of them: "The prayers
of the postulants are frightful, the prayers of the novices are still
worse, and the prayers of the professed nuns are still worse."

Once a week the chapter assembles: the prioress presides; the vocal
mothers assist. Each sister kneels in turn on the stones, and confesses
aloud, in the presence of all, the faults and sins which she has
committed during the week. The vocal mothers consult after each
confession and inflict the penance aloud.

Besides this confession in a loud tone, for which all faults in the
least serious are reserved, they have for their venial offences what
they call the coulpe. To make one's coulpe means to prostrate one's self
flat on one's face during the office in front of the prioress until
the latter, who is never called anything but our mother, notifies the
culprit by a slight tap of her foot against the wood of her stall that
she can rise. The coulpe or peccavi, is made for a very small matter--a
broken glass, a torn veil, an involuntary delay of a few seconds at an
office, a false note in church, etc.; this suffices, and the coulpe
is made. The coulpe is entirely spontaneous; it is the culpable person
herself (the word is etymologically in its place here) who judges
herself and inflicts it on herself. On festival days and Sundays four
mother precentors intone the offices before a large reading-desk with
four places. One day one of the mother precentors intoned a psalm
beginning with Ecce, and instead of Ecce she uttered aloud the three
notes do si sol; for this piece of absent-mindedness she underwent a
coulpe which lasted during the whole service: what rendered the fault
enormous was the fact that the chapter had laughed.

When a nun is summoned to the parlor, even were it the prioress herself,
she drops her veil, as will be remembered, so that only her mouth is

The prioress alone can hold communication with strangers. The others can
see only their immediate family, and that very rarely. If, by chance,
an outsider presents herself to see a nun, or one whom she has known and
loved in the outer world, a regular series of negotiations is required.
If it is a woman, the authorization may sometimes be granted; the nun
comes, and they talk to her through the shutters, which are opened only
for a mother or sister. It is unnecessary to say that permission is
always refused to men.

Such is the rule of Saint-Benoit, aggravated by Martin Verga.

These nuns are not gay, rosy, and fresh, as the daughters of other
orders often are. They are pale and grave. Between 1825 and 1830 three
of them went mad.