Les Misérables by Victor Hugo 5


One is a postulant for two years at least, often for four; a novice for
four. It is rare that the definitive vows can be pronounced
earlier than the age of twenty-three or twenty-four years. The
Bernardines-Benedictines of Martin Verga do not admit widows to their

In their cells, they deliver themselves up to many unknown macerations,
of which they must never speak.

On the day when a novice makes her profession, she is dressed in her
handsomest attire, she is crowned with white roses, her hair is brushed
until it shines, and curled. Then she prostrates herself; a great black
veil is thrown over her, and the office for the dead is sung. Then the
nuns separate into two files; one file passes close to her, saying in
plaintive accents, "Our sister is dead"; and the other file responds in
a voice of ecstasy, "Our sister is alive in Jesus Christ!"

At the epoch when this story takes place, a boarding-school was attached
to the convent--a boarding-school for young girls of noble and
mostly wealthy families, among whom could be remarked Mademoiselle
de Saint-Aulaire and de Belissen, and an English girl bearing the
illustrious Catholic name of Talbot. These young girls, reared by these
nuns between four walls, grew up with a horror of the world and of the
age. One of them said to us one day, "The sight of the street pavement
made me shudder from head to foot." They were dressed in blue, with a
white cap and a Holy Spirit of silver gilt or of copper on their breast.
On certain grand festival days, particularly Saint Martha's day, they
were permitted, as a high favor and a supreme happiness, to dress
themselves as nuns and to carry out the offices and practice of
Saint-Benoit for a whole day. In the early days the nuns were in the
habit of lending them their black garments. This seemed profane, and
the prioress forbade it. Only the novices were permitted to lend. It is
remarkable that these performances, tolerated and encouraged, no doubt,
in the convent out of a secret spirit of proselytism and in order
to give these children a foretaste of the holy habit, were a genuine
happiness and a real recreation for the scholars. They simply amused
themselves with it. It was new; it gave them a change. Candid reasons
of childhood, which do not, however, succeed in making us worldlings
comprehend the felicity of holding a holy water sprinkler in one's hand
and standing for hours together singing hard enough for four in front of
a reading-desk.

The pupils conformed, with the exception of the austerities, to all the
practices of the convent. There was a certain young woman who entered
the world, and who after many years of married life had not succeeded in
breaking herself of the habit of saying in great haste whenever any
one knocked at her door, "forever!" Like the nuns, the pupils saw
their relatives only in the parlor. Their very mothers did not obtain
permission to embrace them. The following illustrates to what a degree
severity on that point was carried. One day a young girl received a
visit from her mother, who was accompanied by a little sister three
years of age. The young girl wept, for she wished greatly to embrace
her sister. Impossible. She begged that, at least, the child might be
permitted to pass her little hand through the bars so that she could
kiss it. This was almost indignantly refused.


None the less, these young girls filled this grave house with charming

At certain hours childhood sparkled in that cloister. The recreation
hour struck. A door swung on its hinges. The birds said, "Good;
here come the children!" An irruption of youth inundated that garden
intersected with a cross like a shroud. Radiant faces, white foreheads,
innocent eyes, full of merry light, all sorts of auroras, were scattered
about amid these shadows. After the psalmodies, the bells, the peals,
and knells and offices, the sound of these little girls burst forth on a
sudden more sweetly than the noise of bees. The hive of joy was opened,
and each one brought her honey. They played, they called to each other,
they formed into groups, they ran about; pretty little white teeth
chattered in the corners; the veils superintended the laughs from a
distance, shades kept watch of the sunbeams, but what mattered it? Still
they beamed and laughed. Those four lugubrious walls had their moment
of dazzling brilliancy. They looked on, vaguely blanched with the
reflection of so much joy at this sweet swarming of the hives. It was
like a shower of roses falling athwart this house of mourning. The young
girls frolicked beneath the eyes of the nuns; the gaze of impeccability
does not embarrass innocence. Thanks to these children, there was,
among so many austere hours, one hour of ingenuousness. The little ones
skipped about; the elder ones danced. In this cloister play was mingled
with heaven. Nothing is so delightful and so august as all these fresh,
expanding young souls. Homer would have come thither to laugh with
Perrault; and there was in that black garden, youth, health, noise,
cries, giddiness, pleasure, happiness enough to smooth out the wrinkles
of all their ancestresses, those of the epic as well as those of the
fairy-tale, those of the throne as well as those of the thatched cottage
from Hecuba to la Mere-Grand.

In that house more than anywhere else, perhaps, arise those children's
sayings which are so graceful and which evoke a smile that is full of
thoughtfulness. It was between those four gloomy walls that a child of
five years exclaimed one day: "Mother! one of the big girls has just
told me that I have only nine years and ten months longer to remain
here. What happiness!"

It was here, too, that this memorable dialogue took place:--

A Vocal Mother. Why are you weeping, my child?

The child (aged six). I told Alix that I knew my French history. She
says that I do not know it, but I do.

Alix, the big girl (aged nine). No; she does not know it.

The Mother. How is that, my child?

Alix. She told me to open the book at random and to ask her any question
in the book, and she would answer it.


"She did not answer it."

"Let us see about it. What did you ask her?"

"I opened the book at random, as she proposed, and I put the first
question that I came across."

"And what was the question?"

"It was, 'What happened after that?'"

It was there that that profound remark was made anent a rather greedy
paroquet which belonged to a lady boarder:--

"How well bred! it eats the top of the slice of bread and butter just
like a person!"

It was on one of the flagstones of this cloister that there was once
picked up a confession which had been written out in advance, in order
that she might not forget it, by a sinner of seven years:--

"Father, I accuse myself of having been avaricious.

"Father, I accuse myself of having been an adulteress.

"Father, I accuse myself of having raised my eyes to the gentlemen."

It was on one of the turf benches of this garden that a rosy mouth six
years of age improvised the following tale, which was listened to by
blue eyes aged four and five years:--

"There were three little cocks who owned a country where there were
a great many flowers. They plucked the flowers and put them in their
pockets. After that they plucked the leaves and put them in their
playthings. There was a wolf in that country; there was a great deal of
forest; and the wolf was in the forest; and he ate the little cocks."

And this other poem:--

"There came a blow with a stick.

"It was Punchinello who bestowed it on the cat.

"It was not good for her; it hurt her.

"Then a lady put Punchinello in prison."

It was there that a little abandoned child, a foundling whom the convent
was bringing up out of charity, uttered this sweet and heart-breaking
saying. She heard the others talking of their mothers, and she murmured
in her corner:--

"As for me, my mother was not there when I was born!"

There was a stout portress who could always be seen hurrying through the
corridors with her bunch of keys, and whose name was Sister Agatha. The
big big girls--those over ten years of age--called her Agathocles.

The refectory, a large apartment of an oblong square form, which
received no light except through a vaulted cloister on a level with the
garden, was dark and damp, and, as the children say, full of beasts. All
the places round about furnished their contingent of insects.

Each of its four corners had received, in the language of the pupils,
a special and expressive name. There was Spider corner, Caterpillar
corner, Wood-louse corner, and Cricket corner.

Cricket corner was near the kitchen and was highly esteemed. It was not
so cold there as elsewhere. From the refectory the names had passed to
the boarding-school, and there served as in the old College Mazarin
to distinguish four nations. Every pupil belonged to one of these four
nations according to the corner of the refectory in which she sat at
meals. One day Monseigneur the Archbishop while making his pastoral
visit saw a pretty little rosy girl with beautiful golden hair enter the
class-room through which he was passing.

He inquired of another pupil, a charming brunette with rosy cheeks, who
stood near him:--

"Who is that?"

"She is a spider, Monseigneur."

"Bah! And that one yonder?"

"She is a cricket."

"And that one?"

"She is a caterpillar."

"Really! and yourself?"

"I am a wood-louse, Monseigneur."

Every house of this sort has its own peculiarities. At the beginning of
this century Ecouen was one of those strict and graceful places where
young girls pass their childhood in a shadow that is almost august. At
Ecouen, in order to take rank in the procession of the Holy Sacrament,
a distinction was made between virgins and florists. There were also the
"dais" and the "censors,"--the first who held the cords of the dais, and
the others who carried incense before the Holy Sacrament. The flowers
belonged by right to the florists. Four "virgins" walked in advance. On
the morning of that great day it was no rare thing to hear the question
put in the dormitory, "Who is a virgin?"

Madame Campan used to quote this saying of a "little one" of seven
years, to a "big girl" of sixteen, who took the head of the procession,
while she, the little one, remained at the rear, "You are a virgin, but
I am not."


Above the door of the refectory this prayer, which was called the white
Paternoster, and which possessed the property of bearing people straight
to paradise, was inscribed in large black letters:--

"Little white Paternoster, which God made, which God said, which God
placed in paradise. In the evening, when I went to bed, I found three
angels sitting on my bed, one at the foot, two at the head, the good
Virgin Mary in the middle, who told me to lie down without hesitation.
The good God is my father, the good Virgin is my mother, the three
apostles are my brothers, the three virgins are my sisters. The shirt in
which God was born envelopes my body; Saint Margaret's cross is written
on my breast. Madame the Virgin was walking through the meadows, weeping
for God, when she met M. Saint John. 'Monsieur Saint John, whence come
you?' 'I come from Ave Salus.' 'You have not seen the good God; where
is he?' 'He is on the tree of the Cross, his feet hanging, his hands
nailed, a little cap of white thorns on his head.' Whoever shall say
this thrice at eventide, thrice in the morning, shall win paradise at
the last."

In 1827 this characteristic orison had disappeared from the wall under
a triple coating of daubing paint. At the present time it is finally
disappearing from the memories of several who were young girls then, and
who are old women now.

A large crucifix fastened to the wall completed the decoration of this
refectory, whose only door, as we think we have mentioned, opened on the
garden. Two narrow tables, each flanked by two wooden benches, formed
two long parallel lines from one end to the other of the refectory.
The walls were white, the tables were black; these two mourning colors
constitute the only variety in convents. The meals were plain, and
the food of the children themselves severe. A single dish of meat and
vegetables combined, or salt fish--such was their luxury. This meagre
fare, which was reserved for the pupils alone, was, nevertheless, an
exception. The children ate in silence, under the eye of the mother
whose turn it was, who, if a fly took a notion to fly or to hum against
the rule, opened and shut a wooden book from time to time. This silence
was seasoned with the lives of the saints, read aloud from a little
pulpit with a desk, which was situated at the foot of the crucifix. The
reader was one of the big girls, in weekly turn. At regular distances,
on the bare tables, there were large, varnished bowls in which the
pupils washed their own silver cups and knives and forks, and into which
they sometimes threw some scrap of tough meat or spoiled fish; this was
punished. These bowls were called ronds d'eau. The child who broke the
silence "made a cross with her tongue." Where? On the ground. She licked
the pavement. The dust, that end of all joys, was charged with the
chastisement of those poor little rose-leaves which had been guilty of

There was in the convent a book which has never been printed except as
a unique copy, and which it is forbidden to read. It is the rule of
Saint-Benoit. An arcanum which no profane eye must penetrate. Nemo
regulas, seu constitutiones nostras, externis communicabit.

The pupils one day succeeded in getting possession of this book, and set
to reading it with avidity, a reading which was often interrupted by
the fear of being caught, which caused them to close the volume

From the great danger thus incurred they derived but a very moderate
amount of pleasure. The most "interesting thing" they found were some
unintelligible pages about the sins of young boys.

They played in an alley of the garden bordered with a few shabby
fruit-trees. In spite of the extreme surveillance and the severity of
the punishments administered, when the wind had shaken the trees, they
sometimes succeeded in picking up a green apple or a spoiled apricot or
an inhabited pear on the sly. I will now cede the privilege of speech
to a letter which lies before me, a letter written five and twenty
years ago by an old pupil, now Madame la Duchesse de----one of the most
elegant women in Paris. I quote literally: "One hides one's pear or
one's apple as best one may. When one goes up stairs to put the veil on
the bed before supper, one stuffs them under one's pillow and at night
one eats them in bed, and when one cannot do that, one eats them in the
closet." That was one of their greatest luxuries.

Once--it was at the epoch of the visit from the archbishop to the
convent--one of the young girls, Mademoiselle Bouchard, who was
connected with the Montmorency family, laid a wager that she would ask
for a day's leave of absence--an enormity in so austere a community. The
wager was accepted, but not one of those who bet believed that she would
do it. When the moment came, as the archbishop was passing in front of
the pupils, Mademoiselle Bouchard, to the indescribable terror of her
companions, stepped out of the ranks, and said, "Monseigneur, a day's
leave of absence." Mademoiselle Bouchard was tall, blooming, with the
prettiest little rosy face in the world. M. de Quelen smiled and said,
"What, my dear child, a day's leave of absence! Three days if you like.
I grant you three days." The prioress could do nothing; the archbishop
had spoken. Horror of the convent, but joy of the pupil. The effect may
be imagined.

This stern cloister was not so well walled off, however, but that the
life of the passions of the outside world, drama, and even romance,
did not make their way in. To prove this, we will confine ourselves to
recording here and to briefly mentioning a real and incontestable fact,
which, however, bears no reference in itself to, and is not connected by
any thread whatever with the story which we are relating. We mention the
fact for the sake of completing the physiognomy of the convent in the
reader's mind.

About this time there was in the convent a mysterious person who was
not a nun, who was treated with great respect, and who was addressed as
Madame Albertine. Nothing was known about her, save that she was mad,
and that in the world she passed for dead. Beneath this history it
was said there lay the arrangements of fortune necessary for a great

This woman, hardly thirty years of age, of dark complexion and tolerably
pretty, had a vague look in her large black eyes. Could she see? There
was some doubt about this. She glided rather than walked, she never
spoke; it was not quite known whether she breathed. Her nostrils were
livid and pinched as after yielding up their last sigh. To touch her
hand was like touching snow. She possessed a strange spectral grace.
Wherever she entered, people felt cold. One day a sister, on seeing her
pass, said to another sister, "She passes for a dead woman." "Perhaps
she is one," replied the other.

A hundred tales were told of Madame Albertine. This arose from the
eternal curiosity of the pupils. In the chapel there was a gallery
called L'OEil de Boeuf. It was in this gallery, which had only a
circular bay, an oeil de boeuf, that Madame Albertine listened to the
offices. She always occupied it alone because from this gallery, being
on the level of the first story, the preacher or the officiating priest
could be seen, which was interdicted to the nuns. One day the pulpit was
occupied by a young priest of high rank, M. Le Duc de Rohan, peer of
France, officer of the Red Musketeers in 1815 when he was Prince de
Leon, and who died afterward, in 1830, as cardinal and Archbishop of
Besancon. It was the first time that M. de Rohan had preached at the
Petit-Picpus convent. Madame Albertine usually preserved perfect
calmness and complete immobility during the sermons and services. That
day, as soon as she caught sight of M. de Rohan, she half rose, and
said, in a loud voice, amid the silence of the chapel, "Ah! Auguste!"
The whole community turned their heads in amazement, the preacher raised
his eyes, but Madame Albertine had relapsed into her immobility. A
breath from the outer world, a flash of life, had passed for an instant
across that cold and lifeless face and had then vanished, and the mad
woman had become a corpse again.

Those two words, however, had set every one in the convent who had the
privilege of speech to chattering. How many things were contained in
that "Ah! Auguste!" what revelations! M. de Rohan's name really was
Auguste. It was evident that Madame Albertine belonged to the very
highest society, since she knew M. de Rohan, and that her own rank there
was of the highest, since she spoke thus familiarly of so great a lord,
and that there existed between them some connection, of relationship,
perhaps, but a very close one in any case, since she knew his "pet

Two very severe duchesses, Mesdames de Choiseul and de Serent, often
visited the community, whither they penetrated, no doubt, in virtue of
the privilege Magnates mulieres, and caused great consternation in the
boarding-school. When these two old ladies passed by, all the poor young
girls trembled and dropped their eyes.

Moreover, M. de Rohan, quite unknown to himself, was an object of
attention to the school-girls. At that epoch he had just been made,
while waiting for the episcopate, vicar-general of the Archbishop of
Paris. It was one of his habits to come tolerably often to celebrate the
offices in the chapel of the nuns of the Petit-Picpus. Not one of the
young recluses could see him, because of the serge curtain, but he had
a sweet and rather shrill voice, which they had come to know and to
distinguish. He had been a mousquetaire, and then, he was said to be
very coquettish, that his handsome brown hair was very well dressed in
a roll around his head, and that he had a broad girdle of magnificent
moire, and that his black cassock was of the most elegant cut in the
world. He held a great place in all these imaginations of sixteen years.

Not a sound from without made its way into the convent. But there was
one year when the sound of a flute penetrated thither. This was an
event, and the girls who were at school there at the time still recall

It was a flute which was played in the neighborhood. This flute always
played the same air, an air which is very far away nowadays,--"My
Zetulbe, come reign o'er my soul,"--and it was heard two or three
times a day. The young girls passed hours in listening to it, the vocal
mothers were upset by it, brains were busy, punishments descended in
showers. This lasted for several months. The girls were all more or
less in love with the unknown musician. Each one dreamed that she was
Zetulbe. The sound of the flute proceeded from the direction of the Rue
Droit-Mur; and they would have given anything, compromised everything,
attempted anything for the sake of seeing, of catching a glance, if only
for a second, of the "young man" who played that flute so deliciously,
and who, no doubt, played on all these souls at the same time. There
were some who made their escape by a back door, and ascended to the
third story on the Rue Droit-Mur side, in order to attempt to catch a
glimpse through the gaps. Impossible! One even went so far as to thrust
her arm through the grating, and to wave her white handkerchief. Two
were still bolder. They found means to climb on a roof, and risked their
lives there, and succeeded at last in seeing "the young man." He was an
old emigre gentleman, blind and penniless, who was playing his flute in
his attic, in order to pass the time.


In this enclosure of the Petit-Picpus there were three perfectly
distinct buildings,--the Great Convent, inhabited by the nuns, the
Boarding-school, where the scholars were lodged; and lastly, what was
called the Little Convent. It was a building with a garden, in which
lived all sorts of aged nuns of various orders, the relics of cloisters
destroyed in the Revolution; a reunion of all the black, gray, and white
medleys of all communities and all possible varieties; what might be
called, if such a coupling of words is permissible, a sort of harlequin

When the Empire was established, all these poor old dispersed and exiled
women had been accorded permission to come and take shelter under the
wings of the Bernardines-Benedictines. The government paid them a small
pension, the ladies of the Petit-Picpus received them cordially. It was
a singular pell-mell. Each followed her own rule, Sometimes the pupils
of the boarding-school were allowed, as a great recreation, to pay them
a visit; the result is, that all those young memories have
retained among other souvenirs that of Mother Sainte-Bazile, Mother
Sainte-Scolastique, and Mother Jacob.

One of these refugees found herself almost at home. She was a nun of
Sainte-Aure, the only one of her order who had survived. The ancient
convent of the ladies of Sainte-Aure occupied, at the beginning of the
eighteenth century, this very house of the Petit-Picpus, which belonged
later to the Benedictines of Martin Verga. This holy woman, too poor to
wear the magnificent habit of her order, which was a white robe with
a scarlet scapulary, had piously put it on a little manikin, which she
exhibited with complacency and which she bequeathed to the house at
her death. In 1824, only one nun of this order remained; to-day, there
remains only a doll.

In addition to these worthy mothers, some old society women had obtained
permission of the prioress, like Madame Albertine, to retire into the
Little Convent. Among the number were Madame Beaufort d'Hautpoul and
Marquise Dufresne. Another was never known in the convent except by
the formidable noise which she made when she blew her nose. The pupils
called her Madame Vacarmini (hubbub).

About 1820 or 1821, Madame de Genlis, who was at that time editing a
little periodical publication called l'Intrepide, asked to be allowed
to enter the convent of the Petit-Picpus as lady resident. The Duc
d'Orleans recommended her. Uproar in the hive; the vocal-mothers were
all in a flutter; Madame de Genlis had made romances. But she declared
that she was the first to detest them, and then, she had reached her
fierce stage of devotion. With the aid of God, and of the Prince, she
entered. She departed at the end of six or eight months, alleging as a
reason, that there was no shade in the garden. The nuns were delighted.
Although very old, she still played the harp, and did it very well.

When she went away she left her mark in her cell. Madame de Genlis was
superstitious and a Latinist. These two words furnish a tolerably good
profile of her. A few years ago, there were still to be seen, pasted in
the inside of a little cupboard in her cell in which she locked up her
silverware and her jewels, these five lines in Latin, written with
her own hand in red ink on yellow paper, and which, in her opinion,
possessed the property of frightening away robbers:--

               Imparibus meritis pendent tria corpora ramis:[15]
               Dismas et Gesmas, media est divina potestas;
               Alta petit Dismas, infelix, infima, Gesmas;
               Nos et res nostras conservet summa potestas.
               Hos versus dicas, ne tu furto tua perdas.

These verses in sixth century Latin raise the question whether the
two thieves of Calvary were named, as is commonly believed, Dismas and
Gestas, or Dismas and Gesmas. This orthography might have confounded the
pretensions put forward in the last century by the Vicomte de Gestas, of
a descent from the wicked thief. However, the useful virtue attached to
these verses forms an article of faith in the order of the Hospitallers.

The church of the house, constructed in such a manner as to separate the
Great Convent from the Boarding-school like a veritable intrenchment,
was, of course, common to the Boarding-school, the Great Convent, and
the Little Convent. The public was even admitted by a sort of lazaretto
entrance on the street. But all was so arranged, that none of the
inhabitants of the cloister could see a face from the outside world.
Suppose a church whose choir is grasped in a gigantic hand, and
folded in such a manner as to form, not, as in ordinary churches, a
prolongation behind the altar, but a sort of hall, or obscure cellar, to
the right of the officiating priest; suppose this hall to be shut off by
a curtain seven feet in height, of which we have already spoken; in the
shadow of that curtain, pile up on wooden stalls the nuns in the choir
on the left, the school-girls on the right, the lay-sisters and the
novices at the bottom, and you will have some idea of the nuns of the
Petit-Picpus assisting at divine service. That cavern, which was called
the choir, communicated with the cloister by a lobby. The church was
lighted from the garden. When the nuns were present at services where
their rule enjoined silence, the public was warned of their presence
only by the folding seats of the stalls noisily rising and falling.


During the six years which separate 1819 from 1825, the prioress of the
Petit-Picpus was Mademoiselle de Blemeur, whose name, in religion,
was Mother Innocente. She came of the family of Marguerite de Blemeur,
author of Lives of the Saints of the Order of Saint-Benoit. She had
been re-elected. She was a woman about sixty years of age, short, thick,
"singing like a cracked pot," says the letter which we have already
quoted; an excellent woman, moreover, and the only merry one in the
whole convent, and for that reason adored. She was learned, erudite,
wise, competent, curiously proficient in history, crammed with Latin,
stuffed with Greek, full of Hebrew, and more of a Benedictine monk than
a Benedictine nun.

The sub-prioress was an old Spanish nun, Mother Cineres, who was almost

The most esteemed among the vocal mothers were Mother Sainte-Honorine;
the treasurer, Mother Sainte-Gertrude, the chief mistress of the
novices; Mother-Saint-Ange, the assistant mistress; Mother Annonciation,
the sacristan; Mother Saint-Augustin, the nurse, the only one in the
convent who was malicious; then Mother Sainte-Mechtilde (Mademoiselle
Gauvain), very young and with a beautiful voice; Mother des Anges
(Mademoiselle Drouet), who had been in the convent of the Filles-Dieu,
and in the convent du Tresor, between Gisors and Magny; Mother
Saint-Joseph (Mademoiselle de Cogolludo), Mother Sainte-Adelaide
(Mademoiselle d'Auverney), Mother Misericorde (Mademoiselle de
Cifuentes, who could not resist austerities), Mother Compassion
(Mademoiselle de la Miltiere, received at the age of sixty in defiance
of the rule, and very wealthy); Mother Providence (Mademoiselle de
Laudiniere), Mother Presentation (Mademoiselle de Siguenza), who was
prioress in 1847; and finally, Mother Sainte-Celigne (sister of the
sculptor Ceracchi), who went mad; Mother Sainte-Chantal (Mademoiselle de
Suzon), who went mad.

There was also, among the prettiest of them, a charming girl of three
and twenty, who was from the Isle de Bourbon, a descendant of the
Chevalier Roze, whose name had been Mademoiselle Roze, and who was
called Mother Assumption.

Mother Sainte-Mechtilde, intrusted with the singing and the choir, was
fond of making use of the pupils in this quarter. She usually took a
complete scale of them, that is to say, seven, from ten to sixteen years
of age, inclusive, of assorted voices and sizes, whom she made sing
standing, drawn up in a line, side by side, according to age, from the
smallest to the largest. This presented to the eye, something in the
nature of a reed-pipe of young girls, a sort of living Pan-pipe made of

Those of the lay-sisters whom the scholars loved most were Sister
Euphrasie, Sister Sainte-Marguerite, Sister Sainte-Marthe, who was in
her dotage, and Sister Sainte-Michel, whose long nose made them laugh.

All these women were gentle with the children. The nuns were severe only
towards themselves. No fire was lighted except in the school, and the
food was choice compared to that in the convent. Moreover, they lavished
a thousand cares on their scholars. Only, when a child passed near a nun
and addressed her, the nun never replied.

This rule of silence had had this effect, that throughout the whole
convent, speech had been withdrawn from human creatures, and bestowed
on inanimate objects. Now it was the church-bell which spoke, now it was
the gardener's bell. A very sonorous bell, placed beside the portress,
and which was audible throughout the house, indicated by its varied
peals, which formed a sort of acoustic telegraph, all the actions of
material life which were to be performed, and summoned to the parlor, in
case of need, such or such an inhabitant of the house. Each person
and each thing had its own peal. The prioress had one and one, the
sub-prioress one and two. Six-five announced lessons, so that the pupils
never said "to go to lessons," but "to go to six-five." Four-four was
Madame de Genlis's signal. It was very often heard. "C'est le diable
a quatre,"--it's the very deuce--said the uncharitable. Tennine strokes
announced a great event. It was the opening of the door of seclusion,
a frightful sheet of iron bristling with bolts which only turned on its
hinges in the presence of the archbishop.

With the exception of the archbishop and the gardener, no man entered
the convent, as we have already said. The schoolgirls saw two others:
one, the chaplain, the Abbe Banes, old and ugly, whom they were
permitted to contemplate in the choir, through a grating; the other the
drawing-master, M. Ansiaux, whom the letter, of which we have perused a
few lines, calls M. Anciot, and describes as a frightful old hunchback.

It will be seen that all these men were carefully chosen.

Such was this curious house.


After having sketched its moral face, it will not prove unprofitable
to point out, in a few words, its material configuration. The reader
already has some idea of it.

The convent of the Petit-Picpus-Sainte-Antoine filled almost the whole
of the vast trapezium which resulted from the intersection of the Rue
Polonceau, the Rue Droit-Mur, the Rue Petit-Picpus, and the unused lane,
called Rue Aumarais on old plans. These four streets surrounded this
trapezium like a moat. The convent was composed of several buildings
and a garden. The principal building, taken in its entirety, was a
juxtaposition of hybrid constructions which, viewed from a bird's-eye
view, outlined, with considerable exactness, a gibbet laid flat on the
ground. The main arm of the gibbet occupied the whole of the fragment
of the Rue Droit-Mur comprised between the Rue Petit-Picpus and the Rue
Polonceau; the lesser arm was a lofty, gray, severe grated facade which
faced the Rue Petit-Picpus; the carriage entrance No. 62 marked its
extremity. Towards the centre of this facade was a low, arched door,
whitened with dust and ashes, where the spiders wove their webs,
and which was open only for an hour or two on Sundays, and on rare
occasions, when the coffin of a nun left the convent. This was the
public entrance of the church. The elbow of the gibbet was a square
hall which was used as the servants' hall, and which the nuns called the
buttery. In the main arm were the cells of the mothers, the sisters, and
the novices. In the lesser arm lay the kitchens, the refectory, backed
up by the cloisters and the church. Between the door No. 62 and the
corner of the closed lane Aumarais, was the school, which was not
visible from without. The remainder of the trapezium formed the garden,
which was much lower than the level of the Rue Polonceau, which caused
the walls to be very much higher on the inside than on the outside. The
garden, which was slightly arched, had in its centre, on the summit of
a hillock, a fine pointed and conical fir-tree, whence ran, as from
the peaked boss of a shield, four grand alleys, and, ranged by twos
in between the branchings of these, eight small ones, so that, if the
enclosure had been circular, the geometrical plan of the alleys would
have resembled a cross superposed on a wheel. As the alleys all ended
in the very irregular walls of the garden, they were of unequal length.
They were bordered with currant bushes. At the bottom, an alley of tall
poplars ran from the ruins of the old convent, which was at the angle of
the Rue Droit-Mur to the house of the Little Convent, which was at the
angle of the Aumarais lane. In front of the Little Convent was what was
called the little garden. To this whole, let the reader add a courtyard,
all sorts of varied angles formed by the interior buildings, prison
walls, the long black line of roofs which bordered the other side of the
Rue Polonceau for its sole perspective and neighborhood, and he will
be able to form for himself a complete image of what the house of the
Bernardines of the Petit-Picpus was forty years ago. This holy house
had been built on the precise site of a famous tennis-ground of the
fourteenth to the sixteenth century, which was called the "tennis-ground
of the eleven thousand devils."

All these streets, moreover, were more ancient than Paris. These names,
Droit-Mur and Aumarais, are very ancient; the streets which bear them
are very much more ancient still. Aumarais Lane was called Maugout Lane;
the Rue Droit-Mur was called the Rue des Eglantiers, for God opened
flowers before man cut stones.


Since we are engaged in giving details as to what the convent of the
Petit-Picpus was in former times, and since we have ventured to open
a window on that discreet retreat, the reader will permit us one other
little digression, utterly foreign to this book, but characteristic and
useful, since it shows that the cloister even has its original figures.

In the Little Convent there was a centenarian who came from the Abbey
of Fontevrault. She had even been in society before the Revolution. She
talked a great deal of M. de Miromesnil, Keeper of the Seals under Louis
XVI. and of a Presidentess Duplat, with whom she had been very intimate.
It was her pleasure and her vanity to drag in these names on every
pretext. She told wonders of the Abbey of Fontevrault,--that it was like
a city, and that there were streets in the monastery.

She talked with a Picard accent which amused the pupils. Every year,
she solemnly renewed her vows, and at the moment of taking the oath, she
said to the priest, "Monseigneur Saint-Francois gave it to Monseigneur
Saint-Julien, Monseigneur Saint-Julien gave it to Monseigneur
Saint-Eusebius, Monseigneur Saint-Eusebius gave it to Monseigneur
Saint-Procopius, etc., etc.; and thus I give it to you, father." And the
school-girls would begin to laugh, not in their sleeves, but under
their veils; charming little stifled laughs which made the vocal mothers

On another occasion, the centenarian was telling stories. She said
that in her youth the Bernardine monks were every whit as good as the
mousquetaires. It was a century which spoke through her, but it was the
eighteenth century. She told about the custom of the four wines, which
existed before the Revolution in Champagne and Bourgogne. When a great
personage, a marshal of France, a prince, a duke, and a peer, traversed
a town in Burgundy or Champagne, the city fathers came out to harangue
him and presented him with four silver gondolas into which they
had poured four different sorts of wine. On the first goblet this
inscription could be read, monkey wine; on the second, lion wine; on the
third, sheep wine; on the fourth, hog wine. These four legends express
the four stages descended by the drunkard; the first, intoxication,
which enlivens; the second, that which irritates; the third, that which
dulls; and the fourth, that which brutalizes.

In a cupboard, under lock and key, she kept a mysterious object of which
she thought a great deal. The rule of Fontevrault did not forbid this.
She would not show this object to anyone. She shut herself up, which her
rule allowed her to do, and hid herself, every time that she desired to
contemplate it. If she heard a footstep in the corridor, she closed the
cupboard again as hastily as it was possible with her aged hands. As
soon as it was mentioned to her, she became silent, she who was so fond
of talking. The most curious were baffled by her silence and the most
tenacious by her obstinacy. Thus it furnished a subject of comment for
all those who were unoccupied or bored in the convent. What could that
treasure of the centenarian be, which was so precious and so secret?
Some holy book, no doubt? Some unique chaplet? Some authentic relic?
They lost themselves in conjectures. When the poor old woman died,
they rushed to her cupboard more hastily than was fitting, perhaps, and
opened it. They found the object beneath a triple linen cloth, like some
consecrated paten. It was a Faenza platter representing little Loves
flitting away pursued by apothecary lads armed with enormous syringes.
The chase abounds in grimaces and in comical postures. One of the
charming little Loves is already fairly spitted. He is resisting,
fluttering his tiny wings, and still making an effort to fly, but the
dancer is laughing with a satanical air. Moral: Love conquered by the
colic. This platter, which is very curious, and which had, possibly,
the honor of furnishing Moliere with an idea, was still in existence
in September, 1845; it was for sale by a bric-a-brac merchant in the
Boulevard Beaumarchais.

This good old woman would not receive any visits from outside because,
said she, the parlor is too gloomy.


However, this almost sepulchral parlor, of which we have sought to
convey an idea, is a purely local trait which is not reproduced with the
same severity in other convents. At the convent of the Rue du Temple,
in particular, which belonged, in truth, to another order, the black
shutters were replaced by brown curtains, and the parlor itself was a
salon with a polished wood floor, whose windows were draped in white
muslin curtains and whose walls admitted all sorts of frames, a portrait
of a Benedictine nun with unveiled face, painted bouquets, and even the
head of a Turk.

It is in that garden of the Temple convent, that stood that famous
chestnut-tree which was renowned as the finest and the largest in
France, and which bore the reputation among the good people of the
eighteenth century of being the father of all the chestnut trees of the

As we have said, this convent of the Temple was occupied by Benedictines
of the Perpetual Adoration, Benedictines quite different from those who
depended on Citeaux. This order of the Perpetual Adoration is not very
ancient and does not go back more than two hundred years. In 1649 the
holy sacrament was profaned on two occasions a few days apart, in two
churches in Paris, at Saint-Sulpice and at Saint-Jean en Greve, a rare
and frightful sacrilege which set the whole town in an uproar. M. the
Prior and Vicar-General of Saint-Germain des Pres ordered a solemn
procession of all his clergy, in which the Pope's Nuncio officiated.
But this expiation did not satisfy two sainted women, Madame Courtin,
Marquise de Boucs, and the Comtesse de Chateauvieux. This outrage
committed on "the most holy sacrament of the altar," though but
temporary, would not depart from these holy souls, and it seemed to
them that it could only be extenuated by a "Perpetual Adoration" in some
female monastery. Both of them, one in 1652, the other in 1653, made
donations of notable sums to Mother Catherine de Bar, called of the Holy
Sacrament, a Benedictine nun, for the purpose of founding, to this pious
end, a monastery of the order of Saint-Benoit; the first permission for
this foundation was given to Mother Catherine de Bar by M. de Metz, Abbe
of Saint-Germain, "on condition that no woman could be received unless
she contributed three hundred livres income, which amounts to six
thousand livres, to the principal." After the Abbe of Saint-Germain, the
king accorded letters-patent; and all the rest, abbatial charter, and
royal letters, was confirmed in 1654 by the Chamber of Accounts and the

Such is the origin of the legal consecration of the establishment of the
Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Holy Sacrament at Paris.
Their first convent was "a new building" in the Rue Cassette, out of the
contributions of Mesdames de Boucs and de Chateauvieux.

This order, as it will be seen, was not to be confounded with
the Benedictine nuns of Citeaux. It mounted back to the Abbe of
Saint-Germain des Pres, in the same manner that the ladies of the Sacred
Heart go back to the general of the Jesuits, and the sisters of charity
to the general of the Lazarists.

It was also totally different from the Bernardines of the Petit-Picpus,
whose interior we have just shown. In 1657, Pope Alexander VII. had
authorized, by a special brief, the Bernardines of the Rue Petit-Picpus,
to practise the Perpetual Adoration like the Benedictine nuns of the
Holy Sacrament. But the two orders remained distinct none the less.


At the beginning of the Restoration, the convent of the Petit-Picpus
was in its decay; this forms a part of the general death of the order,
which, after the eighteenth century, has been disappearing like all
the religious orders. Contemplation is, like prayer, one of humanity's
needs; but, like everything which the Revolution touched, it will be
transformed, and from being hostile to social progress, it will become
favorable to it.

The house of the Petit-Picpus was becoming rapidly depopulated. In 1840,
the Little Convent had disappeared, the school had disappeared. There
were no longer any old women, nor young girls; the first were dead, the
latter had taken their departure. Volaverunt.

The rule of the Perpetual Adoration is so rigid in its nature that it
alarms, vocations recoil before it, the order receives no recruits. In
1845, it still obtained lay-sisters here and there. But of professed
nuns, none at all. Forty years ago, the nuns numbered nearly a hundred;
fifteen years ago there were not more than twenty-eight of them. How
many are there to-day? In 1847, the prioress was young, a sign that
the circle of choice was restricted. She was not forty years old. In
proportion as the number diminishes, the fatigue increases, the service
of each becomes more painful; the moment could then be seen drawing near
when there would be but a dozen bent and aching shoulders to bear the
heavy rule of Saint-Benoit. The burden is implacable, and remains the
same for the few as for the many. It weighs down, it crushes. Thus they
die. At the period when the author of this book still lived in Paris,
two died. One was twenty-five years old, the other twenty-three. This
latter can say, like Julia Alpinula: "Hic jaceo. Vixi annos viginti et
tres." It is in consequence of this decay that the convent gave up the
education of girls.

We have not felt able to pass before this extraordinary house without
entering it, and without introducing the minds which accompany us, and
which are listening to our tale, to the profit of some, perchance, of
the melancholy history of Jean Valjean. We have penetrated into this
community, full of those old practices which seem so novel to-day. It
is the closed garden, hortus conclusus. We have spoken of this singular
place in detail, but with respect, in so far, at least, as detail and
respect are compatible. We do not understand all, but we insult nothing.
We are equally far removed from the hosanna of Joseph de Maistre, who
wound up by anointing the executioner, and from the sneer of Voltaire,
who even goes so far as to ridicule the cross.

An illogical act on Voltaire's part, we may remark, by the way; for
Voltaire would have defended Jesus as he defended Calas; and even
for those who deny superhuman incarnations, what does the crucifix
represent? The assassinated sage.

In this nineteenth century, the religious idea is undergoing a crisis.
People are unlearning certain things, and they do well, provided that,
while unlearning them they learn this: There is no vacuum in the human
heart. Certain demolitions take place, and it is well that they do, but
on condition that they are followed by reconstructions.

In the meantime, let us study things which are no more. It is necessary
to know them, if only for the purpose of avoiding them. The counterfeits
of the past assume false names, and gladly call themselves the future.
This spectre, this past, is given to falsifying its own passport. Let
us inform ourselves of the trap. Let us be on our guard. The past has a
visage, superstition, and a mask, hypocrisy. Let us denounce the visage
and let us tear off the mask.

As for convents, they present a complex problem,--a question of
civilization, which condemns them; a question of liberty, which protects



This book is a drama, whose leading personage is the Infinite.

Man is the second.

Such being the case, and a convent having happened to be on our road, it
has been our duty to enter it. Why? Because the convent, which is common
to the Orient as well as to the Occident, to antiquity as well as to
modern times, to paganism, to Buddhism, to Mahometanism, as well as to
Christianity, is one of the optical apparatuses applied by man to the

This is not the place for enlarging disproportionately on certain
ideas; nevertheless, while absolutely maintaining our reserves, our
restrictions, and even our indignations, we must say that every time we
encounter man in the Infinite, either well or ill understood, we feel
ourselves overpowered with respect. There is, in the synagogue, in the
mosque, in the pagoda, in the wigwam, a hideous side which we execrate,
and a sublime side, which we adore. What a contemplation for the mind,
and what endless food for thought, is the reverberation of God upon the
human wall!


From the point of view of history, of reason, and of truth, monasticism
is condemned. Monasteries, when they abound in a nation, are clogs in
its circulation, cumbrous establishments, centres of idleness where
centres of labor should exist. Monastic communities are to the great
social community what the mistletoe is to the oak, what the wart is
to the human body. Their prosperity and their fatness mean the
impoverishment of the country. The monastic regime, good at the
beginning of civilization, useful in the reduction of the brutal by the
spiritual, is bad when peoples have reached their manhood. Moreover,
when it becomes relaxed, and when it enters into its period of disorder,
it becomes bad for the very reasons which rendered it salutary in its
period of purity, because it still continues to set the example.

Claustration has had its day. Cloisters, useful in the early education
of modern civilization, have embarrassed its growth, and are injurious
to its development. So far as institution and formation with relation
to man are concerned, monasteries, which were good in the tenth century,
questionable in the fifteenth, are detestable in the nineteenth. The
leprosy of monasticism has gnawed nearly to a skeleton two wonderful
nations, Italy and Spain; the one the light, the other the splendor of
Europe for centuries; and, at the present day, these two illustrious
peoples are but just beginning to convalesce, thanks to the healthy and
vigorous hygiene of 1789 alone.

The convent--the ancient female convent in particular, such as it still
presents itself on the threshold of this century, in Italy, in Austria,
in Spain--is one of the most sombre concretions of the Middle Ages. The
cloister, that cloister, is the point of intersection of horrors. The
Catholic cloister, properly speaking, is wholly filled with the black
radiance of death.

The Spanish convent is the most funereal of all. There rise, in
obscurity, beneath vaults filled with gloom, beneath domes vague with
shadow, massive altars of Babel, as high as cathedrals; there immense
white crucifixes hang from chains in the dark; there are extended, all
nude on the ebony, great Christs of ivory; more than bleeding,--bloody;
hideous and magnificent, with their elbows displaying the bones, their
knee-pans showing their integuments, their wounds showing their flesh,
crowned with silver thorns, nailed with nails of gold, with blood drops
of rubies on their brows, and diamond tears in their eyes. The diamonds
and rubies seem wet, and make veiled beings in the shadow below weep,
their sides bruised with the hair shirt and their iron-tipped scourges,
their breasts crushed with wicker hurdles, their knees excoriated with
prayer; women who think themselves wives, spectres who think themselves
seraphim. Do these women think? No. Have they any will? No. Do they
love? No. Do they live? No. Their nerves have turned to bone; their
bones have turned to stone. Their veil is of woven night. Their breath
under their veil resembles the indescribably tragic respiration of
death. The abbess, a spectre, sanctifies them and terrifies them.
The immaculate one is there, and very fierce. Such are the ancient
monasteries of Spain. Lairs of terrible devotion, caverns of virgins,
ferocious places.

Catholic Spain is more Roman than Rome herself. The Spanish convent was,
above all others, the Catholic convent. There was a flavor of the Orient
about it. The archbishop, the kislar-aga of heaven, locked up and kept
watch over this seraglio of souls reserved for God. The nun was the
odalisque, the priest was the eunuch. The fervent were chosen in dreams
and possessed Christ. At night, the beautiful, nude young man descended
from the cross and became the ecstasy of the cloistered one. Lofty walls
guarded the mystic sultana, who had the crucified for her sultan, from
all living distraction. A glance on the outer world was infidelity. The
in pace replaced the leather sack. That which was cast into the sea in
the East was thrown into the ground in the West. In both quarters, women
wrung their hands; the waves for the first, the grave for the last; here
the drowned, there the buried. Monstrous parallel.

To-day the upholders of the past, unable to deny these things, have
adopted the expedient of smiling at them. There has come into fashion
a strange and easy manner of suppressing the revelations of history, of
invalidating the commentaries of philosophy, of eliding all embarrassing
facts and all gloomy questions. A matter for declamations, say the
clever. Declamations, repeat the foolish. Jean-Jacques a declaimer;
Diderot a declaimer; Voltaire on Calas, Labarre, and Sirven, declaimers.
I know not who has recently discovered that Tacitus was a declaimer,
that Nero was a victim, and that pity is decidedly due to "that poor

Facts, however, are awkward things to disconcert, and they are
obstinate. The author of this book has seen, with his own eyes, eight
leagues distant from Brussels,--there are relics of the Middle Ages
there which are attainable for everybody,--at the Abbey of Villers, the
hole of the oubliettes, in the middle of the field which was formerly
the courtyard of the cloister, and on the banks of the Thil, four stone
dungeons, half under ground, half under the water. They were in pace.
Each of these dungeons has the remains of an iron door, a vault, and a
grated opening which, on the outside, is two feet above the level of the
river, and on the inside, six feet above the level of the ground. Four
feet of river flow past along the outside wall. The ground is always
soaked. The occupant of the in pace had this wet soil for his bed. In
one of these dungeons, there is a fragment of an iron necklet riveted to
the wall; in another, there can be seen a square box made of four slabs
of granite, too short for a person to lie down in, too low for him to
stand upright in. A human being was put inside, with a coverlid of stone
on top. This exists. It can be seen. It can be touched. These in pace,
these dungeons, these iron hinges, these necklets, that lofty peep-hole
on a level with the river's current, that box of stone closed with a lid
of granite like a tomb, with this difference, that the dead man here
was a living being, that soil which is but mud, that vault hole, those
oozing walls,--what declaimers!


Monasticism, such as it existed in Spain, and such as it still exists in
Thibet, is a sort of phthisis for civilization. It stops life short. It
simply depopulates. Claustration, castration. It has been the scourge
of Europe. Add to this the violence so often done to the conscience, the
forced vocations, feudalism bolstered up by the cloister, the right of
the first-born pouring the excess of the family into monasticism, the
ferocities of which we have just spoken, the in pace, the closed mouths,
the walled-up brains, so many unfortunate minds placed in the dungeon
of eternal vows, the taking of the habit, the interment of living souls.
Add individual tortures to national degradations, and, whoever you
may be, you will shudder before the frock and the veil,--those two
winding-sheets of human devising. Nevertheless, at certain points and in
certain places, in spite of philosophy, in spite of progress, the spirit
of the cloister persists in the midst of the nineteenth century, and
a singular ascetic recrudescence is, at this moment, astonishing
the civilized world. The obstinacy of antiquated institutions in
perpetuating themselves resembles the stubbornness of the rancid perfume
which should claim our hair, the pretensions of the spoiled fish which
should persist in being eaten, the persecution of the child's garment
which should insist on clothing the man, the tenderness of corpses which
should return to embrace the living.

"Ingrates!" says the garment, "I protected you in inclement weather. Why
will you have nothing to do with me?" "I have just come from the deep
sea," says the fish. "I have been a rose," says the perfume. "I have
loved you," says the corpse. "I have civilized you," says the convent.

To this there is but one reply: "In former days."

To dream of the indefinite prolongation of defunct things, and of the
government of men by embalming, to restore dogmas in a bad condition,
to regild shrines, to patch up cloisters, to rebless reliquaries, to
refurnish superstitions, to revictual fanaticisms, to put new handles
on holy water brushes and militarism, to reconstitute monasticism and
militarism, to believe in the salvation of society by the multiplication
of parasites, to force the past on the present,--this seems strange.
Still, there are theorists who hold such theories. These theorists,
who are in other respects people of intelligence, have a very simple
process; they apply to the past a glazing which they call social
order, divine right, morality, family, the respect of elders, antique
authority, sacred tradition, legitimacy, religion; and they go about
shouting, "Look! take this, honest people." This logic was known to the
ancients. The soothsayers practise it. They rubbed a black heifer over
with chalk, and said, "She is white, Bos cretatus."

As for us, we respect the past here and there, and we spare it, above
all, provided that it consents to be dead. If it insists on being alive,
we attack it, and we try to kill it.

Superstitions, bigotries, affected devotion, prejudices, those forms all
forms as they are, are tenacious of life; they have teeth and nails in
their smoke, and they must be clasped close, body to body, and war must
be made on them, and that without truce; for it is one of the fatalities
of humanity to be condemned to eternal combat with phantoms. It is
difficult to seize darkness by the throat, and to hurl it to the earth.

A convent in France, in the broad daylight of the nineteenth century, is
a college of owls facing the light. A cloister, caught in the very act
of asceticism, in the very heart of the city of '89 and of 1830 and
of 1848, Rome blossoming out in Paris, is an anachronism. In ordinary
times, in order to dissolve an anachronism and to cause it to vanish,
one has only to make it spell out the date. But we are not in ordinary

Let us fight.

Let us fight, but let us make a distinction. The peculiar property of
truth is never to commit excesses. What need has it of exaggeration?
There is that which it is necessary to destroy, and there is that which
it is simply necessary to elucidate and examine. What a force is kindly
and serious examination! Let us not apply a flame where only a light is

So, given the nineteenth century, we are opposed, as a general
proposition, and among all peoples, in Asia as well as in Europe,
in India as well as in Turkey, to ascetic claustration. Whoever says
cloister, says marsh. Their putrescence is evident, their stagnation is
unhealthy, their fermentation infects people with fever, and etiolates
them; their multiplication becomes a plague of Egypt. We cannot think
without affright of those lands where fakirs, bonzes, santons, Greek
monks, marabouts, talapoins, and dervishes multiply even like swarms of

This said, the religious question remains. This question has certain
mysterious, almost formidable sides; may we be permitted to look at it


Men unite themselves and dwell in communities. By virtue of what right?
By virtue of the right of association.

They shut themselves up at home. By virtue of what right? By virtue of
the right which every man has to open or shut his door.

They do not come forth. By virtue of what right? By virtue of the right
to go and come, which implies the right to remain at home.

There, at home, what do they do?

They speak in low tones; they drop their eyes; they toil. They renounce
the world, towns, sensualities, pleasures, vanities, pride, interests.
They are clothed in coarse woollen or coarse linen. Not one of them
possesses in his own right anything whatever. On entering there, each
one who was rich makes himself poor. What he has, he gives to all. He
who was what is called noble, a gentleman and a lord, is the equal of
him who was a peasant. The cell is identical for all. All undergo the
same tonsure, wear the same frock, eat the same black bread, sleep on
the same straw, die on the same ashes. The same sack on their backs, the
same rope around their loins. If the decision has been to go barefoot,
all go barefoot. There may be a prince among them; that prince is the
same shadow as the rest. No titles. Even family names have disappeared.
They bear only first names. All are bowed beneath the equality of
baptismal names. They have dissolved the carnal family, and constituted
in their community a spiritual family. They have no other relatives than
all men. They succor the poor, they care for the sick. They elect those
whom they obey. They call each other "my brother."

You stop me and exclaim, "But that is the ideal convent!"

It is sufficient that it may be the possible convent, that I should take
notice of it.

Thence it results that, in the preceding book, I have spoken of a
convent with respectful accents. The Middle Ages cast aside, Asia cast
aside, the historical and political question held in reserve, from the
purely philosophical point of view, outside the requirements of militant
policy, on condition that the monastery shall be absolutely a voluntary
matter and shall contain only consenting parties, I shall always
consider a cloistered community with a certain attentive, and, in some
respects, a deferential gravity.

Wherever there is a community, there is a commune; where there is a
commune, there is right. The monastery is the product of the formula:
Equality, Fraternity. Oh! how grand is liberty! And what a splendid
transfiguration! Liberty suffices to transform the monastery into a

Let us continue.

But these men, or these women who are behind these four walls. They
dress themselves in coarse woollen, they are equals, they call each
other brothers, that is well; but they do something else?



They gaze on the darkness, they kneel, and they clasp their hands.

What does this signify?


They pray.

To whom?

To God.

To pray to God,--what is the meaning of these words?

Is there an infinite beyond us? Is that infinite there, inherent,
permanent; necessarily substantial, since it is infinite; and because,
if it lacked matter it would be bounded; necessarily intelligent, since
it is infinite, and because, if it lacked intelligence, it would end
there? Does this infinite awaken in us the idea of essence, while we can
attribute to ourselves only the idea of existence? In other terms, is it
not the absolute, of which we are only the relative?

At the same time that there is an infinite without us, is there not
an infinite within us? Are not these two infinites (what an alarming
plural!) superposed, the one upon the other? Is not this second
infinite, so to speak, subjacent to the first? Is it not the latter's
mirror, reflection, echo, an abyss which is concentric with another
abyss? Is this second infinity intelligent also? Does it think? Does
it love? Does it will? If these two infinities are intelligent, each of
them has a will principle, and there is an _I_ in the upper infinity as
there is an _I_ in the lower infinity. The _I_ below is the soul; the
_I_ on high is God.

To place the infinity here below in contact, by the medium of thought,
with the infinity on high, is called praying.

Let us take nothing from the human mind; to suppress is bad. We must
reform and transform. Certain faculties in man are directed towards
the Unknown; thought, revery, prayer. The Unknown is an ocean. What
is conscience? It is the compass of the Unknown. Thought, revery,
prayer,--these are great and mysterious radiations. Let us respect them.
Whither go these majestic irradiations of the soul? Into the shadow;
that is to say, to the light.

The grandeur of democracy is to disown nothing and to deny nothing of
humanity. Close to the right of the man, beside it, at the least, there
exists the right of the soul.

To crush fanaticism and to venerate the infinite, such is the law. Let
us not confine ourselves to prostrating ourselves before the tree of
creation, and to the contemplation of its branches full of stars. We
have a duty to labor over the human soul, to defend the mystery against
the miracle, to adore the incomprehensible and reject the absurd,
to admit, as an inexplicable fact, only what is necessary, to purify
belief, to remove superstitions from above religion; to clear God of


With regard to the modes of prayer, all are good, provided that they are
sincere. Turn your book upside down and be in the infinite.

There is, as we know, a philosophy which denies the infinite. There is
also a philosophy, pathologically classified, which denies the sun; this
philosophy is called blindness.

To erect a sense which we lack into a source of truth, is a fine blind
man's self-sufficiency.

The curious thing is the haughty, superior, and compassionate airs which
this groping philosophy assumes towards the philosophy which beholds
God. One fancies he hears a mole crying, "I pity them with their sun!"

There are, as we know, powerful and illustrious atheists. At bottom, led
back to the truth by their very force, they are not absolutely sure that
they are atheists; it is with them only a question of definition, and in
any case, if they do not believe in God, being great minds, they prove

We salute them as philosophers, while inexorably denouncing their

Let us go on.

The remarkable thing about it is, also, their facility in paying
themselves off with words. A metaphysical school of the North,
impregnated to some extent with fog, has fancied that it has worked a
revolution in human understanding by replacing the word Force with the
word Will.

To say: "the plant wills," instead of: "the plant grows": this would be
fecund in results, indeed, if we were to add: "the universe wills." Why?
Because it would come to this: the plant wills, therefore it has an _I_;
the universe wills, therefore it has a God.

As for us, who, however, in contradistinction to this school, reject
nothing a priori, a will in the plant, accepted by this school, appears
to us more difficult to admit than a will in the universe denied by it.

To deny the will of the infinite, that is to say, God, is impossible on
any other conditions than a denial of the infinite. We have demonstrated

The negation of the infinite leads straight to nihilism. Everything
becomes "a mental conception."

With nihilism, no discussion is possible; for the nihilist logic doubts
the existence of its interlocutor, and is not quite sure that it exists

From its point of view, it is possible that it may be for itself, only
"a mental conception."

Only, it does not perceive that all which it has denied it admits in the
lump, simply by the utterance of the word, mind.

In short, no way is open to the thought by a philosophy which makes all
end in the monosyllable, No.

To No there is only one reply, Yes.

Nihilism has no point.

There is no such thing as nothingness. Zero does not exist. Everything
is something. Nothing is nothing.

Man lives by affirmation even more than by bread.

Even to see and to show does not suffice. Philosophy should be an
energy; it should have for effort and effect to ameliorate the condition
of man. Socrates should enter into Adam and produce Marcus Aurelius; in
other words, the man of wisdom should be made to emerge from the man
of felicity. Eden should be changed into a Lyceum. Science should be
a cordial. To enjoy,--what a sad aim, and what a paltry ambition! The
brute enjoys. To offer thought to the thirst of men, to give them all as
an elixir the notion of God, to make conscience and science fraternize
in them, to render them just by this mysterious confrontation; such is
the function of real philosophy. Morality is a blossoming out of truths.
Contemplation leads to action. The absolute should be practicable. It is
necessary that the ideal should be breathable, drinkable, and eatable to
the human mind. It is the ideal which has the right to say: Take, this!
It is on this condition that it ceases to be a sterile love of science
and becomes the one and sovereign mode of human rallying, and that
philosophy herself is promoted to religion.

Philosophy should not be a corbel erected on mystery to gaze upon it
at its ease, without any other result than that of being convenient to

For our part, adjourning the development of our thought to another
occasion, we will confine ourselves to saying that we neither understand
man as a point of departure nor progress as an end, without those two
forces which are their two motors: faith and love.

Progress is the goal, the ideal is the type.

What is this ideal? It is God.

Ideal, absolute, perfection, infinity: identical words.


History and philosophy have eternal duties, which are, at the same time,
simple duties; to combat Caiphas the High-priest, Draco the Lawgiver,
Trimalcion the Legislator, Tiberius the Emperor; this is clear, direct,
and limpid, and offers no obscurity.

But the right to live apart, even with its inconveniences and its
abuses, insists on being stated and taken into account. Cenobitism is a
human problem.

When one speaks of convents, those abodes of error, but of innocence,
of aberration but of good-will, of ignorance but of devotion, of torture
but of martyrdom, it always becomes necessary to say either yes or no.

A convent is a contradiction. Its object, salvation; its means thereto,
sacrifice. The convent is supreme egoism having for its result supreme

To abdicate with the object of reigning seems to be the device of

In the cloister, one suffers in order to enjoy. One draws a bill of
exchange on death. One discounts in terrestrial gloom celestial light.
In the cloister, hell is accepted in advance as a post obit on paradise.

The taking of the veil or the frock is a suicide paid for with eternity.

It does not seem to us, that on such a subject mockery is permissible.
All about it is serious, the good as well as the bad.

The just man frowns, but never smiles with a malicious sneer. We
understand wrath, but not malice.


A few words more.

We blame the church when she is saturated with intrigues, we despise the
spiritual which is harsh toward the temporal; but we everywhere honor
the thoughtful man.

We salute the man who kneels.

A faith; this is a necessity for man. Woe to him who believes nothing.

One is not unoccupied because one is absorbed. There is visible labor
and invisible labor.

To contemplate is to labor, to think is to act.

Folded arms toil, clasped hands work. A gaze fixed on heaven is a work.

Thales remained motionless for four years. He founded philosophy.

In our opinion, cenobites are not lazy men, and recluses are not idlers.

To meditate on the Shadow is a serious thing.

Without invalidating anything that we have just said, we believe that
a perpetual memory of the tomb is proper for the living. On this point,
the priest and the philosopher agree. We must die. The Abbe de la Trappe
replies to Horace.

To mingle with one's life a certain presence of the sepulchre,--this is
the law of the sage; and it is the law of the ascetic. In this respect,
the ascetic and the sage converge. There is a material growth; we
admit it. There is a moral grandeur; we hold to that. Thoughtless and
vivacious spirits say:--

"What is the good of those motionless figures on the side of mystery?
What purpose do they serve? What do they do?"

Alas! In the presence of the darkness which environs us, and which
awaits us, in our ignorance of what the immense dispersion will make of
us, we reply: "There is probably no work more divine than that performed
by these souls." And we add: "There is probably no work which is more

There certainly must be some who pray constantly for those who never
pray at all.

In our opinion the whole question lies in the amount of thought that is
mingled with prayer.

Leibnitz praying is grand, Voltaire adoring is fine. Deo erexit

We are for religion as against religions.

We are of the number who believe in the wretchedness of orisons, and the
sublimity of prayer.

Moreover, at this minute which we are now traversing,--a minute which
will not, fortunately, leave its impress on the nineteenth century,--at
this hour, when so many men have low brows and souls but little
elevated, among so many mortals whose morality consists in enjoyment,
and who are busied with the brief and misshapen things of matter,
whoever exiles himself seems worthy of veneration to us.

The monastery is a renunciation. Sacrifice wrongly directed is still
sacrifice. To mistake a grave error for a duty has a grandeur of its

Taken by itself, and ideally, and in order to examine the truth on all
sides until all aspects have been impartially exhausted, the monastery,
the female convent in particular,--for in our century it is woman who
suffers the most, and in this exile of the cloister there is something
of protestation,--the female convent has incontestably a certain

This cloistered existence which is so austere, so depressing, a few of
whose features we have just traced, is not life, for it is not liberty;
it is not the tomb, for it is not plenitude; it is the strange place
whence one beholds, as from the crest of a lofty mountain, on one side
the abyss where we are, on the other, the abyss whither we shall go; it
is the narrow and misty frontier separating two worlds, illuminated
and obscured by both at the same time, where the ray of life which has
become enfeebled is mingled with the vague ray of death; it is the half
obscurity of the tomb.

We, who do not believe what these women believe, but who, like them,
live by faith,--we have never been able to think without a sort of
tender and religious terror, without a sort of pity, that is full of
envy, of those devoted, trembling and trusting creatures, of these
humble and august souls, who dare to dwell on the very brink of the
mystery, waiting between the world which is closed and heaven which is
not yet open, turned towards the light which one cannot see, possessing
the sole happiness of thinking that they know where it is, aspiring
towards the gulf, and the unknown, their eyes fixed motionless on the
darkness, kneeling, bewildered, stupefied, shuddering, half lifted, at
times, by the deep breaths of eternity.



It was into this house that Jean Valjean had, as Fauchelevent expressed
it, "fallen from the sky."

He had scaled the wall of the garden which formed the angle of the Rue
Polonceau. That hymn of the angels which he had heard in the middle
of the night, was the nuns chanting matins; that hall, of which he had
caught a glimpse in the gloom, was the chapel. That phantom which he had
seen stretched on the ground was the sister who was making reparation;
that bell, the sound of which had so strangely surprised him, was the
gardener's bell attached to the knee of Father Fauchelevent.

Cosette once put to bed, Jean Valjean and Fauchelevent had, as we have
already seen, supped on a glass of wine and a bit of cheese before a
good, crackling fire; then, the only bed in the hut being occupied by
Cosette, each threw himself on a truss of straw.

Before he shut his eyes, Jean Valjean said: "I must remain here
henceforth." This remark trotted through Fauchelevent's head all night

To tell the truth, neither of them slept.

Jean Valjean, feeling that he was discovered and that Javert was on
his scent, understood that he and Cosette were lost if they returned to
Paris. Then the new storm which had just burst upon him had stranded
him in this cloister. Jean Valjean had, henceforth, but one thought,--to
remain there. Now, for an unfortunate man in his position, this
convent was both the safest and the most dangerous of places; the most
dangerous, because, as no men might enter there, if he were discovered,
it was a flagrant offence, and Jean Valjean would find but one step
intervening between the convent and prison; the safest, because, if he
could manage to get himself accepted there and remain there, who would
ever seek him in such a place? To dwell in an impossible place was

On his side, Fauchelevent was cudgelling his brains. He began by
declaring to himself that he understood nothing of the matter. How had
M. Madeleine got there, when the walls were what they were? Cloister
walls are not to be stepped over. How did he get there with a child? One
cannot scale a perpendicular wall with a child in one's arms. Who was
that child? Where did they both come from? Since Fauchelevent had lived
in the convent, he had heard nothing of M. sur M., and he knew nothing
of what had taken place there. Father Madeleine had an air which
discouraged questions; and besides, Fauchelevent said to himself: "One
does not question a saint." M. Madeleine had preserved all his prestige
in Fauchelevent's eyes. Only, from some words which Jean Valjean had let
fall, the gardener thought he could draw the inference that M. Madeleine
had probably become bankrupt through the hard times, and that he was
pursued by his creditors; or that he had compromised himself in some
political affair, and was in hiding; which last did not displease
Fauchelevent, who, like many of our peasants of the North, had an
old fund of Bonapartism about him. While in hiding, M. Madeleine had
selected the convent as a refuge, and it was quite simple that he should
wish to remain there. But the inexplicable point, to which Fauchelevent
returned constantly and over which he wearied his brain, was that M.
Madeleine should be there, and that he should have that little girl with
him. Fauchelevent saw them, touched them, spoke to them, and still did
not believe it possible. The incomprehensible had just made its entrance
into Fauchelevent's hut. Fauchelevent groped about amid conjectures, and
could see nothing clearly but this: "M. Madeleine saved my life."
This certainty alone was sufficient and decided his course. He said to
himself: "It is my turn now." He added in his conscience: "M. Madeleine
did not stop to deliberate when it was a question of thrusting himself
under the cart for the purpose of dragging me out." He made up his mind
to save M. Madeleine.

Nevertheless, he put many questions to himself and made himself divers
replies: "After what he did for me, would I save him if he were a thief?
Just the same. If he were an assassin, would I save him? Just the same.
Since he is a saint, shall I save him? Just the same."

But what a problem it was to manage to have him remain in the convent!
Fauchelevent did not recoil in the face of this almost chimerical
undertaking; this poor peasant of Picardy without any other ladder
than his self-devotion, his good will, and a little of that old
rustic cunning, on this occasion enlisted in the service of a generous
enterprise, undertook to scale the difficulties of the cloister, and the
steep escarpments of the rule of Saint-Benoit. Father Fauchelevent was
an old man who had been an egoist all his life, and who, towards the end
of his days, halt, infirm, with no interest left to him in the world,
found it sweet to be grateful, and perceiving a generous action to be
performed, flung himself upon it like a man, who at the moment when he
is dying, should find close to his hand a glass of good wine which he
had never tasted, and should swallow it with avidity. We may add,
that the air which he had breathed for many years in this convent had
destroyed all personality in him, and had ended by rendering a good
action of some kind absolutely necessary to him.

So he took his resolve: to devote himself to M. Madeleine.

We have just called him a poor peasant of Picardy. That description
is just, but incomplete. At the point of this story which we have now
reached, a little of Father Fauchelevent's physiology becomes useful.
He was a peasant, but he had been a notary, which added trickery to his
cunning, and penetration to his ingenuousness. Having, through various
causes, failed in his business, he had descended to the calling of a
carter and a laborer. But, in spite of oaths and lashings, which horses
seem to require, something of the notary had lingered in him. He had
some natural wit; he talked good grammar; he conversed, which is a rare
thing in a village; and the other peasants said of him: "He talks almost
like a gentleman with a hat." Fauchelevent belonged, in fact, to that
species, which the impertinent and flippant vocabulary of the last
century qualified as demi-bourgeois, demi-lout, and which the metaphors
showered by the chateau upon the thatched cottage ticketed in the
pigeon-hole of the plebeian: rather rustic, rather citified; pepper and
salt. Fauchelevent, though sorely tried and harshly used by fate,
worn out, a sort of poor, threadbare old soul, was, nevertheless, an
impulsive man, and extremely spontaneous in his actions; a precious
quality which prevents one from ever being wicked. His defects and his
vices, for he had some, were all superficial; in short, his physiognomy
was of the kind which succeeds with an observer. His aged face had none
of those disagreeable wrinkles at the top of the forehead, which signify
malice or stupidity.

At daybreak, Father Fauchelevent opened his eyes, after having done an
enormous deal of thinking, and beheld M. Madeleine seated on his truss
of straw, and watching Cosette's slumbers. Fauchelevent sat up and

"Now that you are here, how are you going to contrive to enter?"

This remark summed up the situation and aroused Jean Valjean from his

The two men took counsel together.

"In the first place," said Fauchelevent, "you will begin by not setting
foot outside of this chamber, either you or the child. One step in the
garden and we are done for."

"That is true."

"Monsieur Madeleine," resumed Fauchelevent, "you have arrived at a very
auspicious moment, I mean to say a very inauspicious moment; one of
the ladies is very ill. This will prevent them from looking much in our
direction. It seems that she is dying. The prayers of the forty hours
are being said. The whole community is in confusion. That occupies them.
The one who is on the point of departure is a saint. In fact, we are
all saints here; all the difference between them and me is that they say
'our cell,' and that I say 'my cabin.' The prayers for the dying are to
be said, and then the prayers for the dead. We shall be at peace here
for to-day; but I will not answer for to-morrow."

"Still," observed Jean Valjean, "this cottage is in the niche of the
wall, it is hidden by a sort of ruin, there are trees, it is not visible
from the convent."

"And I add that the nuns never come near it."

"Well?" said Jean Valjean.

The interrogation mark which accentuated this "well" signified:
"it seems to me that one may remain concealed here?" It was to this
interrogation point that Fauchelevent responded:--

"There are the little girls."

"What little girls?" asked Jean Valjean.

Just as Fauchelevent opened his mouth to explain the words which he had
uttered, a bell emitted one stroke.

"The nun is dead," said he. "There is the knell."

And he made a sign to Jean Valjean to listen.

The bell struck a second time.

"It is the knell, Monsieur Madeleine. The bell will continue to strike
once a minute for twenty-four hours, until the body is taken from the
church.--You see, they play. At recreation hours it suffices to have a
ball roll aside, to send them all hither, in spite of prohibitions, to
hunt and rummage for it all about here. Those cherubs are devils."

"Who?" asked Jean Valjean.

"The little girls. You would be very quickly discovered. They would
shriek: 'Oh! a man!' There is no danger to-day. There will be no
recreation hour. The day will be entirely devoted to prayers. You hear
the bell. As I told you, a stroke each minute. It is the death knell."

"I understand, Father Fauchelevent. There are pupils."

And Jean Valjean thought to himself:--

"Here is Cosette's education already provided."

Fauchelevent exclaimed:--

"Pardine! There are little girls indeed! And they would bawl around you!
And they would rush off! To be a man here is to have the plague. You see
how they fasten a bell to my paw as though I were a wild beast."

Jean Valjean fell into more and more profound thought.--"This convent
would be our salvation," he murmured.

Then he raised his voice:--

"Yes, the difficulty is to remain here."

"No," said Fauchelevent, "the difficulty is to get out."

Jean Valjean felt the blood rush back to his heart.

"To get out!"

"Yes, Monsieur Madeleine. In order to return here it is first necessary
to get out."

And after waiting until another stroke of the knell had sounded,
Fauchelevent went on:--

"You must not be found here in this fashion. Whence come you? For me,
you fall from heaven, because I know you; but the nuns require one to
enter by the door."

All at once they heard a rather complicated pealing from another bell.

"Ah!" said Fauchelevent, "they are ringing up the vocal mothers. They
are going to the chapter. They always hold a chapter when any one dies.
She died at daybreak. People generally do die at daybreak. But cannot
you get out by the way in which you entered? Come, I do not ask for the
sake of questioning you, but how did you get in?"

Jean Valjean turned pale; the very thought of descending again into
that terrible street made him shudder. You make your way out of a forest
filled with tigers, and once out of it, imagine a friendly counsel that
shall advise you to return thither! Jean Valjean pictured to himself the
whole police force still engaged in swarming in that quarter, agents on
the watch, sentinels everywhere, frightful fists extended towards his
collar, Javert at the corner of the intersection of the streets perhaps.

"Impossible!" said he. "Father Fauchelevent, say that I fell from the

"But I believe it, I believe it," retorted Fauchelevent. "You have no
need to tell me that. The good God must have taken you in his hand for
the purpose of getting a good look at you close to, and then dropped
you. Only, he meant to place you in a man's convent; he made a mistake.
Come, there goes another peal, that is to order the porter to go and
inform the municipality that the dead-doctor is to come here and view a
corpse. All that is the ceremony of dying. These good ladies are not
at all fond of that visit. A doctor is a man who does not believe in
anything. He lifts the veil. Sometimes he lifts something else too. How
quickly they have had the doctor summoned this time! What is the matter?
Your little one is still asleep. What is her name?"


"She is your daughter? You are her grandfather, that is?"


"It will be easy enough for her to get out of here. I have my service
door which opens on the courtyard. I knock. The porter opens; I have
my vintage basket on my back, the child is in it, I go out. Father
Fauchelevent goes out with his basket--that is perfectly natural. You
will tell the child to keep very quiet. She will be under the cover. I
will leave her for whatever time is required with a good old friend, a
fruit-seller whom I know in the Rue Chemin-Vert, who is deaf, and who
has a little bed. I will shout in the fruit-seller's ear, that she is a
niece of mine, and that she is to keep her for me until to-morrow. Then
the little one will re-enter with you; for I will contrive to have you
re-enter. It must be done. But how will you manage to get out?"

Jean Valjean shook his head.

"No one must see me, the whole point lies there, Father Fauchelevent.
Find some means of getting me out in a basket, under cover, like

Fauchelevent scratched the lobe of his ear with the middle finger of his
left hand, a sign of serious embarrassment.

A third peal created a diversion.

"That is the dead-doctor taking his departure," said Fauchelevent. "He
has taken a look and said: 'She is dead, that is well.' When the doctor
has signed the passport for paradise, the undertaker's company sends a
coffin. If it is a mother, the mothers lay her out; if she is a sister,
the sisters lay her out. After which, I nail her up. That forms a part
of my gardener's duty. A gardener is a bit of a grave-digger. She is
placed in a lower hall of the church which communicates with the street,
and into which no man may enter save the doctor of the dead. I don't
count the undertaker's men and myself as men. It is in that hall that I
nail up the coffin. The undertaker's men come and get it, and whip
up, coachman! that's the way one goes to heaven. They fetch a box with
nothing in it, they take it away again with something in it. That's what
a burial is like. De profundis."

A horizontal ray of sunshine lightly touched the face of the sleeping
Cosette, who lay with her mouth vaguely open, and had the air of an
angel drinking in the light. Jean Valjean had fallen to gazing at her.
He was no longer listening to Fauchelevent.

That one is not listened to is no reason for preserving silence. The
good old gardener went on tranquilly with his babble:--

"The grave is dug in the Vaugirard cemetery. They declare that they are
going to suppress that Vaugirard cemetery. It is an ancient cemetery
which is outside the regulations, which has no uniform, and which is
going to retire. It is a shame, for it is convenient. I have a friend
there, Father Mestienne, the grave-digger. The nuns here possess one
privilege, it is to be taken to that cemetery at nightfall. There is
a special permission from the Prefecture on their behalf. But how many
events have happened since yesterday! Mother Crucifixion is dead, and
Father Madeleine--"

"Is buried," said Jean Valjean, smiling sadly.

Fauchelevent caught the word.

"Goodness! if you were here for good, it would be a real burial."

A fourth peal burst out. Fauchelevent hastily detached the belled
knee-cap from its nail and buckled it on his knee again.

"This time it is for me. The Mother Prioress wants me. Good, now I am
pricking myself on the tongue of my buckle. Monsieur Madeleine, don't
stir from here, and wait for me. Something new has come up. If you are
hungry, there is wine, bread and cheese."

And he hastened out of the hut, crying: "Coming! coming!"

Jean Valjean watched him hurrying across the garden as fast as his
crooked leg would permit, casting a sidelong glance by the way on his
melon patch.

Less than ten minutes later, Father Fauchelevent, whose bell put the
nuns in his road to flight, tapped gently at a door, and a gentle voice
replied: "Forever! Forever!" that is to say: "Enter."

The door was the one leading to the parlor reserved for seeing the
gardener on business. This parlor adjoined the chapter hall. The
prioress, seated on the only chair in the parlor, was waiting for


It is the peculiarity of certain persons and certain professions,
notably priests and nuns, to wear a grave and agitated air on critical
occasions. At the moment when Fauchelevent entered, this double form of
preoccupation was imprinted on the countenance of the prioress, who was
that wise and charming Mademoiselle de Blemeur, Mother Innocente, who
was ordinarily cheerful.

The gardener made a timid bow, and remained at the door of the cell. The
prioress, who was telling her beads, raised her eyes and said:--

"Ah! it is you, Father Fauvent."

This abbreviation had been adopted in the convent.

Fauchelevent bowed again.

"Father Fauvent, I have sent for you."

"Here I am, reverend Mother."

"I have something to say to you."

"And so have I," said Fauchelevent with a boldness which caused him
inward terror, "I have something to say to the very reverend Mother."

The prioress stared at him.

"Ah! you have a communication to make to me."

"A request."

"Very well, speak."

Goodman Fauchelevent, the ex-notary, belonged to the category of
peasants who have assurance. A certain clever ignorance constitutes a
force; you do not distrust it, and you are caught by it. Fauchelevent
had been a success during the something more than two years which he had
passed in the convent. Always solitary and busied about his gardening,
he had nothing else to do than to indulge his curiosity. As he was at a
distance from all those veiled women passing to and fro, he saw before
him only an agitation of shadows. By dint of attention and sharpness
he had succeeded in clothing all those phantoms with flesh, and those
corpses were alive for him. He was like a deaf man whose sight grows
keener, and like a blind man whose hearing becomes more acute. He had
applied himself to riddling out the significance of the different peals,
and he had succeeded, so that this taciturn and enigmatical cloister
possessed no secrets for him; the sphinx babbled all her secrets in his
ear. Fauchelevent knew all and concealed all; that constituted his art.
The whole convent thought him stupid. A great merit in religion. The
vocal mothers made much of Fauchelevent. He was a curious mute. He
inspired confidence. Moreover, he was regular, and never went out except
for well-demonstrated requirements of the orchard and vegetable garden.
This discretion of conduct had inured to his credit. None the less, he
had set two men to chattering: the porter, in the convent, and he
knew the singularities of their parlor, and the grave-digger, at
the cemetery, and he was acquainted with the peculiarities of their
sepulture; in this way, he possessed a double light on the subject of
these nuns, one as to their life, the other as to their death. But he
did not abuse his knowledge. The congregation thought a great deal of
him. Old, lame, blind to everything, probably a little deaf into the
bargain,--what qualities! They would have found it difficult to replace

The goodman, with the assurance of a person who feels that he is
appreciated, entered into a rather diffuse and very deep rustic harangue
to the reverend prioress. He talked a long time about his age, his
infirmities, the surcharge of years counting double for him henceforth,
of the increasing demands of his work, of the great size of the garden,
of nights which must be passed, like the last, for instance, when he had
been obliged to put straw mats over the melon beds, because of the moon,
and he wound up as follows: "That he had a brother"--(the prioress made
a movement),--"a brother no longer young"--(a second movement on the
part of the prioress, but one expressive of reassurance),--"that, if he
might be permitted, this brother would come and live with him and help
him, that he was an excellent gardener, that the community would receive
from him good service, better than his own; that, otherwise, if his
brother were not admitted, as he, the elder, felt that his health was
broken and that he was insufficient for the work, he should be obliged,
greatly to his regret, to go away; and that his brother had a little
daughter whom he would bring with him, who might be reared for God in
the house, and who might, who knows, become a nun some day."

When he had finished speaking, the prioress stayed the slipping of her
rosary between her fingers, and said to him:--

"Could you procure a stout iron bar between now and this evening?"

"For what purpose?"

"To serve as a lever."

"Yes, reverend Mother," replied Fauchelevent.

The prioress, without adding a word, rose and entered the adjoining
room, which was the hall of the chapter, and where the vocal mothers
were probably assembled. Fauchelevent was left alone.


About a quarter of an hour elapsed. The prioress returned and seated
herself once more on her chair.

The two interlocutors seemed preoccupied. We will present a stenographic
report of the dialogue which then ensued, to the best of our ability.

"Father Fauvent!"

"Reverend Mother!"

"Do you know the chapel?"

"I have a little cage there, where I hear the mass and the offices."

"And you have been in the choir in pursuance of your duties?"

"Two or three times."

"There is a stone to be raised."


"The slab of the pavement which is at the side of the altar."

"The slab which closes the vault?"


"It would be a good thing to have two men for it."

"Mother Ascension, who is as strong as a man, will help you."

"A woman is never a man."

"We have only a woman here to help you. Each one does what he can.
Because Dom Mabillon gives four hundred and seventeen epistles of
Saint Bernard, while Merlonus Horstius only gives three hundred and
sixty-seven, I do not despise Merlonus Horstius."

"Neither do I."

"Merit consists in working according to one's strength. A cloister is
not a dock-yard."

"And a woman is not a man. But my brother is the strong one, though!"

"And can you get a lever?"

"That is the only sort of key that fits that sort of door."

"There is a ring in the stone."

"I will put the lever through it."

"And the stone is so arranged that it swings on a pivot."

"That is good, reverend Mother. I will open the vault."

"And the four Mother Precentors will help you."

"And when the vault is open?"

"It must be closed again."

"Will that be all?"


"Give me your orders, very reverend Mother."

"Fauvent, we have confidence in you."

"I am here to do anything you wish."

"And to hold your peace about everything!"

"Yes, reverend Mother."

"When the vault is open--"

"I will close it again."

"But before that--"

"What, reverend Mother?"

"Something must be lowered into it."

A silence ensued. The prioress, after a pout of the under lip which
resembled hesitation, broke it.

"Father Fauvent!"

"Reverend Mother!"

"You know that a mother died this morning?"


"Did you not hear the bell?"

"Nothing can be heard at the bottom of the garden."


"I can hardly distinguish my own signal."

"She died at daybreak."

"And then, the wind is not blowing in my direction this morning."

"It was Mother Crucifixion. A blessed woman."

The prioress paused, moved her lips, as though in mental prayer, and

"Three years ago, Madame de Bethune, a Jansenist, turned orthodox,
merely from having seen Mother Crucifixion at prayer."

"Ah! yes, now I hear the knell, reverend Mother."

"The mothers have taken her to the dead-room, which opens on the

"I know."

"No other man than you can or must enter that chamber. See to that. A
fine sight it would be, to see a man enter the dead-room!"

"More often!"


"More often!"

"What do you say?"

"I say more often."

"More often than what?"

"Reverend Mother, I did not say more often than what, I said more

"I don't understand you. Why do you say more often?"

"In order to speak like you, reverend Mother."

"But I did not say 'more often.'"

At that moment, nine o'clock struck.

"At nine o'clock in the morning and at all hours, praised and adored be
the most Holy Sacrament of the altar," said the prioress.

"Amen," said Fauchelevent.

The clock struck opportunely. It cut "more often" short. It is probable,
that had it not been for this, the prioress and Fauchelevent would never
have unravelled that skein.

Fauchelevent mopped his forehead.

The prioress indulged in another little inward murmur, probably sacred,
then raised her voice:--

"In her lifetime, Mother Crucifixion made converts; after her death, she
will perform miracles."

"She will!" replied Father Fauchelevent, falling into step, and striving
not to flinch again.

"Father Fauvent, the community has been blessed in Mother Crucifixion.
No doubt, it is not granted to every one to die, like Cardinal de
Berulle, while saying the holy mass, and to breathe forth their souls to
God, while pronouncing these words: Hanc igitur oblationem. But without
attaining to such happiness, Mother Crucifixion's death was very
precious. She retained her consciousness to the very last moment.
She spoke to us, then she spoke to the angels. She gave us her last
commands. If you had a little more faith, and if you could have been
in her cell, she would have cured your leg merely by touching it.
She smiled. We felt that she was regaining her life in God. There was
something of paradise in that death."

Fauchelevent thought that it was an orison which she was finishing.

"Amen," said he.

"Father Fauvent, what the dead wish must be done."

The prioress took off several beads of her chaplet. Fauchelevent held
his peace.

She went on:--

"I have consulted upon this point many ecclesiastics laboring in Our
Lord, who occupy themselves in the exercises of the clerical life, and
who bear wonderful fruit."

"Reverend Mother, you can hear the knell much better here than in the

"Besides, she is more than a dead woman, she is a saint."

"Like yourself, reverend Mother."

"She slept in her coffin for twenty years, by express permission of our
Holy Father, Pius VII.--"

"The one who crowned the Emp--Buonaparte."

For a clever man like Fauchelevent, this allusion was an awkward one.
Fortunately, the prioress, completely absorbed in her own thoughts, did
not hear it. She continued:--

"Father Fauvent?"

"Reverend Mother?"

"Saint Didorus, Archbishop of Cappadocia, desired that this single word
might be inscribed on his tomb: Acarus, which signifies, a worm of the
earth; this was done. Is this true?"

"Yes, reverend Mother."

"The blessed Mezzocane, Abbot of Aquila, wished to be buried beneath the
gallows; this was done."

"That is true."

"Saint Terentius, Bishop of Port, where the mouth of the Tiber empties
into the sea, requested that on his tomb might be engraved the
sign which was placed on the graves of parricides, in the hope that
passers-by would spit on his tomb. This was done. The dead must be

"So be it."

"The body of Bernard Guidonis, born in France near Roche-Abeille, was,
as he had ordered, and in spite of the king of Castile, borne to the
church of the Dominicans in Limoges, although Bernard Guidonis was
Bishop of Tuy in Spain. Can the contrary be affirmed?"

"For that matter, no, reverend Mother."

"The fact is attested by Plantavit de la Fosse."

Several beads of the chaplet were told off, still in silence. The
prioress resumed:--

"Father Fauvent, Mother Crucifixion will be interred in the coffin in
which she has slept for the last twenty years."

"That is just."

"It is a continuation of her slumber."

"So I shall have to nail up that coffin?"


"And we are to reject the undertaker's coffin?"


"I am at the orders of the very reverend community."

"The four Mother Precentors will assist you."

"In nailing up the coffin? I do not need them."

"No. In lowering the coffin."


"Into the vault."

"What vault?"

"Under the altar."

Fauchelevent started.

"The vault under the altar?"

"Under the altar."


"You will have an iron bar."

"Yes, but--"

"You will raise the stone with the bar by means of the ring."


"The dead must be obeyed. To be buried in the vault under the altar of
the chapel, not to go to profane earth; to remain there in death where
she prayed while living; such was the last wish of Mother Crucifixion.
She asked it of us; that is to say, commanded us."

"But it is forbidden."

"Forbidden by men, enjoined by God."

"What if it became known?"

"We have confidence in you."

"Oh! I am a stone in your walls."

"The chapter assembled. The vocal mothers, whom I have just consulted
again, and who are now deliberating, have decided that Mother
Crucifixion shall be buried, according to her wish, in her own coffin,
under our altar. Think, Father Fauvent, if she were to work miracles
here! What a glory of God for the community! And miracles issue from

"But, reverend Mother, if the agent of the sanitary commission--"

"Saint Benoit II., in the matter of sepulture, resisted Constantine

"But the commissary of police--"

"Chonodemaire, one of the seven German kings who entered among the Gauls
under the Empire of Constantius, expressly recognized the right of nuns
to be buried in religion, that is to say, beneath the altar."

"But the inspector from the Prefecture--"

"The world is nothing in the presence of the cross. Martin, the eleventh
general of the Carthusians, gave to his order this device: Stat crux dum
volvitur orbis."

"Amen," said Fauchelevent, who imperturbably extricated himself in this
manner from the dilemma, whenever he heard Latin.

Any audience suffices for a person who has held his peace too long. On
the day when the rhetorician Gymnastoras left his prison, bearing in
his body many dilemmas and numerous syllogisms which had struck in, he
halted in front of the first tree which he came to, harangued it and
made very great efforts to convince it. The prioress, who was usually
subjected to the barrier of silence, and whose reservoir was overfull,
rose and exclaimed with the loquacity of a dam which has broken away:--

"I have on my right Benoit and on my left Bernard. Who was Bernard? The
first abbot of Clairvaux. Fontaines in Burgundy is a country that is
blest because it gave him birth. His father was named Tecelin, and his
mother Alethe. He began at Citeaux, to end in Clairvaux; he was ordained
abbot by the bishop of Chalon-sur-Saone, Guillaume de Champeaux; he had
seven hundred novices, and founded a hundred and sixty monasteries; he
overthrew Abeilard at the council of Sens in 1140, and Pierre de Bruys
and Henry his disciple, and another sort of erring spirits who were
called the Apostolics; he confounded Arnauld de Brescia, darted
lightning at the monk Raoul, the murderer of the Jews, dominated the
council of Reims in 1148, caused the condemnation of Gilbert de Porea,
Bishop of Poitiers, caused the condemnation of Eon de l'Etoile, arranged
the disputes of princes, enlightened King Louis the Young, advised Pope
Eugene III., regulated the Temple, preached the crusade, performed
two hundred and fifty miracles during his lifetime, and as many
as thirty-nine in one day. Who was Benoit? He was the patriarch of
Mont-Cassin; he was the second founder of the Saintete Claustrale,
he was the Basil of the West. His order has produced forty popes, two
hundred cardinals, fifty patriarchs, sixteen hundred archbishops, four
thousand six hundred bishops, four emperors, twelve empresses, forty-six
kings, forty-one queens, three thousand six hundred canonized saints,
and has been in existence for fourteen hundred years. On one side Saint
Bernard, on the other the agent of the sanitary department! On one side
Saint Benoit, on the other the inspector of public ways! The state,
the road commissioners, the public undertaker, regulations, the
administration, what do we know of all that? There is not a chance
passer-by who would not be indignant to see how we are treated. We
have not even the right to give our dust to Jesus Christ! Your sanitary
department is a revolutionary invention. God subordinated to the
commissary of police; such is the age. Silence, Fauvent!"

Fauchelevent was but ill at ease under this shower bath. The prioress

"No one doubts the right of the monastery to sepulture. Only fanatics
and those in error deny it. We live in times of terrible confusion. We
do not know that which it is necessary to know, and we know that which
we should ignore. We are ignorant and impious. In this age there exist
people who do not distinguish between the very great Saint Bernard and
the Saint Bernard denominated of the poor Catholics, a certain good
ecclesiastic who lived in the thirteenth century. Others are so
blasphemous as to compare the scaffold of Louis XVI. to the cross of
Jesus Christ. Louis XVI. was merely a king. Let us beware of God! There
is no longer just nor unjust. The name of Voltaire is known, but not
the name of Cesar de Bus. Nevertheless, Cesar de Bus is a man of blessed
memory, and Voltaire one of unblessed memory. The last arch-bishop,
the Cardinal de Perigord, did not even know that Charles de
Gondren succeeded to Berulle, and Francois Bourgoin to Gondren,
and Jean-Francois Senault to Bourgoin, and Father Sainte-Marthe to
Jean-Francois Senault. The name of Father Coton is known, not because
he was one of the three who urged the foundation of the Oratorie, but
because he furnished Henri IV., the Huguenot king, with the material
for an oath. That which pleases people of the world in Saint Francois de
Sales, is that he cheated at play. And then, religion is attacked. Why?
Because there have been bad priests, because Sagittaire, Bishop of Gap,
was the brother of Salone, Bishop of Embrun, and because both of them
followed Mommol. What has that to do with the question? Does that
prevent Martin de Tours from being a saint, and giving half of his cloak
to a beggar? They persecute the saints. They shut their eyes to the
truth. Darkness is the rule. The most ferocious beasts are beasts which
are blind. No one thinks of hell as a reality. Oh! how wicked people
are! By order of the king signifies to-day, by order of the revolution.
One no longer knows what is due to the living or to the dead. A holy
death is prohibited. Burial is a civil matter. This is horrible. Saint
Leo II. wrote two special letters, one to Pierre Notaire, the other to
the king of the Visigoths, for the purpose of combating and rejecting,
in questions touching the dead, the authority of the exarch and the
supremacy of the Emperor. Gauthier, Bishop of Chalons, held his own
in this matter against Otho, Duke of Burgundy. The ancient magistracy
agreed with him. In former times we had voices in the chapter, even on
matters of the day. The Abbot of Citeaux, the general of the order, was
councillor by right of birth to the parliament of Burgundy. We do what
we please with our dead. Is not the body of Saint Benoit himself in
France, in the abbey of Fleury, called Saint Benoit-sur-Loire, although
he died in Italy at Mont-Cassin, on Saturday, the 21st of the month
of March, of the year 543? All this is incontestable. I abhor
psalm-singers, I hate priors, I execrate heretics, but I should detest
yet more any one who should maintain the contrary. One has only to
read Arnoul Wion, Gabriel Bucelin, Trithemus, Maurolics, and Dom Luc

The prioress took breath, then turned to Fauchelevent.

"Is it settled, Father Fauvent?"

"It is settled, reverend Mother."

"We may depend on you?"

"I will obey."

"That is well."

"I am entirely devoted to the convent."

"That is understood. You will close the coffin. The sisters will carry
it to the chapel. The office for the dead will then be said. Then we
shall return to the cloister. Between eleven o'clock and midnight, you
will come with your iron bar. All will be done in the most profound
secrecy. There will be in the chapel only the four Mother Precentors,
Mother Ascension and yourself."

"And the sister at the post?"

"She will not turn round."

"But she will hear."

"She will not listen. Besides, what the cloister knows the world learns

A pause ensued. The prioress went on:--

"You will remove your bell. It is not necessary that the sister at the
post should perceive your presence."

"Reverend Mother?"

"What, Father Fauvent?"

"Has the doctor for the dead paid his visit?"

"He will pay it at four o'clock to-day. The peal which orders the
doctor for the dead to be summoned has already been rung. But you do not
understand any of the peals?"

"I pay no attention to any but my own."

"That is well, Father Fauvent."

"Reverend Mother, a lever at least six feet long will be required."

"Where will you obtain it?"

"Where gratings are not lacking, iron bars are not lacking. I have my
heap of old iron at the bottom of the garden."

"About three-quarters of an hour before midnight; do not forget."

"Reverend Mother?"


"If you were ever to have any other jobs of this sort, my brother is the
strong man for you. A perfect Turk!"

"You will do it as speedily as possible."

"I cannot work very fast. I am infirm; that is why I require an
assistant. I limp."

"To limp is no sin, and perhaps it is a blessing. The Emperor Henry II.,
who combated Antipope Gregory and re-established Benoit VIII., has two
surnames, the Saint and the Lame."

"Two surtouts are a good thing," murmured Fauchelevent, who really was a
little hard of hearing.

"Now that I think of it, Father Fauvent, let us give a whole hour to it.
That is not too much. Be near the principal altar, with your iron bar,
at eleven o'clock. The office begins at midnight. Everything must have
been completed a good quarter of an hour before that."

"I will do anything to prove my zeal towards the community. These are my
orders. I am to nail up the coffin. At eleven o'clock exactly, I am to
be in the chapel. The Mother Precentors will be there. Mother Ascension
will be there. Two men would be better. However, never mind! I shall
have my lever. We will open the vault, we will lower the coffin, and
we will close the vault again. After which, there will be no trace
of anything. The government will have no suspicion. Thus all has been
arranged, reverend Mother?"


"What else remains?"

"The empty coffin remains."

This produced a pause. Fauchelevent meditated. The prioress meditated.

"What is to be done with that coffin, Father Fauvent?"

"It will be given to the earth."


Another silence. Fauchelevent made, with his left hand, that sort of a
gesture which dismisses a troublesome subject.

"Reverend Mother, I am the one who is to nail up the coffin in the
basement of the church, and no one can enter there but myself, and I
will cover the coffin with the pall."

"Yes, but the bearers, when they place it in the hearse and lower it
into the grave, will be sure to feel that there is nothing in it."

"Ah! the de--!" exclaimed Fauchelevent.

The prioress began to make the sign of the cross, and looked fixedly at
the gardener. The vil stuck fast in his throat.

He made haste to improvise an expedient to make her forget the oath.

"I will put earth in the coffin, reverend Mother. That will produce the
effect of a corpse."

"You are right. Earth, that is the same thing as man. So you will manage
the empty coffin?"

"I will make that my special business."

The prioress's face, up to that moment troubled and clouded, grew serene
once more. She made the sign of a superior dismissing an inferior to
him. Fauchelevent went towards the door. As he was on the point of
passing out, the prioress raised her voice gently:--

"I am pleased with you, Father Fauvent; bring your brother to me
to-morrow, after the burial, and tell him to fetch his daughter."


The strides of a lame man are like the ogling glances of a one-eyed man;
they do not reach their goal very promptly. Moreover, Fauchelevent
was in a dilemma. He took nearly a quarter of an hour to return to his
cottage in the garden. Cosette had waked up. Jean Valjean had placed her
near the fire. At the moment when Fauchelevent entered, Jean Valjean was
pointing out to her the vintner's basket on the wall, and saying to her,
"Listen attentively to me, my little Cosette. We must go away from this
house, but we shall return to it, and we shall be very happy here. The
good man who lives here is going to carry you off on his back in that.
You will wait for me at a lady's house. I shall come to fetch you. Obey,
and say nothing, above all things, unless you want Madame Thenardier to
get you again!"

Cosette nodded gravely.

Jean Valjean turned round at the noise made by Fauchelevent opening the


"Everything is arranged, and nothing is," said Fauchelevent. "I have
permission to bring you in; but before bringing you in you must be
got out. That's where the difficulty lies. It is easy enough with the

"You will carry her out?"

"And she will hold her tongue?"

"I answer for that."

"But you, Father Madeleine?"

And, after a silence, fraught with anxiety, Fauchelevent exclaimed:--

"Why, get out as you came in!"

Jean Valjean, as in the first instance, contented himself with saying,

Fauchelevent grumbled, more to himself than to Jean Valjean:--

"There is another thing which bothers me. I have said that I would put
earth in it. When I come to think it over, the earth instead of the
corpse will not seem like the real thing, it won't do, it will get
displaced, it will move about. The men will bear it. You understand,
Father Madeleine, the government will notice it."

Jean Valjean stared him straight in the eye and thought that he was

Fauchelevent went on:--

"How the de--uce are you going to get out? It must all be done by
to-morrow morning. It is to-morrow that I am to bring you in. The
prioress expects you."

Then he explained to Jean Valjean that this was his recompense for a
service which he, Fauchelevent, was to render to the community. That it
fell among his duties to take part in their burials, that he nailed up
the coffins and helped the grave-digger at the cemetery. That the nun
who had died that morning had requested to be buried in the coffin which
had served her for a bed, and interred in the vault under the altar of
the chapel. That the police regulations forbade this, but that she was
one of those dead to whom nothing is refused. That the prioress and the
vocal mothers intended to fulfil the wish of the deceased. That it was
so much the worse for the government. That he, Fauchelevent, was to nail
up the coffin in the cell, raise the stone in the chapel, and lower the
corpse into the vault. And that, by way of thanks, the prioress was to
admit his brother to the house as a gardener, and his niece as a pupil.
That his brother was M. Madeleine, and that his niece was Cosette. That
the prioress had told him to bring his brother on the following evening,
after the counterfeit interment in the cemetery. But that he could not
bring M. Madeleine in from the outside if M. Madeleine was not outside.
That that was the first problem. And then, that there was another: the
empty coffin.

"What is that empty coffin?" asked Jean Valjean.

Fauchelevent replied:--

"The coffin of the administration."

"What coffin? What administration?"

"A nun dies. The municipal doctor comes and says, 'A nun has died.'
The government sends a coffin. The next day it sends a hearse and
undertaker's men to get the coffin and carry it to the cemetery. The
undertaker's men will come and lift the coffin; there will be nothing in

"Put something in it."

"A corpse? I have none."


"What then?"

"A living person."

"What person?"

"Me!" said Jean Valjean.

Fauchelevent, who was seated, sprang up as though a bomb had burst under
his chair.


"Why not?"

Jean Valjean gave way to one of those rare smiles which lighted up his
face like a flash from heaven in the winter.

"You know, Fauchelevent, what you have said: 'Mother Crucifixion is
dead.' and I add: 'and Father Madeleine is buried.'"

"Ah! good, you can laugh, you are not speaking seriously."

"Very seriously, I must get out of this place."


"l have told you to find a basket, and a cover for me also."


"The basket will be of pine, and the cover a black cloth."

"In the first place, it will be a white cloth. Nuns are buried in

"Let it be a white cloth, then."

"You are not like other men, Father Madeleine."

To behold such devices, which are nothing else than the savage and
daring inventions of the galleys, spring forth from the peaceable things
which surrounded him, and mingle with what he called the "petty course
of life in the convent," caused Fauchelevent as much amazement as a
gull fishing in the gutter of the Rue Saint-Denis would inspire in a

Jean Valjean went on:--

"The problem is to get out of here without being seen. This offers
the means. But give me some information, in the first place. How is it
managed? Where is this coffin?"

"The empty one?"


"Down stairs, in what is called the dead-room. It stands on two
trestles, under the pall."

"How long is the coffin?"

"Six feet."

"What is this dead-room?"

"It is a chamber on the ground floor which has a grated window opening
on the garden, which is closed on the outside by a shutter, and two
doors; one leads into the convent, the other into the church."

"What church?"

"The church in the street, the church which any one can enter."

"Have you the keys to those two doors?"

"No; I have the key to the door which communicates with the convent; the
porter has the key to the door which communicates with the church."

"When does the porter open that door?"

"Only to allow the undertaker's men to enter, when they come to get the
coffin. When the coffin has been taken out, the door is closed again."

"Who nails up the coffin?"

"I do."

"Who spreads the pall over it?"

"I do."

"Are you alone?"

"Not another man, except the police doctor, can enter the dead-room.
That is even written on the wall."

"Could you hide me in that room to-night when every one is asleep?"

"No. But I could hide you in a small, dark nook which opens on the
dead-room, where I keep my tools to use for burials, and of which I have
the key."

"At what time will the hearse come for the coffin to-morrow?"

"About three o'clock in the afternoon. The burial will take place at the
Vaugirard cemetery a little before nightfall. It is not very near."

"I will remain concealed in your tool-closet all night and all the
morning. And how about food? I shall be hungry."

"I will bring you something."

"You can come and nail me up in the coffin at two o'clock."

Fauchelevent recoiled and cracked his finger-joints.

"But that is impossible!"

"Bah! Impossible to take a hammer and drive some nails in a plank?"

What seemed unprecedented to Fauchelevent was, we repeat, a simple
matter to Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean had been in worse straits than
this. Any man who has been a prisoner understands how to contract
himself to fit the diameter of the escape. The prisoner is subject to
flight as the sick man is subject to a crisis which saves or kills him.
An escape is a cure. What does not a man undergo for the sake of a
cure? To have himself nailed up in a case and carried off like a bale
of goods, to live for a long time in a box, to find air where there is
none, to economize his breath for hours, to know how to stifle without
dying--this was one of Jean Valjean's gloomy talents.

Moreover, a coffin containing a living being,--that convict's
expedient,--is also an imperial expedient. If we are to credit the monk
Austin Castillejo, this was the means employed by Charles the Fifth,
desirous of seeing the Plombes for the last time after his abdication.

He had her brought into and carried out of the monastery of Saint-Yuste
in this manner.

Fauchelevent, who had recovered himself a little, exclaimed:--

"But how will you manage to breathe?"

"I will breathe."

"In that box! The mere thought of it suffocates me."

"You surely must have a gimlet, you will make a few holes here and
there, around my mouth, and you will nail the top plank on loosely."

"Good! And what if you should happen to cough or to sneeze?"

"A man who is making his escape does not cough or sneeze."

And Jean Valjean added:--

"Father Fauchelevent, we must come to a decision: I must either be
caught here, or accept this escape through the hearse."

Every one has noticed the taste which cats have for pausing and lounging
between the two leaves of a half-shut door. Who is there who has not
said to a cat, "Do come in!" There are men who, when an incident stands
half-open before them, have the same tendency to halt in indecision
between two resolutions, at the risk of getting crushed through the
abrupt closing of the adventure by fate. The over-prudent, cats as they
are, and because they are cats, sometimes incur more danger than
the audacious. Fauchelevent was of this hesitating nature. But
Jean Valjean's coolness prevailed over him in spite of himself. He

"Well, since there is no other means."

Jean Valjean resumed:--

"The only thing which troubles me is what will take place at the

"That is the very point that is not troublesome," exclaimed
Fauchelevent. "If you are sure of coming out of the coffin all right, I
am sure of getting you out of the grave. The grave-digger is a drunkard,
and a friend of mine. He is Father Mestienne. An old fellow of the old
school. The grave-digger puts the corpses in the grave, and I put the
grave-digger in my pocket. I will tell you what will take place. They
will arrive a little before dusk, three-quarters of an hour before the
gates of the cemetery are closed. The hearse will drive directly up to
the grave. I shall follow; that is my business. I shall have a hammer,
a chisel, and some pincers in my pocket. The hearse halts, the
undertaker's men knot a rope around your coffin and lower you down. The
priest says the prayers, makes the sign of the cross, sprinkles the holy
water, and takes his departure. I am left alone with Father Mestienne.
He is my friend, I tell you. One of two things will happen, he will
either be sober, or he will not be sober. If he is not drunk, I shall
say to him: 'Come and drink a bout while the Bon Coing [the Good Quince]
is open.' I carry him off, I get him drunk,--it does not take long to
make Father Mestienne drunk, he always has the beginning of it about
him,--I lay him under the table, I take his card, so that I can get into
the cemetery again, and I return without him. Then you have no longer
any one but me to deal with. If he is drunk, I shall say to him: 'Be
off; I will do your work for you.' Off he goes, and I drag you out of
the hole."

Jean Valjean held out his hand, and Fauchelevent precipitated himself
upon it with the touching effusion of a peasant.

"That is settled, Father Fauchelevent. All will go well."

"Provided nothing goes wrong," thought Fauchelevent. "In that case, it
would be terrible."


On the following day, as the sun was declining, the very rare passers-by
on the Boulevard du Maine pulled off their hats to an old-fashioned
hearse, ornamented with skulls, cross-bones, and tears. This hearse
contained a coffin covered with a white cloth over which spread a large
black cross, like a huge corpse with drooping arms. A mourning-coach, in
which could be seen a priest in his surplice, and a choir boy in his red
cap, followed. Two undertaker's men in gray uniforms trimmed with black
walked on the right and the left of the hearse. Behind it came an old
man in the garments of a laborer, who limped along. The procession was
going in the direction of the Vaugirard cemetery.

The handle of a hammer, the blade of a cold chisel, and the antennae of
a pair of pincers were visible, protruding from the man's pocket.

The Vaugirard cemetery formed an exception among the cemeteries of
Paris. It had its peculiar usages, just as it had its carriage
entrance and its house door, which old people in the quarter, who clung
tenaciously to ancient words, still called the porte cavaliere and the
porte pietonne.[16] The Bernardines-Benedictines of the Rue Petit-Picpus
had obtained permission, as we have already stated, to be buried there
in a corner apart, and at night, the plot of land having formerly
belonged to their community. The grave-diggers being thus bound to
service in the evening in summer and at night in winter, in this
cemetery, they were subjected to a special discipline. The gates of the
Paris cemeteries closed, at that epoch, at sundown, and this being a
municipal regulation, the Vaugirard cemetery was bound by it like the
rest. The carriage gate and the house door were two contiguous grated
gates, adjoining a pavilion built by the architect Perronet, and
inhabited by the door-keeper of the cemetery. These gates, therefore,
swung inexorably on their hinges at the instant when the sun disappeared
behind the dome of the Invalides. If any grave-digger were delayed
after that moment in the cemetery, there was but one way for him to
get out--his grave-digger's card furnished by the department of public
funerals. A sort of letter-box was constructed in the porter's window.
The grave-digger dropped his card into this box, the porter heard it
fall, pulled the rope, and the small door opened. If the man had not his
card, he mentioned his name, the porter, who was sometimes in bed and
asleep, rose, came out and identified the man, and opened the gate with
his key; the grave-digger stepped out, but had to pay a fine of fifteen

This cemetery, with its peculiarities outside the regulations,
embarrassed the symmetry of the administration. It was suppressed
a little later than 1830. The cemetery of Mont-Parnasse, called the
Eastern cemetery, succeeded to it, and inherited that famous dram-shop
next to the Vaugirard cemetery, which was surmounted by a quince painted
on a board, and which formed an angle, one side on the drinkers' tables,
and the other on the tombs, with this sign: Au Bon Coing.

The Vaugirard cemetery was what may be called a faded cemetery. It
was falling into disuse. Dampness was invading it, the flowers were
deserting it. The bourgeois did not care much about being buried in
the Vaugirard; it hinted at poverty. Pere-Lachaise if you please! to be
buried in Pere-Lachaise is equivalent to having furniture of mahogany.
It is recognized as elegant. The Vaugirard cemetery was a venerable
enclosure, planted like an old-fashioned French garden. Straight alleys,
box, thuya-trees, holly, ancient tombs beneath aged cypress-trees, and
very tall grass. In the evening it was tragic there. There were very
lugubrious lines about it.

The sun had not yet set when the hearse with the white pall and the
black cross entered the avenue of the Vaugirard cemetery. The lame man
who followed it was no other than Fauchelevent.

The interment of Mother Crucifixion in the vault under the altar, the
exit of Cosette, the introduction of Jean Valjean to the dead-room,--all
had been executed without difficulty, and there had been no hitch.

Let us remark in passing, that the burial of Mother Crucifixion under
the altar of the convent is a perfectly venial offence in our sight. It
is one of the faults which resemble a duty. The nuns had committed it,
not only without difficulty, but even with the applause of their own
consciences. In the cloister, what is called the "government" is only
an intermeddling with authority, an interference which is always
questionable. In the first place, the rule; as for the code, we shall
see. Make as many laws as you please, men; but keep them for yourselves.
The tribute to Caesar is never anything but the remnants of the tribute
to God. A prince is nothing in the presence of a principle.

Fauchelevent limped along behind the hearse in a very contented frame
of mind. His twin plots, the one with the nuns, the one for the convent,
the other against it, the other with M. Madeleine, had succeeded, to
all appearance. Jean Valjean's composure was one of those powerful
tranquillities which are contagious. Fauchelevent no longer felt
doubtful as to his success.

What remained to be done was a mere nothing. Within the last two years,
he had made good Father Mestienne, a chubby-cheeked person, drunk at
least ten times. He played with Father Mestienne. He did what he liked
with him. He made him dance according to his whim. Mestienne's head
adjusted itself to the cap of Fauchelevent's will. Fauchelevent's
confidence was perfect.

At the moment when the convoy entered the avenue leading to the
cemetery, Fauchelevent glanced cheerfully at the hearse, and said half
aloud, as he rubbed his big hands:--

"Here's a fine farce!"

All at once the hearse halted; it had reached the gate. The permission
for interment must be exhibited. The undertaker's man addressed himself
to the porter of the cemetery. During this colloquy, which always is
productive of a delay of from one to two minutes, some one, a stranger,
came and placed himself behind the hearse, beside Fauchelevent. He was
a sort of laboring man, who wore a waistcoat with large pockets and
carried a mattock under his arm.

Fauchelevent surveyed this stranger.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"The man replied:--

"The grave-digger."

If a man could survive the blow of a cannon-ball full in the breast, he
would make the same face that Fauchelevent made.

"The grave-digger?"




"Father Mestienne is the grave-digger."

"He was."

"What! He was?"

"He is dead."

Fauchelevent had expected anything but this, that a grave-digger could
die. It is true, nevertheless, that grave-diggers do die themselves. By
dint of excavating graves for other people, one hollows out one's own.

Fauchelevent stood there with his mouth wide open. He had hardly the
strength to stammer:--

"But it is not possible!"

"It is so."

"But," he persisted feebly, "Father Mestienne is the grave-digger."

"After Napoleon, Louis XVIII. After Mestienne, Gribier. Peasant, my name
is Gribier."

Fauchelevent, who was deadly pale, stared at this Gribier.

He was a tall, thin, livid, utterly funereal man. He had the air of an
unsuccessful doctor who had turned grave-digger.

Fauchelevent burst out laughing.

"Ah!" said he, "what queer things do happen! Father Mestienne is dead,
but long live little Father Lenoir! Do you know who little Father Lenoir
is? He is a jug of red wine. It is a jug of Surene, morbigou! of real
Paris Surene? Ah! So old Mestienne is dead! I am sorry for it; he was
a jolly fellow. But you are a jolly fellow, too. Are you not, comrade?
We'll go and have a drink together presently."

The man replied:--

"I have been a student. I passed my fourth examination. I never drink."

The hearse had set out again, and was rolling up the grand alley of the

Fauchelevent had slackened his pace. He limped more out of anxiety than
from infirmity.

The grave-digger walked on in front of him.

Fauchelevent passed the unexpected Gribier once more in review.

He was one of those men who, though very young, have the air of age, and
who, though slender, are extremely strong.

"Comrade!" cried Fauchelevent.

The man turned round.

"I am the convent grave-digger."

"My colleague," said the man.

Fauchelevent, who was illiterate but very sharp, understood that he
had to deal with a formidable species of man, with a fine talker. He

"So Father Mestienne is dead."

The man replied:--

"Completely. The good God consulted his note-book which shows when the
time is up. It was Father Mestienne's turn. Father Mestienne died."

Fauchelevent repeated mechanically: "The good God--"

"The good God," said the man authoritatively. "According to the
philosophers, the Eternal Father; according to the Jacobins, the Supreme

"Shall we not make each other's acquaintance?" stammered Fauchelevent.

"It is made. You are a peasant, I am a Parisian."

"People do not know each other until they have drunk together. He who
empties his glass empties his heart. You must come and have a drink with
me. Such a thing cannot be refused."

"Business first."

Fauchelevent thought: "I am lost."

They were only a few turns of the wheel distant from the small alley
leading to the nuns' corner.

The grave-digger resumed:--

"Peasant, I have seven small children who must be fed. As they must eat,
I cannot drink."

And he added, with the satisfaction of a serious man who is turning a
phrase well:--

"Their hunger is the enemy of my thirst."

The hearse skirted a clump of cypress-trees, quitted the grand alley,
turned into a narrow one, entered the waste land, and plunged into
a thicket. This indicated the immediate proximity of the place of
sepulture. Fauchelevent slackened his pace, but he could not detain the
hearse. Fortunately, the soil, which was light and wet with the winter
rains, clogged the wheels and retarded its speed.

He approached the grave-digger.

"They have such a nice little Argenteuil wine," murmured Fauchelevent.

"Villager," retorted the man, "I ought not be a grave-digger. My
father was a porter at the Prytaneum [Town-Hall]. He destined me for
literature. But he had reverses. He had losses on 'change. I was obliged
to renounce the profession of author. But I am still a public writer."

"So you are not a grave-digger, then?" returned Fauchelevent, clutching
at this branch, feeble as it was.

"The one does not hinder the other. I cumulate."

Fauchelevent did not understand this last word.

"Come have a drink," said he.

Here a remark becomes necessary. Fauchelevent, whatever his anguish,
offered a drink, but he did not explain himself on one point; who was to
pay? Generally, Fauchelevent offered and Father Mestienne paid. An offer
of a drink was the evident result of the novel situation created by the
new grave-digger, and it was necessary to make this offer, but the old
gardener left the proverbial quarter of an hour named after Rabelais in
the dark, and that not unintentionally. As for himself, Fauchelevent did
not wish to pay, troubled as he was.

The grave-digger went on with a superior smile:--

"One must eat. I have accepted Father Mestienne's reversion. One gets to
be a philosopher when one has nearly completed his classes. To the labor
of the hand I join the labor of the arm. I have my scrivener's stall in
the market of the Rue de Sevres. You know? the Umbrella Market. All the
cooks of the Red Cross apply to me. I scribble their declarations of
love to the raw soldiers. In the morning I write love letters; in the
evening I dig graves. Such is life, rustic."

The hearse was still advancing. Fauchelevent, uneasy to the last degree,
was gazing about him on all sides. Great drops of perspiration trickled
down from his brow.

"But," continued the grave-digger, "a man cannot serve two mistresses.
I must choose between the pen and the mattock. The mattock is ruining my

The hearse halted.

The choir boy alighted from the mourning-coach, then the priest.

One of the small front wheels of the hearse had run up a little on a
pile of earth, beyond which an open grave was visible.

"What a farce this is!" repeated Fauchelevent in consternation.


Who was in the coffin? The reader knows. Jean Valjean.

Jean Valjean had arranged things so that he could exist there, and he
could almost breathe.

It is a strange thing to what a degree security of conscience confers
security of the rest. Every combination thought out by Jean Valjean had
been progressing, and progressing favorably, since the preceding day.
He, like Fauchelevent, counted on Father Mestienne. He had no doubt
as to the end. Never was there a more critical situation, never more
complete composure.

The four planks of the coffin breathe out a kind of terrible peace. It
seemed as though something of the repose of the dead entered into Jean
Valjean's tranquillity.

From the depths of that coffin he had been able to follow, and he had
followed, all the phases of the terrible drama which he was playing with

Shortly after Fauchelevent had finished nailing on the upper plank, Jean
Valjean had felt himself carried out, then driven off. He knew, from the
diminution in the jolting, when they left the pavements and reached the
earth road. He had divined, from a dull noise, that they were crossing
the bridge of Austerlitz. At the first halt, he had understood that they
were entering the cemetery; at the second halt, he said to himself:--

"Here is the grave."

Suddenly, he felt hands seize the coffin, then a harsh grating against
the planks; he explained it to himself as the rope which was being
fastened round the casket in order to lower it into the cavity.

Then he experienced a giddiness.

The undertaker's man and the grave-digger had probably allowed the
coffin to lose its balance, and had lowered the head before the foot. He
recovered himself fully when he felt himself horizontal and motionless.
He had just touched the bottom.

He had a certain sensation of cold.

A voice rose above him, glacial and solemn. He heard Latin words, which
he did not understand, pass over him, so slowly that he was able to
catch them one by one:--

"Qui dormiunt in terrae pulvere, evigilabunt; alii in vitam aeternam, et
alii in approbrium, ut videant semper."

A child's voice said:--

"De profundis."

The grave voice began again:--

"Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine."

The child's voice responded:--

"Et lux perpetua luceat ei."

He heard something like the gentle patter of several drops of rain on
the plank which covered him. It was probably the holy water.

He thought: "This will be over soon now. Patience for a little while
longer. The priest will take his departure. Fauchelevent will take
Mestienne off to drink. I shall be left. Then Fauchelevent will return
alone, and I shall get out. That will be the work of a good hour."

The grave voice resumed

"Requiescat in pace."

And the child's voice said:--


Jean Valjean strained his ears, and heard something like retreating

"There, they are going now," thought he. "I am alone."

All at once, he heard over his head a sound which seemed to him to be a
clap of thunder.

It was a shovelful of earth falling on the coffin.

A second shovelful fell.

One of the holes through which he breathed had just been stopped up.

A third shovelful of earth fell.

Then a fourth.

There are things which are too strong for the strongest man. Jean
Valjean lost consciousness.


This is what had taken place above the coffin in which lay Jean Valjean.

When the hearse had driven off, when the priest and the choir boy had
entered the carriage again and taken their departure, Fauchelevent, who
had not taken his eyes from the grave-digger, saw the latter bend over
and grasp his shovel, which was sticking upright in the heap of dirt.

Then Fauchelevent took a supreme resolve.

He placed himself between the grave and the grave-digger, crossed his
arms and said:--

"I am the one to pay!"

The grave-digger stared at him in amazement, and replied:--

"What's that, peasant?"

Fauchelevent repeated:--

"I am the one who pays!"


"For the wine."

"What wine?"

"That Argenteuil wine."

"Where is the Argenteuil?"

"At the Bon Coing."

"Go to the devil!" said the grave-digger.

And he flung a shovelful of earth on the coffin.

The coffin gave back a hollow sound. Fauchelevent felt himself stagger
and on the point of falling headlong into the grave himself. He shouted
in a voice in which the strangling sound of the death rattle began to

"Comrade! Before the Bon Coing is shut!"

The grave-digger took some more earth on his shovel. Fauchelevent

"I will pay."

And he seized the man's arm.

"Listen to me, comrade. I am the convent grave-digger, I have come
to help you. It is a business which can be performed at night. Let us
begin, then, by going for a drink."

And as he spoke, and clung to this desperate insistence, this melancholy
reflection occurred to him: "And if he drinks, will he get drunk?"

"Provincial," said the man, "if you positively insist upon it, I
consent. We will drink. After work, never before."

And he flourished his shovel briskly. Fauchelevent held him back.

"It is Argenteuil wine, at six."

"Oh, come," said the grave-digger, "you are a bell-ringer. Ding dong,
ding dong, that's all you know how to say. Go hang yourself."

And he threw in a second shovelful.

Fauchelevent had reached a point where he no longer knew what he was

"Come along and drink," he cried, "since it is I who pays the bill."

"When we have put the child to bed," said the grave-digger.

He flung in a third shovelful.

Then he thrust his shovel into the earth and added:--

"It's cold to-night, you see, and the corpse would shriek out after us
if we were to plant her there without a coverlet."

At that moment, as he loaded his shovel, the grave-digger bent over,
and the pocket of his waistcoat gaped. Fauchelevent's wild gaze fell
mechanically into that pocket, and there it stopped.

The sun was not yet hidden behind the horizon; there was still light
enough to enable him to distinguish something white at the bottom of
that yawning pocket.

The sum total of lightning that the eye of a Picard peasant can contain,
traversed Fauchelevent's pupils. An idea had just occurred to him.

He thrust his hand into the pocket from behind, without the
grave-digger, who was wholly absorbed in his shovelful of earth,
observing it, and pulled out the white object which lay at the bottom of

The man sent a fourth shovelful tumbling into the grave.

Just as he turned round to get the fifth, Fauchelevent looked calmly at
him and said:--

"By the way, you new man, have you your card?"

The grave-digger paused.

"What card?"

"The sun is on the point of setting."

"That's good, it is going to put on its nightcap."

"The gate of the cemetery will close immediately."

"Well, what then?"

"Have you your card?"

"Ah! my card?" said the grave-digger.

And he fumbled in his pocket.

Having searched one pocket, he proceeded to search the other. He passed
on to his fobs, explored the first, returned to the second.

"Why, no," said he, "I have not my card. I must have forgotten it."

"Fifteen francs fine," said Fauchelevent.

The grave-digger turned green. Green is the pallor of livid people.

"Ah! Jesus-mon-Dieu-bancroche-a-bas-la-lune!"[17] he exclaimed. "Fifteen
francs fine!"

"Three pieces of a hundred sous," said Fauchelevent.

The grave-digger dropped his shovel.

Fauchelevent's turn had come.

"Ah, come now, conscript," said Fauchelevent, "none of this despair.
There is no question of committing suicide and benefiting the grave.
Fifteen francs is fifteen francs, and besides, you may not be able to
pay it. I am an old hand, you are a new one. I know all the ropes and
the devices. I will give you some friendly advice. One thing is clear,
the sun is on the point of setting, it is touching the dome now, the
cemetery will be closed in five minutes more."

"That is true," replied the man.

"Five minutes more and you will not have time to fill the grave, it is
as hollow as the devil, this grave, and to reach the gate in season to
pass it before it is shut."

"That is true."

"In that case, a fine of fifteen francs."

"Fifteen francs."

"But you have time. Where do you live?"

"A couple of steps from the barrier, a quarter of an hour from here. No.
87 Rue de Vaugirard."

"You have just time to get out by taking to your heels at your best

"That is exactly so."

"Once outside the gate, you gallop home, you get your card, you return,
the cemetery porter admits you. As you have your card, there will be
nothing to pay. And you will bury your corpse. I'll watch it for you in
the meantime, so that it shall not run away."

"I am indebted to you for my life, peasant."

"Decamp!" said Fauchelevent.

The grave-digger, overwhelmed with gratitude, shook his hand and set off
on a run.

When the man had disappeared in the thicket, Fauchelevent listened until
he heard his footsteps die away in the distance, then he leaned over the
grave, and said in a low tone:--

"Father Madeleine!"

There was no reply.

Fauchelevent was seized with a shudder. He tumbled rather than climbed
into the grave, flung himself on the head of the coffin and cried:--

"Are you there?"

Silence in the coffin.

Fauchelevent, hardly able to draw his breath for trembling, seized his
cold chisel and his hammer, and pried up the coffin lid.

Jean Valjean's face appeared in the twilight; it was pale and his eyes
were closed.

Fauchelevent's hair rose upright on his head, he sprang to his feet,
then fell back against the side of the grave, ready to swoon on the
coffin. He stared at Jean Valjean.

Jean Valjean lay there pallid and motionless.

Fauchelevent murmured in a voice as faint as a sigh:--

"He is dead!"

And, drawing himself up, and folding his arms with such violence that
his clenched fists came in contact with his shoulders, he cried:--

"And this is the way I save his life!"

Then the poor man fell to sobbing. He soliloquized the while, for it is
an error to suppose that the soliloquy is unnatural. Powerful emotion
often talks aloud.

"It is Father Mestienne's fault. Why did that fool die? What need was
there for him to give up the ghost at the very moment when no one was
expecting it? It is he who has killed M. Madeleine. Father Madeleine!
He is in the coffin. It is quite handy. All is over. Now, is there any
sense in these things? Ah! my God! he is dead! Well! and his little
girl, what am I to do with her? What will the fruit-seller say? The idea
of its being possible for a man like that to die like this! When I think
how he put himself under that cart! Father Madeleine! Father Madeleine!
Pardine! He was suffocated, I said so. He wouldn't believe me. Well!
Here's a pretty trick to play! He is dead, that good man, the very best
man out of all the good God's good folks! And his little girl! Ah! In
the first place, I won't go back there myself. I shall stay here. After
having done such a thing as that! What's the use of being two old men,
if we are two old fools! But, in the first place, how did he manage to
enter the convent? That was the beginning of it all. One should not
do such things. Father Madeleine! Father Madeleine! Father Madeleine!
Madeleine! Monsieur Madeleine! Monsieur le Maire! He does not hear me.
Now get out of this scrape if you can!"

And he tore his hair.

A grating sound became audible through the trees in the distance. It was
the cemetery gate closing.

Fauchelevent bent over Jean Valjean, and all at once he bounded back and
recoiled so far as the limits of a grave permit.

Jean Valjean's eyes were open and gazing at him.

To see a corpse is alarming, to behold a resurrection is almost as much
so. Fauchelevent became like stone, pale, haggard, overwhelmed by all
these excesses of emotion, not knowing whether he had to do with a
living man or a dead one, and staring at Jean Valjean, who was gazing at

[Illustration: The Resurrection 2b8-7-resurrection]

"I fell asleep," said Jean Valjean.

And he raised himself to a sitting posture.

Fauchelevent fell on his knees.

"Just, good Virgin! How you frightened me!"

Then he sprang to his feet and cried:--

"Thanks, Father Madeleine!"

Jean Valjean had merely fainted. The fresh air had revived him.

Joy is the ebb of terror. Fauchelevent found almost as much difficulty
in recovering himself as Jean Valjean had.

"So you are not dead! Oh! How wise you are! I called you so much that
you came back. When I saw your eyes shut, I said: 'Good! there he is,
stifled,' I should have gone raving mad, mad enough for a strait jacket.
They would have put me in Bicetre. What do you suppose I should
have done if you had been dead? And your little girl? There's that
fruit-seller,--she would never have understood it! The child is thrust
into your arms, and then--the grandfather is dead! What a story! good
saints of paradise, what a tale! Ah! you are alive, that's the best of

"I am cold," said Jean Valjean.

This remark recalled Fauchelevent thoroughly to reality, and there was
pressing need of it. The souls of these two men were troubled even when
they had recovered themselves, although they did not realize it,
and there was about them something uncanny, which was the sinister
bewilderment inspired by the place.

"Let us get out of here quickly," exclaimed Fauchelevent.

He fumbled in his pocket, and pulled out a gourd with which he had
provided himself.

"But first, take a drop," said he.

The flask finished what the fresh air had begun, Jean Valjean swallowed
a mouthful of brandy, and regained full possession of his faculties.

He got out of the coffin, and helped Fauchelevent to nail on the lid

Three minutes later they were out of the grave.

Moreover, Fauchelevent was perfectly composed. He took his time. The
cemetery was closed. The arrival of the grave-digger Gribier was not to
be apprehended. That "conscript" was at home busily engaged in looking
for his card, and at some difficulty in finding it in his lodgings,
since it was in Fauchelevent's pocket. Without a card, he could not get
back into the cemetery.

Fauchelevent took the shovel, and Jean Valjean the pick-axe, and
together they buried the empty coffin.

When the grave was full, Fauchelevent said to Jean Valjean:--

"Let us go. I will keep the shovel; do you carry off the mattock."

Night was falling.

Jean Valjean experienced rome difficulty in moving and in walking. He
had stiffened himself in that coffin, and had become a little like a
corpse. The rigidity of death had seized upon him between those four
planks. He had, in a manner, to thaw out, from the tomb.

"You are benumbed," said Fauchelevent. "It is a pity that I have a game
leg, for otherwise we might step out briskly."

"Bah!" replied Jean Valjean, "four paces will put life into my legs once

They set off by the alleys through which the hearse had passed. On
arriving before the closed gate and the porter's pavilion Fauchelevent,
who held the grave-digger's card in his hand, dropped it into the box,
the porter pulled the rope, the gate opened, and they went out.

"How well everything is going!" said Fauchelevent; "what a capital idea
that was of yours, Father Madeleine!"

They passed the Vaugirard barrier in the simplest manner in the world.
In the neighborhood of the cemetery, a shovel and pick are equal to two

The Rue Vaugirard was deserted.

"Father Madeleine," said Fauchelevent as they went along, and raising
his eyes to the houses, "Your eyes are better than mine. Show me No.

"Here it is," said Jean Valjean.

"There is no one in the street," said Fauchelevent. "Give me your
mattock and wait a couple of minutes for me."

Fauchelevent entered No. 87, ascended to the very top, guided by the
instinct which always leads the poor man to the garret, and knocked in
the dark, at the door of an attic.

A voice replied: "Come in."

It was Gribier's voice.

Fauchelevent opened the door. The grave-digger's dwelling was, like
all such wretched habitations, an unfurnished and encumbered garret.
A packing-case--a coffin, perhaps--took the place of a commode, a
butter-pot served for a drinking-fountain, a straw mattress served for
a bed, the floor served instead of tables and chairs. In a corner, on a
tattered fragment which had been a piece of an old carpet, a thin
woman and a number of children were piled in a heap. The whole of this
poverty-stricken interior bore traces of having been overturned. One
would have said that there had been an earthquake "for one." The covers
were displaced, the rags scattered about, the jug broken, the mother had
been crying, the children had probably been beaten; traces of a vigorous
and ill-tempered search. It was plain that the grave-digger had made
a desperate search for his card, and had made everybody in the garret,
from the jug to his wife, responsible for its loss. He wore an air of

But Fauchelevent was in too great a hurry to terminate this adventure to
take any notice of this sad side of his success.

He entered and said:--

"I have brought you back your shovel and pick."

Gribier gazed at him in stupefaction.

"Is it you, peasant?"

"And to-morrow morning you will find your card with the porter of the

And he laid the shovel and mattock on the floor.

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded Gribier.

"The meaning of it is, that you dropped your card out of your pocket,
that I found it on the ground after you were gone, that I have buried
the corpse, that I have filled the grave, that I have done your work,
that the porter will return your card to you, and that you will not have
to pay fifteen francs. There you have it, conscript."

"Thanks, villager!" exclaimed Gribier, radiant. "The next time I will
pay for the drinks."


An hour later, in the darkness of night, two men and a child presented
themselves at No. 62 Rue Petit-Picpus. The elder of the men lifted the
knocker and rapped.

They were Fauchelevent, Jean Valjean, and Cosette.

The two old men had gone to fetch Cosette from the fruiterer's in
the Rue du Chemin-Vert, where Fauchelevent had deposited her on the
preceding day. Cosette had passed these twenty-four hours trembling
silently and understanding nothing. She trembled to such a degree that
she wept. She had neither eaten nor slept. The worthy fruit-seller had
plied her with a hundred questions, without obtaining any other reply
than a melancholy and unvarying gaze. Cosette had betrayed nothing of
what she had seen and heard during the last two days. She divined that
they were passing through a crisis. She was deeply conscious that it was
necessary to "be good." Who has not experienced the sovereign power
of those two words, pronounced with a certain accent in the ear of a
terrified little being: Say nothing! Fear is mute. Moreover, no one
guards a secret like a child.

But when, at the expiration of these lugubrious twenty-four hours, she
beheld Jean Valjean again, she gave vent to such a cry of joy, that any
thoughtful person who had chanced to hear that cry, would have guessed
that it issued from an abyss.

Fauchelevent belonged to the convent and knew the pass-words. All the
doors opened.

Thus was solved the double and alarming problem of how to get out and
how to get in.

The porter, who had received his instructions, opened the little
servant's door which connected the courtyard with the garden, and which
could still be seen from the street twenty years ago, in the wall at the
bottom of the court, which faced the carriage entrance.

The porter admitted all three of them through this door, and from that
point they reached the inner, reserved parlor where Fauchelevent, on the
preceding day, had received his orders from the prioress.

The prioress, rosary in hand, was waiting for them. A vocal mother, with
her veil lowered, stood beside her.

A discreet candle lighted, one might almost say, made a show of lighting
the parlor.

The prioress passed Jean Valjean in review. There is nothing which
examines like a downcast eye.

Then she questioned him:--

"You are the brother?"

"Yes, reverend Mother," replied Fauchelevent.

"What is your name?"

Fauchelevent replied:--

"Ultime Fauchelevent."

He really had had a brother named Ultime, who was dead.

"Where do you come from?"

Fauchelevent replied:--

"From Picquigny, near Amiens."

"What is your age?"

Fauchelevent replied:--


"What is your profession?"

Fauchelevent replied:--


"Are you a good Christian?"

Fauchelevent replied:--

"Every one is in the family."

"Is this your little girl?"

Fauchelevent replied:--

"Yes, reverend Mother."

"You are her father?"

Fauchelevent replied:--

"Her grandfather."

The vocal mother said to the prioress in a low voice

"He answers well."

Jean Valjean had not uttered a single word.

The prioress looked attentively at Cosette, and said half aloud to the
vocal mother:--

"She will grow up ugly."

The two mothers consulted for a few moments in very low tones in the
corner of the parlor, then the prioress turned round and said:--

"Father Fauvent, you will get another knee-cap with a bell. Two will be
required now."

On the following day, therefore, two bells were audible in the garden,
and the nuns could not resist the temptation to raise the corner of
their veils. At the extreme end of the garden, under the trees, two
men, Fauvent and another man, were visible as they dug side by side. An
enormous event. Their silence was broken to the extent of saying to each
other: "He is an assistant gardener."

The vocal mothers added: "He is a brother of Father Fauvent."

Jean Valjean was, in fact, regularly installed; he had his belled
knee-cap; henceforth he was official. His name was Ultime Fauchelevent.

The most powerful determining cause of his admission had been the
prioress's observation upon Cosette: "She will grow up ugly."

The prioress, that pronounced prognosticator, immediately took a fancy
to Cosette and gave her a place in the school as a charity pupil.

There is nothing that is not strictly logical about this.

It is in vain that mirrors are banished from the convent, women are
conscious of their faces; now, girls who are conscious of their beauty
do not easily become nuns; the vocation being voluntary in inverse
proportion to their good looks, more is to be hoped from the ugly than
from the pretty. Hence a lively taste for plain girls.

The whole of this adventure increased the importance of good, old
Fauchelevent; he won a triple success; in the eyes of Jean Valjean, whom
he had saved and sheltered; in those of grave-digger Gribier, who said
to himself: "He spared me that fine"; with the convent, which, being
enabled, thanks to him, to retain the coffin of Mother Crucifixion
under the altar, eluded Caesar and satisfied God. There was a coffin
containing a body in the Petit-Picpus, and a coffin without a body in
the Vaugirard cemetery, public order had no doubt been deeply disturbed
thereby, but no one was aware of it.

As for the convent, its gratitude to Fauchelevent was very great.
Fauchelevent became the best of servitors and the most precious of
gardeners. Upon the occasion of the archbishop's next visit, the
prioress recounted the affair to his Grace, making something of a
confession at the same time, and yet boasting of her deed. On leaving
the convent, the archbishop mentioned it with approval, and in a whisper
to M. de Latil, Monsieur's confessor, afterwards Archbishop of Reims
and Cardinal. This admiration for Fauchelevent became widespread, for it
made its way to Rome. We have seen a note addressed by the then reigning
Pope, Leo XII., to one of his relatives, a Monsignor in the Nuncio's
establishment in Paris, and bearing, like himself, the name of Della
Genga; it contained these lines: "It appears that there is in a convent
in Paris an excellent gardener, who is also a holy man, named Fauvent."
Nothing of this triumph reached Fauchelevent in his hut; he went on
grafting, weeding, and covering up his melon beds, without in the least
suspecting his excellences and his sanctity. Neither did he suspect his
glory, any more than a Durham or Surrey bull whose portrait is published
in the London Illustrated News, with this inscription: "Bull which
carried off the prize at the Cattle Show."


Cosette continued to hold her tongue in the convent.

It was quite natural that Cosette should think herself Jean Valjean's
daughter. Moreover, as she knew nothing, she could say nothing, and
then, she would not have said anything in any case. As we have just
observed, nothing trains children to silence like unhappiness. Cosette
had suffered so much, that she feared everything, even to speak or to
breathe. A single word had so often brought down an avalanche upon her.
She had hardly begun to regain her confidence since she had been with
Jean Valjean. She speedily became accustomed to the convent. Only she
regretted Catherine, but she dared not say so. Once, however, she did
say to Jean Valjean: "Father, if I had known, I would have brought her
away with me."

Cosette had been obliged, on becoming a scholar in the convent, to don
the garb of the pupils of the house. Jean Valjean succeeded in getting
them to restore to him the garments which she laid aside. This was the
same mourning suit which he had made her put on when she had quitted
the Thenardiers' inn. It was not very threadbare even now. Jean Valjean
locked up these garments, plus the stockings and the shoes, with a
quantity of camphor and all the aromatics in which convents abound, in a
little valise which he found means of procuring. He set this valise on
a chair near his bed, and he always carried the key about his person.
"Father," Cosette asked him one day, "what is there in that box which
smells so good?"

Father Fauchelevent received other recompense for his good action, in
addition to the glory which we just mentioned, and of which he knew
nothing; in the first place it made him happy; next, he had much less
work, since it was shared. Lastly, as he was very fond of snuff, he
found the presence of M. Madeleine an advantage, in that he used three
times as much as he had done previously, and that in an infinitely more
luxurious manner, seeing that M. Madeleine paid for it.

The nuns did not adopt the name of Ultime; they called Jean Valjean the
other Fauvent.

If these holy women had possessed anything of Javert's glance, they
would eventually have noticed that when there was any errand to be
done outside in the behalf of the garden, it was always the elder
Fauchelevent, the old, the infirm, the lame man, who went, and never the
other; but whether it is that eyes constantly fixed on God know not how
to spy, or whether they were, by preference, occupied in keeping watch
on each other, they paid no heed to this.

Moreover, it was well for Jean Valjean that he kept close and did not
stir out. Javert watched the quarter for more than a month.

This convent was for Jean Valjean like an island surrounded by gulfs.
Henceforth, those four walls constituted his world. He saw enough of the
sky there to enable him to preserve his serenity, and Cosette enough to
remain happy.

A very sweet life began for him.

He inhabited the old hut at the end of the garden, in company with
Fauchelevent. This hovel, built of old rubbish, which was still in
existence in 1845, was composed, as the reader already knows, of three
chambers, all of which were utterly bare and had nothing beyond the
walls. The principal one had been given up, by force, for Jean Valjean
had opposed it in vain, to M. Madeleine, by Father Fauchelevent. The
walls of this chamber had for ornament, in addition to the two nails
whereon to hang the knee-cap and the basket, a Royalist bank-note
of '93, applied to the wall over the chimney-piece, and of which the
following is an exact facsimile:--

[Illustration: Royalist Bank-note  2b8-9-banknote]

This specimen of Vendean paper money had been nailed to the wall by
the preceding gardener, an old Chouan, who had died in the convent, and
whose place Fauchelevent had taken.

Jean Valjean worked in the garden every day and made himself very
useful. He had formerly been a pruner of trees, and he gladly found
himself a gardener once more. It will be remembered that he knew all
sorts of secrets and receipts for agriculture. He turned these to
advantage. Almost all the trees in the orchard were ungrafted, and wild.
He budded them and made them produce excellent fruit.

Cosette had permission to pass an hour with him every day. As the
sisters were melancholy and he was kind, the child made comparisons and
adored him. At the appointed hour she flew to the hut. When she entered
the lowly cabin, she filled it with paradise. Jean Valjean blossomed
out and felt his happiness increase with the happiness which he afforded
Cosette. The joy which we inspire has this charming property, that, far
from growing meagre, like all reflections, it returns to us more radiant
than ever. At recreation hours, Jean Valjean watched her running and
playing in the distance, and he distinguished her laugh from that of the

For Cosette laughed now.

Cosette's face had even undergone a change, to a certain extent. The
gloom had disappeared from it. A smile is the same as sunshine; it
banishes winter from the human countenance.

Recreation over, when Cosette went into the house again, Jean Valjean
gazed at the windows of her class-room, and at night he rose to look at
the windows of her dormitory.

God has his own ways, moreover; the convent contributed, like Cosette,
to uphold and complete the Bishop's work in Jean Valjean. It is certain
that virtue adjoins pride on one side. A bridge built by the devil
exists there. Jean Valjean had been, unconsciously, perhaps, tolerably
near that side and that bridge, when Providence cast his lot in the
convent of the Petit-Picpus; so long as he had compared himself only to
the Bishop, he had regarded himself as unworthy and had remained humble;
but for some time past he had been comparing himself to men in general,
and pride was beginning to spring up. Who knows? He might have ended by
returning very gradually to hatred.

The convent stopped him on that downward path.

This was the second place of captivity which he had seen. In his youth,
in what had been for him the beginning of his life, and later on, quite
recently again, he had beheld another,--a frightful place, a terrible
place, whose severities had always appeared to him the iniquity of
justice, and the crime of the law. Now, after the galleys, he saw the
cloister; and when he meditated how he had formed a part of the galleys,
and that he now, so to speak, was a spectator of the cloister, he
confronted the two in his own mind with anxiety.

Sometimes he crossed his arms and leaned on his hoe, and slowly
descended the endless spirals of revery.

He recalled his former companions: how wretched they were; they rose at
dawn, and toiled until night; hardly were they permitted to sleep; they
lay on camp beds, where nothing was tolerated but mattresses two inches
thick, in rooms which were heated only in the very harshest months of
the year; they were clothed in frightful red blouses; they were allowed,
as a great favor, linen trousers in the hottest weather, and a woollen
carter's blouse on their backs when it was very cold; they drank no
wine, and ate no meat, except when they went on "fatigue duty." They
lived nameless, designated only by numbers, and converted, after a
manner, into ciphers themselves, with downcast eyes, with lowered
voices, with shorn heads, beneath the cudgel and in disgrace.

Then his mind reverted to the beings whom he had under his eyes.

These beings also lived with shorn heads, with downcast eyes, with
lowered voices, not in disgrace, but amid the scoffs of the world,
not with their backs bruised with the cudgel, but with their shoulders
lacerated with their discipline. Their names, also, had vanished from
among men; they no longer existed except under austere appellations.
They never ate meat and they never drank wine; they often remained until
evening without food; they were attired, not in a red blouse, but in a
black shroud, of woollen, which was heavy in summer and thin in winter,
without the power to add or subtract anything from it; without having
even, according to the season, the resource of the linen garment or the
woollen cloak; and for six months in the year they wore serge chemises
which gave them fever. They dwelt, not in rooms warmed only during
rigorous cold, but in cells where no fire was ever lighted; they slept,
not on mattresses two inches thick, but on straw. And finally, they were
not even allowed their sleep; every night, after a day of toil, they
were obliged, in the weariness of their first slumber, at the moment
when they were falling sound asleep and beginning to get warm, to rouse
themselves, to rise and to go and pray in an ice-cold and gloomy chapel,
with their knees on the stones.

On certain days each of these beings in turn had to remain for twelve
successive hours in a kneeling posture, or prostrate, with face upon the
pavement, and arms outstretched in the form of a cross.

The others were men; these were women.

What had those men done? They had stolen, violated, pillaged,
murdered, assassinated. They were bandits, counterfeiters, poisoners,
incendiaries, murderers, parricides. What had these women done? They had
done nothing whatever.

On the one hand, highway robbery, fraud, deceit, violence, sensuality,
homicide, all sorts of sacrilege, every variety of crime; on the other,
one thing only, innocence.

Perfect innocence, almost caught up into heaven in a mysterious
assumption, attached to the earth by virtue, already possessing
something of heaven through holiness.

On the one hand, confidences over crimes, which are exchanged in
whispers; on the other, the confession of faults made aloud. And what
crimes! And what faults!

On the one hand, miasms; on the other, an ineffable perfume. On the one
hand, a moral pest, guarded from sight, penned up under the range of
cannon, and literally devouring its plague-stricken victims; on
the other, the chaste flame of all souls on the same hearth. There,
darkness; here, the shadow; but a shadow filled with gleams of light,
and of gleams full of radiance.

Two strongholds of slavery; but in the first, deliverance possible,
a legal limit always in sight, and then, escape. In the second,
perpetuity; the sole hope, at the distant extremity of the future, that
faint light of liberty which men call death.

In the first, men are bound only with chains; in the other, chained by

What flowed from the first? An immense curse, the gnashing of teeth,
hatred, desperate viciousness, a cry of rage against human society, a
sarcasm against heaven.

What results flowed from the second? Blessings and love.

And in these two places, so similar yet so unlike, these two species
of beings who were so very unlike, were undergoing the same work,

Jean Valjean understood thoroughly the expiation of the former; that
personal expiation, the expiation for one's self. But he did not
understand that of these last, that of creatures without reproach and
without stain, and he trembled as he asked himself: The expiation of
what? What expiation?

A voice within his conscience replied: "The most divine of human
generosities, the expiation for others."

Here all personal theory is withheld; we are only the narrator; we
place ourselves at Jean Valjean's point of view, and we translate his

Before his eyes he had the sublime summit of abnegation, the highest
possible pitch of virtue; the innocence which pardons men their faults,
and which expiates in their stead; servitude submitted to, torture
accepted, punishment claimed by souls which have not sinned, for the
sake of sparing it to souls which have fallen; the love of humanity
swallowed up in the love of God, but even there preserving its distinct
and mediatorial character; sweet and feeble beings possessing the misery
of those who are punished and the smile of those who are recompensed.

And he remembered that he had dared to murmur!

Often, in the middle of the night, he rose to listen to the grateful
song of those innocent creatures weighed down with severities, and the
blood ran cold in his veins at the thought that those who were justly
chastised raised their voices heavenward only in blasphemy, and that he,
wretch that he was, had shaken his fist at God.

There was one striking thing which caused him to meditate deeply, like
a warning whisper from Providence itself: the scaling of that wall, the
passing of those barriers, the adventure accepted even at the risk of
death, the painful and difficult ascent, all those efforts even, which
he had made to escape from that other place of expiation, he had made in
order to gain entrance into this one. Was this a symbol of his destiny?
This house was a prison likewise and bore a melancholy resemblance to
that other one whence he had fled, and yet he had never conceived an
idea of anything similar.

Again he beheld gratings, bolts, iron bars--to guard whom? Angels.

These lofty walls which he had seen around tigers, he now beheld once
more around lambs.

This was a place of expiation, and not of punishment; and yet, it was
still more austere, more gloomy, and more pitiless than the other.

These virgins were even more heavily burdened than the convicts. A cold,
harsh wind, that wind which had chilled his youth, traversed the barred
and padlocked grating of the vultures; a still harsher and more biting
breeze blew in the cage of these doves.


When he thought on these things, all that was within him was lost in
amazement before this mystery of sublimity.

In these meditations, his pride vanished. He scrutinized his own heart
in all manner of ways; he felt his pettiness, and many a time he wept.
All that had entered into his life for the last six months had led him
back towards the Bishop's holy injunctions; Cosette through love, the
convent through humility.

Sometimes at eventide, in the twilight, at an hour when the garden was
deserted, he could be seen on his knees in the middle of the walk which
skirted the chapel, in front of the window through which he had gazed on
the night of his arrival, and turned towards the spot where, as he knew,
the sister was making reparation, prostrated in prayer. Thus he prayed
as he knelt before the sister.

It seemed as though he dared not kneel directly before God.

Everything that surrounded him, that peaceful garden, those fragrant
flowers, those children who uttered joyous cries, those grave and simple
women, that silent cloister, slowly permeated him, and little by little,
his soul became compounded of silence like the cloister, of perfume like
the flowers, of simplicity like the women, of joy like the children.
And then he reflected that these had been two houses of God which had
received him in succession at two critical moments in his life: the
first, when all doors were closed and when human society rejected him;
the second, at a moment when human society had again set out in pursuit
of him, and when the galleys were again yawning; and that, had it not
been for the first, he should have relapsed into crime, and had it not
been for the second, into torment.

His whole heart melted in gratitude, and he loved more and more.

Many years passed in this manner; Cosette was growing up.



[Illustration: Frontispiece Volume Three  3frontispiece]

[Illustration: Titlepage Volume Three  3titlepage]



Paris has a child, and the forest has a bird; the bird is called the
sparrow; the child is called the gamin.

Couple these two ideas which contain, the one all the furnace, the other
all the dawn; strike these two sparks together, Paris, childhood; there
leaps out from them a little being. Homuncio, Plautus would say.

This little being is joyous. He has not food every day, and he goes to
the play every evening, if he sees good. He has no shirt on his body,
no shoes on his feet, no roof over his head; he is like the flies of
heaven, who have none of these things. He is from seven to thirteen
years of age, he lives in bands, roams the streets, lodges in the open
air, wears an old pair of trousers of his father's, which descend below
his heels, an old hat of some other father, which descends below his
ears, a single suspender of yellow listing; he runs, lies in wait,
rummages about, wastes time, blackens pipes, swears like a convict,
haunts the wine-shop, knows thieves, calls gay women thou, talks slang,
sings obscene songs, and has no evil in his heart. This is because he
has in his heart a pearl, innocence; and pearls are not to be dissolved
in mud. So long as man is in his childhood, God wills that he shall be

If one were to ask that enormous city: "What is this?" she would reply:
"It is my little one."


The gamin--the street Arab--of Paris is the dwarf of the giant.

Let us not exaggerate, this cherub of the gutter sometimes has a shirt,
but, in that case, he owns but one; he sometimes has shoes, but then
they have no soles; he sometimes has a lodging, and he loves it, for
he finds his mother there; but he prefers the street, because there he
finds liberty. He has his own games, his own bits of mischief, whose
foundation consists of hatred for the bourgeois; his peculiar metaphors:
to be dead is to eat dandelions by the root; his own occupations,
calling hackney-coaches, letting down carriage-steps, establishing means
of transit between the two sides of a street in heavy rains, which he
calls making the bridge of arts, crying discourses pronounced by the
authorities in favor of the French people, cleaning out the cracks
in the pavement; he has his own coinage, which is composed of all the
little morsels of worked copper which are found on the public streets.
This curious money, which receives the name of loques--rags--has
an invariable and well-regulated currency in this little Bohemia of

Lastly, he has his own fauna, which he observes attentively in
the corners; the lady-bird, the death's-head plant-louse, the
daddy-long-legs, "the devil," a black insect, which menaces by twisting
about its tail armed with two horns. He has his fabulous monster, which
has scales under its belly, but is not a lizard, which has pustules on
its back, but is not a toad, which inhabits the nooks of old lime-kilns
and wells that have run dry, which is black, hairy, sticky, which crawls
sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly, which has no cry, but which has a
look, and is so terrible that no one has ever beheld it; he calls this
monster "the deaf thing." The search for these "deaf things" among
the stones is a joy of formidable nature. Another pleasure consists in
suddenly prying up a paving-stone, and taking a look at the wood-lice.
Each region of Paris is celebrated for the interesting treasures which
are to be found there. There are ear-wigs in the timber-yards of the
Ursulines, there are millepeds in the Pantheon, there are tadpoles in
the ditches of the Champs-de-Mars.

As far as sayings are concerned, this child has as many of them as
Talleyrand. He is no less cynical, but he is more honest. He is endowed
with a certain indescribable, unexpected joviality; he upsets the
composure of the shopkeeper with his wild laughter. He ranges boldly
from high comedy to farce.

A funeral passes by. Among those who accompany the dead there is a
doctor. "Hey there!" shouts some street Arab, "how long has it been
customary for doctors to carry home their own work?"

Another is in a crowd. A grave man, adorned with spectacles and
trinkets, turns round indignantly: "You good-for-nothing, you have
seized my wife's waist!"--"I, sir? Search me!"


In the evening, thanks to a few sous, which he always finds means
to procure, the homuncio enters a theatre. On crossing that magic
threshold, he becomes transfigured; he was the street Arab, he becomes
the titi.[18] Theatres are a sort of ship turned upside down with the
keel in the air. It is in that keel that the titi huddle together.
The titi is to the gamin what the moth is to the larva; the same being
endowed with wings and soaring. It suffices for him to be there, with
his radiance of happiness, with his power of enthusiasm and joy, with
his hand-clapping, which resembles a clapping of wings, to confer on
that narrow, dark, fetid, sordid, unhealthy, hideous, abominable keel,
the name of Paradise.

Bestow on an individual the useless and deprive him of the necessary,
and you have the gamin.

The gamin is not devoid of literary intuition. His tendency, and we say
it with the proper amount of regret, would not constitute classic
taste. He is not very academic by nature. Thus, to give an example, the
popularity of Mademoiselle Mars among that little audience of stormy
children was seasoned with a touch of irony. The gamin called her
Mademoiselle Muche--"hide yourself."

This being bawls and scoffs and ridicules and fights, has rags like a
baby and tatters like a philosopher, fishes in the sewer, hunts in the
cesspool, extracts mirth from foulness, whips up the squares with his
wit, grins and bites, whistles and sings, shouts, and shrieks, tempers
Alleluia with Matantur-lurette, chants every rhythm from the De
Profundis to the Jack-pudding, finds without seeking, knows what he is
ignorant of, is a Spartan to the point of thieving, is mad to wisdom, is
lyrical to filth, would crouch down on Olympus, wallows in the dunghill
and emerges from it covered with stars. The gamin of Paris is Rabelais
in this youth.

He is not content with his trousers unless they have a watch-pocket.

He is not easily astonished, he is still less easily terrified, he makes
songs on superstitions, he takes the wind out of exaggerations, he twits
mysteries, he thrusts out his tongue at ghosts, he takes the poetry out
of stilted things, he introduces caricature into epic extravaganzas.
It is not that he is prosaic; far from that; but he replaces the solemn
vision by the farcical phantasmagoria. If Adamastor were to appear to
him, the street Arab would say: "Hi there! The bugaboo!"


Paris begins with the lounger and ends with the street Arab, two
beings of which no other city is capable; the passive acceptance, which
contents itself with gazing, and the inexhaustible initiative; Prudhomme
and Fouillou. Paris alone has this in its natural history. The whole of
the monarchy is contained in the lounger; the whole of anarchy in the

This pale child of the Parisian faubourgs lives and develops, makes
connections, "grows supple" in suffering, in the presence of social
realities and of human things, a thoughtful witness. He thinks himself
heedless; and he is not. He looks and is on the verge of laughter; he is
on the verge of something else also. Whoever you may be, if your name is
Prejudice, Abuse, Ignorance, Oppression, Iniquity, Despotism, Injustice,
Fanaticism, Tyranny, beware of the gaping gamin.

The little fellow will grow up.

Of what clay is he made? Of the first mud that comes to hand. A handful
of dirt, a breath, and behold Adam. It suffices for a God to pass by. A
God has always passed over the street Arab. Fortune labors at this tiny
being. By the word "fortune" we mean chance, to some extent. That pigmy
kneaded out of common earth, ignorant, unlettered, giddy, vulgar, low.
Will that become an Ionian or a Boeotian? Wait, currit rota, the Spirit
of Paris, that demon which creates the children of chance and the men
of destiny, reversing the process of the Latin potter, makes of a jug an


The gamin loves the city, he also loves solitude, since he has something
of the sage in him. Urbis amator, like Fuscus; ruris amator, like

To roam thoughtfully about, that is to say, to lounge, is a fine
employment of time in the eyes of the philosopher; particularly in that
rather illegitimate species of campaign, which is tolerably ugly but
odd and composed of two natures, which surrounds certain great cities,
notably Paris. To study the suburbs is to study the amphibious animal.
End of the trees, beginning of the roofs; end of the grass, beginning
of the pavements; end of the furrows, beginning of the shops, end of
the wheel-ruts, beginning of the passions; end of the divine murmur,
beginning of the human uproar; hence an extraordinary interest.

Hence, in these not very attractive places, indelibly stamped by the
passing stroller with the epithet: melancholy, the apparently objectless
promenades of the dreamer.

He who writes these lines has long been a prowler about the barriers
of Paris, and it is for him a source of profound souvenirs. That
close-shaven turf, those pebbly paths, that chalk, those pools,
those harsh monotonies of waste and fallow lands, the plants of early
market-garden suddenly springing into sight in a bottom, that mixture of
the savage and the citizen, those vast desert nooks where the garrison
drums practise noisily, and produce a sort of lisping of battle, those
hermits by day and cut-throats by night, that clumsy mill which turns
in the wind, the hoisting-wheels of the quarries, the tea-gardens at the
corners of the cemeteries; the mysterious charm of great, sombre walls
squarely intersecting immense, vague stretches of land inundated with
sunshine and full of butterflies,--all this attracted him.

There is hardly any one on earth who is not acquainted with those
singular spots, the Glaciere, the Cunette, the hideous wall of Grenelle
all speckled with balls, Mont-Parnasse, the Fosse-aux-Loups, Aubiers on
the bank of the Marne, Mont-Souris, the Tombe-Issoire, the Pierre-Plate
de Chatillon, where there is an old, exhausted quarry which no longer
serves any purpose except to raise mushrooms, and which is closed, on a
level with the ground, by a trap-door of rotten planks. The campagna of
Rome is one idea, the banlieue of Paris is another; to behold nothing
but fields, houses, or trees in what a stretch of country offers us, is
to remain on the surface; all aspects of things are thoughts of God. The
spot where a plain effects its junction with a city is always stamped
with a certain piercing melancholy. Nature and humanity both appeal
to you at the same time there. Local originalities there make their

Any one who, like ourselves, has wandered about in these solitudes
contiguous to our faubourgs, which may be designated as the limbos of
Paris, has seen here and there, in the most desert spot, at the
most unexpected moment, behind a meagre hedge, or in the corner of a
lugubrious wall, children grouped tumultuously, fetid, muddy,
dusty, ragged, dishevelled, playing hide-and-seek, and crowned with
corn-flowers. All of them are little ones who have made their escape
from poor families. The outer boulevard is their breathing space; the
suburbs belong to them. There they are eternally playing truant. There
they innocently sing their repertory of dirty songs. There they are, or
rather, there they exist, far from every eye, in the sweet light of
May or June, kneeling round a hole in the ground, snapping marbles with
their thumbs, quarrelling over half-farthings, irresponsible, volatile,
free and happy; and, no sooner do they catch sight of you than they
recollect that they have an industry, and that they must earn their
living, and they offer to sell you an old woollen stocking filled
with cockchafers, or a bunch of lilacs. These encounters with strange
children are one of the charming and at the same time poignant graces of
the environs of Paris.

Sometimes there are little girls among the throng of boys,--are they
their sisters?--who are almost young maidens, thin, feverish, with
sunburnt hands, covered with freckles, crowned with poppies and ears of
rye, gay, haggard, barefooted. They can be seen devouring cherries among
the wheat. In the evening they can be heard laughing. These groups,
warmly illuminated by the full glow of midday, or indistinctly seen in
the twilight, occupy the thoughtful man for a very long time, and these
visions mingle with his dreams.

Paris, centre, banlieue, circumference; this constitutes all the earth
to those children. They never venture beyond this. They can no more
escape from the Parisian atmosphere than fish can escape from the
water. For them, nothing exists two leagues beyond the barriers:
Ivry, Gentilly, Arcueil, Belleville, Aubervilliers, Menilmontant,
Choisy-le-Roi, Billancourt, Mendon, Issy, Vanvre, Sevres, Puteaux,
Neuilly, Gennevilliers, Colombes, Romainville, Chatou, Asnieres,
Bougival, Nanterre, Enghien, Noisy-le-Sec, Nogent, Gournay, Drancy,
Gonesse; the universe ends there.


At the epoch, nearly contemporary by the way, when the action of this
book takes place, there was not, as there is to-day, a policeman at
the corner of every street (a benefit which there is no time to discuss
here); stray children abounded in Paris. The statistics give an average
of two hundred and sixty homeless children picked up annually at that
period, by the police patrols, in unenclosed lands, in houses in process
of construction, and under the arches of the bridges. One of these
nests, which has become famous, produced "the swallows of the bridge of
Arcola." This is, moreover, the most disastrous of social symptoms. All
crimes of the man begin in the vagabondage of the child.

Let us make an exception in favor of Paris, nevertheless. In a relative
measure, and in spite of the souvenir which we have just recalled, the
exception is just. While in any other great city the vagabond child is
a lost man, while nearly everywhere the child left to itself is, in
some sort, sacrificed and abandoned to a kind of fatal immersion in the
public vices which devour in him honesty and conscience, the street boy
of Paris, we insist on this point, however defaced and injured on the
surface, is almost intact on the interior. It is a magnificent thing to
put on record, and one which shines forth in the splendid probity of our
popular revolutions, that a certain incorruptibility results from the
idea which exists in the air of Paris, as salt exists in the water of
the ocean. To breathe Paris preserves the soul.

What we have just said takes away nothing of the anguish of heart which
one experiences every time that one meets one of these children around
whom one fancies that he beholds floating the threads of a broken
family. In the civilization of the present day, incomplete as it still
is, it is not a very abnormal thing to behold these fractured families
pouring themselves out into the darkness, not knowing clearly what has
become of their children, and allowing their own entrails to fall on the
public highway. Hence these obscure destinies. This is called, for this
sad thing has given rise to an expression, "to be cast on the pavements
of Paris."

Let it be said by the way, that this abandonment of children was not
discouraged by the ancient monarchy. A little of Egypt and Bohemia in
the lower regions suited the upper spheres, and compassed the aims of
the powerful. The hatred of instruction for the children of the people
was a dogma. What is the use of "half-lights"? Such was the countersign.
Now, the erring child is the corollary of the ignorant child.

Besides this, the monarchy sometimes was in need of children, and in
that case it skimmed the streets.

Under Louis XIV., not to go any further back, the king rightly desired
to create a fleet. The idea was a good one. But let us consider
the means. There can be no fleet, if, beside the sailing ship, that
plaything of the winds, and for the purpose of towing it, in case of
necessity, there is not the vessel which goes where it pleases, either
by means of oars or of steam; the galleys were then to the marine what
steamers are to-day. Therefore, galleys were necessary; but the galley
is moved only by the galley-slave; hence, galley-slaves were required.
Colbert had the commissioners of provinces and the parliaments make
as many convicts as possible. The magistracy showed a great deal of
complaisance in the matter. A man kept his hat on in the presence of a
procession--it was a Huguenot attitude; he was sent to the galleys. A
child was encountered in the streets; provided that he was fifteen
years of age and did not know where he was to sleep, he was sent to the
galleys. Grand reign; grand century.

Under Louis XV. children disappeared in Paris; the police carried them
off, for what mysterious purpose no one knew. People whispered with
terror monstrous conjectures as to the king's baths of purple. Barbier
speaks ingenuously of these things. It sometimes happened that the
exempts of the guard, when they ran short of children, took those who
had fathers. The fathers, in despair, attacked the exempts. In that
case, the parliament intervened and had some one hung. Who? The exempts?
No, the fathers.


The body of street Arabs in Paris almost constitutes a caste. One might
almost say: Not every one who wishes to belong to it can do so.

This word gamin was printed for the first time, and reached popular
speech through the literary tongue, in 1834. It is in a little work
entitled Claude Gueux that this word made its appearance. The horror was
lively. The word passed into circulation.

The elements which constitute the consideration of the gamins for each
other are very various. We have known and associated with one who was
greatly respected and vastly admired because he had seen a man fall from
the top of the tower of Notre-Dame; another, because he had succeeded in
making his way into the rear courtyard where the statues of the dome
of the Invalides had been temporarily deposited, and had "prigged" some
lead from them; a third, because he had seen a diligence tip over; still
another, because he "knew" a soldier who came near putting out the eye
of a citizen.

This explains that famous exclamation of a Parisian gamin, a profound
epiphonema, which the vulgar herd laughs at without comprehending,--Dieu
de Dieu! What ill-luck I do have! to think that I have never yet seen
anybody tumble from a fifth-story window! (I have pronounced I'ave and
fifth pronounced fift'.)

Surely, this saying of a peasant is a fine one: "Father So-and-So, your
wife has died of her malady; why did you not send for the doctor?"
"What would you have, sir, we poor folks die of ourselves." But if
the peasant's whole passivity lies in this saying, the whole of the
free-thinking anarchy of the brat of the faubourgs is, assuredly,
contained in this other saying. A man condemned to death is listening
to his confessor in the tumbrel. The child of Paris exclaims: "He is
talking to his black cap! Oh, the sneak!"

A certain audacity on matters of religion sets off the gamin. To be
strong-minded is an important item.

To be present at executions constitutes a duty. He shows himself at the
guillotine, and he laughs. He calls it by all sorts of pet names: The
End of the Soup, The Growler, The Mother in the Blue (the sky), The Last
Mouthful, etc., etc. In order not to lose anything of the affair, he
scales the walls, he hoists himself to balconies, he ascends trees, he
suspends himself to gratings, he clings fast to chimneys. The gamin is
born a tiler as he is born a mariner. A roof inspires him with no more
fear than a mast. There is no festival which comes up to an execution
on the Place de Greve. Samson and the Abbe Montes are the truly popular
names. They hoot at the victim in order to encourage him. They sometimes
admire him. Lacenaire, when a gamin, on seeing the hideous Dautin die
bravely, uttered these words which contain a future: "I was jealous of
him." In the brotherhood of gamins Voltaire is not known, but Papavoine
is. "Politicians" are confused with assassins in the same legend.
They have a tradition as to everybody's last garment. It is known that
Tolleron had a fireman's cap, Avril an otter cap, Losvel a round hat,
that old Delaporte was bald and bare-headed, that Castaing was all ruddy
and very handsome, that Bories had a romantic small beard, that Jean
Martin kept on his suspenders, that Lecouffe and his mother quarrelled.
"Don't reproach each other for your basket," shouted a gamin to them.
Another, in order to get a look at Debacker as he passed, and being too
small in the crowd, caught sight of the lantern on the quay and climbed
it. A gendarme stationed opposite frowned. "Let me climb up, m'sieu le
gendarme," said the gamin. And, to soften the heart of the authorities
he added: "I will not fall." "I don't care if you do," retorted the

In the brotherhood of gamins, a memorable accident counts for a great
deal. One reaches the height of consideration if one chances to cut
one's self very deeply, "to the very bone."

The fist is no mediocre element of respect. One of the things that the
gamin is fondest of saying is: "I am fine and strong, come now!" To be
left-handed renders you very enviable. A squint is highly esteemed.


In summer, he metamorphoses himself into a frog; and in the evening,
when night is falling, in front of the bridges of Austerlitz and Jena,
from the tops of coal wagons, and the washerwomen's boats, he hurls
himself headlong into the Seine, and into all possible infractions of
the laws of modesty and of the police. Nevertheless the police keep an
eye on him, and the result is a highly dramatic situation which
once gave rise to a fraternal and memorable cry; that cry which was
celebrated about 1830, is a strategic warning from gamin to gamin; it
scans like a verse from Homer, with a notation as inexpressible as the
eleusiac chant of the Panathenaea, and in it one encounters again the
ancient Evohe. Here it is: "Ohe, Titi, oheee! Here comes the bobby, here
comes the p'lice, pick up your duds and be off, through the sewer with

Sometimes this gnat--that is what he calls himself--knows how to read;
sometimes he knows how to write; he always knows how to daub. He
does not hesitate to acquire, by no one knows what mysterious mutual
instruction, all the talents which can be of use to the public; from
1815 to 1830, he imitated the cry of the turkey; from 1830 to 1848, he
scrawled pears on the walls. One summer evening, when Louis Philippe was
returning home on foot, he saw a little fellow, no higher than his knee,
perspiring and climbing up to draw a gigantic pear in charcoal on one
of the pillars of the gate of Neuilly; the King, with that good-nature
which came to him from Henry IV., helped the gamin, finished the pear,
and gave the child a louis, saying: "The pear is on that also."[19]
The gamin loves uproar. A certain state of violence pleases him. He
execrates "the cures." One day, in the Rue de l'Universite, one of these
scamps was putting his thumb to his nose at the carriage gate of No.
69. "Why are you doing that at the gate?" a passer-by asked. The boy
replied: "There is a cure there." It was there, in fact, that the Papal
Nuncio lived.

Nevertheless, whatever may be the Voltairianism of the small gamin, if
the occasion to become a chorister presents itself, it is quite possible
that he will accept, and in that case he serves the mass civilly. There
are two things to which he plays Tantalus, and which he always desires
without ever attaining them: to overthrow the government, and to get his
trousers sewed up again.

The gamin in his perfect state possesses all the policemen of Paris, and
can always put the name to the face of any one which he chances to
meet. He can tell them off on the tips of his fingers. He studies their
habits, and he has special notes on each one of them. He reads the souls
of the police like an open book. He will tell you fluently and without
flinching: "Such an one is a traitor; such another is very malicious;
such another is great; such another is ridiculous." (All these words:
traitor, malicious, great, ridiculous, have a particular meaning in his
mouth.) That one imagines that he owns the Pont-Neuf, and he prevents
people from walking on the cornice outside the parapet; that other has a
mania for pulling person's ears; etc., etc.


There was something of that boy in Poquelin, the son of the fish-market;
Beaumarchais had something of it. Gaminerie is a shade of the Gallic
spirit. Mingled with good sense, it sometimes adds force to the latter,
as alcohol does to wine. Sometimes it is a defect. Homer repeats himself
eternally, granted; one may say that Voltaire plays the gamin. Camille
Desmoulins was a native of the faubourgs. Championnet, who treated
miracles brutally, rose from the pavements of Paris; he had, when a
small lad, inundated the porticos of Saint-Jean de Beauvais, and of
Saint-Etienne du Mont; he had addressed the shrine of Sainte-Genevieve
familiarly to give orders to the phial of Saint Januarius.

The gamin of Paris is respectful, ironical, and insolent. He has
villainous teeth, because he is badly fed and his stomach suffers, and
handsome eyes because he has wit. If Jehovah himself were present, he
would go hopping up the steps of paradise on one foot. He is strong on
boxing. All beliefs are possible to him. He plays in the gutter, and
straightens himself up with a revolt; his effrontery persists even in
the presence of grape-shot; he was a scapegrace, he is a hero; like the
little Theban, he shakes the skin from the lion; Barra the drummer-boy
was a gamin of Paris; he Shouts: "Forward!" as the horse of Scripture
says "Vah!" and in a moment he has passed from the small brat to the

This child of the puddle is also the child of the ideal. Measure that
spread of wings which reaches from Moliere to Barra.

To sum up the whole, and in one word, the gamin is a being who amuses
himself, because he is unhappy.


To sum it all up once more, the Paris gamin of to-day, like the
graeculus of Rome in days gone by, is the infant populace with the
wrinkle of the old world on his brow.

The gamin is a grace to the nation, and at the same time a disease; a
disease which must be cured, how? By light.

Light renders healthy.

Light kindles.

All generous social irradiations spring from science, letters, arts,
education. Make men, make men. Give them light that they may warm
you. Sooner or later the splendid question of universal education will
present itself with the irresistible authority of the absolute truth;
and then, those who govern under the superintendence of the French idea
will have to make this choice; the children of France or the gamins of
Paris; flames in the light or will-o'-the-wisps in the gloom.

The gamin expresses Paris, and Paris expresses the world.

For Paris is a total. Paris is the ceiling of the human race. The whole
of this prodigious city is a foreshortening of dead manners and living
manners. He who sees Paris thinks he sees the bottom of all history with
heaven and constellations in the intervals. Paris has a capital, the
Town-Hall, a Parthenon, Notre-Dame, a Mount Aventine, the Faubourg
Saint-Antoine, an Asinarium, the Sorbonne, a Pantheon, the Pantheon, a
Via Sacra, the Boulevard des Italiens, a temple of the winds, opinion;
and it replaces the Gemoniae by ridicule. Its majo is called "faraud,"
its Transteverin is the man of the faubourgs, its hammal is the
market-porter, its lazzarone is the pegre, its cockney is the native of
Ghent. Everything that exists elsewhere exists at Paris. The fishwoman
of Dumarsais can retort on the herb-seller of Euripides, the
discobols Vejanus lives again in the Forioso, the tight-rope dancer.
Therapontigonus Miles could walk arm in arm with Vadeboncoeur the
grenadier, Damasippus the second-hand dealer would be happy among
bric-a-brac merchants, Vincennes could grasp Socrates in its fist as
just as Agora could imprison Diderot, Grimod de la Reyniere discovered
larded roast beef, as Curtillus invented roast hedgehog, we see the
trapeze which figures in Plautus reappear under the vault of the Arc
of l'Etoile, the sword-eater of Poecilus encountered by Apuleius is a
sword-swallower on the Pont Neuf, the nephew of Rameau and Curculio
the parasite make a pair, Ergasilus could get himself presented to
Cambaceres by d'Aigrefeuille; the four dandies of Rome: Alcesimarchus,
Phoedromus, Diabolus, and Argyrippus, descend from Courtille in
Labatut's posting-chaise; Aulus Gellius would halt no longer in front of
Congrio than would Charles Nodier in front of Punchinello; Marto is not
a tigress, but Pardalisca was not a dragon; Pantolabus the wag jeers in
the Cafe Anglais at Nomentanus the fast liver, Hermogenus is a tenor
in the Champs-Elysees, and round him, Thracius the beggar, clad like
Bobeche, takes up a collection; the bore who stops you by the button
of your coat in the Tuileries makes you repeat after a lapse of two
thousand years Thesprion's apostrophe: Quis properantem me prehendit
pallio? The wine on Surene is a parody of the wine of Alba, the red
border of Desaugiers forms a balance to the great cutting of Balatro,
Pere Lachaise exhales beneath nocturnal rains same gleams as the
Esquiliae, and the grave of the poor bought for five years, is certainly
the equivalent of the slave's hived coffin.

Seek something that Paris has not. The vat of Trophonius contains
nothing that is not in Mesmer's tub; Ergaphilas lives again in
Cagliostro; the Brahmin Vasaphanta become incarnate in the Comte de
Saint-Germain; the cemetery of Saint-Medard works quite as good miracles
as the Mosque of Oumoumie at Damascus.

Paris has an AEsop-Mayeux, and a Canidia, Mademoiselle Lenormand. It is
terrified, like Delphos at the fulgurating realities of the vision; it
makes tables turn as Dodona did tripods. It places the grisette on the
throne, as Rome placed the courtesan there; and, taking it altogether,
if Louis XV. is worse than Claudian, Madame Dubarry is better than
Messalina. Paris combines in an unprecedented type, which has existed
and which we have elbowed, Grecian nudity, the Hebraic ulcer, and the
Gascon pun. It mingles Diogenes, Job, and Jack-pudding, dresses up a
spectre in old numbers of the Constitutional, and makes Chodruc Duclos.

Although Plutarch says: the tyrant never grows old, Rome, under Sylla as
under Domitian, resigned itself and willingly put water in its wine. The
Tiber was a Lethe, if the rather doctrinary eulogium made of it by Varus
Vibiscus is to be credited: Contra Gracchos Tiberim habemus, Bibere
Tiberim, id est seditionem oblivisci. Paris drinks a million litres of
water a day, but that does not prevent it from occasionally beating the
general alarm and ringing the tocsin.

With that exception, Paris is amiable. It accepts everything royally;
it is not too particular about its Venus; its Callipyge is Hottentot;
provided that it is made to laugh, it condones; ugliness cheers it,
deformity provokes it to laughter, vice diverts it; be eccentric and
you may be an eccentric; even hypocrisy, that supreme cynicism, does
not disgust it; it is so literary that it does not hold its nose before
Basile, and is no more scandalized by the prayer of Tartuffe than Horace
was repelled by the "hiccup" of Priapus. No trait of the universal face
is lacking in the profile of Paris. The bal Mabile is not the polymnia
dance of the Janiculum, but the dealer in ladies' wearing apparel there
devours the lorette with her eyes, exactly as the procuress Staphyla
lay in wait for the virgin Planesium. The Barriere du Combat is not
the Coliseum, but people are as ferocious there as though Caesar were
looking on. The Syrian hostess has more grace than Mother Saguet,
but, if Virgil haunted the Roman wine-shop, David d'Angers, Balzac
and Charlet have sat at the tables of Parisian taverns. Paris reigns.
Geniuses flash forth there, the red tails prosper there. Adonai passes
on his chariot with its twelve wheels of thunder and lightning; Silenus
makes his entry there on his ass. For Silenus read Ramponneau.

Paris is the synonym of Cosmos, Paris is Athens, Sybaris, Jerusalem,
Pantin. All civilizations are there in an abridged form, all barbarisms
also. Paris would greatly regret it if it had not a guillotine.

A little of the Place de Greve is a good thing. What would all that
eternal festival be without this seasoning? Our laws are wisely
provided, and thanks to them, this blade drips on this Shrove Tuesday.


There is no limit to Paris. No city has had that domination which
sometimes derides those whom it subjugates. To please you, O Athenians!
exclaimed Alexander. Paris makes more than the law, it makes the
fashion; Paris sets more than the fashion, it sets the routine. Paris
may be stupid, if it sees fit; it sometimes allows itself this luxury;
then the universe is stupid in company with it; then Paris awakes, rubs
its eyes, says: "How stupid I am!" and bursts out laughing in the face
of the human race. What a marvel is such a city! it is a strange thing
that this grandioseness and this burlesque should be amicable neighbors,
that all this majesty should not be thrown into disorder by all this
parody, and that the same mouth can to-day blow into the trump of the
Judgment Day, and to-morrow into the reed-flute! Paris has a sovereign
joviality. Its gayety is of the thunder and its farce holds a sceptre.

Its tempest sometimes proceeds from a grimace. Its explosions, its days,
its masterpieces, its prodigies, its epics, go forth to the bounds of
the universe, and so also do its cock-and-bull stories. Its laugh is the
mouth of a volcano which spatters the whole earth. Its jests are sparks.
It imposes its caricatures as well as its ideal on people; the highest
monuments of human civilization accept its ironies and lend their
eternity to its mischievous pranks. It is superb; it has a prodigious
14th of July, which delivers the globe; it forces all nations to take
the oath of tennis; its night of the 4th of August dissolves in three
hours a thousand years of feudalism; it makes of its logic the muscle
of unanimous will; it multiplies itself under all sorts of forms of
the sublime; it fills with its light Washington, Kosciusko, Bolivar,
Bozzaris, Riego, Bem, Manin, Lopez, John Brown, Garibaldi; it is
everywhere where the future is being lighted up, at Boston in 1779,
at the Isle de Leon in 1820, at Pesth in 1848, at Palermo in 1860, it
whispers the mighty countersign: Liberty, in the ear of the American
abolitionists grouped about the boat at Harper's Ferry, and in the ear
of the patriots of Ancona assembled in the shadow, to the Archi before
the Gozzi inn on the seashore; it creates Canaris; it creates Quiroga;
it creates Pisacane; it irradiates the great on earth; it was while
proceeding whither its breath urge them, that Byron perished at
Missolonghi, and that Mazet died at Barcelona; it is the tribune under
the feet of Mirabeau, and a crater under the feet of Robespierre;
its books, its theatre, its art, its science, its literature, its
philosophy, are the manuals of the human race; it has Pascal, Regnier,
Corneille, Descartes, Jean-Jacques: Voltaire for all moments, Moliere
for all centuries; it makes its language to be talked by the universal
mouth, and that language becomes the word; it constructs in all minds
the idea of progress, the liberating dogmas which it forges are for the
generations trusty friends, and it is with the soul of its thinkers and
its poets that all heroes of all nations have been made since 1789; this
does not prevent vagabondism, and that enormous genius which is called
Paris, while transfiguring the world by its light, sketches in charcoal
Bouginier's nose on the wall of the temple of Theseus and writes
Credeville the thief on the Pyramids.

Paris is always showing its teeth; when it is not scolding it is

Such is Paris. The smoke of its roofs forms the ideas of the universe. A
heap of mud and stone, if you will, but, above all, a moral being. It is
more than great, it is immense. Why? Because it is daring.

To dare; that is the price of progress.

All sublime conquests are, more or less, the prizes of daring. In
order that the Revolution should take place, it does not suffice that
Montesquieu should foresee it, that Diderot should preach it, that
Beaumarchais should announce it, that Condorcet should calculate it,
that Arouet should prepare it, that Rousseau should premeditate it; it
is necessary that Danton should dare it.

The cry: Audacity! is a Fiat lux. It is necessary, for the sake of the
forward march of the human race, that there should be proud lessons of
courage permanently on the heights. Daring deeds dazzle history and are
one of man's great sources of light. The dawn dares when it rises. To
attempt, to brave, to persist, to persevere, to be faithful to one's
self, to grasp fate bodily, to astound catastrophe by the small amount
of fear that it occasions us, now to affront unjust power, again to
insult drunken victory, to hold one's position, to stand one's ground;
that is the example which nations need, that is the light which
electrifies them. The same formidable lightning proceeds from the torch
of Prometheus to Cambronne's short pipe.


As for the Parisian populace, even when a man grown, it is always the
street Arab; to paint the child is to paint the city; and it is for that
reason that we have studied this eagle in this arrant sparrow. It is in
the faubourgs, above all, we maintain, that the Parisian race appears;
there is the pure blood; there is the true physiognomy; there this
people toils and suffers, and suffering and toil are the two faces of
man. There exist there immense numbers of unknown beings, among whom
swarm types of the strangest, from the porter of la Rapee to the knacker
of Montfaucon. Fex urbis, exclaims Cicero; mob, adds Burke, indignantly;
rabble, multitude, populace. These are words and quickly uttered. But
so be it. What does it matter? What is it to me if they do go barefoot!
They do not know how to read; so much the worse. Would you abandon them
for that? Would you turn their distress into a malediction? Cannot the
light penetrate these masses? Let us return to that cry: Light! and let
us obstinately persist therein! Light! Light! Who knows whether
these opacities will not become transparent? Are not revolutions
transfigurations? Come, philosophers, teach, enlighten, light up, think
aloud, speak aloud, hasten joyously to the great sun, fraternize with
the public place, announce the good news, spend your alphabets lavishly,
proclaim rights, sing the Marseillaises, sow enthusiasms, tear green
boughs from the oaks. Make a whirlwind of the idea. This crowd may
be rendered sublime. Let us learn how to make use of that vast
conflagration of principles and virtues, which sparkles, bursts forth
and quivers at certain hours. These bare feet, these bare arms, these
rags, these ignorances, these abjectnesses, these darknesses, may be
employed in the conquest of the ideal. Gaze past the people, and you
will perceive truth. Let that vile sand which you trample under foot be
cast into the furnace, let it melt and seethe there, it will become a
splendid crystal, and it is thanks to it that Galileo and Newton will
discover stars.


[Illustration: Little Gavroche  3b1-13-gavroche]

Eight or nine years after the events narrated in the second part of this
story, people noticed on the Boulevard du Temple, and in the regions of
the Chateau-d'Eau, a little boy eleven or twelve years of age, who would
have realized with tolerable accuracy that ideal of the gamin sketched
out above, if, with the laugh of his age on his lips, he had not had a
heart absolutely sombre and empty. This child was well muffled up in a
pair of man's trousers, but he did not get them from his father, and a
woman's chemise, but he did not get it from his mother. Some people or
other had clothed him in rags out of charity. Still, he had a father and
a mother. But his father did not think of him, and his mother did not
love him.

He was one of those children most deserving of pity, among all, one of
those who have father and mother, and who are orphans nevertheless.

This child never felt so well as when he was in the street. The
pavements were less hard to him than his mother's heart.

His parents had despatched him into life with a kick.

He simply took flight.

He was a boisterous, pallid, nimble, wide-awake, jeering, lad, with a
vivacious but sickly air. He went and came, sang, played at hopscotch,
scraped the gutters, stole a little, but, like cats and sparrows, gayly
laughed when he was called a rogue, and got angry when called a thief.
He had no shelter, no bread, no fire, no love; but he was merry because
he was free.

When these poor creatures grow to be men, the millstones of the social
order meet them and crush them, but so long as they are children, they
escape because of their smallness. The tiniest hole saves them.

Nevertheless, abandoned as this child was, it sometimes happened, every
two or three months, that he said, "Come, I'll go and see mamma!" Then
he quitted the boulevard, the Cirque, the Porte Saint-Martin, descended
to the quays, crossed the bridges, reached the suburbs, arrived at the
Salpetriere, and came to a halt, where? Precisely at that double number
50-52 with which the reader is acquainted--at the Gorbeau hovel.

At that epoch, the hovel 50-52 generally deserted and eternally
decorated with the placard: "Chambers to let," chanced to be, a rare
thing, inhabited by numerous individuals who, however, as is always the
case in Paris, had no connection with each other. All belonged to
that indigent class which begins to separate from the lowest of petty
bourgeoisie in straitened circumstances, and which extends from misery
to misery into the lowest depths of society down to those two beings
in whom all the material things of civilization end, the sewer-man who
sweeps up the mud, and the ragpicker who collects scraps.

The "principal lodger" of Jean Valjean's day was dead and had been
replaced by another exactly like her. I know not what philosopher has
said: "Old women are never lacking."

This new old woman was named Madame Bourgon, and had nothing remarkable
about her life except a dynasty of three paroquets, who had reigned in
succession over her soul.

The most miserable of those who inhabited the hovel were a family of
four persons, consisting of father, mother, and two daughters, already
well grown, all four of whom were lodged in the same attic, one of the
cells which we have already mentioned.

At first sight, this family presented no very special feature except its
extreme destitution; the father, when he hired the chamber, had stated
that his name was Jondrette. Some time after his moving in, which had
borne a singular resemblance to the entrance of nothing at all, to
borrow the memorable expression of the principal tenant, this Jondrette
had said to the woman, who, like her predecessor, was at the same time
portress and stair-sweeper: "Mother So-and-So, if any one should chance
to come and inquire for a Pole or an Italian, or even a Spaniard,
perchance, it is I."

This family was that of the merry barefoot boy. He arrived there and
found distress, and, what is still sadder, no smile; a cold hearth
and cold hearts. When he entered, he was asked: "Whence come you?" He
replied: "From the street." When he went away, they asked him: "Whither
are you going?" He replied: "Into the streets." His mother said to him:
"What did you come here for?"

This child lived, in this absence of affection, like the pale plants
which spring up in cellars. It did not cause him suffering, and he
blamed no one. He did not know exactly how a father and mother should

Nevertheless, his mother loved his sisters.

We have forgotten to mention, that on the Boulevard du Temple this child
was called Little Gavroche. Why was he called Little Gavroche?

Probably because his father's name was Jondrette.

It seems to be the instinct of certain wretched families to break the

The chamber which the Jondrettes inhabited in the Gorbeau hovel was the
last at the end of the corridor. The cell next to it was occupied by a
very poor young man who was called M. Marius.

Let us explain who this M. Marius was.



In the Rue Boucherat, Rue de Normandie and the Rue de Saintonge there
still exist a few ancient inhabitants who have preserved the memory of a
worthy man named M. Gillenormand, and who mention him with complaisance.
This good man was old when they were young. This silhouette has not yet
entirely disappeared--for those who regard with melancholy that vague
swarm of shadows which is called the past--from the labyrinth of streets
in the vicinity of the Temple to which, under Louis XIV., the names of
all the provinces of France were appended exactly as in our day, the
streets of the new Tivoli quarter have received the names of all the
capitals of Europe; a progression, by the way, in which progress is

M.Gillenormand, who was as much alive as possible in 1831, was one of
those men who had become curiosities to be viewed, simply because
they have lived a long time, and who are strange because they formerly
resembled everybody, and now resemble nobody. He was a peculiar old man,
and in very truth, a man of another age, the real, complete and rather
haughty bourgeois of the eighteenth century, who wore his good, old
bourgeoisie with the air with which marquises wear their marquisates. He
was over ninety years of age, his walk was erect, he talked loudly, saw
clearly, drank neat, ate, slept, and snored. He had all thirty-two of
his teeth. He only wore spectacles when he read. He was of an amorous
disposition, but declared that, for the last ten years, he had wholly
and decidedly renounced women. He could no longer please, he said; he
did not add: "I am too old," but: "I am too poor." He said: "If I were
not ruined--Heee!" All he had left, in fact, was an income of about
fifteen thousand francs. His dream was to come into an inheritance and
to have a hundred thousand livres income for mistresses. He did
not belong, as the reader will perceive, to that puny variety of
octogenaries who, like M. de Voltaire, have been dying all their life;
his was no longevity of a cracked pot; this jovial old man had always
had good health. He was superficial, rapid, easily angered. He flew into
a passion at everything, generally quite contrary to all reason. When
contradicted, he raised his cane; he beat people as he had done in the
great century. He had a daughter over fifty years of age, and unmarried,
whom he chastised severely with his tongue, when in a rage, and whom he
would have liked to whip. She seemed to him to be eight years old. He
boxed his servants' ears soundly, and said: "Ah! carogne!" One of his
oaths was: "By the pantoufloche of the pantouflochade!" He had singular
freaks of tranquillity; he had himself shaved every day by a barber who
had been mad and who detested him, being jealous of M. Gillenormand on
account of his wife, a pretty and coquettish barberess. M. Gillenormand
admired his own discernment in all things, and declared that he was
extremely sagacious; here is one of his sayings: "I have, in truth, some
penetration; I am able to say when a flea bites me, from what woman it

The words which he uttered the most frequently were: the sensible man,
and nature. He did not give to this last word the grand acceptation
which our epoch has accorded to it, but he made it enter, after his own
fashion, into his little chimney-corner satires: "Nature," he said, "in
order that civilization may have a little of everything, gives it even
specimens of its amusing barbarism. Europe possesses specimens of Asia
and Africa on a small scale. The cat is a drawing-room tiger, the lizard
is a pocket crocodile. The dancers at the opera are pink female savages.
They do not eat men, they crunch them; or, magicians that they are, they
transform them into oysters and swallow them. The Caribbeans leave only
the bones, they leave only the shell. Such are our morals. We do not
devour, we gnaw; we do not exterminate, we claw."


He lived in the Marais, Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, No. 6. He owned the
house. This house has since been demolished and rebuilt, and the number
has probably been changed in those revolutions of numeration which the
streets of Paris undergo. He occupied an ancient and vast apartment
on the first floor, between street and gardens, furnished to the very
ceilings with great Gobelins and Beauvais tapestries representing
pastoral scenes; the subjects of the ceilings and the panels were
repeated in miniature on the arm-chairs. He enveloped his bed in a vast,
nine-leaved screen of Coromandel lacquer. Long, full curtains hung from
the windows, and formed great, broken folds that were very magnificent.
The garden situated immediately under his windows was attached to that
one of them which formed the angle, by means of a staircase twelve or
fifteen steps long, which the old gentleman ascended and descended with
great agility. In addition to a library adjoining his chamber, he had a
boudoir of which he thought a great deal, a gallant and elegant retreat,
with magnificent hangings of straw, with a pattern of flowers and
fleurs-de-lys made on the galleys of Louis XIV. and ordered of his
convicts by M. de Vivonne for his mistress. M. Gillenormand had
inherited it from a grim maternal great-aunt, who had died a
centenarian. He had had two wives. His manners were something between
those of the courtier, which he had never been, and the lawyer, which
he might have been. He was gay, and caressing when he had a mind. In
his youth he had been one of those men who are always deceived by their
wives and never by their mistresses, because they are, at the same
time, the most sullen of husbands and the most charming of lovers in
existence. He was a connoisseur of painting. He had in his chamber a
marvellous portrait of no one knows whom, painted by Jordaens, executed
with great dashes of the brush, with millions of details, in a confused
and hap-hazard manner. M. Gillenormand's attire was not the habit of
Louis XIV. nor yet that of Louis XVI.; it was that of the Incroyables
of the Directory. He had thought himself young up to that period and
had followed the fashions. His coat was of light-weight cloth with
voluminous revers, a long swallow-tail and large steel buttons. With
this he wore knee-breeches and buckle shoes. He always thrust his hands
into his fobs. He said authoritatively: "The French Revolution is a heap
of blackguards."


At the age of sixteen, one evening at the opera, he had had the honor
to be stared at through opera-glasses by two beauties at the same
time--ripe and celebrated beauties then, and sung by Voltaire, the
Camargo and the Salle. Caught between two fires, he had beaten a heroic
retreat towards a little dancer, a young girl named Nahenry, who was
sixteen like himself, obscure as a cat, and with whom he was in love.
He abounded in memories. He was accustomed to exclaim: "How pretty she
was--that Guimard-Guimardini-Guimardinette, the last time I saw her
at Longchamps, her hair curled in sustained sentiments, with her
come-and-see of turquoises, her gown of the color of persons newly
arrived, and her little agitation muff!" He had worn in his young
manhood a waistcoat of Nain-Londrin, which he was fond of talking about
effusively. "I was dressed like a Turk of the Levant Levantin," said he.
Madame de Boufflers, having seen him by chance when he was twenty, had
described him as "a charming fool." He was horrified by all the names
which he saw in politics and in power, regarding them as vulgar and
bourgeois. He read the journals, the newspapers, the gazettes as he
said, stifling outbursts of laughter the while. "Oh!" he said, "what
people these are! Corbiere! Humann! Casimir Perier! There's a minister
for you! I can imagine this in a journal: 'M. Gillenorman, minister!'
that would be a farce. Well! They are so stupid that it would pass"; he
merrily called everything by its name, whether decent or indecent, and
did not restrain himself in the least before ladies. He uttered coarse
speeches, obscenities, and filth with a certain tranquillity and lack
of astonishment which was elegant. It was in keeping with the
unceremoniousness of his century. It is to be noted that the age of
periphrase in verse was the age of crudities in prose. His god-father
had predicted that he would turn out a man of genius, and had bestowed
on him these two significant names: Luc-Esprit.


He had taken prizes in his boyhood at the College of Moulins, where he
was born, and he had been crowned by the hand of the Duc de Nivernais,
whom he called the Duc de Nevers. Neither the Convention, nor the death
of Louis XVI., nor the Napoleon, nor the return of the Bourbons, nor
anything else had been able to efface the memory of this crowning. The
Duc de Nevers was, in his eyes, the great figure of the century. "What a
charming grand seigneur," he said, "and what a fine air he had with his
blue ribbon!"

In the eyes of M. Gillenormand, Catherine the Second had made reparation
for the crime of the partition of Poland by purchasing, for three
thousand roubles, the secret of the elixir of gold, from Bestucheff. He
grew animated on this subject: "The elixir of gold," he exclaimed, "the
yellow dye of Bestucheff, General Lamotte's drops, in the eighteenth
century,--this was the great remedy for the catastrophes of love, the
panacea against Venus, at one louis the half-ounce phial. Louis XV.
sent two hundred phials of it to the Pope." He would have been greatly
irritated and thrown off his balance, had any one told him that the
elixir of gold is nothing but the perchloride of iron. M. Gillenormand
adored the Bourbons, and had a horror of 1789; he was forever narrating
in what manner he had saved himself during the Terror, and how he had
been obliged to display a vast deal of gayety and cleverness in order to
escape having his head cut off. If any young man ventured to pronounce
an eulogium on the Republic in his presence, he turned purple and grew
so angry that he was on the point of swooning. He sometimes alluded to
his ninety years, and said, "I hope that I shall not see ninety-three
twice." On these occasions, he hinted to people that he meant to live to
be a hundred.


He had theories. Here is one of them: "When a man is passionately fond
of women, and when he has himself a wife for whom he cares but little,
who is homely, cross, legitimate, with plenty of rights, perched on the
code, and jealous at need, there is but one way of extricating himself
from the quandry and of procuring peace, and that is to let his wife
control the purse-strings. This abdication sets him free. Then his
wife busies herself, grows passionately fond of handling coin, gets her
fingers covered with verdigris in the process, undertakes the education
of half-share tenants and the training of farmers, convokes lawyers,
presides over notaries, harangues scriveners, visits limbs of the law,
follows lawsuits, draws up leases, dictates contracts, feels herself the
sovereign, sells, buys, regulates, promises and compromises, binds fast
and annuls, yields, concedes and retrocedes, arranges, disarranges,
hoards, lavishes; she commits follies, a supreme and personal delight,
and that consoles her. While her husband disdains her, she has the
satisfaction of ruining her husband." This theory M. Gillenormand had
himself applied, and it had become his history. His wife--the second
one--had administered his fortune in such a manner that, one fine day,
when M. Gillenormand found himself a widower, there remained to him just
sufficient to live on, by sinking nearly the whole of it in an annuity
of fifteen thousand francs, three-quarters of which would expire with
him. He had not hesitated on this point, not being anxious to leave
a property behind him. Besides, he had noticed that patrimonies are
subject to adventures, and, for instance, become national property; he
had been present at the avatars of consolidated three per cents, and he
had no great faith in the Great Book of the Public Debt. "All that's
the Rue Quincampois!" he said. His house in the Rue Filles-du-Clavaire
belonged to him, as we have already stated. He had two servants, "a male
and a female." When a servant entered his establishment, M. Gillenormand
re-baptized him. He bestowed on the men the name of their province:
Nimois, Comtois, Poitevin, Picard. His last valet was a big, foundered,
short-winded fellow of fifty-five, who was incapable of running twenty
paces; but, as he had been born at Bayonne, M. Gillenormand called him
Basque. All the female servants in his house were called Nicolette (even
the Magnon, of whom we shall hear more farther on). One day, a haughty
cook, a cordon bleu, of the lofty race of porters, presented herself.
"How much wages do you want a month?" asked M. Gillenormand. "Thirty
francs." "What is your name?" "Olympie." "You shall have fifty francs,
and you shall be called Nicolette."


With M. Gillenormand, sorrow was converted into wrath; he was furious at
being in despair. He had all sorts of prejudices and took all sorts
of liberties. One of the facts of which his exterior relief and his
internal satisfaction was composed, was, as we have just hinted, that he
had remained a brisk spark, and that he passed energetically for such.
This he called having "royal renown." This royal renown sometimes drew
down upon him singular windfalls. One day, there was brought to him in
a basket, as though it had been a basket of oysters, a stout, newly
born boy, who was yelling like the deuce, and duly wrapped in
swaddling-clothes, which a servant-maid, dismissed six months
previously, attributed to him. M. Gillenormand had, at that time,
fully completed his eighty-fourth year. Indignation and uproar in the
establishment. And whom did that bold hussy think she could persuade to
believe that? What audacity! What an abominable calumny! M. Gillenormand
himself was not at all enraged. He gazed at the brat with the amiable
smile of a good man who is flattered by the calumny, and said in an
aside: "Well, what now? What's the matter? You are finely taken aback,
and really, you are excessively ignorant. M. le Duc d'Angouleme, the
bastard of his Majesty Charles IX., married a silly jade of fifteen
when he was eighty-five; M. Virginal, Marquis d'Alluye, brother to
the Cardinal de Sourdis, Archbishop of Bordeaux, had, at the age of
eighty-three, by the maid of Madame la Presidente Jacquin, a son, a
real child of love, who became a Chevalier of Malta and a counsellor of
state; one of the great men of this century, the Abbe Tabaraud, is the
son of a man of eighty-seven. There is nothing out of the ordinary in
these things. And then, the Bible! Upon that I declare that this little
gentleman is none of mine. Let him be taken care of. It is not his
fault." This manner of procedure was good-tempered. The woman, whose
name was Magnon, sent him another parcel in the following year. It was a
boy again. Thereupon, M. Gillenormand capitulated. He sent the two brats
back to their mother, promising to pay eighty francs a month for their
maintenance, on the condition that the said mother would not do so any
more. He added: "I insist upon it that the mother shall treat them well.
I shall go to see them from time to time." And this he did. He had had
a brother who was a priest, and who had been rector of the Academy of
Poitiers for three and thirty years, and had died at seventy-nine.
"I lost him young," said he. This brother, of whom but little memory
remains, was a peaceable miser, who, being a priest, thought himself
bound to bestow alms on the poor whom he met, but he never gave them
anything except bad or demonetized sous, thereby discovering a means of
going to hell by way of paradise. As for M. Gillenormand the elder, he
never haggled over his alms-giving, but gave gladly and nobly. He was
kindly, abrupt, charitable, and if he had been rich, his turn of mind
would have been magnificent. He desired that all which concerned him
should be done in a grand manner, even his rogueries. One day, having
been cheated by a business man in a matter of inheritance, in a gross
and apparent manner, he uttered this solemn exclamation: "That was
indecently done! I am really ashamed of this pilfering. Everything has
degenerated in this century, even the rascals. Morbleu! this is not the
way to rob a man of my standing. I am robbed as though in a forest, but
badly robbed. Silva, sint consule dignae!" He had had two wives, as
we have already mentioned; by the first he had had a daughter, who had
remained unmarried, and by the second another daughter, who had died
at about the age of thirty, who had wedded, through love, or chance,
or otherwise, a soldier of fortune who had served in the armies of the
Republic and of the Empire, who had won the cross at Austerlitz and had
been made colonel at Waterloo. "He is the disgrace of my family,"
said the old bourgeois. He took an immense amount of snuff, and had a
particularly graceful manner of plucking at his lace ruffle with the
back of one hand. He believed very little in God.


Such was M. Luc-Esprit Gillenormand, who had not lost his hair,--which
was gray rather than white,--and which was always dressed in "dog's
ears." To sum up, he was venerable in spite of all this.

He had something of the eighteenth century about him; frivolous and

In 1814 and during the early years of the Restoration, M. Gillenormand,
who was still young,--he was only seventy-four,--lived in the Faubourg
Saint Germain, Rue Servandoni, near Saint-Sulpice. He had only retired
to the Marais when he quitted society, long after attaining the age of

And, on abandoning society, he had immured himself in his habits. The
principal one, and that which was invariable, was to keep his door
absolutely closed during the day, and never to receive any one whatever
except in the evening. He dined at five o'clock, and after that his door
was open. That had been the fashion of his century, and he would not
swerve from it. "The day is vulgar," said he, "and deserves only a
closed shutter. Fashionable people only light up their minds when the
zenith lights up its stars." And he barricaded himself against every
one, even had it been the king himself. This was the antiquated elegance
of his day.


We have just spoken of M. Gillenormand's two daughters. They had come
into the world ten years apart. In their youth they had borne very
little resemblance to each other, either in character or countenance,
and had also been as little like sisters to each other as possible. The
youngest had a charming soul, which turned towards all that belongs to
the light, was occupied with flowers, with verses, with music, which
fluttered away into glorious space, enthusiastic, ethereal, and was
wedded from her very youth, in ideal, to a vague and heroic figure. The
elder had also her chimera; she espied in the azure some very wealthy
purveyor, a contractor, a splendidly stupid husband, a million made man,
or even a prefect; the receptions of the Prefecture, an usher in the
antechamber with a chain on his neck, official balls, the harangues
of the town-hall, to be "Madame la Prefete,"--all this had created a
whirlwind in her imagination. Thus the two sisters strayed, each in her
own dream, at the epoch when they were young girls. Both had wings, the
one like an angel, the other like a goose.

No ambition is ever fully realized, here below at least. No paradise
becomes terrestrial in our day. The younger wedded the man of her
dreams, but she died. The elder did not marry at all.

At the moment when she makes her entrance into this history which we are
relating, she was an antique virtue, an incombustible prude, with one of
the sharpest noses, and one of the most obtuse minds that it is possible
to see. A characteristic detail; outside of her immediate family, no one
had ever known her first name. She was called Mademoiselle Gillenormand,
the elder.

In the matter of cant, Mademoiselle Gillenormand could have given points
to a miss. Her modesty was carried to the other extreme of blackness.
She cherished a frightful memory of her life; one day, a man had beheld
her garter.

Age had only served to accentuate this pitiless modesty. Her guimpe was
never sufficiently opaque, and never ascended sufficiently high. She
multiplied clasps and pins where no one would have dreamed of looking.
The peculiarity of prudery is to place all the more sentinels in
proportion as the fortress is the less menaced.

Nevertheless, let him who can explain these antique mysteries of
innocence, she allowed an officer of the Lancers, her grand nephew,
named Theodule, to embrace her without displeasure.

In spite of this favored Lancer, the label: Prude, under which we
have classed her, suited her to absolute perfection. Mademoiselle
Gillenormand was a sort of twilight soul. Prudery is a demi-virtue and a

To prudery she added bigotry, a well-assorted lining. She belonged
to the society of the Virgin, wore a white veil on certain festivals,
mumbled special orisons, revered "the holy blood," venerated "the sacred
heart," remained for hours in contemplation before a rococo-jesuit altar
in a chapel which was inaccessible to the rank and file of the faithful,
and there allowed her soul to soar among little clouds of marble, and
through great rays of gilded wood.

She had a chapel friend, an ancient virgin like herself, named
Mademoiselle Vaubois, who was a positive blockhead, and beside whom
Mademoiselle Gillenormand had the pleasure of being an eagle. Beyond
the Agnus Dei and Ave Maria, Mademoiselle Vaubois had no knowledge of
anything except of the different ways of making preserves. Mademoiselle
Vaubois, perfect in her style, was the ermine of stupidity without a
single spot of intelligence.

Let us say it plainly, Mademoiselle Gillenormand had gained rather than
lost as she grew older. This is the case with passive natures. She had
never been malicious, which is relative kindness; and then, years wear
away the angles, and the softening which comes with time had come to
her. She was melancholy with an obscure sadness of which she did not
herself know the secret. There breathed from her whole person the stupor
of a life that was finished, and which had never had a beginning.

She kept house for her father. M. Gillenormand had his daughter near
him, as we have seen that Monseigneur Bienvenu had his sister with him.
These households comprised of an old man and an old spinster are not
rare, and always have the touching aspect of two weaknesses leaning on
each other for support.

There was also in this house, between this elderly spinster and this
old man, a child, a little boy, who was always trembling and mute in the
presence of M. Gillenormand. M. Gillenormand never addressed this child
except in a severe voice, and sometimes, with uplifted cane: "Here, sir!
rascal, scoundrel, come here!--Answer me, you scamp! Just let me see
you, you good-for-nothing!" etc., etc. He idolized him.

This was his grandson. We shall meet with this child again later on.



When M. Gillenormand lived in the Rue Servandoni, he had frequented
many very good and very aristocratic salons. Although a bourgeois, M.
Gillenormand was received in society. As he had a double measure of wit,
in the first place, that which was born with him, and secondly, that
which was attributed to him, he was even sought out and made much of. He
never went anywhere except on condition of being the chief person there.
There are people who will have influence at any price, and who will have
other people busy themselves over them; when they cannot be oracles,
they turn wags. M. Gillenormand was not of this nature; his domination
in the Royalist salons which he frequented cost his self-respect
nothing. He was an oracle everywhere. It had happened to him to hold his
own against M. de Bonald, and even against M. Bengy-Puy-Vallee.

About 1817, he invariably passed two afternoons a week in a house in
his own neighborhood, in the Rue Ferou, with Madame la Baronne de T.,
a worthy and respectable person, whose husband had been Ambassador of
France to Berlin under Louis XVI. Baron de T., who, during his lifetime,
had gone very passionately into ecstasies and magnetic visions, had died
bankrupt, during the emigration, leaving, as his entire fortune,
some very curious Memoirs about Mesmer and his tub, in ten manuscript
volumes, bound in red morocco and gilded on the edges. Madame de T. had
not published the memoirs, out of pride, and maintained herself on a
meagre income which had survived no one knew how.

Madame de T. lived far from the Court; "a very mixed society," as she
said, in a noble isolation, proud and poor. A few friends assembled
twice a week about her widowed hearth, and these constituted a purely
Royalist salon. They sipped tea there, and uttered groans or cries of
horror at the century, the charter, the Bonapartists, the prostitution
of the blue ribbon, or the Jacobinism of Louis XVIII., according as the
wind veered towards elegy or dithyrambs; and they spoke in low tones of
the hopes which were presented by Monsieur, afterwards Charles X.

The songs of the fishwomen, in which Napoleon was called Nicolas, were
received there with transports of joy. Duchesses, the most delicate and
charming women in the world, went into ecstasies over couplets like the
following, addressed to "the federates":--

               Refoncez dans vos culottes[20]
               Le bout d' chemis' qui vous pend.
               Qu'on n' dis' pas qu' les patriotes
               Ont arbore l' drapeau blanc?

There they amused themselves with puns which were considered terrible,
with innocent plays upon words which they supposed to be venomous, with
quatrains, with distiches even; thus, upon the Dessolles ministry, a
moderate cabinet, of which MM. Decazes and Deserre were members:--

          Pour raffermir le trone ebranle sur sa base,[21]
          Il faut changer de sol, et de serre et de case.

Or they drew up a list of the chamber of peers, "an abominably Jacobin
chamber," and from this list they combined alliances of names, in such
a manner as to form, for example, phrases like the following: Damas.
Sabran. Gouvion-Saint-Cyr.--All this was done merrily. In that society,
they parodied the Revolution. They used I know not what desires to give
point to the same wrath in inverse sense. They sang their little Ca

               Ah! ca ira ca ira ca ira!
               Les Bonapartistes a la lanterne!

Songs are like the guillotine; they chop away indifferently, to-day this
head, to-morrow that. It is only a variation.

In the Fualdes affair, which belongs to this epoch, 1816, they took
part for Bastide and Jausion, because Fualdes was "a Buonapartist." They
designated the liberals as friends and brothers; this constituted the
most deadly insult.

Like certain church towers, Madame de T.'s salon had two cocks. One of
them was M. Gillenormand, the other was Comte de Lamothe-Valois, of whom
it was whispered about, with a sort of respect: "Do you know? That is
the Lamothe of the affair of the necklace." These singular amnesties do
occur in parties.

Let us add the following: in the bourgeoisie, honored situations decay
through too easy relations; one must beware whom one admits; in the same
way that there is a loss of caloric in the vicinity of those who are
cold, there is a diminution of consideration in the approach of despised
persons. The ancient society of the upper classes held themselves above
this law, as above every other. Marigny, the brother of the Pompadour,
had his entry with M. le Prince de Soubise. In spite of? No, because. Du
Barry, the god-father of the Vaubernier, was very welcome at the house
of M. le Marechal de Richelieu. This society is Olympus. Mercury and
the Prince de Guemenee are at home there. A thief is admitted there,
provided he be a god.

The Comte de Lamothe, who, in 1815, was an old man seventy-five years of
age, had nothing remarkable about him except his silent and sententious
air, his cold and angular face, his perfectly polished manners, his coat
buttoned up to his cravat, and his long legs always crossed in long,
flabby trousers of the hue of burnt sienna. His face was the same color
as his trousers.

This M. de Lamothe was "held in consideration" in this salon on account
of his "celebrity" and, strange to say, though true, because of his name
of Valois.

As for M. Gillenormand, his consideration was of absolutely first-rate
quality. He had, in spite of his levity, and without its interfering in
any way with his dignity, a certain manner about him which was imposing,
dignified, honest, and lofty, in a bourgeois fashion; and his great
age added to it. One is not a century with impunity. The years finally
produce around a head a venerable dishevelment.

In addition to this, he said things which had the genuine sparkle of the
old rock. Thus, when the King of Prussia, after having restored Louis
XVIII., came to pay the latter a visit under the name of the Count de
Ruppin, he was received by the descendant of Louis XIV. somewhat
as though he had been the Marquis de Brandebourg, and with the most
delicate impertinence. M. Gillenormand approved: "All kings who are
not the King of France," said he, "are provincial kings." One day, the
following question was put and the following answer returned in his
presence: "To what was the editor of the Courrier Francais condemned?"
"To be suspended." "Sus is superfluous," observed M. Gillenormand.[22]
Remarks of this nature found a situation.

At the Te Deum on the anniversary of the return of the Bourbons, he
said, on seeing M. de Talleyrand pass by: "There goes his Excellency the
Evil One."

M. Gillenormand was always accompanied by his daughter, that tall
mademoiselle, who was over forty and looked fifty, and by a handsome
little boy of seven years, white, rosy, fresh, with happy and trusting
eyes, who never appeared in that salon without hearing voices murmur
around him: "How handsome he is! What a pity! Poor child!" This child
was the one of whom we dropped a word a while ago. He was called "poor
child," because he had for a father "a brigand of the Loire."

This brigand of the Loire was M. Gillenormand's son-in-law, who has
already been mentioned, and whom M. Gillenormand called "the disgrace of
his family."


Any one who had chanced to pass through the little town of Vernon at
this epoch, and who had happened to walk across that fine monumental
bridge, which will soon be succeeded, let us hope, by some hideous iron
cable bridge, might have observed, had he dropped his eyes over the
parapet, a man about fifty years of age wearing a leather cap, and
trousers and a waistcoat of coarse gray cloth, to which something yellow
which had been a red ribbon, was sewn, shod with wooden sabots, tanned
by the sun, his face nearly black and his hair nearly white, a large
scar on his forehead which ran down upon his cheek, bowed, bent,
prematurely aged, who walked nearly every day, hoe and sickle in hand,
in one of those compartments surrounded by walls which abut on the
bridge, and border the left bank of the Seine like a chain of terraces,
charming enclosures full of flowers of which one could say, were they
much larger: "these are gardens," and were they a little smaller: "these
are bouquets." All these enclosures abut upon the river at one end, and
on a house at the other. The man in the waistcoat and the wooden shoes
of whom we have just spoken, inhabited the smallest of these enclosures
and the most humble of these houses about 1817. He lived there alone and
solitary, silently and poorly, with a woman who was neither young nor
old, neither homely nor pretty, neither a peasant nor a bourgeoise, who
served him. The plot of earth which he called his garden was celebrated
in the town for the beauty of the flowers which he cultivated there.
These flowers were his occupation.

By dint of labor, of perseverance, of attention, and of buckets of
water, he had succeeded in creating after the Creator, and he had
invented certain tulips and certain dahlias which seemed to have been
forgotten by nature. He was ingenious; he had forestalled Soulange
Bodin in the formation of little clumps of earth of heath mould, for the
cultivation of rare and precious shrubs from America and China. He
was in his alleys from the break of day, in summer, planting, cutting,
hoeing, watering, walking amid his flowers with an air of kindness,
sadness, and sweetness, sometimes standing motionless and thoughtful
for hours, listening to the song of a bird in the trees, the babble of a
child in a house, or with his eyes fixed on a drop of dew at the tip of
a spear of grass, of which the sun made a carbuncle. His table was very
plain, and he drank more milk than wine. A child could make him give
way, and his servant scolded him. He was so timid that he seemed shy, he
rarely went out, and he saw no one but the poor people who tapped at his
pane and his cure, the Abbe Mabeuf, a good old man. Nevertheless, if the
inhabitants of the town, or strangers, or any chance comers, curious to
see his tulips, rang at his little cottage, he opened his door with a
smile. He was the "brigand of the Loire."

Any one who had, at the same time, read military memoirs, biographies,
the Moniteur, and the bulletins of the grand army, would have been
struck by a name which occurs there with tolerable frequency, the name
of Georges Pontmercy. When very young, this Georges Pontmercy had been
a soldier in Saintonge's regiment. The revolution broke out. Saintonge's
regiment formed a part of the army of the Rhine; for the old regiments
of the monarchy preserved their names of provinces even after the fall
of the monarchy, and were only divided into brigades in 1794. Pontmercy
fought at Spire, at Worms, at Neustadt, at Turkheim, at Alzey, at
Mayence, where he was one of the two hundred who formed Houchard's
rearguard. It was the twelfth to hold its ground against the corps
of the Prince of Hesse, behind the old rampart of Andernach, and only
rejoined the main body of the army when the enemy's cannon had opened
a breach from the cord of the parapet to the foot of the glacis. He was
under Kleber at Marchiennes and at the battle of Mont-Palissel, where
a ball from a biscaien broke his arm. Then he passed to the frontier
of Italy, and was one of the thirty grenadiers who defended the Col
de Tende with Joubert. Joubert was appointed its adjutant-general, and
Pontmercy sub-lieutenant. Pontmercy was by Berthier's side in the midst
of the grape-shot of that day at Lodi which caused Bonaparte to say:
"Berthier has been cannoneer, cavalier, and grenadier." He beheld his
old general, Joubert, fall at Novi, at the moment when, with uplifted
sabre, he was shouting: "Forward!" Having been embarked with his
company in the exigencies of the campaign, on board a pinnace which was
proceeding from Genoa to some obscure port on the coast, he fell into
a wasps'-nest of seven or eight English vessels. The Genoese commander
wanted to throw his cannon into the sea, to hide the soldiers between
decks, and to slip along in the dark as a merchant vessel. Pontmercy had
the colors hoisted to the peak, and sailed proudly past under the guns
of the British frigates. Twenty leagues further on, his audacity having
increased, he attacked with his pinnace, and captured a large English
transport which was carrying troops to Sicily, and which was so loaded
down with men and horses that the vessel was sunk to the level of the
sea. In 1805 he was in that Malher division which took Gunzberg from the
Archduke Ferdinand. At Weltingen he received into his arms, beneath a
storm of bullets, Colonel Maupetit, mortally wounded at the head of the
9th Dragoons. He distinguished himself at Austerlitz in that admirable
march in echelons effected under the enemy's fire. When the cavalry of
the Imperial Russian Guard crushed a battalion of the 4th of the line,
Pontmercy was one of those who took their revenge and overthrew the
Guard. The Emperor gave him the cross. Pontmercy saw Wurmser at Mantua,
Melas, and Alexandria, Mack at Ulm, made prisoners in succession.
He formed a part of the eighth corps of the grand army which Mortier
commanded, and which captured Hamburg. Then he was transferred to the
55th of the line, which was the old regiment of Flanders. At Eylau
he was in the cemetery where, for the space of two hours, the heroic
Captain Louis Hugo, the uncle of the author of this book, sustained
alone with his company of eighty-three men every effort of the hostile
army. Pontmercy was one of the three who emerged alive from that
cemetery. He was at Friedland. Then he saw Moscow. Then La Beresina,
then Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden, Wachau, Leipzig, and the defiles of
Gelenhausen; then Montmirail, Chateau-Thierry, Craon, the banks of the
Marne, the banks of the Aisne, and the redoubtable position of Laon. At
Arnay-Le-Duc, being then a captain, he put ten Cossacks to the sword,
and saved, not his general, but his corporal. He was well slashed up on
this occasion, and twenty-seven splinters were extracted from his left
arm alone. Eight days before the capitulation of Paris he had just
exchanged with a comrade and entered the cavalry. He had what was called
under the old regime, the double hand, that is to say, an equal aptitude
for handling the sabre or the musket as a soldier, or a squadron or
a battalion as an officer. It is from this aptitude, perfected by a
military education, which certain special branches of the service arise,
the dragoons, for example, who are both cavalry-men and infantry at one
and the same time. He accompanied Napoleon to the Island of Elba. At
Waterloo, he was chief of a squadron of cuirassiers, in Dubois' brigade.
It was he who captured the standard of the Lunenburg battalion. He came
and cast the flag at the Emperor's feet. He was covered with blood.
While tearing down the banner he had received a sword-cut across his
face. The Emperor, greatly pleased, shouted to him: "You are a colonel,
you are a baron, you are an officer of the Legion of Honor!" Pontmercy
replied: "Sire, I thank you for my widow." An hour later, he fell in the
ravine of Ohain. Now, who was this Georges Pontmercy? He was this same
"brigand of the Loire."

We have already seen something of his history. After Waterloo,
Pontmercy, who had been pulled out of the hollow road of Ohain, as it
will be remembered, had succeeded in joining the army, and had dragged
himself from ambulance to ambulance as far as the cantonments of the

The Restoration had placed him on half-pay, then had sent him into
residence, that is to say, under surveillance, at Vernon. King Louis
XVIII., regarding all that which had taken place during the Hundred
Days as not having occurred at all, did not recognize his quality as an
officer of the Legion of Honor, nor his grade of colonel, nor his title
of baron. He, on his side, neglected no occasion of signing himself
"Colonel Baron Pontmercy." He had only an old blue coat, and he never
went out without fastening to it his rosette as an officer of the Legion
of Honor. The Attorney for the Crown had him warned that the authorities
would prosecute him for "illegal" wearing of this decoration. When this
notice was conveyed to him through an officious intermediary, Pontmercy
retorted with a bitter smile: "I do not know whether I no longer
understand French, or whether you no longer speak it; but the fact is
that I do not understand." Then he went out for eight successive days
with his rosette. They dared not interfere with him. Two or three times
the Minister of War and the general in command of the department wrote
to him with the following address: "A Monsieur le Commandant Pontmercy."
He sent back the letters with the seals unbroken. At the same moment,
Napoleon at Saint Helena was treating in the same fashion the missives
of Sir Hudson Lowe addressed to General Bonaparte. Pontmercy had ended,
may we be pardoned the expression, by having in his mouth the same
saliva as his Emperor.

In the same way, there were at Rome Carthaginian prisoners who refused
to salute Flaminius, and who had a little of Hannibal's spirit.

One day he encountered the district-attorney in one of the streets of
Vernon, stepped up to him, and said: "Mr. Crown Attorney, am I permitted
to wear my scar?"

He had nothing save his meagre half-pay as chief of squadron. He had
hired the smallest house which he could find at Vernon. He lived there
alone, we have just seen how. Under the Empire, between two wars, he
had found time to marry Mademoiselle Gillenormand. The old bourgeois,
thoroughly indignant at bottom, had given his consent with a sigh,
saying: "The greatest families are forced into it." In 1815, Madame
Pontmercy, an admirable woman in every sense, by the way, lofty in
sentiment and rare, and worthy of her husband, died, leaving a
child. This child had been the colonel's joy in his solitude; but the
grandfather had imperatively claimed his grandson, declaring that if
the child were not given to him he would disinherit him. The father had
yielded in the little one's interest, and had transferred his love to

Moreover, he had renounced everything, and neither stirred up mischief
nor conspired. He shared his thoughts between the innocent things which
he was then doing and the great things which he had done. He passed his
time in expecting a pink or in recalling Austerlitz.

M. Gillenormand kept up no relations with his son-in-law. The colonel
was "a bandit" to him. M. Gillenormand never mentioned the colonel,
except when he occasionally made mocking allusions to "his Baronship."
It had been expressly agreed that Pontmercy should never attempt to see
his son nor to speak to him, under penalty of having the latter handed
over to him disowned and disinherited. For the Gillenormands, Pontmercy
was a man afflicted with the plague. They intended to bring up the
child in their own way. Perhaps the colonel was wrong to accept these
conditions, but he submitted to them, thinking that he was doing right
and sacrificing no one but himself.

The inheritance of Father Gillenormand did not amount to much; but the
inheritance of Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder was considerable.
This aunt, who had remained unmarried, was very rich on the maternal
side, and her sister's son was her natural heir. The boy, whose name was
Marius, knew that he had a father, but nothing more. No one opened
his mouth to him about it. Nevertheless, in the society into which his
grandfather took him, whispers, innuendoes, and winks, had eventually
enlightened the little boy's mind; he had finally understood something
of the case, and as he naturally took in the ideas and opinions which
were, so to speak, the air he breathed, by a sort of infiltration and
slow penetration, he gradually came to think of his father only with
shame and with a pain at his heart.

While he was growing up in this fashion, the colonel slipped away every
two or three months, came to Paris on the sly, like a criminal breaking
his ban, and went and posted himself at Saint-Sulpice, at the hour when
Aunt Gillenormand led Marius to the mass. There, trembling lest the aunt
should turn round, concealed behind a pillar, motionless, not daring to
breathe, he gazed at his child. The scarred veteran was afraid of that
old spinster.

From this had arisen his connection with the cure of Vernon, M. l'Abbe

That worthy priest was the brother of a warden of Saint-Sulpice, who had
often observed this man gazing at his child, and the scar on his cheek,
and the large tears in his eyes. That man, who had so manly an air, yet
who was weeping like a woman, had struck the warden. That face had clung
to his mind. One day, having gone to Vernon to see his brother, he had
encountered Colonel Pontmercy on the bridge, and had recognized the man
of Saint-Sulpice. The warden had mentioned the circumstance to the cure,
and both had paid the colonel a visit, on some pretext or other. This
visit led to others. The colonel, who had been extremely reserved at
first, ended by opening his heart, and the cure and the warden finally
came to know the whole history, and how Pontmercy was sacrificing his
happiness to his child's future. This caused the cure to regard him with
veneration and tenderness, and the colonel, on his side, became fond
of the cure. And moreover, when both are sincere and good, no men so
penetrate each other, and so amalgamate with each other, as an old
priest and an old soldier. At bottom, the man is the same. The one has
devoted his life to his country here below, the other to his country on
high; that is the only difference.

Twice a year, on the first of January and on St. George's day, Marius
wrote duty letters to his father, which were dictated by his aunt, and
which one would have pronounced to be copied from some formula; this was
all that M. Gillenormand tolerated; and the father answered them with
very tender letters which the grandfather thrust into his pocket unread.


Madame de T.'s salon was all that Marius Pontmercy knew of the world. It
was the only opening through which he could get a glimpse of life. This
opening was sombre, and more cold than warmth, more night than day, came
to him through this skylight. This child, who had been all joy and light
on entering this strange world, soon became melancholy, and, what is
still more contrary to his age, grave. Surrounded by all those singular
and imposing personages, he gazed about him with serious amazement.
Everything conspired to increase this astonishment in him. There were
in Madame de T.'s salon some very noble ladies named Mathan, Noe,
Levis,--which was pronounced Levi,--Cambis, pronounced Cambyse. These
antique visages and these Biblical names mingled in the child's mind
with the Old Testament which he was learning by heart, and when they
were all there, seated in a circle around a dying fire, sparely lighted
by a lamp shaded with green, with their severe profiles, their gray or
white hair, their long gowns of another age, whose lugubrious colors
could not be distinguished, dropping, at rare intervals, words which
were both majestic and severe, little Marius stared at them with
frightened eyes, in the conviction that he beheld not women, but
patriarchs and magi, not real beings, but phantoms.

With these phantoms, priests were sometimes mingled, frequenters of
this ancient salon, and some gentlemen; the Marquis de Sass****, private
secretary to Madame de Berry, the Vicomte de Val***, who published,
under the pseudonyme of Charles-Antoine, monorhymed odes, the Prince de
Beauff*******, who, though very young, had a gray head and a pretty and
witty wife, whose very low-necked toilettes of scarlet velvet with gold
torsades alarmed these shadows, the Marquis de C*****d'E******, the man
in all France who best understood "proportioned politeness," the Comte
d'Am*****, the kindly man with the amiable chin, and the Chevalier de
Port-de-Guy, a pillar of the library of the Louvre, called the King's
cabinet, M. de Port-de-Guy, bald, and rather aged than old, was wont
to relate that in 1793, at the age of sixteen, he had been put in the
galleys as refractory and chained with an octogenarian, the Bishop
of Mirepoix, also refractory, but as a priest, while he was so in the
capacity of a soldier. This was at Toulon. Their business was to go at
night and gather up on the scaffold the heads and bodies of the persons
who had been guillotined during the day; they bore away on their backs
these dripping corpses, and their red galley-slave blouses had a clot of
blood at the back of the neck, which was dry in the morning and wet at
night. These tragic tales abounded in Madame de T.'s salon, and by
dint of cursing Marat, they applauded Trestaillon. Some deputies of the
undiscoverable variety played their whist there; M. Thibord du Chalard,
M. Lemarchant de Gomicourt, and the celebrated scoffer of the right, M.
Cornet-Dincourt. The bailiff de Ferrette, with his short breeches
and his thin legs, sometimes traversed this salon on his way to M. de
Talleyrand. He had been M. le Comte d'Artois' companion in pleasures and
unlike Aristotle crouching under Campaspe, he had made the Guimard crawl
on all fours, and in that way he had exhibited to the ages a philosopher
avenged by a bailiff. As for the priests, there was the Abbe Halma, the
same to whom M. Larose, his collaborator on la Foudre, said: "Bah! Who
is there who is not fifty years old? a few greenhorns perhaps?" The Abbe
Letourneur, preacher to the King, the Abbe Frayssinous, who was not, as
yet, either count, or bishop, or minister, or peer, and who wore an old
cassock whose buttons were missing, and the Abbe Keravenant, Cure of
Saint-Germain-des-Pres; also the Pope's Nuncio, then Monsignor Macchi,
Archbishop of Nisibi, later on Cardinal, remarkable for his long,
pensive nose, and another Monsignor, entitled thus: Abbate Palmieri,
domestic prelate, one of the seven participant prothonotaries of the
Holy See, Canon of the illustrious Liberian basilica, Advocate of the
saints, Postulatore dei Santi, which refers to matters of canonization,
and signifies very nearly: Master of Requests of the section of
Paradise. Lastly, two cardinals, M. de la Luzerne, and M. de Cl******
T*******. The Cardinal of Luzerne was a writer and was destined to have,
a few years later, the honor of signing in the Conservateur articles
side by side with Chateaubriand; M. de Cl****** T******* was Archbishop
of Toul****, and often made trips to Paris, to his nephew, the Marquis
de T*******, who was Minister of Marine and War. The Cardinal of
Cl****** T******* was a merry little man, who displayed his red
stockings beneath his tucked-up cassock; his specialty was a hatred of
the Encyclopaedia, and his desperate play at billiards, and persons who,
at that epoch, passed through the Rue M***** on summer evenings, where
the hotel de Cl****** T******* then stood, halted to listen to the shock
of the balls and the piercing voice of the Cardinal shouting to his
conclavist, Monseigneur Cotiret, Bishop in partibus of Caryste: "Mark,
Abbe, I make a cannon." The Cardinal de Cl****** T******* had been
brought to Madame de T.'s by his most intimate friend, M. de Roquelaure,
former Bishop of Senlis, and one of the Forty. M. de Roquelaure was
notable for his lofty figure and his assiduity at the Academy; through
the glass door of the neighboring hall of the library where the French
Academy then held its meetings, the curious could, on every Tuesday,
contemplate the Ex-Bishop of Senlis, usually standing erect, freshly
powdered, in violet hose, with his back turned to the door, apparently
for the purpose of allowing a better view of his little collar. All
these ecclesiastics, though for the most part as much courtiers as
churchmen, added to the gravity of the T. salon, whose seigniorial
aspect was accentuated by five peers of France, the Marquis de Vib****,
the Marquis de Tal***, the Marquis de Herb*******, the Vicomte Damb***,
and the Duc de Val********. This Duc de Val********, although Prince de
Mon***, that is to say a reigning prince abroad, had so high an idea of
France and its peerage, that he viewed everything through their medium.
It was he who said: "The Cardinals are the peers of France of Rome;
the lords are the peers of France of England." Moreover, as it is
indispensable that the Revolution should be everywhere in this century,
this feudal salon was, as we have said, dominated by a bourgeois. M.
Gillenormand reigned there.

There lay the essence and quintessence of the Parisian white society.
There reputations, even Royalist reputations, were held in quarantine.
There is always a trace of anarchy in renown. Chateaubriand, had he
entered there, would have produced the effect of Pere Duchene. Some of
the scoffed-at did, nevertheless, penetrate thither on sufferance. Comte
Beug*** was received there, subject to correction.

The "noble" salons of the present day no longer resemble those salons.
The Faubourg Saint-Germain reeks of the fagot even now. The Royalists of
to-day are demagogues, let us record it to their credit.

At Madame de T.'s the society was superior, taste was exquisite and
haughty, under the cover of a great show of politeness. Manners there
admitted of all sorts of involuntary refinements which were the old
regime itself, buried but still alive. Some of these habits, especially
in the matter of language, seem eccentric. Persons but superficially
acquainted with them would have taken for provincial that which was only
antique. A woman was called Madame la Generale. Madame la Colonelle was
not entirely disused. The charming Madame de Leon, in memory, no
doubt, of the Duchesses de Longueville and de Chevreuse, preferred this
appellation to her title of Princesse. The Marquise de Crequy was also
called Madame la Colonelle.

It was this little high society which invented at the Tuileries the
refinement of speaking to the King in private as the King, in the third
person, and never as Your Majesty, the designation of Your Majesty
having been "soiled by the usurper."

Men and deeds were brought to judgment there. They jeered at the age,
which released them from the necessity of understanding it. They abetted
each other in amazement. They communicated to each other that modicum
of light which they possessed. Methuselah bestowed information on
Epimenides. The deaf man made the blind man acquainted with the course
of things. They declared that the time which had elasped since Coblentz
had not existed. In the same manner that Louis XVIII. was by the grace
of God, in the five and twentieth year of his reign, the emigrants were,
by rights, in the five and twentieth year of their adolescence.

All was harmonious; nothing was too much alive; speech hardly amounted
to a breath; the newspapers, agreeing with the salons, seemed a papyrus.
There were some young people, but they were rather dead. The liveries in
the antechamber were antiquated. These utterly obsolete personages were
served by domestics of the same stamp.

They all had the air of having lived a long time ago, and of obstinately
resisting the sepulchre. Nearly the whole dictionary consisted of
Conserver, Conservation, Conservateur; to be in good odor,--that was the
point. There are, in fact, aromatics in the opinions of these venerable
groups, and their ideas smelled of it. It was a mummified society. The
masters were embalmed, the servants were stuffed with straw.

A worthy old marquise, an emigree and ruined, who had but a solitary
maid, continued to say: "My people."

What did they do in Madame de T.'s salon? They were ultra.

To be ultra; this word, although what it represents may not have
disappeared, has no longer any meaning at the present day. Let us
explain it.

To be ultra is to go beyond. It is to attack the sceptre in the name of
the throne, and the mitre in the name of the attar; it is to ill-treat
the thing which one is dragging, it is to kick over the traces; it is
to cavil at the fagot on the score of the amount of cooking received by
heretics; it is to reproach the idol with its small amount of idolatry;
it is to insult through excess of respect; it is to discover that the
Pope is not sufficiently papish, that the King is not sufficiently
royal, and that the night has too much light; it is to be discontented
with alabaster, with snow, with the swan and the lily in the name of
whiteness; it is to be a partisan of things to the point of becoming
their enemy; it is to be so strongly for, as to be against.

The ultra spirit especially characterizes the first phase of the

Nothing in history resembles that quarter of an hour which begins in
1814 and terminates about 1820, with the advent of M. de Villele,
the practical man of the Right. These six years were an extraordinary
moment; at one and the same time brilliant and gloomy, smiling and
sombre, illuminated as by the radiance of dawn and entirely covered, at
the same time, with the shadows of the great catastrophes which still
filled the horizon and were slowly sinking into the past. There existed
in that light and that shadow, a complete little new and old world,
comic and sad, juvenile and senile, which was rubbing its eyes; nothing
resembles an awakening like a return; a group which regarded France
with ill-temper, and which France regarded with irony; good old owls
of marquises by the streetful, who had returned, and of ghosts, the
"former" subjects of amazement at everything, brave and noble gentlemen
who smiled at being in France but wept also, delighted to behold
their country once more, in despair at not finding their monarchy; the
nobility of the Crusades treating the nobility of the Empire, that is to
say, the nobility of the sword, with scorn; historic races who had
lost the sense of history; the sons of the companions of Charlemagne
disdaining the companions of Napoleon. The swords, as we have just
remarked, returned the insult; the sword of Fontenoy was laughable and
nothing but a scrap of rusty iron; the sword of Marengo was odious and
was only a sabre. Former days did not recognize Yesterday. People no
longer had the feeling for what was grand. There was some one who called
Bonaparte Scapin. This Society no longer exists. Nothing of it, we
repeat, exists to-day. When we select from it some one figure at random,
and attempt to make it live again in thought, it seems as strange to us
as the world before the Deluge. It is because it, too, as a matter of
fact, has been engulfed in a deluge. It has disappeared beneath two
Revolutions. What billows are ideas! How quickly they cover all that it
is their mission to destroy and to bury, and how promptly they create
frightful gulfs!

Such was the physiognomy of the salons of those distant and candid times
when M. Martainville had more wit than Voltaire.

These salons had a literature and politics of their own. They believed
in Fievee. M. Agier laid down the law in them. They commentated M.
Colnet, the old bookseller and publicist of the Quay Malaquais. Napoleon
was to them thoroughly the Corsican Ogre. Later on the introduction into
history of M. le Marquis de Bonaparte, Lieutenant-General of the King's
armies, was a concession to the spirit of the age.

These salons did not long preserve their purity. Beginning with 1818,
doctrinarians began to spring up in them, a disturbing shade. Their way
was to be Royalists and to excuse themselves for being so. Where the
ultras were very proud, the doctrinarians were rather ashamed. They had
wit; they had silence; their political dogma was suitably impregnated
with arrogance; they should have succeeded. They indulged, and usefully
too, in excesses in the matter of white neckties and tightly buttoned
coats. The mistake or the misfortune of the doctrinarian party was to
create aged youth. They assumed the poses of wise men. They dreamed of
engrafting a temperate power on the absolute and excessive principle.
They opposed, and sometimes with rare intelligence, conservative
liberalism to the liberalism which demolishes. They were heard to say:
"Thanks for Royalism! It has rendered more than one service. It has
brought back tradition, worship, religion, respect. It is faithful,
brave, chivalric, loving, devoted. It has mingled, though with regret,
the secular grandeurs of the monarchy with the new grandeurs of the
nation. Its mistake is not to understand the Revolution, the Empire,
glory, liberty, young ideas, young generations, the age. But this
mistake which it makes with regard to us,--have we not sometimes been
guilty of it towards them? The Revolution, whose heirs we are, ought to
be intelligent on all points. To attack Royalism is a misconstruction of
liberalism. What an error! And what blindness! Revolutionary France is
wanting in respect towards historic France, that is to say, towards its
mother, that is to say, towards itself. After the 5th of September, the
nobility of the monarchy is treated as the nobility of the Empire was
treated after the 5th of July. They were unjust to the eagle, we are
unjust to the fleur-de-lys. It seems that we must always have something
to proscribe! Does it serve any purpose to ungild the crown of Louis
XIV., to scrape the coat of arms of Henry IV.? We scoff at M. de
Vaublanc for erasing the N's from the bridge of Jena! What was it that
he did? What are we doing? Bouvines belongs to us as well as Marengo.
The fleurs-de-lys are ours as well as the N's. That is our patrimony. To
what purpose shall we diminish it? We must not deny our country in the
past any more than in the present. Why not accept the whole of history?
Why not love the whole of France?"

It is thus that doctrinarians criticised and protected Royalism, which
was displeased at criticism and furious at protection.

The ultras marked the first epoch of Royalism, congregation
characterized the second. Skill follows ardor. Let us confine ourselves
here to this sketch.

In the course of this narrative, the author of this book has encountered
in his path this curious moment of contemporary history; he has been
forced to cast a passing glance upon it, and to trace once more some of
the singular features of this society which is unknown to-day. But he
does it rapidly and without any bitter or derisive idea. Souvenirs both
respectful and affectionate, for they touch his mother, attach him to
this past. Moreover, let us remark, this same petty world had a grandeur
of its own. One may smile at it, but one can neither despise nor hate
it. It was the France of former days.

Marius Pontmercy pursued some studies, as all children do. When he
emerged from the hands of Aunt Gillenormand, his grandfather confided
him to a worthy professor of the most purely classic innocence. This
young soul which was expanding passed from a prude to a vulgar pedant.

Marius went through his years of college, then he entered the law
school. He was a Royalist, fanatical and severe. He did not love his
grandfather much, as the latter's gayety and cynicism repelled him, and
his feelings towards his father were gloomy.

He was, on the whole, a cold and ardent, noble, generous, proud,
religious, enthusiastic lad; dignified to harshness, pure to shyness.


The conclusion of Marius' classical studies coincided with M.
Gillenormand's departure from society. The old man bade farewell to
the Faubourg Saint-Germain and to Madame de T.'s salon, and established
himself in the Mardis, in his house of the Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire.
There he had for servants, in addition to the porter, that chambermaid,
Nicolette, who had succeeded to Magnon, and that short-breathed and
pursy Basque, who have been mentioned above.

In 1827, Marius had just attained his seventeenth year. One evening, on
his return home, he saw his grandfather holding a letter in his hand.

"Marius," said M. Gillenormand, "you will set out for Vernon to-morrow."

"Why?" said Marius.

"To see your father."

Marius was seized with a trembling fit. He had thought of everything
except this--that he should one day be called upon to see his father.
Nothing could be more unexpected, more surprising, and, let us admit
it, more disagreeable to him. It was forcing estrangement into
reconciliation. It was not an affliction, but it was an unpleasant duty.

Marius, in addition to his motives of political antipathy, was convinced
that his father, the slasher, as M. Gillenormand called him on his
amiable days, did not love him; this was evident, since he had abandoned
him to others. Feeling that he was not beloved, he did not love.
"Nothing is more simple," he said to himself.

He was so astounded that he did not question M. Gillenormand. The
grandfather resumed:--

"It appears that he is ill. He demands your presence."

And after a pause, he added:--

"Set out to-morrow morning. I think there is a coach which leaves the
Cour des Fontaines at six o'clock, and which arrives in the evening.
Take it. He says that here is haste."

Then he crushed the letter in his hand and thrust it into his pocket.
Marius might have set out that very evening and have been with his
father on the following morning. A diligence from the Rue du Bouloi
took the trip to Rouen by night at that date, and passed through Vernon.
Neither Marius nor M. Gillenormand thought of making inquiries about it.

The next day, at twilight, Marius reached Vernon. People were just
beginning to light their candles. He asked the first person whom he
met for "M. Pontmercy's house." For in his own mind, he agreed with the
Restoration, and like it, did not recognize his father's claim to the
title of either colonel or baron.

The house was pointed out to him. He rang; a woman with a little lamp in
her hand opened the door.

"M. Pontmercy?" said Marius.

The woman remained motionless.

"Is this his house?" demanded Marius.

The woman nodded affirmatively.

"Can I speak with him?"

The woman shook her head.

"But I am his son!" persisted Marius. "He is expecting me."

"He no longer expects you," said the woman.

Then he perceived that she was weeping.

She pointed to the door of a room on the ground-floor; he entered.

In that room, which was lighted by a tallow candle standing on the
chimney-piece, there were three men, one standing erect, another
kneeling, and one lying at full length, on the floor in his shirt. The
one on the floor was the colonel.

The other two were the doctor, and the priest, who was engaged in

The colonel had been attacked by brain fever three days previously. As
he had a foreboding of evil at the very beginning of his illness, he
had written to M. Gillenormand to demand his son. The malady had grown
worse. On the very evening of Marius' arrival at Vernon, the colonel had
had an attack of delirium; he had risen from his bed, in spite of the
servant's efforts to prevent him, crying: "My son is not coming! I shall
go to meet him!" Then he ran out of his room and fell prostrate on the
floor of the antechamber. He had just expired.

The doctor had been summoned, and the cure. The doctor had arrived too
late. The son had also arrived too late.

By the dim light of the candle, a large tear could be distinguished on
the pale and prostrate colonel's cheek, where it had trickled from his
dead eye. The eye was extinguished, but the tear was not yet dry. That
tear was his son's delay.

Marius gazed upon that man whom he beheld for the first time, on that
venerable and manly face, on those open eyes which saw not, on those
white locks, those robust limbs, on which, here and there, brown
lines, marking sword-thrusts, and a sort of red stars, which indicated
bullet-holes, were visible. He contemplated that gigantic sear which
stamped heroism on that countenance upon which God had imprinted
goodness. He reflected that this man was his father, and that this man
was dead, and a chill ran over him.

The sorrow which he felt was the sorrow which he would have felt in the
presence of any other man whom he had chanced to behold stretched out in

Anguish, poignant anguish, was in that chamber. The servant-woman was
lamenting in a corner, the cure was praying, and his sobs were audible,
the doctor was wiping his eyes; the corpse itself was weeping.

The doctor, the priest, and the woman gazed at Marius in the midst of
their affliction without uttering a word; he was the stranger there.
Marius, who was far too little affected, felt ashamed and embarrassed at
his own attitude; he held his hat in his hand; and he dropped it on the
floor, in order to produce the impression that grief had deprived him of
the strength to hold it.

At the same time, he experienced remorse, and he despised himself for
behaving in this manner. But was it his fault? He did not love his
father? Why should he!

The colonel had left nothing. The sale of big furniture barely paid the
expenses of his burial.

The servant found a scrap of paper, which she handed to Marius. It
contained the following, in the colonel's handwriting:--

"For my son.--The Emperor made me a Baron on the battle-field of
Waterloo. Since the Restoration disputes my right to this title which I
purchased with my blood, my son shall take it and bear it. That he will
be worthy of it is a matter of course." Below, the colonel had added:
"At that same battle of Waterloo, a sergeant saved my life. The man's
name was Thenardier. I think that he has recently been keeping a
little inn, in a village in the neighborhood of Paris, at Chelles or
Montfermeil. If my son meets him, he will do all the good he can to

Marius took this paper and preserved it, not out of duty to his father,
but because of that vague respect for death which is always imperious in
the heart of man.

Nothing remained of the colonel. M. Gillenormand had his sword and
uniform sold to an old-clothes dealer. The neighbors devastated the
garden and pillaged the rare flowers. The other plants turned to nettles
and weeds, and died.

Marius remained only forty-eight hours at Vernon. After the interment he
returned to Paris, and applied himself again to his law studies, with
no more thought of his father than if the latter had never lived. In two
days the colonel was buried, and in three forgotten.

Marius wore crape on his hat. That was all.


Marius had preserved the religious habits of his childhood. One Sunday,
when he went to hear mass at Saint-Sulpice, at that same chapel of the
Virgin whither his aunt had led him when a small lad, he placed himself
behind a pillar, being more absent-minded and thoughtful than usual on
that occasion, and knelt down, without paying any special heed, upon a
chair of Utrecht velvet, on the back of which was inscribed this name:
Monsieur Mabeuf, warden. Mass had hardly begun when an old man presented
himself and said to Marius:--

"This is my place, sir."

Marius stepped aside promptly, and the old man took possession of his

The mass concluded, Marius still stood thoughtfully a few paces distant;
the old man approached him again and said:--

"I beg your pardon, sir, for having disturbed you a while ago, and for
again disturbing you at this moment; you must have thought me intrusive,
and I will explain myself."

"There is no need of that, Sir," said Marius.

"Yes!" went on the old man, "I do not wish you to have a bad opinion of
me. You see, I am attached to this place. It seems to me that the mass
is better from here. Why? I will tell you. It is from this place, that
I have watched a poor, brave father come regularly, every two or three
months, for the last ten years, since he had no other opportunity and
no other way of seeing his child, because he was prevented by family
arrangements. He came at the hour when he knew that his son would be
brought to mass. The little one never suspected that his father was
there. Perhaps he did not even know that he had a father, poor innocent!
The father kept behind a pillar, so that he might not be seen. He gazed
at his child and he wept. He adored that little fellow, poor man! I
could see that. This spot has become sanctified in my sight, and I have
contracted a habit of coming hither to listen to the mass. I prefer it
to the stall to which I have a right, in my capacity of warden. I knew
that unhappy gentleman a little, too. He had a father-in-law, a wealthy
aunt, relatives, I don't know exactly what all, who threatened to
disinherit the child if he, the father, saw him. He sacrificed himself
in order that his son might be rich and happy some day. He was separated
from him because of political opinions. Certainly, I approve of
political opinions, but there are people who do not know where to stop.
Mon Dieu! a man is not a monster because he was at Waterloo; a father
is not separated from his child for such a reason as that. He was one of
Bonaparte's colonels. He is dead, I believe. He lived at Vernon, where I
have a brother who is a cure, and his name was something like Pontmarie
or Montpercy. He had a fine sword-cut, on my honor."

"Pontmercy," suggested Marius, turning pale.

"Precisely, Pontmercy. Did you know him?"

"Sir," said Marius, "he was my father."

The old warden clasped his hands and exclaimed:--

"Ah! you are the child! Yes, that's true, he must be a man by this
time. Well! poor child, you may say that you had a father who loved you

Marius offered his arm to the old man and conducted him to his lodgings.

On the following day, he said to M. Gillenormand:--

"I have arranged a hunting-party with some friends. Will you permit me
to be absent for three days?"

"Four!" replied his grandfather. "Go and amuse yourself."

And he said to his daughter in a low tone, and with a wink, "Some love


Where it was that Marius went will be disclosed a little further on.

Marius was absent for three days, then he returned to Paris, went
straight to the library of the law-school and asked for the files of the

He read the Moniteur, he read all the histories of the Republic and
the Empire, the Memorial de Sainte-Helene, all the memoirs, all the
newspapers, the bulletins, the proclamations; he devoured everything.
The first time that he came across his father's name in the bulletins of
the grand army, he had a fever for a week. He went to see the generals
under whom Georges Pontmercy had served, among others, Comte H.
Church-warden Mabeuf, whom he went to see again, told him about the life
at Vernon, the colonel's retreat, his flowers, his solitude. Marius came
to a full knowledge of that rare, sweet, and sublime man, that species
of lion-lamb who had been his father.

In the meanwhile, occupied as he was with this study which absorbed all
his moments as well as his thoughts, he hardly saw the Gillenormands at
all. He made his appearance at meals; then they searched for him, and he
was not to be found. Father Gillenormand smiled. "Bah! bah! He is just
of the age for the girls!" Sometimes the old man added: "The deuce!
I thought it was only an affair of gallantry, It seems that it is an
affair of passion!"

It was a passion, in fact. Marius was on the high road to adoring his

At the same time, his ideas underwent an extraordinary change. The
phases of this change were numerous and successive. As this is the
history of many minds of our day, we think it will prove useful to
follow these phases step by step and to indicate them all.

That history upon which he had just cast his eyes appalled him.

The first effect was to dazzle him.

Up to that time, the Republic, the Empire, had been to him only
monstrous words. The Republic, a guillotine in the twilight; the Empire,
a sword in the night. He had just taken a look at it, and where he had
expected to find only a chaos of shadows, he had beheld, with a sort
of unprecedented surprise, mingled with fear and joy, stars sparkling,
Mirabeau, Vergniaud, Saint-Just, Robespierre, Camille, Desmoulins,
Danton, and a sun arise, Napoleon. He did not know where he stood. He
recoiled, blinded by the brilliant lights. Little by little, when his
astonishment had passed off, he grew accustomed to this radiance, he
contemplated these deeds without dizziness, he examined these personages
without terror; the Revolution and the Empire presented themselves
luminously, in perspective, before his mind's eye; he beheld each of
these groups of events and of men summed up in two tremendous facts: the
Republic in the sovereignty of civil right restored to the masses,
the Empire in the sovereignty of the French idea imposed on Europe; he
beheld the grand figure of the people emerge from the Revolution, and
the grand figure of France spring forth from the Empire. He asserted
in his conscience, that all this had been good. What his dazzled state
neglected in this, his first far too synthetic estimation, we do not
think it necessary to point out here. It is the state of a mind on the
march that we are recording. Progress is not accomplished in one stage.
That stated, once for all, in connection with what precedes as well as
with what is to follow, we continue.

He then perceived that, up to that moment, he had comprehended his
country no more than he had comprehended his father. He had not known
either the one or the other, and a sort of voluntary night had obscured
his eyes. Now he saw, and on the one hand he admired, while on the other
he adored.

He was filled with regret and remorse, and he reflected in despair that
all he had in his soul could now be said only to the tomb. Oh! if his
father had still been in existence, if he had still had him, if God, in
his compassion and his goodness, had permitted his father to be still
among the living, how he would have run, how he would have precipitated
himself, how he would have cried to his father: "Father! Here I am! It
is I! I have the same heart as thou! I am thy son!" How he would have
embraced that white head, bathed his hair in tears, gazed upon his scar,
pressed his hands, adored his garment, kissed his feet! Oh! Why had his
father died so early, before his time, before the justice, the love of
his son had come to him? Marius had a continual sob in his heart, which
said to him every moment: "Alas!" At the same time, he became more truly
serious, more truly grave, more sure of his thought and his faith. At
each instant, gleams of the true came to complete his reason. An inward
growth seemed to be in progress within him. He was conscious of a sort
of natural enlargement, which gave him two things that were new to
him--his father and his country.

As everything opens when one has a key, so he explained to himself that
which he had hated, he penetrated that which he had abhorred; henceforth
he plainly perceived the providential, divine and human sense of the
great things which he had been taught to detest, and of the great men
whom he had been instructed to curse. When he reflected on his former
opinions, which were but those of yesterday, and which, nevertheless,
seemed to him already so very ancient, he grew indignant, yet he smiled.

From the rehabilitation of his father, he naturally passed to the
rehabilitation of Napoleon.

But the latter, we will confess, was not effected without labor.

From his infancy, he had been imbued with the judgments of the party of
1814, on Bonaparte. Now, all the prejudices of the Restoration, all its
interests, all its instincts tended to disfigure Napoleon. It execrated
him even more than it did Robespierre. It had very cleverly turned to
sufficiently good account the fatigue of the nation, and the hatred of
mothers. Bonaparte had become an almost fabulous monster, and in order
to paint him to the imagination of the people, which, as we lately
pointed out, resembles the imagination of children, the party of 1814
made him appear under all sorts of terrifying masks in succession, from
that which is terrible though it remains grandiose to that which is
terrible and becomes grotesque, from Tiberius to the bugaboo. Thus, in
speaking of Bonaparte, one was free to sob or to puff up with
laughter, provided that hatred lay at the bottom. Marius had never
entertained--about that man, as he was called--any other ideas in his
mind. They had combined with the tenacity which existed in his nature.
There was in him a headstrong little man who hated Napoleon.

On reading history, on studying him, especially in the documents and
materials for history, the veil which concealed Napoleon from the eyes
of Marius was gradually rent. He caught a glimpse of something immense,
and he suspected that he had been deceived up to that moment, on
the score of Bonaparte as about all the rest; each day he saw more
distinctly; and he set about mounting, slowly, step by step, almost
regretfully in the beginning, then with intoxication and as though
attracted by an irresistible fascination, first the sombre steps, then
the vaguely illuminated steps, at last the luminous and splendid steps
of enthusiasm.

One night, he was alone in his little chamber near the roof. His candle
was burning; he was reading, with his elbows resting on his table close
to the open window. All sorts of reveries reached him from space, and
mingled with his thoughts. What a spectacle is the night! One hears dull
sounds, without knowing whence they proceed; one beholds Jupiter, which
is twelve hundred times larger than the earth, glowing like a firebrand,
the azure is black, the stars shine; it is formidable.

He was perusing the bulletins of the grand army, those heroic strophes
penned on the field of battle; there, at intervals, he beheld his
father's name, always the name of the Emperor; the whole of that great
Empire presented itself to him; he felt a flood swelling and rising
within him; it seemed to him at moments that his father passed close
to him like a breath, and whispered in his ear; he gradually got into
a singular state; he thought that he heard drums, cannon, trumpets,
the measured tread of battalions, the dull and distant gallop of the
cavalry; from time to time, his eyes were raised heavenward, and gazed
upon the colossal constellations as they gleamed in the measureless
depths of space, then they fell upon his book once more, and there they
beheld other colossal things moving confusedly. His heart contracted
within him. He was in a transport, trembling, panting. All at once,
without himself knowing what was in him, and what impulse he was
obeying, he sprang to his feet, stretched both arms out of the window,
gazed intently into the gloom, the silence, the infinite darkness, the
eternal immensity, and exclaimed: "Long live the Emperor!"

From that moment forth, all was over; the Ogre of Corsica,--the
usurper,--the tyrant,--the monster who was the lover of his own
sisters,--the actor who took lessons of Talma,--the poisoner of
Jaffa,--the tiger,--Buonaparte,--all this vanished, and gave place
in his mind to a vague and brilliant radiance in which shone, at an
inaccessible height, the pale marble phantom of Caesar. The Emperor had
been for his father only the well-beloved captain whom one admires, for
whom one sacrifices one's self; he was something more to Marius. He was
the predestined constructor of the French group, succeeding the Roman
group in the domination of the universe. He was a prodigious architect,
of a destruction, the continuer of Charlemagne, of Louis XI., of Henry
IV., of Richelieu, of Louis XIV., and of the Committee of Public Safety,
having his spots, no doubt, his faults, his crimes even, being a man,
that is to say; but august in his faults, brilliant in his spots,
powerful in his crime.

He was the predestined man, who had forced all nations to say: "The
great nation!" He was better than that, he was the very incarnation of
France, conquering Europe by the sword which he grasped, and the world
by the light which he shed. Marius saw in Bonaparte the dazzling spectre
which will always rise upon the frontier, and which will guard the
future. Despot but dictator; a despot resulting from a republic and
summing up a revolution. Napoleon became for him the man-people as Jesus
Christ is the man-God.

It will be perceived, that like all new converts to a religion, his
conversion intoxicated him, he hurled himself headlong into adhesion
and he went too far. His nature was so constructed; once on the downward
slope, it was almost impossible for him to put on the drag. Fanaticism
for the sword took possession of him, and complicated in his mind his
enthusiasm for the idea. He did not perceive that, along with genius,
and pell-mell, he was admitting force, that is to say, that he was
installing in two compartments of his idolatry, on the one hand that
which is divine, on the other that which is brutal. In many respects, he
had set about deceiving himself otherwise. He admitted everything. There
is a way of encountering error while on one's way to the truth. He had a
violent sort of good faith which took everything in the lump. In the new
path which he had entered on, in judging the mistakes of the old regime,
as in measuring the glory of Napoleon, he neglected the attenuating

At all events, a tremendous step had been taken. Where he had formerly
beheld the fall of the monarchy, he now saw the advent of France. His
orientation had changed. What had been his East became the West. He had
turned squarely round.

All these revolutions were accomplished within him, without his family
obtaining an inkling of the case.

When, during this mysterious labor, he had entirely shed his old Bourbon
and ultra skin, when he had cast off the aristocrat, the Jacobite and
the Royalist, when he had become thoroughly a revolutionist, profoundly
democratic and republican, he went to an engraver on the Quai des
Orfevres and ordered a hundred cards bearing this name: Le Baron Marius

This was only the strictly logical consequence of the change which had
taken place in him, a change in which everything gravitated round his

Only, as he did not know any one and could not sow his cards with any
porter, he put them in his pocket.

By another natural consequence, in proportion as he drew nearer to his
father, to the latter's memory, and to the things for which the
colonel had fought five and twenty years before, he receded from his
grandfather. We have long ago said, that M. Gillenormand's temper did
not please him. There already existed between them all the dissonances
of the grave young man and the frivolous old man. The gayety of Geronte
shocks and exasperates the melancholy of Werther. So long as the same
political opinions and the same ideas had been common to them both,
Marius had met M. Gillenormand there as on a bridge. When the bridge
fell, an abyss was formed. And then, over and above all, Marius
experienced unutterable impulses to revolt, when he reflected that it
was M. Gillenormand who had, from stupid motives, torn him ruthlessly
from the colonel, thus depriving the father of the child, and the child
of the father.

By dint of pity for his father, Marius had nearly arrived at aversion
for his grandfather.

Nothing of this sort, however, was betrayed on the exterior, as we have
already said. Only he grew colder and colder; laconic at meals, and rare
in the house. When his aunt scolded him for it, he was very gentle and
alleged his studies, his lectures, the examinations, etc., as a pretext.
His grandfather never departed from his infallible diagnosis: "In love!
I know all about it."

From time to time Marius absented himself.

"Where is it that he goes off like this?" said his aunt.

On one of these trips, which were always very brief, he went to
Montfermeil, in order to obey the injunction which his father had
left him, and he sought the old sergeant to Waterloo, the inn-keeper
Thenardier. Thenardier had failed, the inn was closed, and no one knew
what had become of him. Marius was away from the house for four days on
this quest.

"He is getting decidedly wild," said his grandfather.

They thought they had noticed that he wore something on his breast,
under his shirt, which was attached to his neck by a black ribbon.


We have mentioned a lancer.

He was a great-grand-nephew of M. Gillenormand, on the paternal side,
who led a garrison life, outside the family and far from the domestic
hearth. Lieutenant Theodule Gillenormand fulfilled all the conditions
required to make what is called a fine officer. He had "a lady's waist,"
a victorious manner of trailing his sword and of twirling his mustache
in a hook. He visited Paris very rarely, and so rarely that Marius had
never seen him. The cousins knew each other only by name. We think
we have said that Theodule was the favorite of Aunt Gillenormand, who
preferred him because she did not see him. Not seeing people permits one
to attribute to them all possible perfections.

One morning, Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder returned to her
apartment as much disturbed as her placidity was capable of allowing.
Marius had just asked his grandfather's permission to take a little
trip, adding that he meant to set out that very evening. "Go!" had been
his grandfather's reply, and M. Gillenormand had added in an aside, as
he raised his eyebrows to the top of his forehead: "Here he is passing
the night out again." Mademoiselle Gillenormand had ascended to
her chamber greatly puzzled, and on the staircase had dropped this
exclamation: "This is too much!"--and this interrogation: "But where is
it that he goes?" She espied some adventure of the heart, more or less
illicit, a woman in the shadow, a rendezvous, a mystery, and she would
not have been sorry to thrust her spectacles into the affair. Tasting a
mystery resembles getting the first flavor of a scandal; sainted souls
do not detest this. There is some curiosity about scandal in the secret
compartments of bigotry.

So she was the prey of a vague appetite for learning a history.

In order to get rid of this curiosity which agitated her a little beyond
her wont, she took refuge in her talents, and set about scalloping,
with one layer of cotton after another, one of those embroideries of the
Empire and the Restoration, in which there are numerous cart-wheels.
The work was clumsy, the worker cross. She had been seated at this for
several hours when the door opened. Mademoiselle Gillenormand raised
her nose. Lieutenant Theodule stood before her, making the regulation
salute. She uttered a cry of delight. One may be old, one may be a
prude, one may be pious, one may be an aunt, but it is always agreeable
to see a lancer enter one's chamber.

"You here, Theodule!" she exclaimed.

"On my way through town, aunt."

"Embrace me."

"Here goes!" said Theodule.

And he kissed her. Aunt Gillenormand went to her writing-desk and opened

"You will remain with us a week at least?"

"I leave this very evening, aunt."

"It is not possible!"


"Remain, my little Theodule, I beseech you."

"My heart says 'yes,' but my orders say 'no.' The matter is simple.
They are changing our garrison; we have been at Melun, we are being
transferred to Gaillon. It is necessary to pass through Paris in order
to get from the old post to the new one. I said: 'I am going to see my

"Here is something for your trouble."

And she put ten louis into his hand.

"For my pleasure, you mean to say, my dear aunt."

Theodule kissed her again, and she experienced the joy of having some of
the skin scratched from her neck by the braidings on his uniform.

"Are you making the journey on horseback, with your regiment?" she asked

"No, aunt. I wanted to see you. I have special permission. My servant is
taking my horse; I am travelling by diligence. And, by the way, I want
to ask you something."

"What is it?"

"Is my cousin Marius Pontmercy travelling so, too?"

"How do you know that?" said his aunt, suddenly pricked to the quick
with a lively curiosity.

"On my arrival, I went to the diligence to engage my seat in the coupe."


"A traveller had already come to engage a seat in the imperial. I saw
his name on the card."

"What name?"

"Marius Pontmercy."

"The wicked fellow!" exclaimed his aunt. "Ah! your cousin is not a
steady lad like yourself. To think that he is to pass the night in a

"Just as I am going to do."

"But you--it is your duty; in his case, it is wildness."

"Bosh!" said Theodule.

Here an event occurred to Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder,--an idea
struck her. If she had been a man, she would have slapped her brow. She
apostrophized Theodule:--

"Are you aware whether your cousin knows you?"

"No. I have seen him; but he has never deigned to notice me."

"So you are going to travel together?"

"He in the imperial, I in the coupe."

"Where does this diligence run?"

"To Andelys."

"Then that is where Marius is going?"

"Unless, like myself, he should stop on the way. I get down at Vernon,
in order to take the branch coach for Gaillon. I know nothing of Marius'
plan of travel."

"Marius! what an ugly name! what possessed them to name him Marius?
While you, at least, are called Theodule."

"I would rather be called Alfred," said the officer.

"Listen, Theodule."

"I am listening, aunt."

"Pay attention."

"I am paying attention."

"You understand?"


"Well, Marius absents himself!"

"Eh! eh!"

"He travels."

"Ah! ah!"

"He spends the night out."

"Oh! oh!"

"We should like to know what there is behind all this."

Theodule replied with the composure of a man of bronze:--

"Some petticoat or other."

And with that inward laugh which denotes certainty, he added:--

"A lass."

"That is evident," exclaimed his aunt, who thought she heard M.
Gillenormand speaking, and who felt her conviction become irresistible
at that word fillette, accentuated in almost the very same fashion by
the granduncle and the grandnephew. She resumed:--

"Do us a favor. Follow Marius a little. He does not know you, it will be
easy. Since a lass there is, try to get a sight of her. You must write
us the tale. It will amuse his grandfather."

Theodule had no excessive taste for this sort of spying; but he was much
touched by the ten louis, and he thought he saw a chance for a possible
sequel. He accepted the commission and said: "As you please, aunt."

And he added in an aside, to himself: "Here I am a duenna."

Mademoiselle Gillenormand embraced him.

"You are not the man to play such pranks, Theodule. You obey discipline,
you are the slave of orders, you are a man of scruples and duty, and you
would not quit your family to go and see a creature."

The lancer made the pleased grimace of Cartouche when praised for his

Marius, on the evening following this dialogue, mounted the diligence
without suspecting that he was watched. As for the watcher, the
first thing he did was to fall asleep. His slumber was complete and
conscientious. Argus snored all night long.

At daybreak, the conductor of the diligence shouted: "Vernon! relay of
Vernon! Travellers for Vernon!" And Lieutenant Theodule woke.

"Good," he growled, still half asleep, "this is where I get out."

Then, as his memory cleared by degrees, the effect of waking, he
recalled his aunt, the ten louis, and the account which he had
undertaken to render of the deeds and proceedings of Marius. This set
him to laughing.

"Perhaps he is no longer in the coach," he thought, as he rebuttoned the
waistcoat of his undress uniform. "He may have stopped at Poissy; he may
have stopped at Triel; if he did not get out at Meulan, he may have got
out at Mantes, unless he got out at Rolleboise, or if he did not go on
as far as Pacy, with the choice of turning to the left at Evreus, or to
the right at Laroche-Guyon. Run after him, aunty. What the devil am I to
write to that good old soul?"

At that moment a pair of black trousers descending from the imperial,
made its appearance at the window of the coupe.

"Can that be Marius?" said the lieutenant.

It was Marius.

A little peasant girl, all entangled with the horses and the postilions
at the end of the vehicle, was offering flowers to the travellers. "Give
your ladies flowers!" she cried.

Marius approached her and purchased the finest flowers in her flat

"Come now," said Theodule, leaping down from the coupe, "this piques my
curiosity. Who the deuce is he going to carry those flowers to? She
must be a splendidly handsome woman for so fine a bouquet. I want to see

And no longer in pursuance of orders, but from personal curiosity, like
dogs who hunt on their own account, he set out to follow Marius.

Marius paid no attention to Theodule. Elegant women descended from the
diligence; he did not glance at them. He seemed to see nothing around

"He is pretty deeply in love!" thought Theodule.

Marius directed his steps towards the church.

"Capital," said Theodule to himself. "Rendezvous seasoned with a bit of
mass are the best sort. Nothing is so exquisite as an ogle which passes
over the good God's head."

On arriving at the church, Marius did not enter it, but skirted the
apse. He disappeared behind one of the angles of the apse.

"The rendezvous is appointed outside," said Theodule. "Let's have a look
at the lass."

And he advanced on the tips of his boots towards the corner which Marius
had turned.

On arriving there, he halted in amazement.

Marius, with his forehead clasped in his hands, was kneeling upon the
grass on a grave. He had strewn his bouquet there. At the extremity of
the grave, on a little swelling which marked the head, there stood
a cross of black wood with this name in white letters: COLONEL BARON
PONTMERCY. Marius' sobs were audible.

The "lass" was a grave.