It is a terrible thing to be happy! How content one is! How all-sufficient one finds it! How, being in possession of the false object of life, happiness, one forgets the true object, duty!
Let us say, however, that the reader would do wrong were he to blame Marius.
Marius, as we have explained, before his marriage, had put no questions to M. Fauchelevent, and, since that time, he had feared to put any to Jean Valjean. He had regretted the promise into which he had allowed himself to be drawn. He had often said to himself that he had done wrong in making that concession to despair. He had confined himself to gradually estranging Jean Valjean from his house and to effacing him, as much as possible, from Cosette’s mind. He had, in a manner, always placed himself between Cosette and Jean Valjean, sure that, in this way, she would not perceive nor think of the latter. It was more than effacement, it was an eclipse.
Marius did what he considered necessary and just. He thought that he had serious reasons which the reader has already seen, and others which will be seen later on, for getting rid of Jean Valjean without harshness, but without weakness.
Chance having ordained that he should encounter, in a case which he had argued, a former employee of the Laffitte establishment, he had acquired mysterious information, without seeking it, which he had not been able, it is true, to probe, out of respect for the secret which he had promised to guard, and out of consideration for Jean Valjean’s perilous position. He believed at that moment that he had a grave duty to perform: the restitution of the six hundred thousand francs to some one whom he sought with all possible discretion. In the meanwhile, he abstained from touching that money.
As for Cosette, she had not been initiated into any of these secrets; but it would be harsh to condemn her also.
There existed between Marius and her an all-powerful magnetism, which caused her to do, instinctively and almost mechanically, what Marius wished. She was conscious of Marius’ will in the direction of “Monsieur Jean,” she conformed to it. Her husband had not been obliged to say anything to her; she yielded to the vague but clear pressure of his tacit intentions, and obeyed blindly. Her obedience in this instance consisted in not remembering what Marius forgot. She was not obliged to make any effort to accomplish this. Without her knowing why herself, and without his having any cause to accuse her of it, her soul had become so wholly her husband’s that that which was shrouded in gloom in Marius’ mind became overcast in hers.
Let us not go too far, however; in what concerns Jean Valjean, this forgetfulness and obliteration were merely superficial. She was rather heedless than forgetful. At bottom, she was sincerely attached to the man whom she had so long called her father; but she loved her husband still more dearly. This was what had somewhat disturbed the balance of her heart, which leaned to one side only.
It sometimes happened that Cosette spoke of Jean Valjean and expressed her surprise. Then Marius calmed her: “He is absent, I think. Did not he say that he was setting out on a journey?”—“That is true,” thought Cosette. “He had a habit of disappearing in this fashion. But not for so long.” Two or three times she despatched Nicolette to inquire in the Rue de l’Homme Arme whether M. Jean had returned from his journey. Jean Valjean caused the answer “no” to be given.
Cosette asked nothing more, since she had but one need on earth, Marius.
Let us also say that, on their side, Cosette and Marius had also been absent. They had been to Vernon. Marius had taken Cosette to his father’s grave.
Marius gradually won Cosette away from Jean Valjean. Cosette allowed it.
Moreover that which is called, far too harshly in certain cases, the ingratitude of children, is not always a thing so deserving of reproach as it is supposed. It is the ingratitude of nature. Nature, as we have elsewhere said, “looks before her.” Nature divides living beings into those who are arriving and those who are departing. Those who are departing are turned towards the shadows, those who are arriving towards the light. Hence a gulf which is fatal on the part of the old, and involuntary on the part of the young. This breach, at first insensible, increases slowly, like all separations of branches. The boughs, without becoming detached from the trunk, grow away from it. It is no fault of theirs. Youth goes where there is joy, festivals, vivid lights, love. Old age goes towards the end. They do not lose sight of each other, but there is no longer a close connection. Young people feel the cooling off of life; old people, that of the tomb. Let us not blame these poor children.
One day, Jean Valjean descended his staircase, took three steps in the street, seated himself on a post, on that same stone post where Gavroche had found him meditating on the night between the 5th and the 6th of June; he remained there a few moments, then went up stairs again. This was the last oscillation of the pendulum. On the following day he did not leave his apartment. On the day after that, he did not leave his bed.
His portress, who prepared his scanty repasts, a few cabbages or potatoes with bacon, glanced at the brown earthenware plate and exclaimed:
“But you ate nothing yesterday, poor, dear man!”
“Certainly I did,” replied Jean Valjean.
“The plate is quite full.”
“Look at the water jug. It is empty.”
“That proves that you have drunk; it does not prove that you have eaten.”
“Well,” said Jean Valjean, “what if I felt hungry only for water?”
“That is called thirst, and, when one does not eat at the same time, it is called fever.”
“I will eat tomorrow.”
“Or at Trinity day. Why not today? Is it the thing to say: ‘I will eat tomorrow’? The idea of leaving my platter without even touching it! My ladyfinger potatoes were so good!”
Jean Valjean took the old woman’s hand:
“I promise you that I will eat them,” he said, in his benevolent voice.
“I am not pleased with you,” replied the portress.
Jean Valjean saw no other human creature than this good woman. There are streets in Paris through which no one ever passes, and houses to which no one ever comes. He was in one of those streets and one of those houses.
While he still went out, he had purchased of a coppersmith, for a few sous, a little copper crucifix which he had hung up on a nail opposite his bed. That gibbet is always good to look at.
A week passed, and Jean Valjean had not taken a step in his room. He still remained in bed. The portress said to her husband:—“The good man upstairs yonder does not get up, he no longer eats, he will not last long. That man has his sorrows, that he has. You won’t get it out of my head that his daughter has made a bad marriage.”
The porter replied, with the tone of marital sovereignty:
“If he’s rich, let him have a doctor. If he is not rich, let him go without. If he has no doctor he will die.”
“And if he has one?”
“He will die,” said the porter.
The portress set to scraping away the grass from what she called her pavement, with an old knife, and, as she tore out the blades, she grumbled:
“It’s a shame. Such a neat old man! He’s as white as a chicken.”
She caught sight of the doctor of the quarter as he passed the end of the street; she took it upon herself to request him to come up stairs.
“It’s on the second floor,” said she. “You have only to enter. As the good man no longer stirs from his bed, the door is always unlocked.”
The doctor saw Jean Valjean and spoke with him.
When he came down again the portress interrogated him:
“Your sick man is very ill indeed.”
“What is the matter with him?”
“Everything and nothing. He is a man who, to all appearances, has lost some person who is dear to him. People die of that.”
“What did he say to you?”
“He told me that he was in good health.”
“Shall you come again, doctor?”
“Yes,” replied the doctor. “But some one else besides must come.”
One evening Jean Valjean found difficulty in raising himself on his elbow; he felt of his wrist and could not find his pulse; his breath was short and halted at times; he recognized the fact that he was weaker than he had ever been before. Then, no doubt under the pressure of some supreme preoccupation, he made an effort, drew himself up into a sitting posture and dressed himself. He put on his old workingman’s clothes. As he no longer went out, he had returned to them and preferred them. He was obliged to pause many times while dressing himself; merely putting his arms through his waistcoat made the perspiration trickle from his forehead.
Since he had been alone, he had placed his bed in the antechamber, in order to inhabit that deserted apartment as little as possible.
He opened the valise and drew from it Cosette’s outfit.
He spread it out on his bed.
The Bishop’s candlesticks were in their place on the chimney-piece. He took from a drawer two wax candles and put them in the candlesticks. Then, although it was still broad daylight — it was summer — he lighted them. In the same way candles are to be seen lighted in broad daylight in chambers where there is a corpse.
Every step that he took in going from one piece of furniture to another exhausted him, and he was obliged to sit down. It was not ordinary fatigue which expends the strength only to renew it; it was the remnant of all movement possible to him, it was life drained which flows away drop by drop in overwhelming efforts and which will never be renewed.
The chair into which he allowed himself to fall was placed in front of that mirror, so fatal for him, so providential for Marius, in which he had read Cosette’s reversed writing on the blotting book. He caught sight of himself in this mirror, and did not recognize himself. He was eighty years old; before Marius’ marriage, he would have hardly been taken for fifty; that year had counted for thirty. What he bore on his brow was no longer the wrinkles of age, it was the mysterious mark of death. The hollowing of that pitiless nail could be felt there. His cheeks were pendulous; the skin of his face had the color which would lead one to think that it already had earth upon it; the corners of his mouth drooped as in the mask which the ancients sculptured on tombs. He gazed into space with an air of reproach; one would have said that he was one of those grand tragic beings who have cause to complain of some one.
He was in that condition, the last phase of dejection, in which sorrow no longer flows; it is coagulated, so to speak; there is something on the soul like a clot of despair.
Night had come. He laboriously dragged a table and the old arm-chair to the fireside, and placed upon the table a pen, some ink and some paper.
That done, he had a fainting fit. When he recovered consciousness, he was thirsty. As he could not lift the jug, he tipped it over painfully towards his mouth, and swallowed a draught.
As neither the pen nor the ink had been used for a long time, the point of the pen had curled up, the ink had dried away, he was forced to rise and put a few drops of water in the ink, which he did not accomplish without pausing and sitting down two or three times, and he was compelled to write with the back of the pen. He wiped his brow from time to time.
Then he turned towards the bed, and, still seated, for he could not stand, he gazed at the little black gown and all those beloved objects.
These contemplations lasted for hours which seemed minutes.
All at once he shivered, he felt that a child was taking possession of him; he rested his elbows on the table, which was illuminated by the Bishop’s candles and took up the pen. His hand trembled. He wrote slowly the few following lines:
“Cosette, I bless thee. I am going to explain to thee. Thy husband was right in giving me to understand that I ought to go away; but there is a little error in what he believed, though he was in the right. He is excellent. Love him well even after I am dead. Monsieur Pontmercy, love my darling child well. Cosette, this paper will be found; this is what I wish to say to thee, thou wilt see the figures, if I have the strength to recall them, listen well, this money is really thine. Here is the whole matter: White jet comes from Norway, black jet comes from England, black glass jewellery comes from Germany. Jet is the lightest, the most precious, the most costly. Imitations can be made in France as well as in Germany. What is needed is a little anvil two inches square, and a lamp burning spirits of wine to soften the wax. The wax was formerly made with resin and lampblack, and cost four livres the pound. I invented a way of making it with gum shellac and turpentine. It does not cost more than thirty sous, and is much better. Buckles are made with a violet glass which is stuck fast, by means of this wax, to a little framework of black iron. The glass must be violet for iron jewellery, and black for gold jewellery. Spain buys a great deal of it. It is the country of jet . . . ”
Here he paused, the pen fell from his fingers, he was seized by one of those sobs which at times welled up from the very depths of his being; the poor man clasped his head in both hands, and meditated.
“Oh!” he exclaimed within himself [lamentable cries, heard by God alone], “all is over. I shall never see her more. She is a smile which passed over me. I am about to plunge into the night without even seeing her again. Oh! one minute, one instant, to hear her voice, to touch her dress, to gaze upon her, upon her, the angel! and then to die! It is nothing to die, what is frightful is to die without seeing her. She would smile on me, she would say a word to me, would that do any harm to any one? No, all is over, and forever. Here I am all alone. My God! My God! I shall never see her again!” At that moment there came a knock at the door.
That same day, or to speak more accurately, that same evening, as Marius left the table, and was on the point of withdrawing to his study, having a case to look over, Basque handed him a letter saying: “The person who wrote the letter is in the antechamber.”
Cosette had taken the grandfather’s arm and was strolling in the garden.
A letter, like a man, may have an unprepossessing exterior. Coarse paper, coarsely folded — the very sight of certain missives is displeasing.
The letter which Basque had brought was of this sort.
Marius took it. It smelled of tobacco. Nothing evokes a memory like an odor. Marius recognized that tobacco. He looked at the superscription: “To Monsieur, Monsieur le Baron Pommerci. At his hotel.” The recognition of the tobacco caused him to recognize the writing as well. It may be said that amazement has its lightning flashes.
Marius was, as it were, illuminated by one of these flashes.
The sense of smell, that mysterious aid to memory, had just revived a whole world within him. This was certainly the paper, the fashion of folding, the dull tint of ink; it was certainly the well-known handwriting, especially was it the same tobacco.
The Jondrette garret rose before his mind.
Thus, strange freak of chance! one of the two scents which he had so diligently sought, the one in connection with which he had lately again exerted so many efforts and which he supposed to be forever lost, had come and presented itself to him of its own accord.
He eagerly broke the seal, and read:
“Monsieur le Baron:— If the Supreme Being had given me the talents, I might have been baron Thenard, member of the Institute [academy of ciences], but I am not. I only bear the same as him, happy if this memory recommends me to the eccellence of your kindnesses. The benefit with which you will honor me will be reciprocle. I am in possession of a secret concerning an individual. This individual concerns you. I hold the secret at your disposal desiring to have the honor to be huseful to you. I will furnish you with the simple means of driving from your honorabel family that individual who has no right there, madame la baronne being of lofty birth. The sanctuary of virtue cannot cohabit longer with crime without abdicating.
I awate in the entichamber the orders of monsieur le baron.
The letter was signed “Thenard.”
This signature was not false. It was merely a trifle abridged.
Moreover, the rigmarole and the orthography completed the revelation. The certificate of origin was complete.
Marius’ emotion was profound. After a start of surprise, he underwent a feeling of happiness. If he could now but find that other man of whom he was in search, the man who had saved him, Marius, there would be nothing left for him to desire.
He opened the drawer of his secretary, took out several bank-notes, put them in his pocket, closed the secretary again, and rang the bell. Basque half opened the door.
“Show the man in,” said Marius.
A man entered.
A fresh surprise for Marius. The man who entered was an utter stranger to him.
This man, who was old, moreover, had a thick nose, his chin swathed in a cravat, green spectacles with a double screen of green taffeta over his eyes, and his hair was plastered and flattened down on his brow on a level with his eyebrows like the wigs of English coachmen in “high life.” His hair was gray. He was dressed in black from head to foot, in garments that were very threadbare but clean; a bunch of seals depending from his fob suggested the idea of a watch. He held in his hand an old hat! He walked in a bent attitude, and the curve in his spine augmented the profundity of his bow.
The first thing that struck the observer was, that this personage’s coat, which was too ample although carefully buttoned, had not been made for him.
Here a short digression becomes necessary.
There was in Paris at that epoch, in a low-lived old lodging in the Rue Beautreillis, near the Arsenal, an ingenious Jew whose profession was to change villains into honest men. Not for too long, which might have proved embarrassing for the villain. The change was on sight, for a day or two, at the rate of thirty sous a day, by means of a costume which resembled the honesty of the world in general as nearly as possible. This costumer was called “the Changer”; the pickpockets of Paris had given him this name and knew him by no other. He had a tolerably complete wardrobe. The rags with which he tricked out people were almost probable. He had specialties and categories; on each nail of his shop hung a social status, threadbare and worn; here the suit of a magistrate, there the outfit of a Cure, beyond the outfit of a banker, in one corner the costume of a retired military man, elsewhere the habiliments of a man of letters, and further on the dress of a statesman.
This creature was the costumer of the immense drama which knavery plays in Paris. His lair was the green-room whence theft emerged, and into which roguery retreated. A tattered knave arrived at this dressing-room, deposited his thirty sous and selected, according to the part which he wished to play, the costume which suited him, and on descending the stairs once more, the knave was a somebody. On the following day, the clothes were faithfully returned, and the Changer, who trusted the thieves with everything, was never robbed. There was one inconvenience about these clothes, they “did not fit”; not having been made for those who wore them, they were too tight for one, too loose for another and did not adjust themselves to any one. Every pickpocket who exceeded or fell short of the human average was ill at his ease in the Changer’s costumes. It was necessary that one should not be either too fat or too lean. The changer had foreseen only ordinary men. He had taken the measure of the species from the first rascal who came to hand, who is neither stout nor thin, neither tall nor short. Hence adaptations which were sometimes difficult and from which the Changer’s clients extricated themselves as best they might. So much the worse for the exceptions! The suit of the statesman, for instance, black from head to foot, and consequently proper, would have been too large for Pitt and too small for Castelcicala. The costume of a statesman was designated as follows in the Changer’s catalogue; we copy:
“A coat of black cloth, trowsers of black wool, a silk waistcoat, boots and linen.” On the margin there stood: ex-ambassador, and a note which we also copy: “In a separate box, a neatly frizzed peruke, green glasses, seals, and two small quills an inch long, wrapped in cotton.” All this belonged to the statesman, the ex-ambassador. This whole costume was, if we may so express ourselves, debilitated; the seams were white, a vague button-hole yawned at one of the elbows; moreover, one of the coat buttons was missing on the breast; but this was only detail; as the hand of the statesman should always be thrust into his coat and laid upon his heart, its function was to conceal the absent button.
If Marius had been familiar with the occult institutions of Paris, he would instantly have recognized upon the back of the visitor whom Basque had just shown in, the statesman’s suit borrowed from the pick-me-down-that shop of the Changer.
Marius’ disappointment on beholding another man than the one whom he expected to see turned to the newcomer’s disadvantage.
He surveyed him from head to foot, while that personage made exaggerated bows, and demanded in a curt tone:
“What do you want?”
The man replied with an amiable grin of which the caressing smile of a crocodile will furnish some idea:
“It seems to me impossible that I should not have already had the honor of seeing Monsieur le Baron in society. I think I actually did meet monsieur personally, several years ago, at the house of Madame la Princesse Bagration and in the drawing-rooms of his Lordship the Vicomte Dambray, peer of France.”
It is always a good bit of tactics in knavery to pretend to recognize some one whom one does not know.
Marius paid attention to the manner of this man’s speech. He spied on his accent and gesture, but his disappointment increased; the pronunciation was nasal and absolutely unlike the dry, shrill tone which he had expected.
He was utterly routed.
“I know neither Madame Bagration nor M. Dambray,” said he. “I have never set foot in the house of either of them in my life.”
The reply was ungracious. The personage, determined to be gracious at any cost, insisted.
“Then it must have been at Chateaubriand’s that I have seen Monsieur! I know Chateaubriand very well. He is very affable. He sometimes says to me: ‘Thenard, my friend . . . won’t you drink a glass of wine with me?’”
Marius’ brow grew more and more severe:
“I have never had the honor of being received by M. de Chateaubriand. Let us cut it short. What do you want?”
The man bowed lower at that harsh voice.
“Monsieur le Baron, deign to listen to me. There is in America, in a district near Panama, a village called la Joya. That village is composed of a single house, a large, square house of three stories, built of bricks dried in the sun, each side of the square five hundred feet in length, each story retreating twelve feet back of the story below, in such a manner as to leave in front a terrace which makes the circuit of the edifice, in the centre an inner court where the provisions and munitions are kept; no windows, loopholes, no doors, ladders, ladders to mount from the ground to the first terrace, and from the first to the second, and from the second to the third, ladders to descend into the inner court, no doors to the chambers, trap-doors, no staircases to the chambers, ladders; in the evening the traps are closed, the ladders are withdrawn carbines and blunderbusses trained from the loopholes; no means of entering, a house by day, a citadel by night, eight hundred inhabitants — that is the village. Why so many precautions? because the country is dangerous; it is full of cannibals. Then why do people go there? because the country is marvellous; gold is found there.”
“What are you driving at?” interrupted Marius, who had passed from disappointment to impatience.
“At this, Monsieur le Baron. I am an old and weary diplomat. Ancient civilization has thrown me on my own devices. I want to try savages.”
“Monsieur le Baron, egotism is the law of the world. The proletarian peasant woman, who toils by the day, turns round when the diligence passes by, the peasant proprietress, who toils in her field, does not turn round. The dog of the poor man barks at the rich man, the dog of the rich man barks at the poor man. Each one for himself. Self-interest — that’s the object of men. Gold, that’s the loadstone.”
“What then? Finish.”
“I should like to go and establish myself at la Joya. There are three of us. I have my spouse and my young lady; a very beautiful girl. The journey is long and costly. I need a little money.”
“What concern is that of mine?” demanded Marius.
The stranger stretched his neck out of his cravat, a gesture characteristic of the vulture, and replied with an augmented smile.
“Has not Monsieur le Baron perused my letter?”
There was some truth in this. The fact is, that the contents of the epistle had slipped Marius’ mind. He had seen the writing rather than read the letter. He could hardly recall it. But a moment ago a fresh start had been given him. He had noted that detail: “my spouse and my young lady.”
He fixed a penetrating glance on the stranger. An examining judge could not have done the look better. He almost lay in wait for him.
He confined himself to replying:
“State the case precisely.”
The stranger inserted his two hands in both his fobs, drew himself up without straightening his dorsal column, but scrutinizing Marius in his turn, with the green gaze of his spectacles.
“So be it, Monsieur le Baron. I will be precise. I have a secret to sell to you.”
“Which concerns me?”
“What is the secret?”
Marius scrutinized the man more and more as he listened to him.
“I commence gratis,” said the stranger. “You will see that I am interesting.”
“Monsieur le Baron, you have in your house a thief and an assassin.”
“In my house? no,” said he.
The imperturbable stranger brushed his hat with his elbow and went on:
“An assassin and a thief. Remark, Monsieur le Baron, that I do not here speak of ancient deeds, deeds of the past which have lapsed, which can be effaced by limitation before the law and by repentance before God. I speak of recent deeds, of actual facts as still unknown to justice at this hour. I continue. This man has insinuated himself into your confidence, and almost into your family under a false name. I am about to tell you his real name. And to tell it to you for nothing.”
“I am listening.”
“His name is Jean Valjean.”
“I know it.”
“I am going to tell you, equally for nothing, who he is.”
“He is an ex-convict.”
“I know it.”
“You know it since I have had the honor of telling you.”
“No. I knew it before.”
Marius’ cold tone, that double reply of “I know it,” his laconicism, which was not favorable to dialogue, stirred up some smouldering wrath in the stranger. He launched a furious glance on the sly at Marius, which was instantly extinguished. Rapid as it was, this glance was of the kind which a man recognizes when he has once beheld it; it did not escape Marius. Certain flashes can only proceed from certain souls; the eye, that vent-hole of the thought, glows with it; spectacles hide nothing; try putting a pane of glass over hell!
The stranger resumed with a smile:
“I will not permit myself to contradict Monsieur le Baron. In any case, you ought to perceive that I am well informed. Now what I have to tell you is known to myself alone. This concerns the fortune of Madame la Baronne. It is an extraordinary secret. It is for sale — I make you the first offer of it. Cheap. Twenty thousand francs.”
“I know that secret as well as the others,” said Marius.
The personage felt the necessity of lowering his price a trifle.
“Monsieur le Baron, say ten thousand francs and I will speak.”
“I repeat to you that there is nothing which you can tell me. I know what you wish to say to me.”
A fresh flash gleamed in the man’s eye. He exclaimed:
“But I must dine today, nevertheless. It is an extraordinary secret, I tell you. Monsieur le Baron, I will speak. I speak. Give me twenty francs.”
Marius gazed intently at him:
“I know your extraordinary secret, just as I knew Jean Valjean’s name, just as I know your name.”
“That is not difficult, Monsieur le Baron. I had the honor to write to you and to tell it to you. Thenard.”
In danger the porcupine bristles up, the beetle feigns death, the old guard forms in a square; this man burst into laughter.
Then he flicked a grain of dust from the sleeve of his coat with a fillip.
“You are also Jondrette the workman, Fabantou the comedian, Genflot the poet, Don Alvares the Spaniard, and Mistress Balizard.”
“And you kept a pot-house at Montfermeil.”
“A pot-house! Never.”
“And I tell you that your name is Thenardier.”
“I deny it.”
“And that you are a rascal. Here.”
And Marius drew a bank-note from his pocket and flung it in his face.
“Thanks! Pardon me! five hundred francs! Monsieur le Baron!”
And the man, overcome, bowed, seized the note and examined it.
“Five hundred francs!” he began again, taken aback. And he stammered in a low voice: “An honest rustler.”69
69 Un fafiot serieux. Fafiot is the slang term for a bank-bill, derived from its rustling noise.
“Well, so be it!” he exclaimed. “Let us put ourselves at our ease.”
And with the agility of a monkey, flinging back his hair, tearing off his spectacles, and withdrawing from his nose by sleight of hand the two quills of which mention was recently made, and which the reader has also met with on another page of this book, he took off his face as the man takes off his hat.
His eye lighted up; his uneven brow, with hollows in some places and bumps in others, hideously wrinkled at the top, was laid bare, his nose had become as sharp as a beak; the fierce and sagacious profile of the man of prey reappeared.
“Monsieur le Baron is infallible,” he said in a clear voice whence all nasal twang had disappeared, “I am Thenardier.”
And he straightened up his crooked back.
Thenardier, for it was really he, was strangely surprised; he would have been troubled, had he been capable of such a thing. He had come to bring astonishment, and it was he who had received it. This humiliation had been worth five hundred francs to him, and, taking it all in all, he accepted it; but he was none the less bewildered.
He beheld this Baron Pontmercy for the first time, and, in spite of his disguise, this Baron Pontmercy recognized him, and recognized him thoroughly. And not only was this Baron perfectly informed as to Thenardier, but he seemed well posted as to Jean Valjean. Who was this almost beardless young man, who was so glacial and so generous, who knew people’s names, who knew all their names, and who opened his purse to them, who bullied rascals like a judge, and who paid them like a dupe?
Thenardier, the reader will remember, although he had been Marius’ neighbor, had never seen him, which is not unusual in Paris; he had formerly, in a vague way, heard his daughters talk of a very poor young man named Marius who lived in the house. He had written to him, without knowing him, the letter with which the reader is acquainted.
No connection between that Marius and M. le Baron Pontmercy was possible in his mind.
As for the name Pontmercy, it will be recalled that, on the battlefield of Waterloo, he had only heard the last two syllables, for which he always entertained the legitimate scorn which one owes to what is merely an expression of thanks.
However, through his daughter Azelma, who had started on the scent of the married pair on the 16th of February, and through his own personal researches, he had succeeded in learning many things, and, from the depths of his own gloom, he had contrived to grasp more than one mysterious clew. He had discovered, by dint of industry, or, at least, by dint of induction, he had guessed who the man was whom he had encountered on a certain day in the Grand Sewer. From the man he had easily reached the name. He knew that Madame la Baronne Pontmercy was Cosette. But he meant to be discreet in that quarter.
Who was Cosette? He did not know exactly himself. He did, indeed, catch an inkling of illegitimacy, the history of Fantine had always seemed to him equivocal; but what was the use of talking about that? in order to cause himself to be paid for his silence? He had, or thought he had, better wares than that for sale. And, according to all appearances, if he were to come and make to the Baron Pontmercy this revelation — and without proof: “Your wife is a bastard,” the only result would be to attract the boot of the husband towards the loins of the revealer.
From Thenardier’s point of view, the conversation with Marius had not yet begun. He ought to have drawn back, to have modified his strategy, to have abandoned his position, to have changed his front; but nothing essential had been compromised as yet, and he had five hundred francs in his pocket. Moreover, he had something decisive to say, and, even against this very well-informed and well-armed Baron Pontmercy, he felt himself strong. For men of Thenardier’s nature, every dialogue is a combat. In the one in which he was about to engage, what was his situation? He did not know to whom he was speaking, but he did know of what he was speaking, he made this rapid review of his inner forces, and after having said: “I am Thenardier,” he waited.
Marius had become thoughtful. So he had hold of Thenardier at last. That man whom he had so greatly desired to find was before him. He could honor Colonel Pontmercy’s recommendation.
He felt humiliated that that hero should have owned anything to this villain, and that the letter of change drawn from the depths of the tomb by his father upon him, Marius, had been protested up to that day. It also seemed to him, in the complex state of his mind towards Thenardier, that there was occasion to avenge the Colonel for the misfortune of having been saved by such a rascal. In any case, he was content. He was about to deliver the Colonel’s shade from this unworthy creditor at last, and it seemed to him that he was on the point of rescuing his father’s memory from the debtors’ prison. By the side of this duty there was another — to elucidate, if possible, the source of Cosette’s fortune. The opportunity appeared to present itself. Perhaps Thenardier knew something. It might prove useful to see the bottom of this man.
He commenced with this.
Thenardier had caused the “honest rustler” to disappear in his fob, and was gazing at Marius with a gentleness that was almost tender.
Marius broke the silence.
“Thenardier, I have told you your name. Now, would you like to have me tell you your secret — the one that you came here to reveal to me? I have information of my own, also. You shall see that I know more about it than you do. Jean Valjean, as you have said, is an assassin and a thief. A thief, because he robbed a wealthy manufacturer, whose ruin he brought about. An assassin, because he assassinated police-agent Javert.”
“I don’t understand, sir,” ejaculated Thenardier.
“I will make myself intelligible. In a certain arrondissement of the Pas de Calais, there was, in 1822, a man who had fallen out with justice, and who, under the name of M. Madeleine, had regained his status and rehabilitated himself. This man had become a just man in the full force of the term. In a trade, the manufacture of black glass goods, he made the fortune of an entire city. As far as his personal fortune was concerned he made that also, but as a secondary matter, and in some sort, by accident. He was the foster-father of the poor. He founded hospitals, opened schools, visited the sick, dowered young girls, supported widows, and adopted orphans; he was like the guardian angel of the country. He refused the cross, he was appointed Mayor. A liberated convict knew the secret of a penalty incurred by this man in former days; he denounced him, and had him arrested, and profited by the arrest to come to Paris and cause the banker Laffitte — I have the fact from the cashier himself — by means of a false signature, to hand over to him the sum of over half a million which belonged to M. Madeleine. This convict who robbed M. Madeleine was Jean Valjean. As for the other fact, you have nothing to tell me about it either. Jean Valjean killed the agent Javert; he shot him with a pistol. I, the person who is speaking to you, was present.”
Thenardier cast upon Marius the sovereign glance of a conquered man who lays his hand once more upon the victory, and who has just regained, in one instant, all the ground which he has lost. But the smile returned instantly. The inferior’s triumph in the presence of his superior must be wheedling.
Thenardier contented himself with saying to Marius:
“Monsieur le Baron, we are on the wrong track.”
And he emphasized this phrase by making his bunch of seals execute an expressive whirl.
“What!” broke forth Marius, “do you dispute that? These are facts.”
“They are chimeras. The confidence with which Monsieur le Baron honors me renders it my duty to tell him so. Truth and justice before all things. I do not like to see folks accused unjustly. Monsieur le Baron, Jean Valjean did not rob M. Madeleine and Jean Valjean did not kill Javert.”
“This is too much! How is this?”
“For two reasons.”
“What are they? Speak.”
“This is the first: he did not rob M. Madeleine, because it is Jean Valjean himself who was M. Madeleine.”
“What tale are you telling me?”
“And this is the second: he did not assassinate Javert, because the person who killed Javert was Javert.”
“What do you mean to say?”
“That Javert committed suicide.”
“Prove it! prove it!” cried Marius beside himself.
Thenardier resumed, scanning his phrase after the manner of the ancient Alexandrine measure:
“But prove it!”
Thenardier drew from his pocket a large envelope of gray paper, which seemed to contain sheets folded in different sizes.
“I have my papers,” he said calmly.
And he added:
“Monsieur le Baron, in your interests I desired to know Jean Valjean thoroughly. I say that Jean Valjean and M. Madeleine are one and the same man, and I say that Javert had no other assassin than Javert. If I speak, it is because I have proofs. Not manuscript proofs — writing is suspicious, handwriting is complaisant — but printed proofs.”
As he spoke, Thenardier extracted from the envelope two copies of newspapers, yellow, faded, and strongly saturated with tobacco. One of these two newspapers, broken at every fold and falling into rags, seemed much older than the other.
“Two facts, two proofs,” remarked Thenardier. And he offered the two newspapers, unfolded, to Marius.
The reader is acquainted with these two papers. One, the most ancient, a number of the Drapeau Blanc of the 25th of July, 1823, the text of which can be seen in the first volume, established the identity of M. Madeleine and Jean Valjean.
The other, a Moniteur of the 15th of June, 1832, announced the suicide of Javert, adding that it appeared from a verbal report of Javert to the prefect that, having been taken prisoner in the barricade of the Rue de la Chanvrerie, he had owed his life to the magnanimity of an insurgent who, holding him under his pistol, had fired into the air, instead of blowing out his brains.
Marius read. He had evidence, a certain date, irrefragable proof, these two newspapers had not been printed expressly for the purpose of backing up Thenardier’s statements; the note printed in the Moniteur had been an administrative communication from the Prefecture of Police. Marius could not doubt.
The information of the cashier-clerk had been false, and he himself had been deceived.
Jean Valjean, who had suddenly grown grand, emerged from his cloud. Marius could not repress a cry of joy.
“Well, then this unhappy wretch is an admirable man! the whole of that fortune really belonged to him! he is Madeleine, the providence of a whole countryside! he is Jean Valjean, Javert’s savior! he is a hero! he is a saint!”
“He’s not a saint, and he’s not a hero!” said Thenardier. “He’s an assassin and a robber.”
And he added, in the tone of a man who begins to feel that he possesses some authority:
“Let us be calm.”
Robber, assassin — those words which Marius thought had disappeared and which returned, fell upon him like an ice-cold shower-bath.
“Again!” said he.
“Always,” ejaculated Thenardier. “Jean Valjean did not rob Madeleine, but he is a thief. He did not kill Javert, but he is a murderer.”
“Will you speak,” retorted Marius, “of that miserable theft, committed forty years ago, and expiated, as your own newspapers prove, by a whole life of repentance, of self-abnegation and of virtue?”
“I say assassination and theft, Monsieur le Baron, and I repeat that I am speaking of actual facts. What I have to reveal to you is absolutely unknown. It belongs to unpublished matter. And perhaps you will find in it the source of the fortune so skilfully presented to Madame la Baronne by Jean Valjean. I say skilfully, because, by a gift of that nature it would not be so very unskilful to slip into an honorable house whose comforts one would then share, and, at the same stroke, to conceal one’s crime, and to enjoy one’s theft, to bury one’s name and to create for oneself a family.”
“I might interrupt you at this point,” said Marius, “but go on.”
“Monsieur le Baron, I will tell you all, leaving the recompense to your generosity. This secret is worth massive gold. You will say to me: ‘Why do not you apply to Jean Valjean?’ For a very simple reason; I know that he has stripped himself, and stripped himself in your favor, and I consider the combination ingenious; but he has no longer a son, he would show me his empty hands, and, since I am in need of some money for my trip to la Joya, I prefer you, you who have it all, to him who has nothing. I am a little fatigued, permit me to take a chair.”
Marius seated himself and motioned to him to do the same.
Thenardier installed himself on a tufted chair, picked up his two newspapers, thrust them back into their envelope, and murmured as he pecked at the Drapeau Blanc with his nail: “It cost me a good deal of trouble to get this one.”
That done he crossed his legs and stretched himself out on the back of the chair, an attitude characteristic of people who are sure of what they are saying, then he entered upon his subject gravely, emphasizing his words:
“Monsieur le Baron, on the 6th of June, 1832, about a year ago, on the day of the insurrection, a man was in the Grand Sewer of Paris, at the point where the sewer enters the Seine, between the Pont des Invalides and the Pont de Jena.”
Marius abruptly drew his chair closer to that of Thenardier. Thenardier noticed this movement and continued with the deliberation of an orator who holds his interlocutor and who feels his adversary palpitating under his words:
“This man, forced to conceal himself, and for reasons, moreover, which are foreign to politics, had adopted the sewer as his domicile and had a key to it. It was, I repeat, on the 6th of June; it might have been eight o’clock in the evening. The man hears a noise in the sewer. Greatly surprised, he hides himself and lies in wait. It was the sound of footsteps, some one was walking in the dark, and coming in his direction. Strange to say, there was another man in the sewer besides himself. The grating of the outlet from the sewer was not far off. A little light which fell through it permitted him to recognize the newcomer, and to see that the man was carrying something on his back. He was walking in a bent attitude. The man who was walking in a bent attitude was an ex-convict, and what he was dragging on his shoulders was a corpse. Assassination caught in the very act, if ever there was such a thing. As for the theft, that is understood; one does not kill a man gratis. This convict was on his way to fling the body into the river. One fact is to be noticed, that before reaching the exit grating, this convict, who had come a long distance in the sewer, must, necessarily, have encountered a frightful quagmire where it seems as though he might have left the body, but the sewermen would have found the assassinated man the very next day, while at work on the quagmire, and that did not suit the assassin’s plans. He had preferred to traverse that quagmire with his burden, and his exertions must have been terrible, for it is impossible to risk one’s life more completely; I don’t understand how he could have come out of that alive.”
Marius’ chair approached still nearer. Thenardier took advantage of this to draw a long breath. He went on:
“Monsieur le Baron, a sewer is not the Champ de Mars. One lacks everything there, even room. When two men are there, they must meet. That is what happened. The man domiciled there and the passer-by were forced to bid each other good-day, greatly to the regret of both. The passer-by said to the inhabitant:—“You see what I have on my back, I must get out, you have the key, give it to me.” That convict was a man of terrible strength. There was no way of refusing. Nevertheless, the man who had the key parleyed, simply to gain time. He examined the dead man, but he could see nothing, except that the latter was young, well dressed, with the air of being rich, and all disfigured with blood. While talking, the man contrived to tear and pull off behind, without the assassin perceiving it, a bit of the assassinated man’s coat. A document for conviction, you understand; a means of recovering the trace of things and of bringing home the crime to the criminal. He put this document for conviction in his pocket. After which he opened the grating, made the man go out with his embarrassment on his back, closed the grating again, and ran off, not caring to be mixed up with the remainder of the adventure and above all, not wishing to be present when the assassin threw the assassinated man into the river. Now you comprehend. The man who was carrying the corpse was Jean Valjean; the one who had the key is speaking to you at this moment; and the piece of the coat. ..”
Thenardier completed his phrase by drawing from his pocket, and holding, on a level with his eyes, nipped between his two thumbs and his two forefingers, a strip of torn black cloth, all covered with dark spots.
Marius had sprung to his feet, pale, hardly able to draw his breath, with his eyes riveted on the fragment of black cloth, and, without uttering a word, without taking his eyes from that fragment, he retreated to the wall and fumbled with his right hand along the wall for a key which was in the lock of a cupboard near the chimney.
He found the key, opened the cupboard, plunged his arm into it without looking, and without his frightened gaze quitting the rag which Thenardier still held outspread.
But Thenardier continued:
“Monsieur le Baron, I have the strongest of reasons for believing that the assassinated young man was an opulent stranger lured into a trap by Jean Valjean, and the bearer of an enormous sum of money.”
“The young man was myself, and here is the coat!” cried Marius, and he flung upon the floor an old black coat all covered with blood.
Then, snatching the fragment from the hands of Thenardier, he crouched down over the coat, and laid the torn morsel against the tattered skirt. The rent fitted exactly, and the strip completed the coat.
Thenardier was petrified.
This is what he thought: “I’m struck all of a heap.”
Marius rose to his feet trembling, despairing, radiant.
He fumbled in his pocket and stalked furiously to Thenardier, presenting to him and almost thrusting in his face his fist filled with bank-notes for five hundred and a thousand francs.
“You are an infamous wretch! you are a liar, a calumniator, a villain. You came to accuse that man, you have only justified him; you wanted to ruin him, you have only succeeded in glorifying him. And it is you who are the thief! And it is you who are the assassin! I saw you, Thenardier Jondrette, in that lair on the Rue de l’Hopital. I know enough about you to send you to the galleys and even further if I choose. Here are a thousand francs, bully that you are!”
And he flung a thousand franc note at Thenardier.
“Ah! Jondrette Thenardier, vile rascal! Let this serve you as a lesson, you dealer in second-hand secrets, merchant of mysteries, rummager of the shadows, wretch! Take these five hundred francs and get out of here! Waterloo protects you.”
“Waterloo!” growled Thenardier, pocketing the five hundred francs along with the thousand.
“Yes, assassin! You there saved the life of a Colonel . . . ”
“Of a General,” said Thenardier, elevating his head.
“Of a Colonel!” repeated Marius in a rage. “I wouldn’t give a ha’penny for a general. And you come here to commit infamies! I tell you that you have committed all crimes. Go! disappear! Only be happy, that is all that I desire. Ah! monster! here are three thousand francs more. Take them. You will depart tomorrow, for America, with your daughter; for your wife is dead, you abominable liar. I shall watch over your departure, you ruffian, and at that moment I will count out to you twenty thousand francs. Go get yourself hung elsewhere!”
“Monsieur le Baron!” replied Thenardier, bowing to the very earth, “eternal gratitude.” And Thenardier left the room, understanding nothing, stupefied and delighted with this sweet crushing beneath sacks of gold, and with that thunder which had burst forth over his head in bank-bills.
Struck by lightning he was, but he was also content; and he would have been greatly angered had he had a lightning rod to ward off such lightning as that.
Let us finish with this man at once.
Two days after the events which we are at this moment narrating, he set out, thanks to Marius’ care, for America under a false name, with his daughter Azelma, furnished with a draft on New York for twenty thousand francs.
The moral wretchedness of Thenardier, the bourgeois who had missed his vocation, was irremediable. He was in America what he had been in Europe. Contact with an evil man sometimes suffices to corrupt a good action and to cause evil things to spring from it. With Marius’ money, Thenardier set up as a slave-dealer.
As soon as Thenardier had left the house, Marius rushed to the garden, where Cosette was still walking.
“Cosette! Cosette!” he cried. “Come! come quick! Let us go. Basque, a carriage! Cosette, come. Ah! My God! It was he who saved my life! Let us not lose a minute! Put on your shawl.”
Cosette thought him mad and obeyed.
He could not breathe, he laid his hand on his heart to restrain its throbbing. He paced back and forth with huge strides, he embraced Cosette:
“Ah! Cosette! I am an unhappy wretch!” said he.
Marius was bewildered. He began to catch a glimpse in Jean Valjean of some indescribably lofty and melancholy figure. An unheard-of virtue, supreme and sweet, humble in its immensity, appeared to him. The convict was transfigured into Christ.
Marius was dazzled by this prodigy. He did not know precisely what he beheld, but it was grand.
In an instant, a hackney-carriage stood in front of the door.
Marius helped Cosette in and darted in himself.
“Driver,” said he, “Rue de l’Homme Arme, Number 7.”
The carriage drove off.
“Ah! what happiness!” ejaculated Cosette. “Rue de l’Homme Arme, I did not dare to speak to you of that. We are going to see M. Jean.”
“Thy father! Cosette, thy father more than ever. Cosette, I guess it. You told me that you had never received the letter that I sent you by Gavroche. It must have fallen into his hands. Cosette, he went to the barricade to save me. As it is a necessity with him to be an angel, he saved others also; he saved Javert. He rescued me from that gulf to give me to you. He carried me on his back through that frightful sewer. Ah! I am a monster of ingratitude. Cosette, after having been your providence, he became mine. Just imagine, there was a terrible quagmire enough to drown one a hundred times over, to drown one in mire. Cosette! he made me traverse it. I was unconscious; I saw nothing, I heard nothing, I could know nothing of my own adventure. We are going to bring him back, to take him with us, whether he is willing or not, he shall never leave us again. If only he is at home! Provided only that we can find him, I will pass the rest of my life in venerating him. Yes, that is how it should be, do you see, Cosette? Gavroche must have delivered my letter to him. All is explained. You understand.”
Cosette did not understand a word.
“You are right,” she said to him.
Meanwhile the carriage rolled on.
Jean Valjean turned round at the knock which he heard on his door.
“Come in,” he said feebly.
The door opened.
Cosette and Marius made their appearance.
Cosette rushed into the room.
Marius remained on the threshold, leaning against the jamb of the door.
“Cosette!” said Jean Valjean.
And he sat erect in his chair, his arms outstretched and trembling, haggard, livid, gloomy, an immense joy in his eyes.
Cosette, stifling with emotion, fell upon Jean Valjean’s breast.
“Father!” said she.
Jean Valjean, overcome, stammered:
“Cosette! she! you! Madame! it is thou! Ah! my God!”
And, pressed close in Cosette’s arms, he exclaimed:
“It is thou! thou art here! Thou dost pardon me then!”
Marius, lowering his eyelids, in order to keep his tears from flowing, took a step forward and murmured between lips convulsively contracted to repress his sobs:
“And you also, you pardon me!” Jean Valjean said to him.
Marius could find no words, and Jean Valjean added:
Cosette tore off her shawl and tossed her hat on the bed.
“It embarrasses me,” said she.
And, seating herself on the old man’s knees, she put aside his white locks with an adorable movement, and kissed his brow.
Jean Valjean, bewildered, let her have her own way.
Cosette, who only understood in a very confused manner, redoubled her caresses, as though she desired to pay Marius’ debt.
Jean Valjean stammered:
“How stupid people are! I thought that I should never see her again. Imagine, Monsieur Pontmercy, at the very moment when you entered, I was saying to myself: ‘All is over. Here is her little gown, I am a miserable man, I shall never see Cosette again,’ and I was saying that at the very moment when you were mounting the stairs. Was not I an idiot? Just see how idiotic one can be! One reckons without the good God. The good God says:
“‘You fancy that you are about to be abandoned, stupid! No. No, things will not go so. Come, there is a good man yonder who is in need of an angel.’ And the angel comes, and one sees one’s Cosette again! and one sees one’s little Cosette once more! Ah! I was very unhappy.”
For a moment he could not speak, then he went on:
“I really needed to see Cosette a little bit now and then. A heart needs a bone to gnaw. But I was perfectly conscious that I was in the way. I gave myself reasons: ‘They do not want you, keep in your own course, one has not the right to cling eternally.’ Ah! God be praised, I see her once more! Dost thou know, Cosette, thy husband is very handsome? Ah! what a pretty embroidered collar thou hast on, luckily. I am fond of that pattern. It was thy husband who chose it, was it not? And then, thou shouldst have some cashmere shawls. Let me call her thou, Monsieur Pontmercy. It will not be for long.”
And Cosette began again:
“How wicked of you to have left us like that! Where did you go? Why have you stayed away so long? Formerly your journeys only lasted three or four days. I sent Nicolette, the answer always was: ‘He is absent.’ How long have you been back? Why did you not let us know? Do you know that you are very much changed? Ah! what a naughty father! he has been ill, and we have not known it! Stay, Marius, feel how cold his hand is!”
“So you are here! Monsieur Pontmercy, you pardon me!” repeated Jean Valjean.
At that word which Jean Valjean had just uttered once more, all that was swelling Marius’ heart found vent.
He burst forth:
“Cosette, do you hear? he has come to that! he asks my forgiveness! And do you know what he has done for me, Cosette? He has saved my life. He has done more — he has given you to me. And after having saved me, and after having given you to me, Cosette, what has he done with himself? He has sacrificed himself. Behold the man. And he says to me the ingrate, to me the forgetful, to me the pitiless, to me the guilty one: Thanks! Cosette, my whole life passed at the feet of this man would be too little. That barricade, that sewer, that furnace, that cesspool — all that he traversed for me, for thee, Cosette! He carried me away through all the deaths which he put aside before me, and accepted for himself. Every courage, every virtue, every heroism, every sanctity he possesses! Cosette, that man is an angel!”
“Hush! hush!” said Jean Valjean in a low voice. “Why tell all that?”
“But you!” cried Marius with a wrath in which there was veneration, “why did you not tell it to me? It is your own fault, too. You save people’s lives, and you conceal it from them! You do more, under the pretext of unmasking yourself, you calumniate yourself. It is frightful.”
“I told the truth,” replied Jean Valjean.
“No,” retorted Marius, “the truth is the whole truth; and that you did not tell. You were Monsieur Madeleine, why not have said so? You saved Javert, why not have said so? I owed my life to you, why not have said so?”
“Because I thought as you do. I thought that you were in the right. It was necessary that I should go away. If you had known about that affair, of the sewer, you would have made me remain near you. I was therefore forced to hold my peace. If I had spoken, it would have caused embarrassment in every way.”
“It would have embarrassed what? embarrassed whom?” retorted Marius. “Do you think that you are going to stay here? We shall carry you off. Ah! good heavens! when I reflect that it was by an accident that I have learned all this. You form a part of ourselves. You are her father, and mine. You shall not pass another day in this dreadful house. Do not imagine that you will be here tomorrow.”
“To-morrow,” said Jean Valjean, “I shall not be here, but I shall not be with you.”
“What do you mean?” replied Marius. “Ah! come now, we are not going to permit any more journeys. You shall never leave us again. You belong to us. We shall not loose our hold of you.”
“This time it is for good,” added Cosette. “We have a carriage at the door. I shall run away with you. If necessary, I shall employ force.”
And she laughingly made a movement to lift the old man in her arms.
“Your chamber still stands ready in our house,” she went on. “If you only knew how pretty the garden is now! The azaleas are doing very well there. The walks are sanded with river sand; there are tiny violet shells. You shall eat my strawberries. I water them myself. And no more ‘madame,’ no more ‘Monsieur Jean,’ we are living under a Republic, everybody says thou, don’t they, Marius? The programme is changed. If you only knew, father, I have had a sorrow, there was a robin redbreast which had made her nest in a hole in the wall, and a horrible cat ate her. My poor, pretty, little robin red-breast which used to put her head out of her window and look at me! I cried over it. I should have liked to kill the cat. But now nobody cries any more. Everybody laughs, everybody is happy. You are going to come with us. How delighted grandfather will be! You shall have your plot in the garden, you shall cultivate it, and we shall see whether your strawberries are as fine as mine. And, then, I shall do everything that you wish, and then, you will obey me prettily.”
Jean Valjean listened to her without hearing her. He heard the music of her voice rather than the sense of her words; one of those large tears which are the sombre pearls of the soul welled up slowly in his eyes.
“The proof that God is good is that she is here.”
“Father!” said Cosette.
Jean Valjean continued:
“It is quite true that it would be charming for us to live together. Their trees are full of birds. I would walk with Cosette. It is sweet to be among living people who bid each other ‘good-day,’ who call to each other in the garden. People see each other from early morning. We should each cultivate our own little corner. She would make me eat her strawberries. I would make her gather my roses. That would be charming. Only . . . ”
He paused and said gently:
“It is a pity.”
The tear did not fall, it retreated, and Jean Valjean replaced it with a smile.
Cosette took both the old man’s hands in hers.
“My God!” said she, “your hands are still colder than before. Are you ill? Do you suffer?”
“I? No,” replied Jean Valjean. “I am very well. Only . . . ”
“I am going to die presently.”
Cosette and Marius shuddered.
“To die!” exclaimed Marius.
“Yes, but that is nothing,” said Jean Valjean.
He took breath, smiled and resumed:
“Cosette, thou wert talking to me, go on, so thy little robin red-breast is dead? Speak, so that I may hear thy voice.”
Marius gazed at the old man in amazement.
Cosette uttered a heartrending cry.
“Father! my father! you will live. You are going to live. I insist upon your living, do you hear?”
Jean Valjean raised his head towards her with adoration.
“Oh! yes, forbid me to die. Who knows? Perhaps I shall obey. I was on the verge of dying when you came. That stopped me, it seemed to me that I was born again.”
“You are full of strength and life,” cried Marius. “Do you imagine that a person can die like this? You have had sorrow, you shall have no more. It is I who ask your forgiveness, and on my knees! You are going to live, and to live with us, and to live a long time. We take possession of you once more. There are two of us here who will henceforth have no other thought than your happiness.”
“You see,” resumed Cosette, all bathed in tears, “that Marius says that you shall not die.”
Jean Valjean continued to smile.
“Even if you were to take possession of me, Monsieur Pontmercy, would that make me other than I am? No, God has thought like you and myself, and he does not change his mind; it is useful for me to go. Death is a good arrangement. God knows better than we what we need. May you be happy, may Monsieur Pontmercy have Cosette, may youth wed the morning, may there be around you, my children, lilacs and nightingales; may your life be a beautiful, sunny lawn, may all the enchantments of heaven fill your souls, and now let me, who am good for nothing, die; it is certain that all this is right. Come, be reasonable, nothing is possible now, I am fully conscious that all is over. And then, last night, I drank that whole jug of water. How good thy husband is, Cosette! Thou art much better off with him than with me.”
A noise became audible at the door.
It was the doctor entering.
“Good-day, and farewell, doctor,” said Jean Valjean. “Here are my poor children.”
Marius stepped up to the doctor. He addressed to him only this single word: “Monsieur? . . . ” But his manner of pronouncing it contained a complete question.
The doctor replied to the question by an expressive glance.
“Because things are not agreeable,” said Jean Valjean, “that is no reason for being unjust towards God.”
A silence ensued.
All breasts were oppressed.
Jean Valjean turned to Cosette. He began to gaze at her as though he wished to retain her features for eternity.
In the depths of the shadow into which he had already descended, ecstasy was still possible to him when gazing at Cosette. The reflection of that sweet face lighted up his pale visage.
The doctor felt of his pulse.
“Ah! it was you that he wanted!” he murmured, looking at Cosette and Marius.
And bending down to Marius’ ear, he added in a very low voice:
Jean Valjean surveyed the doctor and Marius serenely, almost without ceasing to gaze at Cosette.
These barely articulate words were heard to issue from his mouth:
“It is nothing to die; it is dreadful not to live.”
All at once he rose to his feet. These accesses of strength are sometimes the sign of the death agony. He walked with a firm step to the wall, thrusting aside Marius and the doctor who tried to help him, detached from the wall a little copper crucifix which was suspended there, and returned to his seat with all the freedom of movement of perfect health, and said in a loud voice, as he laid the crucifix on the table:
“Behold the great martyr.”
Then his chest sank in, his head wavered, as though the intoxication of the tomb were seizing hold upon him.
His hands, which rested on his knees, began to press their nails into the stuff of his trousers.
Cosette supported his shoulders, and sobbed, and tried to speak to him, but could not.
Among the words mingled with that mournful saliva which accompanies tears, they distinguished words like the following:
“Father, do not leave us. Is it possible that we have found you only to lose you again?”
It might be said that agony writhes. It goes, comes, advances towards the sepulchre, and returns towards life. There is groping in the action of dying.
Jean Valjean rallied after this semi-swoon, shook his brow as though to make the shadows fall away from it and became almost perfectly lucid once more.
He took a fold of Cosette’s sleeve and kissed it.
“He is coming back! doctor, he is coming back,” cried Marius.
“You are good, both of you,” said Jean Valjean. “I am going to tell you what has caused me pain. What has pained me, Monsieur Pontmercy, is that you have not been willing to touch that money. That money really belongs to your wife. I will explain to you, my children, and for that reason, also, I am glad to see you. Black jet comes from England, white jet comes from Norway. All this is in this paper, which you will read. For bracelets, I invented a way of substituting for slides of soldered sheet iron, slides of iron laid together. It is prettier, better and less costly. You will understand how much money can be made in that way. So Cosette’s fortune is really hers. I give you these details, in order that your mind may be set at rest.”
The portress had come upstairs and was gazing in at the half-open door. The doctor dismissed her.
But he could not prevent this zealous woman from exclaiming to the dying man before she disappeared: “Would you like a priest?”
“I have had one,” replied Jean Valjean.
And with his finger he seemed to indicate a point above his head where one would have said that he saw some one.
It is probable, in fact, that the Bishop was present at this death agony.
Cosette gently slipped a pillow under his loins.
Jean Valjean resumed:
“Have no fear, Monsieur Pontmercy, I adjure you. The six hundred thousand francs really belong to Cosette. My life will have been wasted if you do not enjoy them! We managed to do very well with those glass goods. We rivalled what is called Berlin jewellery. However, we could not equal the black glass of England. A gross, which contains twelve hundred very well cut grains, only costs three francs.”
When a being who is dear to us is on the point of death, we gaze upon him with a look which clings convulsively to him and which would fain hold him back.
Cosette gave her hand to Marius, and both, mute with anguish, not knowing what to say to the dying man, stood trembling and despairing before him.
Jean Valjean sank moment by moment. He was failing; he was drawing near to the gloomy horizon.
His breath had become intermittent; a little rattling interrupted it. He found some difficulty in moving his forearm, his feet had lost all movement, and in proportion as the wretchedness of limb and feebleness of body increased, all the majesty of his soul was displayed and spread over his brow. The light of the unknown world was already visible in his eyes.
His face paled and smiled. Life was no longer there, it was something else.
His breath sank, his glance grew grander. He was a corpse on which the wings could be felt.
He made a sign to Cosette to draw near, then to Marius; the last minute of the last hour had, evidently, arrived.
He began to speak to them in a voice so feeble that it seemed to come from a distance, and one would have said that a wall now rose between them and him.
“Draw near, draw near, both of you. I love you dearly. Oh! how good it is to die like this! And thou lovest me also, my Cosette. I knew well that thou still felt friendly towards thy poor old man. How kind it was of thee to place that pillow under my loins! Thou wilt weep for me a little, wilt thou not? Not too much. I do not wish thee to have any real griefs. You must enjoy yourselves a great deal, my children. I forgot to tell you that the profit was greater still on the buckles without tongues than on all the rest. A gross of a dozen dozens cost ten francs and sold for sixty. It really was a good business. So there is no occasion for surprise at the six hundred thousand francs, Monsieur Pontmercy. It is honest money. You may be rich with a tranquil mind. Thou must have a carriage, a box at the theatres now and then, and handsome ball dresses, my Cosette, and then, thou must give good dinners to thy friends, and be very happy. I was writing to Cosette a while ago. She will find my letter. I bequeath to her the two candlesticks which stand on the chimney-piece. They are of silver, but to me they are gold, they are diamonds; they change candles which are placed in them into wax-tapers. I do not know whether the person who gave them to me is pleased with me yonder on high. I have done what I could. My children, you will not forget that I am a poor man, you will have me buried in the first plot of earth that you find, under a stone to mark the spot. This is my wish. No name on the stone. If Cosette cares to come for a little while now and then, it will give me pleasure. And you too, Monsieur Pontmercy. I must admit that I have not always loved you. I ask your pardon for that. Now she and you form but one for me. I feel very grateful to you. I am sure that you make Cosette happy. If you only knew, Monsieur Pontmercy, her pretty rosy cheeks were my delight; when I saw her in the least pale, I was sad. In the chest of drawers, there is a bank-bill for five hundred francs. I have not touched it. It is for the poor. Cosette, dost thou see thy little gown yonder on the bed? dost thou recognize it? That was ten years ago, however. How time flies! We have been very happy. All is over. Do not weep, my children, I am not going very far, I shall see you from there, you will only have to look at night, and you will see me smile. Cosette, dost thou remember Montfermeil? Thou wert in the forest, thou wert greatly terrified; dost thou remember how I took hold of the handle of the water-bucket? That was the first time that I touched thy poor, little hand. It was so cold! Ah! your hands were red then, mademoiselle, they are very white now. And the big doll! dost thou remember? Thou didst call her Catherine. Thou regrettedest not having taken her to the convent! How thou didst make me laugh sometimes, my sweet angel! When it had been raining, thou didst float bits of straw on the gutters, and watch them pass away. One day I gave thee a willow battledore and a shuttlecock with yellow, blue and green feathers. Thou hast forgotten it. Thou wert roguish so young! Thou didst play. Thou didst put cherries in thy ears. Those are things of the past. The forests through which one has passed with one’s child, the trees under which one has strolled, the convents where one has concealed oneself, the games, the hearty laughs of childhood, are shadows. I imagined that all that belonged to me. In that lay my stupidity. Those Thenardiers were wicked. Thou must forgive them. Cosette, the moment has come to tell thee the name of thy mother. She was called Fantine. Remember that name — Fantine. Kneel whenever thou utterest it. She suffered much. She loved thee dearly. She had as much unhappiness as thou hast had happiness. That is the way God apportions things. He is there on high, he sees us all, and he knows what he does in the midst of his great stars. I am on the verge of departure, my children. Love each other well and always. There is nothing else but that in the world: love for each other. You will think sometimes of the poor old man who died here. Oh my Cosette, it is not my fault, indeed, that I have not seen thee all this time, it cut me to the heart; I went as far as the corner of the street, I must have produced a queer effect on the people who saw me pass, I was like a madman, I once went out without my hat. I no longer see clearly, my children, I had still other things to say, but never mind. Think a little of me. Come still nearer. I die happy. Give me your dear and well-beloved heads, so that I may lay my hands upon them.”
Cosette and Marius fell on their knees, in despair, suffocating with tears, each beneath one of Jean Valjean’s hands. Those august hands no longer moved.
He had fallen backwards, the light of the candles illuminated him.
His white face looked up to heaven, he allowed Cosette and Marius to cover his hands with kisses.
He was dead.
The night was starless and extremely dark. No doubt, in the gloom, some immense angel stood erect with wings outspread, awaiting that soul.
In the cemetery of Pere–Lachaise, in the vicinity of the common grave, far from the elegant quarter of that city of sepulchres, far from all the tombs of fancy which display in the presence of eternity all the hideous fashions of death, in a deserted corner, beside an old wall, beneath a great yew tree over which climbs the wild convolvulus, amid dandelions and mosses, there lies a stone. That stone is no more exempt than others from the leprosy of time, of dampness, of the lichens and from the defilement of the birds. The water turns it green, the air blackens it. It is not near any path, and people are not fond of walking in that direction, because the grass is high and their feet are immediately wet. When there is a little sunshine, the lizards come thither. All around there is a quivering of weeds. In the spring, linnets warble in the trees.
This stone is perfectly plain. In cutting it the only thought was the requirements of the tomb, and no other care was taken than to make the stone long enough and narrow enough to cover a man.
No name is to be read there.
Only, many years ago, a hand wrote upon it in pencil these four lines, which have become gradually illegible beneath the rain and the dust, and which are, today, probably effaced:
Il dort. Quoique le sort fut pour lui bien etrange,
Il vivait. Il mourut quand il n’eut plus son ange.
La chose simplement d’elle-meme arriva,
Comme la nuit se fait lorsque le jour s’en va.70
70 He sleeps. Although his fate was very strange, he lived. He died when he had no longer his angel. The thing came to pass simply, of itself, as the night comes when day is gone.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51