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The reader has probably understood that Éponine, having recognized through the gate, the inhabitant of that Rue Plumet whither Magnon had sent her, had begun by keeping the ruffians away from the Rue Plumet, and had then conducted Marius thither, and that, after many days spent in ecstasy before that gate, Marius, drawn on by that force which draws the iron to the magnet and a lover towards the stones of which is built the house of her whom he loves, had finally entered Cosette’s garden as Romeo entered the garden of Juliet. This had even proved easier for him than for Romeo; Romeo was obliged to scale a wall, Marius had only to use a little force on one of the bars of the decrepit gate which vacillated in its rusty recess, after the fashion of old people’s teeth. Marius was slender and readily passed through.
As there was never any one in the street, and as Marius never entered the garden except at night, he ran no risk of being seen.
Beginning with that blessed and holy hour when a kiss betrothed these two souls, Marius was there every evening. If, at that period of her existence, Cosette had fallen in love with a man in the least unscrupulous or debauched, she would have been lost; for there are generous natures which yield themselves, and Cosette was one of them. One of woman’s magnanimities is to yield. Love, at the height where it is absolute, is complicated with some indescribably celestial blindness of modesty. But what dangers you run, O noble souls! Often you give the heart, and we take the body. Your heart remains with you, you gaze upon it in the gloom with a shudder. Love has no middle course; it either ruins or it saves. All human destiny lies in this dilemma. This dilemma, ruin, or safety, is set forth no more inexorably by any fatality than by love. Love is life, if it is not death. Cradle; also coffin. The same sentiment says “yes” and “no” in the human heart. Of all the things that God has made, the human heart is the one which sheds the most light, alas! and the most darkness.
God willed that Cosette’s love should encounter one of the loves which save.
Throughout the whole of the month of May of that year 1832, there were there, in every night, in that poor, neglected garden, beneath that thicket which grew thicker and more fragrant day by day, two beings composed of all chastity, all innocence, overflowing with all the felicity of heaven, nearer to the archangels than to mankind, pure, honest, intoxicated, radiant, who shone for each other amid the shadows. It seemed to Cosette that Marius had a crown, and to Marius that Cosette had a nimbus. They touched each other, they gazed at each other, they clasped each other’s hands, they pressed close to each other; but there was a distance which they did not pass. Not that they respected it; they did not know of its existence. Marius was conscious of a barrier, Cosette’s innocence; and Cosette of a support, Marius’ loyalty. The first kiss had also been the last. Marius, since that time, had not gone further than to touch Cosette’s hand, or her kerchief, or a lock of her hair, with his lips. For him, Cosette was a perfume and not a woman. He inhaled her. She refused nothing, and he asked nothing. Cosette was happy, and Marius was satisfied. They lived in this ecstatic state which can be described as the dazzling of one soul by another soul. It was the ineffable first embrace of two maiden souls in the ideal. Two swans meeting on the Jungfrau.
At that hour of love, an hour when voluptuousness is absolutely mute, beneath the omnipotence of ecstasy, Marius, the pure and seraphic Marius, would rather have gone to a woman of the town than have raised Cosette’s robe to the height of her ankle. Once, in the moonlight, Cosette stooped to pick up something on the ground, her bodice fell apart and permitted a glimpse of the beginning of her throat. Marius turned away his eyes.
What took place between these two beings? Nothing. They adored each other.
At night, when they were there, that garden seemed a living and a sacred spot. All flowers unfolded around them and sent them incense; and they opened their souls and scattered them over the flowers. The wanton and vigorous vegetation quivered, full of strength and intoxication, around these two innocents, and they uttered words of love which set the trees to trembling.
What words were these? Breaths. Nothing more. These breaths sufficed to trouble and to touch all nature round about. Magic power which we should find it difficult to understand were we to read in a book these conversations which are made to be borne away and dispersed like smoke wreaths by the breeze beneath the leaves. Take from those murmurs of two lovers that melody which proceeds from the soul and which accompanies them like a lyre, and what remains is nothing more than a shade; you say: “What! is that all!” eh! yes, childish prattle, repetitions, laughter at nothing, nonsense, everything that is deepest and most sublime in the world! The only things which are worth the trouble of saying and hearing!
The man who has never heard, the man who has never uttered these absurdities, these paltry remarks, is an imbecile and a malicious fellow. Cosette said to Marius:—
“Dost thou know?—”
[In all this and athwart this celestial maidenliness, and without either of them being able to say how it had come about, they had begun to call each other thou.]
“Dost thou know? My name is Euphrasie.”
“Euphrasie? Why, no, thy name is Cosette.”
“Oh! Cosette is a very ugly name that was given to me when I was a little thing. But my real name is Euphrasie. Dost thou like that name—Euphrasie?”
“Yes. But Cosette is not ugly.”
“Do you like it better than Euphrasie?”
“Then I like it better too. Truly, it is pretty, Cosette. Call me Cosette.”
And the smile that she added made of this dialogue an idyl worthy of a grove situated in heaven. On another occasion she gazed intently at him and exclaimed:—
“Monsieur, you are handsome, you are good-looking, you are witty, you are not at all stupid, you are much more learned than I am, but I bid you defiance with this word: I love you!”
And Marius, in the very heavens, thought he heard a strain sung by a star.
Or she bestowed on him a gentle tap because he coughed, and she said to him:—
“Don’t cough, sir; I will not have people cough on my domain without my permission. It’s very naughty to cough and to disturb me. I want you to be well, because, in the first place, if you were not well, I should be very unhappy. What should I do then?”
And this was simply divine.
Once Marius said to Cosette:—
“Just imagine, I thought at one time that your name was Ursule.”
This made both of them laugh the whole evening.
In the middle of another conversation, he chanced to exclaim:—
“Oh! One day, at the Luxembourg, I had a good mind to finish breaking up a veteran!” But he stopped short, and went no further. He would have been obliged to speak to Cosette of her garter, and that was impossible. This bordered on a strange theme, the flesh, before which that immense and innocent love recoiled with a sort of sacred fright.
Marius pictured life with Cosette to himself like this, without anything else; to come every evening to the Rue Plumet, to displace the old and accommodating bar of the chief-justice’s gate, to sit elbow to elbow on that bench, to gaze through the trees at the scintillation of the on-coming night, to fit a fold of the knee of his trousers into the ample fall of Cosette’s gown, to caress her thumb-nail, to call her thou, to smell of the same flower, one after the other, forever, indefinitely. During this time, clouds passed above their heads. Every time that the wind blows it bears with it more of the dreams of men than of the clouds of heaven.
This chaste, almost shy love was not devoid of gallantry, by any means. To pay compliments to the woman whom a man loves is the first method of bestowing caresses, and he is half audacious who tries it. A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil. Voluptuousness mingles there with its sweet tiny point, while it hides itself. The heart draws back before voluptuousness only to love the more. Marius’ blandishments, all saturated with fancy, were, so to speak, of azure hue. The birds when they fly up yonder, in the direction of the angels, must hear such words. There were mingled with them, nevertheless, life, humanity, all the positiveness of which Marius was capable. It was what is said in the bower, a prelude to what will be said in the chamber; a lyrical effusion, strophe and sonnet intermingled, pleasing hyperboles of cooing, all the refinements of adoration arranged in a bouquet and exhaling a celestial perfume, an ineffable twitter of heart to heart.
“Oh!” murmured Marius, “how beautiful you are! I dare not look at you. It is all over with me when I contemplate you. You are a grace. I know not what is the matter with me. The hem of your gown, when the tip of your shoe peeps from beneath, upsets me. And then, what an enchanted gleam when you open your thought even but a little! You talk astonishingly good sense. It seems to me at times that you are a dream. Speak, I listen, I admire. Oh Cosette! how strange it is and how charming! I am really beside myself. You are adorable, Mademoiselle. I study your feet with the microscope and your soul with the telescope.”
And Cosette answered:—
“I have been loving a little more all the time that has passed since this morning.”
Questions and replies took care of themselves in this dialogue, which always turned with mutual consent upon love, as the little pith figures always turn on their peg.
Cosette’s whole person was ingenuousness, ingenuity, transparency, whiteness, candor, radiance. It might have been said of Cosette that she was clear. She produced on those who saw her the sensation of April and dawn. There was dew in her eyes. Cosette was a condensation of the auroral light in the form of a woman.
It was quite simple that Marius should admire her, since he adored her. But the truth is, that this little school-girl, fresh from the convent, talked with exquisite penetration and uttered, at times, all sorts of true and delicate sayings. Her prattle was conversation. She never made a mistake about anything, and she saw things justly. The woman feels and speaks with the tender instinct of the heart, which is infallible.
No one understands so well as a woman, how to say things that are, at once, both sweet and deep. Sweetness and depth, they are the whole of woman; in them lies the whole of heaven.
In this full felicity, tears welled up to their eyes every instant. A crushed lady-bug, a feather fallen from a nest, a branch of hawthorn broken, aroused their pity, and their ecstasy, sweetly mingled with melancholy, seemed to ask nothing better than to weep. The most sovereign symptom of love is a tenderness that is, at times, almost unbearable.
And, in addition to this,—all these contradictions are the lightning play of love,—they were fond of laughing, they laughed readily and with a delicious freedom, and so familiarly that they sometimes presented the air of two boys.
Still, though unknown to hearts intoxicated with purity, nature is always present and will not be forgotten. She is there with her brutal and sublime object; and however great may be the innocence of souls, one feels in the most modest private interview, the adorable and mysterious shade which separates a couple of lovers from a pair of friends.
They idolized each other.
The permanent and the immutable are persistent. People live, they smile, they laugh, they make little grimaces with the tips of their lips, they interlace their fingers, they call each other thou, and that does not prevent eternity.
Two lovers hide themselves in the evening, in the twilight, in the invisible, with the birds, with the roses; they fascinate each other in the darkness with their hearts which they throw into their eyes, they murmur, they whisper, and in the meantime, immense librations of the planets fill the infinite universe.
They existed vaguely, frightened at their happiness. They did not notice the cholera which decimated Paris precisely during that very month. They had confided in each other as far as possible, but this had not extended much further than their names. Marius had told Cosette that he was an orphan, that his name was Marius Pontmercy, that he was a lawyer, that he lived by writing things for publishers, that his father had been a colonel, that the latter had been a hero, and that he, Marius, was on bad terms with his grandfather who was rich. He had also hinted at being a baron, but this had produced no effect on Cosette. She did not know the meaning of the word. Marius was Marius. On her side, she had confided to him that she had been brought up at the Petit-Picpus convent, that her mother, like his own, was dead, that her father’s name was M. Fauchelevent, that he was very good, that he gave a great deal to the poor, but that he was poor himself, and that he denied himself everything though he denied her nothing.
Strange to say, in the sort of symphony which Marius had lived since he had been in the habit of seeing Cosette, the past, even the most recent past, had become so confused and distant to him, that what Cosette told him satisfied him completely. It did not even occur to him to tell her about the nocturnal adventure in the hovel, about Thénardier, about the burn, and about the strange attitude and singular flight of her father. Marius had momentarily forgotten all this; in the evening he did not even know that there had been a morning, what he had done, where he had breakfasted, nor who had spoken to him; he had songs in his ears which rendered him deaf to every other thought; he only existed at the hours when he saw Cosette. Then, as he was in heaven, it was quite natural that he should forget earth. Both bore languidly the indefinable burden of immaterial pleasures. Thus lived these somnambulists who are called lovers.
Alas! Who is there who has not felt all these things? Why does there come an hour when one emerges from this azure, and why does life go on afterwards?
Loving almost takes the place of thinking. Love is an ardent forgetfulness of all the rest. Then ask logic of passion if you will. There is no more absolute logical sequence in the human heart than there is a perfect geometrical figure in the celestial mechanism. For Cosette and Marius nothing existed except Marius and Cosette. The universe around them had fallen into a hole. They lived in a golden minute. There was nothing before them, nothing behind. It hardly occurred to Marius that Cosette had a father. His brain was dazzled and obliterated. Of what did these lovers talk then? We have seen, of the flowers, and the swallows, the setting sun and the rising moon, and all sorts of important things. They had told each other everything except everything. The everything of lovers is nothing. But the father, the realities, that lair, the ruffians, that adventure, to what purpose? And was he very sure that this nightmare had actually existed? They were two, and they adored each other, and beyond that there was nothing. Nothing else existed. It is probable that this vanishing of hell in our rear is inherent to the arrival of paradise. Have we beheld demons? Are there any? Have we trembled? Have we suffered? We no longer know. A rosy cloud hangs over it.
So these two beings lived in this manner, high aloft, with all that improbability which is in nature; neither at the nadir nor at the zenith, between man and seraphim, above the mire, below the ether, in the clouds; hardly flesh and blood, soul and ecstasy from head to foot; already too sublime to walk the earth, still too heavily charged with humanity to disappear in the blue, suspended like atoms which are waiting to be precipitated; apparently beyond the bounds of destiny; ignorant of that rut; yesterday, to-day, to-morrow; amazed, rapturous, floating, soaring; at times so light that they could take their flight out into the infinite; almost prepared to soar away to all eternity. They slept wide-awake, thus sweetly lulled. Oh! splendid lethargy of the real overwhelmed by the ideal.
Sometimes, beautiful as Cosette was, Marius shut his eyes in her presence. The best way to look at the soul is through closed eyes.
Marius and Cosette never asked themselves whither this was to lead them. They considered that they had already arrived. It is a strange claim on man’s part to wish that love should lead to something.
Jean Valjean suspected nothing.
Cosette, who was rather less dreamy than Marius, was gay, and that sufficed for Jean Valjean’s happiness. The thoughts which Cosette cherished, her tender preoccupations, Marius’ image which filled her heart, took away nothing from the incomparable purity of her beautiful, chaste, and smiling brow. She was at the age when the virgin bears her love as the angel his lily. So Jean Valjean was at ease. And then, when two lovers have come to an understanding, things always go well; the third party who might disturb their love is kept in a state of perfect blindness by a restricted number of precautions which are always the same in the case of all lovers. Thus, Cosette never objected to any of Jean Valjean’s proposals. Did she want to take a walk? “Yes, dear little father.” Did she want to stay at home? Very good. Did he wish to pass the evening with Cosette? She was delighted. As he always went to bed at ten o’clock, Marius did not come to the garden on such occasions until after that hour, when, from the street, he heard Cosette open the long glass door on the veranda. Of course, no one ever met Marius in the daytime. Jean Valjean never even dreamed any longer that Marius was in existence. Only once, one morning, he chanced to say to Cosette: “Why, you have whitewash on your back!” On the previous evening, Marius, in a transport, had pushed Cosette against the wall.
Old Toussaint, who retired early, thought of nothing but her sleep, and was as ignorant of the whole matter as Jean Valjean.
Marius never set foot in the house. When he was with Cosette, they hid themselves in a recess near the steps, in order that they might neither be seen nor heard from the street, and there they sat, frequently contenting themselves, by way of conversation, with pressing each other’s hands twenty times a minute as they gazed at the branches of the trees. At such times, a thunderbolt might have fallen thirty paces from them, and they would not have noticed it, so deeply was the reverie of the one absorbed and sunk in the reverie of the other.
Limpid purity. Hours wholly white; almost all alike. This sort of love is a recollection of lily petals and the plumage of the dove.
The whole extent of the garden lay between them and the street. Every time that Marius entered and left, he carefully adjusted the bar of the gate in such a manner that no displacement was visible.
He usually went away about midnight, and returned to Courfeyrac’s lodgings. Courfeyrac said to Bahorel:—
“Would you believe it? Marius comes home nowadays at one o’clock in the morning.”
“What do you expect? There’s always a petard in a seminary fellow.”
At times, Courfeyrac folded his arms, assumed a serious air, and said to Marius:—
“You are getting irregular in your habits, young man.”
Courfeyrac, being a practical man, did not take in good part this reflection of an invisible paradise upon Marius; he was not much in the habit of concealed passions; it made him impatient, and now and then he called upon Marius to come back to reality.
One morning, he threw him this admonition:—
“My dear fellow, you produce upon me the effect of being located in the moon, the realm of dreams, the province of illusions, capital, soap-bubble. Come, be a good boy, what’s her name?”
But nothing could induce Marius “to talk.” They might have torn out his nails before one of the two sacred syllables of which that ineffable name, Cosette, was composed. True love is as luminous as the dawn and as silent as the tomb. Only, Courfeyrac saw this change in Marius, that his taciturnity was of the beaming order.
During this sweet month of May, Marius and Cosette learned to know these immense delights. To dispute and to say you for thou, simply that they might say thou the better afterwards. To talk at great length with very minute details, of persons in whom they took not the slightest interest in the world; another proof that in that ravishing opera called love, the libretto counts for almost nothing;
For Marius, to listen to Cosette discussing finery;
For Cosette, to listen to Marius talk in politics;
To listen, knee pressed to knee, to the carriages rolling along the Rue de Babylone;
To gaze upon the same planet in space, or at the same glowworm gleaming in the grass;
To hold their peace together; a still greater delight than conversation;
In the meantime, divers complications were approaching.
One evening, Marius was on his way to the rendezvous, by way of the Boulevard des Invalides. He habitually walked with drooping head. As he was on the point of turning the corner of the Rue Plumet, he heard some one quite close to him say:—
“Good evening, Monsieur Marius.”
He raised his head and recognized Éponine.
This produced a singular effect upon him. He had not thought of that girl a single time since the day when she had conducted him to the Rue Plumet, he had not seen her again, and she had gone completely out of his mind. He had no reasons for anything but gratitude towards her, he owed her his happiness, and yet, it was embarrassing to him to meet her.
It is an error to think that passion, when it is pure and happy, leads man to a state of perfection; it simply leads him, as we have noted, to a state of oblivion. In this situation, man forgets to be bad, but he also forgets to be good. Gratitude, duty, matters essential and important to be remembered, vanish. At any other time, Marius would have behaved quite differently to Éponine. Absorbed in Cosette, he had not even clearly put it to himself that this Éponine was named Éponine Thénardier, and that she bore the name inscribed in his father’s will, that name, for which, but a few months before, he would have so ardently sacrificed himself. We show Marius as he was. His father himself was fading out of his soul to some extent, under the splendor of his love.
He replied with some embarrassment:—
“Ah! so it’s you, Éponine?”
“Why do you call me you? Have I done anything to you?”
“No,” he answered.
Certainly, he had nothing against her. Far from it. Only, he felt that he could not do otherwise, now that he used thou to Cosette, than say you to Éponine.
As he remained silent, she exclaimed:—
Then she paused. It seemed as though words failed that creature formerly so heedless and so bold. She tried to smile and could not. Then she resumed:—
Then she paused again, and remained with downcast eyes.
“Good evening, Mr. Marius,” said she suddenly and abruptly; and away she went.
The following day was the 3d of June, 1832, a date which it is necessary to indicate on account of the grave events which at that epoch hung on the horizon of Paris in the state of lightning-charged clouds. Marius, at nightfall, was pursuing the same road as on the preceding evening, with the same thoughts of delight in his heart, when he caught sight of Éponine approaching, through the trees of the boulevard. Two days in succession—this was too much. He turned hastily aside, quitted the boulevard, changed his course and went to the Rue Plumet through the Rue Monsieur.
This caused Éponine to follow him to the Rue Plumet, a thing which she had not yet done. Up to that time, she had contented herself with watching him on his passage along the boulevard without ever seeking to encounter him. It was only on the evening before that she had attempted to address him.
So Éponine followed him, without his suspecting the fact. She saw him displace the bar and slip into the garden.
She approached the railing, felt of the bars one after the other, and readily recognized the one which Marius had moved.
She murmured in a low voice and in gloomy accents:—
“None of that, Lisette!”
She seated herself on the underpinning of the railing, close beside the bar, as though she were guarding it. It was precisely at the point where the railing touched the neighboring wall. There was a dim nook there, in which Éponine was entirely concealed.
She remained thus for more than an hour, without stirring and without breathing, a prey to her thoughts.
Towards ten o’clock in the evening, one of the two or three persons who passed through the Rue Plumet, an old, belated bourgeois who was making haste to escape from this deserted spot of evil repute, as he skirted the garden railings and reached the angle which it made with the wall, heard a dull and threatening voice saying:—
“I’m no longer surprised that he comes here every evening.”
The passer-by cast a glance around him, saw no one, dared not peer into the black niche, and was greatly alarmed. He redoubled his pace.
This passer-by had reason to make haste, for a very few instants later, six men, who were marching separately and at some distance from each other, along the wall, and who might have been taken for a gray patrol, entered the Rue Plumet.
The first to arrive at the garden railing halted, and waited for the others; a second later, all six were reunited.
These men began to talk in a low voice.
“This is the place,” said one of them.
“Is there a cab [dog] in the garden?” asked another.
“I don’t know. In any case, I have fetched a ball that we’ll make him eat.”
“Have you some putty to break the pane with?”
“The railing is old,” interpolated a fifth, who had the voice of a ventriloquist.
“So much the better,” said the second who had spoken. “It won’t screech under the saw, and it won’t be hard to cut.”
The sixth, who had not yet opened his lips, now began to inspect the gate, as Éponine had done an hour earlier, grasping each bar in succession, and shaking them cautiously.
Thus he came to the bar which Marius had loosened. As he was on the point of grasping this bar, a hand emerged abruptly from the darkness, fell upon his arm; he felt himself vigorously thrust aside by a push in the middle of his breast, and a hoarse voice said to him, but not loudly:—
“There’s a dog.”
At the same moment, he perceived a pale girl standing before him.
The man underwent that shock which the unexpected always brings. He bristled up in hideous wise; nothing is so formidable to behold as ferocious beasts who are uneasy; their terrified air evokes terror.
He recoiled and stammered:—
“What jade is this?”
It was, in fact, Éponine, who had addressed Thénardier.
At the apparition of Éponine, the other five, that is to say, Claquesous, Guelemer, Babet, Brujon, and Montparnasse had noiselessly drawn near, without precipitation, without uttering a word, with the sinister slowness peculiar to these men of the night.
Some indescribable but hideous tools were visible in their hands. Guelemer held one of those pairs of curved pincers which prowlers call fanchons.
“Ah, see here, what are you about there? What do you want with us? Are you crazy?” exclaimed Thénardier, as loudly as one can exclaim and still speak low; “what have you come here to hinder our work for?”
Éponine burst out laughing, and threw herself on his neck.
“I am here, little father, because I am here. Isn’t a person allowed to sit on the stones nowadays? It’s you who ought not to be here. What have you come here for, since it’s a biscuit? I told Magnon so. There’s nothing to be done here. But embrace me, my good little father! It’s a long time since I’ve seen you! So you’re out?”
Thénardier tried to disentangle himself from Éponine’s arms, and grumbled:—
“That’s good. You’ve embraced me. Yes, I’m out. I’m not in. Now, get away with you.”
But Éponine did not release her hold, and redoubled her caresses.
“But how did you manage it, little pa? You must have been very clever to get out of that. Tell me about it! And my mother? Where is mother? Tell me about mamma.”
“She’s well. I don’t know, let me alone, and be off, I tell you.”
“I won’t go, so there now,” pouted Éponine like a spoiled child; “you send me off, and it’s four months since I saw you, and I’ve hardly had time to kiss you.”
And she caught her father round the neck again.
“Come, now, this is stupid!” said Babet.
“Make haste!” said Guelemer, “the cops may pass.”
The ventriloquist’s voice repeated his distich:—
“Nous n’ sommes pas le jour de l’an,
A bécoter papa, maman.”
“This isn’t New Year’s day
To peck at pa and ma.”
Éponine turned to the five ruffians.
“Why, it’s Monsieur Brujon. Good day, Monsieur Babet. Good day, Monsieur Claquesous. Don’t you know me, Monsieur Guelemer? How goes it, Montparnasse?”
“Yes, they know you!” ejaculated Thénardier. “But good day, good evening, sheer off! leave us alone!”
“It’s the hour for foxes, not for chickens,” said Montparnasse.
“You see the job we have on hand here,” added Babet.
Éponine caught Montparnasse’s hand.
“Take care,” said he, “you’ll cut yourself, I’ve a knife open.”
“My little Montparnasse,” responded Éponine very gently, “you must have confidence in people. I am the daughter of my father, perhaps. Monsieur Babet, Monsieur Guelemer, I’m the person who was charged to investigate this matter.”
It is remarkable that Éponine did not talk slang. That frightful tongue had become impossible to her since she had known Marius.
She pressed in her hand, small, bony, and feeble as that of a skeleton, Guelemer’s huge, coarse fingers, and continued:—
“You know well that I’m no fool. Ordinarily, I am believed. I have rendered you service on various occasions. Well, I have made inquiries; you will expose yourselves to no purpose, you see. I swear to you that there is nothing in this house.”
“There are lone women,” said Guelemer.
“No, the persons have moved away.”
“The candles haven’t, anyway!” ejaculated Babet.
And he pointed out to Éponine, across the tops of the trees, a light which was wandering about in the mansard roof of the pavilion. It was Toussaint, who had stayed up to spread out some linen to dry.
Éponine made a final effort.
“Well,” said she, “they’re very poor folks, and it’s a hovel where there isn’t a sou.”
“Go to the devil!” cried Thénardier. “When we’ve turned the house upside down and put the cellar at the top and the attic below, we’ll tell you what there is inside, and whether it’s francs or sous or half-farthings.”
And he pushed her aside with the intention of entering.
“My good friend, Mr. Montparnasse,” said Éponine, “I entreat you, you are a good fellow, don’t enter.”
“Take care, you’ll cut yourself,” replied Montparnasse.
Thénardier resumed in his decided tone:—
“Decamp, my girl, and leave men to their own affairs!”
Éponine released Montparnasse’s hand, which she had grasped again, and said:—
“So you mean to enter this house?”
“Rather!” grinned the ventriloquist.
Then she set her back against the gate, faced the six ruffians who were armed to the teeth, and to whom the night lent the visages of demons, and said in a firm, low voice:—
“Well, I don’t mean that you shall.”
They halted in amazement. The ventriloquist, however, finished his grin. She went on:—
“Friends! Listen well. This is not what you want. Now I’m talking. In the first place, if you enter this garden, if you lay a hand on this gate, I’ll scream, I’ll beat on the door, I’ll rouse everybody, I’ll have the whole six of you seized, I’ll call the police.”
“She’d do it, too,” said Thénardier in a low tone to Brujon and the ventriloquist.
She shook her head and added:—
“Beginning with my father!”
Thénardier stepped nearer.
“Not so close, my good man!” said she.
He retreated, growling between his teeth:—
“Why, what’s the matter with her?”
And he added:—
She began to laugh in a terrible way:—
“As you like, but you shall not enter here. I’m not the daughter of a dog, since I’m the daughter of a wolf. There are six of you, what matters that to me? You are men. Well, I’m a woman. You don’t frighten me. I tell you that you shan’t enter this house, because it doesn’t suit me. If you approach, I’ll bark. I told you, I’m the dog, and I don’t care a straw for you. Go your way, you bore me! Go where you please, but don’t come here, I forbid it! You can use your knives. I’ll use kicks; it’s all the same to me, come on!”
She advanced a pace nearer the ruffians, she was terrible, she burst out laughing:—
“Pardine! I’m not afraid. I shall be hungry this summer, and I shall be cold this winter. Aren’t they ridiculous, these ninnies of men, to think they can scare a girl! What! Scare? Oh, yes, much! Because you have finical poppets of mistresses who hide under the bed when you put on a big voice, forsooth! I ain’t afraid of anything, that I ain’t!”
She fastened her intent gaze upon Thénardier and said:—
“Not even of you, father!”
Then she continued, as she cast her blood-shot, spectre-like eyes upon the ruffians in turn:—
“What do I care if I’m picked up to-morrow morning on the pavement of the Rue Plumet, killed by the blows of my father’s club, or whether I’m found a year from now in the nets at Saint-Cloud or the Isle of Swans in the midst of rotten old corks and drowned dogs?”
She was forced to pause; she was seized by a dry cough, her breath came from her weak and narrow chest like the death-rattle.
“I have only to cry out, and people will come, and then slap, bang! There are six of you; I represent the whole world.”
Thénardier made a movement towards her.
“Don’t approach!” she cried.
He halted, and said gently:—
“Well, no; I won’t approach, but don’t speak so loud. So you intend to hinder us in our work, my daughter? But we must earn our living all the same. Have you no longer any kind feeling for your father?”
“You bother me,” said Éponine.
“But we must live, we must eat—”
So saying, she seated herself on the underpinning of the fence and hummed:—
“Mon bras si dodu,
Ma jambe bien faite
Et le temps perdu.”
“My arm so plump,
My leg well formed,
And time wasted.”
She had set her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand, and she swung her foot with an air of indifference. Her tattered gown permitted a view of her thin shoulder-blades. The neighboring street lantern illuminated her profile and her attitude. Nothing more resolute and more surprising could be seen.
The six rascals, speechless and gloomy at being held in check by a girl, retreated beneath the shadow cast by the lantern, and held counsel with furious and humiliated shrugs.
In the meantime she stared at them with a stern but peaceful air.
“There’s something the matter with her,” said Babet. “A reason. Is she in love with the dog? It’s a shame to miss this, anyway. Two women, an old fellow who lodges in the back-yard, and curtains that ain’t so bad at the windows. The old cove must be a Jew. I think the job’s a good one.”
“Well, go in, then, the rest of you,” exclaimed Montparnasse. “Do the job. I’ll stay here with the girl, and if she fails us—”
He flashed the knife, which he held open in his hand, in the light of the lantern.
Thénardier said not a word, and seemed ready for whatever the rest pleased.
Brujon, who was somewhat of an oracle, and who had, as the reader knows, “put up the job,” had not as yet spoken. He seemed thoughtful. He had the reputation of not sticking at anything, and it was known that he had plundered a police post simply out of bravado. Besides this he made verses and songs, which gave him great authority.
Babet interrogated him:—
“You say nothing, Brujon?”
Brujon remained silent an instant longer, then he shook his head in various ways, and finally concluded to speak:—
“See here; this morning I came across two sparrows fighting, this evening I jostled a woman who was quarrelling. All that’s bad. Let’s quit.”
They went away.
As they went, Montparnasse muttered:—
“Never mind! if they had wanted, I’d have cut her throat.”
“I wouldn’t. I don’t hit a lady.”
At the corner of the street they halted and exchanged the following enigmatical dialogue in a low tone:—
“Where shall we go to sleep to-night?”
“Under Pantin [Paris].”
“Have you the key to the gate, Thénardier?”
Éponine, who never took her eyes off of them, saw them retreat by the road by which they had come. She rose and began to creep after them along the walls and the houses. She followed them thus as far as the boulevard. There they parted, and she saw these six men plunge into the gloom, where they appeared to melt away.
After the departure of the ruffians, the Rue Plumet resumed its tranquil, nocturnal aspect. That which had just taken place in this street would not have astonished a forest. The lofty trees, the copses, the heaths, the branches rudely interlaced, the tall grass, exist in a sombre manner; the savage swarming there catches glimpses of sudden apparitions of the invisible; that which is below man distinguishes, through the mists, that which is beyond man; and the things of which we living beings are ignorant there meet face to face in the night. Nature, bristling and wild, takes alarm at certain approaches in which she fancies that she feels the supernatural. The forces of the gloom know each other, and are strangely balanced by each other. Teeth and claws fear what they cannot grasp. Blood-drinking bestiality, voracious appetites, hunger in search of prey, the armed instincts of nails and jaws which have for source and aim the belly, glare and smell out uneasily the impassive spectral forms straying beneath a shroud, erect in its vague and shuddering robe, and which seem to them to live with a dead and terrible life. These brutalities, which are only matter, entertain a confused fear of having to deal with the immense obscurity condensed into an unknown being. A black figure barring the way stops the wild beast short. That which emerges from the cemetery intimidates and disconcerts that which emerges from the cave; the ferocious fear the sinister; wolves recoil when they encounter a ghoul.
While this sort of a dog with a human face was mounting guard over the gate, and while the six ruffians were yielding to a girl, Marius was by Cosette’s side.
Never had the sky been more studded with stars and more charming, the trees more trembling, the odor of the grass more penetrating; never had the birds fallen asleep among the leaves with a sweeter noise; never had all the harmonies of universal serenity responded more thoroughly to the inward music of love; never had Marius been more captivated, more happy, more ecstatic.
But he had found Cosette sad; Cosette had been weeping. Her eyes were red.
This was the first cloud in that wonderful dream.
Marius’ first word had been: “What is the matter?”
And she had replied: “This.”
Then she had seated herself on the bench near the steps, and while he tremblingly took his place beside her, she had continued:—
“My father told me this morning to hold myself in readiness, because he has business, and we may go away from here.”
Marius shivered from head to foot.
When one is at the end of one’s life, to die means to go away; when one is at the beginning of it, to go away means to die.
For the last six weeks, Marius had little by little, slowly, by degrees, taken possession of Cosette each day. As we have already explained, in the case of first love, the soul is taken long before the body; later on, one takes the body long before the soul; sometimes one does not take the soul at all; the Faublas and the Prudhommes add: “Because there is none”; but the sarcasm is, fortunately, a blasphemy. So Marius possessed Cosette, as spirits possess, but he enveloped her with all his soul, and seized her jealously with incredible conviction. He possessed her smile, her breath, her perfume, the profound radiance of her blue eyes, the sweetness of her skin when he touched her hand, the charming mark which she had on her neck, all her thoughts. Therefore, he possessed all Cosette’s dreams.
He incessantly gazed at, and he sometimes touched lightly with his breath, the short locks on the nape of her neck, and he declared to himself that there was not one of those short hairs which did not belong to him, Marius. He gazed upon and adored the things that she wore, her knot of ribbon, her gloves, her sleeves, her shoes, her cuffs, as sacred objects of which he was the master. He dreamed that he was the lord of those pretty shell combs which she wore in her hair, and he even said to himself, in confused and suppressed stammerings of voluptuousness which did not make their way to the light, that there was not a ribbon of her gown, not a mesh in her stockings, not a fold in her bodice, which was not his. Beside Cosette he felt himself beside his own property, his own thing, his own despot and his slave. It seemed as though they had so intermingled their souls, that it would have been impossible to tell them apart had they wished to take them back again.—“This is mine.” “No, it is mine.” “I assure you that you are mistaken. This is my property.” “What you are taking as your own is myself.”—Marius was something that made a part of Cosette, and Cosette was something which made a part of Marius. Marius felt Cosette within him. To have Cosette, to possess Cosette, this, to him, was not to be distinguished from breathing. It was in the midst of this faith, of this intoxication, of this virgin possession, unprecedented and absolute, of this sovereignty, that these words: “We are going away,” fell suddenly, at a blow, and that the harsh voice of reality cried to him: “Cosette is not yours!”
Marius awoke. For six weeks Marius had been living, as we have said, outside of life; those words, going away! caused him to re-enter it harshly.
He found not a word to say. Cosette merely felt that his hand was very cold. She said to him in her turn: “What is the matter?”
He replied in so low a tone that Cosette hardly heard him:—
“I did not understand what you said.”
She began again:—
“This morning my father told me to settle all my little affairs and to hold myself in readiness, that he would give me his linen to put in a trunk, that he was obliged to go on a journey, that we were to go away, that it is necessary to have a large trunk for me and a small one for him, and that all is to be ready in a week from now, and that we might go to England.”
“But this is outrageous!” exclaimed Marius.
It is certain, that, at that moment, no abuse of power, no violence, not one of the abominations of the worst tyrants, no action of Busiris, of Tiberius, or of Henry VIII., could have equalled this in atrocity, in the opinion of Marius; M. Fauchelevent taking his daughter off to England because he had business there.
He demanded in a weak voice:—
“And when do you start?”
“He did not say when.”
“And when shall you return?”
“He did not say when.”
Marius rose and said coldly:—
“Cosette, shall you go?”
Cosette turned toward him her beautiful eyes, all filled with anguish, and replied in a sort of bewilderment:—
“To England. Shall you go?”
“Why do you say you to me?”
“I ask you whether you will go?”
“What do you expect me to do?” she said, clasping her hands.
“So, you will go?”
“If my father goes.”
“So, you will go?”
Cosette took Marius’ hand, and pressed it without replying.
“Very well,” said Marius, “then I will go elsewhere.”
Cosette felt rather than understood the meaning of these words. She turned so pale that her face shone white through the gloom. She stammered:—
“What do you mean?”
Marius looked at her, then raised his eyes to heaven, and answered: “Nothing.”
When his eyes fell again, he saw Cosette smiling at him. The smile of a woman whom one loves possesses a visible radiance, even at night.
“How silly we are! Marius, I have an idea.”
“What is it?”
“If we go away, do you go too! I will tell you where! Come and join me wherever I am.”
Marius was now a thoroughly roused man. He had fallen back into reality. He cried to Cosette:—
“Go away with you! Are you mad? Why, I should have to have money, and I have none! Go to England? But I am in debt now, I owe, I don’t know how much, more than ten louis to Courfeyrac, one of my friends with whom you are not acquainted! I have an old hat which is not worth three francs, I have a coat which lacks buttons in front, my shirt is all ragged, my elbows are torn, my boots let in the water; for the last six weeks I have not thought about it, and I have not told you about it. You only see me at night, and you give me your love; if you were to see me in the daytime, you would give me a sou! Go to England! Eh! I haven’t enough to pay for a passport!”
He threw himself against a tree which was close at hand, erect, his brow pressed close to the bark, feeling neither the wood which flayed his skin, nor the fever which was throbbing in his temples, and there he stood motionless, on the point of falling, like the statue of despair.
He remained a long time thus. One could remain for eternity in such abysses. At last he turned round. He heard behind him a faint stifled noise, which was sweet yet sad.
It was Cosette sobbing.
She had been weeping for more than two hours beside Marius as he meditated.
He came to her, fell at her knees, and slowly prostrating himself, he took the tip of her foot which peeped out from beneath her robe, and kissed it.
She let him have his way in silence. There are moments when a woman accepts, like a sombre and resigned goddess, the religion of love.
“Do not weep,” he said.
“Not when I may be going away, and you cannot come!”
He went on:—
“Do you love me?”
She replied, sobbing, by that word from paradise which is never more charming than amid tears:—
“I adore you!”
He continued in a tone which was an indescribable caress:—
“Do not weep. Tell me, will you do this for me, and cease to weep?”
“Do you love me?” said she.
He took her hand.
“Cosette, I have never given my word of honor to any one, because my word of honor terrifies me. I feel that my father is by my side. Well, I give you my most sacred word of honor, that if you go away I shall die.”
In the tone with which he uttered these words there lay a melancholy so solemn and so tranquil, that Cosette trembled. She felt that chill which is produced by a true and gloomy thing as it passes by. The shock made her cease weeping.
“Now, listen,” said he, “do not expect me to-morrow.”
“Do not expect me until the day after to-morrow.”
“You will see.”
“A day without seeing you! But that is impossible!”
“Let us sacrifice one day in order to gain our whole lives, perhaps.”
And Marius added in a low tone and in an aside:—
“He is a man who never changes his habits, and he has never received any one except in the evening.”
“Of what man are you speaking?” asked Cosette.
“I? I said nothing.”
“What do you hope, then?”
“Wait until the day after to-morrow.”
“You wish it?”
She took his head in both her hands, raising herself on tiptoe in order to be on a level with him, and tried to read his hope in his eyes.
“Now that I think of it, you ought to know my address: something might happen, one never knows; I live with that friend named Courfeyrac, Rue de la Verrerie, No. 16.”
He searched in his pocket, pulled out his penknife, and with the blade he wrote on the plaster of the wall:—
“16 Rue de la Verrerie.”
In the meantime, Cosette had begun to gaze into his eyes once more.
“Tell me your thought, Marius; you have some idea. Tell it to me. Oh! tell me, so that I may pass a pleasant night.”
“This is my idea: that it is impossible that God should mean to part us. Wait; expect me the day after to-morrow.”
“What shall I do until then?” said Cosette. “You are outside, you go, and come! How happy men are! I shall remain entirely alone! Oh! How sad I shall be! What is it that you are going to do to-morrow evening? tell me.”
“I am going to try something.”
“Then I will pray to God and I will think of you here, so that you may be successful. I will question you no further, since you do not wish it. You are my master. I shall pass the evening to-morrow in singing that music from Euryanthe that you love, and that you came one evening to listen to, outside my shutters. But day after to-morrow you will come early. I shall expect you at dusk, at nine o’clock precisely, I warn you. Mon Dieu! how sad it is that the days are so long! On the stroke of nine, do you understand, I shall be in the garden.”
“And I also.”
And without having uttered it, moved by the same thought, impelled by those electric currents which place lovers in continual communication, both being intoxicated with delight even in their sorrow, they fell into each other’s arms, without perceiving that their lips met while their uplifted eyes, overflowing with rapture and full of tears, gazed upon the stars.
When Marius went forth, the street was deserted. This was the moment when Éponine was following the ruffians to the boulevard.
While Marius had been dreaming with his head pressed to the tree, an idea had crossed his mind; an idea, alas! that he himself judged to be senseless and impossible. He had come to a desperate decision.
At that epoch, Father Gillenormand was well past his ninety-first birthday. He still lived with Mademoiselle Gillenormand in the Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, No. 6, in the old house which he owned. He was, as the reader will remember, one of those antique old men who await death perfectly erect, whom age bears down without bending, and whom even sorrow cannot curve.
Still, his daughter had been saying for some time: “My father is sinking.” He no longer boxed the maids’ ears; he no longer thumped the landing-place so vigorously with his cane when Basque was slow in opening the door. The Revolution of July had exasperated him for the space of barely six months. He had viewed, almost tranquilly, that coupling of words, in the Moniteur: M. Humblot-Conté, peer of France. The fact is, that the old man was deeply dejected. He did not bend, he did not yield; this was no more a characteristic of his physical than of his moral nature, but he felt himself giving way internally. For four years he had been waiting for Marius, with his foot firmly planted, that is the exact word, in the conviction that that good-for-nothing young scamp would ring at his door some day or other; now he had reached the point, where, at certain gloomy hours, he said to himself, that if Marius made him wait much longer—It was not death that was insupportable to him; it was the idea that perhaps he should never see Marius again. The idea of never seeing Marius again had never entered his brain until that day; now the thought began to recur to him, and it chilled him. Absence, as is always the case in genuine and natural sentiments, had only served to augment the grandfather’s love for the ungrateful child, who had gone off like a flash. It is during December nights, when the cold stands at ten degrees, that one thinks oftenest of the son.
M. Gillenormand was, or thought himself, above all things, incapable of taking a single step, he—the grandfather, towards his grandson; “I would die rather,” he said to himself. He did not consider himself as the least to blame; but he thought of Marius only with profound tenderness, and the mute despair of an elderly, kindly old man who is about to vanish in the dark.
He began to lose his teeth, which added to his sadness.
M. Gillenormand, without however acknowledging it to himself, for it would have rendered him furious and ashamed, had never loved a mistress as he loved Marius.
He had had placed in his chamber, opposite the head of his bed, so that it should be the first thing on which his eyes fell on waking, an old portrait of his other daughter, who was dead, Madame Pontmercy, a portrait which had been taken when she was eighteen. He gazed incessantly at that portrait. One day, he happened to say, as he gazed upon it:—
“I think the likeness is strong.”
“To my sister?” inquired Mademoiselle Gillenormand. “Yes, certainly.”
The old man added:—
“And to him also.”
Once as he sat with his knees pressed together, and his eyes almost closed, in a despondent attitude, his daughter ventured to say to him:—
“Father, are you as angry with him as ever?”
She paused, not daring to proceed further.
“With whom?” he demanded.
“With that poor Marius.”
He raised his aged head, laid his withered and emaciated fist on the table, and exclaimed in his most irritated and vibrating tone:—
“Poor Marius, do you say! That gentleman is a knave, a wretched scoundrel, a vain little ingrate, a heartless, soulless, haughty, and wicked man!”
And he turned away so that his daughter might not see the tear that stood in his eye.
Three days later he broke a silence which had lasted four hours, to say to his daughter point-blank:—
“I had the honor to ask Mademoiselle Gillenormand never to mention him to me.”
Aunt Gillenormand renounced every effort, and pronounced this acute diagnosis: “My father never cared very much for my sister after her folly. It is clear that he detests Marius.”
“After her folly” meant: “after she had married the colonel.”
However, as the reader has been able to conjecture, Mademoiselle Gillenormand had failed in her attempt to substitute her favorite, the officer of lancers, for Marius. The substitute, Théodule, had not been a success. M. Gillenormand had not accepted the quid pro quo. A vacancy in the heart does not accommodate itself to a stop-gap. Théodule, on his side, though he scented the inheritance, was disgusted at the task of pleasing. The goodman bored the lancer; and the lancer shocked the goodman. Lieutenant Théodule was gay, no doubt, but a chatter-box, frivolous, but vulgar; a high liver, but a frequenter of bad company; he had mistresses, it is true, and he had a great deal to say about them, it is true also; but he talked badly. All his good qualities had a defect. M. Gillenormand was worn out with hearing him tell about the love affairs that he had in the vicinity of the barracks in the Rue de Babylone. And then, Lieutenant Gillenormand sometimes came in his uniform, with the tricolored cockade. This rendered him downright intolerable. Finally, Father Gillenormand had said to his daughter: “I’ve had enough of that Théodule. I haven’t much taste for warriors in time of peace. Receive him if you choose. I don’t know but I prefer slashers to fellows that drag their swords. The clash of blades in battle is less dismal, after all, than the clank of the scabbard on the pavement. And then, throwing out your chest like a bully and lacing yourself like a girl, with stays under your cuirass, is doubly ridiculous. When one is a veritable man, one holds equally aloof from swagger and from affected airs. He is neither a blusterer nor a finnicky-hearted man. Keep your Théodule for yourself.”
It was in vain that his daughter said to him: “But he is your grandnephew, nevertheless,”—it turned out that M. Gillenormand, who was a grandfather to the very finger-tips, was not in the least a grand-uncle.
In fact, as he had good sense, and as he had compared the two, Théodule had only served to make him regret Marius all the more.
One evening,—it was the 24th of June, which did not prevent Father Gillenormand having a rousing fire on the hearth,—he had dismissed his daughter, who was sewing in a neighboring apartment. He was alone in his chamber, amid its pastoral scenes, with his feet propped on the andirons, half enveloped in his huge screen of coromandel lacquer, with its nine leaves, with his elbow resting on a table where burned two candles under a green shade, engulfed in his tapestry armchair, and in his hand a book which he was not reading. He was dressed, according to his wont, like an incroyable, and resembled an antique portrait by Garat. This would have made people run after him in the street, had not his daughter covered him up, whenever he went out, in a vast bishop’s wadded cloak, which concealed his attire. At home, he never wore a dressing gown, except when he rose and retired. “It gives one a look of age,” said he.
Father Gillenormand was thinking of Marius lovingly and bitterly; and, as usual, bitterness predominated. His tenderness once soured always ended by boiling and turning to indignation. He had reached the point where a man tries to make up his mind and to accept that which rends his heart. He was explaining to himself that there was no longer any reason why Marius should return, that if he intended to return, he should have done it long ago, that he must renounce the idea. He was trying to accustom himself to the thought that all was over, and that he should die without having beheld “that gentleman” again. But his whole nature revolted; his aged paternity would not consent to this. “Well!” said he,—this was his doleful refrain,—“he will not return!” His bald head had fallen upon his breast, and he fixed a melancholy and irritated gaze upon the ashes on his hearth.
In the very midst of his reverie, his old servant Basque entered, and inquired:—
“Can Monsieur receive M. Marius?”
The old man sat up erect, pallid, and like a corpse which rises under the influence of a galvanic shock. All his blood had retreated to his heart. He stammered:—
“M. Marius what?”
“I don’t know,” replied Basque, intimidated and put out of countenance by his master’s air; “I have not seen him. Nicolette came in and said to me: ‘There’s a young man here; say that it is M. Marius.’”
Father Gillenormand stammered in a low voice:—
“Show him in.”
And he remained in the same attitude, with shaking head, and his eyes fixed on the door. It opened once more. A young man entered. It was Marius.
Marius halted at the door, as though waiting to be bidden to enter.
His almost squalid attire was not perceptible in the obscurity caused by the shade. Nothing could be seen but his calm, grave, but strangely sad face.
It was several minutes before Father Gillenormand, dulled with amazement and joy, could see anything except a brightness as when one is in the presence of an apparition. He was on the point of swooning; he saw Marius through a dazzling light. It certainly was he, it certainly was Marius.
At last! After the lapse of four years! He grasped him entire, so to speak, in a single glance. He found him noble, handsome, distinguished, well-grown, a complete man, with a suitable mien and a charming air. He felt a desire to open his arms, to call him, to fling himself forward; his heart melted with rapture, affectionate words swelled and overflowed his breast; at length all his tenderness came to the light and reached his lips, and, by a contrast which constituted the very foundation of his nature, what came forth was harshness. He said abruptly:—
“What have you come here for?”
Marius replied with embarrassment:—
M. Gillenormand would have liked to have Marius throw himself into his arms. He was displeased with Marius and with himself. He was conscious that he was brusque, and that Marius was cold. It caused the goodman unendurable and irritating anxiety to feel so tender and forlorn within, and only to be able to be hard outside. Bitterness returned. He interrupted Marius in a peevish tone:—
“Then why did you come?”
That “then” signified: If you do not come to embrace me. Marius looked at his grandfather, whose pallor gave him a face of marble.
“Have you come to beg my pardon? Do you acknowledge your faults?”
He thought he was putting Marius on the right road, and that “the child” would yield. Marius shivered; it was the denial of his father that was required of him; he dropped his eyes and replied:—
“Then,” exclaimed the old man impetuously, with a grief that was poignant and full of wrath, “what do you want of me?”
Marius clasped his hands, advanced a step, and said in a feeble and trembling voice:—
“Sir, have pity on me.”
These words touched M. Gillenormand; uttered a little sooner, they would have rendered him tender, but they came too late. The grandfather rose; he supported himself with both hands on his cane; his lips were white, his brow wavered, but his lofty form towered above Marius as he bowed.
“Pity on you, sir! It is youth demanding pity of the old man of ninety-one! You are entering into life, I am leaving it; you go to the play, to balls, to the café, to the billiard-hall; you have wit, you please the women, you are a handsome fellow; as for me, I spit on my brands in the heart of summer; you are rich with the only riches that are really such, I possess all the poverty of age; infirmity, isolation! You have your thirty-two teeth, a good digestion, bright eyes, strength, appetite, health, gayety, a forest of black hair; I have no longer even white hair, I have lost my teeth, I am losing my legs, I am losing my memory; there are three names of streets that I confound incessantly, the Rue Charlot, the Rue du Chaume, and the Rue Saint-Claude, that is what I have come to; you have before you the whole future, full of sunshine, and I am beginning to lose my sight, so far am I advancing into the night; you are in love, that is a matter of course, I am beloved by no one in all the world; and you ask pity of me! Parbleu! Molière forgot that. If that is the way you jest at the courthouse, Messieurs the lawyers, I sincerely compliment you. You are droll.”
And the octogenarian went on in a grave and angry voice:—
“Come, now, what do you want of me?”
“Sir,” said Marius, “I know that my presence is displeasing to you, but I have come merely to ask one thing of you, and then I shall go away immediately.”
“You are a fool!” said the old man. “Who said that you were to go away?”
This was the translation of the tender words which lay at the bottom of his heart:—
“Ask my pardon! Throw yourself on my neck!”
M. Gillenormand felt that Marius would leave him in a few moments, that his harsh reception had repelled the lad, that his hardness was driving him away; he said all this to himself, and it augmented his grief; and as his grief was straightway converted into wrath, it increased his harshness. He would have liked to have Marius understand, and Marius did not understand, which made the goodman furious.
He began again:—
“What! you deserted me, your grandfather, you left my house to go no one knows whither, you drove your aunt to despair, you went off, it is easily guessed, to lead a bachelor life; it’s more convenient, to play the dandy, to come in at all hours, to amuse yourself; you have given me no signs of life, you have contracted debts without even telling me to pay them, you have become a smasher of windows and a blusterer, and, at the end of four years, you come to me, and that is all you have to say to me!”
This violent fashion of driving a grandson to tenderness was productive only of silence on the part of Marius. M. Gillenormand folded his arms; a gesture which with him was peculiarly imperious, and apostrophized Marius bitterly:—
“Let us make an end of this. You have come to ask something of me, you say? Well, what? What is it? Speak!”
“Sir,” said Marius, with the look of a man who feels that he is falling over a precipice, “I have come to ask your permission to marry.”
M. Gillenormand rang the bell. Basque opened the door half-way.
“Call my daughter.”
A second later, the door was opened once more, Mademoiselle Gillenormand did not enter, but showed herself; Marius was standing, mute, with pendant arms and the face of a criminal; M. Gillenormand was pacing back and forth in the room. He turned to his daughter and said to her:—
“Nothing. It is Monsieur Marius. Say good day to him. Monsieur wishes to marry. That’s all. Go away.”
The curt, hoarse sound of the old man’s voice announced a strange degree of excitement. The aunt gazed at Marius with a frightened air, hardly appeared to recognize him, did not allow a gesture or a syllable to escape her, and disappeared at her father’s breath more swiftly than a straw before the hurricane.
In the meantime, Father Gillenormand had returned and placed his back against the chimney-piece once more.
“You marry! At one and twenty! You have arranged that! You have only a permission to ask! a formality. Sit down, sir. Well, you have had a revolution since I had the honor to see you last. The Jacobins got the upper hand. You must have been delighted. Are you not a Republican since you are a Baron? You can make that agree. The Republic makes a good sauce for the barony. Are you one of those decorated by July? Have you taken the Louvre at all, sir? Quite near here, in the Rue Saint-Antoine, opposite the Rue des Nonamdières, there is a cannon-ball incrusted in the wall of the third story of a house with this inscription: ‘July 28th, 1830.’ Go take a look at that. It produces a good effect. Ah! those friends of yours do pretty things. By the way, aren’t they erecting a fountain in the place of the monument of M. le Duc de Berry? So you want to marry? Whom? Can one inquire without indiscretion?”
He paused, and, before Marius had time to answer, he added violently:—
“Come now, you have a profession? A fortune made? How much do you earn at your trade of lawyer?”
“Nothing,” said Marius, with a sort of firmness and resolution that was almost fierce.
“Nothing? Then all that you have to live upon is the twelve hundred livres that I allow you?”
Marius did not reply. M. Gillenormand continued:—
“Then I understand the girl is rich?”
“As rich as I am.”
“What! No dowry?”
“I think not.”
“Utterly naked! What’s the father?”
“I don’t know.”
“And what’s her name?”
“Pttt!” ejaculated the old gentleman.
“Sir!” exclaimed Marius.
M. Gillenormand interrupted him with the tone of a man who is speaking to himself:—
“That’s right, one and twenty years of age, no profession, twelve hundred livres a year, Madame la Baronne de Pontmercy will go and purchase a couple of sous’ worth of parsley from the fruiterer.”
“Sir,” repeated Marius, in the despair at the last hope, which was vanishing, “I entreat you! I conjure you in the name of Heaven, with clasped hands, sir, I throw myself at your feet, permit me to marry her!”
The old man burst into a shout of strident and mournful laughter, coughing and laughing at the same time.
“Ah! ah! ah! You said to yourself: ‘Pardine! I’ll go hunt up that old blockhead, that absurd numskull! What a shame that I’m not twenty-five! How I’d treat him to a nice respectful summons! How nicely I’d get along without him! It’s nothing to me, I’d say to him: “You’re only too happy to see me, you old idiot, I want to marry, I desire to wed Mamselle No-matter-whom, daughter of Monsieur No-matter-what, I have no shoes, she has no chemise, that just suits; I want to throw my career, my future, my youth, my life to the dogs; I wish to take a plunge into wretchedness with a woman around my neck, that’s an idea, and you must consent to it!” and the old fossil will consent.’ Go, my lad, do as you like, attach your paving-stone, marry your Pousselevent, your Coupelevent—Never, sir, never!”
At the tone in which that “never” was uttered, Marius lost all hope. He traversed the chamber with slow steps, with bowed head, tottering and more like a dying man than like one merely taking his departure. M. Gillenormand followed him with his eyes, and at the moment when the door opened, and Marius was on the point of going out, he advanced four paces, with the senile vivacity of impetuous and spoiled old gentlemen, seized Marius by the collar, brought him back energetically into the room, flung him into an armchair and said to him:—
“Tell me all about it!”
“It was that single word “father” which had effected this revolution.
Marius stared at him in bewilderment. M. Gillenormand’s mobile face was no longer expressive of anything but rough and ineffable good-nature. The grandsire had given way before the grandfather.
“Come, see here, speak, tell me about your love affairs, jabber, tell me everything! Sapristi! how stupid young folks are!”
“Father—” repeated Marius.
The old man’s entire countenance lighted up with indescribable radiance.
“Yes, that’s right, call me father, and you’ll see!”
There was now something so kind, so gentle, so openhearted, and so paternal in this brusqueness, that Marius, in the sudden transition from discouragement to hope, was stunned and intoxicated by it, as it were. He was seated near the table, the light from the candles brought out the dilapidation of his costume, which Father Gillenormand regarded with amazement.
“Well, father—” said Marius.
“Ah, by the way,” interrupted M. Gillenormand, “you really have not a penny then? You are dressed like a pickpocket.”
He rummaged in a drawer, drew forth a purse, which he laid on the table: “Here are a hundred louis, buy yourself a hat.”
“Father,” pursued Marius, “my good father, if you only knew! I love her. You cannot imagine it; the first time I saw her was at the Luxembourg, she came there; in the beginning, I did not pay much heed to her, and then, I don’t know how it came about, I fell in love with her. Oh! how unhappy that made me! Now, at last, I see her every day, at her own home, her father does not know it, just fancy, they are going away, it is in the garden that we meet, in the evening, her father means to take her to England, then I said to myself: ‘I’ll go and see my grandfather and tell him all about the affair. I should go mad first, I should die, I should fall ill, I should throw myself into the water. I absolutely must marry her, since I should go mad otherwise.’ This is the whole truth, and I do not think that I have omitted anything. She lives in a garden with an iron fence, in the Rue Plumet. It is in the neighborhood of the Invalides.”
Father Gillenormand had seated himself, with a beaming countenance, beside Marius. As he listened to him and drank in the sound of his voice, he enjoyed at the same time a protracted pinch of snuff. At the words “Rue Plumet” he interrupted his inhalation and allowed the remainder of his snuff to fall upon his knees.
“The Rue Plumet, the Rue Plumet, did you say?—Let us see!—Are there not barracks in that vicinity?—Why, yes, that’s it. Your cousin Théodule has spoken to me about it. The lancer, the officer. A gay girl, my good friend, a gay girl!—Pardieu, yes, the Rue Plumet. It is what used to be called the Rue Blomet.—It all comes back to me now. I have heard of that little girl of the iron railing in the Rue Plumet. In a garden, a Pamela. Your taste is not bad. She is said to be a very tidy creature. Between ourselves, I think that simpleton of a lancer has been courting her a bit. I don’t know where he did it. However, that’s not to the purpose. Besides, he is not to be believed. He brags, Marius! I think it quite proper that a young man like you should be in love. It’s the right thing at your age. I like you better as a lover than as a Jacobin. I like you better in love with a petticoat, sapristi! with twenty petticoats, than with M. de Robespierre. For my part, I will do myself the justice to say, that in the line of sans-culottes, I have never loved any one but women. Pretty girls are pretty girls, the deuce! There’s no objection to that. As for the little one, she receives you without her father’s knowledge. That’s in the established order of things. I have had adventures of that same sort myself. More than one. Do you know what is done then? One does not take the matter ferociously; one does not precipitate himself into the tragic; one does not make one’s mind to marriage and M. le Maire with his scarf. One simply behaves like a fellow of spirit. One shows good sense. Slip along, mortals; don’t marry. You come and look up your grandfather, who is a good-natured fellow at bottom, and who always has a few rolls of louis in an old drawer; you say to him: ‘See here, grandfather.’ And the grandfather says: ‘That’s a simple matter. Youth must amuse itself, and old age must wear out. I have been young, you will be old. Come, my boy, you shall pass it on to your grandson. Here are two hundred pistoles. Amuse yourself, deuce take it!’ Nothing better! That’s the way the affair should be treated. You don’t marry, but that does no harm. You understand me?”
Marius, petrified and incapable of uttering a syllable, made a sign with his head that he did not.
The old man burst out laughing, winked his aged eye, gave him a slap on the knee, stared him full in the face with a mysterious and beaming air, and said to him, with the tenderest of shrugs of the shoulder:—
“Booby! make her your mistress.”
Marius turned pale. He had understood nothing of what his grandfather had just said. This twaddle about the Rue Blomet, Pamela, the barracks, the lancer, had passed before Marius like a dissolving view. Nothing of all that could bear any reference to Cosette, who was a lily. The good man was wandering in his mind. But this wandering terminated in words which Marius did understand, and which were a mortal insult to Cosette. Those words, “make her your mistress,” entered the heart of the strict young man like a sword.
He rose, picked up his hat which lay on the floor, and walked to the door with a firm, assured step. There he turned round, bowed deeply to his grandfather, raised his head erect again, and said:—
“Five years ago you insulted my father; to-day you have insulted my wife. I ask nothing more of you, sir. Farewell.”
Father Gillenormand, utterly confounded, opened his mouth, extended his arms, tried to rise, and before he could utter a word, the door closed once more, and Marius had disappeared.
The old man remained for several minutes motionless and as though struck by lightning, without the power to speak or breathe, as though a clenched fist grasped his throat. At last he tore himself from his armchair, ran, so far as a man can run at ninety-one, to the door, opened it, and cried:—
His daughter made her appearance, then the domestics. He began again, with a pitiful rattle: “Run after him! Bring him back! What have I done to him? He is mad! He is going away! Ah! my God! Ah! my God! This time he will not come back!”
He went to the window which looked out on the street, threw it open with his aged and palsied hands, leaned out more than half-way, while Basque and Nicolette held him behind, and shouted:—
“Marius! Marius! Marius! Marius!”
But Marius could no longer hear him, for at that moment he was turning the corner of the Rue Saint-Louis.
The octogenarian raised his hands to his temples two or three times with an expression of anguish, recoiled tottering, and fell back into an armchair, pulseless, voiceless, tearless, with quivering head and lips which moved with a stupid air, with nothing in his eyes and nothing any longer in his heart except a gloomy and profound something which resembled night.
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