LES MISERABLES, PART 12
THE BEGINNING OF SHADOW
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 revery of the one absorbed and sunk in the revery 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 Eponine.
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 Eponine. Absorbed in Cosette, he had not even clearly put it to himself that this Eponine was named Eponine Thenardier, 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, Eponine?"
"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 Eponine.
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.
A CAB RUNS IN ENGLISH AND BARKS IN SLANG
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 Eponine 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 Eponine 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 Eponine 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 Eponine 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 Eponine 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, Eponine, who had addressed Thenardier.
At the apparition of Eponine, 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 Thenardier, as loudly as one can exclaim and still speak low; "what have you come here to hinder our work for?"
Eponine 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?"
Thenardier tried to disentangle himself from Eponine'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 Eponine 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 Eponine 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, "This isn't New Year's day A becoter papa, maman." To peck at pa and ma."
Eponine 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 Thenardier. "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.
Eponine caught Montparnasse's hand.
"Take care," said he, "you'll cut yourself, I've a knife open."
"My little Montparnasse," responded Eponine 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 Eponine 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 Eponine, 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.
Eponine 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 Thenardier. "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 Eponine, "I entreat you, you are a good fellow, don't enter."
"Take care, you'll cut yourself," replied Montparnasse.
Thenardier resumed in his decided tone:--
"Decamp, my girl, and leave men to their own affairs!"
Eponine 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 Thenardier in a low tone to Brujon and the ventriloquist.
She shook her head and added:--
"Beginning with my father!"
Thenardier 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 Thenardier 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."
Thenardier 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 Eponine.
"But we must live, we must eat--"
So saying, she seated herself on the underpinning of the fence and hummed:--
"Mon bras si dodu, "My arm so plump, Ma jambe bien faite My leg well formed, Et le temps perdu." 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.
Thenardier 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, Thenardier?"
Eponine, 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.
THINGS OF THE NIGHT
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.
MARIUS BECOMES PRACTICAL ONCE MORE TO THE EXTENT OF GIVING COSETTE HIS ADDRESS
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.