THE EFFECT OF BEING DEAD
He allowed Marius to slide down upon the shore.
They were in the open air!
The miasmas, darkness, horror lay behind him. The pure, healthful, living, joyous air that was easy to breathe inundated him. Everywhere around him reigned silence, but that charming silence when the sun has set in an unclouded azure sky. Twilight had descended; night was drawing on, the great deliverer, the friend of all those who need a mantle of darkness that they may escape from an anguish. The sky presented itself in all directions like an enormous calm. The river flowed to his feet with the sound of a kiss. The aerial dialogue of the nests bidding each other good night in the elms of the Champs-Elysees was audible. A few stars, daintily piercing the pale blue of the zenith, and visible to revery alone, formed imperceptible little splendors amid the immensity. Evening was unfolding over the head of Jean Valjean all the sweetness of the infinite.
It was that exquisite and undecided hour which says neither yes nor no. Night was already sufficiently advanced to render it possible to lose oneself at a little distance and yet there was sufficient daylight to permit of recognition at close quarters.
For several seconds, Jean Valjean was irresistibly overcome by that august and caressing serenity; such moments of oblivion do come to men; suffering refrains from harassing the unhappy wretch; everything is eclipsed in the thoughts; peace broods over the dreamer like night; and, beneath the twilight which beams and in imitation of the sky which is illuminated, the soul becomes studded with stars. Jean Valjean could not refrain from contemplating that vast, clear shadow which rested over him; thoughtfully he bathed in the sea of ecstasy and prayer in the majestic silence of the eternal heavens. Then he bent down swiftly to Marius, as though the sentiment of duty had returned to him, and, dipping up water in the hollow of his hand, he gently sprinkled a few drops on the latter's face. Marius' eyelids did not open; but his half-open mouth still breathed.
Jean Valjean was on the point of dipping his hand in the river once more, when, all at once, he experienced an indescribable embarrassment, such as a person feels when there is some one behind him whom he does not see.
We have already alluded to this impression, with which everyone is familiar.
He turned round.
Some one was, in fact, behind him, as there had been a short while before.
A man of lofty stature, enveloped in a long coat, with folded arms, and bearing in his right fist a bludgeon of which the leaden head was visible, stood a few paces in the rear of the spot where Jean Valjean was crouching over Marius.
With the aid of the darkness, it seemed a sort of apparition. An ordinary man would have been alarmed because of the twilight, a thoughtful man on account of the bludgeon. Jean Valjean recognized Javert.
The reader has divined, no doubt, that Thenardier's pursuer was no other than Javert. Javert, after his unlooked-for escape from the barricade, had betaken himself to the prefecture of police, had rendered a verbal account to the Prefect in person in a brief audience, had then immediately gone on duty again, which implied—the note, the reader will recollect, which had been captured on his person—a certain surveillance of the shore on the right bank of the Seine near the Champs-Elysees, which had, for some time past, aroused the attention of the police. There he had caught sight of Thenardier and had followed him. The reader knows the rest.
Thus it will be easily understood that that grating, so obligingly opened to Jean Valjean, was a bit of cleverness on Thenardier's part. Thenardier intuitively felt that Javert was still there; the man spied upon has a scent which never deceives him; it was necessary to fling a bone to that sleuth-hound. An assassin, what a godsend! Such an opportunity must never be allowed to slip. Thenardier, by putting Jean Valjean outside in his stead, provided a prey for the police, forced them to relinquish his scent, made them forget him in a bigger adventure, repaid Javert for his waiting, which always flatters a spy, earned thirty francs, and counted with certainty, so far as he himself was concerned, on escaping with the aid of this diversion.
Jean Valjean had fallen from one danger upon another.
These two encounters, this falling one after the other, from Thenardier upon Javert, was a rude shock.
Javert did not recognize Jean Valjean, who, as we have stated, no longer looked like himself. He did not unfold his arms, he made sure of his bludgeon in his fist, by an imperceptible movement, and said in a curt, calm voice:
"Who are you?"
"Who is 'I'?"
Javert thrust his bludgeon between his teeth, bent his knees, inclined his body, laid his two powerful hands on the shoulders of Jean Valjean, which were clamped within them as in a couple of vices, scrutinized him, and recognized him. Their faces almost touched. Javert's look was terrible.
Jean Valjean remained inert beneath Javert's grasp, like a lion submitting to the claws of a lynx.
"Inspector Javert," said he, "you have me in your power. Moreover, I have regarded myself as your prisoner ever since this morning. I did not give you my address with any intention of escaping from you. Take me. Only grant me one favor."
Javert did not appear to hear him. He kept his eyes riveted on Jean Valjean. His chin being contracted, thrust his lips upwards towards his nose, a sign of savage revery. At length he released Jean Valjean, straightened himself stiffly up without bending, grasped his bludgeon again firmly, and, as though in a dream, he murmured rather than uttered this question:
"What are you doing here? And who is this man?"
He still abstained from addressing Jean Valjean as thou.
Jean Valjean replied, and the sound of his voice appeared to rouse Javert:
"It is with regard to him that I desire to speak to you. Dispose of me as you see fit; but first help me to carry him home. That is all that I ask of you."
Javert's face contracted as was always the case when any one seemed to think him capable of making a concession. Nevertheless, he did not say "no."
Again he bent over, drew from his pocket a handkerchief which he moistened in the water and with which he then wiped Marius' blood-stained brow.
"This man was at the barricade," said he in a low voice and as though speaking to himself. "He is the one they called Marius."
A spy of the first quality, who had observed everything, listened to everything, and taken in everything, even when he thought that he was to die; who had played the spy even in his agony, and who, with his elbows leaning on the first step of the sepulchre, had taken notes.
He seized Marius' hand and felt his pulse.
"He is wounded," said Jean Valjean.
"He is a dead man," said Javert.
Jean Valjean replied:
"No. Not yet."
"So you have brought him thither from the barricade?" remarked Javert.
His preoccupation must indeed have been very profound for him not to insist on this alarming rescue through the sewer, and for him not to even notice Jean Valjean's silence after his question.
Jean Valjean, on his side, seemed to have but one thought. He resumed:
"He lives in the Marais, Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, with his grandfather. I do not recollect his name."
Jean Valjean fumbled in Marius' coat, pulled out his pocket-book, opened it at the page which Marius had pencilled, and held it out to Javert.
There was still sufficient light to admit of reading. Besides this, Javert possessed in his eye the feline phosphorescence of night birds. He deciphered the few lines written by Marius, and muttered: "Gillenormand, Rue des Filles-du Calvaire, No. 6."
Then he exclaimed: "Coachman!"
The reader will remember that the hackney-coach was waiting in case of need.
Javert kept Marius' pocket-book.
A moment later, the carriage, which had descended by the inclined plane of the watering-place, was on the shore. Marius was laid upon the back seat, and Javert seated himself on the front seat beside Jean Valjean.
The door slammed, and the carriage drove rapidly away, ascending the quays in the direction of the Bastille.
They quitted the quays and entered the streets. The coachman, a black form on his box, whipped up his thin horses. A glacial silence reigned in the carriage. Marius, motionless, with his body resting in the corner, and his head drooping on his breast, his arms hanging, his legs stiff, seemed to be awaiting only a coffin; Jean Valjean seemed made of shadow, and Javert of stone, and in that vehicle full of night, whose interior, every time that it passed in front of a street lantern, appeared to be turned lividly wan, as by an intermittent flash of lightning, chance had united and seemed to be bringing face to face the three forms of tragic immobility, the corpse, the spectre, and the statue.
At every jolt over the pavement, a drop of blood trickled from Marius' hair.
Night had fully closed in when the carriage arrived at No. 6, Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire.
Javert was the first to alight; he made sure with one glance of the number on the carriage gate, and, raising the heavy knocker of beaten iron, embellished in the old style, with a male goat and a satyr confronting each other, he gave a violent peal. The gate opened a little way and Javert gave it a push. The porter half made his appearance yawning, vaguely awake, and with a candle in his hand.
Everyone in the house was asleep. People go to bed betimes in the Marais, especially on days when there is a revolt. This good, old quarter, terrified at the Revolution, takes refuge in slumber, as children, when they hear the Bugaboo coming, hide their heads hastily under their coverlet.
In the meantime Jean Valjean and the coachman had taken Marius out of the carriage, Jean Valjean supporting him under the armpits, and the coachman under the knees.
As they thus bore Marius, Jean Valjean slipped his hand under the latter's clothes, which were broadly rent, felt his breast, and assured himself that his heart was still beating. It was even beating a little less feebly, as though the movement of the carriage had brought about a certain fresh access of life.
Javert addressed the porter in a tone befitting the government, and the presence of the porter of a factious person.
"Some person whose name is Gillenormand?"
"Here. What do you want with him?"
"His son is brought back."
"His son?" said the porter stupidly.
"He is dead."
Jean Valjean, who, soiled and tattered, stood behind Javert, and whom the porter was surveying with some horror, made a sign to him with his head that this was not so.
The porter did not appear to understand either Javert's words or Jean Valjean's sign.
"He went to the barricade, and here he is."
"To the barricade?" ejaculated the porter.
"He has got himself killed. Go waken his father."
The porter did not stir.
"Go along with you!" repeated Javert.
And he added:
"There will be a funeral here to-morrow."
For Javert, the usual incidents of the public highway were categorically classed, which is the beginning of foresight and surveillance, and each contingency had its own compartment; all possible facts were arranged in drawers, as it were, whence they emerged on occasion, in variable quantities; in the street, uproar, revolt, carnival, and funeral.
The porter contented himself with waking Basque. Basque woke Nicolette; Nicolette roused great-aunt Gillenormand.
As for the grandfather, they let him sleep on, thinking that he would hear about the matter early enough in any case.
Marius was carried up to the first floor, without any one in the other parts of the house being aware of the fact, and deposited on an old sofa in M. Gillenormand's antechamber; and while Basque went in search of a physician, and while Nicolette opened the linen-presses, Jean Valjean felt Javert touch him on the shoulder. He understood and descended the stairs, having behind him the step of Javert who was following him.
The porter watched them take their departure as he had watched their arrival, in terrified somnolence.
They entered the carriage once more, and the coachman mounted his box.
"Inspector Javert," said Jean, "grant me yet another favor."
"What is it?" demanded Javert roughly.
"Let me go home for one instant. Then you shall do whatever you like with me."
Javert remained silent for a few moments, with his chin drawn back into the collar of his great-coat, then he lowered the glass and front:
"Driver," said he, "Rue de l'Homme Arme, No. 7."
What did Jean Valjean want? To finish what he had begun; to warn Cosette, to tell her where Marius was, to give her, possibly, some other useful information, to take, if he could, certain final measures. As for himself, so far as he was personally concerned, all was over; he had been seized by Javert and had not resisted; any other man than himself in like situation would, perhaps, have had some vague thoughts connected with the rope which Thenardier had given him, and of the bars of the first cell that he should enter; but, let us impress it upon the reader, after the Bishop, there had existed in Jean Valjean a profound hesitation in the presence of any violence, even when directed against himself.
Suicide, that mysterious act of violence against the unknown which may contain, in a measure, the death of the soul, was impossible to Jean Valjean.
At the entrance to the Rue de l'Homme Arme, the carriage halted, the way being too narrow to admit of the entrance of vehicles. Javert and Jean Valjean alighted.
The coachman humbly represented to "monsieur l'Inspecteur," that the Utrecht velvet of his carriage was all spotted with the blood of the assassinated man, and with mire from the assassin. That is the way he understood it. He added that an indemnity was due him. At the same time, drawing his certificate book from his pocket, he begged the inspector to have the goodness to write him "a bit of an attestation."
Javert thrust aside the book which the coachman held out to him, and said:
"How much do you want, including your time of waiting and the drive?"
"It comes to seven hours and a quarter," replied the man, "and my velvet was perfectly new. Eighty francs, Mr. Inspector."
Javert drew four napoleons from his pocket and dismissed the carriage.
Jean Valjean fancied that it was Javert's intention to conduct him on foot to the post of the Blancs-Manteaux or to the post of the Archives, both of which are close at hand.
They entered the street. It was deserted as usual. Javert followed Jean Valjean. They reached No. 7. Jean Valjean knocked. The door opened.
"It is well," said Javert. "Go up stairs."
He added with a strange expression, and as though he were exerting an effort in speaking in this manner:
"I will wait for you here."
Jean Valjean looked at Javert. This mode of procedure was but little in accord with Javert's habits. However, he could not be greatly surprised that Javert should now have a sort of haughty confidence in him, the confidence of the cat which grants the mouse liberty to the length of its claws, seeing that Jean Valjean had made up his mind to surrender himself and to make an end of it. He pushed open the door, entered the house, called to the porter who was in bed and who had pulled the cord from his couch: "It is I!" and ascended the stairs.
On arriving at the first floor, he paused. All sorrowful roads have their stations. The window on the landing-place, which was a sash-window, was open. As in many ancient houses, the staircase got its light from without and had a view on the street. The street-lantern, situated directly opposite, cast some light on the stairs, and thus effected some economy in illumination.
Jean Valjean, either for the sake of getting the air, or mechanically, thrust his head out of this window. He leaned out over the street. It is short, and the lantern lighted it from end to end. Jean Valjean was overwhelmed with amazement; there was no longer any one there.
Javert had taken his departure.