Uncertainty was at an end for Jean Valjean: fortunately it still lasted for the men. He took advantage of their hesitation. It was time lost for them, but gained for him. He slipped from under the gate where he had concealed himself, and went down the Rue des Postes, towards the region of the Jardin des Plantes. Cosette was beginning to be tired. He took her in his arms and carried her. There were no passers-by, and the street lanterns had not been lighted on account of there being a moon.
He redoubled his pace.
In a few strides he had reached the Goblet potteries, on the front of which the moonlight rendered distinctly legible the ancient inscription:—
De Goblet fils c'est ici la fabrique; Venez choisir des cruches et des brocs, Des pots à fleurs, des tuyaux, de la brique. A tout venant le Cœur vend des Carreaux.
He left behind him the Rue de la Clef, then the Fountain Saint-Victor, skirted the Jardin des Plantes by the lower streets, and reached the quay. There he turned round. The quay was deserted. The streets were deserted. There was no one behind him. He drew a long breath.
He gained the Pont d'Austerlitz.
Tolls were still collected there at that epoch.
He presented himself at the toll office and handed over a sou.
"It is two sous," said the old soldier in charge of the bridge. "You are carrying a child who can walk. Pay for two."
He paid, vexed that his passage should have aroused remark. Every flight should be an imperceptible slipping away.
A heavy cart was crossing the Seine at the same time as himself, and on its way, like him, to the right bank. This was of use to him. He could traverse the bridge in the shadow of the cart.
Towards the middle of the Bridge, Cosette, whose feet were benumbed, wanted to walk. He set her on the ground and took her hand again.
The bridge once crossed, he perceived some timber-yards on his right. He directed his course thither. In order to reach them, it was necessary to risk himself in a tolerably large unsheltered and illuminated space. He did not hesitate. Those who were on his track had evidently lost the scent, and Jean Valjean believed himself to be out of danger. Hunted, yes; followed, no.
A little street, the Rue du Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, opened out between two timber-yards enclosed in walls. This street was dark and narrow and seemed made expressly for him. Before entering it he cast a glance behind him.
From the point where he stood he could see the whole extent of the Pont d'Austerlitz.
Four shadows were just entering on the bridge.
These shadows had their backs turned to the Jardin des Plantes and were on their way to the right bank.
These four shadows were the four men.
Jean Valjean shuddered like the wild beast which is recaptured.
One hope remained to him; it was, that the men had not, perhaps, stepped on the bridge, and had not caught sight of him while he was crossing the large illuminated space, holding Cosette by the hand.
In that case, by plunging into the little street before him, he might escape, if he could reach the timber-yards, the marshes, the market-gardens, the uninhabited ground which was not built upon.
It seemed to him that he might commit himself to that silent little street. He entered it.