"Cosette," Book Three: Chapter III
Men Must Have Wine, and Horses Must Have Water
Four new travellers had arrived.
Cosette was meditating sadly; for, although she was only eight years old, she had already suffered so much that she reflected with the lugubrious air of an old woman. Her eye was black in consequence of a blow from Madame Thénardier's fist, which caused the latter to remark from time to time, "How ugly she is with her fist-blow on her eye!"
Cosette was thinking that it was dark, very dark, that the pitchers and caraffes in the chambers of the travellers who had arrived must have been filled and that there was no more water in the cistern.
She was somewhat reassured because no one in the Thénardier establishment drank much water. Thirsty people were never lacking there; but their thirst was of the sort which applies to the jug rather than to the pitcher. Any one who had asked for a glass of water among all those glasses of wine would have appeared a savage to all these men. But there came a moment when the child trembled; Madame Thénardier raised the cover of a stew-pan which was boiling on the stove, then seized a glass and briskly approached the cistern. She turned the faucet; the child had raised her head and was following all the woman's movements. A thin stream of water trickled from the faucet, and half filled the glass. "Well," said she, "there is no more water!" A momentary silence ensued. The child did not breathe.
"Bah!" resumed Madame Thénardier, examining the half-filled glass, "this will be enough."
Cosette applied herself to her work once more, but for a quarter of an hour she felt her heart leaping in her bosom like a big snow-flake.
She counted the minutes that passed in this manner, and wished it were the next morning.
From time to time one of the drinkers looked into the street, and exclaimed, "It's as black as an oven!" or, "One must needs be a cat to go about the streets without a lantern at this hour!" And Cosette trembled.
All at once one of the pedlers who lodged in the hostelry entered, and said in a harsh voice:—
"My horse has not been watered."
"Yes, it has," said Madame Thénardier.
"I tell you that it has not," retorted the pedler.
Cosette had emerged from under the table.
"Oh, yes, sir!" said she, "the horse has had a drink; he drank out of a bucket, a whole bucketful, and it was I who took the water to him, and I spoke to him."
It was not true; Cosette lied.
"There's a brat as big as my fist who tells lies as big as the house," exclaimed the pedler. "I tell you that he has not been watered, you little jade! He has a way of blowing when he has had no water, which I know well."
Cosette persisted, and added in a voice rendered hoarse with anguish, and which was hardly audible:—
"And he drank heartily."
"Come," said the pedler, in a rage, "this won't do at all, let my horse be watered, and let that be the end of it!"
Cosette crept under the table again.
"In truth, that is fair!" said Madame Thénardier, "if the beast has not been watered, it must be."
Then glancing about her:—
"Well, now! Where's that other beast?"
She bent down and discovered Cosette cowering at the other end of the table, almost under the drinkers' feet.
"Are you coming?" shrieked Madame Thénardier.
Cosette crawled out of the sort of hole in which she had hidden herself. The Thénardier resumed:—
"Mademoiselle Dog-lack-name, go and water that horse."
"But, Madame," said Cosette, feebly, "there is no water."
The Thénardier threw the street door wide open:—
"Well, go and get some, then!"
Cosette dropped her head, and went for an empty bucket which stood near the chimney-corner.
This bucket was bigger than she was, and the child could have set down in it at her ease.
The Thénardier returned to her stove, and tasted what was in the stewpan, with a wooden spoon, grumbling the while:—
"There's plenty in the spring. There never was such a malicious creature as that. I think I should have done better to strain my onions."
Then she rummaged in a drawer which contained sous, pepper, and shallots.
"See here, Mam'selle Toad," she added, "on your way back, you will get a big loaf from the baker. Here's a fifteen-sou piece."
Cosette had a little pocket on one side of her apron; she took the coin without saying a word, and put it in that pocket.
Then she stood motionless, bucket in hand, the open door before her. She seemed to be waiting for some one to come to her rescue.
"Get along with you!" screamed the Thénardier.
Cosette went out. The door closed behind her.