"Jean Valjean," Book Eight: Chapter III
They Recall the Garden of the Rue Plumet
This was the last time. After that last flash of light, complete extinction ensued. No more familiarity, no more good-morning with a kiss, never more that word so profoundly sweet: "My father!" He was at his own request and through his own complicity driven out of all his happinesses one after the other; and he had this sorrow, that after having lost Cosette wholly in one day, he was afterwards obliged to lose her again in detail.
The eye eventually becomes accustomed to the light of a cellar. In short, it sufficed for him to have an apparition of Cosette every day. His whole life was concentrated in that one hour.
He seated himself close to her, he gazed at her in silence, or he talked to her of years gone by, of her childhood, of the convent, of her little friends of those bygone days.
One afternoon,—it was on one of those early days in April, already warm and fresh, the moment of the sun's great gayety, the gardens which surrounded the windows of Marius and Cosette felt the emotion of waking, the hawthorn was on the point of budding, a jewelled garniture of gillyflowers spread over the ancient walls, snapdragons yawned through the crevices of the stones, amid the grass there was a charming beginning of daisies, and buttercups, the white butterflies of the year were making their first appearance, the wind, that minstrel of the eternal wedding, was trying in the trees the first notes of that grand, auroral symphony which the old poets called the springtide,—Marius said to Cosette:—"We said that we would go back to take a look at our garden in the Rue Plumet. Let us go thither. We must not be ungrateful."—And away they flitted, like two swallows towards the spring. This garden of the Rue Plumet produced on them the effect of the dawn. They already had behind them in life something which was like the springtime of their love. The house in the Rue Plumet being held on a lease, still belonged to Cosette. They went to that garden and that house. There they found themselves again, there they forgot themselves. That evening, at the usual hour, Jean Valjean came to the Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire.—"Madame went out with Monsieur and has not yet returned," Basque said to him. He seated himself in silence, and waited an hour. Cosette did not return. He departed with drooping head.
Cosette was so intoxicated with her walk to "their garden," and so joyous at having "lived a whole day in her past," that she talked of nothing else on the morrow. She did not notice that she had not seen Jean Valjean.
"In what way did you go thither?" Jean Valjean asked her."
"And how did you return?"
"In a hackney carriage."
For some time, Jean Valjean had noticed the economical life led by the young people. He was troubled by it. Marius' economy was severe, and that word had its absolute meaning for Jean Valjean. He hazarded a query:
"Why do you not have a carriage of your own? A pretty coupé would only cost you five hundred francs a month. You are rich."
"I don't know," replied Cosette.
"It is like Toussaint," resumed Jean Valjean. "She is gone. You have not replaced her. Why?"
"But you ought to have a maid."
"Have I not Marius?"
"You ought to have a house of your own, your own servants, a carriage, a box at the theatre. There is nothing too fine for you. Why not profit by your riches? Wealth adds to happiness."
Cosette made no reply.
Jean Valjean's visits were not abridged. Far from it. When it is the heart which is slipping, one does not halt on the downward slope.
When Jean Valjean wished to prolong his visit and to induce forgetfulness of the hour, he sang the praises of Marius; he pronounced him handsome, noble, courageous, witty, eloquent, good. Cosette outdid him. Jean Valjean began again. They were never weary. Marius—that word was inexhaustible; those six letters contained volumes. In this manner, Jean Valjean contrived to remain a long time.
It was so sweet to see Cosette, to forget by her side! It alleviated his wounds. It frequently happened that Basque came twice to announce: "M. Gillenormand sends me to remind Madame la Baronne that dinner is served."
On those days, Jean Valjean was very thoughtful on his return home.
Was there, then, any truth in that comparison of the chrysalis which had presented itself to the mind of Marius? Was Jean Valjean really a chrysalis who would persist, and who would come to visit his butterfly?
One day he remained still longer than usual. On the following day he observed that there was no fire on the hearth.—"Hello!" he thought. "No fire."—And he furnished the explanation for himself.—"It is perfectly simple. It is April. The cold weather has ceased."
"Heavens! how cold it is here!" exclaimed Cosette when she entered.
"Why, no," said Jean Valjean.
"Was it you who told Basque not to make a fire then?"
"Yes, since we are now in the month of May."
"But we have a fire until June. One is needed all the year in this cellar."
"I thought that a fire was unnecessary."
"That is exactly like one of your ideas!" retorted Cosette.
On the following day there was a fire. But the two armchairs were arranged at the other end of the room near the door. "—What is the meaning of this?" thought Jean Valjean.
He went for the armchairs and restored them to their ordinary place near the hearth.
This fire lighted once more encouraged him, however. He prolonged the conversation even beyond its customary limits. As he rose to take his leave, Cosette said to him:
"My husband said a queer thing to me yesterday."
"What was it?"
"He said to me: 'Cosette, we have an income of thirty thousand livres. Twenty-seven that you own, and three that my grandfather gives me.' I replied: 'That makes thirty.' He went on: 'Would you have the courage to live on the three thousand?' I answered: 'Yes, on nothing. Provided that it was with you.' And then I asked: 'Why do you say that to me?' He replied: 'I wanted to know.'"
Jean Valjean found not a word to answer. Cosette probably expected some explanation from him; he listened in gloomy silence. He went back to the Rue de l'Homme Armé; he was so deeply absorbed that he mistook the door and instead of entering his own house, he entered the adjoining dwelling. It was only after having ascended nearly two stories that he perceived his error and went down again.
His mind was swarming with conjectures. It was evident that Marius had his doubts as to the origin of the six hundred thousand francs, that he feared some source that was not pure, who knows? that he had even, perhaps, discovered that the money came from him, Jean Valjean, that he hesitated before this suspicious fortune, and was disinclined to take it as his own,—preferring that both he and Cosette should remain poor, rather than that they should be rich with wealth that was not clean.
Moreover, Jean Valjean began vaguely to surmise that he was being shown the door.
On the following day, he underwent something like a shock on entering the ground-floor room. The armchairs had disappeared. There was not a single chair of any sort.
"Ah, what's this!" exclaimed Cosette as she entered, "no chairs! Where are the armchairs?"
"They are no longer here," replied Jean Valjean.
"This is too much!"
Jean Valjean stammered:
"It was I who told Basque to remove them."
"And your reason?"
"I have only a few minutes to stay to-day."
"A brief stay is no reason for remaining standing."
"I think that Basque needed the chairs for the drawing-room."
"You have company this evening, no doubt."
"We expect no one."
Jean Valjean had not another word to say.
Cosette shrugged her shoulders.
"To have the chairs carried off! The other day you had the fire put out. How odd you are!"
"Adieu!" murmured Jean Valjean.
He did not say: "Adieu, Cosette." But he had not the strength to say: "Adieu, Madame."
He went away utterly overwhelmed.
This time he had understood.
On the following day he did not come. Cosette only observed the fact in the evening.
"Why," said she, "Monsieur Jean has not been here today."
And she felt a slight twinge at her heart, but she hardly perceived it, being immediately diverted by a kiss from Marius.
On the following day he did not come.
Cosette paid no heed to this, passed her evening and slept well that night, as usual, and thought of it only when she woke. She was so happy! She speedily despatched Nicolette to M. Jean's house to inquire whether he were ill, and why he had not come on the previous evening. Nicolette brought back the reply of M. Jean that he was not ill. He was busy. He would come soon. As soon as he was able. Moreover, he was on the point of taking a little journey. Madame must remember that it was his custom to take trips from time to time. They were not to worry about him. They were not to think of him.
Nicolette on entering M. Jean's had repeated to him her mistress' very words. That Madame had sent her to inquire why M. Jean had not come on the preceding evening. "—It is two days since I have been there," said Jean Valjean gently.
But the remark passed unnoticed by Nicolette, who did not report it to Cosette.