"Jean Valjean," Book Nine: Chapter II
Last Flickerings of a Lamp Without Oil
One day, Jean Valjean descended his staircase, took three steps in the street, seated himself on a post, on that same stone post where Gavroche had found him meditating on the night between the 5th and the 6th of June; he remained there a few moments, then went upstairs again. This was the last oscillation of the pendulum. On the following day he did not leave his apartment. On the day after that, he did not leave his bed.
His portress, who prepared his scanty repasts, a few cabbages or potatoes with bacon, glanced at the brown earthenware plate and exclaimed:
"But you ate nothing yesterday, poor, dear man!"
"Certainly I did," replied Jean Valjean.
"The plate is quite full."
"Look at the water jug. It is empty."
"That proves that you have drunk; it does not prove that you have eaten."
"Well," said Jean Valjean, "what if I felt hungry only for water?"
"That is called thirst, and, when one does not eat at the same time, it is called fever."
"I will eat to-morrow."
"Or at Trinity day. Why not to-day? Is it the thing to say: 'I will eat to-morrow'? The idea of leaving my platter without even touching it! My lady-finger potatoes were so good!"
Jean Valjean took the old woman's hand:
"I promise you that I will eat them," he said, in his benevolent voice.
"I am not pleased with you," replied the portress.
Jean Valjean saw no other human creature than this good woman. There are streets in Paris through which no one ever passes, and houses to which no one ever comes. He was in one of those streets and one of those houses.
While he still went out, he had purchased of a coppersmith, for a few sous, a little copper crucifix which he had hung up on a nail opposite his bed. That gibbet is always good to look at.
A week passed, and Jean Valjean had not taken a step in his room. He still remained in bed. The portress said to her husband:—"The good man upstairs yonder does not get up, he no longer eats, he will not last long. That man has his sorrows, that he has. You won't get it out of my head that his daughter has made a bad marriage."
The porter replied, with the tone of marital sovereignty:
"If he's rich, let him have a doctor. If he is not rich, let him go without. If he has no doctor he will die."
"And if he has one?"
"He will die," said the porter.
The portress set to scraping away the grass from what she called her pavement, with an old knife, and, as she tore out the blades, she grumbled:
"It's a shame. Such a neat old man! He's as white as a chicken."
She caught sight of the doctor of the quarter as he passed the end of the street; she took it upon herself to request him to come upstairs.
"It's on the second floor," said she. "You have only to enter. As the good man no longer stirs from his bed, the door is always unlocked."
The doctor saw Jean Valjean and spoke with him.
When he came down again the portress interrogated him:
"Your sick man is very ill indeed."
"What is the matter with him?"
"Everything and nothing. He is a man who, to all appearances, has lost some person who is dear to him. People die of that."
"What did he say to you?"
"He told me that he was in good health."
"Shall you come again, doctor?"
"Yes," replied the doctor. "But some one else besides must come."
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