The big girl approached and laid her hand in her father's.
"Feel how cold I am," said she.
"Bah!" replied the father, "I am much colder than that."
The mother exclaimed impetuously:—
"You always have something better than any one else, so you do! even bad things."
"Down with you!" said the man.
The mother, being eyed after a certain fashion, held her tongue.
Silence reigned for a moment in the hovel. The elder girl was removing the mud from the bottom of her mantle, with a careless air; her younger sister continued to sob; the mother had taken the latter's head between her hands, and was covering it with kisses, whispering to her the while:—
"My treasure, I entreat you, it is nothing of consequence, don't cry, you will anger your father."
"No!" exclaimed the father, "quite the contrary! sob! sob! that's right."
Then turning to the elder:—
"There now! He is not coming! What if he were not to come! I shall have extinguished my fire, wrecked my chair, torn my shirt, and broken my pane all for nothing."
"And wounded the child!" murmured the mother.
"Do you know," went on the father, "that it's beastly cold in this devil's garret! What if that man should not come! Oh! See there, you! He makes us wait! He says to himself: 'Well! they will wait for me! That's what they're there for.' Oh! how I hate them, and with what joy, jubilation, enthusiasm, and satisfaction I could strangle all those rich folks! all those rich folks! These men who pretend to be charitable, who put on airs, who go to mass, who make presents to the priesthood, preachy, preachy, in their skullcaps, and who think themselves above us, and who come for the purpose of humiliating us, and to bring us 'clothes,' as they say! old duds that are not worth four sous! And bread! That's not what I want, pack of rascals that they are, it's money! Ah! money! Never! Because they say that we would go off and drink it up, and that we are drunkards and idlers! And they! What are they, then, and what have they been in their time! Thieves! They never could have become rich otherwise! Oh! Society ought to be grasped by the four corners of the cloth and tossed into the air, all of it! It would all be smashed, very likely, but at least, no one would have anything, and there would be that much gained! But what is that blockhead of a benevolent gentleman doing? Will he come? Perhaps the animal has forgotten the address! I'll bet that that old beast—"
At that moment there came a light tap at the door, the man rushed to it and opened it, exclaiming, amid profound bows and smiles of adoration:—
"Enter, sir! Deign to enter, most respected benefactor, and your charming young lady, also."
A man of ripe age and a young girl made their appearance on the threshold of the attic.
Marius had not quitted his post. His feelings for the moment surpassed the powers of the human tongue.
It was She!
Whoever has loved knows all the radiant meanings contained in those three letters of that word: She.
It was certainly she. Marius could hardly distinguish her through the luminous vapor which had suddenly spread before his eyes. It was that sweet, absent being, that star which had beamed upon him for six months; it was those eyes, that brow, that mouth, that lovely vanished face which had created night by its departure. The vision had been eclipsed, now it reappeared.
It reappeared in that gloom, in that garret, in that misshapen attic, in all that horror.
Marius shuddered in dismay. What! It was she! The palpitations of his heart troubled his sight. He felt that he was on the brink of bursting into tears! What! He beheld her again at last, after having sought her so long! It seemed to him that he had lost his soul, and that he had just found it again.
She was the same as ever, only a little pale; her delicate face was framed in a bonnet of violet velvet, her figure was concealed beneath a pelisse of black satin. Beneath her long dress, a glimpse could be caught of her tiny foot shod in a silken boot.
She was still accompanied by M. Leblanc.
She had taken a few steps into the room, and had deposited a tolerably bulky parcel on the table.
The eldest Jondrette girl had retired behind the door, and was staring with sombre eyes at that velvet bonnet, that silk mantle, and that charming, happy face.