Marius ascended the stairs of the hovel with slow steps; at the moment when he was about to re-enter his cell, he caught sight of the elder Jondrette girl following him through the corridor. The very sight of this girl was odious to him; it was she who had his five francs, it was too late to demand them back, the cab was no longer there, the fiacre was far away. Moreover, she would not have given them back. As for questioning her about the residence of the persons who had just been there, that was useless; it was evident that she did not know, since the letter signed Fabantou had been addressed "to the benevolent gentleman of the church of Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas."
Marius entered his room and pushed the door to after him.
It did not close; he turned round and beheld a hand which held the door half open.
"What is it?" he asked, "who is there?"
It was the Jondrette girl.
"Is it you?" resumed Marius almost harshly, "still you! What do you want with me?"
She appeared to be thoughtful and did not look at him. She no longer had the air of assurance which had characterized her that morning. She did not enter, but held back in the darkness of the corridor, where Marius could see her through the half-open door.
"Come now, will you answer?" cried Marius. "What do you want with me?"
She raised her dull eyes, in which a sort of gleam seemed to flicker vaguely, and said:—
"Monsieur Marius, you look sad. What is the matter with you?"
"With me!" said Marius.
"There is nothing the matter with me."
"Yes, there is!"
"I tell you there is!"
"Let me alone!"
Marius gave the door another push, but she retained her hold on it.
"Stop," said she, "you are in the wrong. Although you are not rich, you were kind this morning. Be so again now. You gave me something to eat, now tell me what ails you. You are grieved, that is plain. I do not want you to be grieved. What can be done for it? Can I be of any service? Employ me. I do not ask for your secrets, you need not tell them to me, but I may be of use, nevertheless. I may be able to help you, since I help my father. When it is necessary to carry letters, to go to houses, to inquire from door to door, to find out an address, to follow any one, I am of service. Well, you may assuredly tell me what is the matter with you, and I will go and speak to the persons; sometimes it is enough if some one speaks to the persons, that suffices to let them understand matters, and everything comes right. Make use of me."
An idea flashed across Marius' mind. What branch does one disdain when one feels that one is falling?
He drew near to the Jondrette girl.
"Listen—" he said to her.
She interrupted him with a gleam of joy in her eyes.
"Oh yes, do call me thou! I like that better."
"Well," he resumed, "thou hast brought hither that old gentleman and his daughter!"
"Dost thou know their address?"
"Find it for me."
The Jondrette's dull eyes had grown joyous, and they now became gloomy.
"Is that what you want?" she demanded.
"Do you know them?"
"That is to say," she resumed quickly, "you do not know her, but you wish to know her."
This them which had turned into her had something indescribably significant and bitter about it.
"Well, can you do it?" said Marius.
"You shall have the beautiful lady's address."
There was still a shade in the words "the beautiful lady" which troubled Marius. He resumed:—
"Never mind, after all, the address of the father and daughter. Their address, indeed!"
She gazed fixedly at him.
"What will you give me?"
"Anything you like."
"Anything I like?"
"You shall have the address."
She dropped her head; then, with a brusque movement, she pulled to the door, which closed behind her.
Marius found himself alone.
He dropped into a chair, with his head and both elbows on his bed, absorbed in thoughts which he could not grasp, and as though a prey to vertigo. All that had taken place since the morning, the appearance of the angel, her disappearance, what that creature had just said to him, a gleam of hope floating in an immense despair,—this was what filled his brain confusedly.
All at once he was violently aroused from his reverie.
He heard the shrill, hard voice of Jondrette utter these words, which were fraught with a strange interest for him:—
"I tell you that I am sure of it, and that I recognized him."
Of whom was Jondrette speaking? Whom had he recognized? M. Leblanc? The father of "his Ursule"? What! Did Jondrette know him? Was Marius about to obtain in this abrupt and unexpected fashion all the information without which his life was so dark to him? Was he about to learn at last who it was that he loved, who that young girl was? Who her father was? Was the dense shadow which enwrapped them on the point of being dispelled? Was the veil about to be rent? Ah! Heavens!
He bounded rather than climbed upon his commode, and resumed his post near the little peep-hole in the partition wall.
Again he beheld the interior of Jondrette's hovel.