Marius seated himself on his bed. It might have been half-past five o'clock. Only half an hour separated him from what was about to happen. He heard the beating of his arteries as one hears the ticking of a watch in the dark. He thought of the double march which was going on at that moment in the dark,—crime advancing on one side, justice coming up on the other. He was not afraid, but he could not think without a shudder of what was about to take place. As is the case with all those who are suddenly assailed by an unforeseen adventure, the entire day produced upon him the effect of a dream, and in order to persuade himself that he was not the prey of a nightmare, he had to feel the cold barrels of the steel pistols in his trousers pockets.
It was no longer snowing; the moon disengaged itself more and more clearly from the mist, and its light, mingled with the white reflection of the snow which had fallen, communicated to the chamber a sort of twilight aspect.
There was a light in the Jondrette den. Marius saw the hole in the wall shining with a reddish glow which seemed bloody to him.
It was true that the light could not be produced by a candle. However, there was not a sound in the Jondrette quarters, not a soul was moving there, not a soul speaking, not a breath; the silence was glacial and profound, and had it not been for that light, he might have thought himself next door to a sepulchre.
Marius softly removed his boots and pushed them under his bed.
Several minutes elapsed. Marius heard the lower door turn on its hinges; a heavy step mounted the staircase, and hastened along the corridor; the latch of the hovel was noisily lifted; it was Jondrette returning.
Instantly, several voices arose. The whole family was in the garret. Only, it had been silent in the master's absence, like wolf whelps in the absence of the wolf.
"It's I," said he.
"Good evening, daddy," yelped the girls.
"Well?" said the mother.
"All's going first-rate," responded Jondrette, "but my feet are beastly cold. Good! You have dressed up. You have done well! You must inspire confidence."
"All ready to go out."
"Don't forget what I told you. You will do everything sure?"
"Because—" said Jondrette. And he left the phrase unfinished.
Marius heard him lay something heavy on the table, probably the chisel which he had purchased.
"By the way," said Jondrette, "have you been eating here?"
"Yes," said the mother. "I got three large potatoes and some salt. I took advantage of the fire to cook them."
"Good," returned Jondrette. "To-morrow I will take you out to dine with me. We will have a duck and fixings. You shall dine like Charles the Tenth; all is going well!"
Then he added:—
"The mouse-trap is open. The cats are there."
He lowered his voice still further, and said:—
"Put this in the fire."
Marius heard a sound of charcoal being knocked with the tongs or some iron utensil, and Jondrette continued:—
"Have you greased the hinges of the door so that they will not squeak?"
"Yes," replied the mother.
"What time is it?"
"Nearly six. The half-hour struck from Saint-Médard a while ago."
"The devil!" ejaculated Jondrette; "the children must go and watch. Come you, do you listen here."
A whispering ensued.
Jondrette's voice became audible again:—
"Has old Bougon left?"
"Yes," said the mother.
"Are you sure that there is no one in our neighbor's room?"
"He has not been in all day, and you know very well that this is his dinner hour."
"You are sure?"
"All the same," said Jondrette, "there's no harm in going to see whether he is there. Here, my girl, take the candle and go there."
Marius fell on his hands and knees and crawled silently under his bed.
Hardly had he concealed himself, when he perceived a light through the crack of his door.
"P'pa," cried a voice, "he is not in here."
He recognized the voice of the eldest daughter.
"Did you go in?" demanded her father.
"No," replied the girl, "but as his key is in the door, he must be out."
The father exclaimed:—
"Go in, nevertheless."
The door opened, and Marius saw the tall Jondrette come in with a candle in her hand. She was as she had been in the morning, only still more repulsive in this light.
She walked straight up to the bed. Marius endured an indescribable moment of anxiety; but near the bed there was a mirror nailed to the wall, and it was thither that she was directing her steps. She raised herself on tiptoe and looked at herself in it. In the neighboring room, the sound of iron articles being moved was audible.
She smoothed her hair with the palm of her hand, and smiled into the mirror, humming with her cracked and sepulchral voice:—
Nos amours ont duré toute une semaine, Mais que du bonheur les instants sont courts! S'adorer huit jours, c'était bien la peine! Le temps des amours devrait durer toujours! Devrait durer toujours! devrait durer toujours!
In the meantime, Marius trembled. It seemed impossible to him that she should not hear his breathing.
She stepped to the window and looked out with the half-foolish way she had.
"How ugly Paris is when it has put on a white chemise!" said she.
She returned to the mirror and began again to put on airs before it, scrutinizing herself full-face and three-quarters face in turn.
"Well!" cried her father, "what are you about there?"
"I am looking under the bed and the furniture," she replied, continuing to arrange her hair; "there's no one here."
"Booby!" yelled her father. "Come here this minute! And don't waste any time about it!"
"Coming! Coming!" said she. "One has no time for anything in this hovel!"
Vous me quittez pour aller à la gloire; Mon triste cœur suivra partout.
She cast a parting glance in the mirror and went out, shutting the door behind her.
A moment more, and Marius heard the sound of the two young girls' bare feet in the corridor, and Jondrette's voice shouting to them:—
"Pay strict heed! One on the side of the barrier, the other at the corner of the Rue du Petit-Banquier. Don't lose sight for a moment of the door of this house, and the moment you see anything, rush here on the instant! as hard as you can go! You have a key to get in."
The eldest girl grumbled:—
"The idea of standing watch in the snow barefoot!"
"To-morrow you shall have some dainty little green silk boots!" said the father.
They ran downstairs, and a few seconds later the shock of the outer door as it banged to announced that they were outside.
There now remained in the house only Marius, the Jondrettes and probably, also, the mysterious persons of whom Marius had caught a glimpse in the twilight, behind the door of the unused attic.