On a certain afternoon, which had, as will be seen hereafter, some coincidence with the events heretofore related, Laigle de Meaux was to be seen leaning in a sensual manner against the doorpost of the Café Musain. He had the air of a caryatid on a vacation; he carried nothing but his reverie, however. He was staring at the Place Saint-Michel. To lean one's back against a thing is equivalent to lying down while standing erect, which attitude is not hated by thinkers. Laigle de Meaux was pondering without melancholy, over a little misadventure which had befallen him two days previously at the law-school, and which had modified his personal plans for the future, plans which were rather indistinct in any case.
Reverie does not prevent a cab from passing by, nor the dreamer from taking note of that cab. Laigle de Meaux, whose eyes were straying about in a sort of diffuse lounging, perceived, athwart his somnambulism, a two-wheeled vehicle proceeding through the place, at a foot pace and apparently in indecision. For whom was this cabriolet? Why was it driving at a walk? Laigle took a survey. In it, beside the coachman, sat a young man, and in front of the young man lay a rather bulky hand-bag. The bag displayed to passers-by the following name inscribed in large black letters on a card which was sewn to the stuff: MARIUS PONTMERCY.
This name caused Laigle to change his attitude. He drew himself up and hurled this apostrophe at the young man in the cabriolet:—
"Monsieur Marius Pontmercy!"
The cabriolet thus addressed came to a halt.
The young man, who also seemed deeply buried in thought, raised his eyes:—
"Hey?" said he.
"You are M. Marius Pontmercy?"
"I was looking for you," resumed Laigle de Meaux.
"How so?" demanded Marius; for it was he: in fact, he had just quitted his grandfather's, and had before him a face which he now beheld for the first time. "I do not know you."
"Neither do I know you," responded Laigle.
Marius thought he had encountered a wag, the beginning of a mystification in the open street. He was not in a very good humor at the moment. He frowned. Laigle de Meaux went on imperturbably:—
"You were not at the school day before yesterday."
"That is possible."
"That is certain."
"You are a student?" demanded Marius.
"Yes, sir. Like yourself. Day before yesterday, I entered the school, by chance. You know, one does have such freaks sometimes. The professor was just calling the roll. You are not unaware that they are very ridiculous on such occasions. At the third call, unanswered, your name is erased from the list. Sixty francs in the gulf."
Marius began to listen.
"It was Blondeau who was making the call. You know Blondeau, he has a very pointed and very malicious nose, and he delights to scent out the absent. He slyly began with the letter P. I was not listening, not being compromised by that letter. The call was not going badly. No erasures; the universe was present. Blondeau was grieved. I said to myself: 'Blondeau, my love, you will not get the very smallest sort of an execution to-day.' All at once Blondeau calls, 'Marius Pontmercy!' No one answers. Blondeau, filled with hope, repeats more loudly: 'Marius Pontmercy!' And he takes his pen. Monsieur, I have bowels of compassion. I said to myself hastily: ‘Here's a brave fellow who is going to get scratched out. Attention. Here is a veritable mortal who is not exact. He's not a good student. Here is none of your heavy-sides, a student who studies, a greenhorn pedant, strong on letters, theology, science, and sapience, one of those dull wits cut by the square; a pin by profession. He is an honorable idler who lounges, who practises country jaunts, who cultivates the grisette, who pays court to the fair sex, who is at this very moment, perhaps, with my mistress. Let us save him. Death to Blondeau!' At that moment, Blondeau dipped his pen in, all black with erasures in the ink, cast his yellow eyes round the audience room, and repeated for the third time: 'Marius Pontmercy!' I replied: 'Present!' This is why you were not crossed off."
"Monsieur!—" said Marius.
"And why I was," added Laigle de Meaux.
"I do not understand you," said Marius.
"Nothing is more simple. I was close to the desk to reply, and close to the door for the purpose of flight. The professor gazed at me with a certain intensity. All of a sudden, Blondeau, who must be the malicious nose alluded to by Boileau, skipped to the letter L. L is my letter. I am from Meaux, and my name is Lesgle."
"L'Aigle!" interrupted Marius, "what fine name!"
"Monsieur, Blondeau came to this fine name, and called: 'Laigle!' I reply: ‘Present!' Then Blondeau gazes at me, with the gentleness of a tiger, and says to me: 'If you are Pontmercy, you are not Laigle.' A phrase which has a disobliging air for you, but which was lugubrious only for me. That said, he crossed me off."
"I am mortified, sir—"
"First of all," interposed Laigle, "I demand permission to embalm Blondeau in a few phrases of deeply felt eulogium. I will assume that he is dead. There will be no great change required in his gauntness, in his pallor, in his coldness, and in his smell. And I say: 'Erudimini qui judicatis terram. Here lies Blondeau, Blondeau the Nose, Blondeau Nasica, the ox of discipline, bos disciplinæ, the bloodhound of the password, the angel of the roll-call, who was upright, square, exact, rigid, honest, and hideous. God crossed him off as he crossed me off.'"
"I am very sorry—"
"Young man," said Laigle de Meaux, "let this serve you as a lesson. In future, be exact."
"I really beg you a thousand pardons."
"Do not expose your neighbor to the danger of having his name erased again."
"I am extremely sorry—"
Laigle burst out laughing.
"And I am delighted. I was on the brink of becoming a lawyer. This erasure saves me. I renounce the triumphs of the bar. I shall not defend the widow, and I shall not attack the orphan. No more toga, no more stage. Here is my erasure all ready for me. It is to you that I am indebted for it, Monsieur Pontmercy. I intend to pay a solemn call of thanks upon you. Where do you live?"
"In this cab," said Marius.
"A sign of opulence," retorted Laigle calmly. "I congratulate you. You have there a rent of nine thousand francs per annum."
At that moment, Courfeyrac emerged from the café.
Marius smiled sadly.
"I have paid this rent for the last two hours, and I aspire to get rid of it; but there is a sort of history attached to it, and I don't know where to go."
"Come to my place, sir," said Courfeyrac.
"I have the priority," observed Laigle, "but I have no home."
"Hold your tongue, Bossuet," said Courfeyrac.
"Bossuet," said Marius, "but I thought that your name was Laigle."
"De Meaux," replied Laigle; "by metaphor, Bossuet."
Courfeyrac entered the cab.
"Coachman," said he, "hotel de la Porte-Saint-Jacques."
And that very evening, Marius found himself installed in a chamber of the hotel de la Porte-Saint-Jacques side by side with Courfeyrac.