"Saint-Denis," Book Eight: Chapter IV
A Cab Runs in English and Barks in Slang
The following day was the 3d of June, 1832, a date which it is necessary to indicate on account of the grave events which at that epoch hung on the horizon of Paris in the state of lightning-charged clouds. Marius, at nightfall, was pursuing the same road as on the preceding evening, with the same thoughts of delight in his heart, when he caught sight of Éponine approaching, through the trees of the boulevard. Two days in succession—this was too much. He turned hastily aside, quitted the boulevard, changed his course and went to the Rue Plumet through the Rue Monsieur.
This caused Éponine to follow him to the Rue Plumet, a thing which she had not yet done. Up to that time, she had contented herself with watching him on his passage along the boulevard without ever seeking to encounter him. It was only on the evening before that she had attempted to address him.
So Éponine followed him, without his suspecting the fact. She saw him displace the bar and slip into the garden.
She approached the railing, felt of the bars one after the other, and readily recognized the one which Marius had moved.
She murmured in a low voice and in gloomy accents:—
"None of that, Lisette!"
She seated herself on the underpinning of the railing, close beside the bar, as though she were guarding it. It was precisely at the point where the railing touched the neighboring wall. There was a dim nook there, in which Éponine was entirely concealed.
She remained thus for more than an hour, without stirring and without breathing, a prey to her thoughts.
Towards ten o'clock in the evening, one of the two or three persons who passed through the Rue Plumet, an old, belated bourgeois who was making haste to escape from this deserted spot of evil repute, as he skirted the garden railings and reached the angle which it made with the wall, heard a dull and threatening voice saying:—
"I'm no longer surprised that he comes here every evening."
The passer-by cast a glance around him, saw no one, dared not peer into the black niche, and was greatly alarmed. He redoubled his pace.
This passer-by had reason to make haste, for a very few instants later, six men, who were marching separately and at some distance from each other, along the wall, and who might have been taken for a gray patrol, entered the Rue Plumet.
The first to arrive at the garden railing halted, and waited for the others; a second later, all six were reunited.
These men began to talk in a low voice.
"This is the place," said one of them.
"Is there a cab [dog] in the garden?" asked another.
"I don't know. In any case, I have fetched a ball that we'll make him eat."
"Have you some putty to break the pane with?"
"The railing is old," interpolated a fifth, who had the voice of a ventriloquist.
"So much the better," said the second who had spoken. "It won't screech under the saw, and it won't be hard to cut."
The sixth, who had not yet opened his lips, now began to inspect the gate, as Éponine had done an hour earlier, grasping each bar in succession, and shaking them cautiously.
Thus he came to the bar which Marius had loosened. As he was on the point of grasping this bar, a hand emerged abruptly from the darkness, fell upon his arm; he felt himself vigorously thrust aside by a push in the middle of his breast, and a hoarse voice said to him, but not loudly:—
"There's a dog."
At the same moment, he perceived a pale girl standing before him.
The man underwent that shock which the unexpected always brings. He bristled up in hideous wise; nothing is so formidable to behold as ferocious beasts who are uneasy; their terrified air evokes terror.
He recoiled and stammered:—
"What jade is this?"
It was, in fact, Éponine, who had addressed Thénardier.
At the apparition of Éponine, the other five, that is to say, Claquesous, Guelemer, Babet, Brujon, and Montparnasse had noiselessly drawn near, without precipitation, without uttering a word, with the sinister slowness peculiar to these men of the night.
Some indescribable but hideous tools were visible in their hands. Guelemer held one of those pairs of curved pincers which prowlers call fanchons.
"Ah, see here, what are you about there? What do you want with us? Are you crazy?" exclaimed Thénardier, as loudly as one can exclaim and still speak low; "what have you come here to hinder our work for?"
Éponine burst out laughing, and threw herself on his neck.
"I am here, little father, because I am here. Isn't a person allowed to sit on the stones nowadays? It's you who ought not to be here. What have you come here for, since it's a biscuit? I told Magnon so. There's nothing to be done here. But embrace me, my good little father! It's a long time since I've seen you! So you're out?"
Thénardier tried to disentangle himself from Éponine's arms, and grumbled:—
"That's good. You've embraced me. Yes, I'm out. I'm not in. Now, get away with you."
But Éponine did not release her hold, and redoubled her caresses.
"But how did you manage it, little pa? You must have been very clever to get out of that. Tell me about it! And my mother? Where is mother? Tell me about mamma."
"She's well. I don't know, let me alone, and be off, I tell you."
"I won't go, so there now," pouted Éponine like a spoiled child; "you send me off, and it's four months since I saw you, and I've hardly had time to kiss you."
And she caught her father round the neck again.
"Come, now, this is stupid!" said Babet.
"Make haste!" said Guelemer, "the cops may pass."
The ventriloquist's voice repeated his distich:—
"Nous n' sommes pas le jour de l'an, "This isn't New Year's day A bécoter papa, maman." To peck at pa and ma."
Éponine turned to the five ruffians.
"Why, it's Monsieur Brujon. Good day, Monsieur Babet. Good day, Monsieur Claquesous. Don't you know me, Monsieur Guelemer? How goes it, Montparnasse?"
"Yes, they know you!" ejaculated Thénardier. "But good day, good evening, sheer off! leave us alone!"
"It's the hour for foxes, not for chickens," said Montparnasse.
"You see the job we have on hand here," added Babet.
Éponine caught Montparnasse's hand.
"Take care," said he, "you'll cut yourself, I've a knife open."
"My little Montparnasse," responded Éponine very gently, "you must have confidence in people. I am the daughter of my father, perhaps. Monsieur Babet, Monsieur Guelemer, I'm the person who was charged to investigate this matter."
It is remarkable that Éponine did not talk slang. That frightful tongue had become impossible to her since she had known Marius.
She pressed in her hand, small, bony, and feeble as that of a skeleton, Guelemer's huge, coarse fingers, and continued:—
"You know well that I'm no fool. Ordinarily, I am believed. I have rendered you service on various occasions. Well, I have made inquiries; you will expose yourselves to no purpose, you see. I swear to you that there is nothing in this house."
"There are lone women," said Guelemer.
"No, the persons have moved away."
"The candles haven't, anyway!" ejaculated Babet.
And he pointed out to Éponine, across the tops of the trees, a light which was wandering about in the mansard roof of the pavilion. It was Toussaint, who had stayed up to spread out some linen to dry.
Éponine made a final effort.
"Well," said she, "they're very poor folks, and it's a hovel where there isn't a sou."
"Go to the devil!" cried Thénardier. "When we've turned the house upside down and put the cellar at the top and the attic below, we'll tell you what there is inside, and whether it's francs or sous or half-farthings."
And he pushed her aside with the intention of entering.
"My good friend, Mr. Montparnasse," said Éponine, "I entreat you, you are a good fellow, don't enter."
"Take care, you'll cut yourself," replied Montparnasse.
Thénardier resumed in his decided tone:—
"Decamp, my girl, and leave men to their own affairs!"
Éponine released Montparnasse's hand, which she had grasped again, and said:—
"So you mean to enter this house?"
"Rather!" grinned the ventriloquist.
Then she set her back against the gate, faced the six ruffians who were armed to the teeth, and to whom the night lent the visages of demons, and said in a firm, low voice:—
"Well, I don't mean that you shall."
They halted in amazement. The ventriloquist, however, finished his grin. She went on:—
"Friends! Listen well. This is not what you want. Now I'm talking. In the first place, if you enter this garden, if you lay a hand on this gate, I'll scream, I'll beat on the door, I'll rouse everybody, I'll have the whole six of you seized, I'll call the police."
"She'd do it, too," said Thénardier in a low tone to Brujon and the ventriloquist.
She shook her head and added:—
"Beginning with my father!"
Thénardier stepped nearer.
"Not so close, my good man!" said she.
He retreated, growling between his teeth:—
"Why, what's the matter with her?"
And he added:—
She began to laugh in a terrible way:—
"As you like, but you shall not enter here. I'm not the daughter of a dog, since I'm the daughter of a wolf. There are six of you, what matters that to me? You are men. Well, I'm a woman. You don't frighten me. I tell you that you shan't enter this house, because it doesn't suit me. If you approach, I'll bark. I told you, I'm the dog, and I don't care a straw for you. Go your way, you bore me! Go where you please, but don't come here, I forbid it! You can use your knives. I'll use kicks; it's all the same to me, come on!"
She advanced a pace nearer the ruffians, she was terrible, she burst out laughing:—
"Pardine! I'm not afraid. I shall be hungry this summer, and I shall be cold this winter. Aren't they ridiculous, these ninnies of men, to think they can scare a girl! What! Scare? Oh, yes, much! Because you have finical poppets of mistresses who hide under the bed when you put on a big voice, forsooth! I ain't afraid of anything, that I ain't!"
She fastened her intent gaze upon Thénardier and said:—
"Not even of you, father!"
Then she continued, as she cast her blood-shot, spectre-like eyes upon the ruffians in turn:—
"What do I care if I'm picked up to-morrow morning on the pavement of the Rue Plumet, killed by the blows of my father's club, or whether I'm found a year from now in the nets at Saint-Cloud or the Isle of Swans in the midst of rotten old corks and drowned dogs?"
She was forced to pause; she was seized by a dry cough, her breath came from her weak and narrow chest like the death-rattle.
"I have only to cry out, and people will come, and then slap, bang! There are six of you; I represent the whole world."
Thénardier made a movement towards her.
"Don't approach!" she cried.
He halted, and said gently:—
"Well, no; I won't approach, but don't speak so loud. So you intend to hinder us in our work, my daughter? But we must earn our living all the same. Have you no longer any kind feeling for your father?"
"You bother me," said Éponine.
"But we must live, we must eat—"
So saying, she seated herself on the underpinning of the fence and hummed:—
"Mon bras si dodu, "My arm so plump, Ma jambe bien faite My leg well formed, Et le temps perdu." And time wasted."
She had set her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand, and she swung her foot with an air of indifference. Her tattered gown permitted a view of her thin shoulder-blades. The neighboring street lantern illuminated her profile and her attitude. Nothing more resolute and more surprising could be seen.
The six rascals, speechless and gloomy at being held in check by a girl, retreated beneath the shadow cast by the lantern, and held counsel with furious and humiliated shrugs.
In the meantime she stared at them with a stern but peaceful air.
"There's something the matter with her," said Babet. "A reason. Is she in love with the dog? It's a shame to miss this, anyway. Two women, an old fellow who lodges in the back-yard, and curtains that ain't so bad at the windows. The old cove must be a Jew. I think the job's a good one."
"Well, go in, then, the rest of you," exclaimed Montparnasse. "Do the job. I'll stay here with the girl, and if she fails us—"
He flashed the knife, which he held open in his hand, in the light of the lantern.
Thénardier said not a word, and seemed ready for whatever the rest pleased.
Brujon, who was somewhat of an oracle, and who had, as the reader knows, "put up the job," had not as yet spoken. He seemed thoughtful. He had the reputation of not sticking at anything, and it was known that he had plundered a police post simply out of bravado. Besides this he made verses and songs, which gave him great authority.
Babet interrogated him:—
"You say nothing, Brujon?"
Brujon remained silent an instant longer, then he shook his head in various ways, and finally concluded to speak:—
"See here; this morning I came across two sparrows fighting, this evening I jostled a woman who was quarrelling. All that's bad. Let's quit."
They went away.
As they went, Montparnasse muttered:—
"Never mind! if they had wanted, I'd have cut her throat."
"I wouldn't. I don't hit a lady."
At the corner of the street they halted and exchanged the following enigmatical dialogue in a low tone:—
"Where shall we go to sleep to-night?"
"Under Pantin [Paris]."
"Have you the key to the gate, Thénardier?"
Éponine, who never took her eyes off of them, saw them retreat by the road by which they had come. She rose and began to creep after them along the walls and the houses. She followed them thus as far as the boulevard.
There they parted, and she saw these six men plunge into the gloom, where they appeared to melt away.