WHICH WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE WITH GAS LANTERNS
At that moment a heavy and measured sound began to be audible
at some distance. Jean Valjean risked a glance round the corner
of the street. Seven or eight soldiers, drawn up in a platoon,
had just debouched into the Rue Polonceau. He saw the gleam of
their bayonets. They were advancing towards him; these soldiers,
at whose head he distinguished Javert's tall figure, advanced slowly
and cautiously. They halted frequently; it was plain that they
were searching all the nooks of the walls and all the embrasures
of the doors and alleys.
This was some patrol that Javert had encountered--there could
be no mistake as to this surmise--and whose aid he had demanded.
Javert's two acolytes were marching in their ranks.
At the rate at which they were marching, and in consideration
of the halts which they were making, it would take them about
a quarter of an hour to reach the spot where Jean Valjean stood.
It was a frightful moment. A few minutes only separated Jean
Valjean from that terrible precipice which yawned before him for
the third time. And the galleys now meant not only the galleys,
but Cosette lost to him forever; that is to say, a life resembling
the interior of a tomb.
There was but one thing which was possible.
Jean Valjean had this peculiarity, that he carried, as one might say,
two beggar's pouches: in one he kept his saintly thoughts;
in the other the redoubtable talents of a convict. He rummaged
in the one or the other, according to circumstances.
Among his other resources, thanks to his numerous escapes
from the prison at Toulon, he was, as it will be remembered,
a past master in the incredible art of crawling up without
ladder or climbing-irons, by sheer muscular force, by leaning
on the nape of his neck, his shoulders, his hips, and his knees,
by helping himself on the rare projections of the stone, in the
right angle of a wall, as high as the sixth story, if need be;
an art which has rendered so celebrated and so alarming that corner
of the wall of the Conciergerie of Paris by which Battemolle,
condemned to death, made his escape twenty years ago.
Jean Valjean measured with his eyes the wall above which he espied
the linden; it was about eighteen feet in height. The angle
which it formed with the gable of the large building was filled,
at its lower extremity, by a mass of masonry of a triangular shape,
probably intended to preserve that too convenient corner from
the rubbish of those dirty creatures called the passers-by. This
practice of filling up corners of the wall is much in use in Paris.
This mass was about five feet in height; the space above the summit
of this mass which it was necessary to climb was not more than
The wall was surmounted by a flat stone without a coping.
Cosette was the difficulty, for she did not know how to climb a wall.
Should he abandon her? Jean Valjean did not once think of that.
It was impossible to carry her. A man's whole strength is required
to successfully carry out these singular ascents. The least burden
would disturb his centre of gravity and pull him downwards.
A rope would have been required; Jean Valjean had none. Where was he to
get a rope at midnight, in the Rue Polonceau? Certainly, if Jean Valjean
had had a kingdom, he would have given it for a rope at that moment.
All extreme situations have their lightning flashes which
sometimes dazzle, sometimes illuminate us.
Jean Valjean's despairing glance fell on the street lantern-post
of the blind alley Genrot.
At that epoch there were no gas-jets in the streets of Paris.
At nightfall lanterns placed at regular distances were lighted;
they were ascended and descended by means of a rope, which traversed
the street from side to side, and was adjusted in a groove of the post.
The pulley over which this rope ran was fastened underneath the lantern
in a little iron box, the key to which was kept by the lamp-lighter,
and the rope itself was protected by a metal case.
Jean Valjean, with the energy of a supreme struggle, crossed the
street at one bound, entered the blind alley, broke the latch of
the little box with the point of his knife, and an instant later he
was beside Cosette once more. He had a rope. These gloomy inventors
of expedients work rapidly when they are fighting against fatality.
We have already explained that the lanterns had not been lighted
that night. The lantern in the Cul-de-Sac Genrot was thus
naturally extinct, like the rest; and one could pass directly
under it without even noticing that it was no longer in its place.
Nevertheless, the hour, the place, the darkness, Jean Valjean's
absorption, his singular gestures, his goings and comings, all had
begun to render Cosette uneasy. Any other child than she would
have given vent to loud shrieks long before. She contented herself
with plucking Jean Valjean by the skirt of his coat. They could
hear the sound of the patrol's approach ever more and more distinctly.
"Father," said she, in a very low voice, "I am afraid. Who is
"Hush!" replied the unhappy man; "it is Madame Thenardier."
Cosette shuddered. He added:--
"Say nothing. Don't interfere with me. If you cry out, if you weep,
the Thenardier is lying in wait for you. She is coming to take
Then, without haste, but without making a useless movement,
with firm and curt precision, the more remarkable at a moment
when the patrol and Javert might come upon him at any moment,
he undid his cravat, passed it round Cosette's body under the armpits,
taking care that it should not hurt the child, fastened this cravat
to one end of the rope, by means of that knot which seafaring men
call a "swallow knot," took the other end of the rope in his teeth,
pulled off his shoes and stockings, which he threw over the wall,
stepped upon the mass of masonry, and began to raise himself in the
angle of the wall and the gable with as much solidity and certainty
as though he had the rounds of a ladder under his feet and elbows.
Half a minute had not elapsed when he was resting on his knees on
Cosette gazed at him in stupid amazement, without uttering a word.
Jean Valjean's injunction, and the name of Madame Thenardier,
had chilled her blood.
All at once she heard Jean Valjean's voice crying to her,
though in a very low tone:--
"Put your back against the wall."
"Don't say a word, and don't be alarmed," went on Jean Valjean.
And she felt herself lifted from the ground.
Before she had time to recover herself, she was on the top of the wall.
Jean Valjean grasped her, put her on his back, took her two tiny hands
in his large left hand, lay down flat on his stomach and crawled
along on top of the wall as far as the cant. As he had guessed,
there stood a building whose roof started from the top of the wooden
barricade and descended to within a very short distance of the ground,
with a gentle slope which grazed the linden-tree. A lucky circumstance,
for the wall was much higher on this side than on the street side.
Jean Valjean could only see the ground at a great depth below him.
He had just reached the slope of the roof, and had not yet left
the crest of the wall, when a violent uproar announced the arrival
of the patrol. The thundering voice of Javert was audible:--
"Search the blind alley! The Rue Droit-Mur is guarded! so is the Rue
Petit-Picpus. I'll answer for it that he is in the blind alley."
The soldiers rushed into the Genrot alley.
Jean Valjean allowed himself to slide down the roof, still holding
fast to Cosette, reached the linden-tree, and leaped to the ground.
Whether from terror or courage, Cosette had not breathed a sound,
though her hands were a little abraded.