Eight or nine years after the events narrated in the second part
of this story, people noticed on the Boulevard du Temple, and in the
regions of the Chateau-d'Eau, a little boy eleven or twelve years
of age, who would have realized with tolerable accuracy that ideal
of the gamin sketched out above, if, with the laugh of his age
on his lips, he had not had a heart absolutely sombre and empty.
This child was well muffled up in a pair of man's trousers, but he
did not get them from his father, and a woman's chemise, but he
did not get it from his mother. Some people or other had clothed
him in rags out of charity. Still, he had a father and a mother.
But his father did not think of him, and his mother did not love him.
He was one of those children most deserving of pity, among all,
one of those who have father and mother, and who are orphans nevertheless.
This child never felt so well as when he was in the street.
The pavements were less hard to him than his mother's heart.
His parents had despatched him into life with a kick.
He simply took flight.
He was a boisterous, pallid, nimble, wide-awake, jeering, lad, with a
vivacious but sickly air. He went and came, sang, played at hopscotch,
scraped the gutters, stole a little, but, like cats and sparrows,
gayly laughed when he was called a rogue, and got angry when
called a thief. He had no shelter, no bread, no fire, no love;
but he was merry because he was free.
When these poor creatures grow to be men, the millstones of the social
order meet them and crush them, but so long as they are children,
they escape because of their smallness. The tiniest hole saves them.
Nevertheless, abandoned as this child was, it sometimes happened,
every two or three months, that he said, "Come, I'll go and see mamma!"
Then he quitted the boulevard, the Cirque, the Porte Saint-Martin,
descended to the quays, crossed the bridges, reached the suburbs,
arrived at the Salpetriere, and came to a halt, where? Precisely at
that double number 50-52 with which the reader is acquainted--
at the Gorbeau hovel.
At that epoch, the hovel 50-52 generally deserted and eternally
decorated with the placard: "Chambers to let," chanced to be,
a rare thing, inhabited by numerous individuals who, however, as is
always the case in Paris, had no connection with each other.
All belonged to that indigent class which begins to separate
from the lowest of petty bourgeoisie in straitened circumstances,
and which extends from misery to misery into the lowest depths
of society down to those two beings in whom all the material
things of civilization end, the sewer-man who sweeps up the mud,
and the ragpicker who collects scraps.
The "principal lodger" of Jean Valjean's day was dead and had been
replaced by another exactly like her. I know not what philosopher
has said: "Old women are never lacking."
This new old woman was named Madame Bourgon, and had nothing
remarkable about her life except a dynasty of three paroquets,
who had reigned in succession over her soul.
The most miserable of those who inhabited the hovel were a family
of four persons, consisting of father, mother, and two daughters,
already well grown, all four of whom were lodged in the same attic,
one of the cells which we have already mentioned.
At first sight, this family presented no very special feature except
its extreme destitution; the father, when he hired the chamber,
had stated that his name was Jondrette. Some time after his moving in,
which had borne a singular resemblance to the entrance of nothing
at all, to borrow the memorable expression of the principal tenant,
this Jondrette had said to the woman, who, like her predecessor,
was at the same time portress and stair-sweeper: "Mother So-and-So,
if any one should chance to come and inquire for a Pole or an Italian,
or even a Spaniard, perchance, it is I."
This family was that of the merry barefoot boy. He arrived
there and found distress, and, what is still sadder, no smile;
a cold hearth and cold hearts. When he entered, he was asked:
"Whence come you?" He replied: "From the street." When he
went away, they asked him: "Whither are you going?" He replied:
"Into the streets." His mother said to him: "What did you come
This child lived, in this absence of affection, like the pale
plants which spring up in cellars. It did not cause him suffering,
and he blamed no one. He did not know exactly how a father
and mother should be.
Nevertheless, his mother loved his sisters.
We have forgotten to mention, that on the Boulevard du Temple this
child was called Little Gavroche. Why was he called Little Gavroche?
Probably because his father's name was Jondrette.
It seems to be the instinct of certain wretched families to break
The chamber which the Jondrettes inhabited in the Gorbeau hovel
was the last at the end of the corridor. The cell next to it
was occupied by a very poor young man who was called M. Marius.
Let us explain who this M. Marius was.