BOOK EIGHTH.--CEMETERIES TAKE THAT WHICH IS COMMITTED THEM
WHICH TREATS OF THE MANNER OF ENTERING A CONVENT
It was into this house that Jean Valjean had, as Fauchelevent
expressed it, "fallen from the sky."
He had scaled the wall of the garden which formed the angle
of the Rue Polonceau. That hymn of the angels which he had heard
in the middle of the night, was the nuns chanting matins; that hall,
of which he had caught a glimpse in the gloom, was the chapel.
That phantom which he had seen stretched on the ground was the
sister who was making reparation; that bell, the sound of which
had so strangely surprised him, was the gardener's bell attached
to the knee of Father Fauchelevent.
Cosette once put to bed, Jean Valjean and Fauchelevent had, as we
have already seen, supped on a glass of wine and a bit of cheese
before a good, crackling fire; then, the only bed in the hut being
occupied by Cosette, each threw himself on a truss of straw.
Before he shut his eyes, Jean Valjean said: "I must remain
here henceforth." This remark trotted through Fauchelevent's
head all night long.
To tell the truth, neither of them slept.
Jean Valjean, feeling that he was discovered and that Javert was on
his scent, understood that he and Cosette were lost if they returned
to Paris. Then the new storm which had just burst upon him had stranded
him in this cloister. Jean Valjean had, henceforth, but one thought,--
to remain there. Now, for an unfortunate man in his position,
this convent was both the safest and the most dangerous of places;
the most dangerous, because, as no men might enter there, if he
were discovered, it was a flagrant offence, and Jean Valjean would
find but one step intervening between the convent and prison;
the safest, because, if he could manage to get himself accepted
there and remain there, who would ever seek him in such a place?
To dwell in an impossible place was safety.
On his side, Fauchelevent was cudgelling his brains. He began
by declaring to himself that he understood nothing of the matter.
How had M. Madeleine got there, when the walls were what they were?
Cloister walls are not to be stepped over. How did he get there
with a child? One cannot scale a perpendicular wall with a child
in one's arms. Who was that child? Where did they both come from?
Since Fauchelevent had lived in the convent, he had heard nothing
of M. sur M., and he knew nothing of what had taken place there.
Father Madeleine had an air which discouraged questions; and besides,
Fauchelevent said to himself: "One does not question a saint."
M. Madeleine had preserved all his prestige in Fauchelevent's eyes.
Only, from some words which Jean Valjean had let fall, the gardener
thought he could draw the inference that M. Madeleine had probably become
bankrupt through the hard times, and that he was pursued by his creditors;
or that he had compromised himself in some political affair, and was
in hiding; which last did not displease Fauchelevent, who, like many
of our peasants of the North, had an old fund of Bonapartism about him.
While in hiding, M. Madeleine had selected the convent as a refuge,
and it was quite simple that he should wish to remain there.
But the inexplicable point, to which Fauchelevent returned constantly
and over which he wearied his brain, was that M. Madeleine should
be there, and that he should have that little girl with him.
Fauchelevent saw them, touched them, spoke to them, and still
did not believe it possible. The incomprehensible had just made
its entrance into Fauchelevent's hut. Fauchelevent groped
about amid conjectures, and could see nothing clearly but this:
"M. Madeleine saved my life." This certainty alone was sufficient
and decided his course. He said to himself: "It is my turn now."
He added in his conscience: "M. Madeleine did not stop to deliberate
when it was a question of thrusting himself under the cart for
the purpose of dragging me out." He made up his mind to save
Nevertheless, he put many questions to himself and made himself
divers replies: "After what he did for me, would I save him if he
were a thief? Just the same. If he were an assassin, would I
save him? Just the same. Since he is a saint, shall I save him?
Just the same."
But what a problem it was to manage to have him remain in the convent!
Fauchelevent did not recoil in the face of this almost chimerical
undertaking; this poor peasant of Picardy without any other ladder than
his self-devotion, his good will, and a little of that old rustic cunning,
on this occasion enlisted in the service of a generous enterprise,
undertook to scale the difficulties of the cloister, and the steep
escarpments of the rule of Saint-Benoit. Father Fauchelevent was an old
man who had been an egoist all his life, and who, towards the end
of his days, halt, infirm, with no interest left to him in the world,
found it sweet to be grateful, and perceiving a generous action
to be performed, flung himself upon it like a man, who at the moment
when he is dying, should find close to his hand a glass of good wine
which he had never tasted, and should swallow it with avidity.
We may add, that the air which he had breathed for many years
in this convent had destroyed all personality in him, and had
ended by rendering a good action of some kind absolutely necessary to him.
So he took his resolve: to devote himself to M. Madeleine.
We have just called him a poor peasant of Picardy. That description
is just, but incomplete. At the point of this story which we
have now reached, a little of Father Fauchelevent's physiology
becomes useful. He was a peasant, but he had been a notary, which added
trickery to his cunning, and penetration to his ingenuousness.
Having, through various causes, failed in his business, he had
descended to the calling of a carter and a laborer. But, in spite
of oaths and lashings, which horses seem to require, something of
the notary had lingered in him. He had some natural wit; he talked
good grammar; he conversed, which is a rare thing in a village;
and the other peasants said of him: "He talks almost like a gentleman
with a hat." Fauchelevent belonged, in fact, to that species,
which the impertinent and flippant vocabulary of the last century
qualified as demi-bourgeois, demi-lout, and which the metaphors showered
by the chateau upon the thatched cottage ticketed in the pigeon-hole
of the plebeian: rather rustic, rather citified; pepper and salt.
Fauchelevent, though sorely tried and harshly used by fate,
worn out, a sort of poor, threadbare old soul, was, nevertheless,
an impulsive man, and extremely spontaneous in his actions;
a precious quality which prevents one from ever being wicked.
His defects and his vices, for he had some, were all superficial;
in short, his physiognomy was of the kind which succeeds with
an observer. His aged face had none of those disagreeable
wrinkles at the top of the forehead, which signify malice or stupidity.
At daybreak, Father Fauchelevent opened his eyes, after having
done an enormous deal of thinking, and beheld M. Madeleine
seated on his truss of straw, and watching Cosette's slumbers.
Fauchelevent sat up and said:--
"Now that you are here, how are you going to contrive to enter?"
This remark summed up the situation and aroused Jean Valjean from
The two men took counsel together.
"In the first place,"' said Fauchelevent, "you will begin by not
setting foot outside of this chamber, either you or the child.
One step in the garden and we are done for."
"That is true."
"Monsieur Madeleine," resumed Fauchelevent, "you have arrived at
a very auspicious moment, I mean to say a very inauspicious moment;
one of the ladies is very ill. This will prevent them from looking
much in our direction. It seems that she is dying. The prayers of
the forty hours are being said. The whole community is in confusion.
That occupies them. The one who is on the point of departure
is a saint. In fact, we are all saints here; all the difference
between them and me is that they say `our cell,' and that I say
`my cabin.' The prayers for the dying are to be said, and then
the prayers for the dead. We shall be at peace here for to-day;
but I will not answer for to-morrow."
"Still," observed Jean Valjean, "this cottage is in the niche
of the wall, it is hidden by a sort of ruin, there are trees,
it is not visible from the convent."
"And I add that the nuns never come near it."
"Well?" said Jean Valjean.
The interrogation mark which accentuated this "well" signified:
"it seems to me that one may remain concealed here?" It was to this
interrogation point that Fauchelevent responded:--
"There are the little girls."
"What little girls?" asked Jean Valjean.
Just as Fauchelevent opened his mouth to explain the words which he
had uttered, a bell emitted one stroke.
"The nun is dead," said he. "There is the knell."
And he made a sign to Jean Valjean to listen.
The bell struck a second time.
"It is the knell, Monsieur Madeleine. The bell will continue
to strike once a minute for twenty-four hours, until the body is
taken from the church.--You see, they play. At recreation hours
it suffices to have a ball roll aside, to send them all hither,
in spite of prohibitions, to hunt and rummage for it all about here.
Those cherubs are devils."
"Who?" asked Jean Valjean.
"The little girls. You would be very quickly discovered.
They would shriek: `Oh! a man!' There is no danger to-day. There
will be no recreation hour. The day will be entirely devoted
to prayers. You hear the bell. As I told you, a stroke each minute.
It is the death knell."
"I understand, Father Fauchelevent. There are pupils."
And Jean Valjean thought to himself:--
"Here is Cosette's education already provided."
"Pardine! There are little girls indeed! And they would bawl
around you! And they would rush off! To be a man here is to have
the plague. You see how they fasten a bell to my paw as though
I were a wild beast."
Jean Valjean fell into more and more profound thought.--"This convent
would be our salvation," he murmured.
Then he raised his voice:--
"Yes, the difficulty is to remain here."
"No," said Fauchelevent, "the difficulty is to get out."
Jean Valjean felt the blood rush back to his heart.
"To get out!"
"Yes, Monsieur Madeleine. In order to return here it is first
necessary to get out."
And after waiting until another stroke of the knell had sounded,
Fauchelevent went on:--
"You must not be found here in this fashion. Whence come you?
For me, you fall from heaven, because I know you; but the nuns require
one to enter by the door."
All at once they heard a rather complicated pealing from another bell.
"Ah!" said Fauchelevent, "they are ringing up the vocal mothers.
They are going to the chapter. They always hold a chapter when any
one dies. She died at daybreak. People generally do die at daybreak.
But cannot you get out by the way in which you entered? Come, I do
not ask for the sake of questioning you, but how did you get in?"
Jean Valjean turned pale; the very thought of descending again
into that terrible street made him shudder. You make your
way out of a forest filled with tigers, and once out of it,
imagine a friendly counsel that shall advise you to return thither!
Jean Valjean pictured to himself the whole police force still
engaged in swarming in that quarter, agents on the watch,
sentinels everywhere, frightful fists extended towards his collar,
Javert at the corner of the intersection of the streets perhaps.
"Impossible!" said he. "Father Fauchelevent, say that I fell
from the sky."
"But I believe it, I believe it," retorted Fauchelevent.
"You have no need to tell me that. The good God must have taken you
in his hand for the purpose of getting a good look at you close to,
and then dropped you. Only, he meant to place you in a man's convent;
he made a mistake. Come, there goes another peal, that is to order
the porter to go and inform the municipality that the dead-doctor is
to come here and view a corpse. All that is the ceremony of dying.
These good ladies are not at all fond of that visit. A doctor
is a man who does not believe in anything. He lifts the veil.
Sometimes he lifts something else too. How quickly they have had
the doctor summoned this time! What is the matter? Your little
one is still asleep. What is her name?"
"She is your daughter?
You are her grandfather, that is?"
"It will be easy enough for her to get out of here. I have my service
door which opens on the courtyard. I knock. The porter opens;
I have my vintage basket on my back, the child is in it, I go out.
Father Fauchelevent goes out with his basket--that is perfectly natural.
You will tell the child to keep very quiet. She will be under the cover.
I will leave her for whatever time is required with a good old friend,
a fruit-seller whom I know in the Rue Chemin-Vert, who is deaf,
and who has a little bed. I will shout in the fruit-seller's ear,
that she is a niece of mine, and that she is to keep her for me
until to-morrow. Then the little one will re-enter with you;
for I will contrive to have you re-enter. It must be done.
But how will you manage to get out?"
Jean Valjean shook his head.
"No one must see me, the whole point lies there, Father Fauchelevent.
Find some means of getting me out in a basket, under cover,
Fauchelevent scratched the lobe of his ear with the middle finger
of his left hand, a sign of serious embarrassment.
A third peal created a diversion.
"That is the dead-doctor taking his departure," said Fauchelevent.
"He has taken a look and said: `She is dead, that is well.'
When the doctor has signed the passport for paradise, the undertaker's
company sends a coffin. If it is a mother, the mothers lay her out;
if she is a sister, the sisters lay her out. After which, I nail
her up. That forms a part of my gardener's duty. A gardener is
a bit of a grave-digger. She is placed in a lower hall of the church
which communicates with the street, and into which no man may enter
save the doctor of the dead. I don't count the undertaker's men
and myself as men. It is in that hall that I nail up the coffin.
The undertaker's men come and get it, and whip up, coachman! that's
the way one goes to heaven. They fetch a box with nothing in it,
they take it away again with something in it. That's what a burial
is like. De profundis."
A horizontal ray of sunshine lightly touched the face of
the sleeping Cosette, who lay with her mouth vaguely open,
and had the air of an angel drinking in the light. Jean Valjean
had fallen to gazing at her. He was no longer listening to Fauchelevent.
That one is not listened to is no reason for preserving silence.
The good old gardener went on tranquilly with his babble:--
"The grave is dug in the Vaugirard cemetery. They declare that they
are going to suppress that Vaugirard cemetery. It is an ancient
cemetery which is outside the regulations, which has no uniform,
and which is going to retire. It is a shame, for it is convenient.
I have a friend there, Father Mestienne, the grave-digger. The nuns
here possess one privilege, it is to be taken to that cemetery
at nightfall. There is a special permission from the Prefecture on
their behalf. But how many events have happened since yesterday!
Mother Crucifixion is dead, and Father Madeleine--"
"Is buried," said Jean Valjean, smiling sadly.
Fauchelevent caught the word.
"Goodness! if you were here for good, it would be a real burial."
A fourth peal burst out. Fauchelevent hastily detached the belled
knee-cap from its nail and buckled it on his knee again.
"This time it is for me. The Mother Prioress wants me. Good, now I
am pricking myself on the tongue of my buckle. Monsieur Madeleine,
don't stir from here, and wait for me. Something new has come up.
If you are hungry, there is wine, bread and cheese."
And he hastened out of the hut, crying: "Coming! coming!"
Jean Valjean watched him hurrying across the garden as fast as his
crooked leg would permit, casting a sidelong glance by the way
on his melon patch.
Less than ten minutes later, Father Fauchelevent, whose bell put
the nuns in his road to flight, tapped gently at a door, and a gentle
voice replied: "Forever! Forever!" that is to say: "Enter."
The door was the one leading to the parlor reserved for seeing
the gardener on business. This parlor adjoined the chapter hall.
The prioress, seated on the only chair in the parlor, was waiting