END OF THE BRIGAND
The conclusion of Marius' classical studies coincided with
M. Gillenormand's departure from society. The old man bade
farewell to the Faubourg Saint-Germain and to Madame de T.'s salon,
and established himself in the Mardis, in his house of the Rue
des Filles-du-Calvaire. There he had for servants, in addition to
the porter, that chambermaid, Nicolette, who had succeeded to Magnon,
and that short-breathed and pursy Basque, who have been mentioned above.
In 1827, Marius had just attained his seventeenth year. One evening,
on his return home, he saw his grandfather holding a letter in his hand.
"Marius," said M. Gillenormand, "you will set out for Vernon to-morrow."
"Why?" said Marius.
"To see your father."
Marius was seized with a trembling fit. He had thought of everything
except this--that he should one day be called upon to see his father.
Nothing could be more unexpected, more surprising, and, let us
admit it, more disagreeable to him. It was forcing estrangement into
reconciliation. It was not an affliction, but it was an unpleasant duty.
Marius, in addition to his motives of political antipathy,
was convinced that his father, the slasher, as M. Gillenormand
called him on his amiable days, did not love him; this was evident,
since he had abandoned him to others. Feeling that he was not beloved,
he did not love. "Nothing is more simple," he said to himself.
He was so astounded that he did not question M. Gillenormand.
The grandfather resumed:--
"It appears that he is ill. He demands your presence."
And after a pause, he added:--
"Set out to-morrow morning. I think there is a coach which leaves the
Cour des Fontaines at six o'clock, and which arrives in the evening.
Take it. He says that here is haste."
Then he crushed the letter in his hand and thrust it into his pocket.
Marius might have set out that very evening and have been with his
father on the following morning. A diligence from the Rue du
Bouloi took the trip to Rouen by night at that date, and passed
through Vernon. Neither Marius nor M.Gillenormand thought of making
inquiries about it.
The next day, at twilight, Marius reached Vernon. People were
just beginning to light their candles. He asked the first person
whom be met for "M. Pontmercy's house." For in his own mind,
he agreed with the Restoration, and like it, did not recognize
his father's claim to the title of either colonel or baron.
The house was pointed out to him. He rang; a woman with a little
lamp in her hand opened the door.
"M. Pontmercy?" said Marius.
The woman remained motionless.
"Is this his house?" demanded Marius.
The woman nodded affirmatively.
"Can I speak with him?"
The woman shook her head.
"But I am his son!" persisted Marius. "He is expecting me."
"He no longer expects you," said the woman.
Then he perceived that she was weeping.
She pointed to the door of a room on the ground-floor; he entered.
In that room, which was lighted by a tallow candle standing
on the chimney-piece, there were three men, one standing erect,
another kneeling, and one lying at full length, on the floor
in his shirt. The one on the floor was the colonel.
The other two were the doctor, and the priest, who was engaged
The colonel had been attacked by brain fever three days previously.
As he had a foreboding of evil at the very beginning of his illness,
he had written to M. Gillenormand to demand his son. The malady
had grown worse. On the very evening of Marius' arrival at Vernon,
the colonel had had an attack of delirium; he had risen from his bed,
in spite of the servant's efforts to prevent him, crying: "My son
is not coming! I shall go to meet him!" Then he ran out of his
room and fell prostrate on the floor of the antechamber. He had
The doctor had been summoned, and the cure. The doctor had arrived
too late. The son had also arrived too late.
By the dim light of the candle, a large tear could be distinguished
on the pale and prostrate colonel's cheek, where it had trickled
from his dead eye. The eye was extinguished, but the tear was
not yet dry. That tear was his son's delay.
Marius gazed upon that man whom he beheld for the first time,
on that venerable and manly face, on those open eyes which saw not,
on those white locks, those robust limbs, on which, here and there,
brown lines, marking sword-thrusts, and a sort of red stars,
which indicated bullet-holes, were visible. He contemplated that
gigantic sear which stamped heroism on that countenance upon which God
had imprinted goodness. He reflected that this man was his father,
and that this man was dead, and a chill ran over him.
The sorrow which he felt was the sorrow which he would have felt
in the presence of any other man whom he had chanced to behold
stretched out in death.
Anguish, poignant anguish, was in that chamber. The servant-woman was
lamenting in a corner, the cure was praying, and his sobs were audible,
the doctor was wiping his eyes; the corpse itself was weeping.
The doctor, the priest, and the woman gazed at Marius in the
midst of their affliction without uttering a word; he was the
stranger there. Marius, who was far too little affected, felt ashamed
and embarrassed at his own attitude; he held his hat in his hand;
and he dropped it on the floor, in order to produce the impression
that grief had deprived him of the strength to hold it.
At the same time, he experienced remorse, and he despised himself
for behaving in this manner. But was it his fault? He did not
love his father? Why should he!
The colonel had left nothing. The sale of big furniture barely
paid the expenses of his burial.
The servant found a scrap of paper, which she handed to Marius.
It contained the following, in the colonel's handwriting:--
"For my son.--The Emperor made me a Baron on the battle-field
of Waterloo. Since the Restoration disputes my right to this title
which I purchased with my blood, my son shall take it and bear it.
That he will be worthy of it is a matter of course." Below, the colonel
had added: "At that same battle of Waterloo, a sergeant saved my life.
The man's name was Thenardier. I think that he has recently been
keeping a little inn, in a village in the neighborhood of Paris,
at Chelles or Montfermeil. If my son meets him, he will do all
the good he can to Thenardier."
Marius took this paper and preserved it, not out of duty
to his father, but because of that vague respect for death
which is always imperious in the heart of man.
Nothing remained of the colonel. M. Gillenormand had his sword
and uniform sold to an old-clothes dealer. The neighbors devastated
the garden and pillaged the rare flowers. The other plants turned
to nettles and weeds, and died.
Marius remained only forty-eight hours at Vernon. After the interment
he returned to Paris, and applied himself again to his law studies,
with no more thought of his father than if the latter had never lived.
In two days the colonel was buried, and in three forgotten.
Marius wore crape on his hat. That was all.