MARIUS' TWO CHAIRS FORM A VIS-A-VIS
Suddenly, the distant and melancholy vibration of a clock shook
the panes. Six o'clock was striking from Saint-Medard.
Jondrette marked off each stroke with a toss of his head.
When the sixth had struck, he snuffed the candle with his fingers.
Then he began to pace up and down the room, listened at the corridor,
walked on again, then listened once more.
"Provided only that he comes!" he muttered, then he returned
to his chair.
He had hardly reseated himself when the door opened.
Mother Jondrette had opened it, and now remained in the corridor
making a horrible, amiable grimace, which one of the holes
of the dark-lantern illuminated from below.
"Enter, sir," she said.
"Enter, my benefactor," repeated Jondrette, rising hastily.
M. Leblanc made his appearance.
He wore an air of serenity which rendered him singularly venerable.
He laid four louis on the table.
"Monsieur Fabantou," said he, "this is for your rent and your most
pressing necessities. We will attend to the rest hereafter."
"May God requite it to you, my generous benefactor!" said Jondrette.
And rapidly approaching his wife:--
"Dismiss the carriage!"
She slipped out while her husband was lavishing salutes and offering
M. Leblanc a chair. An instant later she returned and whispered
in his ear:--
The snow, which had not ceased falling since the morning,
was so deep that the arrival of the fiacre had not been audible,
and they did not now hear its departure.
Meanwhile, M. Leblanc had seated himself.
Jondrette had taken possession of the other chair, facing M. Leblanc.
Now, in order to form an idea of the scene which is to follow,
let the reader picture to himself in his own mind, a cold night,
the solitudes of the Salpetriere covered with snow and white as
winding-sheets in the moonlight, the taper-like lights of the street
lanterns which shone redly here and there along those tragic boulevards,
and the long rows of black elms, not a passer-by for perhaps
a quarter of a league around, the Gorbeau hovel, at its highest
pitch of silence, of horror, and of darkness; in that building,
in the midst of those solitudes, in the midst of that darkness,
the vast Jondrette garret lighted by a single candle, and in that den
two men seated at a table, M. Leblanc tranquil, Jondrette smiling
and alarming, the Jondrette woman, the female wolf, in one corner,
and, behind the partition, Marius, invisible, erect, not losing
a word, not missing a single movement, his eye on the watch,
and pistol in hand.
However, Marius experienced only an emotion of horror, but no fear.
He clasped the stock of the pistol firmly and felt reassured.
"I shall be able to stop that wretch whenever I please,"
He felt that the police were there somewhere in ambuscade,
waiting for the signal agreed upon and ready to stretch out their arm.
Moreover, he was in hopes, that this violent encounter between
Jondrette and M. Leblanc would cast some light on all the things
which he was interested in learning.