TARIFF OF LICENSED CABS: TWO FRANCS AN HOUR
Marius had lost nothing of this entire scene, and yet, in reality,
had seen nothing. His eyes had remained fixed on the young girl,
his heart had, so to speak, seized her and wholly enveloped her from
the moment of her very first step in that garret. During her entire
stay there, he had lived that life of ecstasy which suspends material
perceptions and precipitates the whole soul on a single point.
He contemplated, not that girl, but that light which wore a satin
pelisse and a velvet bonnet. The star Sirius might have entered
the room, and he would not have been any more dazzled.
While the young girl was engaged in opening the package, unfolding the
clothing and the blankets, questioning the sick mother kindly,
and the little injured girl tenderly, he watched her every movement,
he sought to catch her words. He knew her eyes, her brow, her beauty,
her form, her walk, he did not know the sound of her voice.
He had once fancied that he had caught a few words at the Luxembourg,
but he was not absolutely sure of the fact. He would have given
ten years of his life to hear it, in order that he might bear away
in his soul a little of that music. But everything was drowned
in the lamentable exclamations and trumpet bursts of Jondrette.
This added a touch of genuine wrath to Marius' ecstasy. He devoured
her with his eyes. He could not believe that it really was that
divine creature whom he saw in the midst of those vile creatures in
that monstrous lair. It seemed to him that he beheld a humming-bird
in the midst of toads.
When she took her departure, he had but one thought, to follow her,
to cling to her trace, not to quit her until he learned where she lived,
not to lose her again, at least, after having so miraculously
re-discovered her. He leaped down from the commode and seized
his hat. As he laid his hand on the lock of the door, and was on
the point of opening it, a sudden reflection caused him to pause.
The corridor was long, the staircase steep, Jondrette was talkative,
M. Leblanc had, no doubt, not yet regained his carriage; if, on turning
round in the corridor, or on the staircase, he were to catch sight
of him, Marius, in that house, he would, evidently, take the alarm,
and find means to escape from him again, and this time it would
be final. What was he to do? Should he wait a little? But while he
was waiting, the carriage might drive off. Marius was perplexed.
At last he accepted the risk and quitted his room.
There was no one in the corridor. He hastened to the stairs.
There was no one on the staircase. He descended in all haste,
and reached the boulevard in time to see a fiacre turning the corner
of the Rue du Petit-Banquier, on its way back to Paris.
Marius rushed headlong in that direction. On arriving at the angle
of the boulevard, he caught sight of the fiacre again, rapidly descending
the Rue Mouffetard; the carriage was already a long way off,
and there was no means of overtaking it; what! run after it?
Impossible; and besides, the people in the carriage would assuredly
notice an individual running at full speed in pursuit of a fiacre,
and the father would recognize him. At that moment, wonderful and
unprecedented good luck, Marius perceived an empty cab passing along
the boulevard. There was but one thing to be done, to jump into this cab
and follow the fiacre. That was sure, efficacious, and free from danger.
Marius made the driver a sign to halt, and called to him:--
"By the hour?"
Marius wore no cravat, he had on his working-coat, which was destitute
of buttons, his shirt was torn along one of the plaits on the bosom.
The driver halted, winked, and held out his left hand to Marius,
rubbing his forefinger gently with his thumb.
"What is it?" said Marius.
"Pay in advance," said the coachman.
Marius recollected that he had but sixteen sous about him.
"How much?" he demanded.
"I will pay on my return."
The driver's only reply was to whistle the air of La Palisse
and to whip up his horse.
Marius stared at the retreating cabriolet with a bewildered air.
For the lack of four and twenty sous, he was losing his joy,
his happiness, his love! He had seen, and he was becoming
blind again. He reflected bitterly, and it must be confessed,
with profound regret, on the five francs which he had bestowed,
that very morning, on that miserable girl. If he had had those
five francs, he would have been saved, he would have been born again,
he would have emerged from the limbo and darkness, he would have
made his escape from isolation and spleen, from his widowed state;
he might have re-knotted the black thread of his destiny to that
beautiful golden thread, which had just floated before his eyes
and had broken at the same instant, once more! He returned to his
hovel in despair.
He might have told himself that M. Leblanc had promised to return
in the evening, and that all he had to do was to set about the matter
more skilfully, so that he might follow him on that occasion;
but, in his contemplation, it is doubtful whether he had heard this.
As he was on the point of mounting the staircase, he perceived, on the
other side of the boulevard, near the deserted wall skirting the Rue De
la Barriere-des-Gobelins, Jondrette, wrapped in the "philanthropist's"
great-coat, engaged in conversation with one of those men of
disquieting aspect who have been dubbed by common consent, prowlers of
the barriers; people of equivocal face, of suspicious monologues,
who present the air of having evil minds, and who generally sleep
in the daytime, which suggests the supposition that they work by night.
These two men, standing there motionless and in conversation,
in the snow which was falling in whirlwinds, formed a group that a
policeman would surely have observed, but which Marius hardly noticed.
Still, in spite of his mournful preoccupation, he could not
refrain from saying to himself that this prowler of the barriers
with whom Jondrette was talking resembled a certain Panchaud,
alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille, whom Courfeyrac had once
pointed out to him as a very dangerous nocturnal roamer.
This man's name the reader has learned in the preceding book.
This Panchaud, alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille, figured later
on in many criminal trials, and became a notorious rascal.
He was at that time only a famous rascal. To-day he exists in the
state of tradition among ruffians and assassins. He was at the head
of a school towards the end of the last reign. And in the evening,
at nightfall, at the hour when groups form and talk in whispers,
he was discussed at La Force in the Fosse-aux-Lions. One might even,
in that prison, precisely at the spot where the sewer which served
the unprecedented escape, in broad daylight, of thirty prisoners,
in 1843, passes under the culvert, read his name, PANCHAUD,
audaciously carved by his own hand on the wall of the sewer,
during one of his attempts at flight. In 1832, the police already
had their eye on him, but he had not as yet made a serious beginning.