THE WILD MAN IN HIS LAIR
Cities, like forests, have their caverns in which all the most
wicked and formidable creatures which they contain conceal
themselves. Only, in cities, that which thus conceals itself
is ferocious, unclean, and petty, that is to say, ugly; in forests,
that which conceals itself is ferocious, savage, and grand,
that is to say, beautiful. Taking one lair with another,
the beast's is preferable to the man's. Caverns are better than hovels.
What Marius now beheld was a hovel.
Marius was poor, and his chamber was poverty-stricken, but as his
poverty was noble, his garret was neat. The den upon which his eye now
rested was abject, dirty, fetid, pestiferous, mean, sordid. The only
furniture consisted of a straw chair, an infirm table, some old bits
of crockery, and in two of the corners, two indescribable pallets;
all the light was furnishd by a dormer window of four panes,
draped with spiders' webs. Through this aperture there penetrated
just enough light to make the face of a man appear like the face
of a phantom. The walls had a leprous aspect, and were covered with
seams and scars, like a visage disfigured by some horrible malady;
a repulsive moisture exuded from them. Obscene sketches roughly
sketched with charcoal could be distinguished upon them.
The chamber which Marius occupied had a dilapidated brick pavement;
this one was neither tiled nor planked; its inhabitants stepped
directly on the antique plaster of the hovel, which had grown black
under the long-continued pressure of feet. Upon this uneven floor,
where the dirt seemed to be fairly incrusted, and which possessed
but one virginity, that of the broom, were capriciously grouped
constellations of old shoes, socks, and repulsive rags; however,
this room had a fireplace, so it was let for forty francs a year.
There was every sort of thing in that fireplace, a brazier, a pot,
broken boards, rags suspended from nails, a bird-cage, ashes,
and even a little fire. Two brands were smouldering there in a
One thing which added still more to the horrors of this garret was,
that it was large. It had projections and angles and black holes,
the lower sides of roofs, bays, and promontories. Hence horrible,
unfathomable nooks where it seemed as though spiders as big as one's fist,
wood-lice as large as one's foot, and perhaps even--who knows?--
some monstrous human beings, must be hiding.
One of the pallets was near the door, the other near the window.
One end of each touched the fireplace and faced Marius. In a corner
near the aperture through which Marius was gazing, a colored
engraving in a black frame was suspended to a nail on the wall,
and at its bottom, in large letters, was the inscription: THE DREAM.
This represented a sleeping woman, and a child, also asleep, the child
on the woman's lap, an eagle in a cloud, with a crown in his beak,
and the woman thrusting the crown away from the child's head,
without awaking the latter; in the background, Napoleon in a glory,
leaning on a very blue column with a yellow capital ornamented with
Beneath this frame, a sort of wooden panel, which was no longer
than it was broad, stood on the ground and rested in a sloping
attitude against the wall. It had the appearance of a picture
with its face turned to the wall, of a frame probably showing
a daub on the other side, of some pier-glass detached from a wall
and lying forgotten there while waiting to be rehung.
Near the table, upon which Marius descried a pen, ink, and paper,
sat a man about sixty years of age, small, thin, livid, haggard,
with a cunning, cruel, and uneasy air; a hideous scoundrel.
If Lavater had studied this visage, he would have found the vulture
mingled with the attorney there, the bird of prey and the pettifogger
rendering each other mutually hideous and complementing each other;
the pettifogger making the bird of prey ignoble, the bird of prey
making the pettifogger horrible.
This man had a long gray beard. He was clad in a woman's chemise,
which allowed his hairy breast and his bare arms, bristling with
gray hair, to be seen. Beneath this chemise, muddy trousers
and boots through which his toes projected were visible.
He had a pipe in his mouth and was smoking. There was no bread
in the hovel, but there was still tobacco.
He was writing probably some more letters like those which Marius
On the corner of the table lay an ancient, dilapidated, reddish volume,
and the size, which was the antique 12mo of reading-rooms,
betrayed a romance. On the cover sprawled the following title,
printed in large capitals: GOD; THE KING; HONOR AND THE LADIES;
BY DUCRAY DUMINIL, 1814.
As the man wrote, he talked aloud, and Marius heard his words:--
"The idea that there is no equality, even when you are dead!
Just look at Pere Lachaise! The great, those who are rich, are up above,
in the acacia alley, which is paved. They can reach it in a carriage.
The little people, the poor, the unhappy, well, what of them? they
are put down below, where the mud is up to your knees, in the
damp places. They are put there so that they will decay the sooner!
You cannot go to see them without sinking into the earth."
He paused, smote the table with his fist, and added, as he ground
"Oh! I could eat the whole world!"
A big woman, who might be forty years of age, or a hundred,
was crouching near the fireplace on her bare heels.
She, too, was clad only in a chemise and a knitted petticoat
patched with bits of old cloth. A coarse linen apron concealed
the half of her petticoat. Although this woman was doubled up and
bent together, it could be seen that she was of very lofty stature.
She was a sort of giant, beside her husband. She had hideous hair,
of a reddish blond which was turning gray, and which she thrust
back from time to time, with her enormous shining hands, with their
Beside her, on the floor, wide open, lay a book of the same form
as the other, and probably a volume of the same romance.
On one of the pallets, Marius caught a glimpse of a sort of tall
pale young girl, who sat there half naked and with pendant feet,
and who did not seem to be listening or seeing or living.
No doubt the younger sister of the one who had come to his room.
She seemed to be eleven or twelve years of age. On closer
scrutiny it was evident that she really was fourteen. She was
the child who had said, on the boulevard the evening before:
"I bolted, bolted, bolted!"
She was of that puny sort which remains backward for a long time,
then suddenly starts up rapidly. It is indigence which produces
these melancholy human plants. These creatures have neither childhood
nor youth. At fifteen years of age they appear to be twelve,
at sixteen they seem twenty. To-day a little girl, to-morrow a woman.
One might say that they stride through life, in order to get through
with it the more speedily.
At this moment, this being had the air of a child.
Moreover, no trace of work was revealed in that dwelling;
no handicraft, no spinning-wheel, not a tool. In one corner lay
some ironmongery of dubious aspect. It was the dull listlessness
which follows despair and precedes the death agony.
Marius gazed for a while at this gloomy interior, more terrifying
than the interior of a tomb, for the human soul could be felt
fluttering there, and life was palpitating there. The garret,
the cellar, the lowly ditch where certain indigent wretches crawl at
the very bottom of the social edifice, is not exactly the sepulchre,
but only its antechamber; but, as the wealthy display their greatest
magnificence at the entrance of their palaces, it seems that death,
which stands directly side by side with them, places its greatest
miseries in that vestibule.
The man held his peace, the woman spoke no word, the young girl did
not even seem to breathe. The scratching of the pen on the paper
The man grumbled, without pausing in his writing. "Canaille! canaille!
everybody is canaille!"
This variation to Solomon's exclamation elicited a sigh from the woman.
"Calm yourself, my little friend," she said. "Don't hurt yourself,
my dear. You are too good to write to all those people, husband."
Bodies press close to each other in misery, as in cold, but hearts
draw apart. This woman must have loved this man, to all appearance,
judging from the amount of love within her; but probably,
in the daily and reciprocal reproaches of the horrible distress
which weighed on the whole group, this had become extinct. There no
longer existed in her anything more than the ashes of affection
for her husband. Nevertheless, caressing appellations had survived,
as is often the case. She called him: My dear, my little friend,
my good man, etc., with her mouth while her heart was silent.
The man resumed his writing.