THE BATTLE BEGUN
Cosette in her shadow, like Marius in his, was all ready to take fire.
Destiny, with its mysterious and fatal patience, slowly drew together
these two beings, all charged and all languishing with the stormy
electricity of passion, these two souls which were laden with love
as two clouds are laden with lightning, and which were bound
to overflow and mingle in a look like the clouds in a flash of fire.
The glance has been so much abused in love romances that it has
finally fallen into disrepute. One hardly dares to say, nowadays,
that two beings fell in love because they looked at each other.
That is the way people do fall in love, nevertheless, and the
only way. The rest is nothing, but the rest comes afterwards.
Nothing is more real than these great shocks which two souls convey
to each other by the exchange of that spark.
At that particular hour when Cosette unconsciously darted
that glance which troubled Marius, Marius had no suspicion
that he had also launched a look which disturbed Cosette.
He caused her the same good and the same evil.
She had been in the habit of seeing him for a long time, and she had
scrutinized him as girls scrutinize and see, while looking elsewhere.
Marius still considered Cosette ugly, when she had already begun
to think Marius handsome. But as he paid no attention to her,
the young man was nothing to her.
Still, she could not refrain from saying to herself that he had
beautiful hair, beautiful eyes, handsome teeth, a charming tone
of voice when she heard him conversing with his comrades, that he
held himself badly when he walked, if you like, but with a grace
that was all his own, that he did not appear to be at all stupid,
that his whole person was noble, gentle, simple, proud, and that,
in short, though he seemed to be poor, yet his air was fine.
On the day when their eyes met at last, and said to each other
those first, obscure, and ineffable things which the glance lisps,
Cosette did not immediately understand. She returned thoughtfully
to the house in the Rue de l'Ouest, where Jean Valjean, according to
his custom, had come to spend six weeks. The next morning, on waking,
she thought of that strange young man, so long indifferent and icy,
who now seemed to pay attention to her, and it did not appear to her
that this attention was the least in the world agreeable to her.
She was, on the contrary, somewhat incensed at this handsome and
disdainful individual. A substratum of war stirred within her.
It struck her, and the idea caused her a wholly childish joy, that she
was going to take her revenge at last.
Knowing that she was beautiful, she was thoroughly conscious,
though in an indistinct fashion, that she possessed a weapon.
Women play with their beauty as children do with a knife.
They wound themselves.
The reader will recall Marius' hesitations, his palpitations,
his terrors. He remained on his bench and did not approach.
This vexed Cosette. One day, she said to Jean Valjean:
"Father, let us stroll about a little in that direction."
Seeing that Marius did not come to her, she went to him. In such cases,
all women resemble Mahomet. And then, strange to say, the first
symptom of true love in a young man is timidity; in a young girl it
is boldness. This is surprising, and yet nothing is more simple.
It is the two sexes tending to approach each other and assuming,
each the other's qualities.
That day, Cosette's glance drove Marius beside himself, and Marius'
glance set Cosette to trembling. Marius went away confident,
and Cosette uneasy. From that day forth, they adored each other.
The first thing that Cosette felt was a confused and profound melancholy.
It seemed to her that her soul had become black since the day before.
She no longer recognized it. The whiteness of soul in young girls,
which is composed of coldness and gayety, resembles snow. It melts
in love, which is its sun.
Cosette did not know what love was. She had never heard the word
uttered in its terrestrial sense. On the books of profane music
which entered the convent, amour (love) was replaced by tambour (drum)
or pandour. This created enigmas which exercised the imaginations
of the big girls, such as: Ah, how delightful is the drum! or,
Pity is not a pandour. But Cosette had left the convent too early
to have occupied herself much with the "drum." Therefore, she did
not know what name to give to what she now felt. Is any one
the less ill because one does not know the name of one's malady?
She loved with all the more passion because she loved ignorantly.
She did not know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing,
useful or dangerous, eternal or temporary, allowable or prohibited;
she loved. She would have been greatly astonished, had any
one said to her: "You do not sleep? But that is forbidden!
You do not eat? Why, that is very bad! You have oppressions
and palpitations of the heart? That must not be! You blush
and turn pale, when a certain being clad in black appears at
the end of a certain green walk? But that is abominable!"
She would not have understood, and she would have replied:
"What fault is there of mine in a matter in which I have no power
and of which I know nothing?"
It turned out that the love which presented itself was exactly
suited to the state of her soul. It was a sort of admiration at
a distance, a mute contemplation, the deification of a stranger.
It was the apparition of youth to youth, the dream of nights
become a reality yet remaining a dream, the longed-for phantom
realized and made flesh at last, but having as yet, neither name,
nor fault, nor spot, nor exigence, nor defect; in a word,
the distant lover who lingered in the ideal, a chimaera with a form.
Any nearer and more palpable meeting would have alarmed Cosette
at this first stage, when she was still half immersed in the
exaggerated mists of the cloister. She had all the fears of children
and all the fears of nuns combined. The spirit of the convent,
with which she had been permeated for the space of five years,
was still in the process of slow evaporation from her person,
and made everything tremble around her. In this situation he
was not a lover, he was not even an admirer, he was a vision.
She set herself to adoring Marius as something charming, luminous,
As extreme innocence borders on extreme coquetry, she smiled at him
with all frankness.
Every day, she looked forward to the hour for their walk with impatience,
she found Marius there, she felt herself unspeakably happy,
and thought in all sincerity that she was expressing her whole
thought when she said to Jean Valjean:--
"What a delicious garden that Luxembourg is!"
Marius and Cosette were in the dark as to one another. They did
not address each other, they did not salute each other, they did
not know each other; they saw each other; and like stars of heaven
which are separated by millions of leagues, they lived by gazing
at each other.
It was thus that Cosette gradually became a woman and developed,
beautiful and loving, with a consciousness of her beauty,
and in ignorance of her love. She was a coquette to boot through