THE LARK'S MEADOW
Marius had witnessed the unexpected termination of the ambush upon
whose track he had set Javert; but Javert had no sooner quitted
the building, bearing off his prisoners in three hackney-coaches,
than Marius also glided out of the house. It was only nine
o'clock in the evening. Marius betook himself to Courfeyrac.
Courfeyrac was no longer the imperturbable inhabitant of the
Latin Quarter, he had gone to live in the Rue de la Verrerie "for
political reasons"; this quarter was one where, at that epoch,
insurrection liked to install itself. Marius said to Courfeyrac:
"I have come to sleep with you." Courfeyrac dragged a mattress off
his bed, which was furnished with two, spread it out on the floor,
and said: "There."
At seven o'clock on the following morning, Marius returned to
the hovel, paid the quarter's rent which he owed to Ma'am Bougon,
had his books, his bed, his table, his commode, and his two chairs
loaded on a hand-cart and went off without leaving his address,
so that when Javert returned in the course of the morning,
for the purpose of questioning Marius as to the events of the
preceding evening, he found only Ma'am Bougon, who answered:
Ma'am Bougon was convinced that Marius was to some extent an
accomplice of the robbers who had been seized the night before.
"Who would ever have said it?" she exclaimed to the portresses
of the quarter, "a young man like that, who had the air of a girl!"
Marius had two reasons for this prompt change of residence.
The first was, that he now had a horror of that house, where he
had beheld, so close at hand, and in its most repulsive and most
ferocious development, a social deformity which is, perhaps,
even more terrible than the wicked rich man, the wicked poor man.
The second was, that he did not wish to figure in the lawsuit
which would insue in all probability, and be brought in to testify
Javert thought that the young man, whose name he had forgotten,
was afraid, and had fled, or perhaps, had not even returned home
at the time of the ambush; he made some efforts to find him,
however, but without success.
A month passed, then another. Marius was still with Courfeyrac.
He had learned from a young licentiate in law, an habitual frequenter
of the courts, that Thenardier was in close confinement. Every Monday,
Marius had five francs handed in to the clerk's office of La Force
As Marius had no longer any money, he borrowed the five francs
from Courfeyrac. It was the first time in his life that he had ever
borrowed money. These periodical five francs were a double riddle
to Courfeyrac who lent and to Thenardier who received them. "To whom
can they go?" thought Courfeyrac. "Whence can this come to me?"
Thenardier asked himself.
Moreover, Marius was heart-broken. Everything had plunged through
a trap-door once more. He no longer saw anything before him;
his life was again buried in mystery where he wandered fumblingly.
He had for a moment beheld very close at hand, in that obscurity,
the young girl whom he loved, the old man who seemed to be her father,
those unknown beings, who were his only interest and his only hope
in this world; and, at the very moment when he thought himself on
the point of grasping them, a gust had swept all these shadows away.
Not a spark of certainty and truth had been emitted even in the
most terrible of collisions. No conjecture was possible. He no
longer knew even the name that he thought he knew. It certainly
was not Ursule. And the Lark was a nickname. And what was he to
think of the old man? Was he actually in hiding from the police?
The white-haired workman whom Marius had encountered in the vicinity
of the Invalides recurred to his mind. It now seemed probable that
that workingman and M. Leblanc were one and the same person. So he
disguised himself? That man had his heroic and his equivocal sides.
Why had he not called for help? Why had he fled? Was he,
or was he not, the father of the young girl? Was he, in short,
the man whom Thenardier thought that he recognized? Thenardier might
have been mistaken. These formed so many insoluble problems.
All this, it is true, detracted nothing from the angelic charms
of the young girl of the Luxembourg. Heart-rending distress;
Marius bore a passion in his heart, and night over his eyes.
He was thrust onward, he was drawn, and he could not stir.
All had vanished, save love. Of love itself he had lost the instincts
and the sudden illuminations. Ordinarily, this flame which burns
us lights us also a little, and casts some useful gleams without.
But Marius no longer even heard these mute counsels of passion.
He never said to himself: "What if I were to go to such a place?
What if I were to try such and such a thing?" The girl whom he could
no longer call Ursule was evidently somewhere; nothing warned Marius
in what direction he should seek her. His whole life was now summed
up in two words; absolute uncertainty within an impenetrable fog.
To see her once again; he still aspired to this, but he no longer
To crown all, his poverty had returned. He felt that icy breath
close to him, on his heels. In the midst of his torments, and long
before this, he had discontinued his work, and nothing is more
dangerous than discontinued work; it is a habit which vanishes.
A habit which is easy to get rid of, and difficult to take up again.
A certain amount of dreaming is good, like a narcotic in discreet doses.
It lulls to sleep the fevers of the mind at labor, which are
sometimes severe, and produces in the spirit a soft and fresh
vapor which corrects the over-harsh contours of pure thought,
fills in gaps here and there, binds together and rounds off the
angles of the ideas. But too much dreaming sinks and drowns.
Woe to the brain-worker who allows himself to fall entirely from
thought into revery! He thinks that he can re-ascend with equal ease,
and he tells himself that, after all, it is the same thing. Error!
Thought is the toil of the intelligence, revery its voluptuousness.
To replace thought with revery is to confound a poison with a food.
Marius had begun in that way, as the reader will remember.
Passion had supervened and had finished the work of precipitating
him into chimaeras without object or bottom. One no longer emerges
from one's self except for the purpose of going off to dream.
Idle production. Tumultuous and stagnant gulf. And, in proportion
as labor diminishes, needs increase. This is a law. Man, in a state
of revery, is generally prodigal and slack; the unstrung mind cannot
hold life within close bounds.
There is, in that mode of life, good mingled with evil,
for if enervation is baleful, generosity is good and healthful.
But the poor man who is generous and noble, and who does not work,
is lost. Resources are exhausted, needs crop up.
Fatal declivity down which the most honest and the firmest as well
as the most feeble and most vicious are drawn, and which ends
in one of two holds, suicide or crime.
By dint of going outdoors to think, the day comes when one goes
out to throw one's self in the water.
Excess of revery breeds men like Escousse and Lebras.
Marius was descending this declivity at a slow pace, with his eyes
fixed on the girl whom he no longer saw. What we have just written
seems strange, and yet it is true. The memory of an absent being
kindles in the darkness of the heart; the more it has disappeared,
the more it beams; the gloomy and despairing soul sees this light
on its horizon; the star of the inner night. She--that was Marius'
whole thought. He meditated of nothing else; he was confusedly
conscious that his old coat was becoming an impossible coat, and that
his new coat was growing old, that his shirts were wearing out,
that his hat was wearing out, that his boots were giving out,
and he said to himself: "If I could but see her once again before
One sweet idea alone was left to him, that she had loved him,
that her glance had told him so, that she did not know his name,
but that she did know his soul, and that, wherever she was,
however mysterious the place, she still loved him perhaps.
Who knows whether she were not thinking of him as he was thinking
of her? Sometimes, in those inexplicable hours such as are experienced
by every heart that loves, though he had no reasons for anything but
sadness and yet felt an obscure quiver of joy, he said to himself:
"It is her thoughts that are coming to me!" Then he added:
"Perhaps my thoughts reach her also."
This illusion, at which he shook his head a moment later,
was sufficient, nevertheless, to throw beams, which at times
resembled hope, into his soul. From time to time, especially at
that evening hour which is the most depressing to even the dreamy,
he allowed the purest, the most impersonal, the most ideal
of the reveries which filled his brain, to fall upon a notebook
which contained nothing else. He called this "writing to her."
It must not be supposed that his reason was deranged.
Quite the contrary. He had lost the faculty of working and of
moving firmly towards any fixed goal, but he was endowed with
more clear-sightedness and rectitude than ever. Marius surveyed
by a calm and real, although peculiar light, what passed before
his eyes, even the most indifferent deeds and men; he pronounced
a just criticism on everything with a sort of honest dejection
and candid disinterestedness. His judgment, which was almost
wholly disassociated from hope, held itself aloof and soared on high.
In this state of mind nothing escaped him, nothing deceived him,
and every moment he was discovering the foundation of life,
of humanity, and of destiny. Happy, even in the midst of anguish,
is he to whom God has given a soul worthy of love and of unhappiness!
He who has not viewed the things of this world and the heart of man
under this double light has seen nothing and knows nothing of
The soul which loves and suffers is in a state of sublimity.
However, day followed day, and nothing new presented itself.
It merely seemed to him, that the sombre space which still remained
to be traversed by him was growing shorter with every instant.
He thought that he already distinctly perceived the brink of the
"What!" he repeated to himself, "shall I not see her again before then!"
When you have ascended the Rue Saint-Jacques, left the barrier on
one side and followed the old inner boulevard for some distance,
you reach the Rue de la Sante, then the Glaciere, and, a little
while before arriving at the little river of the Gobelins, you come
to a sort of field which is the only spot in the long and monotonous
chain of the boulevards of Paris, where Ruysdeel would be tempted
to sit down.
There is something indescribable there which exhales grace, a green
meadow traversed by tightly stretched lines, from which flutter
rags drying in the wind, and an old market-gardener's house,
built in the time of Louis XIII., with its great roof oddly
pierced with dormer windows, dilapidated palisades, a little
water amid poplar-trees, women, voices, laughter; on the horizon
the Pantheon, the pole of the Deaf-Mutes, the Val-de-Grace, black,
squat, fantastic, amusing, magnificent, and in the background,
the severe square crests of the towers of Notre Dame.
As the place is worth looking at, no one goes thither. Hardly one
cart or wagoner passes in a quarter of an hour.
It chanced that Marius' solitary strolls led him to this plot of ground,
near the water. That day, there was a rarity on the boulevard,
a passer-by. Marius, vaguely impressed with the almost savage beauty
of the place, asked this passer-by:--"What is the name of this spot?"
The person replied: "It is the Lark's meadow."
And he added: "It was here that Ulbach killed the shepherdess
But after the word "Lark" Marius heard nothing more. These sudden
congealments in the state of revery, which a single word suffices
to evoke, do occur. The entire thought is abruptly condensed around
an idea, and it is no longer capable of perceiving anything else.
The Lark was the appellation which had replaced Ursule in the depths
of Marius' melancholy.--"Stop," said he with a sort of unreasoning
stupor peculiar to these mysterious asides, "this is her meadow.
I shall know where she lives now."
It was absurd, but irresistible.
And every day he returned to that meadow of the Lark.