On the day of the sixth of June, a battue of the sewers had been ordered.
It was feared that the vanquished might have taken to them for refuge,
and Prefect Gisquet was to search occult Paris while General
Bugeaud swept public Paris; a double and connected operation
which exacted a double strategy on the part of the public force,
represented above by the army and below by the police. Three squads
of agents and sewermen explored the subterranean drain of Paris,
the first on the right bank, the second on the left bank, the third
in the city. The agents of police were armed with carabines,
with bludgeons, swords and poignards.
That which was directed at Jean Valjean at that moment, was the
lantern of the patrol of the right bank.
This patrol had just visited the curving gallery and the three
blind alleys which lie beneath the Rue du Cadran. While they were
passing their lantern through the depths of these blind alleys,
Jean Valjean had encountered on his path the entrance to the gallery,
had perceived that it was narrower than the principal passage
and had not penetrated thither. He had passed on. The police,
on emerging from the gallery du Cadran, had fancied that they
heard the sound of footsteps in the direction of the belt sewer.
They were, in fact, the steps of Jean Valjean. The sergeant in
command of the patrol had raised his lantern, and the squad had begun
to gaze into the mist in the direction whence the sound proceeded.
This was an indescribable moment for Jean Valjean.
Happily, if he saw the lantern well, the lantern saw him but ill.
It was light and he was shadow. He was very far off, and mingled
with the darkness of the place. He hugged the wall and halted.
Moreover, he did not understand what it was that was moving behind him.
The lack of sleep and food, and his emotions had caused him also to
pass into the state of a visionary. He beheld a gleam, and around
that gleam, forms. What was it? He did not comprehend.
Jean Valjean having paused, the sound ceased.
The men of the patrol listened, and heard nothing, they looked
and saw nothing. They held a consultation.
There existed at that epoch at this point of the Montmartre
sewer a sort of cross-roads called de service, which was
afterwards suppressed, on account of the little interior lake which
formed there, swallowing up the torrent of rain in heavy storms.
The patrol could form a cluster in this open space. Jean Valjean
saw these spectres form a sort of circle. These bull-dogs'
heads approached each other closely and whispered together.
The result of this council held by the watch dogs was, that they
had been mistaken, that there had been no noise, that it was useless
to get entangled in the belt sewer, that it would only be a waste
of time, but that they ought to hasten towards Saint-Merry;
that if there was anything to do, and any "bousingot" to track out,
it was in that quarter.
From time to time, parties re-sole their old insults. In 1832,
the word bousingot formed the interim between the word jacobin,
which had become obsolete, and the word demagogue which has since
rendered such excellent service.
The sergeant gave orders to turn to the left, towards the watershed
of the Seine.
If it had occurred to them to separate into two squads, and to go
in both directions, Jean Valjean would have been captured.
All hung on that thread. It is probable that the instructions
of the prefecture, foreseeing a possibility of combat and
insurgents in force, had forbidden the patrol to part company.
The patrol resumed its march, leaving Jean Valjean behind it.
Of all this movement, Jean Valjean perceived nothing, except the
eclipse of the lantern which suddenly wheeled round.
Before taking his departure, the Sergeant, in order to acquit
his policeman's conscience, discharged his gun in the direction of
Jean Valjean. The detonation rolled from echo to echo in the crypt,
like the rumbling of that titanic entrail. A bit of plaster which
fell into the stream and splashed up the water a few paces away from
Jean Valjean, warned him that the ball had struck the arch over his head.
Slow and measured steps resounded for some time on the timber work,
gradually dying away as they retreated to a greater distance;
the group of black forms vanished, a glimmer of light oscillated
and floated, communicating to the vault a reddish glow which grew
fainter, then disappeared; the silence became profound once more,
the obscurity became complete, blindness and deafness resumed
possession of the shadows; and Jean Valjean, not daring to stir as yet,
remained for a long time leaning with his back against the wall,
with straining ears, and dilated pupils, watching the disappearance
of that phantom patrol.