BOOK NINTH.--SUPREME SHADOW, SUPREME DAWN
PITY FOR THE UNHAPPY, BUT INDULGENCE FOR THE HAPPY
It is a terrible thing to be happy! How content one is!
How all-sufficient one finds it! How, being in possession of the
false object of life, happiness, one forgets the true object, duty!
Let us say, however, that the reader would do wrong were he
to blame Marius.
Marius, as we have explained, before his marriage, had put no questions
to M. Fauchelevent, and, since that time, he had feared to put any to
Jean Valjean. He had regretted the promise into which he had allowed
himself to be drawn. He had often said to himself that he had done
wrong in making that concession to despair. He had confined himself
to gradually estranging Jean Valjean from his house and to effacing him,
as much as possible, from Cosette's mind. He had, in a manner,
always placed himself between Cosette and Jean Valjean, sure that,
in this way, she would not perceive nor think of the latter.
It was more than effacement, it was an eclipse.
Marius did what he considered necessary and just. He thought
that he had serious reasons which the reader has already seen,
and others which will be seen later on, for getting rid of Jean
Valjean without harshness, but without weakness.
Chance having ordained that he should encounter, in a case which he
had argued, a former employee of the Laffitte establishment, he had
acquired mysterious information, without seeking it, which he had
not been able, it is true, to probe, out of respect for the secret
which he had promised to guard, and out of consideration for Jean
Valjean's perilous position. He believed at that moment that he had
a grave duty to perform: the restitution of the six hundred thousand
francs to some one whom he sought with all possible discretion.
In the meanwhile, he abstained from touching that money.
As for Cosette, she had not been initiated into any of these secrets;
but it would be harsh to condemn her also.
There existed between Marius and her an all-powerful magnetism,
which caused her to do, instinctively and almost mechanically,
what Marius wished. She was conscious of Marius' will in the direction
of "Monsieur Jean," she conformed to it. Her husband had not been
obliged to say anything to her; she yielded to the vague but clear
pressure of his tacit intentions, and obeyed blindly. Her obedience
in this instance consisted in not remembering what Marius forgot.
She was not obliged to make any effort to accomplish this.
Without her knowing why herself, and without his having any cause
to accuse her of it, her soul had become so wholly her husband's
that that which was shrouded in gloom in Marius' mind became overcast
Let us not go too far, however; in what concerns Jean Valjean,
this forgetfulness and obliteration were merely superficial.
She was rather heedless than forgetful. At bottom, she was sincerely
attached to the man whom she had so long called her father;
but she loved her husband still more dearly. This was what had
somewhat disturbed the balance of her heart, which leaned to one
It sometimes happened that Cosette spoke of Jean Valjean and expressed
her surprise. Then Marius calmed her: "He is absent, I think.
Did not he say that he was setting out on a journey?"--"That is true,"
thought Cosette. "He had a habit of disappearing in this fashion.
But not for so long." Two or three times she despatched Nicolette
to inquire in the Rue de l'Homme Arme whether M. Jean had returned from
his journey. Jean Valjean caused the answer "no" to be given.
Cosette asked nothing more, since she had but one need on earth, Marius.
Let us also say that, on their side, Cosette and Marius had also
been absent. They had been to Vernon. Marius had taken Cosette
to his father's grave.
Marius gradually won Cosette away from Jean Valjean. Cosette allowed it.
Moreover that which is called, far too harshly in certain cases,
the ingratitude of children, is not always a thing so deserving
of reproach as it is supposed. It is the ingratitude of nature.
Nature, as we have elsewhere said, "looks before her." Nature divides
living beings into those who are arriving and those who are departing.
Those who are departing are turned towards the shadows, those who
are arriving towards the light. Hence a gulf which is fatal on
the part of the old, and involuntary on the part of the young.
This breach, at first insensible, increases slowly, like all separations
of branches. The boughs, without becoming detached from the trunk,
grow away from it. It is no fault of theirs. Youth goes where there
is joy, festivals, vivid lights, love. Old age goes towards the end.
They do not lose sight of each other, but there is no longer
a close connection. Young people feel the cooling off of life;
old people, that of the tomb. Let us not blame these poor children.