It is not all in all sufficient to be wicked in order to prosper.
The cook-shop was in a bad way.
Thanks to the traveller's fifty-seven francs, Thenardier had been
able to avoid a protest and to honor his signature. On the following
month they were again in need of money. The woman took Cosette's
outfit to Paris, and pawned it at the pawnbroker's for sixty francs.
As soon as that sum was spent, the Thenardiers grew accustomed
to look on the little girl merely as a child whom they were caring
for out of charity; and they treated her accordingly. As she had
no longer any clothes, they dressed her in the cast-off petticoats
and chemises of the Thenardier brats; that is to say, in rags.
They fed her on what all the rest had left--a little better than the dog,
a little worse than the cat. Moreover, the cat and the dog were her
habitual table-companions; Cosette ate with them under the table,
from a wooden bowl similar to theirs.
The mother, who had established herself, as we shall see later on,
at M. sur M., wrote, or, more correctly, caused to be written,
a letter every month, that she might have news of her child.
The Thenardiers replied invariably, "Cosette is doing wonderfully well."
At the expiration of the first six months the mother sent seven
francs for the seventh month, and continued her remittances
with tolerable regularity from month to month. The year was not
completed when Thenardier said: "A fine favor she is doing us,
in sooth! What does she expect us to do with her seven francs?"
and he wrote to demand twelve francs. The mother, whom they had
persuaded into the belief that her child was happy, "and was coming
on well," submitted, and forwarded the twelve francs.
Certain natures cannot love on the one hand without hating on
the other. Mother Thenardier loved her two daughters passionately,
which caused her to hate the stranger.
It is sad to think that the love of a mother can possess
villainous aspects. Little as was the space occupied by Cosette,
it seemed to her as though it were taken from her own, and that
that little child diminished the air which her daughters breathed.
This woman, like many women of her sort, had a load of caresses
and a burden of blows and injuries to dispense each day.
If she had not had Cosette, it is certain that her daughters,
idolized as they were, would have received the whole of it;
but the stranger did them the service to divert the blows to herself.
Her daughters received nothing but caresses. Cosette could not make
a motion which did not draw down upon her head a heavy shower of
violent blows and unmerited chastisement. The sweet, feeble being,
who should not have understood anything of this world or of God,
incessantly punished, scolded, ill-used, beaten, and seeing beside
her two little creatures like herself, who lived in a ray of dawn!
Madame Thenardier was vicious with Cosette. Eponine and Azelma
were vicious. Children at that age are only copies of their mother.
The size is smaller; that is all.
A year passed; then another.
People in the village said:--
"Those Thenardiers are good people. They are not rich, and yet they
are bringing up a poor child who was abandoned on their hands!"
They thought that Cosette's mother had forgotten her.
In the meanwhile, Thenardier, having learned, it is impossible
to say by what obscure means, that the child was probably a bastard,
and that the mother could not acknowledge it, exacted fifteen francs
a month, saying that "the creature" was growing and "eating," and
threatening to send her away. "Let her not bother me," he exclaimed,
"or I'll fire her brat right into the middle of her secrets.
I must have an increase." The mother paid the fifteen francs.
From year to year the child grew, and so did her wretchedness.
As long as Cosette was little, she was the scape-goat of the
two other children; as soon as she began to develop a little,
that is to say, before she was even five years old, she became
the servant of the household.
Five years old! the reader will say; that is not probable.
Alas! it is true. Social suffering begins at all ages.
Have we not recently seen the trial of a man named Dumollard,
an orphan turned bandit, who, from the age of five, as the official
documents state, being alone in the world, "worked for his living
Cosette was made to run on errands, to sweep the rooms, the courtyard,
the street, to wash the dishes, to even carry burdens. The Thenardiers
considered themselves all the more authorized to behave in this manner,
since the mother, who was still at M. sur M., had become irregular
in her payments. Some months she was in arrears.
If this mother had returned to Montfermeil at the end of these three
years, she would not have recognized her child. Cosette, so pretty
and rosy on her arrival in that house, was now thin and pale.
She had an indescribably uneasy look. "The sly creature,"
said the Thenardiers.
Injustice had made her peevish, and misery had made her ugly.
Nothing remained to her except her beautiful eyes, which inspired
pain, because, large as they were, it seemed as though one beheld
in them a still larger amount of sadness.
It was a heart-breaking thing to see this poor child, not yet
six years old, shivering in the winter in her old rags of linen,
full of holes, sweeping the street before daylight, with an enormous
broom in her tiny red hands, and a tear in her great eyes.
She was called the Lark in the neighborhood. The populace, who are
fond of these figures of speech, had taken a fancy to bestow this
name on this trembling, frightened, and shivering little creature,
no bigger than a bird, who was awake every morning before any one
else in the house or the village, and was always in the street
or the fields before daybreak.
Only the little lark never sang.