Victor Hugo – "A Successful Interrogatory"
An hour later, in the darkness of night, two men and a child presented themselves at No. 62 Rue Petit-Picpus. The elder of the men lifted the knocker and rapped.
They were Fauchelevent, Jean Valjean, and Cosette.
The two old men had gone to fetch Cosette from the fruiterer's in the Rue du Chemin-Vert, where Fauchelevent had deposited her on the preceding day. Cosette had passed these twenty-four hours trembling silently and understanding nothing. She trembled to such a degree that she wept. She had neither eaten nor slept. The worthy fruit-seller had plied her with a hundred questions, without obtaining any other reply than a melancholy and unvarying gaze. Cosette had betrayed nothing of what she had seen and heard during the last two days. She divined that they were passing through a crisis. She was deeply conscious that it was necessary to "be good." Who has not experienced the sovereign power of those two words, pronounced with a certain accent in the ear of a terrified little being: Say nothing! Fear is mute. Moreover, no one guards a secret like a child.
But when, at the expiration of these lugubrious twenty-four hours, she beheld Jean Valjean again, she gave vent to such a cry of joy, that any thoughtful person who had chanced to hear that cry, would have guessed that it issued from an abyss.
Fauchelevent belonged to the convent and knew the pass-words. All the doors opened.
Thus was solved the double and alarming problem of how to get out and how to get in.
The porter, who had received his instructions, opened the little servant's door which connected the courtyard with the garden, and which could still be seen from the street twenty years ago, in the wall at the bottom of the court, which faced the carriage entrance.
The porter admitted all three of them through this door, and from that point they reached the inner, reserved parlor where Fauchelevent, on the preceding day, had received his orders from the prioress.
The prioress, rosary in hand, was waiting for them. A vocal mother, with her veil lowered, stood beside her.
A discreet candle lighted, one might almost say, made a show of lighting the parlor.
The prioress passed Jean Valjean in review. There is nothing which examines like a downcast eye.
Then she questioned him:—
"You are the brother?"
"Yes, reverend Mother," replied Fauchelevent.
"What is your name?"
He really had had a brother named Ultime, who was dead.
"Where do you come from?"
"From Picquigny, near Amiens."
"What is your age?"
"What is your profession?"
"Are you a good Christian?"
"Every one is in the family."
"Is this your little girl?"
"Yes, reverend Mother."
"You are her father?"
The vocal mother said to the prioress in a low voice
"He answers well."
Jean Valjean had not uttered a single word.
The prioress looked attentively at Cosette, and said half aloud to the vocal mother:—
"She will grow up ugly."
The two mothers consulted for a few moments in very low tones in the corner of the parlor, then the prioress turned round and said:—
"Father Fauvent, you will get another knee-cap with a bell. Two will be required now."
On the following day, therefore, two bells were audible in the garden, and the nuns could not resist the temptation to raise the corner of their veils. At the extreme end of the garden, under the trees, two men, Fauvent and another man, were visible as they dug side by side. An enormous event. Their silence was broken to the extent of saying to each other: "He is an assistant gardener."
The vocal mothers added: "He is a brother of Father Fauvent."
Jean Valjean was, in fact, regularly installed; he had his belled knee-cap; henceforth he was official. His name was Ultime Fauchelevent.
The most powerful determining cause of his admission had been the prioress's observation upon Cosette: "She will grow up ugly."
The prioress, that pronounced prognosticator, immediately took a fancy to Cosette and gave her a place in the school as a charity pupil.
There is nothing that is not strictly logical about this.
It is in vain that mirrors are banished from the convent, women are conscious of their faces; now, girls who are conscious of their beauty do not easily become nuns; the vocation being voluntary in inverse proportion to their good looks, more is to be hoped from the ugly than from the pretty. Hence a lively taste for plain girls.
The whole of this adventure increased the importance of good, old Fauchelevent; he won a triple success; in the eyes of Jean Valjean, whom he had saved and sheltered; in those of grave-digger Gribier, who said to himself: "He spared me that fine"; with the convent, which, being enabled, thanks to him, to retain the coffin of Mother Crucifixion under the altar, eluded Caesar and satisfied God. There was a coffin containing a body in the Petit-Picpus, and a coffin without a body in the Vaugirard cemetery, public order had no doubt been deeply disturbed thereby, but no one was aware of it.
As for the convent, its gratitude to Fauchelevent was very great. Fauchelevent became the best of servitors and the most precious of gardeners. Upon the occasion of the archbishop's next visit, the prioress recounted the affair to his Grace, making something of a confession at the same time, and yet boasting of her deed. On leaving the convent, the archbishop mentioned it with approval, and in a whisper to M. de Latil, Monsieur's confessor, afterwards Archbishop of Reims and Cardinal. This admiration for Fauchelevent became widespread, for it made its way to Rome. We have seen a note addressed by the then reigning Pope, Leo XII., to one of his relatives, a Monsignor in the Nuncio's establishment in Paris, and bearing, like himself, the name of Della Genga; it contained these lines: "It appears that there is in a convent in Paris an excellent gardener, who is also a holy man, named Fauvent." Nothing of this triumph reached Fauchelevent in his hut; he went on grafting, weeding, and covering up his melon beds, without in the least suspecting his excellences and his sanctity. Neither did he suspect his glory, any more than a Durham or Surrey bull whose portrait is published in the London Illustrated News, with this inscription: "Bull which carried off the prize at the Cattle Show."
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