Victor Hugo – "An Apparition to Marius"
Some days after this visit of a "spirit" to Farmer Mabeuf, one morning,—it was on a Monday, the day when Marius borrowed the hundred-sou piece from Courfeyrac for Thenardier—Marius had put this coin in his pocket, and before carrying it to the clerk's office, he had gone "to take a little stroll," in the hope that this would make him work on his return. It was always thus, however. As soon as he rose, he seated himself before a book and a sheet of paper in order to scribble some translation; his task at that epoch consisted in turning into French a celebrated quarrel between Germans, the Gans and Savigny controversy; he took Savigny, he took Gans, read four lines, tried to write one, could not, saw a star between him and his paper, and rose from his chair, saying: "I shall go out. That will put me in spirits."
And off he went to the Lark's meadow.
There he beheld more than ever the star, and less than ever Savigny and Gans.
He returned home, tried to take up his work again, and did not succeed; there was no means of re-knotting a single one of the threads which were broken in his brain; then he said to himself: "I will not go out to-morrow. It prevents my working." And he went out every day.
He lived in the Lark's meadow more than in Courfeyrac's lodgings. That was his real address: Boulevard de la Santé, at the seventh tree from the Rue Croulebarbe.
That morning he had quitted the seventh tree and had seated himself on the parapet of the River des Gobelins. A cheerful sunlight penetrated the freshly unfolded and luminous leaves.
He was dreaming of "Her." And his meditation turning to a reproach, fell back upon himself; he reflected dolefully on his idleness, his paralysis of soul, which was gaining on him, and of that night which was growing more dense every moment before him, to such a point that he no longer even saw the sun.
Nevertheless, athwart this painful extrication of indistinct ideas which was not even a monologue, so feeble had action become in him, and he had no longer the force to care to despair, athwart this melancholy absorption, sensations from without did reach him. He heard behind him, beneath him, on both banks of the river, the laundresses of the Gobelins beating their linen, and above his head, the birds chattering and singing in the elm-trees. On the one hand, the sound of liberty, the careless happiness of the leisure which has wings; on the other, the sound of toil. What caused him to meditate deeply, and almost reflect, were two cheerful sounds.
All at once, in the midst of his dejected ecstasy, he heard a familiar voice saying:—
"Come! Here he is!"
He raised his eyes, and recognized that wretched child who had come to him one morning, the elder of the Thenardier daughters, Eponine; he knew her name now. Strange to say, she had grown poorer and prettier, two steps which it had not seemed within her power to take. She had accomplished a double progress, towards the light and towards distress. She was barefooted and in rags, as on the day when she had so resolutely entered his chamber, only her rags were two months older now, the holes were larger, the tatters more sordid. It was the same harsh voice, the same brow dimmed and wrinkled with tan, the same free, wild, and vacillating glance. She had besides, more than formerly, in her face that indescribably terrified and lamentable something which sojourn in a prison adds to wretchedness.
She had bits of straw and hay in her hair, not like Ophelia through having gone mad from the contagion of Hamlet's madness, but because she had slept in the loft of some stable.
And in spite of it all, she was beautiful. What a star art thou, O youth!
In the meantime, she had halted in front of Marius with a trace of joy in her livid countenance, and something which resembled a smile.
She stood for several moments as though incapable of speech.
"So I have met you at last!" she said at length. "Father Mabeuf was right, it was on this boulevard! How I have hunted for you! If you only knew! Do you know? I have been in the jug. A fortnight! They let me out! seeing that there was nothing against me, and that, moreover, I had not reached years of discretion. I lack two months of it. Oh! how I have hunted for you! These six weeks! So you don't live down there any more?"
"No," said Marius.
"Ah! I understand. Because of that affair. Those take-downs are disagreeable. You cleared out. Come now! Why do you wear old hats like this! A young man like you ought to have fine clothes. Do you know, Monsieur Marius, Father Mabeuf calls you Baron Marius, I don't know what. It isn't true that you are a baron? Barons are old fellows, they go to the Luxembourg, in front of the chateau, where there is the most sun, and they read the Quotidienne for a sou. I once carried a letter to a baron of that sort. He was over a hundred years old. Say, where do you live now?"
Marius made no reply.
"Ah!" she went on, "you have a hole in your shirt. I must sew it up for you."
She resumed with an expression which gradually clouded over:—
"You don't seem glad to see me."
Marius held his peace; she remained silent for a moment, then exclaimed:—
"But if I choose, nevertheless, I could force you to look glad!"
"What?" demanded Marius. "What do you mean?"
"Ah! you used to call me thou," she retorted.
"Well, then, what dost thou mean?"
She bit her lips; she seemed to hesitate, as though a prey to some sort of inward conflict. At last she appeared to come to a decision.
"So much the worse, I don't care. You have a melancholy air, I want you to be pleased. Only promise me that you will smile. I want to see you smile and hear you say: 'Ah, well, that's good.' Poor Mr. Marius! you know? You promised me that you would give me anything I like—"
"Yes! Only speak!"
She looked Marius full in the eye, and said:—
"I have the address."
Marius turned pale. All the blood flowed back to his heart.
"The address that you asked me to get!"
She added, as though with an effort:—
"The address—you know very well!"
"Yes!" stammered Marius.
"Of that young lady."
This word uttered, she sighed deeply.
Marius sprang from the parapet on which he had been sitting and seized her hand distractedly.
"Oh! Well! lead me thither! Tell me! Ask of me anything you wish! Where is it?"
"Come with me," she responded. "I don't know the street or number very well; it is in quite the other direction from here, but I know the house well, I will take you to it."
She withdrew her hand and went on, in a tone which could have rent the heart of an observer, but which did not even graze Marius in his intoxicated and ecstatic state:—
"Oh! how glad you are!"
A cloud swept across Marius' brow. He seized Eponine by the arm:—
"Swear one thing to me!"
"Swear!" said she, "what does that mean? Come! You want me to swear?"
And she laughed.
"Your father! promise me, Eponine! Swear to me that you will not give this address to your father!"
She turned to him with a stupefied air.
"Eponine! How do you know that my name is Eponine?"
"Promise what I tell you!"
But she did not seem to hear him.
"That's nice! You have called me Eponine!"
Marius grasped both her arms at once.
"But answer me, in the name of Heaven! pay attention to what I am saying to you, swear to me that you will not tell your father this address that you know!"
"My father!" said she. "Ah yes, my father! Be at ease. He's in close confinement. Besides, what do I care for my father!"
"But you do not promise me!" exclaimed Marius.
"Let go of me!" she said, bursting into a laugh, "how you do shake me! Yes! Yes! I promise that! I swear that to you! What is that to me? I will not tell my father the address. There! Is that right? Is that it?"
"Nor to any one?" said Marius.
"Nor to any one."
"Now," resumed Marius, "take me there."
"Come along. Ah! how pleased he is!" said she.
After a few steps she halted.
"You are following me too closely, Monsieur Marius. Let me go on ahead, and follow me so, without seeming to do it. A nice young man like you must not be seen with a woman like me."
No tongue can express all that lay in that word, woman, thus pronounced by that child.
She proceeded a dozen paces and then halted once more; Marius joined her. She addressed him sideways, and without turning towards him:—
"By the way, you know that you promised me something?"
Marius fumbled in his pocket. All that he owned in the world was the five francs intended for Thenardier the father. He took them and laid them in Eponine's hand.
She opened her fingers and let the coin fall to the ground, and gazed at him with a gloomy air.
"I don't want your money," said she.
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