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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLes Miserables - Volume I - FANTINE - BOOK SECOND - THE FALL - Chapter III. The Heroism of Passive Obedience
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Les Miserables - Volume I - FANTINE - BOOK SECOND - THE FALL - Chapter III. The Heroism of Passive Obedience Post by :catbalou_tess Category :Long Stories Author :Victor Hugo Date :March 2011 Read :1295

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Les Miserables - Volume I - FANTINE - BOOK SECOND - THE FALL - Chapter III. The Heroism of Passive Obedience

The door opened.

It opened wide with a rapid movement, as though some one had given
it an energetic and resolute push.

A man entered.

We already know the man. It was the wayfarer whom we have seen
wandering about in search of shelter.

He entered, advanced a step, and halted, leaving the door open
behind him. He had his knapsack on his shoulders, his cudgel
in his hand, a rough, audacious, weary, and violent expression in
his eyes. The fire on the hearth lighted him up. He was hideous.
It was a sinister apparition.

Madame Magloire had not even the strength to utter a cry.
She trembled, and stood with her mouth wide open.

Mademoiselle Baptistine turned round, beheld the man entering,
and half started up in terror; then, turning her head by degrees
towards the fireplace again, she began to observe her brother,
and her face became once more profoundly calm and serene.

The Bishop fixed a tranquil eye on the man.

As he opened his mouth, doubtless to ask the new-comer what he desired,
the man rested both hands on his staff, directed his gaze at the old
man and the two women, and without waiting for the Bishop to speak,
he said, in a loud voice:--

"See here. My name is Jean Valjean. I am a convict from the galleys.
I have passed nineteen years in the galleys. I was liberated four
days ago, and am on my way to Pontarlier, which is my destination.
I have been walking for four days since I left Toulon. I have
travelled a dozen leagues to-day on foot. This evening, when I
arrived in these parts, I went to an inn, and they turned me out,
because of my yellow passport, which I had shown at the town-hall.
I had to do it. I went to an inn. They said to me, `Be off,'
at both places. No one would take me. I went to the prison;
the jailer would not admit me. I went into a dog's kennel;
the dog bit me and chased me off, as though he had been a man.
One would have said that he knew who I was. I went into the fields,
intending to sleep in the open air, beneath the stars. There were
no stars. I thought it was going to rain, and I re-entered
the town, to seek the recess of a doorway. Yonder, in the square,
I meant to sleep on a stone bench. A good woman pointed out your
house to me, and said to me, `Knock there!' I have knocked.
What is this place? Do you keep an inn? I have money--savings.
One hundred and nine francs fifteen sous, which I earned
in the galleys by my labor, in the course of nineteen years.
I will pay. What is that to me? I have money. I am very weary;
twelve leagues on foot; I am very hungry. Are you willing that I
should remain?"

"Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "you will set another place."

The man advanced three paces, and approached the lamp which was on
the table. "Stop," he resumed, as though he had not quite understood;
"that's not it. Did you hear? I am a galley-slave; a convict.
I come from the galleys." He drew from his pocket a large sheet
of yellow paper, which he unfolded. "Here's my passport. Yellow,
as you see. This serves to expel me from every place where I go.
Will you read it? I know how to read. I learned in the galleys.
There is a school there for those who choose to learn. Hold, this is
what they put on this passport: `Jean Valjean, discharged convict,
native of'--that is nothing to you--`has been nineteen years
in the galleys: five years for house-breaking and burglary;
fourteen years for having attempted to escape on four occasions.
He is a very dangerous man.' There! Every one has cast me out.
Are you willing to receive me? Is this an inn? Will you give me
something to eat and a bed? Have you a stable?"

"Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "you will put white sheets on
the bed in the alcove." We have already explained the character
of the two women's obedience.

Madame Magloire retired to execute these orders.

The Bishop turned to the man.

"Sit down, sir, and warm yourself. We are going to sup
in a few moments, and your bed will be prepared while you are supping."

At this point the man suddenly comprehended. The expression
of his face, up to that time sombre and harsh, bore the imprint
of stupefaction, of doubt, of joy, and became extraordinary.
He began stammering like a crazy man:--

"Really? What! You will keep me? You do not drive me forth?
A convict! You call me sir! You do not address me as thou?
`Get out of here, you dog!' is what people always say to me. I felt sure
that you would expel me, so I told you at once who I am. Oh, what a
good woman that was who directed me hither! I am going to sup!
A bed with a mattress and sheets, like the rest of the world! a bed!
It is nineteen years since I have slept in a bed! You actually do
not want me to go! You are good people. Besides, I have money.
I will pay well. Pardon me, monsieur the inn-keeper, but what is
your name? I will pay anything you ask. You are a fine man.
You are an inn-keeper, are you not?"

"I am," replied the Bishop, "a priest who lives here."

"A priest!" said the man. "Oh, what a fine priest! Then you are
not going to demand any money of me? You are the cure, are you
not? the cure of this big church? Well! I am a fool, truly!
I had not perceived your skull-cap."

As he spoke, he deposited his knapsack and his cudgel in a corner,
replaced his passport in his pocket, and seated himself.
Mademoiselle Baptistine gazed mildly at him. He continued:

"You are humane, Monsieur le Cure; you have not scorned me.
A good priest is a very good thing. Then you do not require me
to pay?"

"No," said the Bishop; "keep your money. How much have you?
Did you not tell me one hundred and nine francs?"

"And fifteen sous," added the man.

"One hundred and nine francs fifteen sous. And how long did it
take you to earn that?"

"Nineteen years."

"Nineteen years!"

The Bishop sighed deeply.

The man continued: "I have still the whole of my money.
In four days I have spent only twenty-five sous, which I earned
by helping unload some wagons at Grasse. Since you are an abbe,
I will tell you that we had a chaplain in the galleys. And one day
I saw a bishop there. Monseigneur is what they call him. He was
the Bishop of Majore at Marseilles. He is the cure who rules over
the other cures, you understand. Pardon me, I say that very badly;
but it is such a far-off thing to me! You understand what we are!
He said mass in the middle of the galleys, on an altar. He had a
pointed thing, made of gold, on his head; it glittered in the bright
light of midday. We were all ranged in lines on the three sides,
with cannons with lighted matches facing us. We could not see
very well. He spoke; but he was too far off, and we did not hear.
That is what a bishop is like."

While he was speaking, the Bishop had gone and shut the door,
which had remained wide open.

Madame Magloire returned. She brought a silver fork and spoon,
which she placed on the table.

"Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "place those things as near
the fire as possible." And turning to his guest: "The night wind
is harsh on the Alps. You must be cold, sir."

Each time that he uttered the word sir, in his voice which was so gently
grave and polished, the man's face lighted up. Monsieur to a convict
is like a glass of water to one of the shipwrecked of the Medusa.
Ignominy thirsts for consideration.

"This lamp gives a very bad light," said the Bishop.

Madame Magloire understood him, and went to get the two silver
candlesticks from the chimney-piece in Monseigneur's bed-chamber,
and placed them, lighted, on the table.

"Monsieur le Cure," said the man, "you are good; you do not despise me.
You receive me into your house. You light your candles for me.
Yet I have not concealed from you whence I come and that I am an
unfortunate man."

The Bishop, who was sitting close to him, gently touched his hand.
"You could not help telling me who you were. This is not my house;
it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him
who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief.
You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome.
And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house.
No one is at home here, except the man who needs a refuge.
I say to you, who are passing by, that you are much more at home
here than I am myself. Everything here is yours. What need have I
to know your name? Besides, before you told me you had one which
I knew."

The man opened his eyes in astonishment.

"Really? You knew what I was called?"

"Yes," replied the Bishop, "you are called my brother."

"Stop, Monsieur le Cure," exclaimed the man. "I was very hungry
when I entered here; but you are so good, that I no longer know
what has happened to me."

The Bishop looked at him, and said,--

"You have suffered much?"

"Oh, the red coat, the ball on the ankle, a plank to sleep on,
heat, cold, toil, the convicts, the thrashings, the double
chain for nothing, the cell for one word; even sick and in bed,
still the chain! Dogs, dogs are happier! Nineteen years! I am
forty-six. Now there is the yellow passport. That is what it is like."

"Yes," resumed the Bishop, "you have come from a very sad place.
Listen. There will be more joy in heaven over the tear-bathed face
of a repentant sinner than over the white robes of a hundred just men.
If you emerge from that sad place with thoughts of hatred and of wrath
against mankind, you are deserving of pity; if you emerge with thoughts
of good-will and of peace, you are more worthy than any one of us."

In the meantime, Madame Magloire had served supper: soup, made with
water, oil, bread, and salt; a little bacon, a bit of mutton, figs, a
fresh cheese, and a large loaf of rye bread. She had, of her own accord,
added to the Bishop's ordinary fare a bottle of his old Mauves wine.

The Bishop's face at once assumed that expression of gayety which is
peculiar to hospitable natures. "To table!" he cried vivaciously.
As was his custom when a stranger supped with him, he made the man
sit on his right. Mademoiselle Baptistine, perfectly peaceable
and natural, took her seat at his left.

The Bishop asked a blessing; then helped the soup himself,
according to his custom. The man began to eat with avidity.

All at once the Bishop said: "It strikes me there is something
missing on this table."

Madame Magloire had, in fact, only placed the three sets of forks
and spoons which were absolutely necessary. Now, it was the usage
of the house, when the Bishop had any one to supper, to lay out the
whole six sets of silver on the table-cloth--an innocent ostentation.
This graceful semblance of luxury was a kind of child's play,
which was full of charm in that gentle and severe household,
which raised poverty into dignity.

Madame Magloire understood the remark, went out without saying a word,
and a moment later the three sets of silver forks and spoons demanded
by the Bishop were glittering upon the cloth, symmetrically arranged
before the three persons seated at the table.

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Now, in order to convey an idea of what passed at that table,we cannot do better than to transcribe here a passage from oneof Mademoiselle Baptistine's letters to Madame Boischevron,wherein the conversation between the convict and the Bishopis described with ingenious minuteness.". . . This man paid no attention to any one. He ate with thevoracity of a starving man. However, after supper he said:"`Monsieur le Cure of the good God, all this is far too good for me;but I must say that the carters who would not allow me to eat withthem keep a better table than you

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That evening, the Bishop of D----, after his promenade through the town,remained shut up rather late in his room. He was busy over a greatwork on Duties, which was never completed, unfortunately. He wascarefully compiling everything that the Fathers and the doctorshave said on this important subject. His book was divided intotwo parts: firstly, the duties of all; secondly, the dutiesof each individual, according to the class to which he belongs. The duties of all are the great duties. There are four of these. Saint Matthew points them out: duties towards God (Matt. vi.);duties towards