The grave-digger, overwhelmed with gratitude, shook his hand and set off on a run.
When the man had disappeared in the thicket, Fauchelevent listened until he heard his footsteps die away in the distance, then he leaned over the grave, and said in a low tone:—
There was no reply.
Fauchelevent was seized with a shudder. He tumbled rather than climbed into the grave, flung himself on the head of the coffin and cried:—
“Are you there?”
Silence in the coffin.
Fauchelevent, hardly able to draw his breath for trembling, seized his cold chisel and his hammer, and pried up the coffin lid.
Jean Valjean’s face appeared in the twilight; it was pale and his eyes were closed.
Fauchelevent’s hair rose upright on his head, he sprang to his feet, then fell back against the side of the grave, ready to swoon on the coffin. He stared at Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean lay there pallid and motionless.
Fauchelevent murmured in a voice as faint as a sigh:—
“He is dead!”
And, drawing himself up, and folding his arms with such violence that his clenched fists came in contact with his shoulders, he cried:—
“And this is the way I save his life!”
Then the poor man fell to sobbing. He soliloquized the while, for it is an error to suppose that the soliloquy is unnatural. Powerful emotion often talks aloud.
“It is Father Mestienne’s fault. Why did that fool die? What need was there for him to give up the ghost at the very moment when no one was expecting it? It is he who has killed M. Madeleine. Father Madeleine! He is in the coffin. It is quite handy. All is over. Now, is there any sense in these things? Ah! my God! he is dead! Well! and his little girl, what am I to do with her? What will the fruit-seller say? The idea of its being possible for a man like that to die like this! When I think how he put himself under that cart! Father Madeleine! Father Madeleine! Pardine! He was suffocated, I said so. He wouldn’t believe me. Well! Here’s a pretty trick to play! He is dead, that good man, the very best man out of all the good God’s good folks! And his little girl! Ah! In the first place, I won’t go back there myself. I shall stay here. After having done such a thing as that! What’s the use of being two old men, if we are two old fools! But, in the first place, how did he manage to enter the convent? That was the beginning of it all. One should not do such things. Father Madeleine! Father Madeleine! Father Madeleine! Madeleine! Monsieur Madeleine! Monsieur le Maire! He does not hear me. Now get out of this scrape if you can!”
And he tore his hair.
A grating sound became audible through the trees in the distance. It was the cemetery gate closing.
Fauchelevent bent over Jean Valjean, and all at once he bounded back and recoiled so far as the limits of a grave permit.
Jean Valjean’s eyes were open and gazing at him.
To see a corpse is alarming, to behold a resurrection is almost as much so. Fauchelevent became like stone, pale, haggard, overwhelmed by all these excesses of emotion, not knowing whether he had to do with a living man or a dead one, and staring at Jean Valjean, who was gazing at him.
“I fell asleep,” said Jean Valjean.
And he raised himself to a sitting posture.
Fauchelevent fell on his knees.
“Just, good Virgin! How you frightened me!”
Then he sprang to his feet and cried:—
“Thanks, Father Madeleine!”
Jean Valjean had merely fainted. The fresh air had revived him.
Joy is the ebb of terror. Fauchelevent found almost as much difficulty in recovering himself as Jean Valjean had.
“So you are not dead! Oh! How wise you are! I called you so much that you came back. When I saw your eyes shut, I said: ‘Good! there he is, stifled,’ I should have gone raving mad, mad enough for a strait jacket. They would have put me in Bicêtre. What do you suppose I should have done if you had been dead? And your little girl? There’s that fruit-seller,—she would never have understood it! The child is thrust into your arms, and then—the grandfather is dead! What a story! good saints of paradise, what a tale! Ah! you are alive, that’s the best of it!”