“Monsieur le Baron, on the 6th of June, 1832, about a year ago, on the day of the insurrection, a man was in the Grand Sewer of Paris, at the point where the sewer enters the Seine, between the Pont des Invalides and the Pont de Jena.”
Marius abruptly drew his chair closer to that of Thenardier. Thenardier noticed this movement and continued with the deliberation of an orator who holds his interlocutor and who feels his adversary palpitating under his words:
“This man, forced to conceal himself, and for reasons, moreover, which are foreign to politics, had adopted the sewer as his domicile and had a key to it. It was, I repeat, on the 6th of June; it might have been eight o’clock in the evening. The man hears a noise in the sewer. Greatly surprised, he hides himself and lies in wait. It was the sound of footsteps, some one was walking in the dark, and coming in his direction.
Strange to say, there was another man in the sewer besides himself. The grating of the outlet from the sewer was not far off. A little light which fell through it permitted him to recognize the newcomer, and to see that the man was carrying something on his back. He was walking in a bent attitude. The man who was walking in a bent attitude was an ex-convict, and what he was dragging on his shoulders was a corpse. Assassination caught in the very act, if ever there was such a thing. As for the theft, that is understood; one does not kill a man gratis. This convict was on his way to fling the body into the river. One fact is to be noticed, that before reaching the exit grating, this convict, who had come a long distance in the sewer, must, necessarily, have encountered a frightful quagmire where it seems as though he might have left the body, but the sewermen would have found the assassinated man the very next day, while at work on the quagmire, and that did not suit the assassin’s plans. He had preferred to traverse that quagmire with his burden, and his exertions must have been terrible, for it is impossible to risk one’s life more completely; I don’t understand how he could have come out of that alive.”
Marius’ chair approached still nearer. Thenardier took advantage of this to draw a long breath. He went on:
“Monsieur le Baron, a sewer is not the Champ de Mars. One lacks everything there, even room. When two men are there, they must meet. That is what happened. The man domiciled there and the passer-by were forced to bid each other good-day, greatly to the regret of both. The passer-by said to the inhabitant:—”You see what I have on my back, I must get out, you have the key, give it to me.” That convict was a man of terrible strength. There was no way of refusing. Nevertheless, the man who had the key parleyed, simply to gain time. He examined the dead man, but he could see nothing, except that the latter was young, well dressed, with the air of being rich, and all disfigured with blood. While talking, the man contrived to tear and pull off behind, without the assassin perceiving it, a bit of the assassinated man’s coat. A document for conviction, you understand; a means of recovering the trace of things and of bringing home the crime to the criminal. He put this document for conviction in his pocket. After which he opened the grating, made the man go out with his embarrassment on his back, closed the grating again, and ran off, not caring to be mixed up with the remainder of the adventure and above all, not wishing to be present when the assassin threw the assassinated man into the river. Now you comprehend. The man who was carrying the corpse was Jean Valjean; the one who had the key is speaking to you at this moment; and the piece of the coat . . .”
Thenardier completed his phrase by drawing from his pocket, and holding, on a level with his eyes, nipped between his two thumbs and his two forefingers, a strip of torn black cloth, all covered with dark spots.
Marius had sprung to his feet, pale, hardly able to draw his breath, with his eyes riveted on the fragment of black cloth, and, without uttering a word, without taking his eyes from that fragment, he retreated to the wall and fumbled with his right hand along the wall for a key which was in the lock of a cupboard near the chimney.
He found the key, opened the cupboard, plunged his arm into it without looking, and without his frightened gaze quitting the rag which Thenardier still held outspread.
But Thenardier continued:
“Monsieur le Baron, I have the strongest of reasons for believing that the assassinated young man was an opulent stranger lured into a trap by Jean Valjean, and the bearer of an enormous sum of money.”
“The young man was myself, and here is the coat!” cried Marius, and he flung upon the floor an old black coat all covered with blood.
Then, snatching the fragment from the hands of Thenardier, he crouched down over the coat, and laid the torn morsel against the tattered skirt. The rent fitted exactly, and the strip completed the coat.
Thenardier was petrified.
This is what he thought: “I’m struck all of a heap.”
Marius rose to his feet trembling, despairing, radiant.
He fumbled in his pocket and stalked furiously to Thenardier, presenting to him and almost thrusting in his face his fist filled with bank-notes for five hundred and a thousand francs.”
“You are an infamous wretch! you are a liar, a calumniator, a villain. You came to accuse that man, you have only justified him; you wanted to ruin him, you have only succeeded in glorifying him. And it is you who are the thief! …”
Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Silver~~
Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Cosette~~
Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Court~~
Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Grave~~
Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Smitten~~
Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Sewer~~
Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Three~~