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A NEST FOR OWL AND A WARBLER
It was in front of this Gorbeau house that Jean Valjean halted. Like wild birds, he had chosen this desert place to construct his nest.
He fumbled in his waistcoat pocket, drew out a sort of a pass-key, opened the door, entered, closed it again carefully, and ascended the staircase, still carrying Cosette.
At the top of the stairs he drew from his pocket another key, with which he opened another door. The chamber which he entered, and which he closed again instantly, was a kind of moderately spacious attic, furnished with a mattress laid on the floor, a table, and several chairs; a stove in which a fire was burning, and whose embers were visible, stood in one corner. A lantern on the boulevard cast a vague light into this poor room. At the extreme end there was a dressing-room with a folding bed; Jean Valjean carried the child to this bed and laid her down there without waking her.
He struck a match and lighted a candle. All this was prepared beforehand on the table, and, as he had done on the previous evening, he began to scrutinize Cosette's face with a gaze full of ecstasy, in which the expression of kindness and tenderness almost amounted to aberration. The little girl, with that tranquil confidence which belongs only to extreme strength and extreme weakness, had fallen asleep without knowing with whom she was, and continued to sleep without knowing where she was.
Jean Valjean bent down and kissed that child's hand.
Nine months before he had kissed the hand of the mother, who had also just fallen asleep.
The same sad, piercing, religious sentiment filled his heart.
He knelt beside Cosette's bed.
lt was broad daylight, and the child still slept. A wan ray of the December sun penetrated the window of the attic and lay upon the ceiling in long threads of light and shade. All at once a heavily laden carrier's cart, which was passing along the boulevard, shook the frail bed, like a clap of thunder, and made it quiver from top to bottom.
"Yes, madame!" cried Cosette, waking with a start, "here I am! here I am!"
And she sprang out of bed, her eyes still half shut with the heaviness of sleep, extending her arms towards the corner of the wall.
"Ah! mon Dieu, my broom!" said she.
She opened her eyes wide now, and beheld the smiling countenance of Jean Valjean.
"Ah! so it is true!" said the child. "Good morning, Monsieur."
Children accept joy and happiness instantly and familiarly, being themselves by nature joy and happiness.
Cosette caught sight of Catherine at the foot of her bed, and took possession of her, and, as she played, she put a hundred questions to Jean Valjean. Where was she? Was Paris very large? Was Madame Thenardier very far away? Was she to go back? etc., etc. All at once she exclaimed, "How pretty it is here!"
It was a frightful hole, but she felt free.
"Must I sweep?" she resumed at last.
"Play!" said Jean Valjean.
The day passed thus. Cosette, without troubling herself to understand anything, was inexpressibly happy with that doll and that kind man.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER III