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Les Miserables

by Victor Hugo


previous: CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

WAITING

During those hours of waiting, what did they do?

We must needs tell, since this is a matter of history.

While the men made bullets and the women lint, while a large saucepan of melted brass and lead, destined to the bullet-mould smoked over a glowing brazier, while the sentinels watched, weapon in hand, on the barricade, while Enjolras, whom it was impossible to divert, kept an eye on the sentinels, Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Jean Prouvaire, Feuilly, Bossuet, Joly, Bahorel, and some others, sought each other out and united as in the most peaceful days of their conversations in their student life, and, in one corner of this wine-shop which had been converted into a casement, a couple of paces distant from the redoubt which they had built, with their carbines loaded and primed resting against the backs of their chairs, these fine young fellows, so close to a supreme hour, began to recite love verses.

What verses? These: -

Vous rappelez-vous notre douce vie,
Lorsque nous etions si jeunes tous deux,
Et que nous n'avions au coeur d'autre envie
Que d'etre bien mis et d'etre amoureux,

Lorsqu'en ajoutant votre age a mon age,
Nous ne comptions pas a deux quarante ans,
Et que, dans notre humble et petit menage,
Tout, meme l'hiver, nous etait printemps?

Beaux jours! Manuel etait fier et sage,
Paris s'asseyait a de saints banquets,
Foy lancait la foudre, et votre corsage
Avait une epingle ou je me piquais.

Tout vous contemplait. Avocat sans causes,
Quand je vous menais au Prado diner,
Vous etiez jolie au point que les roses
Me faisaient l'effet de se retourner.

Je les entendais dire: Est elle belle!
Comme elle sent bon! Quels cheveux a flots!
Sous son mantelet elle cache une aile,
Son bonnet charmant est a peine eclos.

J'errais avec toi, pressant ton bras souple.
Les passants crovaient que l'amour charme
Avait marie, dans notre heureux couple,
Le doux mois d'avril au beau mois de mai.

Nous vivions caches, contents, porte close,
Devorant l'amour, bon fruit defendu,
Ma bouche n'avait pas dit une chose
Que deja ton coeur avait repondu.

La Sorbonne etait l'endroit bucolique
Ou je t'adorais du soir au matin.
C'est ainsi qu'une ame amoureuse applique
La carte du Tendre au pays Latin.

O place Maubert! o place Dauphine!
Quand, dans le taudis frais et printanier,
Tu tirais ton bas sur ton jambe fine,
Je voyais un astre au fond du grenier.

J'ai fort lu Platon, mais rien ne m'en reste;
Mieux que Malebranche et que Lamennais,
Tu me demontrais la bonte celeste
Avec une fleur que tu me donnais.

Je t'obeissais, tu m' etais soumise;
O grenier dore! te lacer! te voir
Aller et venir des l'aube en chemise,
Mirant ton jeune front a ton vieux miroir.

Et qui done pourrait perde la memoire
De ces temps d'aurore et de firmament,
De rubans, de fleurs, de gaze et de moire,
Ou l'amour begaye un argot charmant?

Nos jardins etaient un pot de tulipe;
Tu masquais la vitre avec un jupon;
Je prenais le bol de terre de pipe,
Et je te donnais le tasse en japon.

Et ces grands malheurs qui nous faisaient rire!
Ton manchon brule, ton boa perdu!
Et ce cher portrait du divin Shakespeare
Qu'un soir pour souper nons avons vendu!

J'etais mendiant et toi charitable.
Je baisais au vol tes bras frais et ronds.
Dante in folio nous servait de table
Pour manger gaiment un cent de marrons.

La premiere fois qu'en mon joyeux bouge
Je pris un baiser a ton levre en feu,
Quand tu t'en allais decoiffee et rouge,
Je restai tout pale et je crus en Dieu!

Te rappelles-tu nos bonheurs sans nombre,
Et tous ces fichus changes en chiffons?
Oh que de soupirs, de nos coeurs pleins d'ombre,
Se sont envoles dans les cieux profonds![53]

[53] Do you remember our sweet life, when we were both so young, and when we had no other desire in our hearts than to be well dressed and in love? When, by adding your age to my age, we could not count forty years between us, and when, in our humble and tiny household, everything was spring to us even in winter. Fair days! Manuel was proud and wise, Paris sat at sacred banquets, Foy launched thunderbolts, and your corsage had a pin on which I pricked myself. Everything gazed upon you. A briefless lawyer, when I took you to the Prado to dine, you were so beautiful that the roses seemed to me to turn round, and I heard them say: Is she not beautiful! How good she smells! What billowing hair! Beneath her mantle she hides a wing. Her charming bonnet is hardly unfolded. I wandered with thee, pressing thy supple arm. The passers-by thought that love bewitched had wedded, in our happy couple, the gentle month of April to the fair month of May. We lived concealed, content, with closed doors, devouring love, that sweet forbidden fruit. My mouth had not uttered a thing when thy heart had already responded. The Sorbonne was the bucolic spot where I adored thee from eve till morn. 'Tis thus that an amorous soul applies the chart of the Tender to the Latin country. O Place Maubert! O Place Dauphine! When in the fresh spring-like hut thou didst draw thy stocking on thy delicate leg, I saw a star in the depths of the garret. I have read a great deal of Plato, but nothing of it remains by me; better than Malebranche and then Lamennais thou didst demonstrate to me celestial goodness with a flower which thou gavest to me, I obeyed thee, thou didst submit to me; oh gilded garret! to lace thee! to behold thee going and coming from dawn in thy chemise, gazing at thy young brow in thine ancient mirror! And who, then, would forego the memory of those days of aurora and the firmament, of flowers, of gauze and of moire, when love stammers a charming slang? Our gardens consisted of a pot of tulips; thou didst mask the window with thy petticoat; I took the earthenware bowl and I gave thee the Japanese cup. And those great misfortunes which made us laugh! Thy cuff scorched, thy boa lost! And that dear portrait of the divine Shakespeare which we sold one evening that we might sup! I was a beggar and thou wert charitable. I kissed thy fresh round arms in haste. A folio Dante served us as a table on which to eat merrily a centime's worth of chestnuts. The first time that, in my joyous den, I snatched a kiss from thy fiery lip, when thou wentest forth, dishevelled and blushing, I turned deathly pale and I believed in God. Dost thou recall our innumerable joys, and all those fichus changed to rags? Oh! what sighs from our hearts full of gloom fluttered forth to the heavenly depths!

The hour, the spot, these souvenirs of youth recalled, a few stars which began to twinkle in the sky, the funeral repose of those deserted streets, the imminence of the inexorable adventure, which was in preparation, gave a pathetic charm to these verses murmured in a low tone in the dusk by Jean Prouvaire, who, as we have said, was a gentle poet.

In the meantime, a lamp had been lighted in the small barricade, and in the large one, one of those wax torches such as are to be met with on Shrove-Tuesday in front of vehicles loaded with masks, on their way to la Courtille. These torches, as the reader has seen, came from the Faubourg Saint-Antoine.

The torch had been placed in a sort of cage of paving-stones closed on three sides to shelter it from the wind, and disposed in such a fashion that all the light fell on the flag. The street and the barricade remained sunk in gloom, and nothing was to be seen except the red flag formidably illuminated as by an enormous dark-lantern.

This light enhanced the scarlet of the flag, with an indescribable and terrible purple.


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