Minutes later, he and Cosette were travelling in a carriage to Number 7, rue de l’Homme-Arme.
Jean Valjean looked up when he heard the knock on his door and called in a weak voice, ‘Come in.’
The door opened and Marius and Cosette appeared. Cosette rushed to the chair where Jean Valjean was sitting.
‘Father!’ she cried, falling into his arms.
‘So you’ve forgiven me?’ Valjean whispered, hugging Cosette to him and turning to Marius.
‘Cosette, did you hear what he said?’ Marius cried, tears of shame and guilt rolling down his cheeks. ‘He asked me to forgive him. And do you know what he did? He saved my life and he brought me back to you. He came to the barricade to save me, just as he saved Javert. He carried me on his back through the sewers of Paris, to bring me to you. Oh Cosette, I feel so ashamed of the way I’ve treated him!’
‘You have no need to say all this,’ Valjean murmured.
‘Why didn’t you say it yourself?’ Marius demanded. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that you were M. Madeleine and that you saved Javert’s life at the barricade? Why didn’t you tell me that I owed you my life?’
‘Because I thought it would be better to break away. If you had known the truth, you would have felt obliged to be good to me, a worthless criminal. That would have upset everything.’
‘What or whom would it have upset?’ Marius said. ‘Well, we’re not going to allow you to stay here on your own. You’re going to come home with us. You’re Cosette’s father and mine. I won’t allow you to spend another day here.’
‘And you can’t refuse this time,’ Cosette agreed, sitting on Jean Valjean’s lap and kissing his forehead. ‘There’s a carriage waiting for you. I’m kidnapping you — by force, if necessary!’
Jean Valjean listened as she described the view from the room that would be his, the beauty of the garden, the singing of the birds, but he was listening more to the music of her voice than to the meaning of her words. Finally, he said, ‘Yes, it would be delightful, but
Cosette, frightened, took his two hands in hers.
‘Your hands are so cold,’ she said. ‘Are you ill? Are you in pain?’
‘No,’ said Valjean. ‘I’m not in pain. But
‘I’m going to die soon.’
‘Father, no!’ Cosette cried. ‘You’re going to live! You must live, do you understand?’
Marius and Cosette both did their best to raise Valjean’s spirits, to show him how much they loved and needed him, to fill him with the strength and the desire to live again. But it was too late. Valjean smiled, his eyes shining with love and happiness, but he was beginning to lose strength.
‘To die is nothing,’ he murmured. ‘But it is terrible not to live.’
Then, taking Cosette’s sleeve and pressing it to his lips, he said, ‘Come close to me, both of you. I love you dearly. How sweet it is to die like this. And you love me too, dear Cosette. You’ll feel some grief for me, but not too much. I want you to have no great sorrows. You must enjoy life, my children. I’m leaving the two candlesticks by the bed to Cosette. They’re made of silver, but to me they are pure gold. I don’t know whether the person who gave them to me is pleased as he looks down on me from above. I’ve done my best. You mustn’t forget, my children, that, despite my money, I am one of the poor.’
As he spoke, Valjean’s breathing became more painful and he had difficulty moving his arms. But as the weakness of his body increased, his spirit grew in strength. The light of an unknown world was shining brightly in his eyes.
‘Now, Cosette,’ he breathed softly, ‘the time has come for me to tell you your mother’s name. It was Fantine. You must not forget it. Your mother loved you greatly and she suffered greatly. She was as rich in sorrow as you are in happiness. That is how God balances things out. He watches us all from above and knows what he is doing among his splendid stars. And now I must leave you, my children. Love one another always. There is nothing else that matters in this world except love.’
Cosette and Marius fell to their knees on either side of him, holding back their tears. Jean Valjean’s hands rested on their bowed heads, and did not move again. He lay back with his head turned to the sky, the light from the two silver candlesticks falling on his smiling, peaceful face.
read another book