Don’t remind me, don’t remind me: I’m a month behind on LesMis Project. At least. Valjean is turning in his coffin. (That’s what’s known as foreshadowing in the literary trades, BTW.)
But! This is the end of Volume 2: Cosette. Soon I will move on to Marius! First, though –
|No more sweeping! Hooray!|
Book Eighth – Cemeteries Take That Which is Committed Them
So, poor Fauchelevent is totally confounded about how Valjean and this kid appeared in his garden, but he’s committed to helping them, even though no men are allowed in the convent. He “understood nothing of the matter. How had M. Madeline got there, when the walls were what they were? Cloister walls are not to be stepped over. How did he get there with a child? One cannot scale a perpendicular wall with a child in one’s arms.” (p.354) (Well, not unless you’re Valjean you can’t, apparently.) But hey, Valjean had risked his life to save Fauchelevent, so turn about is fair play and all.
Fortunately for Valjean (who, let’s face it, does manage to get himself fortuitously out of as many scrapes as he gets himself in, at least since the initial 19 year prison term), one of the nuns is dying. This means a couple of things: everyone else will be distracted praying for her, and when she dies, outsiders have to enter to sign the death certificate and bring out her coffin. Fauchelevent and Valjean cook up a plan wherein Fauchelevent will stick Cosette in a basket and haul her off to a fruit-seller friend of his to await the next move. Meanwhile, somehow or another Valjean will get out then they will reenter under guise of Fauchelevent’s brother and niece, the one to be the gardener’s assistant, the other to join the convent school.
The nun dies, and Fauchelevent is summoned to the prioress. Now, Fauchelevent is actually a kinda clever guy, but he looks and acts like a simple guy. “The whole convent thought him stupid.” (p.359) So they don’t know that he recognizes all the bells and signals that happen in the place just like another language, and think he’s the old, lame, slow, totally unthreatening guy he makes out to be, which is perfect for their needs.
Reverend Mother starts an interrogation, and Fauchelevent his counter-interrogation, and eventually they come to the two essential points: he has a brother who he wants to come join him to help with the things he’s too infirm to do, and she wants him to pretend to send the dead nun to the cemetery but really put her (in the coffin she’s used as a bed for many years) (as you do) in the crypt under the convent. He mentions various legal and moral objections, which she adeptly bats aside, and logistical objections, which she tells him to figure out, and he finally agrees. As he’s leaving, she says his brother and niece can move in the day after the nun’s mortal remains are dealt with as she wishes. (He tries to get Valjean brought in to help with moving the slab that covers the crypt, describing his strength: “A perfect Turk!” (p.366) but Reverend Mother assures him he can do it on his own.)
“The strides of a lame man are like the ogling glances of a one-eyed man; they do not reach their goal very promptly.” (p.367) But eventually Fauchelevent gets back to the gardener’s cottage to relay the prioress’s plan. He still doesn’t know how he’s going to get Valjean out of the convent, though.
Valjean, of course, has a plan. Instead of sticking dirt in the dummy coffin to go to the cemetery, he’ll stick himself. “Jean Valjean gave way to one of those rare smiles which lighted up his face like a flash from heaven in the winter. ‘You know, Fauchelevent, what you have said: “Mother Crucifixion is dead.” And I add: “and Father Madeline is buried.’” (p.368) Despite the jokes, he convinces Fauchelevent that he’s serious, so they figure out the logistics of where to hide him pre-coffinization, and what kinds of air holes and provisions he’ll need, etc.
“What seemed unprecedented to Fauchelevent was, we repeat, a simple matter to Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean had been in worse straits than this. Any man who has been a prisoner understands how to contract himself to fit the diameter of the escape…. An escape is a cure. What does not a man undergo for the sake of a cure?” (p.369) Besides, “to live for a long time in a box, to find air where there is none, to economize his breath for hours, to know how to stifle without dying – this was one of Jean Valjean’s gloomy talents.” (p.369) (Dude, I am so not suited to the life of a convict.)
The plan also calls for Fauchelevent to send his friend the gravedigger off to drink while he “buries” the body, in reality releasing Valjean and sending him off to collect Cosette from the fruit-seller. Finally they iron out all the obstacles. “’That is settled, Father Fauchelevent. All will go well.’ ‘Provided nothing goes wrong,’ thought Fauchelevent. ‘In that case, it would be terrible.’” (p.370) (See, Hugo knows about foreshadowing, too!)
MINOR hiccup: Fauchelevent’s gravedigger friend? Dead. The new guy? Not a drunken sot who can easily be sent off. Or difficultly sent off. No matter what Fauchelevent tries – even offering to buy the drinks himself! – the new guy is going to bury the body before he leaves the cemetery.
So Valjean’s coffin is lowered into the grave. “He had a certain sensation of cold.” (p.375) (Understatement is another literary technique.) He heard the priest and choir boy chanting Latin over his head. He heard a shovelful of dirt hit the coffin lid. And another. And a third. At the fourth: “There are things which are too strong for the strongest man. Jean Valjean lost consciousness.” (p.376)
Finally Fauchelevent hits upon a desperate plan to stop this new gravedigger from burying his pal. There’s a system of cards to do with locking the cemetery gates and the guard and fines, and when he pick-pockets the gravedigger’s card, he’s able to convince him to run home and look for it before he gets fined, offering to bury the coffin himself. The gravedigger gratefully agrees and rushes off, and Fauchelevent hops into the grave to pry up the coffin lid. He freaks the heck out to find Valjean possibly dead, then freaks out again to see Valjean alive. “To see a corpse is alarming, to behold a resurrection is almost as much so.” (p.379)
They get out of the grave, though, and bury the coffin, dropping the gravediggers tools off at his place and letting him know the burial was over and that Fauchelevent had “found” his missing gate-card, so now the gravedigger thinks that Fauchelevent is the best guy ever.
The nuns and religious community also think Fauchelevent is the best guy ever, for putting the dead nun in the crypt. Goodwill just surrounds the guy. His “brother” “Ultime Fauchelevent” becomes his assistant with no problems, Cosette charms the nuns by looking like someone who will grow up to be ugly (apparently nuns love that in a kid – easier to cure them of vanity that way) and she becomes a charity pupil at the convent school. So although “Javert watched the quarter for more than a month,” (p.384) Cosette and Valjean were safely hidden. (There’s lots of sad stuff here about how easy it was for Cosette to keep her secrets from her classmates, because of the awful training in terror and silence via the Thenardiers, yikes. Poor kid.)
It was a little paradise for Valjean. Safety, the garden (he always liked working with crops), Cosette growing and laughing and spending time with him when she wasn’t in school, and a kind of salvation. You see, Valjean had started to forget the lessons of the Bishop with the silver, and to compare his actions with those of man (against whom he tended to look rather saintly) as opposed to comparing them to what God would like (against which he was scraping by.) So he was able to swing back to the side of the angels.
He compared captivity in prison to that in the convent: In prison, “they lived nameless, designated only by numbers, and converted, after a manner, into cipers themselves, with downcast eyes, with lowered voices, with shorn heads, beneath the cudgel and in disgrace.” (p.385) The nuns “also lived with shorn heads, with downcast eyes, with lowered voices, not in disgrace, but amid the scoffs of the world, not with their backs bruised with the cudgel, but with their shoulders lacerated with their discipline.” (p.385) “What had those men done? They had stolen, violated, pillaged, murdered, assassinated. They were bandits, counterfeiters, poisoners, incendiaries, murderers, parricides. What had these women done? They had done nothing whatever.” (p.386) It goes on for a while in this vein, but basically: Valjean is moved by the ‘imprisonment’ of the nuns, and the fact that their devout community has allowed him to regain his own faith and communion with God. And, yes, he’s noticed that twice now when he was in his most desperate straits, he was saved by his encounters with religious people.
“Many years passed….” (p.388) and that’s the end of Volume 2: Cosette.