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CHAPTER X—THE SYSTEM OF DENIALS
The moment for closing the debate had arrived. The Pr�sident had the
accused stand up, and addressed to him the customary question, "Have you
anything to add to your defence?"
The man did not appear to understand, as he stood there, twisting in his
hands a terrible cap which he had.
The Pr�sident repeated the question.
This time the man heard it. He seemed to understand. He made a motion like
a man who is just waking up, cast his eyes about him, stared at the
audience, the gendarmes, his counsel, the jury, the court, laid his
monstrous fist on the rim of woodwork in front of his bench, took another
look, and all at once, fixing his glance upon the district-attorney, he
began to speak. It was like an eruption. It seemed, from the manner in
which the words escaped from his mouth,—incoherent, impetuous,
pell-mell, tumbling over each other,—as though they were all
pressing forward to issue forth at once. He said:—
"This is what I have to say. That I have been a wheelwright in Paris, and
that it was with Monsieur Baloup. It is a hard trade. In the wheelwright's
trade one works always in the open air, in courtyards, under sheds when
the masters are good, never in closed workshops, because space is
required, you see. In winter one gets so cold that one beats one's arms
together to warm one's self; but the masters don't like it; they say it
wastes time. Handling iron when there is ice between the paving-stones is
hard work. That wears a man out quickly One is old while he is still quite
young in that trade. At forty a man is done for. I was fifty-three. I was
in a bad state. And then, workmen are so mean! When a man is no longer
young, they call him nothing but an old bird, old beast! I was not earning
more than thirty sous a day. They paid me as little as possible. The
masters took advantage of my age—and then I had my daughter, who was
a laundress at the river. She earned a little also. It sufficed for us
two. She had trouble, also; all day long up to her waist in a tub, in
rain, in snow. When the wind cuts your face, when it freezes, it is all
the same; you must still wash. There are people who have not much linen,
and wait until late; if you do not wash, you lose your custom. The planks
are badly joined, and water drops on you from everywhere; you have your
petticoats all damp above and below. That penetrates. She has also worked
at the laundry of the Enfants-Rouges, where the water comes through
faucets. You are not in the tub there; you wash at the faucet in front of
you, and rinse in a basin behind you. As it is enclosed, you are not so
cold; but there is that hot steam, which is terrible, and which ruins your
eyes. She came home at seven o'clock in the evening, and went to bed at
once, she was so tired. Her husband beat her. She is dead. We have not
been very happy. She was a good girl, who did not go to the ball, and who
was very peaceable. I remember one Shrove-Tuesday when she went to bed at
eight o'clock. There, I am telling the truth; you have only to ask. Ah,
yes! how stupid I am! Paris is a gulf. Who knows Father Champmathieu
there? But M. Baloup does, I tell you. Go see at M. Baloup's; and after
all, I don't know what is wanted of me."
The man ceased speaking, and remained standing. He had said these things
in a loud, rapid, hoarse voice, with a sort of irritated and savage
ingenuousness. Once he paused to salute some one in the crowd. The sort of
affirmations which he seemed to fling out before him at random came like
hiccoughs, and to each he added the gesture of a wood-cutter who is
splitting wood. When he had finished, the audience burst into a laugh. He
stared at the public, and, perceiving that they were laughing, and not
understanding why, he began to laugh himself.
It was inauspicious.
The Pr�sident, an attentive and benevolent man, raised his voice.
He reminded "the gentlemen of the jury" that "the sieur Baloup, formerly a
master-wheelwright, with whom the accused stated that he had served, had
been summoned in vain. He had become bankrupt, and was not to be found."
Then turning to the accused, he enjoined him to listen to what he was
about to say, and added: "You are in a position where reflection is
necessary. The gravest presumptions rest upon you, and may induce vital
results. Prisoner, in your own interests, I summon you for the last time
to explain yourself clearly on two points. In the first place, did you or
did you not climb the wall of the Pierron orchard, break the branch, and
steal the apples; that is to say, commit the crime of breaking in and
theft? In the second place, are you the discharged convict, Jean Valjean—yes
The prisoner shook his head with a capable air, like a man who has
thoroughly understood, and who knows what answer he is going to make. He
opened his mouth, turned towards the Pr�sident, and said:—
"In the first place—"
Then he stared at his cap, stared at the ceiling, and held his peace.
"Prisoner," said the district-attorney, in a severe voice; "pay attention.
You are not answering anything that has been asked of you. Your
embarrassment condemns you. It is evident that your name is not
Champmathieu; that you are the convict, Jean Valjean, concealed first
under the name of Jean Mathieu, which was the name of his mother; that you
went to Auvergne; that you were born at Faverolles, where you were a
pruner of trees. It is evident that you have been guilty of entering, and
of the theft of ripe apples from the Pierron orchard. The gentlemen of the
jury will form their own opinion."
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The prisoner had finally resumed his seat; he arose abruptly when the
district-attorney had finished, and exclaimed:—
"You are very wicked; that you are! This what I wanted to say; I could not
find words for it at first. I have stolen nothing. I am a man who does not
have something to eat every day. I was coming from Ailly; I was walking
through the country after a shower, which had made the whole country
yellow: even the ponds were overflowed, and nothing sprang from the sand
any more but the little blades of grass at the wayside. I found a broken
branch with apples on the ground; I picked up the branch without knowing
that it would get me into trouble. I have been in prison, and they have
been dragging me about for the last three months; more than that I cannot
say; people talk against me, they tell me, 'Answer!' The gendarme, who is
a good fellow, nudges my elbow, and says to me in a low voice, 'Come,
answer!' I don't know how to explain; I have no education; I am a poor
man; that is where they wrong me, because they do not see this. I have not
stolen; I picked up from the ground things that were lying there. You say,
Jean Valjean, Jean Mathieu! I don't know those persons; they are
villagers. I worked for M. Baloup, Boulevard de l'Hopital; my name is
Champmathieu. You are very clever to tell me where I was born; I don't
know myself: it's not everybody who has a house in which to come into the
world; that would be too convenient. I think that my father and mother
were people who strolled along the highways; I know nothing different.
When I was a child, they called me young fellow; now they call me old
fellow; those are my baptismal names; take that as you like. I have been
in Auvergne; I have been at Faverolles. Pardi. Well! can't a man have been
in Auvergne, or at Faverolles, without having been in the galleys? I tell
you that I have not stolen, and that I am Father Champmathieu; I have been
with M. Baloup; I have had a settled residence. You worry me with your
nonsense, there! Why is everybody pursuing me so furiously?"
The district-attorney had remained standing; he addressed the Pr�sident:—
"Monsieur le Pr�sident, in view of the confused but exceedingly clever
denials of the prisoner, who would like to pass himself off as an idiot,
but who will not succeed in so doing,—we shall attend to that,—we
demand that it shall please you and that it shall please the court to
summon once more into this place the convicts Brevet, Cochepaille, and
Chenildieu, and Police-Inspector Javert, and question them for the last
time as to the identity of the prisoner with the convict Jean Valjean."
"I would remind the district-attorney," said the Pr�sident, "that
Police-Inspector Javert, recalled by his duties to the capital of a
neighboring arrondissement, left the court-room and the town as soon as he
had made his deposition; we have accorded him permission, with the consent
of the district-attorney and of the counsel for the prisoner."
"That is true, Mr. Pr�sident," responded the district-attorney. "In the
absence of sieur Javert, I think it my duty to remind the gentlemen of the
jury of what he said here a few hours ago. Javert is an estimable man, who
does honor by his rigorous and strict probity to inferior but important
functions. These are the terms of his deposition: 'I do not even stand in
need of circumstantial proofs and moral presumptions to give the lie to
the prisoner's denial. I recognize him perfectly. The name of this man is
not Champmathieu; he is an ex-convict named Jean Valjean, and is very
vicious and much to be feared. It is only with extreme regret that he was
released at the expiration of his term. He underwent nineteen years of
penal servitude for theft. He made five or six attempts to escape. Besides
the theft from Little Gervais, and from the Pierron orchard, I suspect him
of a theft committed in the house of His Grace the late Bishop of D——
I often saw him at the time when I was adjutant of the galley-guard at the
prison in Toulon. I repeat that I recognize him perfectly.'"
This extremely precise statement appeared to produce a vivid impression on
the public and on the jury. The district-attorney concluded by insisting,
that in default of Javert, the three witnesses Brevet, Chenildieu, and
Cochepaille should be heard once more and solemnly interrogated.
The Pr�sident transmitted the order to an usher, and, a moment later, the
door of the witnesses' room opened. The usher, accompanied by a gendarme
ready to lend him armed assistance, introduced the convict Brevet. The
audience was in suspense; and all breasts heaved as though they had
contained but one soul.
The ex-convict Brevet wore the black and gray waistcoat of the central
prisons. Brevet was a person sixty years of age, who had a sort of
business man's face, and the air of a rascal. The two sometimes go
together. In prison, whither fresh misdeeds had led him, he had become
something in the nature of a turnkey. He was a man of whom his superiors
said, "He tries to make himself of use." The chaplains bore good testimony
as to his religious habits. It must not be forgotten that this passed
under the Restoration.
"Brevet," said the Pr�sident, "you have undergone an ignominious sentence,
and you cannot take an oath."
Brevet dropped his eyes.
"Nevertheless," continued the Pr�sident, "even in the man whom the law has
degraded, there may remain, when the divine mercy permits it, a sentiment
of honor and of equity. It is to this sentiment that I appeal at this
decisive hour. If it still exists in you,—and I hope it does,—reflect
before replying to me: consider on the one hand, this man, whom a word
from you may ruin; on the other hand, justice, which a word from you may
enlighten. The instant is solemn; there is still time to retract if you
think you have been mistaken. Rise, prisoner. Brevet, take a good look at
the accused, recall your souvenirs, and tell us on your soul and
conscience, if you persist in recognizing this man as your former
companion in the galleys, Jean Valjean?"
Brevet looked at the prisoner, then turned towards the court.
"Yes, Mr. Pr�sident, I was the first to recognize him, and I stick to it;
that man is Jean Valjean, who entered at Toulon in 1796, and left in 1815.
I left a year later. He has the air of a brute now; but it must be because
age has brutalized him; he was sly at the galleys: I recognize him
"Take your seat," said the Pr�sident. "Prisoner, remain standing."
Chenildieu was brought in, a prisoner for life, as was indicated by his
red cassock and his green cap. He was serving out his sentence at the
galleys of Toulon, whence he had been brought for this case. He was a
small man of about fifty, brisk, wrinkled, frail, yellow, brazen-faced,
feverish, who had a sort of sickly feebleness about all his limbs and his
whole person, and an immense force in his glance. His companions in the
galleys had nicknamed him I-deny-God (Je-nie Dieu, Chenildieu).
The Pr�sident addressed him in nearly the same words which he had used to
Brevet. At the moment when he reminded him of his infamy which deprived
him of the right to take an oath, Chenildieu raised his head and looked
the crowd in the face. The Pr�sident invited him to reflection, and asked
him as he had asked Brevet, if he persisted in recognition of the
Chenildieu burst out laughing.
"Pardieu, as if I didn't recognize him! We were attached to the same chain
for five years. So you are sulking, old fellow?"
"Go take your seat," said the Pr�sident.
The usher brought in Cochepaille. He was another convict for life, who had
come from the galleys, and was dressed in red, like Chenildieu, was a
peasant from Lourdes, and a half-bear of the Pyrenees. He had guarded the
flocks among the mountains, and from a shepherd he had slipped into a
brigand. Cochepaille was no less savage and seemed even more stupid than
the prisoner. He was one of those wretched men whom nature has sketched
out for wild beasts, and on whom society puts the finishing touches as
convicts in the galleys.
The Pr�sident tried to touch him with some grave and pathetic words, and
asked him, as he had asked the other two, if he persisted, without
hesitation or trouble, in recognizing the man who was standing before him.
"He is Jean Valjean," said Cochepaille. "He was even called
Jean-the-Screw, because he was so strong."
Each of these affirmations from these three men, evidently sincere and in
good faith, had raised in the audience a murmur of bad augury for the
prisoner,—a murmur which increased and lasted longer each time that
a fresh declaration was added to the proceeding.
The prisoner had listened to them, with that astounded face which was,
according to the accusation, his principal means of defence; at the first,
the gendarmes, his neighbors, had heard him mutter between his teeth: "Ah,
well, he's a nice one!" after the second, he said, a little louder, with
an air that was almost that of satisfaction, "Good!" at the third, he
The Pr�sident addressed him:—
"Have you heard, prisoner? What have you to say?"
"I say, 'Famous!'"
An uproar broke out among the audience, and was communicated to the jury;
it was evident that the man was lost.
"Ushers," said the Pr�sident, "enforce silence! I am going to sum up the
At that moment there was a movement just beside the Pr�sident; a voice was
"Brevet! Chenildieu! Cochepaille! look here!"
All who heard that voice were chilled, so lamentable and terrible was it;
all eyes were turned to the point whence it had proceeded. A man, placed
among the privileged spectators who were seated behind the court, had just
risen, had pushed open the half-door which separated the tribunal from the
audience, and was standing in the middle of the hall; the Pr�sident, the
district-attorney, M. Bamatabois, twenty persons, recognized him, and
exclaimed in concert:—