I just need to start this entry by commenting on the absurdity of Javert's obsession with Valjean.
Seven or eight soldiers in a body had just entered Rue Polonceau. He saw the gleam of their bayonets. They were coming towards him.
These soldiers, led by a tall figure he identified as Javert, advanced slowly and cautiously ... This was -- and it was impossible to be mistaken in this conjecture -- some patrol Javert had encountered and requisitioned. Javert's two henchmen were marching in their ranks.
Yeah. Javert has not only convinced the police precinct that it would be a valuable use of resources for four of their officers to pursue a shaky lead on a dude who stole a loaf of bread decades ago, but he has requisitioned a small army to join the search crew.
Also, he has henchmen.
Fortunately, JVJ has mad wall-climbing skills. Hugo predictably describes this and gets caught up in thinking about JVJ's sexy muscles/strength:
He was ... a past master in the art of climbing the inside corner of a wall, as much as six storeys high if necessary, without a ladder, without irons, by sheer muscular force, using neck, shoulders, hips and knees for support, scarcely relying at all on on the odd irregularity in the stones' surface ...
Yeah, we get it, Valjean is strong.
(Victor also references a criminal named Battemolle escaping in this way from the Conciergerie, but the only references I can find to this online are from Les Mis, so it must either be fictional or very obscure. I'm disappointed that I can't read about a badass wall-climbing French criminal's escape.)
So JVJ sizes up this wall and it's 18 feet high, but he notices that the building's gable end meets the ground at a corner filled with a pile of rubble some five feet high "probably intended to save this too suitable corner from being used as a public convenience by passers-by. This filling-up of corners is commonplace in Paris."
Stay classy, Paris.
Anyway, JVJ can climb this wall with his awesome skills, but he can't figure out what to do about Cosette. He can get her over the wall, too, but he'll need a rope.
As much as I hate on Hugo's asides and excessive scene-setting, his writing can be quite profound at times. He describes Valjean's desperation and soon-to-be epiphany in this way:
All dire situations are electrifying, sometimes blindingly so, sometimes to illuminating effect.
Very true. Also a bit of wordplay, because JVJ's "illuminating" gaze then falls on a lamp post.
Hugo explains that this scene was taking place prior to gas lights being introduce, so Paris was instead lit by lanterns that were raised and lowered by a rope. On this particular night, the lanterns hadn't been lit because of the full moon. Valjean is able to pick the lock of one of the boxes containing the rope normally used to hoist the lantern, and he instead ties the rope around little Cosette, climbs the wall, and then pulls her up with him.
So far, Cosette has been incredibly well-behaved. This strange man has ripped her from her relatively brief comfort and made her stay silent during a mysterious nighttime walk during which they are being tailed by police, and she's been totally cool with it. But that can only last for so long.
"Father," she whispered, "I'm scared. Who is it that's coming this way?"
"Hush!" replied the poor man. "It's Madame Thénardier."
He added, "Keep quiet. Leave it to me. If you call out, if you cry, that Thénardier woman's ready to pounce. She's come to take you back."
I have such mixed feelings about this. My immediate reaction was: WTF, Valjean?!? You're re-traumatizing poor Cosette!
But this is also kind of brilliant. How better to communicate the importance of staying quiet in this situation other than relying on the main source of authority and terror in poor Cosette's life? Madame T is to Cosette as the police are to Valjean.
Just as Valjean pulls a silent, cooperative Cosette ("Either through terror or bravery Cosette had not uttered a sound. Her hands were a little grazed.") over the wall, Javert reaches the alley with his little army.
Locks picked: 1.
Javert henchmen: 2 - 10, depending on whether you count the soldiers.
Descriptions of JVJ's sexy muscles: 1.
Note: Obviously my "I'm going to blog daily!" thing took a nosedive very quickly. I had this entry mostly written but set aside for a long time -- there was camping, then the holidays ....
At any rate, here's to a better record in the new year!