II.VIII: Cemeteries Take What They Are Given (part I)

II.VIII.I In Which There Is Discussion about How to Get into the Convent

With a fire blazing and Cosette tucked snugly into the only bed in Fauchelevent's cottage, Valjean and Fauchelevent share wine and cheese before turning in on bales of straw. But Hugo tells us that neither man actually slept. 

Valjean realizes that he's hiding in a place that is at once the most dangerous and the safest of all possible locations.

The most dangerous because, no men being allowed to enter it, if he were found inside he would be caught trespassing, and Jean Valjean would go straight from the convent to prison. The safest because, if there were some way of gaining acceptance and staying in this place, who would ever come looking for you here? To live in a place where you could not possibly be, that was salvation.

Meanwhile, Fauchelevent is stressing out. JVJ has told him he wants to stay in the convent. Fauchelevent feels like he owes it to Valjean -- whom he still refers to as "Monsieur Madeleine," blissfully unaware of everything that went down after he left Montreuil-sur-Mer -- to help him, but getting permission for a man to stay in this very strict convent is no easy task. 

Plus, as he tells JVJ in the morning, there's a bit of a problem. Before JVJ and Cosette can be welcomed into the convent, they must first get out. After all, there's no legitimate reason for them to be there or legal way for them to have entered the complex. 

Fauchelevent can sneak Cosette out inside his gardener's basket. But JVJ is much trickier.

As the old man is explaining all this, he's also listening to and explaining the bells that are ringing through the convent. The rings are coded, and he tells JVJ that a old nun has died. Part of Fauchelevent's duties are preparing the dead and nailing down their coffins before they are taken outside the convent for burial, because -- much to the nuns' chagrin -- the health inspector will not let the dead be buried on site. 

Eventually, Fauchelevent hears a bell summoning him to visit the prioress. He rushes out and leaves JVJ and Cosette hiding in the cottage.

II.VIII.II Fauchelevent Faces Difficulty

The nuns, apparently as tired of Fauchelevent's name as I am, call him the shortened "Père Fauvent."

Fauchelevent realizes that he's an asset to the convent for several recents and makes a long-winded plea to the prioress to admit his brother and granddaughter -- "who would be raised in godliness in this house and, who knows, would one day become a nun" -- so that his brother can help him with his duties. If not, because he's old and has a bad leg, he may have to leave the convent, he says.

Without the responding to this, the prioress asks him if he can procure a strong iron bar to use as a lever. He says yes. The prioress leaves and enters the next room, where several high-level nuns are assembled. 

II.VIII.III Mère Innocente

This chapter is almost entirely dialogue, which is quite unusual for Hugo. 

The prioress returns and plays coy for a while about what's on her mind, but she eventually reveals that she wants to honor Mère Innocente's dying wish to be buried in the crypt at the convent. After Fauchelevent protests a bit ("If the representative of the health department --"; "But the police superintendent --"; "But the prefectural inspector--"), the prioress launches into a lengthy rant about a) society and the state being in a state of decay; b) the Biblical precedent for honoring the wishes of the dead. She name drops a lot of obscure figures in the Bible and the Catholic church during this speech. 

Hugo says that "the prioress, usually subject to the dam of silence, and with her reservoir full to overflowing, stood up and exclaimed with with the effusiveness of an opened sluice gate." 

During the whole conversation, in which the prioress is asking Fauchelevent to move a heavy rock with this lever, Fauchelevent lays it on thick about needing his strong brother to help him out. 

My favorite part of the whole thing is this amusing failure of communication: 

"No other man but you can or should enter that room. You make sure of that. A fine thing that would be, to see a man entering the room for the dead!"
"More often!"
"More often!" 
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying more often." 
"More often than what?" 
"Reverend mother, I'm not saying more often than what, I'm saying more often."
"I don't understand you. Why do you say 'more often'?"
"I was saying what you said, reverend mother."
"But I didn't say 'more often.'"
At that moment nine o'clock struck.
"At nine o'clock in the morning and at every hour, praised and adored be the Most Blessed Sacrament of the altar," said the prioress.
"Amen," said Fauchelevent.
It was just as well the hour struck. It put an end to More Often. Otherwise, the prioress and Fauchelevent would probably never have extracted themselves from that tangle.

I'm not entirely sure what this is about. Is it supposed to show that Fauchelevent is a little ... simple? Is it evidence that, as Hugo mentions once or twice, he is hard of hearing? Is it simply Hugo being absurdist? I don't know, but it made me giggle. 

At the end of all this conversation, two other important things are established: First, Fauchelevent will bury Mère Innocente in a convent coffin and fill the other coffin with dirt before it's transported to the outside graveyard; second, the prioress is pleased with Fauchelevent's help and discretion, so she will allow his "brother" and "great-niece" to stay at Petit-Picpus. 

Up next: JVJ still needs to get out of the convent first. Bet you can guess how that happens.