Les Miserables

Author: Victor Hugo  | Date: 1862



IN the evening, as he was undressing to go to bed, he happened to feel in his coat-pocket the packet which he had picked up on the boulevard. He had forgotten it. He thought it might be well to open it, and that the packet might perhaps contain the address of the young girls, if, in reality, it belonged to them, or at all events the information necessary to restore it to the person who had lost it.

He opened the envelope.

It was unsealed and contained four letters, also unsealed.

The addresses were upon them.

All four exhaled an odour of wretched tobacco.

The first letter was addressed: To Madame, Madame the Marchioness de Grucheray, Square opposite the Chamber of Deputies, No. __

Marius said to himself that he should probably find in this letter the information of which he was in search, and that, moreover, as the letter was not sealed, probably it might be read without impropriety.

It was in these words:

"Madame the Marchioness:

"The virtue of kindness and piety is that which binds society most closely. Call up your Christian sentiment, and cast a look of compassion upon this unfortunate Spanish victim of loyalty and attachment to the sacred cause of legitimacy, which he has paid for with his blood, consecrated his fortune, wholy, to defend this cause, and to-day finds himself in the greatest missery. He has no doubt that your honourable self will furnish him assistance to preserve an existence extremely painful for a soldier of education and of honour full of wounds, reckons in advance upon the humanity which animmates you and upon the interest which Madame the Marchioness feels in a nation so unfortunate. Their prayer will not be in vain, and their memory will retain herr charming souvenir.

"From my respectful sentiments with which I have the honour to be, Madame,


"Spanish captain of cavalry, royalist refuge in France, who finds himself traveling for his country and ressources fail him to continue his travells."

No address was added to the signature. Marius hoped to find the address in the second letter the superscription of which ran: to Madame, Madame the Comtess de Montvernet, Rue Cassette, No. 9 . Marius read as follows:

"Madame the Comtess,

"It is an unfortunate mothur of a family of six children the last of whom is only eight months old. Me sick since my last lying-in, abandoned by my husband for five months haveing no ressources in the world the most frightful indigance.

"In the hope of Madame the Comtesse, she has the honour to be, Madame, with a profound respect,

"Mother BALIZARD."

Marius passed to the third letter, which was, like the preceding, a begging one; it read:

"Monsieur Pabourgeot, elector, wholesale merchant-milliner, Rue Saint Denis, corner of the Rue aux Fers.

"I take the liberty to address you this letter to pray you to accord me the pretious favour of your simpathies and to interest you in a man of letters who has just sent a drama to the Theatre Francais. Its subject is historical, and the action takes place in Auvergne in the time of the empire: its style, I believe, is natural, laconic, and perhaps has some merit. There are verses to be sung in four places. The comic, the serious, the unforeseen, mingle themselves with the variety of the characters and with a tint of romance spread lightly over all the plot which advances misteriously, and by striking terns, to a denouement in the midst of several hits of splendid scenes.

"My principal object is to satisfie the desire which animates progressively the man of our century, that is to say, fashion, that caprisious and grotesque weathercock which changes almost with every new wind.

"In spite of these qualities I have reason to fear that jealousy, the selfishness of the privileged authors, may secure my exclusion from the theatre, for I am not ignorant of the distaste with which newcomers are swollowed.

"Monsieur Pabourgeot, your just reputation as an enlightened protector of literary fokes emboldens me to send my daughter to you, who will expose to you our indignant situation, wanting bread and fire in this wynter season. To tell you that I pray you to accept the homage which I desire to offer you in my drama and in all those which I make, is to prove to you how ambicious I am of the honour of sheltering myself under your aegis, and of adorning my writings with your name. If you deign to honour me with the most modest offering, I shall occupy myself immediately a piese of verse for you to pay my tribut of recognition. This piese, which I shall endeavour to render as perfect as possible, will be sent to you before being inserted in the beginning of the drama and given upon the stage.

"To Monsieur and Madame Pabourgeot,

My most respectful homage,

"GENFLOT, man of letters.

"P. S. Were it only forty sous.

"Excuse me for sending my daughter and for not presenting myself, but sad motives of dress do not permit me, alas! to go out-"

Marius finally opened the fourth letter. There was on the address: To the beneficent gentleman of the church of Saint Jacques du Haut Pas . It contained these few lines:

"Beneficent man.

"If you will deign to accompany my daughter, you will see a misserable calamity, and I will show you my certificates.

"At the sight of these writings your generous soul will be moved with a sentiment of lively benevolence, for true philosophers always experience vivid emotions.

"Agree, compassionate man, that one must experience the most cruel necessity, and that it is very painful, to obtain relief, to have it attested by authority, as if we were not free to suffer and to die of inanition while waiting for some one to relieve our missery. The fates are very cruel to some and too lavish or too careful to others.

"I await your presence or your offering, if you deign to make it, and I pray you to have the kindness to accept the respectful sentiments with which I am proud to be,

"Truly magnanimous man,

"Your very humble

And very obedient servant,

"P. FABANTOU, dramatic artist."

After reading these four letters, Marius did not find himself much wiser than before.

In the first place none of the signers gave his address.

Then they seemed to come from four different individuals, Don Alvares, Mother Balizard, the poet Genflot, and the dramatic artist Fabantou; but, strangely enough, these letters were all four written in the same hand.

What was the conclusion from that, unless that they came from the same person?

Moreover, and this rendered the conjecture still more probable, the paper, coarse and yellow, was the same in all four, the odour of tobacco was the same, and although there was an evident endeavour to vary the style, the same faults of orthography were reproduced with a very quiet certainty, and Genflot, the man of letters, was no more free from them than the Spanish captain.

To endeavour to unriddle this little mystery was a useless labour. If it had not been a waif, it would have had the appearance of a mystification. Marius was too sad to take a joke kindly even from chance, or to lend himself to the game which the street pavement seemed to wish to play with him. It appeared to him that he was like Colin Maillard among the four letters, which were mocking him.

Nothing, however, indicated that these letters belonged to the girls whom Marius had met on the boulevard. After all, they were but waste paper evidently without value.

Marius put them back into the envelope, threw it into a corner, and went to bed.

About seven o’clock in the morning, he had got up and breakfasted, and was trying to set about his work when there was a gentle rap at his door.

As he owned nothing, he never locked his door, except sometimes, and that very rarely, when he was about some pressing piece of work. And, indeed, even when absent, he left his key in the lock. "You will be robbed," said Ma’am Bougon. "Of what?" said Marius. The fact is, however, that one day somebody had stolen an old pair of boots, to the great triumph of Ma’am Bougon.

There was a second rap, very gentle like the first.

"Come in," said Marius. The door opened.

"What do you want, Ma’am Bougon?" asked Marius, without raising his eyes from the books and papers which he had on his table.

A voice, which was not Ma’am Bougon’s, answered:

"I beg your pardon, Monsieur-"

It was a hollow, cracked, smothered, rasping voice, the voice of an old man, roughened by brandy and by liquors.

Marius turned quickly and saw a young girl.


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Chicago: Victor Hugo, "III," Les Miserables, trans. Charles E. Wilbour Original Sources, accessed November 28, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LBB9IYAR47MEIZ.

MLA: Hugo, Victor. "III." Les Miserables, translted by Charles E. Wilbour, Original Sources. 28 Nov. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LBB9IYAR47MEIZ.

Harvard: Hugo, V, 'III' in Les Miserables, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 28 November 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LBB9IYAR47MEIZ.