Les Miserables 61: The Little Boy Who Cried in Part Two

Here we come to the end of Part 3.  Victor Hugo closes it all out by tying it back in with the beginning of Part 3.

At the beginning of Part 3, after a lengthy expository section on the Parisian gamin, Victor Hugo introduces us to one particular gamin who is on his way to visit his parents.  This was Gavroche, and his parents were the Jondrettes, whom we now know to be the Thenardiers.  He was in the habit of stopping by to visit once every two to three months:

When he came there, he found poverty and distress and, sadder still, no smile; a cold hearth and cold hearts.  When he came in, they would ask, “Where have you come from?”  He would answer, “From the streets.”  When he went away they would ask him, “Where are you going?”  He would answer, “To the streets.”  His mother would say to him, “What have you come here for?”

The day after the Thenardiers’ attempted ambush of Valjean was the day that Gavroche came around for his quarterly visit to his parents.  We see him coming down the street, underdressed for the cold weather, singing at the top of his lungs.  He runs into an old lady, and a most hilarious scene ensues.  Best to let Victor Hugo tell you about it himself:

At the corner of the Rue du Petit-Banquier, an old crone was fishing around in a heap of rubbish by the light of a street lamp; the child bumped into her as he passed, then backed off, exclaiming, “Why!  Me, I just took that for an enormous, enormous dog!”

The second time he pronounced the word “enormous” with a facetious emphasis that capitals would best express:  “an enormous, ENORMOUS dog!”

The old woman straightened up in a rage.

“Jailbait!”  she muttered.  “If I had not been bent over, I know where I’d have planted my foot!”

The child was already some distance away.

“Tsk, tsk!” he said.  “Perhaps I wasn’t wrong, after all.”

Choking with indignation, the old woman straightened up all the way, the red glare of the lantern fully illuminating her gray face, deeply furrowed with wrinkles and sharp edges, with crows’ feet down to the corners of her mouth.  Her body was lost in the shadow, and only her head showed.  One would have said it was the mask of Decrepitude cut out by a flash in the dark.  The child studied her.

“Madame,” he said, “is not my type.’

After this exchange, Gavroche continues on his way, singing quite loudly, until he reaches Gorbeau.  The old lady follows at a distance.  It turns out that she is Ma’am Burgon, the landlady of Gorbeau.  She informs Gavroche that his family has been hauled off to prison.  He turns around and takes off into the darkness again, singing at the top of his lungs.

As the title of this chapter suggests, we have seen this boy earlier in the story.  You saw him at the Thenardiers’ inn on the night that Valjean came to fetch Cosette, though you may have just blown right through this and not recognized him:

At times, the cry of a very young child, somewhere around the house, was heard above the noise of the barroom.  It was a little boy the woman had had some winters before.  “I don’t know why,” she said; “it was the cold weather,”–and now a little more than three years old.  The mother had nursed him, but did not love him.  When the brat’s insistent racket became too much to bear, “Your boy is squalling,” Thenardier said.  “Why don’t you go and see what he wants?”

“Aah!” the mother answered.  “I’m sick of him.”  And the poor little fellow went on crying in the darkness.

This was Gavroche, at the age of three.  He is now eleven years old.  We see that his parents did not love him as a young child, and this never changed as he grew older.

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