Les Miserables 84: Corinth

lesmiserablesLast time we saw Enjolras and friends heading off to war.  Their group picked up several recruits along the way, including Gavroche, Mabeuf, and an older man whose identity no one was clear on.  They had intended to go to Saint-Merry and make a barricade there.  But, as Victor Hugo notes, mobs don’t go where they want.  They get swept up in the wind and go wherever the wind takes them.  For that reason, they overshot Saint-Merry and wound up at Saint-Denis.

Tucked away in the Saint-Denis neighborhood is a labyrinthine network of streets which includes the Rue de la Chanvrerie, which to all appearances is a cul-de-sac.  However it is cut across right near the end by a narrow winding street called the Rue Mondetour.  At this corner, overlooking the end of the Rue de la Chanvrerie, is a bistro called Corinth.  None of this is in existence nowadays; all these streets were torn up and redesigned just a few decades later.

Hugo takes a timeout to relate the history and traditions of the bistro Corinth.  This place was discovered by Grantaire and in time became a regular hangout of Enjolras and friends.  The founding chef died in 1830 shortly before the July Revolution, and the food was never quite the same.  But Enjolras and friends still continued to hang out and drink there.

Early on the morning of June 5, 1832, Grantaire, Joly, and Bossuet were hanging out at Corinth.  Grantaire was already wasted, having downed two bottles of wine and working on a concoction of bourbon, stout, and absinthe.  Eventually a gamin, a friend of Gavroche’s, brought word from Enjolras to Bossuet that Lamarque’s funeral procession was starting.  The three decided to pass on the funeral and wait for the insurrection to follow.  So they sat tight and later Enjolras and friends arrived.

They immediately went to work building a barricade at the intersection of the Rue de la Chanvrerie and the Rue Mondetour to cut off the cul-de-sac at the end where the bistro Corinth was located.  They also built a side barricade along the Rue Mondetour.  At this point Grantaire was so wasted that he finally passed out.

After finishing the barricade and completing all the preparations, they waited.  Night came on.  Gavroche keyed in on the older man who had joined them at the Rue des Billettes.  This man had observed everything there was to observe about the barricade while the students were busy with preparations.  When he finished, he entered the bistro and sat down at the table with the least light.  Gavroche then began to observe this man, and a wave of recognition passed over him.  He pointed him out to Enjolras as an informant.  Enjolras, along with four large workingmen, confronted the man.  The man admitted to being a government official named Javert, and was immediately handcuffed.  He was searched, then tied up and fastened to a post in the center of the bistro.  Gavroche then left to scope out the surrounding area.

At this point Hugo relates a very disconcerting incident.  Mobs attract all sorts of people, and no one asks any of the others where they come from.  One older hanger-on by the name, or possibly the nickname, Le Cabuc, had joined up with the students at some point along the way to the barricade.  He was not known by anyone in the group.  He was very drunk, or at least pretending to be.  While on the barricade, he eyed a five-story house at the end of the cul-de-sac and suggested that they ought to be shooting from there.  The upper windows of that house would have commanded a view of the entire street, and from those windows they would have been able to make life miserable for anyone who tried to attack.  But the house was shut up.  Le Cabuc was not deterred.  He knocked on the door.  When no one responded, he seized a musket and beat on the door with it.  This roused an old man, who placed a candle in the fourth floor window and addressed Le Cabuc below.  He would not open the door, but he could not see that Le Cabuc had a gun.  So Le Cabuc blew his head off.

The porter did not finish.  The musket went off; the ball entered under his chin and passed out at the back of the neck, passing through the jugular.  The old man sank without a sigh.  The candle fell and was extinguished, and nothing could now be seen but an immovable head lying on the edge of the window, and a little whitish smoke floating toward the roof.

Enjolras heard the gun go off, and he was on Le Cabuc immediately.  When Le Cabuc would not kneel, he forced him to a kneeling position with superhuman strength unexpected in one so young.

Pale, his neck bare, his hair flying, Enjolras, with his woman’s face, had at that moment some inexpressible quality of the ancient Themis.  His flaring nostrils, his downcast eyes, gave to his implacable Greek profile that expression of wrath and chastity which from the point of view of the ancient world belonged to justice.

Everyone else that was on the barricade rushed out to join Enjolras.  They encircled him and Le Cabuc.  Enjolras gave Le Cabuc one minute to collect his thoughts.  But in that entire minute Le Cabuc did nothing but just sit there on his knees, blubbering like an idiot.  Finally Enjolras took his pistol and blew his brains out.

They heard the explosion, the assassin fell face forward on the pavement, and Enjolras straightened up and looked around the circle, determined and severe.

Then he pushed the body away with his foot, and said, “Throw that outside.”

Three men lifted the wretch’s body, which was quivering with the last reflex convulsions of the life that had flown, and threw it over the small barricade into the little Rue Mondetour.

The whole group was troubled by what they had just witnessed.  Enjolras spoke at length on the meaning of what he had just done, then instructed them to dispose of Le Cabuc’s body.

Let us add that, if we are to believe a police tradition, strange but probably well founded, Le Cabuc was Claquesous.  The fact is that after the death of Le Cabuc, nothing more was heard of Claquesous.  Claquesous left no trace on his disappearance.  He would seem to have been amalgamated with the invisible.  His life had been darkness, his end was night.

At this point a young workingman slipped into the barricade.  Courfeyrac had recognized him as the same youth who had called upon him at his apartment earlier that day.  Who was this youth?  From earlier descriptions, we know enough to know that it was Eponine.