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CHAPTER VIII—MADAME VICTURNIEN EXPENDS THIRTY FRANCS ON MORALITY
When Fantine saw that she was making her living, she felt joyful for a
moment. To live honestly by her own labor, what mercy from heaven! The
taste for work had really returned to her. She bought a looking-glass,
took pleasure in surveying in it her youth, her beautiful hair, her fine
teeth; she forgot many things; she thought only of Cosette and of the
possible future, and was almost happy. She hired a little room and
furnished on credit on the strength of her future work—a lingering
trace of her improvident ways. As she was not able to say that she was
married she took good care, as we have seen, not to mention her little
At first, as the reader has seen, she paid the Thenardiers promptly. As
she only knew how to sign her name, she was obliged to write through a
She wrote often, and this was noticed. It began to be said in an
undertone, in the women's workroom, that Fantine "wrote letters" and that
"she had ways about her."
There is no one for spying on people's actions like those who are not
concerned in them. Why does that gentleman never come except at nightfall?
Why does Mr. So-and-So never hang his key on its nail on Tuesday? Why does
he always take the narrow streets? Why does Madame always descend from her
hackney-coach before reaching her house? Why does she send out to purchase
six sheets of note paper, when she has a "whole stationer's shop full of
it?" etc. There exist beings who, for the sake of obtaining the key to
these enigmas, which are, moreover, of no consequence whatever to them,
spend more money, waste more time, take more trouble, than would be
required for ten good actions, and that gratuitously, for their own
pleasure, without receiving any other payment for their curiosity than
curiosity. They will follow up such and such a man or woman for whole
days; they will do sentry duty for hours at a time on the corners of the
streets, under alley-way doors at night, in cold and rain; they will bribe
errand-porters, they will make the drivers of hackney-coaches and lackeys
tipsy, buy a waiting-maid, suborn a porter. Why? For no reason. A pure
passion for seeing, knowing, and penetrating into things. A pure itch for
talking. And often these secrets once known, these mysteries made public,
these enigmas illuminated by the light of day, bring on catastrophies,
duels, failures, the ruin of families, and broken lives, to the great joy
of those who have "found out everything," without any interest in the
matter, and by pure instinct. A sad thing.
Certain persons are malicious solely through a necessity for talking.
Their conversation, the chat of the drawing-room, gossip of the anteroom,
is like those chimneys which consume wood rapidly; they need a great
amount of combustibles; and their combustibles are furnished by their
So Fantine was watched.
In addition, many a one was jealous of her golden hair and of her white
It was remarked that in the workroom she often turned aside, in the midst
of the rest, to wipe away a tear. These were the moments when she was
thinking of her child; perhaps, also, of the man whom she had loved.
Breaking the gloomy bonds of the past is a mournful task.
It was observed that she wrote twice a month at least, and that she paid
the carriage on the letter. They managed to obtain the address: Monsieur,
Monsieur Thenardier, inn-keeper at Montfermeil. The public writer, a good
old man who could not fill his stomach with red wine without emptying his
pocket of secrets, was made to talk in the wine-shop. In short, it was
discovered that Fantine had a child. "She must be a pretty sort of a
woman." An old gossip was found, who made the trip to Montfermeil, talked
to the Thenardiers, and said on her return: "For my five and thirty francs
I have freed my mind. I have seen the child."
The gossip who did this thing was a gorgon named Madame Victurnien, the
guardian and door-keeper of every one's virtue. Madame Victurnien was
fifty-six, and re-enforced the mask of ugliness with the mask of age. A
quavering voice, a whimsical mind. This old dame had once been young—astonishing
fact! In her youth, in '93, she had married a monk who had fled from his
cloister in a red cap, and passed from the Bernardines to the Jacobins.
She was dry, rough, peevish, sharp, captious, almost venomous; all this in
memory of her monk, whose widow she was, and who had ruled over her
masterfully and bent her to his will. She was a nettle in which the rustle
of the cassock was visible. At the Restoration she had turned bigot, and
that with so much energy that the priests had forgiven her her monk. She
had a small property, which she bequeathed with much ostentation to a
religious community. She was in high favor at the episcopal palace of
Arras. So this Madame Victurnien went to Montfermeil, and returned with
the remark, "I have seen the child."
All this took time. Fantine had been at the factory for more than a year,
when, one morning, the superintendent of the workroom handed her fifty
francs from the mayor, told her that she was no longer employed in the
shop, and requested her, in the mayor's name, to leave the neighborhood.
This was the very month when the Thenardiers, after having demanded twelve
francs instead of six, had just exacted fifteen francs instead of twelve.
Fantine was overwhelmed. She could not leave the neighborhood; she was in
debt for her rent and furniture. Fifty francs was not sufficient to cancel
this debt. She stammered a few supplicating words. The superintendent
ordered her to leave the shop on the instant. Besides, Fantine was only a
moderately good workwoman. Overcome with shame, even more than with
despair, she quitted the shop, and returned to her room. So her fault was
now known to every one.
She no longer felt strong enough to say a word. She was advised to see the
mayor; she did not dare. The mayor had given her fifty francs because he
was good, and had dismissed her because he was just. She bowed before the