“As Befits A Caprice of Love and Magistracy”

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, with his wife, Silda, announces his resignation at his Manhattan office. [Source: NYT]

I admit, I’m as guilty as the next guy when it comes to prurient interest and schadenfreude. I came of age in the reign of Richard Nixon, so I expect sleaze and delusional behavior from politicians, even do-gooders like Eliot Spitzer. Political wives, however, should be spared the grotesque humiliation ritual of standing by their men.

What surprised me about Spitzer’s peccadilloes was how tawdry tawdry has become. As described in Slate, the Emperors’ Club (a “prostitution ring” or “call-girl service”) operated like any other e-commerce site. It even had customer ratings. The “product” description could have come out of the L.L. Bean catalog: “Emmy…. A fine country and folk musician. Her gifted voice and melodious harmony convey nature’s beautiful appreciation at once. She is comforting … rustic. From the warm-toned autumn leaves to the rising flowers of spring, Emmy casually reminds you to savor every second of our surrounding, abundant beauty. Emmy… be revitalized to triumph.”

That’s a $5000 hooker?

Eliot Spitzer should have consulted Victor Hugo, who knew something about hiding one mistress from another. Consider his elaborate description of the “house with a secret” in Les Misérables (IV.3.1):

About the middle of the last century [i.e., the 18th century], a chief justice in the Parliament of Paris having a mistress and concealing the fact, for at that period the grand seignors displayed their mistresses, and the bourgeois concealed them, had “a little house” built in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, in the deserted Rue Blomet, which is now called Rue Plumet,not far from the spot which was then designated as Combat des Animaux.

This house was composed of a single-storied pavilion; two rooms on the ground floor, two chambers on the first floor, a kitchen down stairs, a boudoir up stairs, an attic under the roof, the whole preceded by a garden with a large gate opening on the street. This garden was about an acre and a half in extent. This was all that could be seen by passers-by; but behind the pavilion there was a narrow courtyard, and at the end of the courtyard a low building consisting of two rooms and a cellar, a sort of preparation destined to conceal a child and nurse in case of need. This building communicated in the rear by a masked door which opened by a secret spring, with a long, narrow, paved winding corridor, open to the sky, hemmed in with two lofty walls, which, hidden with wonderful art, and lost as it were between garden enclosures and cultivated land, all of whose angles and detours it followed, ended in another door, also with a secret lock which opened a quarter of a league away, almost in another quarter, at the solitary extremity of the Rue du Babylone.

Through this the chief justice entered, so that even those who were spying on him and following him would merely have observed that the justice betook himself every day in a mysterious way somewhere, and would never have suspected that to go to the Rue de Babylone was to go to the Rue Blomet. Thanks to clever purchasers of land, the magistrate had been able to make a secret, sewer-like passage on his own property, and consequently, without interference. Later on, he had sold in little parcels, for gardens and market gardens, the lots of ground adjoining the corridor, and the proprietors of these lots on both sides thought they had a party wall before their eyes, and did not even suspect the long, paved ribbon winding between two walls amid their flower-beds and their orchards. Only the birds beheld this curiosity. It is probable that the linnets and tomtits of the last century gossiped a great deal about the chief justice.

The pavilion, built of stone in the taste of Mansard, wainscoted and furnished in the Watteau style, rocaille on the inside, old-fashioned on the outside, walled in with a triple hedge of flowers, had something discreet, coquettish, and solemn about it, as befits a caprice of love and magistracy.

Walk around Faubourg Saint-Germain today, and it’s hard to imagine that such a place ever existed. But stroll all the way to the back of the gardens at the Musée Rodin, duck through the gap in the semi-circular hedge above the reflecting pool, and lo! There could be such a secret passage through the heart of Paris.

A Note on Sources: The text comes from the Project Gutenberg etext of Les Misérables, a sturdy 19th-century translation by Isabel F. Hapgood which is now in the public domain.

Rodin’s “Fall of Illusion: Sister of Icarus”

Auguste Rodin. L’Illusion soeur d’Icare. 1895. Musée Rodin, Paris. [Photo by Dave Rytell]

This sculpture beguiled me when I saw it at the Musée Rodin. I so much wanted to touch her wing. It was marble but it looked like a living thing. It had the delicacy of feathers, the muscularity of pulsing blood, the soaring lift and resistance of a sail in the wind. It wasn’t the invention of D aedalus or Leonardo. It must have come from an angel, a condor, a clipper ship’s flying jib. And her body emerging from marble, plunging in free fall, legs akimbo, at once defying gravity while surrendering to it. And her breasts. This was not the mythical Icarus, but his sister apprehended in a dream.

I mentioned this sculpture in A Gavroche Retrospective, where I wrote about the surreal scene inside the Elephant in Place de la Bastille in Les Misérables IV.6.1-2. Victor Hugo and Rodin were proto- Surrealists long before Surrealism was a manifesto or a movement. The poets and artists we call Surrealists were descendants, not originals.

As often as not, the sculpture is identified as Icarus, not his sister. The full title is “Fall of Illusion - Sister of Icarus” (in French, L’Illusion soeur d’Icare). As the Rodin’s Works website explains, the sculptor created multiple variations on the theme. I haven’t found a definitive catalog reference or photograph of it, but there are several good Flickr images such as that linked here.

A Gavroche Retrospective

Les Misérables logoWhen I began quoting and commenting on Les Misérables in September — I’ll call it blog-reading — I didn’t know exactly why I was doing it or where it would lead. I needed content to work with to learn the ropes in WordPress. I was experimenting with text editors in pursuit of “pure text” uncorrupted by hidden Microsoft gremlins. I’d just finished reading Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture. It was a conversion experience, and I was fired with a zeal to work with texts in the public domain as an affirmation of the Creative Commons. Project Gutenberg’s Les Mis fit the bill on all those counts, and it led to sweet serendipities along the way.

Before I launch the blog-reading of another book, I should stop and take stock of what I learned from Gavroche in Les Misérables IV.6.1-3. First, what a character! If my karma leads to reincarnation, I don’t want to come back as Marius or Jean Valjean. I want to be Gavroche. He is the direct literary forbear of Huckleberry Finn. Said another way, Huck translates Gavroche into the American idiom. A graduate student who needs a dissertation project would find much grist to grind in a comparison of Gavroche and Huck, the gaman in Old World and New, Victor Hugo and Mark Twain, literary legends and filthy lucre in Third Empire and Gilded Age publishing. Second, the scene inside the Elephant in the Place de la Bastille is a proto-Surrealist marvel. I had the same response to sculptures at the Roodin Museum the last time I was there, notably a beguiling table-top marble titled “Sister of Icarus.” Rodin was a Surrealist before Surrealism was a movement or manifesto. Those we call Surrealists were descendants, not originals. And finally, Victor Hugo may sound like a titanic mono-didact much of the time, but he also crafted deft narrative substructures. There are technical subtleties in IV.6.1-3 that I missed the first time I read it and would have missed again without blogging the excerpts listed below.

In terms of text management, I realize now that blog navigation gives me several ways of following this thread, but only in reverse chronological order. That may work for “in the moment” reading at the top of the blog, but it’s no way to look back and get a sense of the whole. For convenience, I have hand-sorted the following list into the proper narrative sequence. When I master CSS coding, I hope to do this more efficiently.

  1. A Sou’s Worth of Bread
  2. The Elephant in Place de la Bastille
  3. Two Views of Place de la Bastille
  4. Storming the Bastille
  5. “The beasts had all these things”
  6. From Gavroche to Huckleberry Finn
  7. “Mice which ate cats”
  8. “The Paris brat ain’t made of straw”

[A Note on Sources: This text comes from the Project Gutenberg etext of Les Misérables, a 19th-century translation by Isabel F. Hapgood which is now in the public domain.]

“Mice which ate cats”

Les Misérables logoIn Notre-Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo’s characters do not exchange  dialog. They declaim at one another, often histrionically.  The novel was written immediately after the tempestuous debut in 1829 of Hugo’s play, Hernani. Dramaturgy in one guise or another was paying the bills, and it sustained the young novelist as he scrambled to satisfy a publisher’s deadline long overdue. Hugo would come to practice a kind of “literary crop rotation,” in the words of biographer Graham Robb, alternating volumes of verse with plays and books of prose. By the time he wrote Les Misérables, Hugo had mastered the art of burnishing a scene with incisive dialog.  Here is the culmination of the scene inside the Elephant of Place de la Bastille (IV.6.2). With a horde of rats hovering above their heads, Gavroche reassures the yongest of his charges until fear subsides and he can fall asleep.

Hardly had the light been extinguished, when a peculiar trembling
began to affect the netting under which the three children lay.

It consisted of a multitude of dull scratches which produced a
metallic sound, as if claws and teeth were gnawing at the copper wire.
This was accompanied by all sorts of little piercing cries.

The little five-year-old boy, on hearing this hubbub overhead,
and chilled with terror, jogged his brother’s elbow; but the elder
brother had already shut his peepers, as Gavroche had ordered.
Then the little one, who could no longer control his terror,
questioned Gavroche, but in a very low tone, and with bated breath:-


“Hey?” said Gavroche, who had just closed his eyes.

“What is that?”

“It’s the rats,” replied Gavroche.

And he laid his head down on the mat again.

The rats, in fact, who swarmed by thousands in the carcass of
the elephant, and who were the living black spots which we have
already mentioned, had been held in awe by the flame of the candle,
so long as it had been lighted; but as soon as the cavern,
which was the same as their city, had returned to darkness,
scenting what the good story-teller Perrault calls “fresh meat,”
they had hurled themselves in throngs on Gavroche’s tent,
had climbed to the top of it, and had begun to bite the meshes
as though seeking to pierce this new-fangled trap.

Still the little one could not sleep.

“Sir?” he began again.

“Hey?” said Gavroche.

“What are rats?”

“They are mice.”

This explanation reassured the child a little. He had seen white
mice in the course of his life, and he was not afraid of them.
Nevertheless, he lifted up his voice once more.


“Hey?” said Gavroche again.

“Why don’t you have a cat?”

“I did have one,” replied Gavroche, “I brought one here, but they
ate her.”

This second explanation undid the work of the first, and the little
fellow began to tremble again.

The dialogue between him and Gavroche began again for the fourth time:-



“Who was it that was eaten?”

“The cat.”

“And who ate the cat?”

“The rats.”

“The mice?”

“Yes, the rats.”

The child, in consternation, dismayed at the thought of mice
which ate cats, pursued:-

“Sir, would those mice eat us?”

“Wouldn’t they just!” ejaculated Gavroche.

The child’s terror had reached its climax. But Gavroche added:-

“Don’t be afraid. They can’t get in. And besides, I’m here!
Here, catch hold of my hand. Hold your tongue and shut your peepers!”

At the same time Gavroche grasped the little fellow’s hand
across his brother. The child pressed the hand close to him,
and felt reassured. Courage and strength have these mysterious
ways of communicating themselves. Silence reigned round them
once more, the sound of their voices had frightened off the rats;
at the expiration of a few minutes, they came raging back, but in vain,
the three little fellows were fast asleep and heard nothing more.

[A Note on Sources: This text comes from the Project Gutenberg etext of Les Misérables, a 19th-century translation by Isabel F. Hapgood which is now in the public domain.]

From Gavroche to Huckleberry Finn

I continue to marvel at the rogue Gavroche and see in him the prototype for Huck Finn. After explaining how he “borrowed” his bedroom furnishings from the beasts at the Jardin des Plantes, Gavroche adds insouciantly, “You crawl over the walls and you don’t care a straw for the government.” Victor Hugo pauses in telling the story inside the Elephant to take the measure of his gaman:

“The two children gazed with timid and stupefied respect on this intrepid and ingenious being, a vagabond like themselves,isolated like themselves, frail like themselves, who had something admirable and all-powerful about him, who seemed supernatural to them, and whose physiognomy was composed of all the grimacesof an old mountebank, mingled with the most ingenuous and charming smiles.” [IV.6.2]

The illustration of Gavroche (left) is by Émile Bayard and from the original 1862 edition of Les Misérables [source Wikimedia Commons]. The gaman appears here in better raiment than is described in the novel, which presents him as clad only in rags. Is he barefoot? I can’t tell from the engraving. Give him a corncob pipe, move the scene from narrow Paris street to muddy Mississippi riverbank, and he could step right into the pages of the 1883 first edition of Mark Twain’s masterpiece.

[A Note on Sources: This text comes from the Project Gutenberg etext of Les Misérables, a 19th-century translation by Isabel F. Hapgood which is now in the public domain.]

“The beasts had all these things”

Les Misérables logoGavroche climbed nimbly up the leg of the Elephant in Place de la Bastille, entering its cavernous belly through a breach so narrow “only cats and homeless children” could pass through it. He dropped a rope so the little boys could join him. Then Gavroche lit a bit of wax-coated string called a “cellar rat.” The boys surveyed their dank, dimly-lit refuge with bewilderment. They felt “what Jonah must have felt in the biblical belly of the whale. An entire and gigantic skeleton appeared enveloping them.” [IV.6.2] Here they could sleep, sheltered from the wind and rain.

Gavroche’s bed was complete; that is to say, it had a mattress,
a blanket, and an alcove with curtains.

The mattress was a straw mat, the blanket a rather large strip
of gray woollen stuff, very warm and almost new. This is what
the alcove consisted of:-

Three rather long poles, thrust into and consolidated, with the rubbish
which formed the floor, that is to say, the belly of the elephant,
two in front and one behind, and united by a rope at their summits,
so as to form a pyramidal bundle. This cluster supported
a trellis-work of brass wire which was simply placed upon it,
but artistically applied, and held by fastenings of iron wire,
so that it enveloped all three holes. A row of very heavy stones kept
this network down to the floor so that nothing could pass under it.
This grating was nothing else than a piece of the brass screens
with which aviaries are covered in menageries. Gavroche’s bed stood
as in a cage, behind this net. The whole resembled an Esquimaux tent.

This trellis-work took the place of curtains.

Gavroche moved aside the stones which fastened the net down in front,
and the two folds of the net which lapped over each other fell apart.

“Down on all fours, brats!” said Gavroche.

He made his guests enter the cage with great precaution, then he
crawled in after them, pulled the stones together, and closed
the opening hermetically again.

All three had stretched out on the mat. Gavroche still had
the cellar rat in his hand.

“Now,” said he, “go to sleep! I’m going to suppress the candelabra.”

“Monsieur,” the elder of the brothers asked Gavroche, pointing to
the netting, “what’s that for?”

“That,” answered Gavroche gravely, “is for the rats. Go to sleep!”

Nevertheless, he felt obliged to add a few words of instruction
for the benefit of these young creatures, and he continued:-

“It’s a thing from the Jardin des Plantes. It’s used for fierce animals.
There’s a whole shopful of them there. All you’ve got to do is to
climb over a wall, crawl through a window, and pass through a door.
You can get as much as you want.”

As he spoke, he wrapped the younger one up bodily in a fold
of the blanket, and the little one murmured:-

“Oh! how good that is! It’s warm!”

Gavroche cast a pleased eye on the blanket.

“That’s from the Jardin des Plantes, too,” said he. “I took
that from the monkeys.”

And, pointing out to the eldest the mat on which he was lying,
a very thick and admirably made mat, he added:-

“That belonged to the giraffe.”

After a pause he went on:-

“The beasts had all these things. I took them away from them.
It didn’t trouble them. I told them: `It’s for the elephant.’”

[A Note on Sources: This text comes from the Project Gutenberg etext of Les Misérables, a 19th-century translation by Isabel F. Hapgood which is now in the public domain.]

Two Views of Place de la Bastille

19th-century illustrations of Place de la Bastille

Two 19th-century illustrations depict Place de la Bastille in the years before and after Victor Hugo ‘s description of the Elephant in Les Misérables IV.6. 2: [above left] Elephant caparaconne d’or by Alvoine, from the time of Napoleon; [below left] La Colonne de Julliet, from the time of Louis-Phillippe.

The source for these illustrations is France in the Age of Les Misérables, a fascinating web site created in 2001 by history students at Mt. Holyoke College forHistory 255, “‘Les Mis’ and ‘Les Media’: Realities and Representations in France of the Les Misérables.” The course was taught by Professor Robert Schwartz, who continues to maintain the site.

Walter Benjamin would have loved the Mt. Holyoke project, devoted as it is to collecting and interpreting cultural representations of 19th-century Paris. It looks like an excellent companion to any contemporary reading of Les Mis.

Here is the thesis behind Les Misand Les Media:

“Indeed it is through a precise repertoire of looks and glances that a ‘physiology’ of the city, moral as much as physical, is mapped out. The visual ordering of space has become a vehicle for articulating cultural values” (Nicholas Green; The Spectacle of Nature; NY: Manchester University Press, 1999, p. 12)

The quote above illustrates how Paris as a city reflects Paris as a people. Paris saw the beginning and the end of the French Revolution. The geography of Paris before the Revolution of 1789 mirrored its social hierarchy. The Revolution was a product of the increasing tensions between the old Aristocracy and the growing bourgeoisie class. Technological, social, political, and economic changes in Paris, as seen through different representations such as historical maps and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, reflect the change from an aristocratic to a modern, bourgeoisie society realized in Baron Haussmann’s massive building program of the 1860′s.

The Elephant in Place de la Bastille

Les Misérables logoAfter Gavroche and the “brats” devour their sou’s worth of bread, they continue down Rue Saint-Antoine to Place de la Bastille,where Gavroche has taken up residence, surreptitiously, in the belly of the Elephant. Yes, the Elephant. One is tempted to say that only Victor Hugo could have imagined the ensuing scene, but in fact the Elephant was a figment of Napoleon’s grandiosity. He conceived it in 1808 as a triumphal public monument that would be cast in bronze melted down from cannons seized in his military conquests. A full-scale plaster mockette was constructed before Napoleon’s demise, but it was never executed in bronze. By 1832, when it enters the narrative of Les Misérables, the moldering Elephant is an eyesore to the bourgeoisie and a refuge for our gaman. Hugo describes its eerie presence in IV.6.2:

Twenty years ago, there was still to be seen in the southwest corner
of the Place de la Bastille, near the basin of the canal, excavated in
the ancient ditch of the fortress-prison, a singular monument,
which has already been effaced from the memories of Parisians,
and which deserved to leave some trace, for it was the idea of
a “member of the Institute, the General-in-chief of the army of Egypt.”

We say monument, although it was only a rough model. But this
model itself, a marvellous sketch, the grandiose skeleton of an idea
of Napoleon’s, which successive gusts of wind have carried away
and thrown, on each occasion, still further from us, had become
historical and had acquired a certain definiteness which contrasted
with its provisional aspect. It was an elephant forty feet high,
constructed of timber and masonry, bearing on its back a tower
which resembled a house, formerly painted green by some dauber,
and now painted black by heaven, the wind, and time. In this deserted
and unprotected corner of the place, the broad brow of the colossus,
his trunk, his tusks, his tower, his enormous crupper, his four feet,
like columns produced, at night, under the starry heavens, a surprising
and terrible form. It was a sort of symbol of popular force.
It was sombre, mysterious, and immense. It was some mighty,
visible phantom, one knew not what, standing erect beside the invisible
spectre of the Bastille.

Few strangers visited this edifice, no passer-by looked at it.
It was falling into ruins; every season the plaster which detached
itself from its sides formed hideous wounds upon it. “The aediles,”
as the expression ran in elegant dialect, had forgotten it ever
since 1814. There it stood in its corner, melancholy, sick, crumbling,
surrounded by a rotten palisade, soiled continually by drunken coachmen;
cracks meandered athwart its belly, a lath projected from its tail,
tall grass flourished between its legs; and, as the level of the
place had been rising all around it for a space of thirty years,
by that slow and continuous movement which insensibly elevates
the soil of large towns, it stood in a hollow, and it looked
as though the ground were giving way beneath it. It was unclean,
despised, repulsive, and superb, ugly in the eyes of the bourgeois,
melancholy in the eyes of the thinker. There was something about it
of the dirt which is on the point of being swept out, and something
of the majesty which is on the point of being decapitated.
As we have said, at night, its aspect changed. Night is the real
element of everything that is dark. As soon as twilight descended,
the old elephant became transfigured; he assumed a tranquil and
redoubtable appearance in the formidable serenity of the shadows.
Being of the past, he belonged to night; and obscurity was in keeping
with his grandeur.

This rough, squat, heavy, hard, austere, almost misshapen,
but assuredly majestic monument, stamped with a sort of magnificent
and savage gravity, has disappeared, and left to reign in peace,
a sort of gigantic stove, ornamented with its pipe, which has replaced
the sombre fortress with its nine towers, very much as the bourgeoisie
replaces the feudal classes. It is quite natural that a stove
should be the symbol of an epoch in which a pot contains power.
This epoch will pass away, people have already begun to understand that,
if there can be force in a boiler, there can be no force except in
the brain; in other words, that which leads and drags on the world,
is not locomotives, but ideas. Harness locomotives to ideas,-
that is well done; but do not mistake the horse for the rider.

At all events, to return to the Place de la Bastille, the architect
of this elephant succeeded in making a grand thing out of plaster;
the architect of the stove has succeeded in making a pretty thing
out of bronze.

This stove-pipe, which has been baptized by a sonorous name, and called
the column of July, this monument of a revolution that miscarried,
was still enveloped in 1832, in an immense shirt of woodwork,
which we regret, for our part, and by a vast plank enclosure,
which completed the task of isolating the elephant.

It was towards this corner of the place, dimly lighted by the reflection
of a distant street lamp, that the gamin guided his two “brats.”

The reader must permit us to interrupt ourselves here and to remind
him that we are dealing with simple reality, and that twenty
years ago, the tribunals were called upon to judge, under the charge
of vagabondage, and mutilation of a public monument, a child
who had been caught asleep in this very elephant of the Bastille.
This fact noted, we proceed.

[A Note on Sources: This text comes from the Project Gutenberg etext of Les Misérables, a 19th-century translation by Isabel F. Hapgood which is now in the public domain.]

A Sou’s Worth of Bread

Les Misérables logo Les Misérables is one of those roman á fleuvre (a phrase cribbed from Walter Benjamin, who knew all about the genre after translating Proust) that descend through treacherous eddies and backwaters before finally reaching the sea. It takes a stalwart, even obsessed, reader to cover its vast distance in one passage. I started the book at Christmas, 2005, and was cast ashore before I mastered the 19th-century book structure and character names. I picked it up again in the summer of 2006 and its gathering narrative current swept me along until I hit slack water in the dog days of August: volume IV, book 7, chapters 1-3 (I will henceforth document such text locations as IV.7.1-3). It is a long, stultifying discourse on slang, which probably is interesting in its own righ, but it differs so much in tone from the narrative that precedes and follows that it feels like a different river. I put the book down for more than a year.

Hoping to hang onto that indulgent, elegiac feeling associated with “summer reading,” I picked up Les Mis again two nights ago. I did, literally, pick up a vintage copy of the Modern Library edition, and I could put my finger directly on the didactic section that stopped me last summer. But I read the book by listening to an audio recording produced by the Library of Congress, and I couldn’t remember which cassette track was last read. I re-read a hundred pages over several hours of listening, and IV.7.1-3 is still a ways downstream. In the mean time, I’m remembering the characters as I meet them again.

That brings me to Gavroche, the gaman who steals the show in IV.6.1-3. Re-reading it, I realized how Gavroche was Huck Finn’s pre-cursor (metaphorically and literally) . He is Huck Finn with a dash of Jessie James and Frantz Fanon thrown in for good measure!

In IV.6.1, Gavroche is making his way to Place Bastille when he finds two younger waifs who have been abandoned to the streets of Paris after their “mother” was arrested. The reader knows, but Gavroche does not, that the boys are actually his long-lost brothers. He takes them under his wing. This scene, which expresses a particular French passion for good bread (and animated language), unfolds somewhere on Rue Saint-Antoine:

As they were passing one of these heavy grated lattices,
which indicate a baker’s shop, for bread is put behind
bars like gold, Gavroche turned round:-

“Ah, by the way, brats, have we dined?”

“Monsieur,” replied the elder, “we have had nothing to eat since
this morning.”

“So you have neither father nor mother?” resumed Gavroche majestically.

“Excuse us, sir, we have a papa and a mamma, but we don’t know
where they are.”

“Sometimes that’s better than knowing where they are,” said Gavroche,
who was a thinker.

“We have been wandering about these two hours,” continued the elder,
“we have hunted for things at the corners of the streets, but we
have found nothing.”

“I know,” ejaculated Gavroche, “it’s the dogs who eat everything.”

He went on, after a pause:-

“Ah! we have lost our authors. We don’t know what we have done
with them. This should not be, gamins. It’s stupid to let old people
stray off like that. Come now! we must have a snooze all the same.”

However, he asked them no questions. What was more simple than
that they should have no dwelling place!

The elder of the two children, who had almost entirely recovered
the prompt heedlessness of childhood, uttered this exclamation:-

“It’s queer, all the same. Mamma told us that she would take us
to get a blessed spray on Palm Sunday.”

“Bosh,” said Gavroche.

“Mamma,” resumed the elder, “is a lady who lives with Mamselle Miss.”

“Tanflute!” retorted Gavroche.

Meanwhile he had halted, and for the last two minutes he had been
feeling and fumbling in all sorts of nooks which his rags contained.

At last he tossed his head with an air intended to be merely satisfied,
but which was triumphant, in reality.

“Let us be calm, young ‘uns. Here’s supper for three.”

And from one of his pockets he drew forth a sou.

Without allowing the two urchins time for amazement, he pushed
both of them before him into the baker’s shop, and flung his sou
on the counter, crying:-

“Boy! five centimes’ worth of bread.”

The baker, who was the proprietor in person, took up a loaf and a knife.

“In three pieces, my boy!” went on Gavroche.

And he added with dignity:-

“There are three of us.”

And seeing that the baker, after scrutinizing the three customers,
had taken down a black loaf, he thrust his finger far up his nose
with an inhalation as imperious as though he had had a pinch of the
great Frederick’s snuff on the tip of his thumb, and hurled this
indignant apostrophe full in the baker’s face:-


Those of our readers who might be tempted to espy in this
interpellation of Gavroche’s to the baker a Russian or a Polish word,
or one of those savage cries which the Yoways and the Botocudos hurl
at each other from bank to bank of a river, athwart the solitudes,
are warned that it is a word which they [our readers] utter every day,
and which takes the place of the phrase: “Qu’est-ce que c’est
que cela?” The baker understood perfectly, and replied:-

“Well! It’s bread, and very good bread of the second quality.”

“You mean larton brutal [black bread]!” retorted Gavroche,
calmly and coldly disdainful. “White bread, boy! white bread
[larton savonne]! I’m standing treat.”

The baker could not repress a smile, and as he cut the white bread
he surveyed them in a compassionate way which shocked Gavroche.

“Come, now, baker’s boy!” said he, “what are you taking our measure
like that for?”

All three of them placed end to end would have hardly made a measure.

When the bread was cut, the baker threw the sou into his drawer,
and Gavroche said to the two children:-

“Grub away.”

The little boys stared at him in surprise.

Gavroche began to laugh.

“Ah! hullo, that’s so! they don’t understand yet, they’re too small.”

And he repeated:-

“Eat away.”

At the same time, he held out a piece of bread to each of them.

And thinking that the elder, who seemed to him the more worthy
of his conversation, deserved some special encouragement and ought
to be relieved from all hesitation to satisfy his appetite, he added,
as he handed him the largest share:-

“Ram that into your muzzle.”

One piece was smaller than the others; he kept this for himself.

The poor children, including Gavroche, were famished.
As they tore their bread apart in big mouthfuls, they blocked up
the shop of the baker, who, now that they had paid their money,
looked angrily at them.

“Let’s go into the street again,” said Gavroche.

[A Note on Sources: This text comes from the Project Gutenberg etext of Les Misérables, a 19th-century translation in the public domain. I will have much more to say about Project Gutenberg, a priceless cultural treasure for all readers and flaneurs, be ye blind or not.]