“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.]

This entry was posted in IVe, Les Misérables, Paris and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “The beasts had all these things”

  1. Pingback: a blind flaneur

Comments are closed.