CHAPTER XXI ONE SHOULD ALWAYS BEGIN BY ARRESTING THE VICTIMS
At nightfall, Javert had posted his men and had gone into ambush himself between the trees of the Rue de la Barrieredes-Gobelins which faced the Gorbeau house, on the other side of the boulevard. He had begun operations by opening "his pockets," and dropping into it the two young girls who were charged with keeping a watch on the approaches to the den. But he had only "caged" Azelma. As for Eponine, she was not at her post, she had disappeared,and he had not been able to seize her. Then Javert had made a point and had bent his ear to waiting for the signal agreed upon.The comings and goings of the fiacres had greatly agitated him. At last, he had grown impatient, and, sure that there was a nest there,sure of being in "luck," having recognized many of the ruffians who had entered, he had finally decided to go upstairs without waiting for the pistol-shot.
It will be remembered that he had Marius' pass-key.
He had arrived just in the nick of time.
The terrified ruffians flung themselves on the arms which they had abandoned in all the corners at the moment of flight. In less than a second, these seven men, horrible to behold, had grouped themselves in an attitude of defence, one with his meat-axe, another with his key, another with his bludgeon, the rest with shears, pincers, and hammers. Thenardier had his knife in his fist. The Thenardier woman snatched up an enormous paving-stone which lay in the angle of the window and served her daughters as an ottoman.
Javert put on his hat again, and advanced a couple of paces into the room, with arms folded, his cane under one arm, his sword in its sheath.
"Halt there," said he. "You shall not go out by the window, you shall go through the door. It's less unhealthy. There are seven of you, there are fifteen of us. Don't let's fall to collaring each other like men of Auvergne."
Bigrenaille drew out a pistol which he had kept concealed under his blouse, and put it in Thenardier's hand, whispering in the latter's ear:--
"It's Javert. I don't dare fire at that man. Do you dare?"
"Parbleu!" replied Thenardier.
"Well, then, fire."
Thenardier took the pistol and aimed at Javert.
Javert, who was only three paces from him, stared intently at him and contented himself with saying:--
"Come now, don't fire. You'll miss fire."
Thenardier pulled the trigger. The pistol missed fire.
"Didn't I tell you so!" ejaculated Javert.
Bigrenaille flung his bludgeon at Javert's feet.
"You're the emperor of the fiends! I surrender."
"And you?" Javert asked the rest of the ruffians.
"So do we."
Javert began again calmly:--
"That's right, that's good, I said so, you are nice fellows.
"I only ask one thing," said Bigrenaille, "and that is, that I may not be denied tobacco while I am in confinement."
"Granted," said Javert.
And turning round and calling behind him:--
"Come in now!"
A squad of policemen, sword in hand, and agents armed with bludgeons and cudgels, rushed in at Javert's summons. They pinioned the ruffians.
This throng of men, sparely lighted by the single candle, filled the den with shadows.
"Handcuff them all!" shouted Javert.
"Come on!" cried a voice which was not the voice of a man, but of which no one would ever have said: "It is a woman's voice."
The Thenardier woman had entrenched herself in one of the angles of the window, and it was she who had just given vent to this roar.
The policemen and agents recoiled.
She had thrown off her shawl. but retained her bonnet; her husband, who was crouching behind her, was almost hidden under the discarded shawl, and she was shielding him with her body, as she elevated the paving-stone above her head with the gesture of a giantess on the point of hurling a rock.
"Beware!" she shouted.
All crowded back towards the corridor. A broad open space was cleared in the middle of the garret.
The Thenardier woman cast a glance at the ruffians who had allowed themselves to be pinioned, and muttered in hoarse and guttural accents:--
Javert smiled, and advanced across the open space which the Thenardier was devouring with her eyes.
"Don't come near me," she cried, "or I'll crush you."
"What a grenadier!" ejaculated Javert; "you've got a beard like a man, mother, but I have claws like a woman."
And he continued to advance.
The Thenardier, dishevelled and terrible, set her feet far apart, threw herself backwards, and hurled the paving-stone at Javert's head. Javert ducked, the stone passed over him, struck the wall behind,knocked off a huge piece of plastering, and, rebounding from angle to angle across the hovel, now luckily almost empty, rested at Javert's feet.
At the same moment, Javert reached the Thenardier couple. One of his big hands descended on the woman's shoulder; the other on the husband's head.
"The handcuffs!" he shouted.
The policemen trooped in in force, and in a few seconds Javert's order had been executed.
The Thenardier female, overwhelmed, stared at her pinioned hands, and at those of her husband, who had dropped to the floor, and exclaimed, weeping:--
"They are in the jug," said Javert.
In the meanwhile, the agents had caught sight of the drunken man asleep behind the door, and were shaking him:--
He awoke, stammering:--
"Is it all over, Jondrette?"
"Yes," replied Javert.
The six pinioned ruffians were standing, and still preserved their spectral mien; all three besmeared with black, all three masked.
"Keep on your masks," said Javert.
And passing them in review with a glance of a Frederick II. at a Potsdam parade, he said to the three "chimney-builders":--
"Good day, Bigrenaille! good day, Brujon! good day, Deuxmilliards!"
Then turning to the three masked men, he said to the man with the meat-axe:--
"Good day, Gueulemer!"
And to the man with the cudgel:--
"Good day, Babet!"
And to the ventriloquist:--
"Your health, Claquesous."
At that moment, he caught sight of the ruffians' prisoner. who, ever since the entrance of the police, had not uttered a word, and had held his head down.
"Untie the gentleman!" said Javert, "and let no one go out!"
That said, he seated himself with sovereign dignity before the table, where the candle and the writing-materials still remained, drew a stamped paper from his pocket, and began to prepare his report.
When he had written the first lines, which are formulas that never vary, he raised his eyes:--
"Let the gentleman whom these gentlemen bound step forward."
The policemen glanced round them.
"Well," said Javert, "where is he?"
The prisoner of the ruffians, M. Leblanc, M. Urbain Fabre,the father of Ursule or the Lark, had disappeared.
The door was guarded, but the window was not. As soon as he had found himself released from his bonds, and while Javert was drawing up his report, he had taken advantage of confusion, the crowd, the darkness, and of a moment when the general attention was diverted from him, to dash out of the window.
An agent sprang to the opening and looked out. He saw no one outside.
The rope ladder was still shaking.
"The devil!" ejaculated Javert between his teeth, "he must have been the most valuable of the lot."