"No, the persons have moved away."
"The candles haven't, anyway!" ejaculated Babet.
And he pointed out to Eponine, across the tops of the trees, a light which was wandering about in the mansard roof of the pavilion. It was Toussaint, who had stayed up to spread out some linen to dry.
Eponine made a final effort.
"Well," said she, "they're very poor folks, and it's a hovel where there isn't a sou."
"Go to the devil!" cried Thenardier. "When we've turned the house upside down and put the cellar at the top and the attic below, we'll tell you what there is inside, and whether it's francs or sous or half-farthings."
And he pushed her aside with the intention of entering.
"My good friend, Mr. Montparnasse," said Eponine, "I entreat you, you are a good fellow, don't enter."
"Take care, you'll cut yourself," replied Montparnasse.
Thenardier resumed in his decided tone:--
"Decamp, my girl, and leave men to their own affairs!"
Eponine released Montparnasse's hand, which she had grasped again, and said:--
"So you mean to enter this house?"
"Rather!" grinned the ventriloquist.
Then she set her back against the gate, faced the six ruffians who were armed to the teeth, and to whom the night lent the visages of demons, and said in a firm, low voice:--
"Well, I don't mean that you shall."
They halted in amazement. The ventriloquist, however, finished his grin. She went on:--
"Friends! Listen well. This is not what you want. Now I'm talking. In the first place, if you enter this garden, if you lay a hand on this gate, I'll scream, I'll beat on the door, I'll rouse everybody, I'll have the whole six of you seized, I'll call the police."
"She'd do it, too," said Thenardier in a low tone to Brujon and the ventriloquist.
She shook her head and added:--
"Beginning with my father!"
Thenardier stepped nearer.
"Not so close, my good man!" said she.
He retreated, growling between his teeth:--
"Why, what's the matter with her?"
And he added:--
She began to laugh in a terrible way:--
"As you like, but you shall not enter here. I'm not the daughter of a dog, since I'm the daughter of a wolf. There are six of you, what matters that to me? You are men. Well, I'm a woman. You don't frighten me. I tell you that you shan't enter this house, because it doesn't suit me. If you approach, I'll bark. I told you, I'm the dog, and I don't care a straw for you. Go your way, you bore me! Go where you please, but don't come here, I forbid it! You can use your knives. I'll use kicks; it's all the same to me, come on!"
She advanced a pace nearer the ruffians, she was terrible, she burst out laughing:--
"Pardine! I'm not afraid. I shall be hungry this summer, and I shall be cold this winter. Aren't they ridiculous, these ninnies of men, to think they can scare a girl! What! Scare? Oh, yes, much! Because you have finical poppets of mistresses who hide under the bed when you put on a big voice, forsooth! I ain't afraid of anything, that I ain't!"
She fastened her intent gaze upon Thenardier and said:--
"Not even of you, father!"
Then she continued, as she cast her blood-shot, spectre-like eyes upon the ruffians in turn:--
"What do I care if I'm picked up to-morrow morning on the pavement of the Rue Plumet, killed by the blows of my father's club, or whether I'm found a year from now in the nets at Saint-Cloud or the Isle of Swans in the midst of rotten old corks and drowned dogs?"
She was forced to pause; she was seized by a dry cough, her breath came from her weak and narrow chest like the death-rattle.
"I have only to cry out, and people will come, and then slap, bang! There are six of you; I represent the whole world."
Thenardier made a movement towards her.
"Don't approach!" she cried.
He halted, and said gently:--
"Well, no; I won't approach, but don't speak so loud. So you intend to hinder us in our work, my daughter? But we must earn our living all the same. Have you no longer any kind feeling for your father?"
"You bother me," said Eponine.
"But we must live, we must eat--"
So saying, she seated herself on the underpinning of the fence and hummed:--
"Mon bras si dodu, "My arm so plump, Ma jambe bien faite My leg well formed, Et le temps perdu." And time wasted."
She had set her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand, and she swung her foot with an air of indifference. Her tattered gown permitted a view of her thin shoulder-blades. The neighboring street lantern illuminated her profile and her attitude. Nothing more resolute and more surprising could be seen.
The six rascals, speechless and gloomy at being held in check by a girl, retreated beneath the shadow cast by the lantern, and held counsel with furious and humiliated shrugs.
In the meantime she stared at them with a stern but peaceful air.
"There's something the matter with her," said Babet. "A reason. Is she in love with the dog? It's a shame to miss this, anyway. Two women, an old fellow who lodges in the back-yard, and curtains that ain't so bad at the windows. The old cove must be a Jew. I think the job's a good one."
"Well, go in, then, the rest of you," exclaimed Montparnasse. "Do the job. I'll stay here with the girl, and if she fails us--"
He flashed the knife, which he held open in his hand, in the light of the lantern.
Thenardier said not a word, and seemed ready for whatever the rest pleased.
Brujon, who was somewhat of an oracle, and who had, as the reader knows, "put up the job," had not as yet spoken. He seemed thoughtful. He had the reputation of not sticking at anything, and it was known that he had plundered a police post simply out of bravado. Besides this he made verses and songs, which gave him great authority.
Babet interrogated him:--
"You say nothing, Brujon?"
Brujon remained silent an instant longer, then he shook his head in various ways, and finally concluded to speak:--
"See here; this morning I came across two sparrows fighting, this evening I jostled a woman who was quarrelling. All that's bad. Let's quit."
They went away.
As they went, Montparnasse muttered:--
"Never mind! if they had wanted, I'd have cut her throat."
"I wouldn't. I don't hit a lady."
At the corner of the street they halted and exchanged the following enigmatical dialogue in a low tone:--
"Where shall we go to sleep to-night?"
"Under Pantin [Paris]."
"Have you the key to the gate, Thenardier?"
Eponine, who never took her eyes off of them, saw them retreat by the road by which they had come. She rose and began to creep after them along the walls and the houses. She followed them thus as far as the boulevard.
There they parted, and she saw these six men plunge into the gloom, where they appeared to melt away.
Les Miserables -by- Victor Hugo