So far in this book the Thenardiers have been viewed only in profile;
the moment has arrived for making the circuit of this couple,
and considering it under all its aspects.
Thenardier had just passed his fiftieth birthday; Madame Thenardier
was approaching her forties, which is equivalent to fifty in a woman;
so that there existed a balance of age between husband and wife.
Our readers have possibly preserved some recollection of this
Thenardier woman, ever since her first appearance,--tall, blond,
red, fat, angular, square, enormous, and agile; she belonged, as we
have said, to the race of those colossal wild women, who contort
themselves at fairs with paving-stones hanging from their hair.
She did everything about the house,--made the beds, did the washing,
the cooking, and everything else. Cosette was her only servant;
a mouse in the service of an elephant. Everything trembled at
the sound of her voice,--window panes, furniture, and people.
Her big face, dotted with red blotches, presented the appearance
of a skimmer. She had a beard. She was an ideal market-porter
dressed in woman's clothes. She swore splendidly; she boasted
of being able to crack a nut with one blow of her fist. Except for
the romances which she had read, and which made the affected lady
peep through the ogress at times, in a very queer way, the idea would
never have occurred to any one to say of her, "That is a woman."
This Thenardier female was like the product of a wench engrafted
on a fishwife. When one heard her speak, one said, "That is
a gendarme"; when one saw her drink, one said, "That is a carter";
when one saw her handle Cosette, one said, "That is the hangman."
One of her teeth projected when her face was in repose.
Thenardier was a small, thin, pale, angular, bony, feeble man, who had
a sickly air and who was wonderfully healthy. His cunning began here;
he smiled habitually, by way of precaution, and was almost polite
to everybody, even to the beggar to whom he refused half a farthing.
He had the glance of a pole-cat and the bearing of a man of letters.
He greatly resembled the portraits of the Abbe Delille.
His coquetry consisted in drinking with the carters. No one had
ever succeeded in rendering him drunk. He smoked a big pipe.
He wore a blouse, and under his blouse an old black coat. He made
pretensions to literature and to materialism. There were certain
names which he often pronounced to support whatever things he
might be saying,--Voltaire, Raynal, Parny, and, singularly enough,
Saint Augustine. He declared that he had "a system." In addition,
he was a great swindler. A filousophe [philosophe], a scientific thief.
The species does exist. It will be remembered that he pretended
to have served in the army; he was in the habit of relating
with exuberance, how, being a sergeant in the 6th or the 9th light
something or other, at Waterloo, he had alone, and in the presence
of a squadron of death-dealing hussars, covered with his body and saved
from death, in the midst of the grape-shot, "a general, who had been
dangerously wounded." Thence arose for his wall the flaring sign,
and for his inn the name which it bore in the neighborhood, of "the
cabaret of the Sergeant of Waterloo." He was a liberal, a classic,
and a Bonapartist. He had subscribed for the Champ d'Asile. It was
said in the village that he had studied for the priesthood.
We believe that he had simply studied in Holland for an inn-keeper.
This rascal of composite order was, in all probability,
some Fleming from Lille, in Flanders, a Frenchman in Paris,
a Belgian at Brussels, being comfortably astride of both frontiers.
As for his prowess at Waterloo, the reader is already acquainted
with that. It will be perceived that he exaggerated it a trifle.
Ebb and flow, wandering, adventure, was the leven of his existence;
a tattered conscience entails a fragmentary life, and, apparently at
the stormy epoch of June 18, 1815, Thenardier belonged to that
variety of marauding sutlers of which we have spoken, beating about
the country, selling to some, stealing from others, and travelling
like a family man, with wife and children, in a rickety cart,
in the rear of troops on the march, with an instinct for always
attaching himself to the victorious army. This campaign ended,
and having, as he said, "some quibus," he had come to Montfermeil
and set up an inn there.
This quibus, composed of purses and watches, of gold rings and
silver crosses, gathered in harvest-time in furrows sown with corpses,
did not amount to a large total, and did not carry this sutler
turned eating-house-keeper very far.
Thenardier had that peculiar rectilinear something about his
gestures which, accompanied by an oath, recalls the barracks,
and by a sign of the cross, the seminary. He was a fine talker.
He allowed it to be thought that he was an educated man. Nevertheless,
the schoolmaster had noticed that he pronounced improperly.
 Literally "made cuirs"; i. e., pronounced a t or an s at
the end of words where the opposite letter should occur, or used
either one of them where neither exists.
He composed the travellers' tariff card in a superior manner,
but practised eyes sometimes spied out orthographical errors in it.
Thenardier was cunning, greedy, slothful, and clever. He did not
disdain his servants, which caused his wife to dispense with them.
This giantess was jealous. It seemed to her that that thin and yellow
little man must be an object coveted by all.
Thenardier, who was, above all, an astute and well-balanced man,
was a scamp of a temperate sort. This is the worst species;
hypocrisy enters into it.
It is not that Thenardier was not, on occasion, capable of wrath
to quite the same degree as his wife; but this was very rare, and at
such times, since he was enraged with the human race in general,
as he bore within him a deep furnace of hatred. And since he
was one of those people who are continually avenging their wrongs,
who accuse everything that passes before them of everything
which has befallen them, and who are always ready to cast upon
the first person who comes to hand, as a legitimate grievance,
the sum total of the deceptions, the bankruptcies, and the
calamities of their lives,--when all this leaven was stirred up
in him and boiled forth from his mouth and eyes, he was terrible.
Woe to the person who came under his wrath at such a time!
In addition to his other qualities, Thenardier was attentive
and penetrating, silent or talkative, according to circumstances,
and always highly intelligent. He had something of the look
of sailors, who are accustomed to screw up their eyes to gaze
through marine glasses. Thenardier was a statesman.
Every new-comer who entered the tavern said, on catching sight
of Madame Thenardier, "There is the master of the house."
A mistake. She was not even the mistress. The husband was
both master and mistress. She worked; he created. He directed
everything by a sort of invisible and constant magnetic action.
A word was sufficient for him, sometimes a sign; the mastodon obeyed.
Thenardier was a sort of special and sovereign being in Madame
Thenardier's eyes, though she did not thoroughly realize it.
She was possessed of virtues after her own kind; if she had ever had
a disagreement as to any detail with "Monsieur Thenardier,"--which was
an inadmissible hypothesis, by the way,--she would not have blamed
her husband in public on any subject whatever. She would never have
committed "before strangers" that mistake so often committed by women,
and which is called in parliamentary language, "exposing the crown."
Although their concord had only evil as its result, there was
contemplation in Madame Thenardier's submission to her husband.
That mountain of noise and of flesh moved under the little finger
of that frail despot. Viewed on its dwarfed and grotesque side,
this was that grand and universal thing, the adoration of mind
by matter; for certain ugly features have a cause in the very depths
of eternal beauty. There was an unknown quantity about Thenardier;
hence the absolute empire of the man over that woman. At certain
moments she beheld him like a lighted candle; at others she felt him
like a claw.
This woman was a formidable creature who loved no one except
her children, and who did not fear any one except her husband.
She was a mother because she was mammiferous. But her maternity
stopped short with her daughters, and, as we shall see, did not extend
to boys. The man had but one thought,--how to enrich himself.
He did not succeed in this. A theatre worthy of this great talent
was lacking. Thenardier was ruining himself at Montfermeil,
if ruin is possible to zero; in Switzerland or in the Pyrenees this
penniless scamp would have become a millionaire; but an inn-keeper
must browse where fate has hitched him.
It will be understood that the word inn-keeper is here employed
in a restricted sense, and does not extend to an entire class.
In this same year, 1823, Thenardier was burdened with about fifteen
hundred francs' worth of petty debts, and this rendered him anxious.
Whatever may have been the obstinate injustice of destiny in
this case, Thenardier was one of those men who understand best,
with the most profundity and in the most modern fashion, that thing
which is a virtue among barbarous peoples and an object of
merchandise among civilized peoples,--hospitality. Besides, he was
an admirable poacher, and quoted for his skill in shooting. He had
a certain cold and tranquil laugh, which was particularly dangerous.
His theories as a landlord sometimes burst forth in lightning flashes.
He had professional aphorisms, which he inserted into his wife's mind.
"The duty of the inn-keeper," he said to her one day, violently,
and in a low voice, "is to sell to the first comer, stews, repose,
light, fire, dirty sheets, a servant, lice, and a smile; to stop
passers-by, to empty small purses, and to honestly lighten heavy ones;
to shelter travelling families respectfully: to shave the man,
to pluck the woman, to pick the child clean; to quote the window open,
the window shut, the chimney-corner, the arm-chair, the chair,
the ottoman, the stool, the feather-bed, the mattress and the
truss of straw; to know how much the shadow uses up the mirror,
and to put a price on it; and, by five hundred thousand devils,
to make the traveller pay for everything, even for the flies
which his dog eats!"
This man and this woman were ruse and rage wedded--a hideous
and terrible team.
While the husband pondered and combined, Madame Thenardier thought
not of absent creditors, took no heed of yesterday nor of to-morrow,
and lived in a fit of anger, all in a minute.
Such were these two beings. Cosette was between them, subjected to
their double pressure, like a creature who is at the same time being
ground up in a mill and pulled to pieces with pincers. The man
and the woman each had a different method: Cosette was overwhelmed
with blows--this was the woman's; she went barefooted in winter--
that was the man's doing.
Cosette ran up stairs and down, washed, swept, rubbed, dusted, ran,
fluttered about, panted, moved heavy articles, and weak as she was,
did the coarse work. There was no mercy for her; a fierce mistress
and venomous master. The Thenardier hostelry was like a spider's web,
in which Cosette had been caught, and where she lay trembling.
The ideal of oppression was realized by this sinister household.
It was something like the fly serving the spiders.
The poor child passively held her peace.
What takes place within these souls when they have but just
quitted God, find themselves thus, at the very dawn of life,
very small and in the midst of men all naked!