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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

There was a sense in which Cossette helped Valjean


Then

we will not say of Valjean, "He has conscience," but rather, we will say, "He is conscience." Valjean's struggle with conscience is one of the majestic chapters of the world's literature, presenting, as it does, the worthiest and profoundest study of Christian conscience given by any dramatist since Christ opened a new chapter for conscience in the soul. Monsieur Madeleine, the mayor, is rich, respected, honored, is a savior of society, sought out by the king for political preferment. One shadow tracks him like a nightmare. Javert is on his track, instinct serving him for reason. At last, Javert himself thinks Jean Valjean has been found; for a man has been arrested, is to be tried, will doubtless be convicted, seeing evidence is damning. Now, Monsieur Madeleine, mayor of M----, your fear is all but ended. An anodyne will be administered to your pain. Jean Valjean has known many a struggle. He thought his fiercest battles fought; but all his yesterdays of conflict are as play contests and sham battles matched with this. Honor, usefulness, long years of service, love, guardianship of Cossette, and fealty to a promise given a dying mother--all beckon to him. He is theirs; and has he not suffered enough? More than enough. Let this man alone, that is all. Let him alone! He sees it. Joy shouts in his heart, "Javert will leave me in quiet." "Let us not interfere with God," and his resolution is formed. But conscience looks into his face. Ha! the bishop, too, is beside
him. Conscience speaks, and is saying, "Let the real Valjean go and declare himself." This is duty. Conscience speaks, and his words are terrible, "Go, declare thyself." Jean Valjean's sin is following him. That evening he had robbed Petit Gervais; therefore he is imperiled. Sin finds man out. But the fight thickens, and Valjean thinks to destroy the mementos of his past, and looks fearfully toward the door, bolted as it is, and gathers from a secret closet his old blue blouse, an old pair of trousers, an old haversack, and a great thorn stick, and incontinently flings them into the flames. Then, noticing the silver candlesticks, the bishop's gifts, "These, too, must be destroyed," he says, and takes them in his hands, and stirs the fire with one of the candlesticks, when he hears a voice clamoring, "Jean Valjean! Jean Valjean! Jean Valjean!" Conscience and a battle, but the battle was not lost; for you see him in the prisoners' dock, declaring, "I am Jean Valjean;" and those of the court dissenting, he persisted, declared his recognition of some galley prisoners, urging still, "I am Jean Valjean; you see clearly that I am Jean Valjean;" and those who saw and heard him were dazed; and he said: "All who are here think me worthy of pity, do you not? Do you not? Great God! When I think of what I was on the point of doing, I think myself worthy of envy;" and he was gone. And next, Javert is seizing him fiercely, brutally, imperiously, as a criminal for whom there is no regard. With this struggle of conscience and its consequent victory, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" becomes tawdry and garish. The sight moves us as the majestic minstrelsy of seas in tempest. No wonder that they who looked at Valjean, as he stood declaring himself to be the real Valjean, were blinded with a great light.

And his heart is so hungry, and his loyalty to God so urgent and so conquering. Jean Valjean has suffered much. Ulysses, buffeted by wars and stormy seas, has had a life of calm as compared with this new hero. Ulysses' battles were from without; Valjean's battles were from within. But if he has suffered greatly, he has also been greatly blessed. Struggle for goodness against sin is its own reward. We do not give all and get nothing. There are compensations. Recompense of reward pursues goodness as foam a vessel's track. If Jean Valjean loved Cossette with a passion such as the angels know; if she was his sun, and made the spring, there was a sense in which Cossette helped Valjean. There was response, not so much in the return of love as in that he loved her; and his love for her helped him in his dark hours, helped him when he needed help the most, helped him on with God. He needs her to love, as our eyes need the fair flowers and the blue sky. His life was not empty, and God had not left himself without witness in Jean Valjean's life; for he had had his love for Cossette.


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