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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

Jean Valjean hears his sobbing


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in this redemptive work was the good bishop, whose words, "Jean Valjean, my brother, you belong no longer to evil, but to good," never lost their music or might to Valjean's spirit. Some man or woman stands on everybody's road to God. And Jean Valjean, with the bishop's words sounding in his ears--voices that will not silence--goes out with his candlesticks, goes trembling out, and starts on his anabasis to a new life; wandered all day in the fields, inhaled the odors of a few late flowers, his childhood being thus recalled; and when the sun was throwing mountain shadows behind hillocks and pebbles, as Jean Valjean sat and pondered in a dumb way, a Savoyard came singing on his way, tossing his bits of money in his hands; drops a forty-sous piece near Jean Valjean, who, in a mood of inexplicable evil, places his huge foot upon it, nor listened to the child's entreaty, "My piece, monsieur;" and eager and more eager grows a child whose little riches were invaded, "My piece, my white piece, my silver;" and in his voice are tears--and what can be more touching than a child's voice touched with tears? "My silver;" and the lad shook the giant by the collar of his blouse--"I want my silver, my forty-sous piece"--and began to cry. A little lad a-sobbing! Jean Valjean, you who for so many years "have talked but little and never laughed;" Jean Valjean, pity the child; give him his coin. You were bought of the bishop for good. But in terrible voice he shouts: "Who is there? You here
yet? You had better take care of yourself;" and the little lad runs, breathless and sobbing. Jean Valjean hears his sobbing, but made no move for restitution until the little Savoyard has passed from sight and hearing, when, waking as from some stupor, he rises, cries wildly through the night, "Petit Gervais! Petit Gervais!" and listened, and--no answer. Then he ran, ran toward restitution. Too late! too late! "Petit Gervais! Petit Gervais! Petit Gervais!" and, to a priest passing, "Monsieur, have you seen a child go by--a little fellow--Petit Gervais is his name?" And he calls him again through the empty night; and the lad hears him not. There is no response, and for the first time since he passed to the galleys, Jean Valjean's heart swells, and he bursts into tears; for he was horrified at himself. His hardness had mastered him, even when the bishop's tenderness had thawed his winter heart. Jean Valjean was now afraid of himself, which is where moral strength has genesis. He goes back--back where? No matter, wait. He sees in his thought--in his thought he sees the bishop, and wept, shed hot tears, wept bitterly, with more weakness than a woman, with more terror than a child, and his life seemed horrible; and he walks--whither? No matter. But, past midnight, the stage-driver saw, as he passed, a man in the attitude of prayer, kneeling upon the pavement in the shadow before the bishop's door; and should you have spoken, "Jean Valjean!" he would not have answered you. He would not have heard. He is starting on a pilgrimage of manhood toward God. He saw the bishop; now he sees God, and here is hope; for so is God the secret of all good and worth, a thing to be set down as the axiom of religion and life. A conscience long dormant is now become regnant. Jean Valjean is a man again!

Goodness begets goodness. He climbed; and the mountain air and azure and fountains of clear waters, spouting from cliffs of snow and the far altitudes, fed his spirit. God and he kept company, and, as is meet, goodness seemed native to him as lily blooms to lily stems. God was his secret, as God is the secret of us all. To scan his process of recovery is worth while. The bishop reminded him of God. Goodness and love in man are wings to help us soar to where we see that service, love, and goodness are in God--see that God is good and God is love. Seeing God, Jean Valjean does good. Philanthropy is native to him; gentleness seems his birthright; his voice is low and sweet; his face--the helpless look to it for help; his eyes are dreamy, like a poet's; he loves books; he looks not manufacturer so much as he looks poet; he passes good on as if it were coin to be handled; he suffers nor complains; his silence is wide, like that of the still night; he frequently walks alone and in the country; he becomes a god to Fantine, for she had spit upon him, and he had not resented; he adopts means for the rescue of Cossette. In him, goodness moves finger from the lips, breaks silence, and becomes articulate. Jean Valjean is brave, magnanimous, of sensitive conscience, hungry-hearted, is possessed of the instincts of motherhood, bears being misjudged without complaint, is totally forgetful of himself, and is absolute in his loyalty to God--qualities which lift him into the elect life of manhood.


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