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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

Is discovered best in his rescue of Fauchelevent


Valjean was brave. He and fear never met. The solitary fear he knew was fear of himself, and lest he might not live for good as the bishop had bidden him; but fear from without had never crossed his path. His was the bravery of conscience. His strength was prodigious, and he scrupled not to use it. Self-sparing was no trait of his character. Like another hero we have read of, he would "gladly spend and be spent" for others, and bankrupt himself, if thereby he might make others rich. There is a physical courage, brilliant as a shock of armies, which feels the conflict and leaps to it as the storm-waves leap upon the sword edges of the cliffs--a courage which counts no odds. There is another courage, moral rather than physical. Valjean possessed both, with moral courage in ascendency. He has the agility and strength sometimes found in criminals. He is now in the galleys for life. One day, while engaged in furling sail, a sailor has toppled from the yard; but in falling caught a rope, but hangs, swinging violently, like some mad pendulum. The height is dizzying. Death seems certain, when a convict, clad in red, and with a green cap, runs up for rescue, lets himself down alongside of the swaying sailor, now in the last extremity of weakness, and ready to drop like a winter leaf. Valjean (for it is he) oscillates violently to and fro while the throng below watch breathlessly. His peril is incredible, but his is a bravery which does not falter, and a skill which equals
bravery. Valjean is swayed in the wind as the swaying sailor, until he catches him in his arm, makes him fast to the rope, clambers up, reaches the yard, hauls up the sailor, and carries him to a place of safety. And the throng below, breathless till now, applauded and cried, "This man must be pardoned." Then it is that he, free once more, leaps down--falls from the dizzying height, the multitude thinks--leaps down into the seas, and wins liberty. Jean Valjean is heroic. His moral courage, which is courage at its noon, is discovered best in his rescue of Fauchelevent, old, and enemy--an enmity engendered by Madeleine's prosperity--to Monsieur Madeleine. The old man has fallen under his cart, and is being surely crushed to death. The mayor joins the crowd gathered about the unfortunate car-man; offers a rising price for one who will go under the cart and rescue the old man. Javert is there--keen of eye and nostril as a vulture--and Jean Valjean is his prey. He believes the mayor to be Jean Valjean, and, as the mayor urges some one to rescue the perishing man, says, with speech cold as breath from a glacier, "I have known but one man who was equal to this task, and he was a convict and in the galleys." The old man moans, "How it crushes me!" and, hearing that cry, under the cart the mayor crawls; and while those beside hold their breath, he, lying flat under the weight, lifts twice, ineffectually, and, with one herculean effort, lifts again, and the cart slowly rises, and many willing hands helping from without, the old man is saved; and Monsieur Madeleine arises, pale, dripping with sweat, garments muddy and torn, while the old man whom he has rescued kisses his knees and calls him the good God. And the mayor looks at Javert with tranquil eye, though knowing full well that this act of generous courage in the rescue of an enemy has doomed himself. This is moral courage of celestial order.

His magnanimity is certainly apparent,--in the rescue of his enemy, Fauchelevent; in his release of his arch-enemy, Javert; in his presence within the barricade to protect Marius, who had, as a lover, robbed him of the one blossom that had bloomed in the garden of his heart, save only the passing bishop and the abiding God. No pettiness is in him. He loves and serves after a fashion learned of Christ. If compelled to admire his courage, we are no less compelled to pay homage to his magnanimity.

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