Les Misérables by Victor Hugo,
Volume 3, Book Third, Chapter 5
The Utility of going to Mass, in order to become Revolutionist
Marius had preserved the religious habits of his childhood. One Sunday, when he went to hear mass at Saint-Sulpice, at that same chapel of the Virgin whither his aunt had led him when a small lad, he placed himself behind a pillar, being more absent-minded and thoughtful than usual on that occasion, and knelt down, without paying any special heed, upon a chair of Utrecht velvet, on the back of which was inscribed this name: Monsieur Mabeuf, warden. Mass had hardly begun when an old man presented himself and said to Marius: –
"This is my place, sir."
Marius stepped aside promptly, and the old man took possession of his chair.
The mass concluded, Marius still stood thoughtfully a few paces distant; the old man approached him again and said: –
"I beg your pardon, sir, for having disturbed you a while ago, and for again disturbing you at this moment; you must have thought me intrusive, and I will explain myself."
"There is no need of that, Sir," said Marius.
"Yes!" went on the old man, "I do not wish you to have a bad opinion of me. You see, I am attached to this place. It seems to me that the mass is better from here. Why? I will tell you. It is from this place, that I have watched a poor, brave father come regularly, every two or three months, for the last ten years, since he had no other opportunity and no other way of seeing his child, because he was prevented by family arrangements. He came at the hour when he knew that his son would be brought to mass. The little one never suspected that his father was there. Perhaps he did not even know that he had a father, poor innocent! The father kept behind a pillar, so that he might not be seen. He gazed at his child and he wept. He adored that little fellow, poor man! I could see that. This spot has become sanctified in my sight, and I have contracted a habit of coming hither to listen to the mass. I prefer it to the stall to which I have a right, in my capacity of warden. I knew that unhappy gentleman a little, too. He had a father-in-law, a wealthy aunt, relatives, I don't know exactly what all, who threatened to disinherit the child if he, the father, saw him. He sacrificed himself in order that his son might be rich and happy some day. He was separated from him because of political opinions. Certainly, I approve of political opinions, but there are people who do not know where to stop. Mon Dieu! a man is not a monster because he was at Waterloo; a father is not separated from his child for such a reason as that. He was one of Bonaparte's colonels. He is dead, I believe. He lived at Vernon, where I have a brother who is a cure, and his name was something like Pontmarie or Montpercy. He had a fine sword-cut, on my honor."
"Pontmercy," suggested Marius, turning pale.
"Precisely, Pontmercy. Did you know him?"
"Sir," said Marius, "he was my father."
The old warden clasped his hands and exclaimed: –
"Ah! you are the child! Yes, that's true, he must be a man by this time. Well! poor child, you may say that you had a father who loved you dearly!"
Marius offered his arm to the old man and conducted him to his lodgings.
On the following day, he said to M. Gillenormand: –
"I have arranged a hunting-party with some friends. Will you permit me to be absent for three days?"
"Four!" replied his grandfather. "Go and amuse yourself."
And he said to his daughter in a low tone, and with a wink, "Some love affair!"