Les Miserables

Victor Hugo

Chapter one

Jean Valjean

One evening in October 1815, an hour before sunset, a man with a long beard and dusty, torn clothes walked into the town of Digne. He was in his late forties, of medium height, broad-shouldered and strong. A leather cap half-hid his face, which was sunburnt and shining with sweat. His rough yellow shirt was unbuttoned, revealing a hairy chest. On his back was a heavy soldier's bag, and in his hand was a large wooden stick.

The townspeople, who had never seen him before, watched with interest as he stopped for water at a fountain. Children followed him to the marketplace, where he stopped for more water at another fountain. He then crossed the square towards an inn, and entered by the kitchen door.

The innkeeper, who was also the cook, was busy with his pots and pans, preparing a meal for a group of travellers who were laughing and joking in the next room.

'What can I do for you, Monsieur?' he asked without looking up.

'A meal and a bed,' said the stranger.

'Of course.' The innkeeper turned to look at him. Then, seeing the visitors rough appearance, he added, 'If you can pay for it.'

'I have money.' The stranger produced an old leather purse from his jacket.

'Then you're welcome,' the innkeeper said.

The stranger smiled with relief and sat down by the fire. He did not see a young boy run out with a note that the innkeeper had quickly written. He did not see the boy return a short time later and whisper something to the innkeeper.

'When will the meal be ready?' the stranger asked.

'I'm sorry, Monsieur,' the innkeeper said. 'You can't stay here. I've got no free rooms.'

'Then put me in a stable. All I need is a quiet corner somewhere. After dinner

'You can't eat here either,' the innkeeper interrupted. 'I haven't enough food.'

'What about all that food in the pots?'

The innkeeper approached and, bending towards the man, said in a fierce whisper, 'Get out. I know who you are. Your name is Jean Valjean. You've just been released from prison. I can't serve people like you here.'