through the streets. She received the name as she received rain on her head from theclouds.”She was called Fantine and nobody knew more than that. At 10 she served a farm family;at 15 she went to Paris; and there, the once laughing girl with golden curls and pearls for teeth fell into the hell of the Paris streets. Alone, unable to read or write, sleeping in thestreets, she gave birth to a daughter that she was forced to give up to the 18th centuryequivalent of foster care.Yet Fantine, daughter of the Paris shadows, was a roaring flame of humanity. Told thather little daughter, Cosette, needed clothes and medical treatment, Fantine sold her long blond hair for a gold Napoleon and her white teeth for a handful of sous. With her scalpraggedly shorn, with a bloody smile, and with her toothless mouth a black hole, she sentthe money to the Thenardiers, the tavern operators boarding her little daughter.Billy read how the brutal and evil-spirited Thenardiers kept the money, as they did everysou that Fantine sent, while ceaselessly inventing reasons for her to send more. Victor Hugo described the Thenardiers as members of a “bastard class of dwarfed, coursenatures, tending toward monstrosity.” He was a “blackguard” and she was a “substratum”of her brute husband. Together, the two of them were “crab-like souls continuouslyretreating toward the darkness.”And how did the Thenardiers treat little Cosette? Billy read: “They fed Cosette a little better than the dog, a little worse than the cat. She ate under the table with them from asimilar wooden bowl.” She wore rags discarded by the two Thenardier daughters. Thedaughters got endless caresses, Cosette endless blows. “The sweet, feeble being,” Billyread, “who should not have understood anything of this world or of God, incessantly punished, scolded, ill-used, beaten, and seeing beside her two little creatures like herself,who lived in a ray of dawn!”Completely forgetting that the Thenardiers were fictional characters sprung from themind of Victor Hugo, Billy prayed for them to appear in his cell so he could stranglethem. Having experienced his own Thenardiers, Billy thought:
There must be in thisworld a common revulsion against anyone within the family abode who is of alien blood and looks and who is also powerless and vulnerable.
Generations and epochs after the time of Les Miserables, this is what he himself hadlived. None of his abuse ever approached that of poor Fantine or Cosette after her, Billythought, thank God. That thought was quickly followed by another:
Already that insidious Victor Hugo has me thanking God for my good fortune!
***The prisoner Billy Stone was now hopelessly lost to Victor Hugo's tales of evil andunremitting human misery, but also of redemption, of courage, of love, of morality and of retribution. Tears streamed down his face for Jean Valjean, Fantine and Cosette. Hewanted to torture Javert to death, slowly. Again, he forgot that the insanely zealous prosecutor was a character from the imagination of Victor Hugo.Billy raced through hundreds of pages like a filly thoroughbred thundering down thetrack. Every night for the next week, he passed over into the world of Les Miserables --reading by Wally's security light into the wee hours, alternately becalmed by the steadyturn of the pages and awed by the magnificent parade of thought, until he drifted off with