Earlier in the story we saw Marius meet Cosette for the first time, fall in love with her, and get punked by Jean Valjean when he tried to pursue her. In this section we will begin to see what all of that looked like from the other side.
Victor Hugo leads off by introducing us to a house near the end of the Rue Plumet. This house was built by a judge who had a mistress but wanted to keep her on the DL. In Hugo’s words: “…for in those days the great lords displayed their mistresses and the bourgeois concealed theirs…” Gotta love that irony.
This house was a detached two-story house built on a lot that covered about an acre. It had a garden that fronted onto the Rue Plumet, but it also had a secret passage that led out the back, passed between the backyards of all the other houses on the block, and wound up at a secret entranceway that opened out onto the Rue de Babylone. This house does not exist anymore; it was gone by the time Victor Hugo wrote this story. It may have been a made-up house; who knows?
Our friend the judge had this secret passageway put in so as to conceal his affairs. If anybody saw him going somewhere and suspected that he might have been going to see a mistress and was inclined to follow him, they would have seen him enter the Rue de Babylone entranceway and thought that was where he lived. They would have had no idea that he really lived on the Rue Plumet.
After the judge died the house fell into a state of disrepair. In 1829 Jean Valjean moved in and fixed it up, intending to live there. This was a secret place; the secret entranceway served him well.
At that time Valjean and Cosette had lived in the convent for five years. Valjean had reached the conviction that it would not be right for him to stay with Cosette in the convent without first moving out and giving her a chance to experience the outside world before deciding to take her vows. If she had renounced the outside world without ever having experienced it for herself, that would have been dishonest before God.
When Fauchelevent died, this supplied Valjean with a ready excuse for leaving the convent; he told the sisters that he had come into an unexpected inheritance and would be able to live on the income without working. He offered to pay them an agreeable price for the trouble they took in educating Cosette. Once this was settled, he and Cosette left the convent.
They spent most of their time in the Rue Plumet house. Valjean also rented out two other places: one on the Rue de l’Ouest, and one on the Rue de l’Homme Armee. In this way he ensured that he would not get caught short like he had on the night Javert showed up at Gorbeau and he miraculously wound up at the convent; if anything like that ever happened again he would now have another place to go. Victor Hugo describes the situation thus: “This man of lofty virtue had three addresses in Paris in order to escape from the police.”
Valjean had the opportunity to serve as a National Guard, and he did not turn it down. He could have claimed an exemption because of his age, but he did not want to call any attention to himself by asking for it. The uniform gave him the opportunity to be out in public without arousing any suspicion toward himself. This detail will come in handy later on.
Victor Hugo notes another detail: Whenever Valjean went out with Cosette, he dressed in such a way as to look like an old officer. But when he went out by himself, he dressed like a workman, with a cap to hide his face. This explains what Marius saw a few chapters earlier when he was out walking and saw an old man in a laborer’s cap who looked like M. Leblanc (whom we know as Valjean but whom Marius only knew as Leblanc).