Les Miserables 72: Aid From Below or From Above

When last we saw Jean Valjean, he had just had the harrowing experience of watching a prison procession pass by while he was out for a morning walk with Cosette.  This experience brought to the surface memories of Valjean’s past and the monster that he had been before his encounter with Monseigneur Bienvenu, and showed him trending back in that direction again as he tried to cling selfishly to Cosette.  We saw that he would probably not make it back onto the right path without some outside help, and we wondered what form that help would take.

This section of the story consists of two scenes.  The first is Valjean and Cosette together.  It was during this time that Valjean had his run-in with the Thenardiers at Jondrette’s garret at Gorbeau.  Valjean was wounded in the struggle with the Thenardiers.  Cosette was moved to tend to him and care for his wounds at this time, and the rift in their relationship was healed.  Valjean rejoiced greatly in this.  Cosette also rejoiced that Valjean’s spirits were improving.

Jean Valjean’s wound had been a diversion.

When Cosette saw that her father was suffering less, and that he was getting well, and that he seemed happy, she felt a contentment that she did not even notice, so gently and naturally did it come.  It was then March, the days were growing longer, winter was leaving, winter always carries with it something of our sadness; then April came, that daybreak of summer, fresh as every dawn, gay as every childhood; weeping a little sometimes like the infant it is.  Nature in this month has charming glimmers that pass from the sky, the clouds, the trees, the fields, and the flowers, into the heart of man….

Overjoyed, Jean Valjean saw her become fresh and rosy again.

“Oh!  The blessed wound!” he repeated in a whisper.

But you can sense that this healing of the rift is just a temporary thing.  The previous status quo has been restored–for the time being–but nothing has happened to address anything inside of Valjean.  The issues inside of Valjean are still present and waiting to rear their head later on.  Later on, there will be a decisive moment when Valjean is forced to either take Cosette away in order to keep her–and possibly lose her in the process–or else put to death his desire for her by letting her go.  When will this happen?  Keep reading.

The next scene also contains Valjean, but only as a secondary character.  M. Mabeuf and his servant Mother Plutarch are lamenting his deteriorating circumstances.  Gavroche happens along at just the right time to hear this conversation.

Gavroche is looking for some dinner.  For him, just an apple or other such fruit will suffice.  And he knows that the place to find such things is out on the edge of town, where fruit trees in people’s yards can be easily accessed without causing too much of a disturbance.  He has his eye on Mabeuf’s apple tree, but he happens to overhear the conversation and decides to crouch out of sight and into a spot where he can listen.

While he is listening to the conversation, he sees two figures pass by on the street.  One he recognizes as the convict Montparnesse, the other as an apparently helpless old man out for an evening stroll but about to become Montparnesse’s next victim.  Sure enough, Montparnesse catches up to the old man and attacks him, but surprisingly the struggle ends with the old man quickly overcoming Montparnesse and pinning him to the ground.  The old man (whom alert readers will no doubt recognize as Valjean) delivers a lengthy speech exhorting Montparnesse to turn away from his life of crime.  His words are easily recognizable as the voice of Valjean’s experience in prison.  He ends by giving Montparnesse his purse, which is what Montparnesse was after in the first place.

Here Valjean is attempting to emulate the grace that the bishop Monseigneur Bienvenu showed to him that turned him away from his life of crime.  His investment appears on the surface to be in vain–Montparnesse at first dismisses him as a babbling old man–but it gets Montparnesse to stop and reflect for the first time in his life.

That reflection proves costly, because it gives Gavroche the chance to sneak up on Montparnesse and steal the purse from him.  Gavroche sneaks away, back down the street to Mabeuf’s place, and tosses it over the hedge into Mabeuf’s yard.  The purse lands on Mabeuf’s foot and wakes him up.  He takes it to Mother Plutarch, who exclaims, “It fell from heaven.”