Les Miserables 74: The Elderly Are Made to Go Out When Convenient

We have just seen how Marius’s cousin Theodule attempted to pursue Cosette and how she responded.  She felt love for Theodule but wasn’t sure what she was feeling, as if there was some memory deep down that gave her caution.  We noted the contrast between Marius and Theodule.  Now we will see how Marius attempts to pursue Cosette.

Strange things began happening to Cosette.  Every so often, Valjean would take a couple of days and go away somewhere without ever saying where he was going.  These trips usually happened whenever there were household expenses coming due.  Alert readers will remember that Valjean had all the money he made at MSM stashed away in the woods outside Montfermeil, and connect the dots.

During one of these trips, Cosette was by herself at the house.  She heard footsteps in the garden, but when she went to the window to look there was no one there.  She had been singing and playing a particularly intense piece of music on the piano; she just chalked it up to the mood she was in as a result.

But the next night another strange thing happened.  She was out in the garden when she thought she heard footsteps again.  She walked around the garden and saw what appeared to be the shadow of a man wearing a hat in the moonlight next to her own shadow.  A moment later the shadow was gone.

When Valjean returned she told him about what had happened.  She expected him to reassure her and say it was nothing, but he was troubled.  He camped out in the garden to watch for a couple of nights.  One night he woke Cosette up to show her the source of the shadow she had seen:  a stovepipe on the roof of a neighboring building which had a round cap on it; this could easily have looked like a man wearing a hat.  Everyone was reassured.

But a couple of days later another strange thing happened.  Cosette was in the garden, sitting on her bench.  She got up to walk around, and when she returned there was a large stone on her bench.  She was afraid and did not even touch the stone.  The next morning she was curious.  She went down to check it out and found a long letter under the stone.

She took it up to her room and read it.  She wondered who could have written this to her, then realized it had to be the man she had seen and loved at the Luxembourg.  We know him as Marius, but at this point Marius and Cosette don’t know each other’s names.

When Cosette had just finished reading Marius’s letter, Theodule came by again on his daily rounds.  Cosette looked at him and thought him hideous.

At the very moment she raised her eyes from the last line of the last page, the handsome officer, it was his time, was passing triumphant before the grating.  Cosette thought him hideous.

…As she finished it for the third time, Lieutenant Theodule came back past the iron gate, rattling his spurs on the pavement.  Cosette automatically raised her eyes.  She thought him flat, stupid, silly, useless, conceited, odious, impertinent, and very ugly.  The officer thought it his duty to smile.  She turned away insulted and indignant.  She would have gladly thrown something at his head.

Here the contrast between Theodule and Marius is brought back around full circle.  Theodule attempted to pursue Cosette by passing in front of her gate and making a big show of himself, projecting himself triumphantly, clicking his spurs and even smiling when she looked his way.  At first she was enchanted and possibly attracted to Theodule, but now she thought him so awful that Victor Hugo cannot come up with enough adjectives to describe what she thought of him.

What had happened to change her opinion of him so drastically?  She had received the letter from Marius.

Marius’s pursuit of Cosette took a much different course.  Marius first saw her at the Luxembourg; he didn’t even look directly at her when he passed her the first day.  On his next visit Cosette looked at him and he was transfixed.  One day he attempted to approach the bench where Valjean and Cosette were sitting but he could not bring himself to pass by it.

Now, he was approaching Cosette by stealth.  He watched her but could not bring himself to allow himself to be seen by her.  First she heard his footsteps in the garden, then she saw his shadow, then she saw the stone that he had left on her bench with his letter under it.  There was nothing brash, nothing triumphant or conceited in Marius’s approach to Cosette.

After Cosette read Marius’s letter and remembered that it was from the man she had seen and loved at the Luxembourg, she remembered all she had felt for him, and Theodule was nothing in comparison.

And she said to herself that an intervention of angels, a celestial chance, had restored him to her.

O transfigurations of love!  O dreams!  This celestial chance, this intervention of angels, was that bullet of bread thrown by one robber to another, from the Cour Charlemagne to La Fosse-aux-Lions, over the roofs of La Force.

Here Victor Hugo brings us back to Eponine.  The bullet of bread was the biscuit that originated with her, which was supposed to signify “no-go” to the possibility of criminal activity against Valjean’s house on the Rue Plumet.  In the course of scouting out this property, Eponine learned that Cosette was living there and passed that information on to Marius.  That is how he was able to find Cosette again.

But was Eponine’s biscuit the final word on the subject?  We shall see later on.

One night Valjean went out.  Cosette dressed up and went down to her garden.  Marius came in, and in a powerful love scene, they talked to each other for the first time.  At the end they gave each other their names.

Before we move on, it is worthwhile to look at the letter that Marius wrote to Cosette.  The text of this letter is reproduced in the story and contains some of Hugo’s most beautiful prose.  But we will save that for next time.

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