Last time we saw Thenardier and his gang attempt to rob Valjean’s place, and we saw Eponine foil their attempt by just standing there in the gate. Now we get to see what Marius and Cosette were up to on the other side of the gate while all the commotion was going on outside.
Never had the sky been more studded with stars, or more charming, the trees more tremulous, the odor of the shrubs more penetrating; never had the birds gone to sleep in the leaves with a more hushed sound; never had all the harmonies of the universal serenity better responded to the interior music of love; never had Marius been more in love, happier, more in ecstasy.
Victor Hugo always waxes eloquently on the subject of love. Anytime he does so, you gotta love it.
But there was trouble in paradise. Cosette was sad.
Cosette was sad because Jean Valjean had just announced that they would be going away. First, to a different part of the city, and then, shortly after, to someplace far away, perhaps as far away as England.
A shudder wracked Marius from head to foot.
When we are at the end of life, to die means to go away; when we are at the beginning, to go away means to die.
Marius, being a poor college student, didn’t have a prayer of being able to follow Cosette to England. He just didn’t have the money. Finally, after hours of heart-wrenching reflection, Marius had an idea. He asked Cosette to not expect him the next evening, but to wait until two days later. He then said to himself, “He is a man who changes none of his habits, and he has never received anybody till evening.” You may well recognize this as referring to the old man M. Gillenormand, Marius’s grandfather.
We saw how Marius and Gillenormand ended the last time they saw each other. It wasn’t pretty. Apparently Marius has it in mind to go back to Gillenormand and ask for his blessing to marry Cosette. That he is even willing to consider this, shows the level of desperation to which he has sunk when faced with the prospect of losing Cosette.
Gillenormand has not changed outwardly by this point in the story. He still maintains all of this old habits, and he still maintains the physical appearance of one who would meet death standing erect. But inwardly, his strength is failing. It has now been four years since he has seen Marius, and he misses Marius terribly. But he cannot admit any fault on his side, and so he cannot bring himself to make any move toward Marius. Still, it has been four years since he saw Marius, and he has begun to fear that he will never see Marius again for the rest of his life. And to top it all off, he was starting to lose his teeth. (You will recall that one of the distinguishing marks of Gillenormand was that he had passed the age of ninety with all his teeth still intact.
When Mlle Gillenormand spoke of Marius, he lashed out in anger but wept secretly. She attempted to substitute Theodule for Marius, as we saw earlier in the story, but that scheme failed miserably.
The supplanter Theodule had not succeeded in the least. M. Gillenormand had not accepted the quid pro quo. The void in the heart does not accommodate itself to a proxy. As for Theodule, though suspecting an inheritance, he rebelled at the drudgery of pleasing. The old man wearied the lancer, and the lancer shocked the old man…. All his qualities had a defect.
Gillenormand is one who craves authenticity with others, but he can’t bring himself to let others see him as he really is. Thus on the inside he feels a mixture of love and anger toward Marius but misses him terribly. But all the outside world sees is unyielding anger toward Marius.
On the night of June 4, Gillenormand was sitting up with a roaring fire in his fireplace. (Parisian summers are not like summer in Georgia. June in Paris is like early fall in Atlanta, so it is understandable perhaps that Gillenormand would want a fire, especially in a large, drafty old house.) Gillenormand was trying to reconcile himself with the idea that Marius was never coming back, but his mind rebelled against it and he just couldn’t bring himself to it.
It was in this moment that Marius arrived.
The meeting did not go well. Gillenormand yearned to throw himself into Marius’s arms and hug him, but all that Marius saw was his unyielding anger. Marius asked Gillenormand for permission to marry Cosette, and after a long and rambling monologue, Gillenormand said “Never!” It turned out that Gillenormand knew of Cosette already, because Theodule (who was stationed in the barracks near Rue Plumet) had already told him all about her. After another rambling monologue, Gillenormand suggested that Marius make Cosette his mistress. This so offended Marius that he walked right out in a huff.
Here we note that Gillenormand has just suggested that Marius do the same thing to Cosette that Tholomyes had done to Cosette’s mother Fantine. But Marius would have nothing to do with this.
The chapter closes with a poignant scene as Gillenormand tries to call Marius back but Marius just keeps on walking:
For a few moments the old man was motionless, and as though dumbfounded, unable to speak or breathe, as if a hand were clutching his throat. At last he tore himself from his chair, ran to the door as fast as a man past ninety can run, opened it and cried, “Help, help!”
His daughter appeared, then the servants. He continued with a pitifully hoarse voice, “Run after him! Catch him! What have I done to him! He’s mad! He’s going! Oh! My God! Oh! My God! This time he won’t come back!”
He went to the window that looked on the street, opened it with his tremulous old hands, hung more than halfway out, while Basque and Nicolette held on to him from behind, and cried, “Marius! Marius! Marius! Marius!”
But Marius was already out of hearing and was at that very moment turning the corner of the Rue Saint-Louis.
The nonagenarian raised his hands to his temples two or three times, with an expression of anguish, drew back tottering, and sank into an armchair, pulseless, voiceless, tearless, shaking his head, and moving his lips, stunned, with no more left in his eyes or heart than something deep and mournful, resembling night.