On the next day, there is a fire. But he finds the armchairs at the far end of the room, placed next to the door. He puts them back by the hearth, wondering what the meaning of it is, but then Cosette comes and it flies from his mind. He stays longer than ever that day, but then there is something new. As he stands to leave, she says to him,
"My husband said a queer thing to me yesterday."
"What was it?"
"He said to me: 'Cosette, we have an income of thirty thousand livres. Twenty-seven that you own, and three that my grandfather gives me.' I replied: 'That makes thirty.' He went on: 'Would you have the courage to live on the three thousand?' I answered: 'Yes, on nothing. Provided that it was with you.' And then I asked: 'Why do you say that to me?' He replied: 'I wanted to know.'"
She seems to be waiting for him to say something, as though he would be able to explain it. He says nothing, and goes away in silence. But his thoughts are muddled all over again, so muddled that he walks through the wrong door when he gets to his street, and climbs two flights of stairs before he realises he is in the neighbour’s building.
Marius is suspicious of the money. It is clear. He thinks there is something wrong with the cash he, Valjean, gave him, and wishes to live without it. But it is Cosette’s money! It was lawfully earned, and lawfully given, but this is what knowledge of the truth brings; it passed through the hands of a convict, and therefore must be viewed as dirty, and a hazard lying in wait to trip respectable people.
And more - the cellar; the fire, the armchairs. Valjean paces around his room, unable to sit with the unease of his thoughts. They are trying to get rid of him. He has been overstaying himself, he has been taking too much of Madame’s time. Marius wants him to leave. But how can he leave? It is the only time he lives…but he knows he does not deserve this time with her, he knew on the day he revealed the truth to Marius that he had no right to ask to see her again. It was only that he was too weak to go at once, and then; the young man had permitted it, he had said you will come every day, and Cosette will be waiting. And so she has been, except on that day where she forgot.
Valjean does not sleep that night. He paces, and frets, and his mind will not let him alone. Rather Toulon than this, he thinks. Rather the lash than the slow torture of losing her more every day.
The next day. The armchairs are gone. There is not a single chair of any sort.
"Ah, what's this!" exclaims Cosette as she enters, "no chairs! Where are the arm-chairs?"
"They are no longer here.”
"This is too much!"
The answer stammers out of him, grabbed in haste and shoved out of his mouth. "It was I who told Basque to remove them."
"And your reason?"
"I have only a few minutes to stay to-day."
"A brief stay is no reason for remaining standing."
"I think that Basque needed the chairs for the drawing-room."
"You have company this evening, no doubt."
"We expect no one."
He says nothing. After a brief pause, Cosette shrugs her shoulders. "To have the chairs carried off! The other day you had the fire put out. How odd you are!"
Very odd, he thinks. But at least he now understands. He nods his head once, and murmurs "adieu.”
He cannot say, "adieu, Cosette," because it is against his own rules. He does not have the strength to say, "adieu, Madame." The one word will have to suffice.
On the following day, he does not come. He stands on the threshold of his apartment, dressed and with hat in hand, and cannot bring himself to leave.
On the day after that, he does not come.
The day after that….he does not come. Nicolette, Cosette’s maid, arrives at his door in the morning with a message to inquire whether he is ill. It does his heart good to see her, because it means Cosette has noticed his absence.
‘Madame would like to know why you have not come last night, monsieur?’
The words twist in his chest, but his tone is gentle when he replies, ‘it is two days since I have been there.’
But she does not seem to notice his remark. And when asked whether he will return that evening, he only smiles a little and says, no, he is not ill, he has just been busy. He will come as soon as he is able. And Madame will remember it is his custom to take trips every now and again; he is preparing for one and will be gone a little while. They are not to worry about him. They are not to think of him at all.
Nicolette goes away. Valjean’s smile fades the instant the door closes after her. He stands for a time just looking at it, listening to the clock tick from the parlour. No words form in his mind, and there is no need for them in any case. He is going away on a little trip, that is all. There is no need for her to think of him.
He hates that he wishes she would. He is a wretch for wanting her thoughts to linger on him a little, to wonder why he is not there and miss him when he has not come. He thinks of the time she called him ‘father’ by accident, and what joy it had brought; he tries not to think of the times he heard it fifty times a day, a hundred, more. But he has always been a selfish man, wanting things he had no right to. Did he not steal bread, and silver, and a coin – off a child, no less! – because he wanted what was not his? Yes, he did. Well, no more. He has no right to Cosette, and it has been made clear that he has overstepped his boundaries.
Very well. That is the way of it, and it is quite correct. It does not matter that it is ice through his blood, and a tonne weight on his shoulders. He can still think of her, no one can take that away. He can imagine her smiling, and touching his hand. He can hear her laugh, and remember her chatter; that is his, and belongs to no one else. And it will be enough for him now. It will have to be, because it is all that is left.
It is early May, but you would not know it in this cellar. The place is as cold as ever, it smells damp, and the usual guard against the stone's natural chill - the fire - is gone. Valjean stares at the place where it should be; he is quite still, but his mind is working furiously.
Yesterday he had stayed a long time. Basque had to come twice to inform Cosette that dinner was served, and the family was waiting. This must have to do with that, they are trying to tell him something, they are reminding him that he is here by their grace alone.
But, wait. No, that is too much. In an instant, the truth comes to him. 'Ah,' he says, to himself. 'It is perfectly simple. The cold weather has ceased.’ And why should they need a fire, indeed? It is quite warm outside, quite pleasant. That must be the answer.
He remains a little uneasy, and does not sit down at first. It is too cold for Cosette, to be sure. But he knows she will come, and so would not think of leaving.
Valjean returns to Paris with the eagerness of a man separated from a loved one for ten years, or more. Except it has only been five days, and he has to pause when he realises time has not moved and in the city, he has just returned from visiting Cosette. It will be another twenty four hours before he can see her again.
He thinks he may spend the time thinking on the words of Combeferre and Bahorel, but they have slipped from him by the time he has reached his bedchamber and started to unknot his cravat. They belong to another world, where dead people try to persuade him that he is not what he has known himself to be for the better part of his life; that somehow there is virtue in stealing the love of a child, and trying to keep it for his own. Even speaking with Fantine, that poor soul who was wronged in so many ways; even the sting of her scolding and misunderstanding fades away to nothing. Milliways is another world, where dead people walk but should not touch the living; they are real to him and not, in the same way a dream is real until dawn breaks, and the sun washes it away.
He goes to bed. He wakes up, and eats some meat and bread, and counts the hours down by trying to read some of the book he wishes did not exist. But it pains him and he cannot concentrate, so in the end he just sits and waits until it is time. Then he stands and makes sure he is respectable, and starts the walk towards the Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, and Cosette.
Weeks pass in this way. The days stretch longer, and so do his visits. At the beginning, he allowed himself to spend only minutes with her but the routine becomes familiar, she no longer objects to the cellar room, the spiders and cobwebs have been cleared from the windows, and he cannot drag himself away. He speaks of days past, her childhood when it was just the two of them and then of later days, with her little friends at the convent. And the tu address disappears from her lips; the "Madame," the "Monsieur Jean," renders him another person to Cosette. The pains he has taken in order to detach himself are working; she is gay, and cheerful, and loves him dearly – he feels it – but she is no longer so tender. He is no longer the focus of her love, and she has her life now, her household, her small troubles with the staff. He does not hold the same place in her eyes or in her affections, and he still cannot bring himself to go away.
One day, she forgets and calls him ‘father’. His heart lights up with joy, and he cannot stop it showing on his face. But he says, ‘say Jean,’ and she laughs.
‘Ah, truly! Monsieur Jean.’
He turns away so she will not see him wipe a tear from his eye. It is the last time she calls him ‘father’.
April, and the world bursts with new life before his eyes. He watches it from the window of his apartment, and sees it in the flowers growing behind railings on his walk to her house. The air smells greener under the usual grime of Paris; the air a little more fresh. He arrives a touch earlier every day, and leaves a little later.
Until, this day, today. Basque meets him at the gate. ‘Madame went out with Monsieur, and has not returned.’
He waits an hour, and she does not come. He departs in silence, his head drooping.
When he sees her the day after, she tells him that she went with Marius to visit the house in the Rue Plumet, that little sanctuary with the garden where the two of them had conducted their romance under Valjean’s unsuspecting nose. Indeed, she is so taken with this trip she forgets entirely that she had not seen him at all the day before. No matter, of course. He puts it from his mind, and asks her how they had travelled to the house.
"And how did you return?"
"In a hackney carriage."
They live so sparingly! They have money, and youth, and happiness; he had kept all that money to give her so that she might live well and enjoy herself. He does not understand this economy of the Baron’s.
"Why do you not have a carriage of your own? A pretty coupe would only cost you five hundred francs a month. You are rich."
"I don't know," replies Cosette.
"It is like Toussaint," he says. "She is gone. You have not replaced her. Why?"
"But you ought to have a maid."
"Have I not Marius?"
"You ought to have a house of your own, your own servants, a carriage, a box at the theatre. There is nothing too fine for you. Why not profit by your riches? Wealth adds to happiness."
But Cosette says nothing. She follows Marius’s light, and this is evidently what he wants. Valjean falls to silence, troubled but not knowing what else to say. He is content to sit and look at her, and she is content to be looked at. It is well enough.
Early May, and the days are warmer still. Valjean comes earlier, and leaves later. When he feels that time has elapsed and she might leave the cellar to go upstairs, he uses the magic word: Marius. He pronounces him handsome, and clever; he praises his courage, his nobility, his eloquence; he has wit, he is every good thing. Cosette bests every attempt at praise, and so Valjean begins again and Cosette beats him again, and so on and so on, and in this way the time stretches, and he is in her company for longer and longer, living in her light while she shines for Marius, and Marius, and only Marius. The rest of his day is darkness, but it is enough to be there while she smiles, and speaks of her husband; he can exist while she lives for him, and talks of the life he wants her to enjoy above all else.
One day, Basque has to come twice to announce that the family are waiting for Madame la Baronne, so they might have dinner.
The next day, Valjean stays longer than ever. When a man is slipping down a cliff, he only tries harder to hold on...
It seems Milliways has been storing up its surprises, ready to catch him while he has no defences.
Valjean had been leaving. He has spent days in Enjolras's body, he has been visited by Combeferre and Bahorel, who have read his life and tried to push him towards...he does not know what. He is tired, and he misses Cosette...and now, here is her mother.
He stands at the bottom of the stairs, dressed in gentleman's clothes because he had come here from a visit to the Pontmercy's. His hands grip the rim of his hat - there is a cobweb on it - held before him as if it were a shield. Fantine is between him and the door, but he does not think he would avoid her if she were not. Still. It is not easy to see her.
'Mademoiselle,' he says, in a clear and respectful tone.
Valjean's door had presented itself on his return from visiting Cosette, and there was no point in fighting it. Buoyed from spending time in her company, he had decided to walk for a while, then sleep and return to Paris in the morning.
But while he is walking, something happens. He cannot fathom what could have caused such a sensation, or the fact that his body appears to be...different. He feels lighter, quicker, younger. He stands for a good five minutes just staring at his hands, which are less callused, less damaged, strong but not so broad.
His wrists are not ruined by scars.
The men's room mirror shows Enjolras staring back at him. Valjean is not the type of man to think fucking Milliways, but if he were then he would. Even he, finding it so hard to conjure up any emotion but weariness these days, succumbs to shock as he blinks at his reflection.
But standing and staring is not going to help. He fights the urge to go to his room and stay there but the fact is, he knows where Enjolras lodges. And he would quite like to know where his usual body has got to.
'Monsieur le Baron has charged me to inquire whether monsieur desires to go upstairs or to remain below?'
The room on the ground floor in which he stands is more like a cellar than anything else. It is dusty, infested with spiders and cobwebs, and there is a pile of empty bottles in one corner. The yellow walls are peeling, but there is a small fire burning so it is clear the Baron anticipated his response to the question.
There are two armchairs set by the fire. He sits in one because he has not eaten and barely slept since the wedding. His head droops forward as he falls into a doze, not perceiving a candle being brought, not perceiving anything at all.
The bar caught Valjean as he walked onto the street, Baron Pontmercy's last words ringing in his ears. You shall come every evening. The man is kind, kind indeed. Too kind, but this is a boon he cannot bring himself to refuse. Indeed, he had no choice but to ask for it.
The bar is too loud, and people too much after the last few days. He heads for the church immediately, before remembering that he should not go inside. He starts to walk instead, round and around the building, lost in thought. He has no idea how bad he looks; how tired and drawn; he knows only that he feels he has been scoured from the inside out; hollow, as though he will never be able to feel anything again.
Christmas is over at last. It is usually a quiet but happy time for them - church, of course, and Toussaint will cook something a little more elaborate than their usual fare. Valjean spends more time than usual giving out clothes, and food, and coins to those who might need them. At this time of year, he carries small toys also; he remembers well a Christmas nine years ago, and the joy on a little girl's face as he handed her the finest doll in Montfermeil, and told her to play.
The little girl is no longer little, and her face is lit with the joy of being less than two months from her wedding. It is this which gives him pause today, on a day which should be like any other, but is not. Valjean has been sitting in his room in the Rue de l'Homme Arme, his chin resting on his hand, for some hours. The arrangements for the wedding continue apace. He has used the knowledge acquired on being a mayor, and has arranged a family and background for Cosette over these last few months; she is registered, and legal, and all is as it should be. There may be a peculiarity here and there, but everyone is so happy they seem not to have noticed.
All the paperwork completed on the day before Christmas, Valjean thought it kinder to leave a certain conversation until after the day itself. He would not want to blight her quiet festivities with Marius and his family, even if he is not sure how much of a blight this news will be. But it matters not; the holiday is over, and February seems much closer now than it did a few days ago. He can stall no longer; she must be told.
He sighs heavily, and stands up. There are papers on the table. He picks them up, regards them for a moment, and then shakes his head and leaves the room.
It is a happy day, and it is a terrible day. The grandfather of Marius, Monsieur Gillenormand, asks for Cosette's hand for his grandson. Valjean bows. It is done.
He stands at the back of the room while the others exult, smiling yet grave - a vague smile to be sure, but a smile nonetheless. He says nothing, and goes unseen. That is, until later, when Monsieur Gillenormand remembers that all his money is in an annuity and becomes saddened by it - when he dies, the children will have nothing at all.
At this point, he steps forward.
"Mademoiselle Euphrasie Fauchelevent possesses six hundred thousand francs."
"What has Mademoiselle Euphrasie to do with the question?" inquired the startled grandfather.
"I am she," replied Cosette.
"Six hundred thousand francs?" resumed M. Gillenormand.
"Minus fourteen or fifteen thousand francs, possibly," said Jean Valjean.
And he laid on the table the package which Mademoiselle Gillenormand had mistaken for a book.
Jean Valjean himself opened the package; it was a bundle of bank-notes. They were turned over and counted. There were five hundred notes for a thousand francs each, and one hundred and sixty-eight of five hundred. In all, five hundred and eighty-four thousand francs.
"This is a fine book," said M. Gillenormand.
Valjean says nothing at all. He has kept a thousand francs for himself to live on, and so that he might continue to aid those who need it. He glances only once towards Cosette and Marius - they seem unaware of all that is happening around them, with eyes only for each other. Well, that is good. That is as it should be. Cosette deserves such adoration.