Somewhere on the outskirts of Paris, Jean Valjean stopped outside a large, ancient building with damp walls. He took a key from the pocket of his long yellow coat and opened the old wooden door. He then carried Cosette, who was sleeping in his arms, along a dark corridor and up some stairs to the room he had rented since his escape from Montreuil. There was not much furniture in the room — just an old bed, a mattress on the floor, a table, some chairs and a lighted stove. A streetlamp shone through the only window, lighting the dark interior of the room.
Valjean laid Cosette on the bed without waking her. He lit a candle and sat by the bed, watching her while she slept. He felt sad that Fantine had not lived to see her child again, but happy that he had been able to rescue her child from the terrible Thenardiers. He bent and kissed the sleeping child’s forehead just as, nine months earlier, he had kissed her mother’s.
The next morning, Cosette opened her eyes and immediately started to get out of bed.
‘I’m coming, Madame,’ she yawned, blinded by the bright winter’s sunlight that was shining into the room.
Then, as her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw the kind old face of Jean Valjean looking down at her, and she relaxed.
‘Of course!’ she cried with joy. ‘It’s all true. I was afraid that it was just a dream.’
She hugged her doll and asked Valjean hundreds of questions. Finally, she asked him, ‘Do you want me to sweep the floor?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘I just want you to enjoy yourself.’
The December days passed in great happiness for Cosette and for Jean Valjean, too. For twenty-five years he had been alone in the world. Nothing had ever touched his heart until he had rescued Cosette. Now, he discovered the greatest joy he had ever known by just standing beside her bed and looking at her innocent, trusting little face. He had discovered love.
After escaping from Montreuil, Jean Valjean had taken all his money from the bank and buried it in a forest near Montfermeil. Although he was rich, he had chosen a room in a poor part of Paris, where nobody would find him. His only neighbour was an old woman, who did his housework and kept his stove burning. Paying her six months in advance, he told her that he was a ruined Spanish gentleman, and that the little girl was his granddaughter.
Weeks passed, and the two lived happily. Valjean gave Cosette lessons in reading and writing, and spent hours watching her as she dressed and undressed her doll. To avoid being seen, he never went out during the day. He walked for a couple of hours every evening, sometimes alone, sometimes with Cosette. He often gave money to beggars, which was unwise, because he soon became known in the area as ‘the beggar who gives money to beggars’.
One evening, towards the end of winter, Valjean gave some money to a beggar sitting under a streetlamp outside a church. The beggar raised his face and stared hard at Valjean for just a second, then quickly bowed his head. This gave Valjean a shock. Although he had only seen the beggar’s face for a second, it had seemed strangely familiar.
‘I’m going mad,’ he thought, as he walked home.
The next evening he returned to the steetlamp outside the church. The beggar was still there, in the same position, wearing the same clothes. This time, Valjean spoke to him as he gave him some money. The beggar laughed and joked with him, and Valjean returned that evening a happier man.
‘I must have been dreaming yesterday,’ he laughed to himself. ‘But for a second, there was something about the beggars eyes that reminded me of Javert. How could I have thought such a thing? After speaking to him this evening, I can see that he doesn’t look like the inspector at all.’
A few evenings later, while he was giving Cosette a reading lesson in his room, Valjean heard the front door of the house open and close. This was unusual. The old woman, the only other person who lived in the building, always went to bed before nightfall. Valjean signalled to Cosette to keep quiet. Someone was coming up the stairs. He blew out the candle and, just as he was kissing Cosette on the forehead, the footsteps stopped. Valjean did not move. He sat in his chair with his back to the door and held his breath. A few minutes later, having heard only silence, he turned round. A light was shining through a crack in his door. Someone with a candle was standing outside his room.
Several minutes passed, and then the light disappeared. Valjean quietly lay down on the mattress on his floor, but he could not close his eyes all night. At daybreak, as he was falling asleep at last, he heard footsteps in the corridor outside his room again. Running to the door, he put his eye to the large keyhole and saw the back view of a man who was walking towards the stairs. A tall man in a long coat with a stick under his arm.
Valjean’s heart almost stopped beating and he began to sweat.
‘Javert,’ he breathed to himself.