‘Do you know who they are?’ Marius asked him one day.
‘I call the man M. Leblanc, because of his white hair, and the girl Mile Lanoire, because of her black dress,’ his friend replied.
For almost a year, Marius saw the old man and the young girl daily in the same place at the same time. Then, for some reason, Marius stopped going to the Luxembourg Gardens. When he returned, one summer morning six months later, he saw the same couple sitting on the same bench, but something amazing had happened. The man was the same, but the thin, plain girl of six months earlier had become a beautiful young woman. Her rough black dress had been replaced by one of fine black silk. She had soft brown hair, pale, smooth skin, deep blue eyes and a lovely smile that lit up her face like sunshine.
She looked up when Marius passed for the second time, and gave him a casual glance. Marius, however, walked on, thinking of other things. For the next few days he passed the bench in the Gardens without looking at her. Then one day, as he was passing, thinking about nothing in particular, the girl looked up at him and their eyes met. A second later she looked away and Marius walked on but, in a strange way, he knew his life had changed. What he had experienced in that moment was not the honest, innocent gaze of a child. It was something more than that. Whatever it was, Marius sensed that, after that moment, his life would never be the same.
The next day, Marius returned to the Luxembourg Gardens wearing his best clothes. He walked around slowly, stopping to look at the ducks on the lake, then casually approached the bench where Mile Lanoire and her father were sitting. As he walked past, he kept his eyes fixed on the girl, but she did not seem to notice him. She was talking quietly to her father, and Marius could hear the soft, exciting murmur of her voice. Without intending to, he stopped, turned round and walked past the bench again. He felt his face go red and his heart beat loudly in his chest. He was sure, this time, that she had watched him as he passed. He did not go back a third time, but sat down on a bench at the opposite end of the Gardens. He looked at the girl out of the corner of his eye. She seemed to fill the far end of the Gardens with a kind of blue mist. Taking a deep breath, he rose and was going to pass the bench for a third time when he stopped. He suddenly realized that, in his feverish state, he had forgotten about the old man. What would he be thinking when he saw a strange young man walking backwards and forwards in front of his bench? Without another thought, Marius left the Gardens and went home.
He returned the next morning and sat on a bench all day, pretending to read a book, not daring to go near the bench where the girl and her father were sitting. He did the same every day for two weeks. Towards the end of the second week, while Marius was sitting in his usual place, he looked up from his book. And his face went pale. Something had happened at the far end of the Gardens. M. Leblanc and his daughter had risen from their bench and were slowly walking in his direction. Marius shut his book, opened it again and made an effort to read. When he felt that they were near him, he looked up and saw that the girl was looking steadily at him with a soft, thoughtful gaze that made him tremble from head to foot.
He gazed after her until she had disappeared from sight, then rose to his feet and walked around, laughing and talking to himself. Finally he left the Gardens in the mad hope of seeing her in the street, but instead he met Enjolras, who invited him to a meal.
Every day for the next month, Marius went to the Luxembourg Gardens, excited by knowing that the girl was secretly looking at him, but too shy and embarrassed to know what to do. He avoided walking directly in front of the bench, partly from shyness, partly because he did not want to attract her father’s attention. Sometimes he stood for half an hour in a place where her father could not see him, looking at her and enjoying the small, secret smiles she sent him.
But it seemed that M. Leblanc had begun to suspect what was happening because often, when Marius appeared, he got to his feet and walked away, taking his daughter with him. Sometimes M. Leblanc took his daughter to a different bench, to see if Marius would follow them. Marius failed to understand the trick, and made the mistake of doing so. Then M. Leblanc became irregular in his visits and did not always bring his daughter with him. When this happened, Marius did not stay in the Gardens, which was another mistake.
Marius was too much in love to think clearly. His desire for the girl was growing daily, and he dreamt of her every night. One evening, he found a handkerchief lying on the bench which M. Leblanc and his daughter had just left. It was a plain, white handkerchief with the initials U.F. in one corner.
‘Ursula.’ Marius said the first name that came into his head. ‘A delicious name!’
He kissed the handkerchief, breathed in its perfume, wore it next to his heart by day and kept it under his pillow at night.
‘I can feel her whole soul in it!’ he told himself
In fact, the handkerchief belonged to M. Leblanc and had simply fallen out of his pocket, but Marius was unaware of this. He never appeared in the Luxembourg Gardens without the handkerchief pressed to his lips or his heart. The girl could not understand his behaviour at all, and looked at him with a puzzled expression.
‘Such modesty!’ Marius sighed.
Eventually, Marius was not satisfied with just knowing the girl’s name; he wanted to know where she lived. He found that she lived in a small house at the quiet end of the rue de l’Ouest. As well as the joy of seeing her in the Gardens, he now had the pleasure of following her home. One evening, having followed them to the house and watched them enter, he went in after them and spoke to the concierge. The concierge, however, became suspicious, thinking that Marius was connected with the police, and refused to say anything.
The following day, M. Leblanc and his daughter did not come to the Gardens at all. They did not come for a whole week, and Marius began to feel depressed. Every night he stood outside their house and gazed up at their lighted windows. Sometimes he saw a shadow pass in front of a lamp, and his heart beat faster.
On the eighth night there was no light in the windows. Marius waited, his heart aching with pain, until finally going home. The next day they did not go to the Gardens, so again Marius went to the house as night was falling. Once again, there were no lights in the windows. He knocked on the door and spoke to the concierge.
‘Where’s the old gentleman?’ he asked.
Marius felt the blood leave his face. Almost fainting, he asked in a weak voice, ‘When did he leave?’
‘Where has he gone?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘Did he leave an address?’
The concierge then recognized Marius from the previous week. He stared fiercely at him and said, ‘So, it’s you again! I was right. You are some kind of policeman.’
With those words he slammed the door in Marius’s face.