Marius took a five-franc piece from his pocket and handed it to the girl.
‘The sun’s come out at last!’ she cried, eagerly accepting the coin. ‘That’s enough food for two days. You’re a real gentleman, Monsieur.’
With those words, she gave a little laugh and wave, grabbed some dry bread from the table and disappeared out of the door.
Marius had lived for five years without much money, but he had never been really poor. Now, after his conversation with the girl from the next room, he understood what real poverty was. Only a thin wall separated him from the family of lost souls in the room next door. He had heard them and seen them, but had paid them no attention, and he suddenly felt guilty.
‘If they had had another neighbour,’ he thought, ‘one who had noticed their suffering, perhaps they could have been rescued by now.’
As Marius was thinking about the sad life of the family in the next room, he stared dreamily at the wall that separated them. Then, in the top corner near the ceiling, Marius saw that there was a triangular hole.
‘Let’s see what these people are really like,’ Marius thought. ‘Then I’ll be in a better position to help them.’
He stood on a cupboard, put his eye to the hole, and looked through it into his neighbours’ room.
The Jondrettes’ room was dirty and evil-smelling, unlike Marius’s bare but clean room. Its only furniture was a chair, an old table, some cracked dishes and two dirty beds, one on each side of a fireplace. A man with a long, grey beard was sitting at the table, writing a letter and smoking a pipe. A large woman with greying hair, once red, was sitting by the fire, while a thin, pale-faced child sat on one of the beds.
Marius, depressed at what he saw, was going to get down from the cupboard when the door of the Jondrettes’ room opened and the elder girl came in. Slamming the door shut behind her she cried victoriously, ‘He’s coming!’
‘Who’s coming?’ Her father looked up.
‘The old man who goes to church. He’s following me. I saw him with his daughter in the church, and gave him the letter. He said he would follow me here. I ran ahead to tell you he’ll be here in two minutes.’
‘You’re a good girl,’ the man said, rising quickly to his feet. Then, turning to his wife, he said, ‘Quickly! Put out the fire!’ While she poured water on the flames, the man broke the chair with his foot and told his younger daughter to break a window. She put her fist through the glass and ran to her bed, crying because her arm was covered in blood.
‘Excellent,’ her father smiled, tearing a piece off his shirt and using it as a bandage. ‘Now we’re ready for the kind gentleman. When he sees how miserable we are, he’ll give us a lot of money, you’ll see.’
Moments later, there was a gentle knock on the door. Jondrette rushed to open it, bowing almost to the ground as he did so.
‘Please come in, my dear sir! Please enter, with your charming young lady.’
An elderly man and a young girl appeared in the doorway and Marius, still looking through the hole in the wall, could not believe his eyes.
It was She.
She! Everyone who has ever loved will feel the force of that small word. In the bright mist that clouded his vision, Marius could hardly see the features of the sweet face that had lit his life for six months and had then disappeared, filling his life with darkness. And now the vision had reappeared!
When Marius had recovered some of his senses, he saw that she seemed a little paler than before. Her companion as usual was M. Leblanc. As she entered the room, she put a large parcel on the table.
‘Monsieur, you will find some woollen stockings and blankets in the parcel,’ M. Leblanc told Jondrette.
‘You are extremely generous, Monsieur,’ Jondrette said, again bowing to the ground. ‘But as you can see, we are unfortunate in many ways. We are without food, Monsieur, and without heating. No warmth for my unhappy children. Our only chair is broken. A broken window — in this weather! My wife ill in bed and our younger daughter injured.’
‘Oh, the poor child,’ ‘Ursula’ said, seeing the girl’s bleeding wrist.
‘She had an accident in the machine-shop where she works for six sous an hour, ‘Jondrette explained. ‘They may have to cut off her arm.’
The daughter, taking her father’s words seriously, began to scream with fear. While M. Leblanc and ‘Ursula’ tried to comfort her, Jondrette approached his wife and said in a whisper, ‘Take a good look at that man.’
He then returned to M. Leblanc and told him about his debts.
‘I owe sixty francs in rent,’ he said.
M. Leblanc took a coin out of his pocket and put it on the table.
‘Five francs is all I have with me,’ he said. ‘But I’ll take my daughter home and come back this evening with more money for you.’
Jondrette accompanied M. Leblanc and ‘Ursula’ out of the door and, after a few minutes’ indecision, Marius jumped down from the cupboard and ran out into the street. But he was too late; their carriage had already gone. Miserably, he turned back to the house. He went into his room, pushing the door behind him, but the door would not shut. Turning, Marius saw that a hand was holding it open.