‘Tomorrow you’ll have fur boots!’ her father called out after her.
A few minutes later, there was nobody in the building except for Marius and the Jondrettes. Marius watched as Jondrette put a metal bar in the fire and inspected a rope ladder on the table. Next, he opened a drawer, took out a long knife and tested its blade with his finger. Suddenly, at exactly six o’clock, the door into the Jondrettes’ room opened.
‘Welcome, Monsieur, ‘Jondrette said, rising to his feet.
M. Leblanc appeared and put four coins on the table. ‘That is for your rent and food, Monsieur,’ he said. ‘Now we must discuss what else is needed.’
Jondrette quietly told his wife to dismiss the carriage, and when she had left the room, turned back to his visitor.
‘How is the wounded child?’ M. Leblanc asked him.
‘Not well.’ Jondrette smiled sadly. ‘She’s in great pain. Her sister has taken her to hospital, but they’ll be back soon.’
The conversation continued politely in this way for several minutes. M. Leblanc asked Jondrette about his circumstances, and Jondrette smiled sadly as he invented lie after lie. Finally, Jondrette picked up a large picture that was leaning against the wall, and showed it to M. Leblanc.
‘What’s that?’ M. Leblanc said, looking at the badly-drawn picture of a soldier in uniform.
‘It’s a work of art,’ Jondrette informed him. ‘I love this picture as much as I love my two daughters. But, unfortunately, I have to sell it. What do you think it’s worth?’
‘It’s just an old inn-sign. It’s worth about three francs.’
‘I’ll accept a thousand,’ Jondrette softly replied.
M. Leblanc rose and, standing with his back to the wall, looked quickly round the room. Jondrette was on his left, his wife was standing on his right near the door. Jondrette put the picture down and stepped quietly towards the old man.
‘You don’t recognize me, do you?’ he said in a loud, clear voice.
At this signal, which he had pre-arranged with his friends, three men armed with metal poles rushed into the room. M. Leblanc grew pale, and gripped the back of the broken chair with his huge hands. Marius, meanwhile, raised his right hand with the gun, ready to fire the warning shot.
‘The carriage is ready?’ Jondrette asked the three men.
‘Yes, with two good horses,’ one of them replied.
‘Excellent.’ He turned to M. Leblanc and repeated his earlier question. ‘You still don’t recognize me, do you?’
‘My name isn’t Jondrette. It’s Thenardier. Now do you recognize me?’
M. Leblanc trembled slightly, but still shook his head. Marius, however, who had been going to fire the gun as a signal for the police to arrive, shook so much that he almost fell off the cupboard.
‘Thenardier,’ he thought. ‘That’s the name of the man who saved my father’s life at the Battle of Waterloo. The man I’ve promised to help!’
If he fired the warning shot, M. Leblanc would be saved and Thenardier would be destroyed. But he would also have broken his promise to his father. He felt his knees grow weak. What should he do?
Thenardier walked up and down in front of M. Leblanc.
‘Do you remember the little inn in Montfermeil eight years ago? You took away our Cosette, do you remember? Wearing that old yellow coat, pretending you were a tramp! Well, now you’re going to learn that you can’t make things right by just bringing a few hospital blankets! You’re the cause of all my troubles. For 1500 francs you took away a girl who was bringing me lots of money.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ M. Leblanc said. ‘I don’t know who you are, but I know what you are. You’re a dirty criminal.’
‘A criminal?’ Thenardier said, suddenly angry. ‘That’s what you rich people call people like me, isn’t it? Just because I’ve failed in business. I was a war hero, you know — I saved an officer’s life at Waterloo! And you call me a criminal! Well, I’m going to teach you a lesson.’
He began to move towards M. Leblanc, but the old man was too quick for him. With surprising speed, he pushed the table and chair to one side and ran to the window. He managed to open it but, before he could jump, the three men jumped on him and held him to the floor.
This was too much for Marius.
‘Forgive me, father,’ he murmured, preparing to fire the gun.
But suddenly Thenardier cried, ‘Don’t hurt him!’
After a long fight, M. Leblanc was tied up and taken to the bed.
‘No wallet?’ Thenardier cried, having searched his pockets. ‘Never mind.’ He sat on the bed next to the helpless but brave old man, and said, ‘Let’s discuss things quietly. All I’m asking for is 200,000 francs. I realize that you don’t have the money with you now, but I want you to write a letter. I’ll tell you what to say.’
He untied M. Leblanc’s right hand and, producing a pen and paper, began:
My dearest daughter, You must come at once. I need you urgently.
The person who gives you this note will bring you to me. I shall be waiting.
M. Leblanc signed his name Urbain Fabre, which seemed to satisfy Thenardier, and wrote an address on the envelope. Thenardier then took the letter and gave it to his wife.