Jean Valjean, at that moment, was in a state of terrible shock. For the first time in their life together, he and Cosette had quarrelled. She had not wanted to leave the house, but she had eventually obeyed him. They had left quickly, at nightfall, bringing their servant, Toussaint, with them, but very little luggage. Cosette had brought her letter case and blotter with her, Valjean his box of child’s clothing and the old National Guard uniform which all respectable men possessed, and which he had worn under a previous identity.
In their new house, they went to bed in silence. Cosette, however, did not leave her bedroom the next day, and Jean Valjean had dinner alone. As he was eating, Toussaint told him about the fighting in the city, but he did not pay much attention. He was too worried about Cosette. There was no reason, he thought, why they should not continue to live happily together in England. As long as he had Cosette, he would be happy, and it did not matter where they lived. He began to feel happier as he thought about the journey they would soon be making. He stood up and was going to leave the room when something made him stop. He glanced again at the mirror. Cosette’s blotter was lying on a cupboard just below it and, as Valjean stared at its reflection, he read the following lines:
My dearest, We are leaving this house at once. We go tonight to Number 7, rue de 1’Homme-Arme, and in a week we shall be in England. Cosette, 4June.
In her unhappy state of mind, Cosette had forgotten to remove the page that she had used to blot the letter she had written to Marius. She had left it on the cupboard and the mirror, reflecting the backwards handwriting, made the message clearly visible.
Valjean moved closer to the mirror and read the lines again, not wanting to believe them. But there was no doubt that this was Cosette’s handwriting. He began to shake and he fell back into an armchair, feeling angry and betrayed. He had suffered terribly over the years and, until now, he had survived every disaster. But this was the worst thing that had ever happened to him — someone was threatening to rob him of the only person he loved!
He murmured to himself, ‘She’s going to leave me,’ and the pain of those words cut into his heart like a knife.
After a short time, he rose to his feet and looked again at the blotter. His anger and misery of minutes before had been replaced by a terrible calmness. He stared at the blotter, coldness in his eyes, the darkness of the deepest night in his heart. He remembered clearly the young man in the Luxembourg Gardens who had shown such great interest in Cosette, and he was certain that this was the man she had written to.
He went out into the night and sat on the doorstep, his heart filled with a terrible hatred for the man who was trying to steal Cosette from him. He sat for a long time listening to the sound of distant gunfire in the city, wondering how to get his revenge, when suddenly he heard footsteps. Looking up, he saw a pale-faced boy, dressed in rags, studying the numbers of the houses in the street.
Seeing Valjean on his doorstep, the boy stopped and asked, ‘Do you live in this street?’
‘I’m looking for Number Seven. I have a letter for a girl who lives here.’
‘Well, I’m the girl’s father. You can give the letter to me. Oh, and one more thing before you go,’Valjean said when the boy had handed him the letter. ‘Where should I take the reply?’
‘That letter comes from the barricade in the rue de la Chanvrerie,’ the boy replied. ‘Which is where I’m going now. Goodnight citizen.’
Jean Valjean went back into the house and tried to make sense of the words that danced before his eyes: I shall die… When you read this, my soul will be very near…
This was enough to fill his hate-filled heart with sudden joy. So, the problem was solved! The man who threatened his happiness was going to die — was perhaps already dead.
Then Valjean frowned and, after a quick calculation, decided that Marius was probably still alive. But it made no difference. He was still certain to die, and Valjean’s happiness would be safe. If he kept the letter in his pocket, Cosette would never know what had happened to the other man, and life with her would continue the same as before. What happiness!
But his happiness had no sooner returned than it disappeared again in a cloud of despair. In his heart he knew he had no choice. For the sake of Cosette’s happiness, he would have to try and save the life of the man she loved — the man he hated more than any other in the world.
Half an hour later he left the house, dressed in his National Guard uniform, with a loaded gun and a pocket full of gunpowder, and made his way towards the market district of Paris.