Second, there was the mysterious stranger who had saved his life. Marius’s attempts to find him also ended in failure, and the true story of his escape from the barricade remained a complete mystery to him.
One evening, when Marius was talking to Cosette and Jean Valjean about the mystery and his unsuccessful attempts to solve it, he became angry with Cosette’s guardian’s lack of interest in his story.
‘The man was a hero,’ Marius said. ‘Do you realize, Monsieur, how brave this man was? He rescued me from the field of battle and carried me through the sewers of Paris. He risked his life to save a dying man, and why? He was a total stranger. He did it without any thought of a reward. Oh, I wish Cosette’s money were mine.’
‘It is yours,’ Valjean reminded him.
‘I would give it all,’ said Marius,’to find that man!’
Jean Valjean was silent.
Cosette and Marius made a handsome couple on their wedding day. All previous unhappiness was forgotten as they kissed in the church, watched proudly by M. Gillenormand and Jean Valjean. There were flowers everywhere when they returned to M. Gillenormand’s house for the wedding feast. It was the happiest night of Cosette’s life, spoilt only by one thing: the fact that her guardian — whom she still thought of as her father — went home before the feast had started, saying that he felt ill. But Cosette was not unhappy for long. She had Marius, and she would be happy with him for the rest of her life!
Jean Valjean, meanwhile, went home, lit his candle and went upstairs to bed. That night, however, he was unable to sleep. He remembered the little girl he had rescued from the Thenardiers ten years earlier, and felt sad that he was no longer the most important man in her life. Another man was the centre of her universe. He was proud of having helped to bring her happiness with Marius, but another thing troubled his soul: the fact that nobody, not even Cosette, knew the truth about him. That he was Jean Valjean, a criminal who had spent nineteen years in prison and who had stolen silver candlesticks from a trusting and kind-hearted bishop. He knew that if he told Cosette and Marius the truth, he would spoil everybody’s happiness and he would lose their love and respect. On the other hand, if he continued to lie about his past, he would lose his own soul. What could he do?
The next day Valjean visited M. Gillenormand’s house, and asked to speak to Marius in private. Marius hugged Valjean warmly, addressed him as ‘father’ and invited him to lunch, but Valjean shook his head and said, ‘Monsieur, I have something to tell you.’
Marius listened quietly as Valjean told him everything about his life. Finally, in a state of shock and confusion, the young man said, ‘Why have you told me all this? No one forced you to.’
‘If I had continued to keep my secret to myself, I would have destroyed my own heart,’ Valjean replied. ‘Besides, I belong to no family. Cosette was the only family I ever had. Everything ended for me when she married you yesterday. She is happy with the man she loves. I tried to persuade myself that it would be better not to admit the truth about my past, but it was no use. I could not silence the voice that speaks to me when I am alone.’
Neither of them spoke for several minutes. Then Marius murmured, ‘Poor Cosette. When she hears
‘But you must promise not to tell her!’ Valjean interrupted. ‘She’ll be heart-broken if she hears the truth about me. I don’t think I could bear it… ‘
He sank into an armchair and buried his face in his hands. ‘Don’t worry,’ Marius said at last. ‘I’ll keep your secret. But I think it would be better if you stopped seeing her.’
‘I understand,’ Valjean said, rising to leave. But at the door he half-turned and said, ‘Monsieur, if you will permit me, I would like to come and see her. I wouldn’t come often or stay very long. We could meet in that little room on the ground floor. Please Monsieur, if I can’t see Cosette again, I’ll have nothing left to live for. Besides, if I suddenly stopped visiting, people would become suspicious and begin to talk
‘You can come every evening,’ said Marius. ‘Monsieur, you are very kind,’ said Jean Valjean, shaking Marius’s hand and leaving the room.