The Truth at Last

Marius kept his promise about not telling Cosette, and Valjean visited her every evening in a small room on the ground floor. It was cold and damp, but a fire had been lit and two armchairs had been placed in front of it. At first, Cosette could not understand why Valjean refused to meet her upstairs. When he refused to kiss her cheek, she began to feel unhappy, afraid that she had done something to offend him. She pressed his hands in hers and held them to her lips.

‘Please, please be kind!’ she begged. ‘I want you to come and live with us. You’ll always be my father and I’m not going to let you go.’

He released his hands.

‘You mustn’t call me «father» any more,’ he told her. ‘You must call me «Monsieur Jean».’

‘I don’t understand,’ she said, becoming angry. ‘This is ridiculous. You’re upsetting me very much, and I don’t know why you’re being so cruel.’

‘You don’t need a father any more. You have a husband.’

‘What a thing to say!’ Cosette replied. ‘Are you angry with me because I’m happy?’

‘Cosette,’ he said, ‘your happiness is the only thing that matters to me. You’re happy now, and so my work is complete.’

With these words, he picked up his hat and left.

Jean Valjean continued his evening visits, but the relationship between himself and Cosette became cooler and more distant. She stopped calling him ‘father’ or asking him questions. As ‘Monsieur Jean’, he gradually became a different person to her, and she began not to depend on him for her happiness.

Valjean would sit looking at Cosette in silence, or would talk about incidents from their past. One evening in April, he called at the usual time but was told that Cosette had gone out with her husband. He waited in the small, damp room for an hour before sadly returning home. Over the next few days, his visits began to be interrupted by servants calling Cosette to dinner. When he arrived, he discovered that the fire had not been lit, and the armchairs had been left near the door. One evening he discovered there were no chairs in the room at all — he and Cosette had to stand in the cold for their whole meeting. Valjean realized what was happening; Marius was telling the servants not to make him welcome any more. That night he went home in despair, and the next evening he did not come at all.

When Valjean did not appear for the second evening, Cosette sent a servant to his house to ask if he was well. Valjean replied that he was very well, but that he had business to attend to. He did not return to the house again, and Cosette was too busy with married life to think too much about him. She did not realize that, every evening, Valjean would walk slowly from his house until he reached the corner of the street where she lived. He would then stare at the house for several minutes, tears rolling down his cheeks, before turning round and slowly returning home.


Marius thought it was right to exclude Valjean from Cosette’s life. He achieved this without cruelty, but without weakness. Apart from the details about his life that Valjean had confessed to him, he knew that Valjean had killed Inspector Javert at the barricade. His private investigations into the old man’s past had also revealed an even more disgusting fact. He had discovered that Valjean’s money really belonged to somebody called Monsieur Madeleine, a wealthy manufacturer from Montreuil who had mysteriously disappeared. He persuaded Cosette, therefore, not to use any of the money her guardian had given her, and to live on the money that he had started to earn as a lawyer. Cosette had not been happy about this. She could not understand why her father, as she still thought of Valjean, had stopped visiting her. She still loved him in her heart. But she loved her husband even more, and she gradually became used to not depending on the old man for her happiness.

One evening a servant brought Marius a letter, saying, ‘The writer is waiting in the hall.’

The smell of tobacco and the handwriting on the envelope was so familiar that Marius immediately thought of the Jondrettes. He read the letter quickly. It was signed ‘Thenard’, and was asking for money. Marius could not believe his luck. He had tried without success to find the man who had saved his father’s lite at Waterloo, and now the man had come to him! He immediately asked the servant to show the man in.

However, Marius had a shock when he saw the man — he did not recognize him at all! He was an old man with a big nose, glasses and neat grey hair. He was wearing smart black clothes, and a gold watch chain hung from his jacket pocket.

‘What do you want?’ Marius asked coldly, as the stranger bowed to him.

The stranger explained in great detail how he used to work for the government in foreign countries and that, now he was retired, he wanted to move to South America with his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, it was a long journey, and he needed money.

‘What has that to do with me?’

‘Has M. Pontmercy not read my letter?’


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