Section 3 - Marius
Book Eight - The Noxious Poor
Both summer and autumn pass and Monsieur Leblanc and the young girl fail to return to the park. Marius becomes increasingly morose and thinks of nothing but his lost love. Only he and the Jondrette family remain as lodgers in the Gorbeau house but Marius is barely aware of their existence. One day he passes two girls in the street who in the city slang are called argot. They make such an exchange that Marius realizes they have just eluded the police. He finds a packet of letters they dropped in their flight and that evening, when he remembers the packet, discovers that the letters are each an appeal for money from various sources and pretend to be from different writers.
He thinks nothing more of it until the next morning when the eldest daughter of the Jondrette family comes with a letter from her father begging for some money to feed his family. Marius recognizes the handwriting as that of the packet he found. Meanwhile the Jondrette girl, though much worn in appearance and bearing a rough voice, flatters herself by looking in the mirror and showing off her ability to read. She also shows off her ability to write by scribbling on a sheet of paper "The Cognes [police] are here." She exclaims that Marius is a pretty boy and says she admires his hair. He coldly returns her letters and she is overjoyed at the thought that she might get something to eat from them. She says that sometimes she leaves and doesn't come home for several days and that one winter her family lived under a bridge and she wanted to kill herself. Marius perceives the misery of her condition and gives her his last five francs.
The girl leaves and Marius ponders the wretched poverty that exists in the world. He notices, for the first time, that the wall between his apartment and theirs is paper-thin and that there is a hole at the top. He climbs to the top of his bureau to look through the hole and sees the filthy room occupied by the Jondrette family. In the center of the room is a hideous looking man of about sixty with a long beard and wearing a rag-tag collection of clothes. He sits over some paper and writing utensils and smokes his pipe. A big woman squats near the fireplace, which contains two meek embers, and in the corner on a pallet he notices the youngest daughter. Marius is about to lower himself when the door to the Jondrette's room opens and the eldest daughter rushes in to exclaim that, though he reacted strangely to the address, the wealthy philanthropist of the church of Saint Jacques is coming to see them. This information causes the father to make his home environment appear to be as poverty-stricken as possible in an attempt to arouse pity. He douses the fire, breaks the chair, tells his wife to get into bed and orders his youngest daughter to break one of the panes of glass in their window to allow the cold winter air into the apartment. She does this and cuts her hand in the task.
Soon the philanthropist knocks at the door and Marius is astounded to see Monsieur Leblanc and his daughter enter the room. While the Jondrette father, in the guise of a failed actor called Fabantou, pleads his case, Marius is overcome at the sight of his beloved. He sees all that occurs and notices that Monsieur Jondrette seems to look oddly at the gentleman and whispers to his wife to take a special look at him. The girls look enviously upon Leblanc's daughters' rich clothes. Although the man gives Jondrette a bundle of clothing he claims that he needs sixty francs to pay back rent. Monsieur Leblanc gives him five francs and promises to return alone at 6pm to give him sixty francs. Jondrette is overjoyed by the news.
Marius sets out in pursuit of the Leblanc's, but cannot keep pace. He tries to hire a cab to follow but the driver demands money up front and Marius, because he gave his last money to the Jondrette girl, lacks the funds. He is crestfallen and trudges home. On the way he notices the Jondrette father engaged in a hushed conversation with a man Marius knows to be a notorious bandit.
Back at his apartment the elder Jondrette daughter pays him a visit and perceives that he is sad. She offers to help and Marius asks her to find the address of the man that visited her family that afternoon and she immediately, and somewhat sadly, realizes that he wants the address of the beautiful young lady. He promises her whatever she wants if she procures the address and she promises to locate it for him. She leaves but soon Marius overhears a conversation next door and raises himself to the hole in the wall. Monsieur Jondrette claims that the man that visited them is one the family met eight years before and that the daughter is also someone they know. The woman becomes very angry at the possibility but Jondrette assures her they will profit by the knowledge. He states that he is making plans that will ensure them wealth very soon and if the man refuses to pay they will execute him. Before he leaves to complete his plans he gives his wife the five francs from Marius, whom he refers to as their stupid neighbor and who he believes is out and will not return until his regular hour of 7pm. He commands his wife to have a charcoal fire ready and tells her not to spend the rest of the money on food because he will need it to purchase supplies at a hardware store. When he leaves it is 1pm.
Without fully understanding what is to occur, Marius gleans that an ambush is being planned for Monsieur Leblanc and he decides to inform the police. On his way to the station he overhears two surly characters discussing a plan involving a group called "Patron-Minette." At the police station he is interviewed by an inspector who recognizes the address and, after hearing Marius' story, proclaims that Patron-Minette must have something to do with it. Marius relates the conversation he overheard on the way and the inspector develops a plan. He takes Marius' passkey and gives him two pistols. Marius is to watch the room and as soon as the plot has reached a boiling point he is to fire one of the pistols into the air. The noise will summon the inspector and his force. Marius agrees and before he leaves the inspector tells him that if he needs him before 6 o'clock he is to ask for him by name: Inspector Javert.
By the time Marius returns to his room night has fallen. He sees that the Jondrette's have built a charcoal fire that burns red hot and makes their room look like a smithy. Jondrette prepares everything for the ambush and orders his daughters out to opposite ends of the street to stand sentry duty. Marius is nearly discovered when the eldest daughter enters his room to verify that he is absent. Later the wife comes to take chairs from his room but on both occasions he manages to remain undiscovered. Finally, Jondrette orders his wife to go to the bottom of the staircase to light the way for the philanthropist when he arrives.
A chisel glows white hot in the fireplace and Marius perceives that Jondrette has also acquired a rope ladder and what appear to be some smith's tools. Marius removes one of the pistols and cocks it. Monsieur Leblanc arrives at exactly 6pm and puts the needed money on the table. Jondrette thanks him and the two sit and talk about the hard times that have befallen the family. While they talk several men enter the apartment and Jondrette tells his benefactor to ignore them. Jondrette attempts to distract Leblanc with a picture he wants to sell. Leblanc grows concerned about the men and when Jondrette asks how much he will pay for the picture, Leblanc observes that it is just a tavern sign worth about three francs. Jondrette demands a thousand crowns and at that moment three more men appear at the door armed with instruments of torture. Leblanc jumps to his feet and Jondrette explodes and wants to know if his guest remembers him. He proclaims that his name is really Thenardier, the innkeeper of Montfermeil, but Leblanc claims not to know him.
Marius, on the point of firing the pistol is overwhelmed by the sudden knowledge that this despicable man is the one he has long sought for his dead father's sake. He is spellbound and watches in a state of painful indecision. Thenardier momentarily turns his back on Leblanc and the latter makes a desperate attempt to escape out the window but the robbers grab him. Marius is on the verge of firing the pistol when Thenardier calls out for them to do no harm to the prisoner. All of the robbers, except one who is passed out drunk, aid in tying the prisoner to the foot of the bed. Thenardier resumes his discussion in polite tones and points out that since the man has not cried for assistance he must not want the police involved. Thenardier demands two hundred thousand francs and for emphasis uncovers the chisel which glows hot in the stove. Thenardier has his prisoner write a letter to his daughter (whom Thenardier calls "The Lark") telling her to come immediately. The man claims that his name is Urbain Fabre and he signs U.F.
Thenardier dispatches his wife and one of the robbers with the letter. His plan is to hold the daughter hostage while his prisoner gathers the two hundred thousand francs ransom. While they wait Marius resolves to free his beloved when she arrives but he soon learns that Thenardier intends to hold her at a separate location. Soon the Thenardiess returns with news that their prisoner has given them a false address. The prisoner, his bonds cut by a blade cleverly concealed in a hollowed out sou piece, springs from the bed and seizes the hot chisel. Though he is still tied by one leg to the bed he proclaims that none of them can make them do what they wish and he proves his point by burning his own arm with the chisel. Somewhat horrified the robbers resolve to kill him. Marius has a moment of desperate inspiration and throws into their midst the note scribbled earlier in the day by the eldest daughter (Eponine) that states: The Cognes are here. The Thenardiers and the robbers panic and are arguing over who is to flee by the rope ladder first when Javert enters.
Javert had posted his men and ordered them to arrest the two girls. They had nabbed the youngest, Azelma but Eponine had escaped. Javert, with fifteen men in support, subdues the bandits. Thenardier tries to shoot Javert but the pistol misfires. The Thenardiess throws a large stone at Javert but he ducks and soon both Thenardiers are in handcuffs. Javert proceeds to name all the bandits, among which are some of the most notorious criminals of the Parisian underground. He orders the prisoner, the man Marius knows only as Monsieur Leblanc, untied but a moment later they realize that the prisoner has escaped down the rope ladder and Javert laments that he may have been the "best one."
The following day a boy clad only in rags comes down the street singing a song at the top of his voice. He knocks furiously upon the door of the Gorbeau house but no one answers. An old woman approaches and berates the gamin who states that he has merely come to visit his family. The woman tells him that his family is all in prison and the child says "Ah" before singing his way back down the street.
Book Eight develops the highlight of the "Marius" section when Thenardier plots to rob and kill Leblanc and Marius's discovers that his father's benefactor really is a crook. Hugo uses this chapter to reunite a number of different characters and he skillfully explains any questions the reader might have formulated up to this point.
When Leblanc, (Valijean) is in danger, Marius is forced to make a decision as to where he should place his allegiance. As he is unable to completely turn his back on Thenardier because of his father's last wish, he still wants to save Valjean from being harmed. He does the next best thing and causes a commotion by throwing Eponine's letter into the room. This allows Valjean to escape.