About: Dak reads Les Misérables and recaps it here, so that she may better retain the information. Things not to expect: deep literary analysis. Things to expect: Spoilers. All the spoilers.
BOOK 3: Simply having a Terrible Christmas Time
So, I don’t know why I got so bogged down in the details of this chapter. Perhaps I was having trouble describing just how despicable the Thénardiers are, because they are. They are not hilarious or funny in any way here. They are truly, truly awful people. But, enough with the intro, you will see in short order.
Right now it’s time to discuss the water situation on Montfermeil. This place sits upon a plateau and the water is in either end some distance away. There is a dude that will bring it to you during the day for a fee, but if you need it after hours then you’re out of luck and have to go get it yourself.
This night is a Christmas Eve and there have been some traveling booths set up around the city to showcase wares of which we will note two particular things:
First is the Brazilian (King) Vulture on display, bound for the King’s menagerie. It’s exciting, and amazing because the bird’s eye is a tri-coloured cockade! I actually looked this up, because I was having trouble picturing what this would look like and if it was actually true. It’s true. Soldier’s have come from all around to see it, because of this patriotic eyeball and declare it destiny that the creature is headed for the menagerie. And we know that nothing says destiny like taking a creature from its natural habitat and caging them in entirely different areas of the world.
As far as I know this has nothing to do with anything. I just thought it was interesting.
The other booth of note is the one straight across from the Sergeant of Waterloo. It is a toy booth and there is one particular beautiful doll that all the girls in the village covet. It is the most beautiful doll in all of dolldom.
This is where we meet Cosette again, a young girl of around eight, and her situation has not improved at all. If anything it has probably worsened since her mother passed away. She has to work, and she can only look at the beautiful doll from afar. Her days are spent slaving away and attempting to not rouse the ire of Mme. Thénardier, which is pretty much impossible because her ire always seems to be roused. The Thénardiers also have a baby boy at this point who nobody seems to give a toss about to bother with him at all. (jot that down under things to remember.) Mme. doesn’t even remember why she had another kid, except for that she got bored one day.
Almost everybody here is described in some animal analogy: Cosette is a mouse (and also a lark), Thénardiess is an Elephant (and also an Ogre…I am now imagining that she looks like Fiona from Shrek. Thanks for that mental image, Dreamworks.) She’s basically described as a giant, intimidating beast, and you really should read it, because I’m not doing anybody justice here! M. Thénardier is a Weasely Weasel who Weasels (and also looks like Abbé Delille)
As for Thénardier, he spends his days palling around with the customers, drinking but never appearing drunk and swindling everybody. He likes to regale people with stories of his grand heroics on the battlefield of Waterloo. Much exaggerated, as we already learned. Fearsome as Mme. Thénardier is, she is still afraid of this husband. They make quite the pair.
He’s fifteen hundred in debt since acquiring the inn and makes extra cash by charging his customers for everything down to how much a man’s reflection wears down a mirror. (someone write a story about what would happen if mirrors actually did that.) He’s pleasant to his customers, of course. How else would you convince someone to hand over their hard earned cash if not with a friendly smile?
Cosette is still getting beaten often, she’s even sporting a black eye that Mme. Thénardier gave her. She is a quiet child and has the countenance of someone much older, you know, since she’s basically living in hell right now. At present, she is working her little fingers away, while keeping out of sight under the table, on knitting stockings for the other girls. She becomes wary when Mme. Thénardier goes for the water bucket and only comes out with half a cup while she’s cooking.
Thankfully, she declares this amount enough, and no more water will be needed for the night. The patrons there aren’t going to be drinking any. They have other things they’re more interested in drinking. (I mean booze, in case that wasn’t clear.)
Just as Cosette was beginning to relax, as much as she can in this awful, terrible, no good, very bad place, one of the patron speaks up.
He says his horse hasn’t been watered yet.
Cosette says something too, because she’s desperate not to go out at night. It’s really dark and the well is out of town and in the woods. She insists that the horse had been watered, but the man is just as adamant. He knows what his horse is like when it hasn’t had its drink. I don’t want Cosette to go out in the inky black night either, but somebody get this horse some water!
Cosette attempts to hide, but it’s no use. Mme finds her, tells her to get the water, and calls her “nameless”, “the worst”, and a “toad” just in case Cosette has accumulated some shred of self esteem.
Cosette is handed this gigantic bucket that is almost as big as she is and some money for bread while she’s out wandering the cold night. She stops at the toy booth to gaze upon the doll until Mme. Thénardier notices and shouts at her. Travelling through town isn’t so bad. At first there’s the lights of the booths to illuminate the way, then there’s the light from the townspeople’s houses, but there comes a point where she reaches the beginning of the woods. This is terrifying, but she ultimately decides that Mme. Thénardier’s wrath is even more terrifying. What we are saying is that this woman is scarier than the night. Yup. And this is what Cosette has been dealing with for five years.
She runs until she makes it the water and manages to fill it, but it’s slow going back to the inn. As was pointed out, this bucket is already much too large for her to be carrying, and now it’s full of water. Even I have been known to fill up a bucket of water far past my abilities to carry it effectively, and I’m a grown up person. Little Cosette can only travel for a very short distance before stopping to rest, and it’s dark, and it’s cold, and her clothes are rags, her hands are freezing from the bucket handle and the water splashing all over because it’s awkward as hell. She’s miserable and trying not to cry, because that will earn her another beating. She realizes it’s going to take over an hour to get back to the inn, and that is also good for a beating. Cosette can’t win either way.
This is when she feels her burden being lifted from her, and suddenly there is a gigantic stranger man hauling the bucket instead. Somehow, this stranger in the woods is the least terrifying thing going down right now, because Cosette’s instinct is not to fear him at all.
We’re going to take a break from Cosette and this stranger man whose identity is a mysterious mystery. *wink* Let’s find out what this mysterious stranger has been up to.
I’ll just make it short: He got himself a room in Paris, tramped around the woods as if he were searching for something. Gee. I wonder what it could be? This mysterious white haired stranger is in his sixties or thereabouts. Since we can all make an educated guess as to who this dude is, just let that info soak into your brain and think about what happened down in Toulon on the Orion not so long ago. Seriously. What are they feeding this dude in prison?
I guess it’s important to note a certain event that happens to this guy while he is in Paris going on about his business, whatever that is. Every day, around two o’clock, the King comes riding in his carriage down a certain road. Everybody in Paris knows this is the daily routine, but this guy, being new in town, does not.
He sees this official procession along with the guard and ducks around a corner. This makes him something of a suspicious person with his yellow jacket that he’s wearing and everything. Thus the order is given for him to be followed.
He loses the tail and immediately books passage some distance out of town. He pays for the entire ride, but gets off the carriage early. I guess this could work as an getaway tactic, but let’s hope nobody questions the driver.
And now he is carrying Cosette’s bucket and making conversation with her.
She explains her whole sordid life to him. She lives with these terrible people. She has to work and rarely, if ever gets to play. All that fun stuff is reserved for ‘Ponine and ‘Zelma.
She explains that her only toy is a little lead knife. It is only good for cutting lettuce and cutting the heads off flies, and this whole walk and conversation with this mysterious stranger man is totally endearing her to me right now. Seriously, she has to put up with so much crap. Her guardians are abusive, her ‘sisters’ are also terrible to her, she lives off scraps, goes barefoot if M. Thénardier has anything to say about it, her bff is the cat, the knife is her plaything, not that they give her a chance to play, and she survives.
She also tells him that she has no mother that she knows of. Hey, remember all those letters Fantine paid to have written to Cosette? I guess she never got them.
Cosette steals one last longing glance at the beautiful doll in the booth, and before heading on in she takes the bucket from the man, because she will get a beating if they know she didn’t carry it the entire way. The Thénardiess immediately starts giving shit to Cosette anyway for taking so damn long. That is, until she notices stranger man there. She turns on the charm for him as he requests a room as a paying customer.
Her first instinct is to assume that he’s poor because of his state of dress and his threadbare yellow coat. They call him ‘yellow man’. She charges him double the price of a room. The other patrons manage to notice this discrepancy despite their varying states of inebriation. Apparently, it’s double for poor people. Okay, then.
Mme. Thénardier asks after the bread that Cosette was supposed to purchase, and Cosette, has not only forgotten to stop at the bakery, but she’s lost the money that she’d been given. She lies and says the bakery was closed, but then cannot provide the missing coin. Of course the Ogress is not going to believe the poor child and assumes that she’d just taken the money. Just as she’s about to completely lose it on Cosette, the Yellowman speaks up and gives her one of his own coins, pretending that he’d just found it on the floor. The coin this stranger provides is worth more than what Cosette had been given for the bread, but Mme. Thénardier takes it anyway.
Cosette meanwhile, has resumed her knitting work underneath the table and Jea… I mean the stranger in the yellow coat observes quietly while the Thénardiers speculate about the state of his finances. They try to get him to buy dinner, but he just sits there watching out for Cosette, and they wonder if he’s going to get a room or not.
Eponine and Azelma make their grand appearance then. They come in looking every inch the opposite of poor Cosette. These girls are well fed, and well clothed, and apparently well loved by the Thénardiess, who has so far only been observed to be a heinous beast where Cosette is concerned. Cosette, who is clothed in rags, often barefoot, and threatened with a whipping if she even thinks about doing something out of line. She spends most of her time miserably cowering in the grip of fear, because pretty much everything she does is considered out of line.
For instance, Cosette is sitting quietly watching the other girls play with their doll. This is wrong because she should be working her fingers raw right now instead of dreaming about pretty dolls, and the Thénardiess is about to get the whip down again, when the stranger steps in again. He asks about Cosette and what the problem is, and the Thénardiess proceeds to badmouth a little girl and her mother in front of him. It’s sort of like that awkward moment when someone makes conversation thinking you’re going to agree with them and they’re really proud of their terrible opinions…but you don’t and you really think they’re awful.
He thinks Cosette should be allowed to play, so what of it? Mme. Thénardier has to come up with a new excuse — Cosette needs to work on those socks because she needs to pay her way and Èponine and Azelma might soon have to go sockless. (Meanwhile Cosette’s feet are raw in her wooden shoes.) Either way, they haven’t heard from the mother or received payment in six months. They think the woman might be dead; and they’re not into charity, so Cosette works.
Cosette catches bits of this conversation and is now murmuring a chant about her mother being dead while she hides under the table.
Yellowman asks how much the time Cosette is spending knitting these socks is worth.
The Thénardiess comes up with a number, the stranger shells out more cash than she asked for and now, having purchased Cosette’s time, instructs her to play, because that is what children of eight are supposed to be doing. Everybody’s kind of stunned that he would do this, and Cosette goes, a bit reluctantly after she asks permission from Mme. Thénardier, to retrieve her knife, which she treats like a little pointy doll…because gender roles. Meanwhile, the Thénardiers are reconsidering the amount of money this guy might have on him. They have to figure out just how much money they can get out of him, right?
Èponine and Azelma are playing with their doll by the fire though, happy and healthy, but they are soon distracted by the cat. They have decided it would be much more fun to dress up the poor creature and the doll is abandoned.
Probably against her better judgement, Cosette decides that it might be okay if she played with the doll. Nobody else is. It’s just laying on the floor, right? She gets fifteen whole minutes of happiness as she plays. Eventually Èponine notices the doll’s foot sticking out from under the table and runs tattling to her mother. As far as the Thénardier girls are concerned Cosette is on the same level as the family dog. They barely notice her existence, and how dare she play with their toy?
The Thénardiess goes into a rage again, and again the stranger intervenes. Descriptions of how Cosette’s dirty hands shouldn’t be sullying her own daughter’s playthings don’t impress him, and he challenges the woman. So what if the kid plays with the doll? He walks right on out of the inn at that moment (a moment in which Mme. Thénardier takes to kick Cosette.) and he returns with the doll from the booth across the street. That precious doll that the entire town has been admiring. He gifts it to Cosette. She names the doll Catherine.
The Thénardiers are shocked at this, of course, but they let him do it, since paying customers get to do what they want. This leaves Cosette asking permission of the Thénardiess every time she makes a move with the doll, and Mme. Thénardier has to reassure the kid that it’s okay. It is probably killing the woman to be somewhat nice to Cosette here.
The stranger sits at his table well past midnight. Everybody has gone to bed except for Thénardier, who has stayed and eventually just asks this guy in the yellow coat if he’s ready to rest. The stranger, now broken out of whatever thoughtful reverie he has been sitting in, asks to be shown to the stables. Instead, Thénardier leads him to the bridal suite.
The stranger bluntly informs Thénardier that he’d have preferred the stables.
Later on, he goes creeping around the inn after everybody is asleep. He finds that Cosette’s room is the nook beneath the stairs, and she sleeps on a straw mattress that can’t even hold in all the straw. From there he wanders into another room where Èponine and Azelma and the unnamed baby boy are sleeping. He almost leaves when he notices their shoes by the fireplace. There is one empty wooden clog there that clearly belongs to Cosette. He drops in a gold Louis and heads off to bed.
The next morning, the Thénardiers confer on what inflated charges they are going to make the stranger pay for. He decides that the bill should be twenty three Francs. She’s a little surprised at this, but they both agree that he deserves it after all the business he caused with Cosette the previous night. In fact, just the sight of Cosette having something as nice as her new doll has upset Mme. Thénardier so much that she’s going to kick the girl out.
It’s Christmas day too, just in case you were forgetting that. Happy Christmas, Cosette!
Thénardier gives the wife the bill to hand over to the stranger. She even seems a little embarrassed to do it with that huge price tag. The stranger asks if they do good business there at the inn when he receives it and she complains that it isn’t great, and they can’t afford much much, especially charity cases like Cosette when they have their own children to feed.
He offers to take Cosette off their hands. The Thénardiess is more than happy to have him just take her away, but…
Thénardier stands up in the middle and declares the bill a mistake. It’s not 23 Francs, but 23 Sous! He does this, because he’s about to sell Cosette for the 1,500 Francs he needs to settle his debt. After Thénardier puts on a show of actually caring about Cosette, the stranger pulls out his huge wad of cash and just peels off the bills like it ain’t no thing.
The Thénardiess fetches Cosette, and the stranger gives her a mourning outfit to wear. It’s a real outfit, not rags or hand-me-downs or anything. Nobody recognizes the girl as they leave.
As soon as they have gone the Thénardiers come to the conclusion that they could have gotten so much more money out of that guy. He was throwing Francs around like they were going out of style, and Thénardier only asked for enough to cover his debt? He grabs his coat and hat and actually runs off after them.
Thénardier manages to catch up on the road out of town when the stranger and Cosette stop to rest. There he tries to get Cosette back so he can extract more money, but the stranger has had enough of his shit. He shows Thénardier a letter from Fantine that gives him custody of Cosette, and when Thénardier tries to explain that she still owes, the stranger busts out the maths. It seems he knows exactly how much Fantine owed and how much has been paid. Her debt is more than settled. He then stands up with Cosette in his arms and his big old walking stick in his hand and tells Thénardier in no uncertain terms that they are finished. His walking stick and stature is intimidating enough to get the innkeeper to back off.
Thénardier does follow them though. He wants to see who this stranger is and where he’s going. The stranger eventually catches sight of him, and gives him a look that makes makes Thénardier decide that it isn’t really worth the trouble to follow the guy. He turns to go back home and wishes he would have brought his gun.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this stranger is Jean Valjean, who is confirmed to not be dead in the last part of this chapter. (but let’s face it, we already knew that.) He had escaped by swimming to a boat that was attached to a ship that was moored in the harbor after he fell into the water in Toulon. He hid in that boat until he could swim back to shore. There he got some clothes and wandered all around France until he came to his destination in Paris. Once there he procured lodgings and mourning clothes for a child. Then he retrieved Cosette and took her on a round about path in carriages and on foot back to where he was staying.
This way of travelling made the poor girl tired, and she eventually fell asleep holding her doll, cradled in his arms with her head on his shoulder. All together now: Awwwwwwwww!