Chapter 1 The next day, Valjean arrives at Gillenormand’s and waits in the antechamber on the ground floor. Basque accompanies Cosette to meet him, and Cosette remarks at how odd it is that he wants to meet down here. She invites him to dine, but Valjean says he cannot. He addresses her as “Madame” and tells her to call him “Monsieur Jean” or “Jean.” She asks what this means, and begs him to be nice and come to live with them. Valjean says that with a husband, she has no more need of a father.
Cosette, as usual, isn’t given as much complexity as the male characters in the story. Instead, we’re meant to see the contrast between her bubbly happiness and Valjean’s seriousness as the first sign of a tragic gulf that is about to open up between them. It is a gulf that Valjean himself prompts, knowing that he must slowly distance himself from Cosette to “free” her.
Cosette exclaims that recently she can’t understand either Marius or Valjean. She asks if he’s angry at her because she is happy. It is a simple question, but Valjean turns pale. He tells her that his sole desire is for her to be happy, and he addresses her with the informal “you,” so that she hugs him in happiness. Valjean quickly switches back to the formal “you,” saying that Marius should forgive him, before leaving.
Valjean momentarily slips in his attempt to turn his relationship to Cosette increasingly formal (and thus release himself, and the aura of guilt and condemnation around him, from any relation to her), because her guess is precisely the opposite of what he hopes for her.
Chapter 2 The next day Valjean returns, and Cosette no longer questions these changes, though she seems slightly diminished. In the coming days, the household gets used to the new norms. Marius always arranges to be absent when Valjean is there. Cosette begins to settle into married life, and begins to grow more detached from Valjean. One day, however, she says “father” to him. He tells her to say “Jean,” which she does, laughing. She fails to see him wipe his eyes.
It appears that Valjean’s strategy is working, as Cosette grows used to a newly formalized relationship to her adopted father, even as she continues to think of him fondly. Marius wants to have compassion for Valjean, but his natural tendency towards condemning the ex-convict is such that he can’t bring himself to be friendly to him.
Chapter 3 After this last time, Cosette never again calls Valjean “father.” His only joy, however, continues to be in the hour he sees her each day. One April afternoon, Marius suggests to Cosette that they return to the Rue Plumet garden. That evening, they are still gone when Valjean arrives. He waits but eventually departs, his head down. The next day, he asks Cosette how they reached the garden, and she says on foot and in a hackney carriage. Valjean, who has noticed how frugal the couple is, suggests that Cosette buy a carriage of her own or hire another maid. She doesn’t answer.
The Rue Plumet garden was where the love affair between Cosette and Marius began. It recalls the time during their relationship when their love had little to do with their families, and when, for Marius, the ominousness of Valjean’s confession had not yet colored their marriage. Marius may be purposefully distancing himself even more from Valjean, but in Cosette’s case she is meant to be seen merely as thoughtless, an already mentioned side effect of love.
One day, Cosette tells Valjean that Marius had said something odd to her: whether she’d be brave enough to live on only the 3,000-livre income of his family, rather than the 27,000 of hers. Valjean only listens in gloomy silence. He begins to realize that Marius suspects the money comes from a corrupt source. The next day, the two habitual armchairs are gone. Valjean, having understood Marius’s intimations, doesn’t return the next day. Cosette exclaims at this, but Marius soon distracts her. She sends a servant to Valjean’s home, asking if he was ill. He says that he is simply beginning to travel again.
To Valjean, it now appears that all the efforts he’s made to ensure that Cosette will live comfortably and untainted by his own past are beginning to unravel—and as a direct result of his confession to Marius. Marius clearly is beginning to doubt his agreement that Valjean could visit Cosette each day, though he refuses to see Valjean and explain his attitude to him explicitly. Valjean, feeling guilty and unredeemed, doesn’t question Marius.
Chapter 4 Throughout the spring of 1833, passersby in the Marais begin to notice an old man dressed in black traveling from the Rue de l’Homme Armé to the Rue Saint-Louis each day at the same hour. Each time, he reaches the Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, pauses, and gazes into the street with a tragic air. A tear falls down his cheek, and he returns home. Little by little, he completes less and less of the journey. Sometimes, children follow him and laugh.
Once again, the narrator zooms out to describe a particular Parisian neighborhood, here creating a small map that conforms to the real, historical Paris, though in this case populated by the literary figure of Valjean, now fully condemned not only by Marius but also by society at large.