Chapter 1 After witnessing Javert’s ambush, Marius goes to visit Courfeyrac and spends the night there. The next morning, he pays the rest of his rent and has his furniture carted off in a hand-cart, so when Javert returns to question Marius, the porter says he’s moved away. For Marius, the house now only holds memories of wickedness, and besides, he doesn’t want to have to testify against Thenardier. Each week he borrows five francs from Courfeyrac and gives them to the clerk’s office for Thenardier.
Marius is still struggling to wrap his head around his discovery of Thenardier’s identity. He is trying to understand the his wickedness while still reluctant to condemn the man who (Marius still believes) saved his father. Marius is even willing to go into debt, borrowing money from Courfeyrac, for Thenardier’s sake and to honor his father’s memory.
Marius is also heartbroken not to have learned much more about the young girl, the Lark. He stops working because of his passion and torments, and descends into poverty once again—poverty now not noble but idle. His only solace is to think that perhaps she still loves him, given that one glance.
Sometimes Marius wanders around the Latin Quarter, down the Rue de la Glacière, and then to the river of the Gobelins, where there’s an ancient-looking green meadow. Once, when there’s a passers-by, Marius asks him the name of this spot: he answers that it’s the Lark’s meadow, a name from French history. Every day, Marius returns to the meadow.
The narrator situates Marius within the Paris of students, centered around the Latin Quarter but extending south and west to other, less developed areas of Paris, though ones that are still obviously rich with French history.
Chapter 2 Javert is still convinced that the prisoner who escaped was the most valuable. Montparnasse and Claquesous had managed to escape as well. Javert decides to put another Patron-Minette man, Brujon, among other men rather than alone in prison, so that he might spill secrets. Soon, he finds out that Brujon has been managing to send messages to several Parisian addresses, probably regarding a crime. He’s seen late at night writing something on his bed, so he’s put in solitary confinement, but on the next morning a “postilion,” a piece of bread that is molded into a kind of catapult, is hurled from the prison yard into the next courtyard, reaching Babet, another Patron-Minette character. It holds a roll of paper noting that there’s an affair in the Rue Plumet.
For Javert, there is always a greater injustice to combat, as he treats his mandate to track down and put away criminals as an obsession to which there’s no end. Even when he arrests Brujon and the others and locks them away in prison, Javert is eager to find other members of the web of crime (and is certain that it is a vast web) by tracking the prisoner’s moves. Still, the narrator notes how adept Brujon and the others are at navigating Paris’s underworld—not only its alleys and dark corners, but also its institutions like prisons.
Around this time, Eponine is released from prison, and she lurks and spies around the Rue Plumet, before delivering a biscuit back to Babet’s mistress (meaning that there’s nothing to be done).
Eponine is not, the narrator suggests, evil herself, but rather has been manipulated by her father into assisting his and others’ crimes.
Chapter 3 Though Marius no longer seeks out friends, he sometimes runs into M. Mabeuf, who is more wretched than ever but maintains a corner in the Jardin des Plantes to experiment with his plants. When they pass each other in the street, they only nod to each other in a melancholy way.
In Paris, misery is far from uncommon, and yet urban misery has the effect of isolating people from each other, so that neither Marius nor Mabeuf is entirely aware of the other’s history.
One evening M. Mabeuf’s daily routine is shaken. He’s reading and worriedly surveying his plants, parched from the lack of rain. Suddenly a female voice asks Mabeuf if he would like her to water the garden for him: it’s a tall, slim girl by the shrubbery. She does so, and Mabeuf blesses her, tearing up. She asks if he’ll do her a favor in return: tell her where Marius lives. He has forgotten, but says he often goes to the meadow of the lark. When she leaves, he says to himself that the apparition looked like a goblin.
The narrator has just emphasized the moral and emotional isolation that an urban environment can prompt, but this is a reminder that Paris—in which thousands of people are clustered in a relatively small area of land—is also home to remarkable coincidences and constantly crossed paths.
Chapter 4 A few days afterward, Marius heads off to the Lark’s meadow, where he spends more time than at home, dreaming of “her.” Then he hears a girl cry, “Here he is!” and recognizes Eponine, the elder Thenardier daughter, whose name he now knows. She is dressed in even shabbier rags than before, and yet has grown more beautiful. She exclaims that she’s hunted for him since she’s been out of jail.
It’s clear that Eponine was the girl who had sought Marius’s address from Mabeuf in exchange for doing him a favor. By showing that she’s grown more beautiful, the narrator suggests that there is now a greater moral integrity in Eponine than there was before her time in prison.
Eponine continues to chatter, but then her eyes cloud and she says Marius doesn’t seem happy to see her. She could force him to look glad, she says: she has something for him. She asks him to promise he’ll smile, then says she has the address of the young lady. He turns pale and seizes her hand, asking her to take him there. He asks her to swear not to give this address to her father, calling her “Eponine.” She’s delighted that he knows her name and agrees. She tells him to follow her, but at a distance, so that he won’t be seen next to a woman “like her.” Marius tries to give her five francs, but she lets it fall, saying gloomily that she doesn’t want his money.
Marius is almost willfully blind to Eponine’s emotional turmoil throughout this passage. She’s obviously done all she can to accomplish the favor he’d asked of her because of how much she loves him, yet she knows that her favor can only bring Marius closer to another woman, the one he is in love with. Love can be purifying, it’s suggested here, but also excruciatingly painful, a factor that threatens to unravel its generally redemptive status in the novel.