Chapter 1 The main joy that now remains to Cosette and Valjean is to carry bread to the hungry and clothing to the cold. On the day following their visit to the Jondrette den, Valjean returns home with a large wound on his arm which looks like a burn, but he explains it away. He stays home for a month with fever but refuses to call the doctor, and is touched by Cosette’s care in looking after him. He’s so happy to be with her that he doesn’t dwell on the horrible discovery of the Thenardiers.
After a long detour, in which the narrator has retrodden events already detailed from Marius’s perspective, we now return to the narrative present, where the renewed love and affection of Cosette for Valjean proves more important to him than his near-captures by Thenardier and Javert.
Cosette is content to see her father suffering less and convalescing. As spring comes, she feels happier herself, and one day when she convinces Valjean to spend a full 15 minutes in the garden, she laughs and frolics. He thinks of even thanking the Thenardiers.
Ironically, it’s because of what happened to him at the Thenardiers that Valjean has managed to revive Cosette’s former affection and love for him.
Chapter 2 One evening little Gavroche has had nothing to eat and wanders out into the village of Austerlitz, past the Salpetrière. He catches sight of an apple-tree in an old garden frequented by two elderly people. He lies in wait, and hears the old woman call out to “Monsieur Mabeuf,” who asks “Mother Plutarque” what the matter is: they owe the landlord three quarters’ rent. He doesn’t seem too worried, even as the old woman lists everything they need and owe. Mabeuf simply says they have nothing.
Gavroche is the small “gamin” or Parisian street urchin, as well as the youngest son of the Thenardiers, whom we’ve been acquainted with before. Here he functions as an extra set of eyes and ears in Paris, well-versed in the city’s nooks and crannies and always happening to find himself in a spot where interesting things are happening.
Gavroche nods off for awhile, and wakes up near twilight, when he spies an elderly bourgeois-looking man next to a slender, almost effeminate young man: the young man is Montparnasse. Gavroche feels compassion for the old man, though he’s not sure he can take on Montparnasse himself to protect him. All at once, Montparnasse seizes the old man by the collar, but a moment later it’s Montparnasse on the ground, with the old man’s knee on his chest. The man tells Montparnasse to get up, and begins to question him, asking why he doesn’t work and what he’d like to be. Montparnasse says he’s bored by work, he’s an idler, and would only like to be a thief.
As we’ve seen before, we’re meant to consider Gavroche with compassion—he may be a troublemaker, but he is good at heart and always remains on the side of the victim. However, in this case it appears that Gavroche has misjudged who the victim is. The “old man”—whose identity the reader has most likely already grasped—treats Montparnasse not with righteous anger but with concern, seeming to be truly interested in why Montparnasse clings to crime.
The man begins to tell Montparnasse that if he declares himself an idler, he should prepare to toil because laziness is the hardest work of all. If he doesn’t work, he’ll only be a slave: working leads to freedom. He says Montparnasse can easily create a knife out of a sou-piece, hidden away, and he’ll be able to cut off chains and do any kind of malice he’d like, but he’ll only be a parasite. He says he pities him; he releases Montparnasse and puts his purse in his hand. The old man turns his back and walks away.
The reader in this scene knows more than either Montparnasse or Gavroche. It’s an interesting example Valjean chooses, that of a knife in a sou-piece—the trick he himself used against the Thenardiers. Valjean’s situation is obviously quite different from Montparnasse’s, but his choice suggests that at least on one level Valjean continues to condemn himself as a “parasite.”
Montparnasse, amazed, watches the old man walk away. But Gavroche sneaks up to him and manages to put his hand into Montparnasse’s back coat pocket. He draws out the purse and hurls it over the hedge to Father Mabeuf, before racing away. Mabeuf is entirely perplexed, while Mother Plutarque says that the purse has fallen from heaven.
Once again, Gavroche places himself solidly on the side of the victim. In Hugo’s Paris, everything and everyone is interrelated. This allows Valjean’s coins to pass through the Thenardier son’s hands and end up with the man who revealed Marius’ father’s love to him.