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BOOK THIRD: Fulfillment of the Promise to the Departed
Montfermeil-at the Inn of the Thenardiers. It is Christmas evening. The Thenardiers are entertaining several men in their tavern. The three year old boy is crying in another room. Cosette sits on the crosspiece of the kitchen table knitting wool socks for the Thenardier children. She is in rags and wooden shoes herself.
We receive an image of the Thenardiers. M. Thenardier is boss of the home even though his wife outweighs him and gives the appearance of having control. His primary goal is to get rich. One of the guests complains that his horse hasn’t been watered. Cosette is forced to go out into the black night to fetch water-a task requiring her to enter the woods carrying a heavy bucket. The Thenardiess gives Cosette a 15 sous piece, telling her to get a loaf of bread at the baker’s on the way back. Terrified of the night, but even more terrified of her mistress, Cosette goes after the water. She stops for a moment to admire a doll in one of the shopping booths but hurries on at a threat from Thenardiess.
In the woods, Cosette reaches the spring and fills the bucket, but unknowingly drops the money in the spring. She is struggling to carry the heavy bucket back to town when a mysterious stranger lifts it away and carries it for her.
The stranger is Valjean who goes to the inn with her and soon realizes her identity. He watches her all evening, defending her against the Thenardiess, replacing the missing piece of money that had slipped out of Cosette’s pocket into the spring, and even going out to the Christmas booth to buy the doll Cosette had admired. In the night, he wanders about the tavern, finding Cosette in a tattered bed in a hole under the stairs. The Thenardier girls’ shoes have been placed in anticipation before the fireplace, and Thenardiess has place a new 10 sous piece in the shoes of each of her own daughters. Valjean drops a gold louis in Cosette’s shoe. In the morning, after paying an outrageous sum for his room, Valjean gives Thenardier another 1500 francs for Cosette and takes her away.
Valjean attracts the attention of the police because of a furtive look and yellow coat which he is wearing. Thus he is hardly off the boat before he is the object of search again, even though the police do not know his identity. He manages to evade them by cutting into the woods and turning in numerous directions, then heads for his spot in the woods where he has his money buried and finally to Montfermeil where he happens upon Cosette.
Cosette herself has been seriously abused. The narrator tells us that “fear was spread all over her,” he clothes were nothing but rags and bruises were visible on skin that showed through the holes of her clothes. The money that Valjean uses to replace the lost piece is actually a 20 sous piece, but Thenardiess takes it without comment, although she notices the difference quickly enough.
Thenardier is cagey enough the recognize the presence of a superior intellect in Valjean. He notices immediately Valjean’s interest in Cosette; the possibility of “grandfather” crosses his mind and is dismissed as a true relative would immediately make the connection known. The secrets that Valjean obviously possesses become something of a challenge to Thenardier, foreshadowing the conflicts that happen later on.