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BOOK THIRD: Mire, But Soul
Valjean makes his way through the sewer with Marius on his back. At a crossing where one choice appears to descend and aim toward the river, Valjean chooses the opposite for fear of emerging in the midst of the Paris market district. In spite of not knowing where he is, Valjean is on a path that will eventually lead him out. Whenever he arrives at a junction, he measures the width by pacing off the new opening and thus avoids all the narrower routes, which would only end in cul-de-sacs.
A brief scene change from the interior of the sewer tunnels takes the reader to the shore of the Seine where an unnamed figure in official dress appears to be in pursuit of another man who is dressed in rages. One of the public conveyances called a “fiacre” keeps pace at some distance as if anticipating a fee or perhaps following orders. The two men walk at a consistent pace, one trying to avoid the appearance of running, the other trying to act as though he is NOT pursuing. When the man in rags rounds the point of the quai and disappears from sight, the official begins to run. The fugitive, however, has disappeared through a grating at the end of the quai. The grating covers an outlet through with the sewer flows into the river. It is locked, which means the fugitive had a government key. The reader understands that the fugitive is Thenardier and the official is Javert.
Returning to Marius and Valjean in the sewer, we find that he has arrived at the main sewer channel called the “Belt Sewer” or the “Grand Sewer.” He correctly chooses the only direction that will lead to safety, but he must pass through a “fontis” or underground version of a quicksand pit before he will reach the exit. Valjean nearly drowns, sinking in the mire and water up to his head, but reaches the opposite side of the sinkhole just in time. Beyond the mire, he runs into a wall, which forms a sharp angle with the continuing passage. Upon entering that, he finds that he has reached the outlet, but that it is covered with a locked grating which he does not have the means to open or the strength to break through.
While he sits in despair on the bank of the sewer, a man appears out of the darkness. It is Thenardier who assumes Valjean is an assassin who has robbed and killed the man he is carrying. Valjean recognizes him immediately, but the darkness and covering of filth enables him to keep his own identity a secret. Thenardier offers to “go halves” in return for opening the gate. However, Valjean has only 30 francs in his pockets, so Thenardier takes it all. He also manages to tear a strip of cloth from Marius’ soggy jacket. He thinks that he will someday discover the identity of the assassin and victim and perhaps use it to his own advantage.
Instead of escaping, Valjean has emerged into the waiting grasp of Javert. Thenardier has taken advantage of Valjean to get Javert off his own trail and the ruse has worked. Valjean, however, surrenders willingly, asking only that Marius be taken to his grandfather first. Javert believes that Marius is dead or soon will be, but he does not refuse. After taking Marius home, Valjean asks one more favor-to be permitted to go home for a moment. Javert grants this request also. Valjean ascends the stairs to his room-pausing at a landing to look out the window above the street. To his amazement, Javert is gone.
Section XII of this chapter is set in the Gillenormand home. Marius is tended by the doctor, the servant and the aunt. In spite of their attempts to keep everything quiet, the old man awakes and comes into the sick room. He wrings his hands and wails bitterly, beside himself because he believes Marius is dead. He confesses that he has kept Marius’ room prepared in the event of his return and that the picture of Marius as a little boy hangs above his own bed. With the doctor’s ministrations, Marius regains consciousness, a surprise that causes the old man to faint.