Marius walked right back to the sitting room and bent his knees mechanically until he was seated on the couch. Head in his hands, he tried to process what had just happened. Cosette's father was a convict. A thief. That quiet old man who'd calmly sat besides Cosette during so many afternoons was an ex-convict.
Shocked though he was, when Marius thought about it, it did explain a few things. The man had always seemed slightly off- different than a normal human being. Marius often thought of him as an enigma. Monsieur Fauchelevent- or, well, he wasn't Fauchelevent, was he? He was Jean Valjean. And what was Cosette? Who was Cosette? An orphan, most likely. But how had that man just come across her? Was she wandering alone somewhere? Where was she from? Who were her parents?
Marius shook his head- those were questions that he would probably never have an answer to, unless he confronted Valjean himself, which he was not inclined to do. And he could not ask Cosette, out of respect for the promise he'd made to Valjean.
Eh! he thought in disgust. That promise. He already resented letting the man in the house every evening- the thought of having him so near to Cosette made his stomach twist. However, he did not resent promising not to tell Cosette about all this. It would break her heart, and that was something Marius did not want to do.
Marius' hands were shaking in shock as he tried to take stock of how much this terrible realization would affect his life. Would he be forever tied to a convict? Was he now covering for him, an accomplice?
No, he didn't think he was. But this contact with someone so wretched just made him uncomfortable. The galleys- he'd been in the galleys! The sheer horror!
Marius racked his brain, trying to think of all the times he'd noticed something strange about the man. The Gorbeau robbery- how had he never asked Cosette about that? Now it was obvious why 'Monsieur Fauchelevent' had run out that way- he'd been afraid of the police! How could he have been so stupid, and never asked about these things? Why had his suspicions never been brought up before?
But he shook his head- would it have mattered? Would he have loved Cosette any the less? No. And asking about those things would only scare her. Why bring unhappiness to her? It was better he found out this way.
Suddenly he remembered the night at the barricades. How he, himself, had asked Enjolras who the officer was who they were going to kill. "It's done," Valjean had said, returning from executing Inspector Javert. Though sitting next to the crackling fire int he sitting room, Marius shivered, remembering. Valjean wasn't just a thief. Marius decided that as soon as he got the chance, he'd run some research and try and see more of what this man had done. What if he was truly dangerous? A petty thief is shameful, but a murderer? Marius would not allow a murderer to come see Cosette every day, no matter how kind he might have acted towards her.
"Well, excuse me for interrupting," Cosette's voice chirped through the door, full of over-exaggerated annoyance, "But I'm here to tell you two that lunch is being served- if you can stand to stop your terribly important conversation to sit with the rest of the family."
She opened the door as she said this, and walked inside, looking around. Marius couldn't help it- he stared at her as though he'd never really seen her before. How could it be that this gentle, birdlike and angelic being had been raised by such a wretched man? The miserable, shameful man who'd confessed to Marius that morning surely could not have been capable of caring for this innocent creature.
But here she was standing in front of him. He recalled all the joyous, loving things she'd told him about her father. 'Papa,' she called him. The thought made his senses reel.
"Where is papa?" she asked, seeming to read his mind. Marius was glad that she couldn't. He put his head back in his hands, not looking at her or answering. Confused and worried, Cosette got down on her knees in front of him so her face could be at his level, and moved his hands away from his face. "What is the matter?"
He had to say something reassuring, or else she'd know something was wrong.
"Nothing," he said, forcing himself to smile. There was so much to smile about, he knew, but it still felt like work in light of what had just happened. "But your father will not be joining us."
"For lunch?" she asked. "Why not? If he's being his strange, eccentric self again, I must have a word with him. It's simply not alright to just retreat and leave a happy couple alone. Honestly, the man has been acting quite strange, and I will have to scold him. He's almost making me unhappy- of course, it is quite difficult to be unhappy. I am so happy, it is almost a fairy tale-"
She probably would have continued chattering on, but Marius stepped in.
"No- he is not joining us here to live," he said, somewhat more forcefully than he'd meant to.
She leaned back ever so slightly, a crease in her brow. For a moment she just looked pensive. Then, "Why? I made him a room. He promised to come stay here."
Marius didn't know how to answer, because the truth was not an option. "He says he'd rather stay where he is."
Cosette was already shaking her head. "Oh, I knew this would happen, I just knew it! We were so intent on being so deliriously happy, but Papa has always been odd, and he is being a miserable old grouch-"
"Cosette, no," Marius said. "Don't say that. You said he's always been... eccentric. He's not trying to make you miserable." It killed him to say it, but he continued. "And he'll be coming to visit you in the evenings."
"You won't take my side against him? Bah!" she said, pouting. "Fine. You two really are quite funny, acting all mysterious over nothing. But tell me Marius- you seem upset. What are you thinking about?" As she said this, she took his face in her hands, holding his cheeks against her palms.
He met her gaze, her innocent and sweet gaze, and felt powerless. How could he stand to know that she would be meeting with a murderer every night, for a calm rendezvous? He couldn't.
"I am fine, Cosette," he said. Cosette raised her eyebrows, already knowing he was lying. He would have to be more convincing. He thought of happy things- and, well, after the day and night before, he had plenty of happy memories to choose from. That was enough to put a sincere smile on his face. "I am happy."
She wrapped her arms around him in what was meant to be a short embrace, but he held her to him tightly, jealously. All the while, he felt a bit of comfort, knowing that no matter how close this Valjean tried to get to Cosette, she was now in his arms, in his protection. There was nothing he could do to take her away- Cosette was Marius' now, and she was safe. This man, half-monster, half-man, could not harm her. She was his wife now, and as he held her anxiously to him, he tried to forget about the dark convict looming so close to their relationship. The two of them were together- if this was God's price for their happiness, so be it.