"Get that dirty thing out of here!" his aunt screeched.
Theodule peeked his head from behind her skirt and wrinkled his nose at the bundle of scraggly fur Marius had in his hands before trotting back into the main hall of the mansion. Marius held the kitten tighter to his chest, his heart breaking as he felt the little creature shiver and heard her mew.
"But she'll die!"
"Absolutely not! The thing might be riddled with disease!"
"Get it away and get washed up; it is nearly time for supper and I'll not have you come join us without a good scrub down first."
She ushered him right out of the parlor and waited in the doorway with crossed arms and raised eyebrows, expectantly. Marius found that he could not bring himself to set the kitten free, and so he took off, setting himself free, ignoring the angry and frantic calls of his aunt. No. He did not wish to see the kitten die from starvation or from the bitter cold of winter.
He dived deeper and deeper into the heart of Paris until he found himself good and lost. As he stood in the middle of an indifferent crowd, he felt his belly rumble and knew that the kitten must be starving as well. Oh, how he should have thought about this! How could he keep the kitten safe from death if he could not even feed it or himself? Now he was lost, forever lost, and with nowhere to go.
Marius ducked into an alleyway and sniffled as he sat, still clutching the kitten to his coat. Now what was he to do?
Marius jumped and nearly lost his grip on the kitten as he nearly tumbled to his back. Who? What? His eyes met the boy's, this boy who wore what looked like rags, his brown hair shaggy, and who was far too skinny and honestly kind of smelled bad, and Marius recoiled and hopped to his feet and ran and ran until he bumped into another boy.
This boy, at least, smelled better, a lot better, really, and he was dressed in nicer clothes even if the clothes looked mismatched somehow, and the boy blinked a few times in surprise before his eyes fell upon the kitten.
"Oh, the poor thing!"
The boy reached for the kitten, but Marius stepped away and protectively guarded the kitten to his chest.
"She's mine," he said, and he amended quickly after the boy's face tightened into a disapproving frown. "I found her. And—and—and I'm taking her home except my aunt won't let me and—"
"Oh!" cried the boy as understanding dawned upon him. "I see now! Your family does not wish for you to keep her? I can take her in for you, if you would let me. My parents will not notice, and I can nurse her back to health. If you wish, you may even come to visit her. We will not be in Paris past the holidays, however; we are only here for Christmas and the New Year, but perhaps by then she will be in a condition that even your aunt cannot turn her down."
"But I can never go home," said Marius. "I am lost!"
"Oh, and I would take you in myself, but I'm afraid my parents would notice another boy running around the estate. Perhaps I can help you find your way home and then give you the way to mine so that you may visit this little darling? Where is it that you live?" But when Marius told him, the boy frowned. "I'm sorry, but I do not know where that is."
"I do," said a voice from behind, and when Marius jumped to see who it was, it was none other than the raggedy boy from before. "I can take you there if he'll take the cat."
Marius gulped. "I have no money. I can't pay you."
The raggedy boy glared. "I don't want your money. I'm just trying to help."
"Then it's settled!" cried the other boy and he gently took the kitten from Marius' arms. "I shall accompany you both. Do not worry, I know my way back, and the kitten will be safe with me."
And so, Marius walked with the two strange boys back to his grandfather's mansion, his eyes teetering between the kitten in the one boy's arms and hesitantly waiting for an attack from the other boy. He really did not have any money, but the boy looked poor enough to try, and the other boy looked rich enough that he might.
Finally, not soon enough because he wanted to flee the boys but too soon for he did not want to part with the kitten, they arrived at his grandfather's mansion. Marius stared at his feet as he mumbled a "thank you" and a "good-bye," and he wanted to run inside but his heart went to the kitten, and he lifted his eyes to meet hers, and he found his feet glued to the spot.
"It will be okay!" said the richer boy. "She will be safe with me. Here is my address. Please feel free to visit!"
The raggedy boy smirked. "If you don't get lost again, anyway."
"Maybe you could show him the way?"
"Oh, no, no, no. I will not do that!"
Marius interjected, "It's okay, there's no need! Just… take good care of her, please?"
"And I'll come get her later?"
Marius nodded and then slowly retreated back into the mansion to the cries of his worried aunt, the stern lectures of his grandfather, and the coldness of his cousin, and together, the family enjoyed their Christmas supper and exchanged lavish gifts, and slowly, Marius forgot about the small kitten and the strange boys.
But they did not forget him nor did they forget each other, and a few years later when their mutual friend Courfeyrac brought in a friend of his to the Café Musain, they instantly recognized him.
"Say, Jehan, isn't that—"
"Why, yes, Feuilly, I do believe it is! He's a few years late in picking up his beloved cat, wouldn't you say?"