When evening came, Jean Valjean went out; Cosette dressed herself. She arranged her hair in the most becoming manner, and she put on a dress whose bodice had received one snip of the scissors too much, and which, through this slope, permitted a view of the beginning of her throat, and was, as young girls say, "a trifle indecent." It was not in the least indecent, but it was prettier than usual. She made her toilet thus without knowing why she did so.
Did she mean to go out? No.
Was she expecting a visitor? No.
At dusk, she went down to the garden. Toussaint was busy in her kitchen, which opened on the back yard.
She began to stroll about under the trees, thrusting aside the branches from time to time with her hand, because there were some which hung very low.
In this manner she reached the bench.
The stone was still there.
She sat down, and gently laid her white hand on this stone as though she wished to caress and thank it.
All at once, she experienced that indefinable impression which one undergoes when there is some one standing behind one, even when she does not see the person.
She turned her head and rose to her feet.
It was he.
His head was bare. He appeared to have grown thin and pale. His black clothes were hardly discernible. The twilight threw a wan light on his fine brow, and covered his eyes in shadows. Beneath a veil of incomparable sweetness, he had something about him that suggested death and night. His face was illuminated by the light of the dying day, and by the thought of a soul that is taking flight.
He seemed to be not yet a ghost, and he was no longer a man.
He had flung away his hat in the thicket, a few paces distant.
Cosette, though ready to swoon, uttered no cry. She retreated slowly, for she felt herself attracted. He did not stir. By virtue of something ineffable and melancholy which enveloped him, she felt the look in his eyes which she could not see.
Cosette, in her retreat, encountered a tree and leaned against it. Had it not been for this tree, she would have fallen.
Then she heard his voice, that voice which she had really never heard, barely rising above the rustle of the leaves, and murmuring:—
"Pardon me, here I am. My heart is full. I could not live on as I was living, and I have come. Have you read what I placed there on the bench? Do you recognize me at all? Have no fear of me. It is a long time, you remember the day, since you looked at me at the Luxembourg, near the Gladiator. And the day when you passed before me? It was on the 16th of June and the 2d of July. It is nearly a year ago. I have not seen you for a long time. I inquired of the woman who let the chairs, and she told me that she no longer saw you. You lived in the Rue de l'Ouest, on the third floor, in the front apartments of a new house,—you see that I know! I followed you. What else was there for me to do? And then you disappeared. I thought I saw you pass once, while I was reading the newspapers under the arcade of the Odéon. I ran after you. But no. It was a person who had a bonnet like yours. At night I came hither. Do not be afraid, no one sees me. I come to gaze upon your windows near at hand. I walk very softly, so that you may not hear, for you might be alarmed. The other evening I was behind you, you turned round, I fled. Once, I heard you singing. I was happy. Did it affect you because I heard you singing through the shutters? That could not hurt you. No, it is not so? You see, you are my angel! Let me come sometimes; I think that I am going to die. If you only knew! I adore you. Forgive me, I speak to you, but I do not know what I am saying; I may have displeased you; have I displeased you?"
"Oh! my mother!" said she.
And she sank down as though on the point of death.
He grasped her, she fell, he took her in his arms, he pressed her close, without knowing what he was doing. He supported her, though he was tottering himself. It was as though his brain were full of smoke; lightnings darted between his lips; his ideas vanished; it seemed to him that he was accomplishing some religious act, and that he was committing a profanation. Moreover, he had not the least passion for this lovely woman whose force he felt against his breast. He was beside himself with love.
She took his hand and laid it on her heart. He felt the paper there, he stammered:—
"You love me, then?"
She replied in a voice so low that it was no longer anything more than a barely audible breath:—
"Hush! Thou knowest it!"
And she hid her blushing face on the breast of the superb and intoxicated young man.
He fell upon the bench, and she beside him. They had no words more. The stars were beginning to gleam. How did it come to pass that their lips met? How comes it to pass that the birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that May expands, that the dawn grows white behind the black trees on the shivering crest of the hills?
A kiss, and that was all.
Both started, and gazed into the darkness with sparkling eyes.
They felt neither the cool night, nor the cold stone, nor the damp earth, nor the wet grass; they looked at each other, and their hearts were full of thoughts. They had clasped hands unconsciously.
She did not ask him, she did not even wonder, how he had entered there, and how he had made his way into the garden. It seemed so simple to her that he should be there!
From time to time, Marius' knee touched Cosette's knee, and both shivered.
At intervals, Cosette stammered a word. Her soul fluttered on her lips like a drop of dew on a flower.
Little by little they began to talk to each other. Effusion followed silence, which is fulness. The night was serene and splendid overhead. These two beings, pure as spirits, told each other everything, their dreams, their intoxications, their ecstasies, their chimæras, their weaknesses, how they had adored each other from afar, how they had longed for each other, their despair when they had ceased to see each other. They confided to each other in an ideal intimacy, which nothing could augment, their most secret and most mysterious thoughts. They related to each other, with candid faith in their illusions, all that love, youth, and the remains of childhood which still lingered about them, suggested to their minds. Their two hearts poured themselves out into each other in such wise, that at the expiration of a quarter of an hour, it was the young man who had the young girl's soul, and the young girl who had the young man's soul. Each became permeated with the other, they were enchanted with each other, they dazzled each other.
When they had finished, when they had told each other everything, she laid her head on his shoulder and asked him:—
"What is your name?"
"My name is Marius," said he. "And yours?"
"My name is Cosette."