[S]he wrote on a sheet of blank paper . . . “The cops are here.”
Marius spends several months trying to track down Cosette, whom he only knows as his beloved Ursula, the young woman from the Luxembourg Gardens, but she has disappeared, and he has grown despondent. Marius cannot stop thinking of her until a visit from his neighbor, Eponine Jondrette, reminds him that other people’s troubles are worse than his own. Eponine comes to Marius’s room in the Gorbeau House to ask for money. She is so emaciated that she has the body of girl but the broken voice of an old man. To show off the fact that she is literate, Eponine writes “The cops are here” on a piece of paper. Marius fails to realize that Eponine is attracted to him and offers her his last five francs.
Marius decides to take a more active interest in the welfare of the Jondrettes. He finds a crack in the wall that separates their apartments and is horrified by the sight of the squalor and poverty in which they live. Through the crack, Marius sees Eponine enter with a philanthropist and a young girl. He immediately recognizes the philanthropist as Leblanc and the girl as Ursula. Jondrette pretends to be an unemployed actor and begs Leblanc for rent money. Though the amount Jondrette is asking for is much higher than the rent, Leblanc vows to return later that evening to give him the money.
Marius overhears Jondrette plotting to rob and kill Leblanc when he returns that evening. Clearly, Jondrette and his wife recognize both Leblanc and Ursula from some past incident, and they seem infuriated to see their old acquaintances so well off. With the help of Patron-Minette, the local mob, the Jondrettes form a plan to coerce Leblanc into giving them a large sum of money. Although Marius does not fully understand the connection between the Jondrettes and Leblanc, he runs to the local police station. He tells an inspector about Jondrette’s plan. The inspector, who turns out to be Javert, gives Marius two pistols and tells him to return to the Gorbeau House. Javert tells Marius that when the robbery has reached its peak, he should fire one of the pistols to signal to the police to enter the building and arrest the thieves.
Marius returns to his apartment. When Leblanc returns to the Gorbeau House, Jondrette and a number of local hoods—among them the members of Patron-Minette—ambush him. Leblanc calmly refuses to sign over any of his money, saying that he has none. Jondrette angrily reveals that his real name is Thénardier. Leblanc denies that he has ever met Thénardier before. Marius, recognizing the name Thénardier from his father’s note, is faced with the dilemma of whether to help Leblanc or to protect the man who saved his father’s life.
The Thénardiers force Valjean to write a note summoning Cosette to the apartment. Thénardier’s messengers return with the news that Valjean has given them a false name and address. Thénardier is on the verge of killing Valjean when Marius sends Eponine’s scribbled message—“The cops are here“—flying through the window. When the criminals read that the police have arrived, they try to flee, but Javert makes his entrance and arrests them all. In the confusion, Valjean slips out the window.
Thénardier’s attempt to rob Leblanc is the climax of the “Marius” section of the novel, and it pulls together all the loose threads and unexplained coincidences that have occurred in the previous chapters. The episode shows Hugo’s remarkable ability to use the smallest details from the past to make the most far-fetched parts of his story plausible. The incident is based on an extraordinary series of coincidences: Both Marius and the Thénardiers move into the same building where Valjean once lived; Thénardier happens to ask for money from Valjean, who is the father of Marius’s beloved; the inspector for the precinct happens to be Javert; and Thénardier turns out to be the man who Marius’s father thought saved his life at Waterloo. Although the overlap of so many different story lines is improbable, it is not inconceivable. For example, it makes sense that Marius and Thénardier might be neighbors, since Thénardier would appreciate the anonymity of the Gorbeau House and Marius would appreciate its low rent. Similarly, it is not surprising that the dogged Javert is still working in the last precinct where he knows Valjean lived. Lesser details also have a plausible explanation. Eponine has likely scribbled many warning notes in her criminal career, so writing “The cops are here” to prove her literacy is a logical choice for her. Thus, though the episode involves an unlikely combination of coincidences, Hugo roots the robbery so thoroughly in his earlier chapters that we can believe it.