After all this time, the bed was still cold without her. He had tried, at first, to hold onto her memory in every way he could: he took all the old portraits from the attic and hung every single one of them back up, reread all the age-stained and meticulously kept love letters, sprayed the perfume she used to wear around the house. But without her, the portraits seemed to mock him, the letters sounded as if they had been written by someone else to a girl who never existed, and her perfume was cloying and false. Still he persisted; he read all the books he used to translate in the days when he was still pining over a nameless angel, with an odd fluency he hadn't had in his youth and no emotion save a fruitless yearning for emotion.
With a sigh and a small puff of dust, Marius closed the volume full of German and replaced it on the bedside table. He settled back in bed and was about to snuff out the single candle he had been reading by when he caught a glimpse of motion in the ornate, full-length mirror that faced the bed. That was strange. Surely, he thought drowsily, the maid wouldn't be up at this hour, and wouldn't disturb him without knocking. He watched, in the mirror, as the door opened silently and a figure padded into the room without even the noise of footsteps. Through the gloom he could see only flashes: a white nightgown, candlelight glinting off of dark eyes and silver hair. As the woman—for the figure was too slight, too rounded to be a man—entered the room fully, a flash of recognition shot straight to his heart, and he sat paralyzed, watching in the mirror as she slowly began to braid her hair. Her motions were as familiar to him as his own after so many years together, and yet it couldn't be. He must be dreaming. As she had done every night for forty years, Cosette—mirrored a dozen times in the portraits around the room, as healthy and full-figured and vivacious as she had been before her illness—finished braiding her hair, stopped to inhale the scent of the roses he had left on the table for her, and turned to smile at her husband. The smile, that acknowledgment of him, broke the spell, and he tore his eyes from the mirror and towards the place where his wife, dead all these years, was now standing.
There was no one there.
Marius's eyes shot back and forth from the image of Cosette smiling at him in the mirror to the empty air at his side. Finally he stopped on the mirror, unable to let her out of his sight again, and she sat down on the bed beside him and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. Marius shuddered: he felt no movement from the mattress as she sat, and no sensation on his shoulder where her hand was touching him. The Cosette in the mirror made a small shushing motion at his alarm, and slid under the covers beside him in the same spot she had slept in for all her married life.
Barely had she had the chance to put her arm around his shoulders, however, when the mirror-door opened again, noiselessly. Marius, looking through the thin air that his wife occupied in the mirror, saw that it remained firmly closed. He stared back at the glass, where another, younger woman had just entered the room, looking uncannily like their little Jeanne, hardly twenty years old. Her blonde hair shone in the candlelight, and there was a trace of pride in her smile when she saw them holding each other. She tugged gently at Cosette's arm, and Cosette obediently let go and climbed out of bed.
Marius groped blindly in the dark, trying in vain to bring her back to him. His arms grasped only air. He watched helplessly in the mirror as the other woman led her towards the door.
"Cosette!" It seemed she could hear his whispered plea, for she turned back to him and her lips moved as though he were saying something he could not hear. "Cosette, don't leave me again."
Cosette murmured something inaudible to the other woman—who waited by the door for her with an almost maternal expression on her face, for all she appeared younger—crossed over to where he was lying, picked up a pen lying on the bedside table, and wrote a few words on the inside cover of the book he had been reading. Marius held out his hand beseechingly, and she grasped it for a moment. His eyes darted back and forth from his empty hand to the scene in the mirror, and then Cosette joined the other woman at the door and was gone.
Fighting back the urge to weep, Marius stared at the closed door for a moment, then reached for the book. There was nothing on the inside cover but the text printed on the page.
If he was dreaming, he thought vaguely, there must be some logic to the way the dream worked. He picked up the book and stumbled over to the mirror, where he held up the page to the glass. There, reflected in Cosette's handwriting amid the backwards text, were two words:
Much later in the night, when the candle he had forgotten to extinguish had burned itself out and the room was in darkness, Marius awoke to a tap on his shoulder. "Cosette?" he mumbled, shaken from a dream.
"Yes," she said, and he could have cried right then just to hear her voice again. "Come with me, Marius."
He took her hand, and it was warm and solid; he could feel her pulse as the blood rushed through her veins. "Why weren't you here, Cosette? I needed you so badly all these years."
"Shhh. I never left. I couldn't, as long as you held on to me. But it's time to let go now, Marius."
"No! I can't see you again only to lose you just as quickly!" He staggered to his feet and held her tightly, Cosette awake and alive in his arms once more.
She laid her head on his shoulder. "I didn't mean let go of me, Marius. Come." She was so startlingly real that the room around him seemed to pale and turn ghostlike; the floor was cold, but even in his bare feet he didn't feel it. He followed her to the door, and as they walked through it he looked over his shoulder. In the mirror, the door was closed.
The house at 6 rue des Filles-du-Calvaire had belonged to an old widower who lived almost alone, but it was in excellent condition when Joseph and Laurentine Avenier moved in. Though it had been given a thorough cleaning, it still carried the faint scent of old books and roses and a lady's perfume: Laurentine, who swore she could smell it more strongly than her husband, thought it smelled like the past.
The old man's youngest daughter gave them a full tour of the place ("We won't need it," she'd said, "Arnot has a place in the country, so it's just nice to see it sold to another pair of newlyweds"), pausing from time to time for anecdotes about the people who had lived there.
"And this is the master bedroom," she said. "It's where Papa died, but he went peacefully, in his sleep. We've left most of the furniture—you can go in and have a look."
The scent of age was stronger here, though not unpleasant. Laurentine sat down on the bed and hugged her knees to her chest, gazing at the furniture with all the history it must hold. "It's beautiful," she said softly.
"It is," Joseph agreed. "A fine place to sleep, and if I had to pass away in the night, I couldn't think of a better place." Laurentine shivered. "Shall we move on? I know you haven't much time."
"I'd like to stay a moment," Laurentine said. "I'll catch up with you two later." They went back into the hallway, discussing the late M. Pontmercy, and she walked around the room a few times, trailing her fingers along the old tables, the bedstead, the armoire. She stopped to study her reflection in the large mirror that faced the bed, and blinked.
The room the mirror showed was a whirlwind of sunshine, movement, and scattered belongings. Two fat suitcases lay full to bursting on the floor, and two more were being busily packed by an old couple who moved as if they were twenty years younger. As Laurentine watched in amazement, the woman gave the man a playful poke in the ribs and began neatly folding the mess of clothing he had stuffed into his bag; he laughed and raised his arms in surrender, going instead to pick up some of the mess on the floor and deposit it on the bed. Finally he seemed to notice Laurentine gaping at them, and caught the woman's hand to bring her attention to her. They both waved, appearing quite amused at her stupefaction, and he bent to write something in a book that had been left on the bedside table. He scooped up the remaining belongings into the empty suitcase, over his wife's silent protest at the mess, and with two suitcases each they made their way to the door. The man caught Laurentine's eye and pointed to the book, and then with a final wave they were gone, as quickly as they had appeared.
Laurentine closed her mouth, which had fallen quite open in shock, and after she started breathing again, she opened the book the man had written in. There were two lines there, written backwards. The first, in a woman's hand, read simply Je reviens. The other she held up to the mirror to read:
Just finishing up and moving out. I hope you'll love the house as much as we did.
Keep the mirror.