The sounds of Javert's return drifted in and out of her consciousness as if carried in by gusts of wind: first the clicking of the lock, then the door hinges squeaking, then the sound of the chair legs being dragged and the rustling and flapping of clothes, and finally the quiet but heavy stomp of boots on the dirt floor. And over all these sounds, a strange soliloquy draped itself, a steady stream of excited, low-pitched prattle, which Fantine's mind couldn't quite assemble into sense, but which her ears found very soothing.
"Come on, get up," came the impatient rumble of Javert's voice from somewhere above. "It'll only take a few minutes, and then you can go to sleep."
Wincing, Fantine opened her eyes, which burned and dripped tears as if she's been chopping raw onions. Sliding off the cot, she straightened out and hugged herself tightly around the chest. Despite the heat from the stove, she couldn't stop shivering.
"Nothing new there," she said glibly, surprising even herself.
"Still being cute with me, minette? You know I'm not the man to appreciate it."
Fantine raised her head, with full intention to let the unappreciative bastard know her mind about him, his maternal ancestry, and his incestuous relationship thereto, but then her eyes fell on something in Javert's hands and she was distracted.
"On the importance of the Gospel" read Fantine the first words of the title, printed large and bold. There was more to it, two longer lines of words interspersed with some numbers, but the cursive was too small for her to read in the half-dark. The impressive size of the brochure was more appropriate for an government instruction manual than a religious pamphlet. It certainly looked nothing like those trite in-octavo affairs that busy- body bourgeois matrons loved to press upon working girls like herself.
So there's a lesson in it for me too, thought Fantine furiously. And a detailed one, apparently. What a swine. Playing doctor not enough for him. That's really the height and breadth of a swine, coming here with a morality lecture after having me strip to my knickers.
To her surprise, Javert didn't even glance inside the pamphlet, much less attempt to read out loud from it. Instead, he rolled it quickly into a tight tube and began fiddling with the edges, making small, evenly spaced tears and then folding them slightly outward to form a sort of shallow funnel.
Fantine watched his long fingers work away at the pliant paper. Javert pressed the funnelled end of the tube firmly against the back of his right hand; made frustrated faces at it; tinkered with the side that didn't want to stay evenly rolled; measured the diameter of the opening with a tick mark cut into the thumbnail of his right hand; smoothed out the edges with tobacco-stained fingertips.
"It should suffice really," Javert mumbled with oblivious excitement, while his hands shaped the booklet into an instrument. "Not the best stethoscope in the world, obviously. The inner tube is five or six lines in diameter instead of the three-and-half I wanted. But we'll see in minute. I think it'll be enough. I can't believe doctor Morneau left that pompous idiot Bouchard in charge of admissions again at the hospital. You were examined by Bouchard, no? He's the only so-called medical I know that still attempts to diagnose phthisis through pulse-taking. Preserves the dignity of the lady patients! He says. I know we are in the provincial backwaters here, but this is plain ridiculous. He's been hired to preserve the health of his patients, not their dignity."
She did not understand at once, but when she did, her knees almost buckled with the shock.
"You're serious about this, aren't you?" Fantine could barely move her tongue through the cotton in her mouth. "You're not... playing."
Javert's hands stopped moving. Ever so slowly, he raised his head and looked her in the face. His eyes were opaque and reflective, like metal shined to polish. Fantine found herself desperately wishing that he would say something, anything - scream at her for being a stupid whore, promise her more time behind bars - anything but look at her like she just backhanded him across the face.
"If you please..." he finally said, coarsely and quietly, lowering his lashes and motioning for Fantine to uncross her arms.
She complied, clenching the material of her threadbare petticoats with sweating palms. "I'm sorry, I just..." Her teeth were beginning to chatter; her cheeks were burning with fever and throbbing guilt. "I'm so sorry, I just thought..."
"I could care a damn for what you thought!" Javert cut her off vehemently, but Fantine could see that the corners of his mouth were drooping and that his jaw was set.
"Did you study to be a medical then?" she asked quietly and piteously, sounding stupid even to her own ears.
Javert just stared blankly at the fingers moving against the rolled up booklet, as if they did not belong to him.