As they walked, Valjean felt ready to lie down and fall asleep right there on the side of the street, propriety and safety be damned. Javert must have been even more exhausted; occasionally, he would trip over some insignificant unevenness between paving stones and curse under his breath. The first few times, Valjean steadied him; then he put an arm around Javert's waist and let him lean on his shoulder as he walked. Javert did not protest.
To keep both their minds off the long road ahead, they talked.
"There is something I've been meaning to ask you," said Valjean.
"How did you come to discover only recently that you had a brother?"
"It was a very strange story," said Javert. "I was already inclined to fatalism, and the events of those days served as my Confirmation of sorts. Do you believe in Fate?"
Valjean thought about it.
"Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Some things certainly seem preordained."
"Some people, as well," remarked Javert.
"What do you mean?"
"That no matter where I find myself, however improbable the place, I can always count on you appearing from around the corner, or walking through a door, or even popping up from the very ground before me. After a while, one even stops being surprised."
"Oh, come now…"
"And it was precisely thus with my brother."
"What? your brother also ambushed you from under a sewer grate?"
"Not far from it, as a matter of fact. The thing happened about seven years ago. I was charged by the prefecture to investigate a brothel where some reports had it that the procuress was supplying her patrons with minors. Not girls of seventeen-sixteen – the morals brigades usually shut their eyes to that. This time, they were children of thirteen or twelve."
"I was explicitly ordered not to confide in Vidocq about the operation. Delavau gave me some vague hints and innuendoes, from which I was clearly supposed to derive that he suspected old Mec of either being one of the patrons, or splitting the profits with the procuress, or secretly being the pimp himself, or something of the sort. There was a fair amount of hemming and hawing, and talking around things, and playing at outraged virtue. I don't know why he bothered – it was perfectly obvious that he just couldn't stand the idea of Vidocq potentially upstaging the Prefecture with a sensational arrest. Besides, I knew Vidocq. The idea that he would buy a woman - - of any age! - in a brothel was ridiculous. He already had more mistresses than he knew what to do with. His dance card was booked months in advance."
"At first, I confess, I was puzzled. Why would Delavau entrust me with this? He and I disliked each other tremendously. Until that point, I had got precious little in way of challenging assignments from him. And now, at a time when so many policemen were being pulled off sensible assignments and towards political espionage, he was giving me this prize of a job? Then it hit me: it was a booby prize. He expected me to fail. More than that, he probably planned on the investigation placing me in some compromising position, so that he would finally have the semblance of justification in dismissing me from the police."
"But of course you went ahead with assignment anyway," said Valjean.
"Well, naturally," replied Javert. "What was I to do? Disclose my suspicions to Delavau's face? Refuse a task that I'd have begged for from a different Prefect? I decided to go through with the investigation - let provocateurs try and catch me in a fault. It'll be time wasted."
"Of course, the other bewildering side of it was that Delavau knew there was absolutely no possibility of my investigating the operation by playing at being carnally interested in the goods the wicked procuress was offering. Not that I am completely incapable of simulating interest with a woman, or even some perverse variant of it with a girl. But my acting skills were worthless in this case; the procuress would never buy it. We were too well acquainted, the two of us. She had been in and out of Saint Lazare for years and years, and my hand had been in a couple of those returns. I'm sure I don't have to tell you, one gets to know one's arresting officer deuced well after a few goes. So not only did she know well that I was abstinent, she also knew that my taste ran altogether to men."
"I decided to reestablish acquaintanceship with her anyway. And imagine my surprise when very soon after our not entirely unfriendly reunion, - she has a bad habit of calling me 'dearie' - I received a note from her inviting me over for a visit. When I showed – in civilian garb, of course, no need to jostle the hornet's nest – she lead me to a back room and confided to me that she had acquired some very special goods.
'What sort of goods?' asked I.
'The kind that will be very much to your taste, monsieur,' she replied.
I made stupid eyes at her. I'm ace at making stupid eyes at women. Saves me from no end of trouble. She bade me wait in the room and left for some minutes, then returned and summoned me upstairs.
'Go to number 3,' she said, handing me a key. 'If you come out of there unhappy, then my name ain't Catherine.'
I turned the key in the lock and walked in. It was dusk already, and there was only a candle stub burning on the night table. Someone was lying in the bed, atop of the sheets, but I couldn't see who.
'You there,' I said. 'Are you waiting for anyone?'
And suddenly I hear this boy's voice chirp back: 'I'm waiting for you, sir.'
My mouth went dry. She gave me a child for the evening! This was fantastic luck. I closed the door, walked to the bed and lifted the candle. And what did I see? A fellow, sure, and a tolerably young one, but nothing even close to a child. He couldn't have been less than twenty-three or twenty-four.
I was so disappointed that I blurted out:
'Damn. I thought you'd be a little boy.'"
"No!" gasped Valjean.
"Yes! And do you know how he replied?"
"He punched me in the face!"
Valjean burst out laughing.
"'Ha ha ha' – yes, go on and laugh! I woke up on the bed with a wicked headache. Right across from me sat the not-so-little-boy, looking sullen and contrite; in the corner stood my procuress with a very sour mien, and on the chair next to the bed sat Vidocq.
'Congratulations,' said he, 'to both of you, on a job well botched.'
'What the hell happened?' I asked. My tongue was swollen – apparently, I bit it when I passed out.
'Meet your double,' said Vidocq. 'He was approaching the job from the opposite end, you might say.'"
They turned into Rue Paveé .
"And that is how I met my brother," concluded Javert. "Vidocq and Delavau smashed us together like two boules."
"An agent in the Sûreté. You are right, it's a very strange coincidence."
"Actually, he wasn't an agent. He was an under-employed actor. Vidocq had received similar reports about the brothel, so he hired Jeannot to impersonate a travailleuse and convinced the procuress to take him on. He'd been at it for only a few days. His virtue was safe enough – the brothel was not known to cater to sodomites, so none showed up there. He had not yet found out anything. But Catherine decided to try her fresh goods out on a customer, so she sent me her little missive. It was all for naught anyway - she never trafficked in children, and all her girls were perfectly on the up and up. A bad tip-off."
"But how did you find out Jeannot was your brother?"
"How do you think? At some point, we introduced ourselves and discovered that we shared a surname. I thought – well, why not? So I tracked down his baptismal certificate. And there it was, black on white: father: Diego Xavier, mother: Jeanne Xavier. Born May 1798, in Paris, baptized in Saint-Sulpice a month later, an infant boy, Jean Xavier. In the world, Jeannot. It all fell together."
"Were there any other children in the family?"
"The woman did have an older son, from a previous marriage. Jeannot doted on him when he was little, but the boy grew up sullen and unhappy. He left home early. He is a commis-voyageur now, between England and France. Married to a real pill, but with two adorable children. It is all a fantastic miracle. I did not even know my father had been to Paris, much less lived there in his sunset years."
"Where did he used to live?"
Javert threw him a strange look.
"Old Xavier? In Toulon, of course."
"Yes, I do mean. In the bagne. He was a horse thief. It seems after being released he promptly broke his ban and came to Paris - one presumes, with intent to restart his career as a rogue. My mother was long dead; I was being schooled by some friars at the time down South, and he did not even know where I was. His future second wife had come to Paris from the provinces, with her own little boy in tow. I do not know how they chanced to meet. By all accounts, it was a good match. Jeannot says father made his living as a cobbler as far back as he recalled. It was only on his deathbed that he told them he had been a convict and lived in violation of his ban the whole time he was married. The wife would not even consider moving back to the country. She was a peasant from Brie, like yourself, and something dreadful had happened to her there. My father did not dare disclose to her why he was not allowed to stay in Paris, for fear that she would abandon him. So he stayed with her and kept his head low for almost fifteen years."
An impossible thought insisted upon itself - one that Valjean had been pushing away ever since seeing Jeannot's eerily familiar face. "Is she still alive?" he asked with a catch in his throat.
"Indeed she is. A sprightly old woman, very entrepreneurial. Bought a small printing office recently, as a matter of fact. She started out doing odd jobs in it years ago. Binding books and so forth. When the owner went bankrupt and had to sell the place, she borrowed some money from her eldest son and bought it cheap. Vidocq uses it to print his broadsheets occasionally."
"How strange and wonderful," muttered Valjean. "Ah! my head spins... I do not even know who I'm with anymore, or where I am."
"Well, that's easy," said Javert. "You're with me, and as it happens, we're home."
Indeed, they had arrived at the door of Javert's lodging house.
"I shall sleep for a week," declared Javert, glancing at the door handle. Then he looked at Valjean intently and took a small but audible breath.
"You are welcome to come up and stay over," he said simply.
For a few seconds, silence hung in the air.
"I don't snore," said Javert quietly. "I promise."
Valjean looked up at the sky. The moon had come out from behind the clouds, lighting up Javert's gray eyes with silver sparks. Looking into them, Valjean could think of nothing other than how very happy he was at that moment.
"Come, it's late," mumbled Javert. "Give me a sign already. Aye or nay? Gy ou ni…?"
Before Javert had finished the word, Valjean stepped forward and closed the distance between them.