Author's note: As this is my first ever published fanfic, any constructive criticism or praise is highly appreciated.
If you like it, please say so, otherwise I might not take it any further. Thanks for reading!
"Isn't there another wheelwright in town?"
The stable boy and the wheelwright, without exchanging glances, looked at M. Madeleine and answered him in unison.
He felt an immense joy.
He would not make it to Arras in time. It was impossible; the wheel was broken and it could neither be replaced nor repaired in time. He had spent the previous night searching his tormented mind for an answer, an answer that did not come. He had hesitated, he had wavered; now it was clear. Of course! It was never for him to decide. Evidently Providence had just decided for him. How could he presume to challenge the will of God? Besides, he had exhausted every option, every possibility, and he could see no way to get to Arras in time for the trial. It was through no fault of his own; he had made every effort, with genuine intent. What more could be asked of him?
Yet even as he felt this profound relief, something made him shudder. Was this truly God's will, or that of something else? He suddenly noticed the small crowd that had gathered near him and the wheelwright. A dozen bored spectators, such as are always found in small towns, had stopped and were watching the two men with the sort of indifferent curiosity that comes from boredom. As he looked at them, he half-expected a voice to cry out, shattering his hopes: Wait! I can help you continue your journey.
But no such words were spoken. The crowd remained silent and passive. So it was determined. Madeleine turned to the wheelwright. "Very well," he said wearily, but not without relief. "I will wait while you repair the wheel. But I am in a hurry. I'll pay double if you have it done by nightfall."
Despite the wheelwright's best efforts, the tilbury was not ready until around six the next morning. M. Madeleine found himself incredibly agitated over the delay, though he was not sure why, and he could not sleep. Yet there was nothing terribly pressing calling him back to Montreuil-sur-mer, and the trial in Arras was over. By now the poor fellow who called himself Champmathieu had undoubtedly been sentenced and condemned as the convict Jean Valjean. He would be sent to the work camps without much delay. At the thought of it, Madeleine felt a wave of sickness, which might have been for fear or guilt. Now that it was too late, he couldn't help but think there might have been some way to get to Arras in time. Perhaps if he had tried a little harder, offered more money, even taken a chance on the broken wheel… Had he perhaps been a little too eager to hand this man over to fate, a fate which should have been his, and to absolve himself of blame, all in the name of God?
As he set off at last in the repaired vehicle, he found his thoughts drifting in the direction of a new possibility. What if Champmathieu had not actually been condemned? What if one of the witnesses had changed his testimony, and had realized that this poor man was in fact not Jean Valjean? He might have been set free after all, even without Madeleine's intervention. But that meant the hunt for Jean Valjean would continue, only now with renewed interest. He knew the prosecuting attorney; he was a persistent man, and having lost Champmathieu, he would be anxious to find a replacement.
Madeleine also considered Javert. The man had seemed entirely convinced that this Champmathieu was Jean Valjean. But he had suspected Madeleine first – indeed, to the point of denouncing him to the prefect in Paris! If new evidence had been found, if a witness had changed his mind, who knows?
M. Madeleine continued to think like this, growing more anxious with every passing mile, as he journeyed back to Montreuil-sur-mer.
That afternoon, Javert was leaving the house of Madame Buseaupied, following up on a complaint against the carter Chesnelong. He was still occupied with the rather long list of tasks the mayor had given him the day before the trial. It was odd, he reflected; the mayor rarely asked anything of him, and such tedious errands could have been delegated to one of the subordinates. Never one to shy from duty, however, he complied, and was grateful at least for the distraction. He was very tired, having spent the previous day at the trial in Arras and most of the night on a stagecoach back to Montreuil-sur-mer. Yet his fatigue was mixed with some measure of relief, knowing that he was finally free of the matter of Jean Valjean. He had not waited for the sentence to be delivered since the result was certain. Javert had complete faith in the judicial process; besides, the case was solid, the witnesses were convinced, the prosecuting attorney was very good. The old scamp was condemned.
Javert had to return to the police station to file the report of Mme. Buseaupied, and after, he had to go to rue Montre-de-Champigny to investigate another complaint. Once he took the report of M. Charcellay, he intended to visit with the mayor again to report on his errands and to again request his dismissal. The last meeting had been unsuccessful; the mayor had rather seemed to enjoy Javert's misery and probably wanted to prolong his suffering, thus he refused to give even him the relief of dismissal. He knew the mayor had always despised him, for he made every attempt to undermine Javert, to humiliate and provoke him. Javert had resisted such provocations until the adventure with the prostitute. That time the mayor had gotten the better of him, Javert had to admit; he had allowed a personal grievance to interfere with his duty; he had faltered and erred. And now that Javert had confessed his error, the mayor surely loathed him more than ever, and probably thought he held some new power over him.
In that he was wrong. Javert had decided to give the mayor eight days to do the right thing and dismiss him; if he failed to do so, Javert would resign. He would not allow the man to deny him the justice he deserved, and to keep him at his post only to gloat over him.
Javert returned to the station, filed his report, and shortly after left in the direction of rue Montre-de-Champigny. At that moment he happened to spy M. Madeleine, apparently returning to town from who knows where, driving a little tilbury led by white horse. Something about the mayor's appearance made Javert shudder. Madeleine, who was always preoccupied and yet always had a kind air, had become terrible. A dark shadow had fallen over his features, and the feral look in his eyes, that of one who is hunted, aroused the predatory nature in Javert. Madeleine suddenly turned off the main road onto a little side street. Instinctively, Javert began to follow him.