To the Attention of M. Chabouillet, Secretary of M. le Prefect:
I must again humbly beg your attention to the matter of the Jean Valjean case.
I know that to all appearances, the case has been resolved; Jean Valjean has
been found, identified, convicted, etc. You will recall that I was a witness at
the trial, and I personally identified the one who called himself Champmathieu
as the former convict Jean Valjean. It is my greatest sadness to inform you
that I now have reason to believe the convicted is in fact not Jean Valjean.
Certain particularities that have just been revealed to me indicate that my
first instinct was correct: that the mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer, who calls
himself M. Madeleine, is Jean Valjean. I beg M. le secrétaire to recognize
that I do not take this accusation lightly; indeed, it is greatly distressing to
acknowledge that I have erred in my testimony, and I do so only out of my
deep obligation to justice. I believe that my testimony against Champmathieu
was a deciding element in his conviction, which I now see was wrongful.
I beg M. le secrétaire to forgive my indecisiveness on the case, but to be
assured that I am of clear and certain mind at this time. I request a warrant
for the arrest of the one known as M. Madeleine, mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer.
At the time you read this letter, I will have left town, and cannot be reached.
Kindly do not wait for my return to apprehend the suspect. I have reason to
believe he is aware of my suspicions and may attempt to flee.
Please find enclosed several sheets which are copies of my recent interview
with the suspect.
Javert, former inspector of police at Montreuil-sur-mer
M. Chabouillet sighed deeply as he scanned the letter. He held Javert in great esteem, but the poor man was obviously losing his mind. First, to denounce his superior, the admirable M. Madeleine; then to deny those charges, and testify against another man he believed to be the convict Jean Valjean; soon after this, the prefecture was informed of Javert's sudden resignation from his post. Now, here was a letter denouncing the mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer, yet again! M. Chabouillet shook his head sadly. It was a great shame to lose a man as talented and clever as Javert, but it was plain that the position had become too much for him. He threw aside the letter and accompanying documents without reading any further, and began to contemplate the matter of Javert's replacement.
M. Madeleine held the cold hand of Fantine and gazed at her still, radiant face as he prayed. His look held a sort of inexpressible pity that was at the same time full of awe. He remained like this for a long time, as he contemplated the sad life of the young woman who now, for the first time in many years, lay peaceful and untroubled. He deeply regretted that he had not been with her in her last moments. Even worse, the poor woman had not seen her child. He could see only one person responsible for that great injustice: it was himself.
The nuns were praying as well, and it was very quiet in the room. Thus Madeleine was able to discern the sound of light footsteps as they approached. He turned towards the door.
It was Javert. He took in the scene, the still figure on the bed, the sisters in prayer, and understood immediately. He removed his hat and lowered his eyes respectfully.
Madeleine, seeing him, addressed him in an soft voice and instructed him to wait a moment. Javert bowed slightly and stepped outside.
Madeleine, still holding the hand of Fantine, kissed it; bending close to her ear, he asked her forgiveness, and gave his promise that her child would cared for. With that, he let a tear fall from his eye, and he left her side for the last time.
As he stepped outside, he saw Javert standing just next to the door. He looked somber and strangely moved. Perhaps the death of the girl had finally evoked some pity in him.
Madeleine leaned over to him. "What now, Javert?" He was still speaking softly, so as not to disturb those in the room. "Will you not go for the child of the poor woman?"
Javert seemed to take offense at Madeleine's question. "I gave my word, did I not? Of course I will go." Then, his look becoming a little harder, he said, "You will still be here when I return with the child, yes?"
There was a certain implication in these words, which Madeleine understood. He answered in the affirmative.
"That is fortunate." Javert smiled, again that strange smile, but Madeleine took it well, and seemed relieved.
"Come," said he, placing his hand amiably on Javert's shoulder, as they walked, "Let us make the necessary arrangements."
Éponine tossed down the bucket and rag with a thud as she glared at the patrons in the inn, all talking and laughing loudly, some spilling wine and food over the tables and chairs. Tables and chairs she had just scrubbed by hand. She looked around for her mother to voice her complaint, but she only saw her father. She didn't dare say a word to him. He'd only strike her and tell her to stop being such a lazy little bitch. Her mother was usually sympathetic, though she had become markedly less so since they'd disposed of the little lark-girl. She used to do all the chores that Éponine and Azelma were now burdened with. It wasn't fair, thought Éponine bitterly; she had done nothing wrong. She didn't like the girl, who was always very sullen and dirty, but at least she had brought the water and cleaned the floors. Éponine thought it was foolish of her parents to have sent her away. Mme. Thénardier had always hated the girl, but her father didn't used to care one way or the other. Then one day he'd been very angry with the girl; Éponine understood it was because her mother wasn't paying them anymore. That same day the girl had done something really foolish, she had spilled a whole jug of expensive wine all over the floor of the inn. M. Thénardier had been so angry he'd struck the girl very hard, which made her cry loudly. That was when he had thrown her out the door, and told her to go away.
Éponine didn't like cleaning or fetching water, but she was glad that she didn't have to live out in the cold like the lark-girl.
She spotted Azelma playing in a corner by the fire, marched over, seized the girl by her sleeve and dragged her over to the bucket. "Clean!" She demanded, pointing at the soiled tables and chairs. The younger girl resentfully obeyed. Since the lark-girl had gone away, Mme. Thénardier was harsher to Éponine; she found it made her feel a little better to be harsh with her sister.
Watching the smaller girl with satisfaction, she was thinking about stealing away to go play when, suddenly, the door swung open, letting in a cold gust of air, and a tall man wearing a big iron-gray coat entered. Éponine was immediately annoyed. They'd had only a few customers so far, all of them regulars, so she'd been having an easy night. This newcomer meant work for her, especially with her mother out and her father preoccupied. Éponine scrutinized the suspicious-looking man for a moment before greeting him. "Good evening!" She called. "What will monsieur have?"
The man looked around for a moment, surveying the place, before he answered her. When he did, he looked at her very strangely, as though he recognized her. He said, in a low voice, "Mademoiselle, tell me where I will I find M. Thénardier."
"He is busy." She informed him curtly. Her father had told her never to bother him during his business meetings; these usually involved his quarreling with several very drunk men, and indeed her father seemed to be holding such a meeting at the moment. "What can I get for monsieur?" She asked again.
He knelt down suddenly, and examined her. "Child, is your name Cosette?"
"No, monsieur." She looked at him curiously.
"You are not the daughter of Fantine?"
"No, monsieur." She repeated. Then added, "I do not know who that is."
"How old are you?"
"I am eight, monsieur."
"Where is your mother, then?"
"I don't know, monsieur."
The strange man nodded slowly as though he understood.
"What do they call you?"
He looked at her hands, pitifully red from the recent scrubbing she had done.
"They make you work very hard?"
Éponine sighed dramatically. "Yes, monsieur! I am so tired. I have to do everything now!" She said it quietly so her father wouldn't overhear.
She smiled at the man. He didn't look very charming at first, but she now thought him kind. Most customers just wanted her to bring them their wine and leave them be.
The customer glanced at the table with the drunk men and her father, who was talking loudly. Being the only sober man at the table, he was winning the argument, as usual. The stranger, watching them, asked, "Is that M. Thénardier?"
She nodded. "You know him, monsieur?"
"I know enough." He said, standing up.
"You want to talk to him?"
"I'll tell him when –"
Éponine's voice trailed off as she watched the man march straight towards her father. She almost grabbed his coat and warned him that he'd better not, that her father would get mad for being interrupted during a business meeting; but after a thought she decided the man, who was taller and certainly much stronger than Thénardier, could fend for himself. She watched the exchange with interest.
As she had anticipated, her father was not at all happy to be greeted by the man in the midst of his meeting. Especially because the manner of greeting involved seizing him by his collar and hauling him to his feet, while Thénardier could only struggle uselessly. The drunks her father had been conversing with made a weak protest, then looked at the tall, broad-shouldered man, and decided it best to leave Thénardier to his own affairs.
"What is the meaning of this?" The innkeeper hissed, as he tried in vain to pry the man's vice-like hands off his collar.
"Outside." The man's voice was as frightening as his appearance. Éponine watched with mixed horror and curiousity as the man dragged her father outside. It wasn't the first time this sort of thing had happened. Once three or four men had come to the house and pounded on the door in the middle of the night. Thénardier had nursed a broken arm and several bad bruises after that meeting. When she asked him about it later, he told her they had come to "rob" him. So, she figured, that was likely what this man was going to do.
Éponine watched through the window, just able to make out the two figures in the dark. The tall man had released her father but looked no less threatening as he questioned him. Thénardier was holding up his hands defensively and she could hear him pleading with the stranger. As she watched the scene with fascination, Éponine saw her mother returning. Mme. Thénardier halted when she saw the two men outside and went over to them. Her husband spoke a few words to her, and she came inside immediately.
As she entered, Éponine heard her muttering and cursing, half-crazed, "Oh Lord! what shall we do? The stupid little wretch!" She sat down by the fire and continued her ranting. "That awful slut! If she hadn't made us drive her away, oh! What trouble she had caused for us. We're all going to be put in prison!" She began to sob. She carried on like this for the next few minutes, until at last Thénardier entered. The tall man did not follow him in. He approached his hysterical wife, laid a hand on her shoulder, and hissed in a low, ragged voice. "Shut up! Foolish woman. You'll ruin everything."
"'Ruin everything'? Ruin what? Good lord, what are you going to do? The girl is gone; dead, frozen, stolen, who knows? Gone!"
"I tell you, woman, be quiet! Yes, yes; I have it all worked out."
"What?" She asked stupidly, blinking at him. "What do you mean?"
"Well," the innkeeper was now grinning savagely, "it seems we need to find ourselves another little Cosette, and quick."