Valjean first noticed Javert's whiskers early in the spring.
Or, rather, he first noticed the Spring because of the whiskers. This man, who, whenever his life allowed it, had taken no greater pleasure than to walk among the fields and forests, to watch the sun rise in the city, to help a garden grow, had spent all of the previous autumn and winter counting down the days until Cosette would leave him; since her marriage, on the sixteenth of February, he had lived only for the hour each day when he might visit her - or, rather, had simply waited until the hour each day when he would live. The weather encroached upon his awareness only so much as to determine whether umbrellas must be carried to the Rue des Filles du Calvaire; the slow transformation of the garden from its black and shining winter garb to the first careful green fuzz of spring was entirely lost to him.
If old Father Fauchelevent had not used every trick he had learned, in ten years' intimate acquaintance, to induce him to do so, he likely would not even have roused himself to eat.
And, Fauchelevent thought grimly to himself, without his weekly cajoling, the Inspector would likely have been neglecting to eat as well. He had not thought, at his advanced age, hardly able to walk down the stairs from his own front-door, that he would find himself acting as nurse-maid to two grown men scarcely younger than himself; and yet, since the unrest of the previous June, the duty had presented itself to him. He had sat up for a night and a day, cloaked in fear, after Valjean had gone to the barricade; the infirmity of his joints had kept him from joining his friend, but had not kept him from worry. So he had been waiting, still, in the porter's chair on the ground floor of the little house on the Rue de l'Homme Armé, when his friend had returned, covered in blood and muck and horror, and scarcely offered him a nod before running up the stairs where he, with legs stiff from a night and a day of waiting, could not follow with any speed.
Instead he had limped to the front door, which still stood half-open, in order to close it against the damp wind. Instead he seen an old acquaintance from their days in M-sur-M, Inspector Javert, standing in the light of the street-lamp, looking as if he were a ship about to go down in a storm, and had chided Javert into helping an old man up the stairs to his parlor; then he had fed him tea, and Cosette's sugar biscuits, until the whole strange, sad story of a convict named Jean Valjean and a policeman named Javert had been told.
Javert had left no. 7 the next morning before Cosette awoke, unaccompanied by Valjean ("Jean Valjean indeed!" harrumphed Fauchelevent,) but with a standing invitation to return for a weekly visit, and the somewhat confused idea - both confusion and idea rather aided and abetted by Fauchelevent - that his duty and conscience both required that he take it upon himself, alone, to enforce a sort of parole as regarded himself and the old convict.
"And we'll be moving back to the Rue Plumet, my leg can no longer take the stairs here at any rate," Fauchelevent informed him as a parting gift. "No. 55: you will remember. It will look as if the place is unoccupied, if you come in at the front, but you will not let that stop you, I am sure."
Valjean, on being informed of their return to the Rue Plumet, was somewhat less obliging. "The stairs here are quite difficult for me," Fauchelevent reminded him; "And, after all, you cannot claim that we need to fear robbery, not if a police inspector is to be a frequent visitor." If his reasons had not so much to do with his knee as with his hatred for the gloom that had descended on the little family since its hasty departure, he did not say so.
Valjean himself had said very little that night, though he had sluiced the worst of the grime from himself with water warmed by the kettle, and then stood, silently, and listened, as Javert poured out a lifetime's confession and doubt, his head bowed to the table, seeming to see neither of them there.
"What he said - that I am - that I am Jean Valjean - it does not bother you?" Valjean asked, instead of continuing the discussion of addresses.
"Jean," Fauchelevent said to him, with infinite patience and tenderness, "Did you truly think that, in ten years, no-one had told me before? Jean Valjean. Indeed."
And so the household - Fauchelevent, Valjean, Cosette, Toussaint, and all - returned to the house in the Rue Plumet, and Javert came to visit them, for one punctual hour a week, to share a meal with Fauchelevent and stare, with undecipherable emotion in his deep-set eyes, over his coat-collar at Valjean. Valjean had conceded to the concept of 'guests' so far as to clear a walk-way through the garden from the front door to the front gate, and to force the twisted, rusting gate into some semblance of function, but once he was aware of the road from the Rue Babylone, Javert strongly preferred that route. It allowed him to visit the old men in the gate-house without having to brave the femininity of Cosette's domain, so that Cosette, floating as she was in the glory of knowing that Marius lived and would see her again, soon forgot entirely about the gentleman, barely visible as more than a hat, a coat-collar, and a pair of very fierce sideburns which had once come to visit her father.
For some weeks, the hat, the coat-collar, and the sideburns were all that Valjean or Fauchelevent saw either: until on a very hot day in July, shortly after the doctor had declared that Marius would, more likely than not, survive, he was finally induced to remove the hat and the coat, and the sideburns removed themselves as well: they were, not whiskers, but two squirrels of the same reddish-gray color as his hair, which had been concealed under his hat, only their tails extending along the edges of his face.
Now, revealed by the removal of the hat, they clambered down, one along each shoulder, until they stood in an attitude of attention on the table, awaiting their orders. "Yes," the Inspector told them. "You may go off-duty. We have one hour exactly: I imagine you will enjoy the garden here." They bobbed their heads to him in unison, over folded paws, and then scampered out the open window. They could be seen, a moment later, chasing each other up a drain-pipe, in a torrent like russet-red water.
After that, the Inspector always took off his coat and hat on entering the gate-house, and the window was always left open at least half a handspan, even in the rain or wind, for the convenience of off-duty police agents.
Javert, his face bare in the evening light, was another creature entirely than the Inspector who faced the world from the interior of his overcoat, with his assistants always hidden yet on guard: or, perhaps, it was not the removal of the hat and coat that made the change, but rather that their removal was an outward sign of an interior change that, slowly happening over the course of weeks, had awakened the Inspector like a dry old seed long soaked in water.
Whatever it was, he seemed hardly the same man: he would converse freely with them both, and though his questions about their lives, and his stories of police-work that suddenly shifted between diffidently awkward and too passionate, still had the air of a man experimenting with an entirely new skill, and though Valjean's conversation, if more practiced, was scarcely less awkward, Fauchelevent could chatter enough to cover for them both. Toward the end of August - Fauchelevent marked the date - Javert actually laughed: it was neither a pleasant sound nor a kind one, but it was still merry, and there was something of freedom in it. And, wonder of wonders, Valjean smiled in response, and Cosette not even in the same room!
In September Marius Pontmercy was declared out of danger, and Valjean's evening pilgrimages to the Rue des Filles du Calvaire became day-long visits, accompanied by Cosette. On their return, he would leave Cosette in her sitting-room with a merry goodnight, and then return to the gatehouse to sit in a black mood, eat the dinner that Fauchelevent forced upon, and stare at the silver candlesticks he had placed on the mantel, or at the crucifix that was Fauchelevent's memento of the convent. Fauchelevent, if he tried his utmost, could sometimes force a few words from him: but it was only on the nights of Javert's visits that Valjean showed any true animation.
Javert took to coming, as the year turned toward autumn, with a bottle of wine better than what any of them would buy for themselves, or a bowl of fresh pears bought at the market, or a dozen sweet cakes of a type he had learned that Valjean particularly liked. Valjean would eat them even if he had eaten nothing else that evening, perhaps out of a sense of duty toward a guest, perhaps because he had forgotten not to. Some days Javert would extend his visits via the mechanism of his agents, who would return punctually after their hour's frolic in the garden, to chatter their report to him; whereupon he would ask if he might stay a little longer, as his rooms were in a quarter with few gardens, and none so interesting for squirrels as that at the Rue Plumet. After awhile, they learned on their own to return later and later every week.
This stratagem worked to some extent. During Javert's visits, which even now ended more often than not in Javert standing up in outrage at something Valjean had asserted about the relations of man to man or the morality of the world, jamming his hat on his head, whistling for his squirrels, and storming majestically down the passageway - during that time Valjean seemed, if not happy, then at least livelier: And exactly one week later, no matter how stormy the argument, Javert would reappear, as punctual as ever, remove his hat and coat, bit adieu to his assistants, and sit down at the table, prepared again to listen and to think.
As an excuse for staying beyond the one-hour term of the parole, the squirrels' need for air and exercise worked well enough, until the night in December (quite by chance, the day after the date had been set for a wedding) when, rather than run out for their constitutional, the squirrels instead walked cautiously up to Valjean, and then, seeing his lack of reaction, curled themselves on his shoulders, their tails securely wrapped like a furry scarf around his neck.
Valjean was entirely unsure what to do; he raised his hands toward his shoulders, dropped them again, and then said, with some of the severity he had been more accustomed to as a mayor than as a father, "What is this, Javert?"
"They've never done that before," Javert replied, with the dispassionate curiosity of a detective. "But it is their evening off: they may do as they wish, within the bounds of the law. Perhaps it is for the warmth."
There was, in truth, a cold wind outside, and snow blowing: and though the room was warm enough, the fire kept high in deference to Fauchelevent's joints, there was still a chill in the air. Perhaps that was the only reason. Valjean lifted a hand again, but this time raised it - as if unconsciously - to stroke the soft fur of a squirrel's head. It chirred at him, and then licked a finger.
Which was all very well, but it made it quite obvious that there was no reason for Javert to remain at the table, talking, late into the night, except that he wished to be there: especially when he stayed so long after dark that Fauchelevent would not let him return to his apartment, and he slept in a chair by the fire, the squirrels spread across his lap.
"What is the matter with him?" Javert hissed to Fauchelevent in the next morning, when Valjean had already gone to the house to get Cosette prepared for their visit, and he was arranging himself in his coat and hat. "Nothing I do - shall I stop coming? Perhaps I am--"
"No!" Fauchelevent replied in haste, barely stopping himself from grabbing him by the sleeve. "That is the one thing you must not do. No, it is not that - it is - his daughter is getting married, and he has built his life so much around her that I do not that think that he can see anything beyond her leaving."
Javert tried to call to mind the sad but radiant creature he had met only twice, and in passing: the mysterious female who occupied the main house, with her maidservant, and, when his knee could take the stairs, Fauchelevent in the second-floor bedroom. "That is his daughter?" he asked, in some surprise. He had never asked about her, nor even allowed himself to be curious, feeling, somehow, that she was by rights entirely outside of his jurisdiction.
"Well, he claimed her as his granddaughter, but I think - you understand that I spent some time in the hospital, there - I think she must be Fantine's child."
"Fantine's child!" Javert said, reeling back as if he had been struck, and then, in the mutter to himself - or perhaps to the other occupants of his hat - that he had nearly lost the habit of when at the Rue Plumet, "Of course it is Fantine's child. Who else would it be?"
One week later, he came into the gatehouse and dropped a small box on the table; it landed with a rattling sound. "Do either of you know how to play dominoes?" he asked, with an air of grim purpose.
"Dominoes!" said Valjean, with some amazement. "When would I have learned to play dominoes?"
"That," said Javert, opening the box and beginning to spread the pieces on the table, "Is exactly what I said to the prefect today. But, apparently, if one wishes to gain the trust of the men of the Barriéres, one must know how to play dominoes, and thus it is my duty. We shall learn together."
So it continued, December into January into February, one dark bleak winter, Valjean with each week that passed growing merrier when with Cosette, and grimmer with the two men who knew his secrets, until they counted it enough of a victory not to see him smile, but merely to hear him speak.
And so it happened that in February, the week after Cosette was married, Valjean returned from an evening visit to the Baroness de Pontmercy only very shortly before the Inspector left; and so it happened that, having seen him to the door, Valjean turned to Fauchelevent and said, quite blankly, the first words he had said in that house in two days: "He has sideburns. Of his own." And indeed he had: they were not, yet, as luxuriant as they appeared when the squirrels were secure under his hat; but they were very clearly there, even without animal assistance, if perhaps more visibly gray than before.
"Oh! You have noticed at last, have you?" replied Fauchelevent; "Well, I imagine he does so every year at this time. It is, after all, very nearly spring," he said gently, to Valjean's furrowed brow. "Even the most reliable of police agents are not always reliable in the spring."