"Three days is all I need," Valjean says.
"You expect me to trust you for three days?" Javert says. "I know men like you. It disgusts me that you would use a child as a pawn. But it does not surprise me. Not in the least, Monsieur Le -- 24601."
Valjean notices the slip. This is his chance. "Javert," Valjean says. "Have I ever been less than trustworthy with you?"
"Always," Javert spits.
"Never," Valjean says. "Never, Javert. If you do not give me three days, I will take them. I must see this justice done. Don't think I won't."
"To think of toying with the life of a child. To use justice as an alibi."
"Three days, and then I'm yours," Valjean says.
"You must think me mad," Javert says, drawing his blade. "Just for this, I will follow you to Montfermeil. And you will do this thing you claim needs doing. And you will see that justice is not a card to be played by a con."
"All right," Valjean says.
"If there even is a child," Javert concludes, his face sour.
"Three days," Valjean says. "We will go to Montfermeil and see her safe. I will write to a family nearby. They will take her in."
"But beginning at this moment you are no longer Monsieur Le Maire," Javert says. "You are 24601." He pulls handcuffs from his coat.
Valjean shakes his head. "I do not think they will give me leave to take the child if I come before them in chains."
"Hm," Javert says. "You mean to steal away from me."
"No, Inspector," Valjean says. He hands Javert his purse. "Here. This is all I have. As pledge of my trust. I would not get far without it."
"If you think to bribe me," Javert spits. He pushes the purse away. They glower at each other.
"Unless you plan to give me a ride to Montfermeil on your horse," Valjean says, "we will need to pay a coach."
Javert frowns. "We will find a coach. I will keep you under guard."
"The child's name is Cosette and she dwells with an innkeeper and his wife." Valjean says. "That is all I know."
"I have never been to this part of France," Valjean says, wonderingly, as they rattle down country roads. They are sitting in a stagecoach, Javert facing him, pistol laid across his lap. "Have you, Inspector?"
"I know your game," Javert says. "You are trying to determine my familiarity with the territory, so that you may make good your escape."
Valjean sighs, extends his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "I am trying to make conversation, man. The ride is not short."
Javert frowns past him, out the window.
"I know there are words in you." Valjean says, more hopefully than he feels. "When I was Monsieur Le Maire you at least permitted some conversation." This is, in the strictest sense, true. He and Javert had managed to discuss the weather. ("A bit grey, Javert." "Not too grey to distinguish a thief, Monsieur Le Maire.") the dignity of toil ("Your people thrive." "The dignity of toil.") and their shared faith. ("By the help of God, as always." "God helps those who help themselves, Monsieur Le Maire.") He had, for all of their shared excursions, the sense that Javert resented his missions of mercy. Not resented, exactly. Some other word.
"Well," Javert says. "Seeing as you no longer are."
In silence they watch the road uncoil past the window.
He supposes he might as well try. "You were always very scrupulous in your attendance on me as – Monsieur le Maire," he says, "but I could not help feeling that you thought me – inefficient, in my charity."
Javert nods. He seems to have admitted the argument that the road is too long for this silence. "The poor will always be with us."
"But whosoever welcomes a little child in my name, welcomes me."
"Even the devil can quote scripture to his purpose," Javert says, rising to the challenge.
"But did the Lord not say, Suffer the little children to come unto me? Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, ye do for me?"
Javert frowns. "Let the dead bury their dead."
"This child is not dead," Valjean says. He is accustomed to mouth-honor of scripture, crosses displayed but little contemplated. He is not surprised that Javert has it all by heart, as he has. The man's scruples run deep.
"He that receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward," Javert says.
"The Lord had to do with prostitutes and tax collectors."
"Man is born in sin," Javert says. "The Lord walked untouched among sinners." Something changes in his posture as he says it, and Valjean thinks that this must be what Javert tells himself as he strides through the town's dark corners and prison's dank corridors.
"Like a Chief Inspector."
Javert's mouth tightens. "Not like a skulking convict, at any rate," he says. He folds his arms in front of him.
"There was a thief who died beside the Lord," Valjean says. This was one of the first stories he had learned by heart. "But the thief repented, and the Lord was merciful, and said unto him, my brother, this day, you will be with me in paradise."
Javert smirks. The smirk is ugly. "Do not presume upon the Lord."
Valjean shakes his head. "I would not dare."
"You do," Javert says. "You always have. Monsieur Le Maire. Those people under your protection bear your taint. For if they call the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?" He glows with the recitation. "Fear them not therefore, for there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, and hid, that shall not be known."
Valjean nods, spreading his hands again. "And what ye hear in the ear, that shall ye preach on the housetops," he completes. "I know, Javert. There are no secrets from God."
"You know the words well enough," Javert says. There is a begrudging admiration in his tone. This is the sort of accomplishment Javert would admire, Valjean knows. Still the praise sits oddly with him. He glances at Javert, leaning forward a little in the seat, intent, eyes alight with conviction. Their gazes meet, by accident. He glances quickly away.
"The very hairs of your head are all numbered," Javert supplies, after a pause, continuing the verse.
Valjean glances at the brand on his wrist, almost without meaning to. "That is not my favorite line in Scripture," he admits.
"I find it reassuring."
"Naturally," Valjean says.
"A jailbird should study psalms," Javert says. Valjean is realizing curiously that Javert does not want this conversation to end either, that he is – enjoying himself, Valjean does not dare to presume.
"I lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help?" Valjean begins.
Javert shakes his head. "I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me."
Valjean nods. "That has brought me comfort, too," he says. "Purge me, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice."
Javert looks at him. "You cons are all alike," he says, hollowly. "You speak with such wonderful conviction."
"Hide thy face from my sins," Valjean continues, "and blot out all mine iniquities." He falters. "Ca—"
"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me," Javert supplies. It is strange hearing the prayer from his lips.
"Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me," Valjean takes up. "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit."
Javert seems unhappy to let him run off with the psalm. Then they are reciting together.
"Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee." Javert's recitation is precise and clear, as though he wants to make certain God can hear the words. It is of a piece with the rest of him. "O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise."
"For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
"Amen," Valjean says, from habit.
"Amen," Javert says, from habit of his own. They look at each other again.
Silence falls. It is odd to have this in common with Javert. He should have expected no less from the Inspector. Javert is thorough. Javert is pious. Javert seems to have – few outlets for amusement. It is stranger still to find that he enjoys this sparring. Valjean shuts his eyes.
"Sleepers, awake," Javert says. They are at Montfermeil. If Valjean were not a little groggy still from traveling he would wonder if Javert meant it as a joke.
"Did you watch all this time, Inspector?" Valjean asks.
Javert does not answer. "Where is this whore's child?" he asks.
Valjean is the one who sees the child. She is shivering alone in the woods on the town's outskirts, with a bucket almost as large as she is, and he calls to her in greeting, asking for directions.
"Come along," Javert says. "Monsieur le Maire had time for charity. You do not."
But the girl's large frightened eyes remind him of Fantine and he inquires her name. "Cosette," she says.
Valjean bows. "Mademoiselle."
"This is your girl?" Javert asks.
"Where do you live?" Valjean asks.
Cosette tells him. Valjean introduces himself, is about to introduce Javert, but Javert shakes his head.
Valjean picks up the bucket and follows her there. Javert follows with measured steps and watchful eyes.
The Thenardiers are exactly the sort of people most calculated to set Javert's teeth on edge. Valjean senses it as soon as they cross the threshold.
"This whole place reeks in the nostrils," Javert murmurs. "I wonder where they keep the golden calf."
Valjean laughs. Javert looks displeased to have provoked this response. For a moment they are Monsieur Le Maire and Javert, his deputy. The moment passes. Valjean negotiates and Javert stands at attention just inside the door. He can feel the inspector watching him.
"You have relieved them of the girl," Javert says. "And now we shall proceed with haste to the place you intend to leave her, and thence, return you to serve your term."
"I know, Javert," Valjean says.
"Now you see your scheme has failed."
Valjean smiles down at the girl. She smiles back at him. She will not let go of his hand. At least one of them trusts him. Cosette walks slowly, making Javert impatient. Several times she stops altogether and gawks at a shop window in which a doll is prominently displayed.
"Inspector, a moment," Valjean says, once the pattern becomes clear to him. "Cover your ears, Cosette." He turns to Javert. "We are not far from the place I would take her, if I am not mistaken."
Valjean inclines his head and Javert looks at the girl, gazing into the window with hungry eyes.
"I have enough money still," Valjean says. "I would like to give her the doll."
"You would like to slip away into the shop and lose us both," Javert says.
"I would like it to be a surprise," Valjean says. "It will not be a surprise if she watches me buy it."
Javert shakes his head. "You think I trust you?" he says.
"Well," Valjean says, caving. "Then it will not be a surprise, but I would still like to buy it."
This response is not the one Javert expected. He can see it in the Inspector's eyes before the Inspector tamps it down, sorts it into a neatly labeled file marked 'Long Game Stratagems of Cons,' or something equally cynical, and nods. "After you," he says, and Valjean uncovers Cosette's ears and leads her in. "All right, Cosette, close your eyes," he says.
Cosette closes them. "How long?"
Valjean bargains, pays, is offered a box, glances at Javert and Javert makes a face to say that men like him have nothing to advise about boxes for dolls, which Valjean finds much more amusing than he has any right to, considering the circumstances.
"Now open," he says, bending to her level.
Cosette's eyes widen when she sees the doll and she flings her arms around his neck first, then the doll's, and he never regretted not having a child of his own until now.
"Hmph," Javert says, behind his shoulder.
Cosette manages to clutch both him and the doll, and he finds it is simpler to hoist her up to his shoulder and carry them both.
"Children are easily bribed," Javert says.
Valjean rolls his eyes.
"You play the indulgent father well," Javert mutters, as they walk. "A man who knew no better might be convinced of your sincerity, 24601."
Valjean has put up with this before but it rings harsher in his ear when there is a child clinging to his neck.
"Please don't call me that in front of her," he says. "It will only be a day, perhaps less, and then you may call me that all you like."
"I intend to," Javert says, but he does not say it again.
The walk is longer than they expect, and it grows dark.
"Suppose they have already eaten," Valjean says. "Suppose they have nothing to feed her."
"Steady," Javert says.
They approach the house and Valjean knocks and tells the porter his business. He had posted the letter when he left Fantine's bedside. Now he glances at Cosette. She is perfect and beautiful but he thinks, for the initial impression, that he ought to wash her face. He fumbles for his handkerchief.
"What are you searching for?" Javert asks, watching him thump fruitlessly in his jacket.
"My handkerchief," Valjean says. "I do not know what has become of it. To wipe her face."
Javert fumbles in his own coat and produces one. It is crisp white and perfectly clean.
"Do not steal it," he says.
Valjean wonders if these remarks are intended as jokes.
"I hate to sully it," he says.
"A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not what ships are built for," Javert says. Valjean tries to scrub at the dirt but it does not come off dry. He moistens the handkerchief with his tongue. He does not mean to look at Javert while he does it. He does not think Javert means to look at him. He gets the handkerchief sufficiently damp and manages to clean most of Cosette's face.
"There," he says. "Now you look more like the princess you are, Cosette."
Cosette smiles and something melts a little in him.
"Get ready to meet your new Maman and Papa," Valjean says.
Cosette's face falls a little. "You are not to be my papa?" she asks.
"Much as I would wish it, Cosette," Valjean says, "no."
He hears shouting behind the door, and then a bearded man's head sticks out. "What is this, Monsieur Madeleine?" the man asks. "A child?"
"I told you her story in my letter. I will pay for her keep," Valjean begins. "See that she wants for nothing."
"We cannot care for a child," the man says.
"You have taken pity on young innocents before." Valjean frames Cosette's shoulders with his hands. "Cosette is a good girl. She will be no trouble. I ask it of you as a favor."
"I beg your pardon?" the man asks.
The man scowls at Cosette and Valjean wants to spit his contempt back in his face. He feels Javert's eyes on him.
"I owe you nothing," the man says. The door shuts.
Valjean scoops Cosette up into his arms. "Come, Cosette," he says. "They were not very nice, were they?"
"That old scoundrel," Javert says. "It is because of you he did not lose his house."
Valjean nearly stumbles in the snow in his surprise that Javert remembers. "He said when he begged for my support that he had little ones to feed, that he had brought one of them in off the street, that she was sickly, that she required medicine, that his compassion had been his undoing–" In his anger he stumbles a little. Cosette makes a nervous noise and he tries to calm himself.
"I told you he was a gambler and a liar," Javert says.
"I was a fool," Valjean says, still too angry with himself to be frustrated that for once Javert in his eternal mistrust of their fellow men has been proven correct.
"I told you as much at the time," Javert says. "I was right."
If he were not holding the child Valjean would strike him for this smugness. Instead he turns and halts and both he and Cosette stare at the Inspector. He can tell that Cosette does not like his tone either.
"You and your blind compassion," Javert says, but the tone is different now. Perhaps the girl's eyes have shamed him.
"I am a fool," Valjean says.
"It is quite remarkable that you manage to be so blindsided by lies," Javert says.
"Perhaps I do not lie as often as you think," Valjean says. "Or I would not be so miserably foolish about it." He shifts Cosette to his other shoulder.
"Where shall we try next, Mo- 2--?" Javert asks. "Valjean?"
"I have an idea."
"They owe me a favor," Valjean explains, as they walk with the girl. Cosette cannot keep up with the pace that Javert has in mind. The Inspector walks impatiently. "They are kind. The money will not come amiss. I have not written to them, as I had the others, but—" he gestures vaguely.
"Slow down," Valjean tells him. "She cannot walk as fast as you."
He wonders if Javert does, or if he has imagined it.
At this house the mother emerges to frowns and shrink from him, even when he fumbles in the wallet.
When they walk from the house, Cosette is drooping. She walks with heavy steps. Valjean picks her up and tells Javert, "We must find somewhere for the night."
"Have you no other family in mind?"
"There is one other," Valjean says. "But they are a good distance. And I am sure the child is hungry."
"Yes," Cosette says, emphatically, "the child is hungry."
Valjean does not mean to glance at Javert. He does not think the Inspector means to look at him. Their eyes meet almost reflexively over Cosette's head as he smothers a laugh. Javert's mouth twitches.
"The child is hungry," Javert says.
"Well, we must feed the child," Valjean says. "Must we not, Cosette?"
Cosette nods emphatically.
Then they are sitting at a tavern—Cosette is too short to reach the table and crawls onto Valjean's knee.
"Three days," Javert warns. He scowls over the table.
"I am a man of my word," Valjean says. Cosette devours everything on the plate. She is evidently famished. Valjean is reminded of himself years ago. He feels a strange twinge when she smiles up at him after emptying a second plate.
"But what about dessert?" he asks.
Javert glowers at him. Javert has never struck him as someone inclined to sweets.
"Dessert?" Cosette asks. "Dessert? I will find room for dessert, Papa."
"He is not your papa," Javert says. The tavernkeeper emerges with a pie. "He is a convict whom I am escorting back to prison."
"Inspector," Valjean says, beseeching. "Surely that's not important."
Javert shrugs. "It is the truth," he says. He lowers his gaze to Cosette. "He broke the law, and he will pay the price."
"The law?" Cosette asks.
"Naturally those Thenardiers omitted to teach her of the law," Javert says, frustration in his tone. "Naturally. Do you know nothing of the law, child?"
Cosette frowns. "The law?" she says. She manages to find room for the pie.
"And God's Law?" Javert asks. "Did they teach you nothing of the law of the Lord?"
Valjean throws up his hands. "Inspector," he says. "Let the child eat her pie in peace."
"The child must learn the meaning of the law," Javert says. "The law separates us from beasts. The law keeps our baser urges from holding sway over our lives. The law separates right from wrong. The law holds us back from the abyss." He thumps the table. Cosette's eyes widen in his direction but she says nothing.
"Javert," Valjean says.
"Do you know the Ten Commandments?" Javert asks. "I am the Lord your God, you shall have no others before me—"
Cosette puts down her fork and pushes the pie towards him.
"You see?" Valjean says, and he feels the strange tug again, watching her. He did not know that love could spring so suddenly. "She thinks you want her pie. Cosette is right. This is no talk for a dinner table."
Cosette smiles at him. He smiles back. Javert looks sourly at them. "Three days," he says.
"I know," Valjean says. But his heart sinks a little.
"We ought to stay here," Valjean says. Cosette has fallen asleep at the table.
"I was a fool," Javert says, suddenly. He stares at the pie. "I was a fool to call your bluff. The department will not understand."
"You have only done your duty."
Javert frowns at the table, at him. "This is not my duty."
"Whatever you do is your duty," Valjean says. He realizes that he still has the handkerchief. "Here," he says. Javert looks startled at it.
"Keep it," Javert says. "I don't want it now."
"A handkerchief is safe in port, but that is not what a handkerchief is built for, Javert," Valjean says, trying not to smile.
Javert does not take it.
"If I keep it you'll accuse me of stealing it," Valjean tries.
"I would not," Javert says. He seems strangely uncomfortable. Valjean wonders if he is thinking of the same moment that has lurked in the back of his own mind. His mouth on Javert's starched linen and Javert's startled eyes on him. Neither of them looks at the other.
"I'll keep it, then," Valjean says.
"Should we find this girl of yours a bed?" Javert asks. "It is not right for children to sleep on tables like drunkards."
"No," Valjean agrees. In anyone but Javert he would have mistaken the words for concern. He scoops up the girl and they go to find her a bed.
"Where will you sleep?" Valjean asks.
"He who watches over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep."
Valjean chuckles this time, and Javert does not look at him, Valjean wonders if he was right and these are Javert's strange way of making jokes.
There are no beds but there is a sofa and two chairs, which Javert commandeers. Cosette takes the sofa and Valjean covers her with his coat. He settles in one of the chairs and Javert settles in the other.
"Good night, Inspector," he says.