Chapter 1: The Absolute Goodness of Prayer
Post-Seine, Javert hates everything.
Thanks to kissontheneck, Miss M and Firestorm717 for holding my hand and talking me through this difficult beginning.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was some time before Javert could fully acknowledge this, but the evidence was clear: in bringing about his rescue from the Seine, God, that unknowable superior, had shown him the ultimate grace.
For it appeared He had torn up Javert’s resignation note, rejecting his attempt to drown himself in dark waters. He had prevented him from committing the ultimate of sins, which would have resulted in the ultimate punishment – the everlasting condemnation and death of hell, from which there could be no hope of salvation.
That night on the parapet of the quay at the angle of the Pont Notre-Dame, Javert had looked into his soul and not seen a way to reconcile the two paths that had opened before him. He could not discern how a former convict — feared amongst even those hardened criminals in Toulon — who had had Javert in his grasp, who should have taken his revenge, had chosen to ruin himself rather than ruin his enemy. How was it that such a man, condemned by society, might find himself at the summit of everything that was correct and holy?
As he stood on that parapet, gazing into the waters of the Seine, everything around him was mired in darkness. His life, built on the bedrock of his granite certainty, was a swirling fog of doubt. The only clarity: that he must choose between arresting the fugitive as the law required, or forgo such arrest and tear his entire world down from its foundations.
Javert chose the lesser sin: to destroy himself, that that infamous man could be set free.
But then that man himself had pulled Javert from the treacherous, swift-flowing river, from which even expert swimmers were said to never escape. That man had put him into his own bed and sought to convince him there could be yet another path for him.
"God saved you from the pit, and now He requires that you live," that man, Jean Valjean, had announced, when Javert first opened his eyes.
In the beginning, Javert was entirely insensible to such persuasion, and indeed to words themselves. For several days, drifting in and out of consciousness, there was nothing for him but the sickness from the river and his own continued wretchedness.
When sanity returned, when he first could understand precisely where he was — between starched sheets, in a modest, white-walled bedroom in Valjean's house in the remote Rue Plumet, hidden by its wrought-iron fence, its large, wild garden — when he finally regained his powers of speech, it was to curse God, all the saints and Valjean himself for not letting him drown.
"Is it not enough," he said, coughing, barely enough breath to form the words, "that I came to your heel like a dog to its master and helped you deliver that boy's corpse where you asked? Am I now to be kept alive in your home like some house pet? Did God steal my death only to deliver me into your power?"
"The boy lives," Valjean said, "we brought him home to his family," but Javert did not believe it, nor did he care. He kept coughing, kept cursing, would have flung himself from Valjean's bed onto the wooden floorboards if he had had any strength at all.
Some time later, Javert registered the presence of another man, who spoke in the low, authoritative tones of a physician, taking Valjean to task for letting his patient over-exert his lungs. Javert found he had insufficient breath to curse at M. le Docteur as well. He went unwillingly down into the well of unconsciousness in a huge, helpless rage.
Still, Valjean persisted, repeating the injunction like the paternoster. He attended to Javert himself when the physician was not present. Javert suffered medicine and broth in the morning, cold compresses in the afternoons, and evenings filled with Valjean's voice in quiet prayer.
Javert’s world had shrunk to this: his accursed weakness of limb, this unadorned room, the white curtains that shut out the wide world outside, and Jean Valjean — as stubborn as he had been in the bagne at Toulon, as steadfast as at the helm of Montreuil-sur-Mer, as resolute as at the barricades. He was immoveable, a rock at Javert's bedside; when he was not busy with the medicine and compresses and soup, he sat serenely in an armchair, reading and praying, filling the room with his unmistakable presence.
And when he perceived that Javert was awake, he said to him, "God requires that you live, Javert. Do not deny Him this.”
“You do not understand,” Javert said, finally, still many days later, when his fever had broken and he had run out of invective. He turned his face to the bare wall. His lungs still ached, he felt unequal to the challenge of breathing. He detested beyond measure that he was still too weak to raise himself from this bed. Civilisation was in rubble and there was no longer any place for him in it.
There was a long silence. Perhaps the source of his catastrophe, this malefactor who had not let him drown, would now leave him in peace.
Then Javert heard a chair being drawn up, and Valjean was sitting at his bedside. “Help me understand, then.”
Surely this was the grandest jest of all. “You now place yourself in the role of my confessor? And why not. After all you have already shown yourself stronger than the whole social fabric of our country.”
“Explain this,” his confessor said, not ungently.
“You showed me generosity,” Javert said. The words were bitter. His new conscience clamoured loudly within him. “I pursued you unto persecution, you had me in your power, and yet you chose mercy. You are a convict, and yet you are sublime, it is inexplicable. If I were to do my duty, I would have brought you back to face justice, but this I could not do. What the law required — it would have been a sin. Imagine that, the law a sin!”
Javert glared at the blankness of the wall as if it horrified and dazzled him.
“Now black is white and I am certain of nothing any more. Save this — without duty, without the law, I am nothing, I cannot continue to serve. Authority is dead and I might as well be too. I could not bring myself to arrest you then, and, God knows, I cannot do so even now that I find myself still alive.”
Behind him, the man who was in truth his benefactor was silent. Javert heard his low, even breaths, could almost hear him thinking. At last, he said, “I think I begin to understand.”
Javert rather doubted this, but Valjean was just commencing his opening argument. He said, "God is above the law, Inspector. He saved your body from death and your soul from eternal damnation — if you had succeeded in destroying yourself, you would have committed a mortal sin, and the communion of God and his Saints would be lost to you forever."
The cold chill in Javert's lungs seemed to have made its way down into his bones. The ecclesiastical authority was one he had esteemed the chief of all, as indeed he had been superficial and correct in all things, and Valjean's words rang with the conviction of truth.
Still he did not turn from the bare wall. He had been convinced at Pont Notre-Dame that it would be an even greater mortal sin to bring this man to ruin. Even after these long days of rage and frustration in this walled-off room, he still felt that conviction — that it was somehow worth the penalty of eternal damnation in the next life, to have shown mercy in this life, to this man.
It was not something he readily understood. The ways of God, of conscience, were a mystery to him. But if he understood Valjean correctly, God had by some miracle decided to spare Javert's life and his soul thereby, repaying Javert's one act of mercy with mercy of His own.
Valjean continued, "And He spared you because He requires more from you than just the guard dog that hears his master’s voice and blindly obeys. He desires a different service from you.”
The note of sureness in Valjean's voice made Javert turn around to face him, finally. It was akin to the crystal certainty that had filled Javert in his past life, when the law was simple and his path was straight and clear — and yet it was different. This sureness was the benevolent certainty that one might see in the face of God.
“How do you know? I am condemned for everything I have done and failed to do. What more could be desired of me?”
Valjean’s eyes were very bright. “How does any man know God’s will?” he asked. “By prayer, by meditation, by reading the Scriptures. By the actions of God’s instruments. I know this better than any other because a good man showed me mercy long ago."
His mouth tightened. "You say I am sublime, that it is inexplicable how I chose to ruin myself rather than you? I am no saint. You do not know how afraid I was to go into the river to do what I had to, to retrieve you. You do not know how afraid I still am, Javert, even though you are in my house. It is you who has the power, as you always had. My daughter does not know about Jean Valjean and you could take everything away from me."
Despite these avowals, Valjean did not sound like a man who was particularly gripped by fear; Javert could not remember now, but he was certain Valjean used to sound afraid of him. It sounded like, since the barricades, since the Seine, the world had changed for more than just one former Inspector.
Valjean continued: "I can only do God's work, despite my fear, my weakness, because of what the Bishop of Digne did for me long ago. I stole from him, I was lower than an animal, and yet, the miracle: he called me his brother, he gave me everything he had. God used him to save me, to call me to a holy life, to serve His purposes, and now He is using me to call you."
He leaned in. His broad face wore an expression that Javert could not describe, an unknown, brilliant, moral sun. “Believe that God’s mercy is above the laws made by men. His ways are mysterious, and His grace is unlimited. He has performed miracles on your behalf. He has a purpose for you, and He believes you will be equal to the challenge."
Javert could not keep looking at him; with difficulty, he turned back to face the wall.
“Priests say this, also, and I never took any heed of them,” he muttered, and refused to speak another word that day.
But when finally the long weeks of illness had left him and he was able to rise up from Valjean's bed, he looked upon his former enemy and found that his treacherous spirit had after all been roused by this appeal to the ultimate Authority.
He spared you because He requires more from you than just the guard dog... He desires a different service from you.
God had saved him from the river: a miracle. In the face of such mercy, who was any man to deny Him? Let alone a man such as he, who had always bent his will to Authority? Could he turn away from the decree of the sovereign judge over all heaven and earth?
God's instrument had saved him; it seemed he was indeed required to live, to serve. To what end, he would need to discover.
In this chapter, Valjean references 2 Timothy 1:9:
[God] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”
Chapter 2: The Man Aroused
Chapter by jehane18
Javert finds alternative employment.
Javert: once the hard, bright cudgel of the law, who had centred all his religion in the police, who had betrayed it in order to remain true to a sudden, irresistible moral conscience. Now that his eyes had been opened to mercy as on the road to Damascus, what was left for him?
Javert took his leave of his sickbed in Rue Plumet with as much discretion as he could muster. At Valjean's insistence he had remained in residence for another fortnight, in an armchair at first and then progressing to the stairs and drawing room and that wild, unkempt garden afterwards, under Valjean's too-large clothes and the shawls which Valjean and the physician pressed upon him despite the summer's heat, until M. le Docteur finally gave him a clean bill of health.
Nevertheless, he had no wish to overstay his welcome, although Valjean assured him he was a guest, and was scrupulously forthcoming with him about all aspects of his own life, doggedly sharing small details of his past with Javert as readily as his books and sustenance and his own home, as if he could by such means assure himself of Javert's salvation.
Javert had come far enough forward in this strange relationship with his benefactor to acknowledge that the man meant every word, but he also desired not to cause Valjean any further fear of him. Valjean might be a saint, but was not easy to put off the habit of nineteen years.
He realised as well that Valjean had gravely inconvenienced his household for his, Javert's, sake. Valjean's daughter and housekeeper remained at Rue de l'Homme-Armé. After Valjean saved him from the Seine and installed him in his house at No. 55 Rue Plumet, he had been traversing between the two houses as best he could. Javert had never met this daughter whom Valjean had adopted as his own. He was startled to learn that Mlle Fauchelevent was Fantine's child, and given his knowledge of her mother and her past he believed it would be advisable for him to keep well away.
On the morning of his departure, he rose early and shaved and washed with his customary care, the memory of weakness not yet distant. When he was done, Valjean brought him the clothes that he had worn into the river: they had been laundered and mended; they were almost new. Valjean also proffered a pair of old boots, it seemed that Valjean and he were of a size.
He stood up, shouldered his way into his familiar greatcoat, and became aware that Valjean was looking at him in a manner Javert did not know how to interpret. Was it fear, at seeing Javert once again clothed in the guise of the wolf-hound which had pursued him for so long? Or something else? Javert had the vague recollection of impersonal hands helping him wash and relieve himself and to change into fresh clothing during his fever and the early days of the convalescence that followed, and when it had not been the physician or his assistant it must have been Valjean.
He frowned in a moment of discomfiture. To recollect how vulnerable he had been in the hands of this former adversary filled him with deep disquiet, as foreign to him as surrender, as an offering of the throat to a predator on the hunt. But then he could not imagine how it must have been for Valjean to put his hands on the enemy who had sought to destroy him, to compel himself to touch that enemy with gentleness because that was what God required.
Valjean insisted on personally conveying Javert to his old lodgings across the river at the densely populated neighbourhood of Rue des Vertus in a hackney-coach. For the first time since that night of June 6, the two men rode again together in one carriage.
The circumstances were rather different, however. The coach rattled down the boulevard and crossed the esplanade and directed itself toward the Pont de la Concorde, through streets that were full of bustling activity: vendors opening their store fronts and setting out their wares, well-dressed citizens about their business, matrons and maids with baskets on the way to the market. The summer morning brought Paris to life, a far cry from the sepulchral darkness of that June night.
Where they had then travelled in silence, Valjean pressed like a shadow into the Utrecht velvet of the carriage seat, Javert turned to stone by the conflict within his soul, now they rode past birdsong, past street noise and chatter, past the posting-chaises traversing the avenues at a gallop and loaded carts moving more slowly, past hotels and shops and cafes. Valjean pointed out a pâtisserie at Rue de Rivoli that he and his daughter frequented, an orphanage to which he was planning to make a donation.
Through the carriage window, Javert watched his city and wondered why he had never noticed before how fair it was, watched the sun cast its light across Valjean's face.
The crowded side road off the Rue du Temple where Javert’s modest lodgings were situated was too narrow to permit the entrance of vehicles. Javert and Valjean alighted into the street. Javert hesitated; he had no intention of asking Valjean to accompany him up to his rooms.
It seemed at that moment that any word of thanks for all that he had been given in the past month would be grossly inadequate.
"You must know I have no plans to denounce you," Javert said awkwardly.
"I did not doubt it," Valjean said, with equal awkwardness. "I will stop by to-morrow to see how you are getting along. In the meantime, here is eighty francs; you made payment to our driver that night, and now I am repaying you."
"You do not need to do this," Javert said, in respect of both matters, "I have no need of payment, and to-morrow I intend to head out to the Préfecture," but Valjean was already climbing back into the carriage.
"The day after, or the one after that, then," Valjean said, a parting shot, and the carriage started to pull back up the road.
Javert opened the street door at Rue des Vertus and made his apologies to his landlady. It seemed he was in arrears of rental for the first time in his life, and he was obliged to put Valjean's napoleons to use. Climbing the four flights of stairs to his apartment winded him slightly; he had still not recovered his full strength.
Voilquin had kept his rooms clean, and exactly how he had left them, yet Javert looked upon them as a stranger would. The rooms were unchanged, while everything within Javert had been irremediably altered.
He had told Valjean he would not denounce him, and it was a truth of his new self. Not many individuals could truly say that they would rather die than commit a sinful act the way that Javert could. And further, by some miracle, he had allowed a higher authority to persuade him that it was not required that civilisation and public order and his own self be destroyed were he to let this one man go free.
Notwithstanding, he did not consider it tolerable to continue in his position as an officer of the law. He had, after all, assisted in the flight of a fugitive; he would continue in that aggravated breach of several sections of the Penal Code, Law of Feb 20, 1810, while he remained an inspector of the police.
And then there was the small matter of the note for the Administration that he had written that June night in his first convulsion of conscience. He had left it with the station-house at the Place du Châtelet, and he now discovered that the letter had been received in that critical spirit by M. le Préfet himself.
The Préfecture had written to him in his long absence; the official letter had been waiting for him amongst the month's collected correspondence. It seemed that someone, likely M. le Docteur, had notified them of his illness after the insurgency.
Javert took up his pen and paper and wrote to the Préfecture seeking an audience with his patron, M. Chabouillet. The note was sent at breakfast and by evening a positive response was sent back: he would be received at the Préfecture the next morning.
Javert presented himself at the Préfecture of Police on July 11, 1832. He was cleanly shaven, hair pulled neatly into his customary queue, wearing his summer uniform for what he intended would be the last time with its pressed navy overcoat and lightweight hat.
The imposing halls of the Préfecture, the grand arched ceiling, the austere marble columns, the severe black-and-white marble of its polished floors, were as familiar as the uniform. In these halls Javert had always experienced the gratifying weight of history, had been satisfied by the small part he played in the immense, implacable machinery of the Law. He still felt the tug of that familiar authority and suspected he always would — after all, a lifetime of service could not be overturned entirely in one night, or one month. However, he also experienced the unquiet stirring of his by-now-familiar new conscience, and with it, a certainty that this new path he was pursuing, the new authority which he had been persuaded to serve, was the correct one.
Upon the Préfecture's acceptance of the resignation of Inspector Javert, it appeared that there was a small amount of severance to be paid in light of the man’s sterling record and his long illness in the line of duty.
There was some question of his entitlement to a pension: it would have been open to extend such to Javert based on his age and possibly merit, but he had not served the Préfecture of Paris for the requisite ten years prior to illness, and under the Order of the King of April 19, 1831 an employee deemed to have resigned was disqualified from receiving the same.
His patron received him in his private rooms, which was a significant courtesy. M. Chabouillet, in a further sidestep of protocol, showed him Gisquet’s characteristic response to Javert’s resignation letter:
Chabouillet: — M., I append Insp. Javert’s resign. notice dd Jun 7. For your immediate action, SVP.
N/B: re the contents of said notice, try to estab. mental capacity? Pls consider if nec. to obtain a confidentiality undertaking in case the Moniteur contacts him. Consult Pierre-Yves in Legal.
— Yrs, G.
"We will be sorry to lose one of our best officers," M. Chabouillet said, grimly, "but although I understand your letter was written while you were suffering from your ordeal at the hands of the insurgents, you will see our own hands are tied in the matter."
Javert noted his patron's less than perfect toilette that morning. M. Chabouillet's ordinarily spotless uniform jacket was missing a button on the left epaulette and he seemed to have shaved with uncharacteristic haste. It would appear that his patron was not entirely pleased with this outcome, M. Chabouillet might even have crossed swords with Gisquet on Javert’s behalf and in vain.
"I stand by every word of that letter," Javert informed him, and watched M. Chabouillet wince visibly. "However, please inform that boy from Legal that I have no intention of writing to the Moniteur. The Préfecture can count on my discretion."
M. Chabouillet sighed. "You might imagine that I do not share Gisquet's doubts," he said. "When you hand over all active files, I will make sure you receive due payment, and I will assist with what is necessary to ensure you receive your pension after all."
He paused, and then added, “I am not sure of your plans for the future. However, there is a new position which has just become available.”
It seemed as if the Ministry of Justice was recently seeking to establish, on a provisional basis, a new bureau of judicial assistance under the helm of the Court of Cassation, the first of its kind in France. Given the growing movement within the legislature to enact laws to extend judicial assistance for first instance and appellant litigants of more meagre means, as befitted a civilisation based on the universal rights of man and the citizenry, the Ministry had chosen to embark upon an administrative trial to explore the feasibility of carrying out this concept in practice.
“I am told that this new bureau is in need of investigators and administrators to assist in its affairs,” M. Chabouillet said. “Perhaps this might be of interest to you.”
“It is,” Javert said. He paused. He became aware of a conflict between his feelings of indebtedness toward M. Chabouillet for nineteen years of patronage, and his frustration that those years had been spent in flawed service to an authority decreed by man and not by God.
Still, he was genuinely grateful to his patron, and certainly he could not begrudge M. Chabouillet his convictions. “Thank you for all you have done for me, M. le Secrétaire.”
M. Chabouillet nodded his head. “You have served faithfully, Javert. The Préfecture thanks you for your years of dedication and wishes you every success. If you would wait in the hall, I will have the Secrétariat draw up the paperwork.”
He shook Javert’s hand firmly. If he had harboured any regrets over his protégé’s departure or his Prefect’s decision, if he wished that matters could have been managed differently, his commandingly handsome face betrayed no sign.
When Javert arrived in the partially-decorated offices in a side wing of the complex of judicial buildings at the Quai de l’Horloge, he discovered an entirely new agency with few staff members and no institutional procedures to speak of. There were several well-dressed young gentlemen milling around the corridors decoratively, their beardless faces speaking of newly-minted law school diplomas and lofty ideals and perhaps little else by way of common sense.
The only completed room belonged to that of M. le Directeur, whose intricately-carved mahogany desk from the previous century was covered by a mountain of paperwork. A rather dull portrait of King Louis-Philippe I in incongruous military attire peered tentatively down at them from the opposing wall.
Javert presented his papers and a neatly-written reference from M. Chabouillet.
M. le Directeur broke the seals and peered at the documents as if they were written in Greek. His cheeks were smooth, his green frock-coat insufficiently buttoned. His countenance appeared no older than the amassed young lawyers in his employ.
“You seem most qualified, Inspector,” he said, finally. “I realise that you are not a lawyer, but as you can see, our agency has a surfeit of those.”
“Indeed,” Javert said, before he could prevent himself. Then he paused, as it was clear that this young civil servant could only work with the tools he was given. He recollected how M. Madeleine had been invariably patient and kind in all respects, and made an attempt to model himself in likewise manner. “Regardless, Monsieur, M. Chabouillet believed I could be of assistance to you.”
“Yes, and he was right. We are most hard pressed to deal with the deluge of petitions for aid from all manner of litigant and administrative body.” M. le Directeur gestured helplessly to the haphazard piles of papers on his desk. Javert resisted the urge to gather them up and institute the filing system that was so obviously required.
“What our new agency needs, M. l’Inspecteur, is a firm hand. We must find a way to determine the cases of genuine need. How do we know whether these applicants are truly impecunious, or if they are making unmeritorious claims to defraud the state? We are the guardians of a public trust, Monsieur. I am told we must robustly investigate all claims before we agree to assign lawyers to their cause. Also… see here…”
M. le Directeur fumbled amongst the papers, and after some time retrieved a note which appeared to bear the seal of the Ministry. He continued, “… I am also notified that given the review of the Penal Code undertaken in the April amendments, we are now to look to criminal defendants as well — to see if the current ad hoc system of assignment by the batonniers of the criminal bar may be improved upon, though we might not consider means testing in such cases. You will see, Monsieur, there is much to do!”
Javert looked at the young M. le Directeur’s despairing countenance and considered sympathy as well as irritation.
“What we must do,” he said, firmly, kindly, “our first order of business, should be to establish a proper format for civil claims, to notify claimants of the information and supporting documents which are required. Then we must draft protocols setting out instances under which cases are to be investigated, and for the proper conduct of interviews and site inspections. It will be easy, then, to distinguish the unmeritorious claims of persons looking to defraud the state. Then we may commence our review of the batonnier system.”
And who better to take charge of these efforts than a former inspector of police well-reputed for his rectitude and investigative skills and excellent chirography?
M. le Directeur kindly requested that he commence his duties as soon as he could. Javert could complete his hand-over briefings at the Préfecture in a fortnight.
Javert left the Île de la Cité, passing by the somber façade of the Palace of Justice. As he traversed the Pont Neuf, the ordinarily turbulent Seine appeared deceptively calm that evening. He could not avoid casting his eye across that square lake between Pont au Change and Pont Notre-Dame where he had chosen to depart from his old life, and where he had embarked upon this new one despite himself.
In any case, even as he crossed the dark waters of the Seine, Javert experienced a sense of cautious optimism. The position at the new Bureau seemed suited to his inconvenient moral sense, and might be pleasing to his new superior. That he would spend the rest of his days assisting defendants who might not otherwise afford legal representation seemed fitting, as if he would in that way begin to make restitution for past wrongs.
He soon had occasion to say as much to Valjean, who, true to his word, had insisted on assuring himself of God's authority over Javert by calling upon him at his apartment the following morning before he left for work. One might have thought the man would be well suited for a career as a parole officer.
Then again, one did not ordinarily expect one's parole officer to speak about sin and redemption. Nor to impose on one's landlady to make him coffee either, but Voilquin appeared rather taken with the first visitor Javert had had in five years of tenancy.
Javert had not thought to welcome anyone to his sloped-roofed attic rooms. Notwithstanding this, here was his former enemy, his benefactor, standing in his doorway in his unfashionable yellow coat and hat, waiting courteously to be permitted entry. It would have been churlish not to oblige him, particularly as Voilquin was hovering and smiling and making offers of breakfast.
God’s instrument was thus invited to cross Javert’s threshold. He seated himself at the small table and looked around Javert’s sparsely-furnished rooms and bare floorboards with an air of amazement, almost as if they were the gilt-panelled suites of the Luxembourg Palace itself.
Javert had no idea what Valjean imagined he would see: a shrine to the Préfecture, perhaps, or a lair dedicated to the pursuit of criminals past and present? He doubted Valjean would be this fanciful.
In any case, whatever the expectations, it was customary to keep one’s parole officer informed of one’s change of employment particulars.
“I have tendered my resignation from the police,” Javert announced, and was obliged to explain the circumstances of his work at the new Bureau. It took some time, because Javert had assembled several files of the relevant parliamentary papers and statutes, including the Criminal Instruction Code of 1808 and its supporting documentation, and had already started making notes thereon.
“I am glad to see your investigative skills are being put to their intended use," Valjean said, with a slight smile. Javert stared suspiciously at the man, but he seemed to have made the remark entirely without irony. Valjean continued, earnestly, "I had every faith you would be equal to the challenge."
"I distinctly recall you attributing that requirement to God," Javert responded. "And, yes, the protocols I am drawing up will formulate a test of means as well as a review of the status and capacity of the defendants, so as to maximise resources and the administration of justice.”
Javert pulled a paper from his neat stack of notes and slid it across the table to Valjean. “Here. I recommend that in order to reduce the burden on the batonnier system, the state should be slow to prosecute young persons for acts of petty theft if the circumstances are extenuating. I list these circumstances below. If there was more robust pro bono representation for deserving cases, there would be fewer charges and less incarceration, and our prison systems will be more efficient, as befits a great civilisation."
"And justice would be done," Valjean said, mildly, looking up from the paper. "To say nothing of mercy, Investigator Javert."
Javert glanced sharply over at the man. His hair had prematurely whitened under Javert's persecution, the strong body under M. Fauchelevent's unassuming clothes carried the marks of punishments that Javert had himself ordered. As he understood it, Valjean had been young and illiterate and his sister's children had been starving when he had stooped to petty theft, and the law had shown him no mercy whatsoever.
Had Javert spoken against even the smaller indignities at Toulon, justice might have been better served.
"Indeed," Javert said, curtly. He looked away again, as he could not keep meeting Valjean's eyes.
Instead, he took up a new leaf of paper and began composing the first of many letters on the subject to the magistrates' clerk at the Court of Cassation.
(NOTES: POSSIBLY ONLY OF INTEREST TO LEGAL HISTORIANS AMONG US)
(1) THE NEW LEGAL AID BUREAU:
Civil legal aid for impecunious litigants was made available in 1851 via the Law of Jan 22, French Code on Civil Procedure.
Criminal defendants have had the right to state-funded lawyers from 1808 -- the fabulous groucha linked me to the first Criminal Instruction Code, per Articles 294 and 295, the latter of which provides: The counsel for the accused will be chosen by him or appointed by the judge among the barristers or solicitors of the imperial court and its jurisdiction, unless the defendant obtains from the President of the Assize Court, a permission to take as counsel one of his relatives or friends. (One would recall Chapmantheiu’s court-appointed defence counsel at the Arras assizes in LM 1.5.2.) However, such criminal legal aid was effected, unsatisfactorily, via an ad hoc system of referrals by heads of bar chambers (batonniers): see 42 Notre Dame Law Review (1967), 627, 643.
My scenario has the new bureau being set up in the 1830s as a pilot project in advance of the enactment of the 1851 civil legal aid statute, and also to review the batonnier criminal legal aid process in light of the criminal law reform that was taking place at the time, e.g. via the Law of April 28, 1832 – see Charleston, Copyhold Vol 7 at 316. Obviously, these changes to the administrative and judicial structures are taking place against the backdrop of political and revolutionary/anti-Royalist intrigue in 1832, but the new bureau is small potatoes enough to not to have to concern themselves with such matters.
The legal aid bureau is currently located at the Court of Cassation which was established in 1791; in 1832 it had both civil and criminal appellate jurisdiction over the justice of the peace civil courts and assize criminal courts - see Herzog, Civil Procedure in France, (1967), 1.24 et seq.
(2) OFFENCES BY PUBLIC OFFICIALS:
A public official commits a serious delict in failing to bring to arrest a fugitive under the Third Book of the French Penal Code, esp , ; also , Law of February 25th, 1810.
(3) PUBLIC OFFICIALS AND PENSIONS:
Per groucha, under Order of the King, April 19, 1831, policemen in active service for 10 years and injured, or retiring employees who had at least 30 years of service to the Prefecture of Police/municipal administrations of Paris, were entitled to claim a pension from the municipality of Paris. Javert had only worked for 9 years for the Paris Prefecture as at 1832; even if his prior service in M-s-m and as a Garde-chiurme is counted, Article 18 provides that an employee demoted or who has submitted his resignation would not be entitled to a pension.
Chabouillet will try to rattle some chains in the Prefecture, and see if (a) Gisquet will allow prior service to be taken into account when computing length of service, and (b) the PTB will agree not to construe Javert’s infamous June 7 note as a formal submission of resignation per Art 18. [Can you tell I am an employment lawyer?]
Javert’s ironic references to parole officers are not entirely accurate in the context of the then-existing framework of “Surveillance de la Haute Police”, where any public official had the right to demand to sight the papers of an ex-convict. But given that Javert (a) probably felt a personal parole system would serve the administration of justice more efficiently and (b) had unofficially designated himself as Valjean’s personal parole officer, I felt the joke was not OOC/anachronistic ;)
(4) AND NOW A NOTE ON GEOGRAPHY:
Thanks to groucha, Javert lives on Rue des Vertus, a densely populated neighborhood with people of modest class, with many establishments that rented rooms by the week, and high turnover of tenants, which would suit a police spy seeking to keep a low profile. Rents would be low, and the location is close enough to Rue de l’Homme Arme so Valjean can keep an eye on him. Of course, this means that when Marius mets him in LM 3.8.12, Javert was only temporarily filling in at the Commissary at Rue Pontoise. If he lived along Rue du Temple, then his assigned precinct would properly be the Commissariat of Faubourg Saint Denis at la Porte Saint Denis. But as a roving police spy, he would not need to sit at his desk at the Commissary or station house all day.
Chapter 3: Precautions to be Observed in Blame
Chapter by jehane18
Javert continues his work at the Bureau, and with God.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
After Javert had completed the handover process and taken up his new employment, Jean Valjean, that parole officer of God, seemed satisfied enough to step away from his morning inquisitions. As in the nature of parole, Javert was allowed to progress to a less intrusive level of supervision.
In the intervening period, Valjean had reunited his household at No. 7 Rue de l’Homme-Armé, and so Javert was compelled to stop by the Fauchelevent apartment in the mornings on his way to the Bureau. Once or twice a week, his shift permitting, usually selecting days when he understood that Mlle Fauchelevent had other plans, he would visit in the evening; after the first month Valjean had occasion to ask whether he would like to stay for dinner, and Javert could not think of any reason to refuse.
On these occasions, he would give Valjean a report concerning his active caseload. A good parole officer would wish to hear about Javert's efforts to do God's work.
It was inordinately difficult, but Javert was determined to make a good faith attempt to act justly and with mercy in accordance to the dictates of his new conscience.
In that vein, he was pleased to recommend assistance to a young man who worked at the Maison Souquet inn in the Latin Quarter, who had been injured on the way to his place of employment by an overloaded cart moving too quickly to keep an appropriate look-out. Conversely, he recommended the rejection of the claim of Guillaume Prouvet, who was known to the police as an incorrigible swindler and who was now seeking to take action against an equally suspicious former business partner. Prouvet had on previous occasions been able to deploy lawyers in the course of past disputes and clearly was of sufficient means to pay them.
When two under-aged gamins ran into the offices of the Bureau to announce to the kind Messieurs les Avocats that the police had arrested their mother for illegal prostitution, and would someone please help, Javert dispersed the gaggle of lawyers and took charge himself.
He took the children’s statements, such as they were, made some further enquiries, and then headed with the children in tow to the Commissary at the Rue de la Barillerie, asking to speak to the arresting officer personally.
He was shown to the ground floor office of Inspector (2nd class) Desmarais, who quickly rose from his chair when Javert entered.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, M. Javert,” Desmarais said, shaking Javert’s hand with both of his. “I have of course heard of you – who hasn’t? You are known across the whole prefecture of Paris as the officer who had brought down the infamous Patron-Minette! Your resignation was a loss to the Force.”
Javert was not entirely sure what to say. The hero worship in the young officer's earnest expression discomfited him: after all, he was hardly a paragon of Law; that old façade of Authority was a counterfeit and empty before the edicts of God.
Desmarais continued, “May I understand how you came to be aware of this case?”
Javert considered his response. He had never been able to countenance a lie in his previous life, nor would his new conscience permit it, and besides, making a false report was a serious offence. But it was not a difficult matter to argue the poor woman's case to Desmarais in the language of his old world, with a new framing of mercy.
“Her children came to find me at the Bureau and begged for assistance. It would seem that Mme. Hubert is an honest widow, guilty of a single lapse of judgment. The laundry at which she worked has had to shut its doors for a month as its owners are away for the summer, and she found she could not make ends meet before it re-opens again.”
Javert paused, and referred to his notes. “I have made enquiries and ascertained that the owners will return at month end, and that its licences are all current. As such, it would seem certain this woman will shortly resume her gainful employment.”
“You are good to take the time away from your busy schedule on this unfortunate case, Monsieur,” said Desmarais.
“It is the duty of all of us at the Bureau to take account of the less fortunate in our great civilisation,” said Javert, entirely honestly. Then he made his final argument: “Besides, our assizes are busy and our prisons are sufficiently occupied. What difference would one arrest, one charge, one lengthy trial make to the efficient administration of justice in Paris?”
Of course, there was a difference made to Mme. Hubert. She enfolded her children in her voluminous grey skirts and would have remained on her knees on the station-house steps for hours if Javert had not raised her to her feet — awkwardly, as he was unused to offering his hand in this manner, let alone to a woman — and sent her on her way.
Mme Hubert's story was well received at Rue de l’Homme-Armé. "Bravo, Monsieur," Valjean said, when Javert told him about the incident that evening over dinner. "It sounds as though you ought to pursue lawyering as your second career."
It was one of those rare occasions where Cosette Fauchelevent was also at home for the evening. She seemed to be spending more and more time at the Pontmercy boy's house in the old Marais district — it did appear the boy had indeed survived, after all. According to Valjean, it sounded as if he was being slowly nursed back to health by the best doctors M. Gillenormand could engage, and probably even more effectively by the girl's devotion.
Toussaint, freed tonight from her duties as her mistress' chaperone, bustled to and fro from kitchen to dining room, intent on creating an elaborate meal.
For Cosette’s sake, Javert had omitted the details of the unfortunate woman’s profession. He had thought Valjean would prefer that, given her mother’s history; given Javert’s own hand in that history, it was Javert’s preference as well.
The girl sat at the dining table, holding her father's hand, her face bright with compassion. "Inspector, it was wonderful of you to help. You are truly an angel!" she said.
"Inspector no longer, but I still know how the police work," said Javert, grimacing slightly. Valjean's beaming praise and Cosette's accolades gave him pleasure and discomfort in equal measure.
"Yes, and you see it is possible to serve both the administration of justice and mercy," Valjean said earnestly, and Javert supposed that he did. This, too, filled him with pleasure and discomfort.
Of less success was the case of Jacques Nouvel, a young labourer who had travelled to Paris to look for work and fallen in with a gang of vagabonds preying on the working class districts in the suburbs. He had been arrested earlier in the year for attempted burglary. In addition to this criminal action, a claimant had commenced a swindling-related civil action against Nouvel, in respect of which judgment had been entered by the justice of the peace courts.
The claimant had moved for a constraint par corps committal to prison in lieu of payment, and in the resulting jurisdictional confusion it seemed that no one had assigned the man defence counsel for either the criminal charge or the civil appeal.
When the papers finally made their way to Javert at the Bureau, Nouvel had been in remand at the maison d’arrêt in La Grande Force in Rue du Roi de Sicile for months. La Force was also the location where the constraint par corps prisoners were held.
Javert remarked on the note in Nouvel’s file, made by the clerk at La Force: that Nouvel had a sister in Montfermeil, a laundress with modest savings but five children to feed. The note also recorded Jacques’ claim that the sister could be of no help.
"Our searches have shown that before your arrest last year you worked for four weeks on the construction of the new factory building in La Vilette," Javert said, flipping open his notebook. It was not warm at all in the remand cells, which seemed substantially colder than the rest of Paris. "What did you do with your salary?"
The defendant sat numbly on a bench in the cell. He was a big fellow; the grey prison uniform seemed to be too small for him. His large hands clasped and unclasped the iron bars that separated them. He had been in remand for nearly eight months, and the shock of thick hair was untended, the dark beard unkempt.
Javert repeated the question.
"Spent it," Nouvel answered slowly.
"All 70 francs? Good God, man, on what?"
Nouvel shrugged. "...Wine? Dice. Maybe a doxy. Can't remember."
Javert schooled his features to calm, although nothing would have pleased the former police inspector more than to smash his old bludgeon across the bars of the cell and startle the truth out of the dim-witted man. Once again, he controlled himself. M. Madeleine would have been kind, would have seen some good in this useless specimen of humanity, with his petty vices and abject stupidity. For Valjean's sake, he tried again, gently.
"You are certain you have nothing left? Did you give the money to the gang in Montparnasse?" Javert considered this. "If you are being extorted, we can try to help you."
"Not extort-ed; don't know what you mean," the big fellow said, stubbornly. "No more money. All gone. Officers here said you help. So I signed papers like they said. But if you can't help then go away."
Javert rose to his full height. He could only endure so much insubordinate conduct; he was no Saint Jean.
Although he had taken his leave of Nouvel without another word, conscience dictated that he inform the maison superintendent that the cells were cold and defendants in remand should still receive an additional blanket. Then he took a hackney-cart to the Bureau and stayed up late completing his report.
"I cannot see my way to approving this application," he told Valjean over coffee in the kitchen at Rue de l’Homme-Armé the next day. He was glad to note that Cosette was not in residence that morning, as he did not wish to speak of this unfortunate case in her presence.
"I am sorry to hear that," Valjean said, frowning. "You say he has been in remand for months? That seems unfair."
"Yes, the remand system has inefficiencies. I wrote to the magistrate's clerk to see how the delays at the assizes can be minimised. And I am sorry, too, but he is not a candidate for us." Javert, that penitent soul, hoped he sounded sufficiently regretful.
Valjean's dark eyes looked straight into the heart of him, as if he was not fooled by this dissembling. Javert had to look away as he continued, "He's a strong young man, he had previously held down employment but turned to crime; it is suspected that he is part of some swindling racket, which is why he is the subject of legal proceedings. He can't say what became of the money, and he doesn't have any excuse for what he did."
"I had no excuse for what I did," Valjean said quietly. Javert could feel those eyes boring into the side of his head.
Thinking about Valjean's past was a deep ache upon his conscience. Javert compelled himself to speak neutrally. "You had mentioned before, on several occasions, that your sister's children were starving. This man's sister makes an honest living. Also, you would not have fallen in with a gang and become a common criminal."
He frowned at his notebook so he would not be required to meet Valjean's eyes. "And this boy seems entirely unrepentant, unwilling to help himself. I'm afraid he gives me, and God, no reason to be merciful. Our resources are better spent helping a candidate who wishes to be helped. I have also asked the magistrate to enquire of the batonniers the reason for the delays in appointing counsel."
Valjean thought about this for a while. Then, "Not everyone who deserves to be helped knows how to ask for it," he said, gently. "And at least you spoke up for him, about the conditions in the maison d’arrêt. That was mercifully done."
This begged the question as to why Javert had not spoken up in any of the previous decades. He considered this on his walk to work that day, why he had not spoken out over the injustices in the bagne and in the execution of his duties, when he had certainly taken note of the same. He was unused to this act of examining his conscience, but it would seem this was what God now required of him.
The answer came soon enough: it was his cowardly fear of losing his authority, of returning to the gutter of his birth.
This shamed him. For the rest of the month, each worthy claimant whose papers came across his desk, every poor man accused of petty crime or committed to prison for debts they could not meet, reminded him of the injustice he had shown to the man Jean of Faverolles, to Jean-le-Cric, to M. Madeleine, who had subjected himself to the punishment of the law rather than have another man take his place.
Valjean did not seem to understand when he tried, haltingly, to explain. Javert, that fledgling penitent, had difficulties understanding it himself.
"I do not remember much about those times," Valjean said, "nor do I wish to, but I recall that you were young, you did your duty and acted according to the law."
Javert ground his teeth together. "That is precisely the issue. The laws were unnecessarily harsh. They should have been changed by the people who could see that. I should have changed it."
Valjean reached over the kitchen table. He covered Javert's hand with his, the tentative touch of a man approaching a wild animal. In this way he had touched Javert during Javert's illness, uncertain of his reception and with the undercurrent of fear that he had later confessed to. Then, Javert had shaken off Valjean's hand, hating the man, hating anyone who would show him any kindness in the days of his extremis.
But now Javert surprised himself in accepting Valjean's grasp, finding comfort in this good man's gentleness. He was also surprised to find he desired very badly to assure Valjean that he had nothing to fear from him any longer.
He curled his fingers around Valjean's and Valjean clasped back.
"You are changing things now," Valjean said, and his eyes were no longer tentative, but filled with the certainty that Javert remembered.
Once a man had known salvation from the mortal sin of self-destruction, it was not difficult to address the lesser matter of venial sin.
When they were not discussing Javert's work, God’s instrument and his hesitant new servant spent their mornings together discussing the nature of sin. Upon Valjean's recommendation, Javert embarked on a study of his Bible and the doctrines of the Church. He interrogated them with the same scrutiny as he examined the statutes, for these Church documents were indeed as mandatory as statutes, being written imperatives of God's laws.
He then took his queries, as Valjean had suggested, to Eglise Saint-Sulpice on the square between Rue Palatine and Rue des Aveugles.
The main chapel was not open for services on Saturday and the hours of the confessional had not yet commenced. Nevertheless, God directed a re-routing of his steps, and Javert encountered the young assistant parish priest walking along Rue de Vaugirard on his way from the seminary to teach catechism to the poor.
Fr Michel-Marie appeared initially taken aback at being accosted by a former police inspector and his notebook of doctrinal questions, but he agreed to meet with Javert after his classes to receive his confession and discuss the matters of his immortal soul.
It was thus that the course of his new studies, Javert was made aware that the Church considered venial sins might be purified on earth: via contrition and penance, by works of mercy and charity. Such sins were only subject to temporal punishments; the sentences would be commuted to purgatory instead of condemned to hellfire, unlike the penalty for the mortal sin Javert had almost committed.
Thanks to Javert's insistence on reviewing the source regulations, Fr Michel-Marie adopted the habit of readying his Bible and instruments whenever he was scheduled to receive him.
Fr Michel-Marie must have been the most junior of the parish's assistant priests, because his office was very small, tucked away beside the transept in Saint-Sulpice's incomplete southern side. Javert approved of his pristine desk, the self-denial inherent in the minuscule Jesuit-styled room, unadorned save for the cross on the wall, a small picture of the Blessed Virgin, and a wooden rosary, not even a mat to take the place of a prie-dieu. Javert imagined the poor man's knees might be more worn out from prayer than his own.
Then again, the only prie-dieu he recalled in Rue Plumet had been the small white one presumably used by Cosette Fauchelevent, so the state of Valjean's knees might be no better, given the amount of praying that man seemed to undertake. Javert frowned at the image of Valjean's bare knees, red from kneeling on floorboards, at the fever-memory of him kneeling at Javert's sickbed for what seemed like hours.
Finally Fr Michel-Marie found the relevant paragraph in the Catechism and summarised it for Javert. "You see, Monsieur, in the matter of temporal punishment for sin, canon law dictates the following: this must be endured by patient acceptance of suffering or trial."
"This much is clear," Javert agreed. He was prepared to deal with the temporal consequences of his sin. He acknowledged, now, that he was required to atone for his years of cowardice, of foolish pride in the harshness in the law.
"In addition," Fr Michel-Marie said, "venial sin may also be abated by indulgences extended by the Church in remission of such temporal punishment."
Javert considered this. "By what means are such indulgences obtained?" he enquired, turning to the appropriate page in his notebook.
"It is a very strict process, my s–, I mean, Monsieur. An indulgence may only be obtained through the application to the Church, and only then upon the strictest of pre-conditions: by fervent prayer, through years of charity or the giving of alms, through approved acts of abstinence and penitence. This is canon law."
"I was not aware of this," Javert said, but the strictness of the pre-conditions seemed fitting. There should only be a remission of sentence in rare instances of exceptionally good behaviour. If not, what would be the point of punishment if remission could be easily purchased by coin rather than by a genuine, wrenching transformation of heart and of conscience?
He spoke of this with Valjean on his next visit to Rue de l’Homme-Armé. He wished to notify Valjean that he understood the canon law position both on the necessity for punishment and the partial remission afforded by the indulgence. He was surprised to discover that the man who had been Madeleine did not necessarily agree.
"I understand this is the strict position," Valjean said, as Toussaint poured coffee for the both of them. "However, it is my belief that God's mercy extends beyond even that of the teachings of the Church."
Javert scowled. Valjean had asked him to study the Word, to speak to priests, and then proceeded to ask him to set all these matters aside in entirely contradictory fashion. "Beyond canon law? What is the basis for this belief?"
In his response, Valjean did not need to open the well-worn pages of his Bible. Unlike poor Fr. Michel-Marie, he did not seem to require doctrinal instruments or weapons to prove his faith equal to Javert's interrogations. He smiled his slight smile, and said, simply:
"The Bible says: But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, by grace ye are saved."
By grace. Javert felt the shiver of the eternal Authority press down upon his shoulders; he would have fallen to his knees beside Valjean's table if he had been anything other than what he was. He could not believe Valjean could so readily forgive him for the years of cowardice; that God could so readily forgive.
As it were, he said, "Perhaps you are right," took hold of his hat, and took to his heels.
Given the spiritual nature of their discussions, it seemed fitting that M. Fauchelevent would begin to invite the new Chief Clerk and Investigator of the new Bureau d'Assistance Judiciare to attend mass at Saint-Sulpice with him and his daughter and her chaperone.
Thereafter, the ladies would leave them for their own pursuits, and as autumn gave way to winter Javert and Valjean fell into the habit of spending Sunday afternoons together, in discourse over the state of the soul and the current political climate and Javert's latest plans for improvements to the criminal and civil justice system of this civilised country.
Javert had always found mass a dull duty; perfunctory genuflections before a remote being whose motivations were obscured by time and history. On his own at Saint-Sulpice he had found a certain understanding with Fr Michel-Marie and his colleagues.
But it was not until he accompanied Valjean to mass that he experienced the same stirrings of the authoritative Spirit that he had felt on the banks of the Seine, which he had experienced under Valjean’s roof and in Valjean’s presence.
Crossing the famous gnomon, they knelt in the sanctuary before the chancel, under the large arched windows. Javert raised his eyes to the source of the light. His knees were unused to the cross-stitched kneelers; he felt in his old bones the ever-present weight of his sin, the responsibility of making restitution. At the same time, there was a curious lightness within him. The morning light turned Valjean's white head to a halo of silver, like that of an angel that had fallen to earth to be here in this holy place at Javert's side.
And there was the liturgy of the Word, piercing through him sharper than a double-edged sword:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what it is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Javert held himself perfectly still, perfectly upright. God's perfect will was all around him, if he could sacrifice his body to God's service as Valjean had suggested; in the same way as Valjean had made a similar sacrifice of his body, perfect and acceptable to God, his sore knees worn out from prayer.
Perhaps if Javert knelt long enough, his knees would start to hurt as well.
(1) RELIGIOUS RESOURCES: The discussions of venial sin and the theology of indulgences, as well as on Saint-Sulpice here.
(2) PRISONS AND REMAND RESOURCES: in French, here.
In 1832, Nouvel could have legitimately been detained indefinitely in remand, that is, before a trial: see Le code d'instruction criminelle de 1808 (articles 91, 94, 114). It was only in 1865 that a more liberal system of remand was implemented (see article 114 CIC, loi du 14 juillet 1865).
Debtors' prisons, or contrainte par corps, were re-established in 1797. Bankruptcy law, which was codified in Napoleon’s Penal Code of 1810, placed the resolution of the question of debt in the courts rather than between individuals. Under Article 402 of the Code, bankrupts not fraudulent would be liable to imprisonment from one month to two years – see Charleston, et seq, at 317.
La Force prison in Paris was originally intended as a debtor's prison in Paris; in 1830 it was used as a maison d’arrêt, to house remand prisoners – see Galignani, A. and Galignani, W., New Paris Guide (1827), per wiki.
(3) GEOGRAPHY AND ARRONDISEMENTS IN THE 1800s
Per groucha, the Commissary that had territorial surveillance over the region that included the Ile de la Cité was the Commissariat of the Rue de la Barillerie; its Commissaire was Monsieur Genesson. It was located at the angle of the Rue de la Barillerie.
Again per groucha, Nouvel spent some time working construction in La Villette. At the time, it was a town or a village, located right outside the North Barrière of Paris. There was a lot of construction going on at the time: e.g. the Canal Saint-Denis (1802-1826), the basin of La Villette (1806-1809), and it was the location of chemical companies, food, metallurgy and mechanics, wood, building, construction vehicles.
Chapter 4: That Which a Revelation Can Obtain
Chapter by jehane18
Cosette and Marius discover the truth about M. Fauchelevent.
As always, thanks to betas firestorm717, miss m and groucha, particularly for the heavy lifting involved in this chapter! I cherish you all more than you know <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was in winter that these companionable domestic arrangements changed.
Javert could not keep abreast of all the details regarding Cosette's various goings and comings, but he could not help but register the fact of her growing attachment to the Pontmercy boy, her more frequent absences from No. 7, and the fact that she and Toussaint had not accompanied them to mass in many Sundays — it seemed her new preference was to attend mass at Église Saint Paul-Saint Louis, the Gillenormand family church.
In November he received the news that Marius had made a full recovery, and that the two young people were engaged to be married.
"And M. Gillenormand is insisting that she move into No. 6 Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, right away, even before the wedding," Valjean said.
The kitchen was dark. The days in Paris were growing shorter and shorter. Outside, the Rue de l’Homme-Armé was almost deserted, the residents of quartier du Mont-de-Piété choosing to remain indoors as icy winds buffeted Paris and turned the cobbled streets slick and wet. Toussaint had accompanied Cosette to dinner at the Gillenormand household, leaving the two men with candles and a covered pie.
Javert digested this pronouncement. "Are you staying here?" he wanted to know.
Valjean looked down at the white wood of the table, smoothing the intricate lace table runner with one hand. Javert wondered if it bore Cosette's embroidery, and then discounted the idea: Valjean would have kept his daughter's handiwork as precious objects to be preserved, and not for daily use.
"Yes. I will finally give up the lease on Rue Plumet," he said, after a while. "The house is much too big for one person. I will remain here at Rue de l’Homme-Armé, and Toussaint will stop by in the mornings to do for me when she can."
"And after the marriage? Are you going to move into the Gillenormand house yourself?" Javert felt a pang and steeled himself against it. He told himself that he would just have to become accustomed to visiting Valjean in the luxurious surroundings in the old Marais district. He remembered the night in June when he had had occasion to visit that house, conveying what he thought was the corpse of M. Gillenormand's grandson across its threshold.
Valjean looked down. Javert could not understand why he suddenly looked so ill at ease.
Haltingly, Valjean said, "I do not think it is advisable that I do. I have been thinking ... Javert, Cosette does not know about me, Marius does not know. I am an ex-convict. I do not wish to sully their marriage with my life as a fugitive from justice."
"You cannot be serious," Javert snorted. "I can see this weighs on you, Valjean, but the path seems clear. You should just make a clean breast of it and tell your story to the both of them. If I can stay my hand from your arrest, I cannot imagine either of them would reject you.”
Valjean's lips were pressed in a straight line. "But Cosette cannot know. It will break her heart. I do not wish my past to be a blight on her or her happiness."
In the candlelight, Valjean looked his age, a man who had seen more than sixty winters. He continued, with much difficulty, "I know I must tell Marius. I was going to tell him right after he had made his recovery, and then I felt I could wait until after the engagement. But then matters seemed less urgent, and I had no more trouble with the ruffians who had trailed us to Rue Plumet. And, besides, I find I have been focused on you and your cases and our conversations ... "
Javert watched a curious flush crawl up Valjean's neck, starting from under his cravat, to his strong jaw.
"I have been enjoying our conversations," Valjean went on, hurriedly. "But that is no excuse. I need to make the time to speak to Marius and let him know everything." Valjean looked down again. "And once Marius knows the truth, he will wish to protect Cosette, and he will no doubt prefer that I remain here, as I am.”
"Don't be ridiculous. That boy owes you his life. He also owes his life to me," Javert said, considering the truth of this statement for the first time.
Valjean looked up swiftly. "He cannot know about that!"
Javert frowned. "And why not? He should know what you did for him. What we did."
Valjean ran a hand through his hair, looking at Javert with the dread of a hunted man. "Please do not tell him, Javert. You will make things worse. Just let me speak with him as I have planned."
The expression of fear set Javert's teeth on edge. He had never seen Valjean as terrified before, it was not to be endured. "This is my doing," he said, slowly; "it is because of me that you have been afraid for your liberty for all those years. Well, I will not stand for it, Valjean, do you hear me? I will not stand by and let you throw away everything that is important to you."
Valjean stared at him as if he had grown two heads. Javert scowled — it did seem most uncharacteristic that he would seek to intervene so personally regarding this matter. Then again, was it surprising that he should feel strongly about the inherent goodness of his benefactor? Hardly, particularly as that man was clearly so self-sacrificing that he would not properly advocate for himself.
"I ... thank you, Javert, that is very kind, that you would offer to help me," Valjean said, finally. "I will think on it, I promise you."
"It is of course your decision," Javert said, "and you are naturally free to think upon it for as long as you like. But either you let Marius know that he owes everything to his future father-in-law, or I will tell that ninny myself."
The matter came to a head sooner than Javert had expected.
It was the third week of December; the Bureau was closed for the season. The streets had turned to ice and sleet, and all Paris had shut itself indoors to wait for a return to more seasonal times.
Javert was sitting in the kitchen in his customary place at the table at No. 7 when Toussaint arrived with the post. He watched Valjean glance over what appeared to be a notice from the municipal rental review services, and then pick up the large cream envelope and break its seals.
His friend read, and then his broad face went bone-white, and his powerful body shook like a rat in the jaws of a terrier.
"Valjean. Are you quite well?" Javert enquired, sharply, and when there was no response, he plucked the single sheet of coarse paper from Valjean's nerveless fingers.
Dear “m fauchelevent”
You will see I managed to track you down even though you quit your home at rue plumet for places unknown.
I understand you no longer harbour in your house that lady who will soon become madame la baronne.
I am also a father grieving the loss of two beautiful children, and I also find my self tired of Paris. I am desiring to forget my troubles and to make a new home for my self (and my spouse and my young lady) in the Americas.
There is a humble village caled la joya where I believe we can be happy again. For this I require 20,000 francs.
I believe you can help me in my new life. I am in possession of a secret concerning an individual. This individual is called Jean Valjean a dangerous fugitive and criminal. He killed a young man on the night of june 6 and threw his body into the sewers. I think you know what the secret is about.
Understand that I am in means to furnish one monsieur le baron with the simple means of driving from his honorabel family that individual who has no right there, madame la baronne being of lofty birth. I also believe that the police might be interested in this secret.
I awate at Au Pigeon Blanc at number 2 of rue des Barres, for the orders from you the father in law to be of monsieur le baron to help me with the funds which I seek.
The intervening months had not in any way blunted Javert's policeman's instinct. "That scoundrel," he said, icy calm washing through him, turning him once more into the man of action, the wolf-hound. "I will have him in the gallows for this if it is the last thing I do."
Then he turned to Valjean, who still sat pale and stricken at the kitchen table. Wolf-hounds had not a care apart from the chase, but it seemed this single-mindedness no longer applied to Chief Investigator Javert.
"Let me fetch you something to drink," he said, and did not speak further until the colour returned to Valjean's cheeks.
"It seems the ruffians have regained the scent after all," Javert then said, steadily. "And they thought that boy was dead, also! Now, listen to me, Valjean, this is what we are going to do."
Marius Pontmercy appeared most taken aback to receive in the drawing-room at No. 6 Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire not just his future father-in-law, but a gentleman whom he had originally believed was dead. Cosette would have mentioned to him that her father had a new friend, but he had undoubtedly not realised that that friend, announced by his footman as “Chief Investigator of the Bureau of Judicial Assistance”, was really the former Inspector Javert of the Paris police.
“Inspector! You were at the barricades, Enjolras told me you had been taken away to be shot —! And yet, here you are, and with M. Fauchelevent, whom I thought —!”
“I live, as you can see,” Javert said. “Thanks to this good man, your future father-in-law, who was at the barricades. It was into his hands that your friend Enjolras delivered me. Rather than shooting me, he let me go free.”
‘Thank God!” Marius exclaimed, and grasped that good man’s hands. “Thank God, Monsieur, I had thought I saw you take the Inspector at the barricades! I have been labouring all these months in my sickbed, wondering how to broach this topic with you and with Cosette … and now I see you did not shoot him, but you saved him. And, ah, you see, you have saved me, too! I had this man’s death on my conscience for all these months …”
“To say nothing of my pistols,” Javert interrupted, and Marius winced. “But you are more right than you know. You owe this man your life in every sense of the word.”
“Javert, please,” Valjean began, pulling his hands out of Marius’ and turning to him, but Javert was not so easily derailed.
“You will let me tell this boy what he needs to know.” And, turning to Marius, he said grimly, in tones of absolute authority: “The reason why your father-in-law came to the barricades in disguise that night was not because of me. It was because of you. He knew of your connection with Cosette, and he wanted to rescue you from yourself for her sake. When you were shot he put you on his back and carried you through the sewers of Paris and at great cost to himself he returned you to the bosom of your family.”
He paused. “I can corroborate this, because I encountered the both of you emerging from the sewers, and I helped him bring you home.”
“Mercy,” Marius murmured. He looked as if he was on the verge of fainting.
Between Javert and Valjean, they caught the boy and placed him upon the same divan where they had deposited him that fateful night in June. Javert was rather pleased with himself, noting that his ability to make a concise, impactful oral report had not been diminished.
“My God,” Marius said when he had recovered from his swoon, almost beside himself, “My God, I cannot believe this. I owe you everything, my father, my benefactor. To think I had no idea how it was that I came to be returned to my home that night! I thought it was an angel sent by God, and, Monsieur, I see that it was you after all. How can I ever repay you?”
Valjean looked as if he was going to interrupt again, but Javert did not permit him to. “There is a way, M. le Baron,” he said, and pulled Thénardier’s letter out of his breast pocket.
Again, between them, they made a full breast of it to Marius, starting from the beginning, with Toulon.
Halfway through their joint account of Valjean’s time as the mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer, Cosette returned from her walk. Valjean paled and fell silent; he would have silenced Javert as well, but Javert reminded him, at some length, of their agreement to let all be known to his daughter, who had every right to know the truth at last.
Consistent with this approach, Javert felt obliged to let her know about her mother, and the part he had played in Fantine’s unfortunate demise. He spared Cosette the baser details of Fantine’s last profession, although he did not spare himself.
“It was your father who saved Fantine, although I tried to stop him, and he saved you, too,” Javert said. “He went to the Thénardiers, with whom your mother had fostered you because she thought it best for you, and he rescued you from them.”
Cosette trembled and held onto Valjean’s hand. “I think I remember those people in my dreams,” she said. “Dreams where I'm cold, always hungry and afraid.”
Marius said, hesitantly, “But, M. Javert, you had previously mentioned there was a trial … ?”
Javert nodded. This was an important reminder not to spare himself. “Yes. I had been angry with your father for his interference in what I then felt was my proper arrest of Fantine. I wrote to the Prefecture of Police in Paris to denounce him as the convict Jean Valjean. I then learned that a man had already been arrested for breaking his parole as Valjean. Chastened, I informed your father, and asked him to dismiss me from my post.”
He looked over at Valjean, who gave him a small, sad smile.
“But he did not dismiss me,” Javert continued. “Instead, he knew he could not let an innocent man be imprisoned in his place, and he did the unthinkable – he went to Arras, where the trial was being held, and he denounced himself in court before the authorities so that that man could go free.”
The goodness of the man was indeed unthinkable. And as for Javert himself …
“He returned to Montreuil-sur-Mer, and I pursued him to your mother’s bedside, and I did not stint to arrest him in front of her. She died as I took him into custody.” Javert felt a constriction in his throat, the sense of his own inadequacy and sin for which he was required to make recompense. He found he could not continue.
“You did your duty,” Valjean said, softly. There was no blame in his eyes, and, incredibly, nor in Cosette’s.
Valjean continued with the threads of the story, as Javert could not. He described his various escapes from custody, his voyage to Thénardier’s tavern to fulfil his promise to Fantine, their evasion of capture as they made their way to Paris, and the long years of hiding, of peace. Then, with more diffidence, he described his interception of Marius’ note to Cosette, his involvement with the events at the barricades, and the sewers.
When he concluded his tale, Cosette demanded, “Father, why did you not tell me any of this earlier?”
“My dear, I know I was wrong not to. You see, I was so fearful for so long, and fearful you would not understand,” Valjean began, but in truth, Cosette was not asking for an explanation. She wound her arms around his neck and lowered her head onto his shoulder.
“I cannot believe you were planning to refuse to come and live with us, because you were afraid I would not understand! Well, now it is settled. It is winter, but in the spring I am going to plant azaleas and make paths of tiny violet shells in the garden. You shall have your plot in the garden, you shall cultivate strawberries there, and we shall see whether your berries will be as fine as mine, and I will never be parted from you again, ever!”
Javert considered that Valjean might prefer to keep his rooms at Rue de l’Homme-Armé: after all, one could not spend all of one’s days cultivating strawberries in one’s son-in-law’s gardens. But perhaps now was not the time for such contemplations, as Valjean appeared to be weeping.
The sight of father and daughter crying in each other's arms, the long years of secrets and barriers between them evaporated into the air, was unaccountably moving. He watched as Valjean's broad face crumpled with more emotion than he had ever seen his friend display. Valjean wept simply, openly, more unguarded than Javert had ever seen him, holding his daughter as if she was still a tiny child.
Javert experienced a belated sense of shame at encroaching into this private moment. He was gratified when Marius took him aside, although he would not have otherwise sought out conversation with the boy.
“Thank you for bringing my father-in-law back to us, Inspector,” Marius said, clasping Javert’s hand. "Everything he has endured; it is not to be believed. This brave man, Cosette's poor mother, this is why the system is intrinsically flawed, this is why it must be changed. And now you work at the Bureau, you are also trying to change the system from within!"
“I am no longer an inspector, but, yes, I am trying to change the system,” said Javert. He was pleasantly surprised at Marius’ avowals, and made a mental note to ask to enlist his services at the appropriate juncture. Perhaps the youngster would not be more ineffective a lawyer than those who populated the Bureau after all.
In a peculiar twist of fate, it would appear that Marius’ father had had some dealings with the notorious Thénardier at Waterloo, and that the children that man had referenced in his odious letter had also been known to Marius. Javert had no idea that the young Pontmercy’s life had involved such diverse circles.
“Therefore I would like to help M. Thénardier make a new life for himself,” Marius said, “in the name of of my father, and for Eponine and Gavroche.”
Marius closed his eyes and swallowed. With some difficulty, he said, “And I know that extortion is illegal, Inspector Javert, I am after all a lawyer and officer of the Courts. But you are not a policeman any more, and surely it cannot be illegal to pay off an extorter? In any case, for the sake of my father-in-law, let us help this man as he asks, even if he might not have been entirely truthful about my father — after all, it was his letter that brought the truth to light and us all together finally.”
Javert expected everything in him that was made from law and authority to rebel at this suggestion, and was surprised that it did not. It seemed instead that his principal concern was the same as Marius’ — to protect Valjean. It was a new world, indeed, and Chief Investigator Javert seemed to have become a new man.
In the account of Valjean's past exploits, I've skewed more closely to the musical than to the Brick, simply because it makes for a more straightforward narrative. (Also in order to ensure betas were paying attention ;) )
Per the indefatigable groucha, Thenardier gives Valjean the address of an inn at No. 2 Rue des Barres, called “Au Pigeon Blanc” = "At the White Pigeon", the sort of ironic nod to the staged innocence of a fake venue that a slimy criminal mastermind like our Mr T might not be able to resist ;)
Rue des Barres existed in 1250; in the 1830s most of its population were low-skilled workers lacking in education. On July 1, 1833 they put the first stone in the bridge of Louis Philippe, the construction of which bridge involved the demolition of part of the rue de Barres; but in the winter of 1832, Au Pigeon Blanc was still standing.
Chapter 5: The Wild Man in His Lair
Chapter by jehane18
The redoubtable Inspector Javert is on the chase once more!
(Apologies for missing a week! I've been on the road; back now, and hopefully back to the regular weekly posting schedule.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Valjean had not agreed to the planned approach, of course. He clung to his belief that the most honourable course of action for all concerned was to surrender himself to the authorities and have done with it.
Fortunately, Javert, Marius and Cosette had not given him the opportunity to disagree.
Javert considered enlisting the assistance of his former colleagues at the Commissary of Rue de Pontoise, and then decided against it. Involving the police in this effort would unnecessarily complicate the resolution of the difficulty, and it ran the risk of them discovering Valjean’s secret.
Besides, Javert was well aware that if one desired to do any job properly, it was best to undertake it oneself. In fact, in all his years on the police force, only one man had ever been a match for him, and he now had that man at his side.
It took some time to track Thénardier down to where he had concealed himself in the rue du Puits-qui-Parle. He was obviously not stupid enough to give his current residential address in his letter to Valjean. Still, it was not a particularly difficult matter to have the Hubert boys keep watch on Au Pigeon Blanc, particularly now that school was out, and their mother had taken employment as a baker’s assistant near that part of the Observatoire district. It seemed that Thénardier had left one of his remaining lieutenants, a simple fellow by the name of Renard, to stand lookout at the inn and wait for the expected response from Valjean; Renard promptly took up residence beside the fireplace near the front desk and made loud enquiries, every time an errand boy arrived at the inn, as to whether there was any message for M. Thénard.
After a week of careful, if amateur, surveillance of Renard, the older boy, Pascal, returned to Javert’s rooms at Rue des Vertus on a very cold morning with the news that Thénardier and one surviving daughter had concealed themselves on the top floor of a tenement in Rue du Puits-qui-Parle to await Valjean’s capitulation. Pascal added that the Thénardiers were apparently growing impatient – their bags were packed, no doubt in anticipation of their ticket to America in the form of that easy mark M. Fauchelevent, who had everything to lose were his secrets to come to light.
“Thank you, Pascal,” Javert said, extending the agreed coins to the lad. Then he paused. In his former life, he had never had cause to consider anyone’s children: they were at best tools of uncertain reliability, and at worse active nuisances. However, these lads had been of real use to him in this case; this one seemed to look up to him for some reason, and he supposed that, for the sake of his new superior, he should be seen to be taking an interest in this child's well-being. He continued, awkwardly, “How are you getting along at the école mutuelle? It's holidays now, when does school start again?”
The boy made a face. “Don't know. It's boring,” he said. “Stéphane is quite good at it, but I’m very bad at addition. Besides, I am going to grow up to be a policeman, and I won’t need schooling for that.”
“Nonsense,” Javert said. “Policemen are required to be good at addition, how else would they catch crooked shopkeepers and businessmen trying to cheat honest citizens? It is very difficult to be a policeman, and if you wish to join the police force when you are older, you must study very hard at school.”
Pascal looked stricken. “Oh! I did not know that. Perhaps one does not require schooling to sweep the floors at the stationhouse, or to be a guard at the maison d’arrêt?”
Javert closed his eyes. He was not at all skilled at this matter of interacting with, let alone setting a good example to, anyone's children; he did not know whether he was permitted to bend the truth. Perhaps God would overlook a small white lie. “One does in fact require some schooling for that,” he said. “In any case, there are many reasons why you should continue. Chief amongst them is that your mother would be very unhappy with them if you stopped.” He paused, and conscience prodded him. “And so would I,” he added firmly.
He opened his eyes to see Valjean filling the boy’s pockets with coins and apples. He had insisted that Valjean move out of Rue de l’Homme-Armé while the Thénardier issue was being resolved; Valjean was safely installed at Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, and had also been spending his days in Javert’s rooms where, with the Bureau closed for the holiday season, Javert could keep an eye on him.
“He seems a good lad, and that was very smartly done,” Javert said awkwardly to Valjean, when Pascal had been made to promise to stay in school, and only then had been allowed to leave. He wasn’t seeking approval, exactly; that said, he did hope Valjean had noticed he had made a good faith attempt to live up to God’s standards.
“That it was. Also, I am coming with you,” Valjean said, simply.
Javert frowned. “This is out of the question. It is too dangerous for civilians to be present when criminals need to be dealt with. It can be a dirty business.”
“But this is my business, Javert,” Valjean said. “It concerns everything I have been fleeing from all my life, and everything I have been striving for.”
He looked down, and continued, with some diffidence, “Besides, if you do not agree, I would be forced to surrender myself to the authorities, so as to save you from having to undertake this dangerous and potentially illegal course of action on my behalf.”
Javert wondered if he was strong enough to restrain Valjean, perhaps tie him to the armchair in his rooms, anything that would prevent him from coming along with Javert to settle the unpleasant business with Thénardier. He reluctantly concluded that nothing in his apartment could withstand the still-mighty physical power of Jean Valjean, which included all the furniture in the flat and Javert himself.
“Very well,” he said, at last. “But you need to keep behind me, and do exactly as I say. We move on Thénardier this evening." He paused, thinking. "I may need Marius to procure a pistol or two. I know a certain Inspector at the commissary at Rue de la Barillerie who would be more than happy to lend a couple to an upstanding lawyer, no questions asked, if that lawyer were to use the name of Chief Investigator Javert.”
Desmarais was indeed willing to render informal assistance to Marius and Javert, and to provide some local intelligence regarding the address at rue du Puits-qui-Parle and the Thénardiers generally. And then Marius insisted on coming along as well, and Javert had even more reason to be glad of Valjean’s company because he, Javert, could then make better use of his skills without having to concern himself with the boy.
The address was an ill-reputed garret, dank and dismal, in a small corner of Rue du Puits-qui-Parle. Thénardier must have spent his last few francs paying off Renard, or buying the paper upon which to write his vile letter to Valjean.
Javert left Valjean and Marius around the corner when he did a slow reconnoiter, noting potential guards and exits. There was indeed a man on the stoop of the building, but he looked the worse for drink at this late hour, and the only other exit opened out onto the same street.
It was a small matter to neatly cosh the look-out and drag him into the gutter, where he would rise hours later to doubtless believe he had collapsed there drunkenly on his own.
Then Javert swept into the building, his enormous cane in hand.
Valjean and Marius followed with pistols, but the weapons were unnecessary. The others who lived in the tenement kept to themselves as Desmarais had mentioned; their doors remained tightly shut.
Javert considered knocking upon the door that Pascal had referenced, and decided that he missed police work sufficiently to kick the door in for old times’ sake. Besides, when he was a policeman, property damage to a suspect’s place of abode might have to be reported and if necessary compensation made, whereas now he was, pleasurably, an entirely free agent.
The room was bare, but for a candle, several suitcases, a rug, and the Thénardiers.
Thénardier himself looked gratifyingly shocked by Javert’s forced entry. His daughter rushed to the window, but Javert caught her by the arm.
“Don’t bother, there is nobody out there,” he said coldly. He removed the switch-blade from her fist and put it into his own pocket.
Thénardier sighed helplessly. “Durand, that piece of shit. A waste of my money.”
“That is to be sure," Javert said. He deposited the Thénardier girl onto the crude rug on the floorboards beside her father. Marius and Valjean crowded into the room behind him, and for a moment Javert felt that old rush of joy from his former life, when he had the rat in his jaws and he was in the throes of making his arrest. As Marius made ready with his pistol, Javert prodded the ruffian with his cane until Thénardier also gave up his weapon, an ancient sidearm that had definitely seen better use.
Marius said, “What a terrible smell!” and Javert sighed.
“Thénardier, this is your lucky day. You remember writing a note to a gentleman at Rue de l’Homme-Armé? Well, this is that gentleman’s son-in-law. He is here to tell you that he knows everything about his future father-in-law, and would see you in the ground before you can sully that gentleman’s good name.”
“What? Who?” Thénardier said, squinting in the darkly-lit room.
Marius stepped forward, brandishing the pistol. Javert hoped the safety catch did not give way by mistake. “It is true! I know everything. You cannot hope to blackmail anyone, you villain.”
Thénardier seemed less intimidated by the pistol than by the destruction of his plans. He said, slowly, “I see. And you came all this way just to tell me this?”
“No,” said Javert, taking charge of the discussion. “We came because this boy wished to help you make a new life for yourself in any case. It seems you were of assistance to his father at Waterloo.”
He glanced backwards at Valjean, who was standing by the door, as still as a statue. He could not see Valjean’s face, but his friend’s tension was palpable. For Valjean’s sake, he needed to make an end to this.
When he turned back to Thénardier, that odious man was speaking to Marius in low, ingratiating tones: “… M. le Baron, how can you continue to shelter the man Valjean? He is a murderer. I have a ring here that belongs to the man that he so cruelly killed one night in the summer! Which I retained as proof of his evil…. Here, look upon it, it is evidence …”
“My God!” Marius exclaimed, and both Valjean and Javert rushed to his side. He held a ring in trembling fingers. The pistol in his free hand shook wildly.
"This is my ring, you brute, the ring that belonged to my father. I had thought I lost it that night, you must have pulled it off my finger as I lay half-dead in the sewers! How dare you retain it, as evidence of murder, my murder!"
Marius fumbled to cock the hammer of the pistol, and looked for a moment as if he would really shoot.
Valjean stepped forward before Javert could intervene. "Peace," he said to the lad who was going to marry his daughter. "You do not wish to bear the sin of killing this man. Besides, consider the good that has come from this man's evil! You now know I am not a murderer, nor should I see my son become one himself."
Marius dropped his pistol hand and clutched the ring to his breast; he allowed Valjean to put his arms around him. He put his head on Valjean's shoulder and wept.
Javert recalled this young man had only recently lost his friends and ideals. Perhaps he ought not to have been so hard on the boy. Recovering this precious item which he had also thought he had lost, and Valjean's stepping forward to act as a father to him in circumstances when he had reason to recall his own dead father, would understandably make him emotional.
Valjean looked meaningfully at Javert over Marius' bowed head. It was up to Javert to close the deal with Thénardier, who was looking distinctly green in the face over the narrowness of his escape.
He stared disbelievingly as Javert thrust into his hands bank-notes for five hundred and a thousand francs.
“Take this and go,” Javert said. “You will depart to-morrow for America, with your daughter; for I understand your wife is dead. I shall personally watch over your departure, and at that moment I will count out to you the rest of your money."
Javert did not permit either Valjean or Marius to accompany him to the docks the next day. It was far too risky, particularly for Valjean, to be seen in public in Thénardier's company, and he would not risk either of them in the event that ruffian decided to double-cross them. In any case, the day any former police agent needed assistance in dealing with one bucolic man, regardless how cunning, would be the day he surrendered to warm rocking chairs by the fire and the dotage of retirement, and that day was still far off.
In any case, Thénardier was full of docility and gave Javert no trouble; he had clearly been broken by the destruction of his plans and how they had been stitched back together in a manner not of his own making. He palmed the remainder of the banknotes obsequiously, would have kissed Javert's hand if Javert had not been quick enough to withdraw. Javert’s former self would have not refrained from shoving the man away, but the former inspector now held himself back: Valjean would not have approved of kicking a man when he was down.
It appeared that the only possessions Thénardier had sought to take with him to start his new life were various trunks of luggage and his daughter. At the back of Javert’s mind was the vague sense from the Patron-Minette-related gossip on the street that some other children existed, who might be better off without their father. It would be no small matter to investigate into whether they existed at all, and if so, to track them down, but Javert was unparalleled in the tracking-down aspect of policing, and besides it would give Valjean something to do.
Watching from the docks as the ship for the Americas departed, the former Inspector Javert could not find it in himself to doubt that he had done the right thing. The moral wretchedness of this man could not be remedied, and remunerating him for his abominable extortion attempt went against every instinct of his old self. From his new conscience, however, Javert was able to acknowledge that it would not have served justice were he allowed to remain in Paris, and place Valjean in constant jeopardy of re-arrest. Let another country deal with him and have done.
When Javert returned to the Gillenormand house from the docks to report the success of his mission, Cosette took Marius out to survey groomsmen's trousseaux, and Valjean tried to raise the issue with Javert yet again, to no avail.
"You convinced me that God had required you to safeguard my life for Him. Let yourself believe I am similarly constrained to act on His behalf for you. Throwing yourself away on such a man as this, when earlier you did not allow me to throw either myself or you away, would be the stupidest thing you have ever done. It would also be a mortal sin, and you would forever face the fires of hell without any reprieve or intercession from me," Javert said forcefully; it was for Valjean to submit this time to his authority.
"I believe only saints may usefully intercede," Valjean ventured after a while.
"Do not presume my prayers on your behalf would be ineffective. In my former life I was known to be beyond reproach," said Javert, though he was aware that he was truly anything but. He knew the temporal punishments ranged against him were vast and unfathomable. Still, his feeble jest had put a smile on Valjean's face.
"I know God hears the intercessions of saints and sinners alike. I should know," the man said, humbly.
"Perhaps," said Javert. At that moment he was struck by how he was not ordinarily given to such conversations, let alone conversations between equals. There had of course been communications with fellow officers of equivalent rank, and now conversations with his colleagues at the Bureau, but they scarcely discussed the weather, let alone weighty matters of sin and the soul.
Nothing — not his work, not his own reading of Scripture — brought him the same peace, the same clarity of thought, as the quiet mornings at Valjean's table, the occasional dinners, the Sundays together, where that good man’s life was a testimony of how his soul had been purchased for a good God, a higher authority who tempered justice with mercy and had wrought a transformation in the life of a hardened and unrepentant criminal where the strictures of the law could not.
And he realised how, in the same way, over these long months, his own life had been changed: by God and by one man's friendship, his forgiveness.
It slowly dawned on Javert that Valjean had spent so long on the run, under different guises, that he had himself never truly cultivated a real friendship either.
It was a friendship occasionally marked by awkwardness and uncertainty, given the darkness of their shared past, given that neither of them truly knew how to act and what to expect from the other, but it was theirs.
And so, as friends, they walked in the Jardins du Luxembourg. They conversed about their past. They performed the confession and received the sacrament at Saint-Sulpice.
As winter drew to a close, as Cosette prepared for her February wedding, their lives took on the beat of this new rhythm, in the same way as their old lives had been marked by the staccato heels of constant flight and constant pursuit.
Slowly, Javert discovered that, although the cold certainty of his former convictions, that old unwavering authority, might have died within him, something else had risen to take its place – born of the kindness of Valjean’s eyes, the clasp of his large hand, the sound of his measured tread at Javert's side.
That unnamed thing filled the space Valjean had made for Javert in his life, every morning and each week-end and not least on that day when he finally gave his child in marriage to young Pontmercy. Javert had never felt more out of place than at the Eglise Saint-Paul or the reception afterwards, but there was no excuse he could make for his absence to Valjean and the children, and it seemed such awkwardness was one of the many excruciating obligations which had to be endured in the name of friendship.
As friends do, he went back and forth with Valjean on the theology of indulgences.
"As you know, I believe that mercy extends further,” Valjean would say, mildly. “If the sinner were truly contrite, surely it would not serve God's further purpose to require that his sins still be punished or indulgences sought.”
Javert steeled himself from the desire to fall to his knees at the thought of grace. He shook his head and adopted his grimmest countenance.
“Mercy without punishment risks over-indulgence,” he retorted. “The priests at Saint-Sulpice and you yourself assure me that conscience without law is meaningless, that both are required in balance in God’s kingdom. The fear of judgment is necessary deterrence so that men do not run to ruin in indulging their own petty pleasures, or run afoul of the law. How can sinners, who are by nature sinful, learn from love alone?”
“I did,” Valjean would say, and Javert discovered that he would have to look away from the light shining from his eyes.
In his old life, Javert had not been accustomed to self-reflection, to inner examination regarding his emotional state. He had been granite, resolute, irreproachable against the full measure of the law: that was all he needed to know.
In this new life, re-building his world brick by uncertain brick, there was a need to consider his state of mind, and even more importantly the state of his soul. As Javert grew slowly into the habit of such consideration, stilling himself in prayer and quiet meditation, he became gradually aware of a deep disquiet, a feeling that he experienced as a physical sensation, which only increased when he thought about his former enemy and new friend, Jean Valjean.
When at first he felt this sensation, like an absurd, disobedient pounding in his chest, he had no idea what it was.
Again, per diligent historybeta groucha, Thénardier's hideout is located at rue du Puits-qui-Parle, a small distance from Rue des Barres where Au Pigeon Blanc is located, in the Observatoire district.
The Hubert boys attend école mutuelle, which was a cheap, largely single-sex school funded by the state, large and crowded with students, poorly provisioned (tables were simple rough planks; the chairs were backless benches; one book per a class of 100 or 150 students).
Chapter 6: The Fall
Chapter by jehane18
Thanks to betas for their patience, and to everyone who stuck around ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Spring had arrived in Paris, and the Luxembourg was inundated with sunlight and shade, the blue sky filled with motes of gold as though angels had drawn close to the earth. In the air there was a new breath, a renewal to warmth, to life, after hard months of cold. Javert, not ordinarily given to such flights of fancy, remarked upon the unusual clarity of the day, the return of birdsong, of the show of first green in the famous gardens.
In the winter, they usually perambulated from Saint-Sulpice to traverse the northern rim of the Luxembourg gardens, and then would take tea at one of the cafes along Rue de Fleurus. But because this spring afternoon was so fine, they decided to prolong their walk.
They walked under the rows of chestnut trees and oriental plane trees, and made a tour of the famous rosarium, its different species of roses beginning to bud. They visited the celebrated fountain; they observed the play of light upon the water and the many statues of gods and goddesses standing on pedestals. Valjean pointed out the famed Sainte Suzanne by Duquesnoy. He also bent his head before a statue so black with mould it was impossible to tell what sex it was, before Javert pointed out that it was unlikely to depict the Virgin Mother.
Their steps took them finally towards the Rue de l'Ouest side of the Luxembourg, along a winding walk that skirted the parapet of the Pépinière. It was quiet and solitary along the lane, the greening trees bending their branches across the way to shade them from the sun. If it had been a weekday, there would have been throngs of passers-by, citizens intent on errands or in transit to their places of work, grisettes seeking to pass the time, street vendors peddling their wares, students on their way to lectures or games of billiards and other activities more suited to their youth — Javert had had enough of students for one lifetime, but they were ubiquitous. Fortunately, on Sunday the good people of Paris were otherwise occupied on less secular matters, and the walkway was unimpeded.
Javert realised that Valjean's steps were slowing as they proceeded down the path, and he slowed in turn. It seemed his friend was suddenly preoccupied, a cloud crossing his benevolent countenance. Finally, he came to a halt in front of a bench at the most solitary end of the alley.
It appeared to be a perfectly ordinary bench. "What is the matter," Javert inquired.
Valjean did not respond right away. He continued to look troubled as he took a seat upon the bench. Not knowing what else to do, Javert followed suit. The clear afternoon sky echoed the blue of Valjean's frock coat; the broad-brimmed hat hid his eyes.
Eventually: “This is where I used to sit with Cosette,” said Valjean. “This is where Marius first beheld her, where they fell in love.”
Javert digested this. It did not surprise him that the Pontmercy boy would have commenced his courtship of Cosette under such unfortunate circumstances as the regard of her doting father. "Then … this should be a place of happiness for you," he ventured.
Valjean let out a sigh. “I should have been happy," he said, slowly. "But I wasn't. My friend, I was so angry. My child was my every joy, she gave my life its meaning, and, God help me, I thought that boy was going to steal her away from me."
Valjean's neck was bowed, his face obscured behind the hat. Javert frowned; he had never thought of Valjean's relationship with Cosette in that manner. He remembered that Valjean had been alone for almost thirty years with no spouse or companion or child before Cosette had come into his life. Toulon had taken his family away from him, and he had no one to care for until he had made a promise to a dying woman and taken her daughter as his own.
Javert was painfully cognisant of the fact that it had been he who had hounded that woman to her grave, he who had failed to show her mercy. And it had been Valjean who had performed penance for this sin in Javert's place, Valjean who had sheltered and raised her child, only to lose her to her husband when she was grown, and to grieve her loss as completely as only a father could.
Honesty compelled him to say, "Yet you saved the boy in the insurgency, and he has gone on to steal her from you as you had feared."
"I know," Valjean said, simply. "And I feel her loss every day, even though I live in his house and he is good enough to share her with me."
Javert was silent. The disquieting sense of his own sin, the force of Valjean's unexpected longing for his child, constricted his chest.
Valjean continued, in a voice of self-loathing, "I know how this must sound. You see, it was just the two of us, for such a long time, that I was afraid, I was selfish… I am a fallen man, and it seems I am in need of more grace and strength that I currently possess.”
This was not to be countenanced. Javert leaned forward so he could glare into Valjean's eyes. His heart beat quickly under his Sunday coat, unfamiliar and obstinate; he was hardly aware of what he was saying.
“Nonsense. So you are not a saint. As I understand it, none of us is expected to be in this life. None of us has enough grace and strength save for God. And yet, to feel this way, and still be prepared to ruin yourself, rather than to ruin the boy – that is what grace is, my friend.”
Valjean raised his head. Beneath the brim of his hat, the sunlight casting his face into shadow, he looked sad and serious, robust and infinitely weary, a man like any other, a most unlikely instrument of God.
Their eyes met, slowly, as they had met a hundred times before – as convict and guard, mayor and policeman, wolf and hound, confessor and reluctant convert. As two men, two enemies whose lives had been bound to each other’s for thirty years, as now two most unlikely friends.
That first gaze of a heart which had just awakened to itself was indescribable, like lightning across a clear blue sky. Where once before had been fortifications, guarded battlements, a hard and wilful stony blindness that was impenetrable, now all was strange and transparent and disarming as a raised drawbridge, as an open way. Nothing could prepare for the dangerous new world such a heart might behold — an undiscovered country, a sudden realisation that one had left oneself defenceless to attack.
To behold another soul unimpeded for the first time, no longer be stone or bronze: to be touched, to be vulnerable to love.
Such was the thunder-clap that Javert did not comprehend it immediately. He watched Valjean shrug helplessly and draw away, re-settle the hat on his head, and rise from the bench. He followed Valjean out of the gardens on legs that did not quite belong to him.
It was only much later, when he had eschewed Valjean's company and retreated to the quiet of his rooms to examine the austere pages of his Bible, that realisation finally came to him. He recalled the teachings on the nature of venial sin, which amounted to an attachment to creature rather than God.
Javert would have believed that he had spent his life free from unhealthy attachments to any creature, answerable only to the strictures of Authority and the law. He had kept his eyes upwards, had considered himself incorruptible and without vice.
Now at three-and-fifty, with Pauline eyes that had been newly opened to another's soul, he realised he had been wrong. His one attachment had been to the man he had pursued across the country for seventeen years.
Someone had written: It was a terrible thing, to feel the first movement of a heart that had never before felt love. This was precisely how Javert felt. He wondered how it was that destiny did indulge in such surprises, and he reflected with fierce despair that nothing in his five decades of living could have defended him against such an ambush.
It was yet one more thing he would have to suffer temporal punishment for.
As summer took Paris by the throat, as his heart grew beneath the bronze of his breast, Javert discovered what it was to experience fleshly desire for the first time in his life, and it burned him in the day and scorched him at night.
In his five decades on the Earth, Javert had kept himself clear from women, from sex, had never seen the need to indulge his flesh save in the same way as one would address a bodily function. He had never loved another, had never looked on another with desire. He had made himself stone. Such was his rectitude that his co-workers and subordinates had never seen fit to mock his restraint, his chastity.
But now — now, his heart had awakened, the granite had become flesh and blood — now, there was no restraint. He was beside himself with love, and worse, he desired with a fervour that terrified him. That it was his benefactor whom he loved and desired terrified him even more.
Now praying beside Valjean brought no peace, now he could barely look at Valjean when they walked together in the balmy afternoons without feeling the hot pulse of his sin; now he could feel nothing but the desire to clasp Valjean’s hand, to press himself against his friend’s broad body and feel its pleasurable, forbidden weight in his arms.
He knew that chaste and brotherly love would be regarded as good and reasonable in the eyes of God. This desire, however, this was monstrous. It was the opposite of brotherly love, the opposite of chastity, and yet Javert was powerless to stop himself.
He had no idea how to seek absolution for such sin. An indulgence was out of the question, of course; there was no priest to whom he could make a confession of this magnitude.
And it made a beastly sort of sense to him that now that his heart had been awakened and his eyes had been opened, he could see and feel nothing but Jean Valjean, the man upon whom his cold eyes and colder heart had once fixated so obsessively and for so long. After all, the most effective punishments were those that made the most of one’s own baser proclivities, and bodily desire was what drove many intractable pursuits.
But Valjean, who had to all accounts kept himself pure in that most impure of places, would have no earthly reason to welcome attentions from the man who had pursued him relentlessly, to regard Javert, whom he had saved for God's sake, as anything other than one of God's lowly creatures, to whom the holy attachment of pity would be ascribed and nothing more. After all, as he understood it, once Valjean had committed his life to God, he would have been filled with virginity, with chastity and other stainless spiritual pursuits as recommended by the Church. He had likely never known a lover's touch and would never have sullied himself with unclean physical desire.
The irony of it was enough to make a man weep: that God would use Valjean as both the instrument of his salvation and his temporal punishment.
At the same time he might also weep with gratitude knowing that this torment would be not be permanent. That it would end with his eventual demise, and that he might hear, “Well done, you good and faithful servant!” on the final day, when Valjean and he, Javert, would enter the Kingdom of God together.
He was not, of course, a man who would beat upon his breast and collapse with any sort of weeping. Instead he set his teeth against his suffering, entirely dry-eyed. God willing, he would be equal to this punishment.
He would set himself this task: to make of his body a holy sacrifice, to accept his punishment and to love Valjean chastely in the way of a brother, as Paul of Tarsus had counselled.
Groucha’s Luxembourg gardens references are here (link in French), and this is her resource (French) for its celebrated statues. Sadly many of the old ones are gone now, although some of the beautiful statues of gods and goddesses still exist today: e.g. Vulcain, Minerva, L’hiver. The current famous statues of saints, kings and queens that festoon the gardens were commissioned after 1832; Duquesnoy’s Sainte Suzanne seems to have been the only saint there at the material time, and this would be the one Valjean points out to his not-so-reluctant companion.
Saint Paul of Tarsus, that redoubtable warrior of God who, as a fiercely intelligent young man beloved of the strict Jewish religious Law, relentlessly investigated and arrested heretics without mercy, but who underwent a complete moral and spiritual transformation on the road to Damascus, should need no introduction.
In this chapter, Javert recalls Paul's strict imperative from his Letter to the Romans, Ch 12: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Chapter 7: The Beginning of Repose
Chapter by jehane18
Javert sets forth to do battle with his sin. It goes about as well as you might expect.
Particular betathanks to firestorm717, who told me to add to the sex, and to miss m, who tried to ensure the sex was strictly IC. I take full responsibility, of course...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
And so, Javert shouldered his burden, and set forth to do battle with his sin.
At first, he made attempts to avoid Valjean. He made excuses so as to avoid breakfasting with Valjean on those mornings that his friend spent with Cosette and Marius at No. 6 Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire. He invented cases where litigants were resident within the jurisdiction of the Court of Cassation but whose families and resources lay elsewhere, necessitating travel outside Paris, so that he could recuse himself from their habitual intimate dinners at Rue de l’Homme-Armé.
Javert did not have to invent the visit he paid in May to Christiane Nouvel in Montfermeil. He had kept abreast of her brother’s case, and had been informed that the batonnier had finally assigned to him defence counsel; notwithstanding this, Jacques Nouvel continued in remand and in the meantime his bankruptcy appeal languished for want of means and the continued refusal of the Bureau to provide judicial assistance.
It was soon made clear that Christiane, that unfortunate woman, could be of no help to her brother.
"Wasn’t a bad boy,” she told Javert; on the doorstep of the laundry where she worked, the pitiless sunlight in her face, she looked older than her years. “Just got into such rages, even when he was small; Maman thought him possessed by the devil! Couldn’t learn, couldn’t sit still. He grew so big, so strong, people were afraid of him … around these parts nobody would give him work.”
She shrugged. “Then he left for the city, Monsieur. Not seen him since.”
“Did he ever send money back to you and the children?” Javert enquired. The file he had assembled on the Nouvel case was by now of some thickness, containing as it did the appellate papers and Javert’s correspondence with the magistrate’s clerk, the bationnier's office, and the supervisors of the maison d'arrêt.
The woman shook her head. “No. He can’t write, either.” She did not say that he might as well be dead to her, but that consideration hung between them in the morning air.
Javert made the appropriate nil annotation in Nouvel’s file. Perhaps it was time to put up a review of the decision to decline judicial assistance: it sounded from the sister as if the defendant might have mental capacity concerns, which might potentially be relevant? Javert made a mental note to enquire of the supervisors at the maison d’arrêt; he was uncertain if their staff physicians were competent to diagnose mental disorders, but conscience dictated that the attempt should be made.
Javert also took it upon himself to proffer a discreet contribution of alms to the laundry. Only after this was completed and he was on his way back to Paris did it occur to him — this would have been what Valjean would have done, and for once Javert had done it without a second thought.
In any case, real or invented journeys aside, Javert could not find any reason to disengage from Valjean over Sunday mass.
He discovered that somehow it was easier to withstand his temptation in the house of the Lord: even though kneeling beside his friend, conscious of that strong body beneath the modest summer clothes, was an almost physical pain, it was a pain that was pure, that was exquisite — much as Javert imagined the early worshippers would subject themselves to the cilice and the whip, so that by the mortification of their flesh they would achieve perfect punishment of the spirit.
On the other hand, the walks after Sunday mass were far less easy to endure. Javert could not refuse to perambulate in the Luxembourg or along the Rue du Pot-de-Fer and the Rue de Vaugirard with Valjean, and the sidelong glances, the gentle remarks, the broad span of Valjean’s shoulders under his coat, under the summer sun, would be almost too much for him. This was Valjean the man, the friend, who could breathe and converse and make attempts at jest, not some grand sculptured icon of virtue or the perfect image of his punishment.
And it was this man, this beloved friend, whom Javert dreamed about at night, helplessly, until he was afraid of sleep itself.
The first time it happened he had not immediately realised he was dreaming. One moment he was lying in his narrow bed, the sweltering night giving little relief from the heat of the day, his nightshirt even damper than the sheets beneath him, clinging to his limbs as he shifted restlessly, turning from side to side, unable to find a comfortable position.
The next moment, Jean Valjean was in his bed, eyes glittering in the darkness, capturing his mouth in an agonising kiss.
Javert could not breathe as Valjean kissed him, as Valjean wound muscular arms around his neck, the powerfully-built body trapping him against the mattress. Valjean’s thighs bracketed Javert’s; the thickness between those thighs pushed up, heavy and insistent, against Javert’s own shameful hardness.
Valjean broke the kiss, and Javert lay back, panting, desperate, unable to catch his breath.
“Are you afraid,” Valjean murmured against his lips.
Javert closed his eyes tightly and said in a strangled voice, “Yes, God help me.”
“You should be,” Valjean agreed. His big hand moved across Javert’s hip, trailing fire in its wake, to grasp the source of Javert’s shame. “You have brought me down with you, into the mire from which you came.”
The touch of Valjean’s fingers wrenched Javert to consciousness at last. He was alone in his dark room, in his sweat-soaked bed, his own fingers curled around his painfully hard manhood.
He groaned aloud; guilt and horror flooded through him, warring with the overwhelming, throbbing need. He began, frantically, to pray. For a moment he thought he had mastered his mortification, his conscience and the familiar words of the paternoster beginning to right his unsettled ship... and then, the traitorous image of Valjean, kneeling beside him in prayer: enough to overcome his vessel and sweep him overboard, moaning and helpless before it.
The flood of guilt and horror after the event was even worse. Javert crawled out of bed onto his knees and stayed there until dawn, as if self-abasement before God could mitigate the disgrace done to his own soul and the dishonour to his only friend.
His clasped hands shook as if with fever. His sin was virulent in his mouth. He had belatedly realised, sometime after rising from Valjean’s bed last summer, that he no longer retained his old taste for tobacco — the habit must have been sweated out of him at the same time as the fever from the river. Now his sin had the bitter flavour of snuff, like an aftertaste of the desire that he had thought had left him.
He prayed fervently that he would be able to have this new vice sweated out of him. Or perhaps he could be bled of it, in the old way.
The next time it occurred, very close to the Sunday following his return from Montfermeil, Javert was no more prepared than the last.
The aroma of Luxembourg spring roses was thick in the darkness, the damask concealing the smell of sweat and fear. Valjean lay in his bed, arms outstretched as a man drowning or being crucified; his brow was wet as if from a crown of thorns. He was trembling in every limb. Javert pressed himself against the shaking body, pressed his lips against Valjean's unresisting ones, pressed himself between Valjean’s legs and the guilt that curled there, a swollen, gluttonous serpent.
“You have me, I cannot escape you,” Valjean said, in a voice that quavered.
Javert came to himself lying face down on the bed in a pool of his own spend, as warm and wet as blood.
Thereafter the dreams continued to plague him, in worse and worse order: Valjean pinning his arms above his head with that impossible strength and taking him forcefully against a wall as Javert begged and pleaded; Valjean struggling under his grasp; Javert holding him down and ravishing him with his tongue and murmuring, “You are mine, mine at last.”
He seemed to have no control at all over this fleshly vice, regardless of how desperately he prayed. It seemed akin to the opiate addiction that Javert had read about, where rectitude and restraint were entirely at an end, where nothing existed beyond the mindless physical craving for the drug. In his case, the drug in question was the friend that his heart and his body seemed to have fixated upon.
A desperate addict, Javert spent his solitary evenings and his isolated mornings handling himself until he was sore, until it chafed him to walk and it hurt to sit at his desk. It was as if he wore a cilice about his manhood. Perhaps even that might do him good: gelding him would be one way to put an end to this.
The sultry Paris summer only exacerbated his suffering. The business of the city slowed to a crawl as it always did in the height of summer — the Ministry and the Courts took their customary recess, and the Bureau operated on half the staff strength. Regardless, Javert spent all day in the office even though he was not required to do so, working through his cases doggedly, as if by such diligence he could escape the darkness of his own thoughts. He felt all eyes in the Bureau upon him. He was short with the lawyers and even raised his voice at M. le Directeur. He saw nothing but Valjean's visage everywhere he went.
"Why are you so interested in this case?" M. le Directeur enquired when Javert asked to revisit the Nouvel file with him. "I agreed with your initial recommendation not to offer assistance, given that he had not been forthcoming about his financial state, and his possible gang affiliations. You are right, something needs to be done about the remand conditions, but we have already escalated the matter to the clerk at the Assizes and made a note to the Ministry as a further criticism on the current system."
Javert looked down at the thick file in his hands. He was not entirely certain of the answer himself. Gathering his thoughts, he glanced about him at the Director's orderly, well-used rooms, the files neatly stacked on shelves and paperwork properly categorised in order of priority. A year into its inception, the Bureau was a far cry from its half-finished, understaffed first days. Javert wished he could feel a sense of satisfaction at his contributions to the establishment of this well-run department of the Ministry of Justice; what he felt instead was exhaustion, and a nagging sense of guilt that what he did was not enough and would never be.
"I feel that we may have overlooked issues of mental capacity," he said slowly. "This may have contributed to the defendant's failure to disclose his financial status, rather than a deliberate lack of honesty. I realise that the ability to take into account mental issues as envisaged by the Penal Code amendments of April 1832 appears to reside with the jury and not the state authorities; however if the poor man cannot obtain decent representation, as opposed to the services of some newly-graduated law student, those issues may never be properly presented before the jury in the first place."
M. le Directeur looked at the correspondence from the maison d'arrêt. "I am just not sure what more we can do. As you mention, the reporting physician seems unable to conclude that there are mental concerns at play, and Nouvel's counsel seems unwilling or unable to take the matter further, so that would seem to be a path that is closed."
"I am afraid that all paths for this poor fellow are closed," Javert said. "I will keep corresponding with the clerk of the Courts; perhaps after the next few weeks or so I might pay a visit to the chief batonnier myself."
M. le Directeur put up a hand. "Tread carefully, please! It would not do for you to frighten the criminal bar; they are upset enough with the Ministry as it is." He paused and then looked more closely at Javert. "I have to say, you do look even more frightening than usual, M. Javert. Is there something wrong?"
Javert scowled. He could barely confess his sins to his God; it was impossible to do so to this nominal superior, who otherwise listened to Javert in most other matters.
"I am perfectly well," he said, stopping himself from snapping only with some effort. M. le Directeur blanched visibly, and Javert rose and left the rooms with the barest wince, the painful chafing between his thighs hardly apparent on his grim countenance.
He endured this for many weeks, until Javert had to acknowledge that keeping away from Valjean might be making things worse. He could not eat without the image of Valjean sitting beside him at his table with hooded eyes, could not sleep for imagining Valjean in his bed, crying out in lust — or even worse, in fear.
And then Valjean actually remarked upon Javert's absences and started spending less time at the Gillenormand house; he had Toussaint move more of his effects back to No. 7.
"I know you are not entirely comfortable at Filles-du-Calvaire," Valjean explained, when Javert enquired why it happened that he was available for breakfast at Rue de l’Homme-Armé for several days in a row. "And, you know, Cosette needs her time with her husband. I should not make so free to impose on them at all hours of the week."
Javert jerked himself out of a reverie about Valjean's expressive mouth and made himself focus on what Valjean was saying. "But I thought you missed your old closeness with Cosette, and wanted to spend as much time with her as you could?" he said, frowning.
"I will always miss my old closeness with her," Valjean said hesitantly. "But she belongs to her husband now, and, well. I would like grandchildren some day."
Javert felt himself flush at this allusion to children and the act that conceived them, and almost failed to observe that Valjean was flushing too.
Valjean went on, very awkwardly, "And... I find I would also like to spend as much time as I can with you, my friend. I find I missed our talks, when you would tell me about your cases in the mornings at breakfast, when you would want to discuss Scripture and what the government is doing regarding the affairs of the day. I miss our old closeness, too."
Javert barely suppressed a groan. When Valjean reached for his hand, nervously, he jerked his fingers away as if Valjean's touch scalded him.
"Forgive me, that I did not realise this until you were not there," Valjean said, so gently it made Javert's teeth ache: that this good man could care for him, could long for his company, when he did not realise how crudely, how shamefully Javert returned those feelings!
"And then of course I realised why you were keeping away," Valjean continued, and Javert nearly swallowed his own tongue. "You need not do that; Marius sees you as his benefactor and saviour as much as he sees me, and his home is as much yours as it is mine. But I know how reticent you are, and if it gives you more comfort to be here in l’Homme-Armé, why then, my home is yours as well."
Javert went weak with relief. He rather doubted Marius would be as welcoming if he realised how he, Javert, really felt about his father-in-law: if the boy had any sense in him, he would be asking the footmen to drive Javert away from Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire with sticks like the base animal he was.
But Valjean made him promise not to stay away from Rue de l’Homme-Armé, and even though it was torment to sit at that breakfast table across from Valjean each morning and burn helplessly with desire, he took comfort from the fact that he was giving his friend the chaste gift of his company, that in sacrificing his body thus he was succeeding in loving his benefactor in a holy and acceptable way.
He was, of course, terrified that Valjean would uncover his shame. From time to time he would glance at his friend, across the kitchen table in the morning and the evening, the gardens of the Luxembourg which had burst into summer's full, riotous colour. He was certain his wretchedness must be obvious to Valjean; he had never been very good at dissembling.
And it seemed as if Valjean was not immune to the sense that something was amiss. In the waning days of summer Javert would catch his friend looking back at him across the same quiet rooms and sun-lit Sunday gardens, his eyes clouded with an emotion which Javert could not interpret. On more than one occasion he looked as if he wished to change their chosen topic of conversation to another subject, but it was as if he did not know how.
Certainly Javert was too cowardly to bring it up himself, to confess his sin as he ought.
It was fortuitous, then, that the Lord's ways were more mysterious than any sinner could fathom.
In Montfermeil and at the Bureau, Javert considers the issue of mental capacity as a mitigating factor in criminal sentencing. As mentioned in Ch 2, in 1832 there were important reforms to the French penal code; e.g via the Law of 4 April 1832 (French), which reduced minimum sentencing and the severity of punishment for delicts generally.
Even more materially, the reforms also allowed French judges to admit psychiatric evidence of reduced mental capacity at trials, and let juries take on board rehabilitation prospects in sentencing. From 1832 juries were gradually permitted to take into account concerns of mental illness and extenuating circumstances in their deliberations on verdicts of guilt as well as in sentencing.
Per groucha, the maison d'arrêt at La Force had four physicians on staff in 1833.
Chapter 8: To Confide and be Delivered
Chapter by jehane18
Javert is unwell. Valjean comes to visit.
...and they do more than talk.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Javert had embarked upon his new life in the assurance that God’s mercy was above the laws made by men. That night in Rue Plumet after the river, in the battle for Javert’s soul, Valjean had told him: God’s ways are mysterious, and His grace is unlimited. He has performed miracles on your behalf.
Not for the first time, Javert considered how true that might be. After all, it was nothing short of a miracle that over the course of one year, two former enemies had somehow come to an inseparable friendship which tied their lives even more closely to each other’s than their former enmity.
A miracle, and evidence of God’s unlimited grace — that in early autumn of that second year, when the leaves on the trees at Rue des Vertus had started to turn red, Valjean had reason to attend at Javert's bedside once again.
Whether Javert had been taken ill, or whether he had made himself ill, did not alter the fact that he was, in fact, unfit for work. He felt feverish, he had no appetite, his limbs and shoulders ached as if with the grippe. He had written a note to the Bureau, but had drawn the line at sending one to Valjean. It did not seem to be something friends were required to do, even if this friend was accustomed to a visit every day from him. He now cursed himself for a fool, because he ought to have simply told Valjean to keep away — he had no desire to see anyone in this state, let alone the source of his misery.
Then again, Valjean would likely have not been so easily put off.
When he arrived at Rue des Vertus, he seemed a figment of Javert's imagination, as if his sin had finally driven his fevered mind into a break from reality. Javert's dry throat felt as if it were a desert, his lungs seemed unequal to drawing breath. In the humble rooms of Javert's lodgings, Valjean's wide-shouldered, white-haired presence was air and drink and everything Javert desired in this life.
"It has been three days," Valjean said without preamble. "Your landlady tells me you have been too unwell to eat. I have been asking her to let me try to help, and today she did not turn me away."
So Valjean had come by every day of Javert's illness, then. Clearly a note would not have dissuaded him. "It is nothing. Merely a touch of the grippe. I will be on my feet in no time."
Valjean took off his hat and coat and pulled up a chair. "I hope you are more convincing at the Bureau, my friend. You did not manage to drive me away after I first pulled you from the river, and you will not succeed now."
Javert was compelled to face the man, to sit up in bed. His limbs under his nightshirt felt like water, and pulling himself upright took some effort.
"It is freezing in here," Valjean commented, and instead of putting his coat back on, he busied himself with lighting the fire in the grate. "The river would have made you particularly susceptible to the cold. You must take better care of yourself."
Javert could not respond to this. He watched as Valjean dusted off his hands, loosened his cuffs and cravat and approached the bed meaningfully, taking hold of the flask that Voilquin had left on the side table.
"This is full. Come, now, let us make an attempt."
Javert was very aware of his unkempt whiskers, his loose hair, the indignity of his state of undress. It would seem he had to suffer Valjean to touch him, as his friend insisted on assisting him with the glass. The liquid burned going down and it was still less hot than the gentle hand on his shoulder, which he could feel through his shirt like a brand. He could not suppress his shiver.
"That was well done," Valjean said, when he drained the glass.
"I am perfectly well," Javert said, as he had said in the summer to M. le Directeur; he heard the reflexive snarl of the old guard dog in his voice.
"If that were truly so then you would be able to manage some broth," Valjean said, seizing the opening like a seasoned prosecutor. Javert, neatly trapped, soon found himself with a steaming bowl which he was obliged to consume under Valjean's steady gaze.
"You are a man of your word," Valjean said when he was done, taking the invalid's tray away. "Perhaps you really are well, as you say."
Javert was not sure if Valjean was teasing — one corner of his mouth was quirked in a half-smile — and in any case he had no easy response to this. He felt unsteady, hot everywhere, he could not meet Valjean's gaze. "It is solely the grippe," he repeated, grimly. "There was no need for concern, let alone to trouble yourself to pay me a visit. You should not need to keep rescuing me, Valjean."
This did seem quite ungracious, and it might have offended another man, but Valjean merely smiled gently. "It was no trouble," he said. "And friends desire to help each other with no thought of reward, as I desire to help you. I am determined to stay here until you convince me you are well enough to return to work."
"This is both foolish and unnecessary," Javert started to say, but Valjean drew his chair closer and plumped the pillow so that Javert could lie more comfortably upon it, and in order to not prolong the physical contact Javert quickly lay down again.
Valjean adjusted the pillow under Javert's head and drew the covers up gently, perhaps in the same way as he still imagined tucking Cosette into her maiden bed under his roof at Rue Plumet. Javert would not have believed that imagining Valjean's child could bring him any measure of relief, but the tender look on Valjean's face was strangely comforting.
When that was done, Valjean settled back in his chair, folded his hands together and bowed his head.
Visita, Domine, quaesumus, he murmured; Visit, we beg thee, O Lord, this dwelling, and drive from it all the snares of the enemy; let Thy Holy angels dwell herein to keep us in peace..
The words were familiar; Javert recognised them as the prayer Valjean had spoken at his bedside more than a year ago in Rue Plumet, when he was in the grip of fever and had wanted to die. They had been a comfort to him then, he realised, and equally so now, Valjean's voice soft and sonorous and infinitely kind.
Lord, let Thy blessing be always upon us. In manus tuas, Domine.
A wave of peace and immense weariness overtook him and he closed his eyes.
Javert surfaced from a sleep as black as the Seine at night, immense and vast and terrible.
For a moment he experienced the wall of the quay once more, staring down at the formidable spiral of whirlpools which loosened and knotted themselves again like an endless screw. He felt the grasp of the hostile chill of the water and the stale odour of the wet stones around him, the despair as he contemplated the unimaginable fall into the void.
With some effort, he thrust aside the memory of that final fall, of breathing in cold water. The room around him was dark; the fire in the grate had banked into embers. Thick shadows gathered on the walls and floor like pitch.
The only other light in the room came from the stars through the window, and it illuminated the figure of Jean Valjean in the chair at his bedside.
He had fallen asleep still dressed in his shirtsleeves and trousers, one arm crooked at the edge of the bed, white head bowed upon it as if still in prayer. His chest rose and fell with even breath, so close and proximate it stirred Javert's bedclothes.
His other hand rested on Javert's shoulder, no weight at all, and yet it burned like sin.
Hardly able to breathe, Javert reached up. He grazed a thumb over the knots and whorls of fingers that had once held up a falling caryatid at the Toulon town hall. He lightly touched the callouses from years of manual labour in the bagne, worn almost transparent, the scars from nineteen years of shackles that still marked his wrist with red.
Javert remembered the young prisoner's hot, resentful, pain-laced glare, remembered the brand and other scars that marred the sleeping man's body under his clothes. No man had touched him save to hurt him; every contact had been a blow. Nobody had shown him any gentleness. He may not have even had the time to fall in love before Toulon had taken everything away.
Javert felt the responsibility weigh upon him as if it were that caryatid of the town hall. Young Jean had been able to hold up the caryatid to save the lives of his crew, but Javert could not lift even this one burden.
Crushed under that weight, unable to bear it, he pressed his lips to Valjean's hand.
Valjean's skin was hot, rough, the hand of a man in the late years of his life. Javert was keenly aware of the roughness of his own lips, of his own old heart like a disobedient child beneath his chest, of this first time his own lips had touched anyone's hand. It was indescribable.
Abruptly, the fingers beneath his curled into a fist. Javert snatched himself upright —
— Valjean's white head was raised, his eyes shining in the darkness. He had seen – had felt —
Javert tried to pull his hand away, but Valjean had taken it firmly in a clasp that was worth four men.
A long beat, where Javert found he could not speak. The blood roared in his ears, he felt his body seized as in the iron grip of the currents of the Seine.
Valjean's gaze was steady; his countenance, wreathed in shadow, was difficult to look upon, yet Javert could not take his eyes away. Astoundingly, there was no disgust or pity in his expression.
When he finally spoke, his voice was sonorous as if he were still praying. "I had wondered, these past months, what it was about my presence that had started to trouble you. If I had perhaps given you offence in some way."
He looked down at their hands, clasped together on the bedspread. Quietly, he continued, "At last, I think I begin to understand."
Javert bit back the bitter desire to laugh. He should have known it was impossible to hide his sin from God and all the instruments of God. The sound of his heartbeat was deafening; he could not make Valjean release his hand. He forced himself to relax, to give in, like a stray dog who finds his master after months of wandering. He would surrender, then. He would hand himself over into Valjean's power, and it would be Valjean who would judge him.
"What you think, what the truth is, I will not deny," he said, grimly, at last. "It seems God has directed that I make you my confession after all."
Valjean said, thoughtfully, "You know how I was judged and found wanting, how I am not fit to judge anyone. You have no duty to confess to me, nor I the authority to receive your confession."
His serious eyes seemed illuminated by more than the fire; he looked as if some spirit, some light, moved within him. It made him beautiful, as the instrument of God was unutterably beautiful.
"But I confess I would like to know the truth," he said, and Javert could no longer deny him.
"Then know this, Jean Valjean," he said, with terrible calm, "I have belonged to you as well as to God ever since the miracle at the river. When God opened my eyes, you were the first thing in this life that I beheld, and I have beheld it since that day."
Valjean was silent; his regard never left Javert's face. He did not let loose his grasp of Javert's hand.
"And I knew this to be my punishment for my many sins, that I would come to love the man I had wronged," Javert said. Abruptly, the grim certainty that had seized him ran its course; he could no longer meet Valjean's gaze. Since Valjean was not letting go of his hand, he returned the clasp with a squeeze of his own, willing that that almost-painful grip would outpace the dull, hollow ache within.
Dully, hollowly, he said, "There, that is my confession. Can any church grant me absolution for my sins?"
Valjean did not respond immediately. He suffered Javert's desperate clasp as if he would never know pain. At last, he said, "You did not wrong me then, Javert. You did your duty, nothing less."
He paused, and then said, his voice darker, "And I see no need to require absolution for now loving another."
Javert said, grimly, "It is because you always see the best in men, regardless of merit. I should have saved your lashes in Toulon, I should have spoken out against your ill-treatment. Instead, I pursued Fantine unto death. Like a wolf I hounded you at every turn, I made it my mission to turn your life and Cosette’s into hell on earth … You do not see, truly, how you were cursed and yet became everything that is good, and how I, I am a sinner unworthy of God’s grace."
He swallowed. His throat ached with thirst, with the sins he had just admitted, the sins he still held back. It was best make a clean breast of it and cast himself into the fire. "As for love... You have never seen this, the base sin of my feelings for you, what it is that I desire."
"How can you say I have not seen?" The force in Valjean's voice made Javert look up at last. The other's face was ruddy, his eyes echoed the fire's embers. "You have let me know you over this past year, and I have come to see you plain. Not as the wolf, not the dog with his master, but as a beloved friend — " and Valjean took Javert's other hand in a rough clasp.
"I will not suffer your pity," Javert said automatically, which he instantly regretted, because it was unfair, and besides, it was an outburst unlikely to commend itself to any lover.
It drew a rare laugh from Valjean. "You are the most obstinate man I know. Let me assure you that this is not what pity looks like," he said, and drew closer, and raised Javert's hands to his lips.
He kissed Javert's hands as if they were holy, as if performing a reverence. Javert fought the urge to snatch his hands away and take to his heels, or to wind his fingers in Valjean’s white hair and pull him closer. He did neither. He let Valjean kiss him like veneration. The kiss burned his way through his body and he wished fervently that it he might die before it ended.
But end it did, eventually. Valjean raised his head and looked awkwardly at Javert. Not releasing his hands, he moved from the chair to sit on the edge of Javert’s bed, so that their thighs aligned under the bedclothes.
"Is this what friendship looks like?" Javert asked, stupidly.
"Perhaps? I am not well versed in what friends do.” Valjean tried for a smile. In the low light, his lips were red and wet from use.
The longing to feel that red mouth against his gripped him like violence. Javert thrust it back by force of will. He was wretched, he was a sinner, this was a test; it was necessary for Valjean’s sake that he withstand.
He heard his own breath come quickly. His words spilled from him as if in an unstoppable tide. "Nor I, and I would have your friendship, Jean, but it cannot be tainted by my sin. You are so good – God knows I should be equal to this punishment – and, my God, I am a monster, you would be ashamed to know what this sin looks like."
“Would I be?” Valjean said, levelly. He stared into Javert’s eyes as if he could see all the way into Javert's past, into the gutter where he was born. "I may not know what your sin looks like. But I know you, Javert, and I know that I would have your friendship, also, no matter how it looks."
Javert swallowed. His friend was still here, had not fled from his sin, had instead kissed his hands, was sitting on his bed trusting and entirely unafraid. He could not believe that God would be so merciful. Perhaps he would have the strength after all to love Valjean with a chaste love, as purely and sacrificially as he should.
"I do not deserve how good you are," he said. It seemed that he did not recognise his own voice, as if the words were painful and thrilling at the same time.
In the darkness, lit by stars, his friend looked ageless, like an embodiment of grace. "It is all from God," he said. "At this time in our lives, to have friendship? For it to be with you? A miracle."
He clasped Javert's hands again, and there was pure love in that grasp. "Come now, you should sleep more. In the morning, I will be here."
As always, my thanks to miss m and groucha! And to firestorm717, for convincing me to make even slower burn ♥
Chapter 9: Light and Shadow
Chapter by jehane18
Javert accepts an offer, and spends his first winter in the company of friends.
(As always, my gratitude to Firestorm for compelling a re-read of a classic book, to Groucha and her font of historical and geographical knowledge, and to Miss M, without whom Valjean would likely still be in that uncomfortable position ;))
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In the morning, Valjean was indeed still there beside Javert's bed as he had promised. He smiled when he saw Javert had awakened. Javert did not understand the miracle he had been given, but there his friend was at his side, incontrovertible as the brightness of the day.
They spent the day reading from the novel Valjean had brought with him, about the Église Notre-Dame.
“It is by a Parisian author who is quite acclaimed!” Valjean said. “It also is said to contain interesting ideas about building a moral society.”
The first chapter seemed, however, to contain somewhat less-than-interesting descriptions of the Great Hall at the Palais de Justice. Javert made an effort to pay attention — it was no doubt important for him to know about the architecture of Paris' historic Gothic buildings — but after some time and subsequent pages regarding brickwork and masonry he found himself dozing off, lulled by the sound of Valjean’s deep voice.
When he awoke he discovered that Valjean had stolen out to Rue de l’Homme-Armé and had returned to Javert's bedside in a fresh shirt and trousers.
“You are planning to stay here tonight?” Javert ventured.
“Yes,” Valjean said, “until you are quite well. Is that bearable?”
“No,” Javert said; he realised after he had said it how ungracious he sounded. "I mean, I am much better. I can return to work to-morrow or the day after. And you are no longer a young man given easily to hardship, you should not spend another night in a chair in my rooms, that is not to be borne at all."
Valjean gave this comment due consideration. Then he said, not looking directly at Javert, “I wonder whether, if I were to return to Rue de l’Homme-Armé as you suggest, you might consent to accompany me? So that I might watch over you to be sure that there would be no relapse of the grippe, perhaps?”
Much to his own surprise, Javert found himself agreeing. “Yes, anything, if it will get you out of this chair.”
“Well, then,” Valjean said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and continued to read.
Voilquin made various expressions of disappointment when she learned Javert intended to give up his lease, but she brought solid food for dinner for both of them and this time Javert consumed it all under Valjean's watchful eye.
Voilquin also left a basin of water for washing, and when they were done with the meal Javert was able to clean and relieve himself and change into a clean nightshirt that Valjean had fetched from the cupboard. As he tended to himself, Javert was acutely aware of his friend standing by the window, studiously avoiding looking at him; he washed quickly, feeling Valjean's presence all along his own skin.
Over Javert's protests, Valjean cleared away the basin and emptied the chamberpot. Then he paused. "Are you sure you would not prefer that I stay tonight?"
Javert forced himself to scowl, when in truth Valjean would not know the depth of his longing for Valjean to stay. He said, instead, grimly, "Do not have me reconsider my acceptance of your offer."
"I will see myself out when you are asleep," Valjean said, settling himself into the chair. He reached for Javert's hand absently. "And it will not seem to you as if I have been gone, for I will be back before you wake to help you move your things to Rue de l’Homme-Armé.”
It seemed Toussaint had made expressions of surprised pleasure when she learned Javert would be moving in with them. Javert also learned later that Cosette had been almost beside herself with glee; she had insisted on re-purposing her old room with great speed, taking not a day to pack her dolls away in a trunk and replace the white lace with sober linen far more suitable to a former inspector of the police. She also purchased, at some expense, a larger bedframe that might accommodate Javert's great height.
Valjean was as good as his word, enlisting Marius' assistance in transporting Javert's few possessions from Rue des Vertus. In a very short time the deed was done and the not-invalid installed at Rue de l’Homme-Armé.
On Javert's first night in residence at Rue de l’Homme-Armé, he chose to walk there from the Bureau – he was perfectly well, despite Valjean’s attempts to make him promise to take a fiacre. As soon as he stepped across the threshold of the apartment, Valjean was there to take his hand and to smile at him like a sunrise.
That night they stayed up late, finishing the simple meal of bread and stew and then lingering over the last of the wine at the fireplace. Javert completed his account of the cases of that day – a young labourer had been deprived of his wages, one small business owner had been sued by another for breach of covenant – and Valjean told him about the new treatise on municipal taxes that he had just embarked upon that morning.
They read another chapter of Notre-Dame de Paris. While Javert was not particularly taken with the novel's struggling poet protagonist Gringoire, who seemed of a most weak-kneed constitution, after five chapters the main plot regarding the crippled bell-ringer and the archdeacon who was sworn to uphold the tenets of ecclesiastical law was finally getting underway.
Valjean read: “A one-eyed man is more incomplete than a blind one, for he is conscious of what he lacks.” Javert felt this comment was probably more pertinent than it first appeared.
They retired separately when the wine was finished. Toussaint had laid out water for washing and Javert made his ablutions. Everything was all very strange and new, and yet rather than the paroxysms of awkwardness that Javert had half-expected to feel at being once more under Valjean's roof, there was instead a strange and satisfying sense of peace.
When the knock came on the door, Javert had been half-expecting it; he had put his dressing gown over his nightshirt as a precaution to modesty.
"I hope all is well and that you are in comfort," Valjean said humbly. He was also wearing a dressing gown that was even more threadbare than Javert's. "I had also hoped that we might say our prayers together tonight, as we have done before on occasion."
"I would like nothing better, Jean," Javert said. Since that dark night of confessions when all his words had tumbled forth without calculation or thought, including the use of Valjean's first name, he had shied away again from using it, but tonight it slipped from his mouth again, as natural as his own breath.
Valjean smiled a little and clasped his hand in pleased approval; Javert noticed, somewhat belatedly, that Valjean had similarly started calling him tu, using the intimate familiar form of address reserved for family and close friends, to say nothing of lovers.
It was indeed a night for new discoveries, for a new stage of their friendship.
Valjean drew him to his side, and held his hand as they prayed for peace and protection at the day's end.
Javert felt the love of God descend like a shining bubble of light upon them both, felt it fill the length and breadth of Cosette's old room: which by some unfathomable operation of mercy appeared, now, to be his.
This was how Javert passed the time at Rue de l’Homme-Armé from the autumn to winter of 1833.
In the mornings, Toussaint would make breakfast, which he would consume in a leisurely way with Valjean at the kitchen table, after which he would leave for his duties at the Bureau. Thereafter Valjean and Toussaint would take themselves to Filles-du-Calvaire. Javert was given to understand that Valjean had tended the vegetable garden there in the summer months, strawberries and whatever produce grew in the Marais; now that the harvest was over, Valjean spent his days in the Gillenormand library with books and treatises and occasional correspondence, and increased his visits to hand out alms to the poor, Cosette on his arm, to an almost daily occurrence.
Meanwhile, Javert would read his files and attend to the Bureau's paperwork and consume his luncheon at his desk. If field interviews or investigations were required he would put on his greatcoat and hat and take off into the streets of Paris. He worked diligently, but when his shift was over he would gather his effects and hasten back to Rue de l’Homme-Armé, where Valjean would be waiting for him to share his dinner and to hear about his day.
The winter days grew short and cold and dark, but the home which Valjean had opened to him, that they began to make together, was unaccountably warm.
Javert told himself could not want for anything more. He also felt manifestly unequal to the prospect of expressing his feelings of satisfaction as to his new accommodations. Conscience dictated, however, that he make the attempt, and so he would awkwardly comment on how fine a particular meal had been, or how he valued Valjean's perspective on his cases.
Valjean would smile and say, humbly, “Thank you.” Javert did not know if his friend was humouring him, but he thought Valjean would appreciate the sentiment behind his clumsy efforts.
One evening he mentioned, a little embarrassed, that he might have looked forward to seeing Valjean so much that he had cut short a meeting with the bâtonnier and hurried home.
At this confession of less-than-diligent conduct, Valjean smiled and reached across the kitchen table for Javert's hand. "You played the truant for my sake?" he enquired. "I am sure I should be flattered, Chief Investigator."
"Do not be," Javert said, mock-sternly. "The new bâtonnier is even worse than his predecessor. I have been trying without success to obtain an re-assignment of counsel in the case of that unfortunate man, Jacques Nouvel – his current defence lawyer is hopeless, very junior, refuses to even consider the mental capacity issue. But this new head man is even less interested in pro bono work than the old one and would not hear of any re-assignment. The meeting was a colossal waste of my time. I did not leave him to better spend the time with you."
Javert paused to consider his prick of conscience, and added, "Or rather, I did not leave him only to better spend the time with you, as I might have first implied. So perhaps you can feel a little flattered, Jean, but no more than warranted."
Valjean chuckled; Javert was struck by how much he had grown used to hearing his friend laugh, and how much he had come to crave it. "I am grateful for the clarification. It would not do to claim more credit than is warranted," he said. He kissed Javert's knuckles, and a spark of dangerous pleasure shot through Javert.
Javert swallowed, reclaiming his hands with some difficulty. He could not look at Valjean. "I, I believe I will turn in early," he said, and left the kitchen table on legs that were not entirely steady.
For this was the only blight on Javert's new-found contentment, the only shadow cast across their peaceful days of sun. This treacherous desire, this mortal sin that had taken root in Javert's condemned soul, did dishonour to the blameless friend he lived with and made a mockery of the chaste life they were otherwise building together.
At first, Javert's nights had been blessedly quiet. The terrifying dreams had stopped plaguing him ever since the night Valjean had sat with him and kissed his hands. It seemed that Valjean's solid presence, his ostensible return of Javert's devotion, was proof against Javert's deep-seated fears that Valjean would reject his twisted desires, or worse, that Valjean would succumb to Javert's sin and be similarly condemned.
Disbelieving but grateful, Javert allowed himself to bask in his friend's acceptance and welcome. When he closed his eyes the imagined scenarios did not materialise to flood him with guilt and terror. Instead, he saw Valjean as he saw him every day – reading and praying, smiling and unafraid and ready to take Javert's hand. It was this image of his friend that he took with him into slumber and that slumber was now filled with relative peace.
Javert was of course not naive enough to think that his physical urges would somehow dissipate completely now that the dreams were at an end, now that Valjean had been good enough to acknowledge Javert's sin and to not turn from it. With his policeman's instinct for human frailty he expected the urges to even intensify now that he met his friend in the corridor for early prayer in the morning and spent his nights in a room barely ten paces away. He was not wrong.
As the weather cooled once more and frost decorated the windows of Rue de l’Homme-Armé , the desires simmered once more beneath his skin and filled his middle-aged flesh with a young man's shame.
It was as the novel Notre-Dame de Paris had said — now that he knew the sweetness of his friend’s companionship, he was as conscious as a one-eyed man of how incomplete he was, without that one last aspect of love.
It would not do, of course, to indulge himself physically under Valjean's roof in the same way as he had done in Rue des Vertus. It was miracle enough that Valjean had opened his home and hearth and heart to Javert, had seemingly accepted his feelings and consented to live with him in trusting friendship. There was no call under any circumstance for Valjean to accommodate Javert's perverse desires of the flesh.
Again, at first, Javert found that mastering himself was not too onerous a burden. After all, Valjean was entrusting him with discretion, and Javert was determined to prove equal to the task.
Then there was the evening in November when the temperature dropped to almost freezing. The rain turned to sleet, the cobblestones on the street were covered with shallows pools of ice.
Indoors, Valjean would no doubt have demurred from keeping the living room fire going for his own sake, but he continued to be most concerned about Javert's propensity to cold particularly after the river and the grippe. Javert had not the heart to tell his friend that he had been hale all last winter; Valjean would only have agreed to such an indulgent use of coal for Javert's sake and not his own.
Javert sat in his usual place on the couch beside the freshly stoked fire, Valjean having fetched him a blanket as an additional precaution against the cold. Valjean sat in his ancient armchair by the window, near the small table on which the room's oil lamp was placed. They had reached an exciting chapter in the book, where the archdeacon was finally observed in an unguarded moment, indulging in the full flight of his madness and vile lusts for the innocent heroine.
Valjean paused. Javert watched him shiver in his shirtsleeves, and not with excitement.
"Is it cold, over there by the window?"
"No," Valjean said. In the flickering light of the oil lamp, his lips had a bluish tinge.
Javert suppressed a sigh: clearly, this would not do. "Well, I am feeling cold," he said. "I wonder if you would come over here and sit with me, so that you might see that I kept warmer?"
"Of course," said Jean Valjean, that good and trusting man, and he hastened to Javert's side, arranging himself on the couch. Javert, already aware his conscience would allow a white lie for a worthy cause, tucked the blanket around them both.
Valjean said, "Shall we read a few more pages, to the end of the chapter?"
"Certainly," Javert said. He was eager to hear the writer's account of how the archdeacon had succumbed to his demons and was wrestling with sorcery, like Rembrandt’s infamous painting of Doctor Faustus, at the peril of his immortal soul.
Valjean began to read about the archdeacon's travails, how his carnal desires had plagued him and turned him single-mindedly to the acquisition of his beloved.
“The Archdeacon re-seated himself in his chair and clasped his forehead between his two hands, like a sick person whose head is heavy and burning.”
Javert considered this weighty image of a man made ill from love. He did not wish to think about the ways in which this paralleled his own situation with Valjean.
“The scholar watched his brother with surprise… He had no conception with what fury that sea of human passions ferments and boils when it is refused all egress; how it gathers strength, swells, and overflows; how it wears away the heart; how it breaks forth in inward sobs and stifled convulsions, until it has rent its banks and overflowed its bed.
The austere and icy exterior of Claude Frollo, that cold surface of rugged and inaccessible virtue, had always deceived Jehan. The light-hearted scholar had never dreamed of the lava, deep, boiling, furious, beneath the snow of Ætna.”
Javert closed his eyes so he could better picture the scene : the cold, virtuous outer man in his workroom, concealing the volcanic cravings of a monster.
It seemed he might have inadvertently dozed off, because when he opened his eyes again, the room was dark, the fire had banked, and Valjean was asleep in his lap.
It took every ounce of self-possession he had not to swear and jerk away — Valjean was sleeping, and any sudden movement would startle him awake.
The disarray of the blanket indicated that Valjean had not entered this intimate position on purpose. He looked as if he had been asleep for some time, his legs sprawled half-on and half-off his side of the couch. One hand trailed to the floor, still marking the page in the book where he had stopped reading. The other rested on his slumbering chest.
Draped across his thighs, cheek pillowed on Javert's knee, his friend was a warm, heavy weight. How was it that Valjean's body was always this warm when the winter night was so cold? The man's goodness must itself be a roaring blaze. Tentatively, Javert stroked Valjean's white hair and felt his throat tighten with emotion.
Somewhere within his own body was the spark of an all-too-familiar heat, and it leaped to flickering life.
If he were to shift his position only slightly, this would bring Valjean into proximity with the root of Javert's sin. If he were to tighten his fingers in Valjean's hair, he could press his friend's slightly-parted lips to the guilty thickness at the fork between his thighs.
Take him, his traitorous heart bade him. Teach him what your love looks like, as he had asked you that night by your bed. He told you he was not afraid.
Javert closed his eyes, praying this did not herald a return to the downward spiral of dreams that had plagued him all summer and autumn. He felt the dangerous currents corkscrew through his body, deep down where the word of God did not quite seem to go.
Lost in prayer and wrestling with his sin, Javert became gradually aware of small movements in the head under his hand: as if sensing his friend's unrest, Valjean was coming awake.
Javert held himself very still. The tell-tale sign of his sin was still rampant under his trousers. If he moved a muscle, Valjean's attention would almost certainly be drawn to the obscene bulge near his, Valjean's, resting cheek.
He felt Valjean raise his head a fraction from Javert's knee, heard Valjean's breath catch. Javert's heart leaped guiltily; he cracked open his eyes to see what had caught Valjean's gaze, and saw Valjean's eyes fixed to his.
Valjean's expression was hard to read. His eyes were clouded, with sleep or something else. He looked tentative, curious; almost afraid, almost eager. His hand left the floor to rub against Javert’s knee. He smiled even more tentatively when he saw Javert had come awake.
"Are you cold?" Valjean asked, his voice thick. Again, with sleep, or something else.
A guilty spasm shook through Javert: coldness was the last thing on his mind. Valjean sat up reflexively, swinging his legs onto the floor. "Javert, you are cold. You fell asleep, and then I thought I would just sit here and read to the end of the chapter, and I must also have slept. Come, let us get to bed."
Javert clutched the blanket to him as if it could cover his shame whole. He said, awkwardly, "Actually, I was also hoping to reach the end of the chapter."
Valjean squeezed his knee. "I think we have had enough of persons struggling with sinful desires for one night," he said, and although he was referring to the novel’s Monseigneur Frollo, Javert could not help but feel the meaningful scrutiny of God upon him as well.
He let Valjean help him up. Valjean wrapped one arm around him and held the blanket around him solicitously as he escorted Javert back to his room.
At the bedroom door Valjean paused as if he might say something further, but Javert could not withhold himself any longer and hastily bid him good night. The touch of Valjean's strong arm loosened some vital flood-gate deep within him, and despite these long weeks of self-mastery he now found himself overcome. No sooner had he gained the privacy of his own bed did he seize hold of himself, the novel’s images of deep, rending, boiling fury convulsing in his mind, and for the first time under Valjean's roof he was helpless before his shame.
When he was done he closed his eyes so he would not need to consider his need for punishment. Indeed, while God extended mercy, it seemed that with the other hand God also took it away.
JVJ read, of course, from the 1831 edition of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris. Extracts from Book I, Ch 5 and Book VII, Ch 4.
As discussed in Chapter 2, criminal defendants had the right to state-funded lawyers from 1808, via an ad hoc system of referrals by heads of bar chambers (bâtonniers): see 42 Notre Dame Law Review (1967), 627, 643. However, this process was often slow and unsatisfactory — defendants would wait for the bâtonniers to assign a defence lawyer, who would usually be one of the most junior lawyers in chambers. If the bâtonnier was slow, or the lawyer selected was incompetent, there was very little that could be done. Nevertheless, Javert is trying his best to do something about it.
Chapter 10: The Effects of Dreams Mingled With Happiness
Chapter by jehane18
Javert refuses an offer, takes up a new case, and finally permits certain advances to be made.
Where would I be without these betas miss m, firestorm and groucha, without which the plot(s) would be either hopelessly unravelling or non-existent! To say nothing of the romance ♥
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
After the moment's lapse, Javert found himself once more a prisoner of his unnatural desire. In the language of the novel, this was a ferment of lava beneath the stoic and virtuous exterior that threatened to rend his banks and overflow his bed.
Of course, now he lived in Valjean's house, it would be impossible to indulge in the same way and at the same unseemly pace as Javert had regrettably been accustomed to while living by himself. As such, he confined his activities to the occasional night, sometimes more often, after which he would descend into dreamless sleep.
He knew he ought to be grateful for small mercies — that the dreams had ceased, that he was no longer haunted by spectres of his guilt-ridden fears clothed in Valjean's face and body. But the images that flooded him now were in some ways as difficult to bear, rooted as they were in his own memories, in reality: images of Jean-le-Cric in his red smock, the dirt of the bagne upon his broad, powerful limbs, of Madeleine holding out his big hand to him in friendship, of Fauchelevent catching him in his arms and cutting him loose at the barricades.
As he handled himself, he saw images of this man, Jean Valjean, over the three decades that he had known him — he had seen Valjean's life utterly transformed from dangerous, feral youth to saintly middle age. Javert knew him so well, better than anyone knew him, and now loved him so desperately that he might well have loved him all along.
Thank God Valjean seemed to not suspect anything was amiss. That good man still seemed to both desire Javert's friendship, and to accept and even return Javert's devotion. Javert did not wish to speculate what Valjean would do if he realised that devotion was in fact far less pure than God required, and instead of Javert's love being chaste, it resembled rather the all-consuming, dangerous passion of the novel's Archdeacon Frollo.
As the winter progressed, so they too progressed with Notre-Dame de Paris. Amidst descriptions of medieval edifices and the continuing bumbling exploits of the poet-hero Gringoire, the Archdeacon surrendered to his sinful lusts and indulged in increasingly unhinged conduct, attempting to murder the heroine’s lover and condemning her to the scaffold.
Frowning over a particularly egregious speech by Frollo, Javert said: “Listen to this man. When one sets out upon an evil path, one should go the whole way—’tis madness to stop midway in the monstrous! The extremity of crime has its delirium of joy. For God’s sake, there has never been such evil. Someone in this novel should have sought to put an end to him before now.”
Valjean looked on as Javert waved the volume at him in disgust. In tones of pity, he remarked, "The poor wretch!"
Javert glared at his friend. “You cannot be serious. The man is irredeemable. He claims to be a man of God, and yet he says this…” Javert leafed through pages and lighted on a further passage:
“ He thought of the folly of lifelong vows, of the futility of chastity, science, religion, and virtue, of the impotence of God.... He shook up from the hidden depths of his heart all his hatred, all his wickedness; and he discovered that this same hatred and wickedness were but the outcome of perverted love—that love, the source of every human virtue, turned to things unspeakable... He contemplated the worst side of his fatal passion—of that corrosive, venomous, malignant, implacable love, which had brought the one to the gallows and the other to hell.”
Javert banged the book shut. “This makes a mockery of God and priests and is not to be endured. It is my hope that the bell-ringer smashes his head in, if the stupid Captain will not do it.”
Valjean recovered the volume from Javert’s outraged hands. He said, “I think you may have read further on than where we last stopped. Look, in this scene, the priest is so beside himself with love that he has stabbed himself, he has injured himself deliberately with his own hand. And the poor man has said this: I bear the dungeon within me; within, my heart is winter, ice, despair—black night reigns in my soul. Can you not feel pity for him?”
Javert snorted. “You are clearly a better man than I, Jean.”
Pity was fine and well: of course Valjean doubtless knew how wretched it was to live with sin — for that matter, so did Javert, which did probably dictate that he ought in his turn to be less judgmental and more forgiving of the fictional archdeacon. But pity was obviously not an emotion which Javert would desire from his friend; he would rather cast himself into the Seine again.
And yet what other explanation could there be for the long looks Valjean seemed increasingly to return, his growing willingness to hold Javert's arm even when they walked together in daylight on Sundays? Since that evening when they had fallen asleep on the couch, Valjean had started eschewing his armchair, and it had become his habit to sit on the couch beside Javert. He had even moved the side table and oil lamp to his side of the couch to facilitate his reading. His willing closeness thrilled and terrified Javert at once, for it could surely only be out of misplaced pity that his innocent friend would ever volunteer such intimacy.
Javert knew that he ought to draw away before his fatal sin — that corrosive, malignant, implacable love — could corrupt Valjean and draw him down into the mire with him. But, God help him, he could not.
With the Bureau closed in December for the season, they had even more opportunity to be together, and Valjean's trusting closeness was so satisfying — the press of his shoulder as they read together side by side on the couch, the clasp of his hand at the kitchen table, the broad arm around his shoulders at the end of their day.
They took to walking across Paris together in the winter gloom, sheltering in her libraries and her public museums. They spent several afternoons at National Museum of Natural History, with its collections of insects and geological samples. Cosette and Marius asked them frequently to dine. The young couple spent Christmas Day with them at Église Saint-Sulpice, giving thanks for the birth of Christ and indeed all the many blessings they had all been given this year — none more blessed than the new lease on life that Valjean enjoyed, and that Javert now so improbably shared.
On New Year's Eve, Valjean and Javert attended Marius and Cosette's festive celebration at the Rue de Filles-du-Calvaire, and even took a turn around the room together, although Javert was somewhat discomfited by the proliferation of bright-eyed young people desiring to speak earnestly about his work with the less fortunate. They left the party early in a hansomcab, holding hands against the bitter cold.
When they returned to l’Homme-Armé , the flat was so cold that the insides of the window frames were crusted with frost.
"Shall I light the fire?" Valjean asked; it had not been lit all day.
"Leave it," Javert said, suppressing a shiver. "We should just go straight to bed."
When Valjean arrived at Javert's bedroom door for prayers he was wearing his coat over his dressing gown; despite this, his face looked pinched with cold. The floorboards they knelt on sent the chill straight up their bodies.
When their prayers were at an end, Valjean hesitated. He clambered to his feet, he could not look Javert in the eye.
"Do you think we might ... pass the night together, given how cold it is?"
Javert could not speak for a long moment. Valjean's words sent a shameful wash of excitement through him; he knew that his sinful flesh had already begun to react. For an instant, he trembled with the desire to catch his friend in his arms and throw him onto the bed and press kisses against that broad body until they both forgot the cold.
He knew he could not accept Valjean's suggestion, however. The reason made itself known in no uncertain terms, jutting against the front of Javert's nightshirt — he did not know if Valjean could see, but what he did know was that he would never be able to control himself as he ought if Valjean were to share his bed. His sin would terrify his friend, or worse: Valjean, who had trusted Javert with very little basis, might be so kind that he might submit to Javert's advances out of his immense capacity for pity.
Javert put out a hand, not to touch his friend, but to ward him off.
"Best not to, Jean," he said unsteadily. "You are too good for me; you would not understand what I am capable of. You have never been touched — you would not know that you cannot trust me to pass the night with you in the same bed."
"Good night," Javert said; he had to put his hands on Valjean to hasten him through the door. That simple touch nearly unmanned him, as did the look of confusion on Valjean's face. He had to lean against the door after he had shut it behind Valjean, closing his eyes with the nearness of his escape.
He heard Valjean take one step away, and hesitate. Then his friend spoke to him tentatively through the door.
"Javert, you may be right; I may not understand. I have never known what it was like to have a companion, and it is true that I have known no loving touch."
Valjean paused, and then he continued even more awkwardly, “But, my friend, this does not mean I do not seek to understand, or desire to be touched. Perhaps God has placed you in my life so that I can finally learn about this side of love.”
Javert kept his eyes resolutely closed. He leaned his head back against the door. I bear the dungeon within me. There was no end in sight to this temporal punishment, which he was clearly being required to withstand for the both of them.
The next morning, the first day of 1834, dawned bright and the air seemed warmer. Valjean did not mention what had transpired the previous evening, and Javert did not know how to broach it; he squeezed Valjean's hand over breakfast in silent apology and Valjean smiled sadly back.
The Bureau re-opened in January, and with it, some news. Javert had not forgotten the rumour that had come to him last winter concerning the Thénardiers — that they had had five children and not three, and had managed to misplace two of them. His enquiries in the past year had proved fruitless, but a file arrived on his desk in the new year that he thought might generate a fresh lead.
The file concerned a woman named Magnon. She sought legal assistance in her appeal against judgment by her landlord over a personal loan and unpaid rental arrears of an apartment at Rue Cloche-Perce. One of her grounds of appeal was that she was the guardian and sole breadwinner for two very young boys, who had gone missing the day of her original arrest in April 1832 and who could not now be found. Appended to her file was a note of the clerk from the commissary of Rue du Coq; it seemed she was known to the police authorities as an associate of the Thénardiers and the various members of Patron-Minette.
She was incarcerated at the women's debtors' section of the prison at Les Madelonettes. Javert decided to pay her a visit.
The woman looked to be in her thirtieth decade, her hair and skin untended. Her rough garments seemed hardly warm enough to keep off the bitter cold. She seemed beaten down by her months in custody, but looked assessingly enough at him, and when she spoke it was in reasonably cultured terms.
"Your Bureau didn't help when that Flores first had me arrested. On trumped up charges, no less. When I got out of here he told the magistrate I owed him money, said I didn't give him the rent. I couldn't pay, of course, and they had me locked up again. Nobody listens to a poor woman. As if the appeal'd be different?"
"That depends," Javert said. "Did you really owe him arrears in rent, as well as the loan of 200 francs for which the judgment debt was entered?"
"No! I'm telling you, I told the magistrate: I had a deal with Flores. Let him warm my bed, he gave me a reduced rate, right?" She grinned meaningfully at Javert; she appeared to have all her teeth. "The extra money was a gift of love for a poor woman, trying to make her way in the world."
Javert suppressed a sigh. This was a common enough story which she was trying to spin, though he ought not discount that she might be telling the truth. "Were you gainfully employed before your financial troubles?"
Her accents became even plummier. "Certainly, Monsieur! I was a member of the Gillenormand household at No. 6 Filles-du-Calvaire, in the Marais. I asked the matron to send word to M. Gillenormand. But she didn't; such a pity I didn't have money to bribe anyone. None of my former friends have lifted a finger to help me, neither."
Well, that was not at all a common story! Javert made a note in her file and a mental note to himself to make enquiries of Marius (and Toussaint). "What did you do for M. Gillenormand? And which former friends might those be?" he enquired. She looked wary; he pressed the point. "I understand you might be acquainted with a certain M. Thénardier."
She gave him a sharp, sidelong look, as if she was wondering whether to trust him or to try to spin a tale. "I tell you about Thénardier, maybe there be something in it for me?" she asked. She ran her thick hand through her hair, shifting in her seat so that the top of her rough garb slid to reveal the roundness of her shoulder.
Javert gave her his sternest look. "Madame, be assured that your offer counts against you rather than working in your favour with me." She deflated a little, pulling her top back up, and he said, suddenly stricken, realising this was likely the only currency the woman had: "Are you being treated well? Has someone given you cause to think that sort of thing would be required here?"
"I can look after myself, Monsieur," she said, frowning. Her accent thickened, the argot of the street creeping into her voice. "Don't trouble yourself on that score. You worried about a poor woman, not a sou to her name, just help her get out of this shithole."
"That depends on you being entirely truthful with me," Javert said. "I will keep your secrets, but I cannot help unless you first disclose them to me."
She was silent for a moment, chewing her lip. "Fine," she said, at last. "I know that bastard Thénardier."
"So do I," Javert said. "Your papers mention two children," and he saw the colour drain from her face.
"Monsieur, I didn't mean no harm, I swear."
Javert said, calmly, "Explain yourself, Madame. Fully, if you please."
She looked down and spoke rapidly. "Told Gillenormand I had two kids by him. Maybe it was even true, the randy old devil could actually still get it up for me. Anyway, he gave me money for the boys. Then the croup came, an' they died."
She wiped her hand against her eyes. "Thénardier offered me his two kids, said there was no point going without, right? Old man would never know the difference, he said. So I said all right... Anyway, after my arrest the kids up and vanished. They say Thénardier left town last winter, but he wouldn't've taken the boys with him." She shrugged helplessly. "Did my best, Monsieur. They were sweet kids. It weren't just for the money, believe me."
"I do, actually," Javert said slowly. "Did you report the deaths of your children to the civil authorities?" He realised how cold it sounded, but concealing deaths in the course of the croup epidemic in Paris would have been a serious offence, for which Javert would have to consider reporting her.
She stared dully at him. "The officier de santé took the bodies of my boys away. He gave me some paper, don't know what it said. Sure, he made reports. Didn't care, so long as nobody reported to Gillenormand."
Javert nodded. He could always check the civil register later; it would not do for the records to go uncorrected. He asked, "Where did you see the Thénardier boys last?
"Asked the cobbler's wife, to take them to Rue du Roi-de-Sicile, No. 8. But they never arrived." She looked down at her hands. With difficulty, she said, "Should never have done any of that business with Gillenormand. Those two boys never did anyone any harm."
Javert stood by awkwardly while she cried genuine tears. She had been stringing Gillenormand along in the sort of long con as befitted an associate of Thénardier, but he could not find it in him to condemn her entirely.
"I will make enquiries about the boys," he said. "In the meantime, I will arrange a decent lawyer. If your landlord really agreed to forgo his rent, or to give you money, those matters should be pertinently raised in your appeal."
Magnon cried harder, and Javert steeled himself to pat her hand. He was acutely aware that his old self of a year ago, of two years ago, would not have recognised the man he had become.
While Javert was in the field, he also took the opportunity to enquire at La Force about Jacques Nouvel.
"He now has a trial date," the superintendent told him. "The case comes on at the assizes in March. The prosecution finally managed to locate and charge one of the other perpetrators in the robbery, and there is some discussion as to whether they will be tried together as co-defendants."
Javert said, "Did the defence lawyer finally obtain suitable testimony from a physician?"
The superintendent shook his head. "I'm afraid the good doctors here aren't qualified to diagnose diseases of the mind. They'll do what they can, of course, but I wouldn't expect too much, M. Javert."
"I should just re-open his case and recommend legal assistance anyway," Javert told Valjean when he arrived home that day. "I should have followed up more closely with the bâtonnier."
"Do not be too hard on yourself," Valjean said. He put his hand over Javert's. "You try your best, my friend. It is not possible to rescue everyone."
Javert snorted. "You, and God, have said that those of us who see injustice are duty-bound to try to address it. Also, look who is talking! You never met a lost soul you did not try to save, or an error you stopped punishing yourself for."
Valjean smiled self-deprecatingly. "You might be right, at that. We make quite a team."
"I learned from you," Javert said. "And speaking of our team, I have a project for you." He quickly described the situation regarding Magnon, and Valjean's eyes brightened.
"Good work, Javert. God must have put this woman in your path. I will make enquiries of all likely hospices des enfants trouvés, and with priests who do some work amongst the street children and the gangs."
"That sounds like a fine plan," Javert said. He paused, then said with some diffidence, "Jean, I do not want to get your hopes up. Magnon gave me the children's names and descriptions, but it has been a year and a half since they went missing. Anything could have happened to them."
Valjean nodded. "Have no fear. All we can do is trust that God has preserved them, or failing that, He would have gathered them into His kingdom." He squeezed Javert's hand. "In the meantime, let us do the best we can with our tasks, both of us."
Valjean enlisted Cosette and Marius in the search for the missing Thénardier boys; with the history about M. Gillenormand and the Thénardiers, Marius took a particular interest in the case. They made a search of the registers at each of the hospices, and Valjean and Cosette conducted interviews of the matrons in charge as well as the likely candidates themselves. It was slow going, but Valjean was patient and meticulous, and Cosette surprisingly tenacious.
In the meantime, Javert did arrange for legal aid for Magnon's appeal. Duchamp, one of the Bureau's better young lawyers, was despatched to take instructions from her at Les Madelonettes, and when he returned he reported that she had been serious and forthcoming, and had not tried to seduce him once. Perhaps she had genuinely decided to turn over a new leaf? Javert was cautiously optimistic.
Magnon's appeal was fixed for April; Duchamp said he was working on a motion to admit new evidence, and at the same time would approach the claimant's lawyer to see if there was any scope for settlement. These were the sorts of tactics a good lawyer could pursue were one to be appointed in favour of the defence.
Such adequate representation was sadly still lacking in Nouvel's case. Javert did attempt to have Duchamp assigned to Nouvel's appeal as well, but he met with resistance from M. le Directeur. He also took himself to Nouvel's bâtonnier-assigned criminal barrister, M. Bernier, a cherub with a well-tended mop of curls who looked as if his voice had not yet broken; he was as stubborn as children can be wilfully stubborn.
"M. Javert, we have already done so much for the man by moving his trial date to March! You may think this man is suffering from a mental deficiency, but no physician in Paris would be able to diagnose the same."
Javert willed himself to calm. He was quite sure it was the prosecution and not this supercilious boy who had finally fixed the March trial date. "Did you seek the counsel of all the physicians in Paris?" he enquired, and watched the youngster flush.
"Look, Monsieur, this man is a career criminal! Of course he has a right to defence, but we need to take action that is not disproportionate to his use to society."
Javert could not help but be disgusted by the casual attitude of this pampered young man who had likely never known a day's want. "Monsieur, we are speaking of a man's life. If you had read his file, you would see this is the first time he has been in trouble with the law in Paris. And it does not become your offices to belittle your client in this manner."
Bernier scowled. "I will decide on what is best for my client," he said, elevating his aristocratic nose. Javert thanked God he was familiar with lawyers both humble and hard-working, because he would otherwise be in danger of stereotyping all of them with this young nincompoop's arrogance and entitlement.
"Surely this is grounds to have the boy taken off the case," Javert complained to Valjean that evening after work. "I might wish to see him disbarred as well. He is a disgrace to the profession and a danger to all defendants he represents."
Valjean frowned. "Young lawyers need to get their experience from somewhere," he said. "Perhaps he will learn a better way in time?"
"Not at the expense of his clients," Javert said. He muttered a variation along this theme throughout dinner. It seemed Valjean was also having little luck in his search for the Thénardier boys; the last hospices in Paris did not appear to have many boys of the right age, and the last two likely children turned out to have parents who had died in an accident on the road from Batignolles. It was not turning out to be a particularly successful January for either of them.
After dinner Valjean took up Notre-Dame de Paris. The climax was approaching, the hapless heroine about to suffer unjust punishment, both the stupid Captain and the even stupider poet unwilling to save her. Javert had had his surfeit of stupid men — his particular sympathies were with the crippled bell-ringer, condemned to a life of loneliness and lovelessness, who had adored the dancer hopelessly from afar.
Javert was not so fanciful to imagine how his own life might have been had Valjean not rescued him, but he could not deny that life was now hardly lonely or loveless, and that he was blessed with more fortune than he deserved.
Valjean located the part where they had stopped at last night, and then paused.
"I wish that you would not trouble yourself overly in this way about poor Jacques Nouvel. It does sound like he will receive some representation, and some form of justice in the end."
Javert shrugged. Valjean persisted: "I do hope you are not seeking to blame yourself. You have done what you could for the poor man, God Himself would not fault you in not knowing what further action you can take."
It was the same question, albeit more subtly spoken, that M. le Directeur had asked him: Why does this case concern you so much? With Valjean's gentle gaze holding his, Javert was compelled to consider his motivations more deeply.
"When I first interviewed Nouvel, I feel I let my personal distaste for him affect my judgment," he said at last. "I'm afraid my lack of pity then may have condemned him now, and it weighs with me, Jean."
Javert felt his throat tighten. He went on with some difficulty. "If I failed to save him, if I did condemn him, how am I different from the man who condemned you in Toulon? How can I say I have truly made recompense for my sin?" His voice failed; he found he could not continue, or meet Valjean's eyes.
He struggled to regain his composure. Then he froze as he felt Valjean's calloused hand cup his cheek, and Valjean's warm lips against the side of his face.
"You are a good man," Valjean murmured against his cheekbone. "Do not doubt God's redemption, or His love."
"Or mine," he added, and moved his lips to Javert's.
Javert held himself very still, unable to breathe. Valjean's closed-mouthed kiss was soft, gentle, full of tenderness, and after a moment Javert let himself relax in Valjean's arms, leaning against the back of the couch and allowing his friend to kiss him. Javert was not unaware of the simmer of desire deep within him, but more simply the press of Valjean's lips filled Javert with the assurance of his friend's affection and support. In that instant the dungeon vanished and Javert was free; he knew himself not alone despite his years of loneliness, knew himself loved with a love not malignant or corrosive, but pure and unquestioning — knew himself loved by this man who had seen every evil deed he had done and who believed in him regardless.
At length Valjean drew slowly back. Javert put his arms around Valjean's shoulders and found he could not speak for a long moment.
Finally, he said, "I do not doubt it now, Jean. Also, I do not believe I have had anyone kiss me before!"
"Nor have I ever kissed anyone. Not like that, at any rate. But I had a general idea of how it works. And it was not so difficult, was it?"
Valjean looked shyly pleased with himself; it made Javert want to kiss the old fool until they both forgot how inexperienced they were.
"No, not so difficult." He ran a hand through Valjean's white hair and marvelled at how thick it was, at how his own fingers trembled to touch his friend. "I have heard one gets better at it with practice, though. Would you mind trying it again?"
It indeed seemed that Valjean did not mind. And practise they did, until the fire burned low and they were compelled to retire to bed.
Extracts from Notre-Dame de Paris are from Book VIII, Ch 4 and Book IX, Ch 1.
The plot concerning Magnon and the Thénardier boys is thanks to groucha! In canon, their story is mentioned at Vol III Book 2, Vol IV Books 3 and 6 and Vol V Book 1, and then not again.
Les Madelonettes was the women's debtors' prison in which Magnon is currently imprisoned; of note is the fact that women prisoners were also held in La Force (where Jacques Nouvel is being held on remand) but left in 1830.
Per groucha, orphanages did not exist as such at the time. They were called "hospices"; street kids picked up by the police who were under the age of 10 would be taken to the Hospice des Orphelins in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, taught a trade, and eventually apprenticed to craftsmen in Paris or elsewhere in France. Older street gamins were imprisoned at the Madelonettes until they were age 12.
Chapter 11: A Last Draught from the Cup
Chapter by jehane18
Javert's old cases re-surface.
I'm afraid the story is expanding to fit the time; the casefic and its resolution is turning out more lengthy than expected! As always, thanks to Firestorm717, Miss M and groucha.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Valjean had told him not to doubt God's love, and Javert could not dream of doing so, not when Valjean was there to clasp his hand over breakfast coffee and to greet him with a kiss when he returned from work.
As January progressed into an even colder, wetter February, Valjean took to walking Javert to Quai de l'Horloge in the morning with an umbrella when it was raining. When it was fine he would meet Javert at the Bureau and they would both head into one of the nearby cafes for luncheon, or they would eat bread and cheese at Javert's desk.
None of Javert's co-workers dared openly remark upon this. After all, it was not as if Lavalle's new wife did not bring him a packed lunch every day, or Duchamp's mother, for that matter. Javert overheard the whispered comment from Duchamp one day: was it not fortunate for Chief Investigator Javert, even though he was unmarried and in his middle age, that he had M. Fauchelevent to bring him his lunch and keep him company?
Javert did indeed feel most fortunate. It had become their habit, his and Valjean’s, to spend the evening after dinner sitting on the couch before the fireplace with their arms around each other, reading, or more often than not, talking to and kissing each other. Over the days and weeks they learned to communicate assurance and support and devotion through these gentle touches and embraces.
Javert was gratified that the gestures remained reasonably chaste, particularly as they came together in prayer afterwards and he did not wish to have to confess his unclean responses to God.
Of course after they had retired for the night, it was a different story, and one which did put Javert in fear for his immortal soul. Now Javert did not need to call to mind far-flung memories of his friend when he handled himself — all he needed to do was recollect the clean smell of Valjean's skin, the willing pressure of his mouth, the shape and feel of his broad body in Javert's arms where he had been not an hour before.
It was an easy step to imagine the heated slide of Valjean's bare limbs against Javert's, the small sigh of surrender he would make as he gave himself to Javert's embrace, the spread of his thighs as he parted them for Javert's reckless taking. Filled with such visions, Javert would spill helplessly into his hand.
It did not help to read about the kissing in Notre-Dame de Paris. Valjean kept putting off the first chapter of the last book, which described a frenzy so different from the kisses that took place in their living room.
At last, he steeled himself to read the following immodest, damning passages:
“The priest burst into a hideous laugh. “Good, then; yes, an assassin!” he cried, “and I will have thee. Thou wilt not have me for a slave; thou shalt have me for thy master. I will take my prey; I have a den whither I will drag thee. Thou shalt follow me; thou must follow me, or I will deliver thee up! Thou must die, my fair one, or be mine! belong to me, the priest, the apostate, the murderer! and this very night, hearest thou? Come! kiss me, little fool! The grave or my bed!” His eyes flashed with rage and lust.”
Valjean had to stop reading. In the firelight his cheeks were scarlet.
Javert’s own face felt hot. He could not look at his friend. Following this reading, he could not help but withhold himself from Valjean for the night, lest anything about his embraces conveyed the dire threat of the grave or my bed.
Of course, it was a different matter when Javert was later alone in that bed. Thou shalt follow me; thou must follow me, thou must die or be mine.
Under Valjean's roof Javert’s nocturnal activities were conducted in shame-filled silence; he was usually mindful to restrain all his noises into his pillow or behind the bars of his teeth.
Then came the night they finally finished with Notre-Dame de Paris and its unsatisfying, tragic conclusion.
At the moment when the horror of the scene was at its height, a demoniacal laugh—a laugh that can only come from one who has lost all semblance of humanity—burst from the livid lips of the priest.
Quasimodo did not hear that laugh, but he saw it. Retreating a few paces behind the Archdeacon, the hunchback suddenly made a rush at him, and with his two great hands against Dom Claude’s back, thrust him furiously into the abyss over which he had been leaning.
The priest screamed “Damnation!” and fell…
The bell-ringer watched him falling. A fall from such a height is rarely straight...
Quasimodo returned his gaze to the gipsy whose body he beheld from afar; then he let it drop once more on the Archdeacon, lying in a shapeless heap at the foot of the tower, and with a sigh that heaved his deep chest, he murmured: “Oh! all that I have ever loved!”
Engaged immediately after the tragic ending, Valjean's kisses seemed to hold an uncertain, urgent quality, as if searching for something — a better ending for the story's protagonists, perhaps, or a need to avoid the perdition of love wasted, unreturned, poured out instead onto the flagstones of Paris.
Javert cupped his friend's face in his big hands and kissed back with the desperation of that last, anguished, “All that I have ever loved!” Gradually, with the quickening pace and their rapid breathing, he became aware of his body's own urgent response.
Valjean pulled back at the same time as Javert did. His eyes looked glazed, his mouth very red, his chest heaving with fast breath. "Was this all right?" he murmured.
Javert ran his thumb over Valjean's cheekbone; he held the rest of himself away from his friend's body so that his shame did not inadvertently brush against any part of Valjean. He was shaking with the thought that Valjean could not now help but notice his, Javert's, entirely sinful state. He did not dare look down at Valjean's own trousers to see whether his friend had had a similar response.
"Of course. However you choose to kiss me is always welcome, more than welcome. But we ought to get to bed.” He tried to smile, although his heart was racing. “Perhaps tomorrow we can select a story which has a happier ending!"
"Leave that with me," Valjean said. He smiled too, somewhat more steadily than Javert. He clasped Javert's hand and helped him rise from the couch.
The evening prayers did nothing to diminish Javert's indignity; he felt the disapproving eye of God upon him. He could hardly withhold himself until Valjean had left his chamber. Then he lay back on his bed and placed his hand on himself under his dressing gown and nightshirt, groaning with relief.
He was so engrossed in his memory of Valjean's fervent, searching kisses, in imagining Valjean making throaty sounds that mirrored Javert's own, that he forgot to take his usual precautions. It was only in the aftermath of his release that he heard Valjean addressing him tentatively through the door.
"Javert, are you quite well? I, I thought I heard my name. Were you calling out for me?"
"It is nothing, Jean," Javert said, flushing to his hairline, wiping his hand frantically on the washcloth he kept in the basin of water next to his bed. "A dream. Go back to bed."
There was a long pause; Javert felt certain Valjean did not believe him, as indeed would nobody with half a mind. He held his breath, the blood pounding in his temples. Then Valjean said quietly, "Bless you, my dear friend," and Javert heard him pad heavily back down the corridor.
Valjean next proposed a book on slavery and the Haitian Revolution. This did not sound like it would have a happier ending to Javert, but it was either this novel or a treatise dressed up as a story regarding the death penalty from the same acclaimed author, and he did not think that reading from the latter would be at all the peaceful interlude that he sought at the end of his day on the couch with his companion. Rather, it sounded as if it would just remind him of his most depressing cases at the Bureau.
As such, Bug-Jargal it was. Javert supposed he should be thankful its protagonist seemed somewhat less annoying than Gringoire. There would be less fodder for dangerous, passionate kissing, at any rate.
The day after they started on Bug-Jargal, Duchamp received a note from his client at Les Madelonettes:
please ask Investigator Javert to come at once it is about the boys
"What's this about the boys?" Duchamp asked Javert. "I did as you asked, I did not mention this business with M. Gillenormand in the court papers. In any case it is not relevant to the client's appeal and it doesn't amount to misleading the court. But you are still chasing something down for her?"
"Yes," said Javert, seizing his coat and hat. "I am not sure what this is about, but it does appear that she needs my help." He wondered if there was time to send word to Valjean to come as well, but he reluctantly discarded the idea; Magnon would likely be untrusting of another person. Besides, she might have had some inkling of the Thénardier plot to blackmail Valjean, and Javert could not countenance any risk to his friend.
Duchamp said, grinning, "M. Javert, you are a loss to the pro bono legal profession, but that loss is the Bureau's gain."
Javert harrumphed. The boy would not have dared to make this remark a year, two years ago; then again, two years ago the remark would have been woefully untrue.
Magnon looked better-tended than when Javert had last seen her, more warmly clothed and healthier, though she was very agitated. "Monsieur! ... here you are! Afraid you wouldn’t come ...!"
"I have always kept my promises, Madame."
"I saw him, the big one, my Guillaume, 'cross the courtyard two days ago. I tried to rush to him, called his name, those damned guards held me and I fell. When I got up he was gone." She rubbed her hand under her nose. "Tried to ask after him, but nobody told me nothing."
"Let me find out what I can," Javert said. He added, awkwardly, "In the meantime, try not to worry. It is in God's hands."
Fortunately the superintendent of the children's prison at Les Madelonnettes had not yet retired for the day. Javert was invited to inspect the prison register, and when this did not prove particularly constructive, he asked to address the boys personally.
A crowd of dirty young faces turned toward him, many full of sullen resentment, more which were dull and despairing. These were big children, older than ten years of age, who had fallen into the hands of criminal gangs and had themselves carried out crimes; then there were those who were guilty of the mere criminal act of living alone on the streets without any parents to care for them.
"Any of you here used to live in Cloche-Perce?" Javert enquired loudly. There was a long silence, then three grubby hands went up.
Javert added, "With a little brother, and a woman named Magnon?"
The three hands came down, but one came down more slowly than the other two. The owner of said hand, a gangly lad who looked as if he would be the right age, stared suspiciously at Javert, who tried to fix him with a gaze that was compassionate as well as piercing.
"Are you called Guillaume, and were you once called Gugliemo?"
"Folks call me Little Fox," the lad said proudly.
Javert saw in his stance an echo of Gavroche on the streets of the Chateau-d’Eau, at the barricades; he was certain this was the Thénardier boy. "Did you have a little brother, Anatole?"
The lad looked down. Struggling with himself, he said, "Not telling you nothing, Monsieur."
"I can help you, Little Fox, if you trust me," Javert said, and was pleased to note his voice had come out relatively compassionately, given that he had by now, thanks to his interactions with the Hubert boys, gained more experience in dealing with children.
The lad looked as if he thought so too. "Will... will I get into trouble for what happened to the little one?" he asked, falteringly.
"Not if you tell me the truth," Javert said, and waited.
The boy chewed on his lip for a while. "Well then," he said at last, "yes, I lived with Maman Magnon and Anatole. And then one day the police took Maman away." Javert listened as he dropped some of the rough street lingo and his accent became subtly more formal.
"I looked after Anatole. At first we managed. We walked in the park and ate bread people threw to the ducks. At night we slept in doorways. Then the police came and took him away too."
The boy stopped talking and scrubbed at his eyes. Javert wondered if he would have to pat the boy's hand as well, but the youngster was hardened enough to stop crying by himself, in the way of children who had never known a parent's comforting touch.
"So Anatole is in care? With one of the hospices, possibly?"
The boy shrugged. "Not sure. I got picked me up after. Was young enough still for hospice then, at Hospice des Orphelins in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, and I was sent to learn a trade, but I escaped, didn't I? That fat jeweller wanted more to do with little boys than with a real apprentice. Besides, didn't need no one to look after me." He lifted his chin proudly. "Lived rough for awhile, hung around one'a the gangs near the gardens. It was all right in the summer, but then winter came... The police took me again, and then I was too old, so they sent me to prison, and here I've been since."
Javert said, as gently as he could, "Have you been pickpocketing, Guillaume? Did the police charge you with any crime?"
"Only took what no one needed," Guillaume said crossly. "Anyway, there's no evidence. Police need evidence to charge you and they didn't have nothing on me."
Javert considered this at some length. He did not know have the faintest inkling of how one went about preparing legal papers for formal guardianship. It would not do to requisition Bureau resources for this personal matter, but perhaps Marius might be persuaded to assist... "If that is true,” he said, slowly, “then it may be that you could be released from Les Madelonettes, provided proper papers were filed and that there was an adult who was prepared to take you in."
"And who would do that if they didn't want more to do with little boys," Guillaume said, his face grim with suspicion and older than his years.
Javert had the unlikely sense of himself as God's instrument. It was most disconcerting. "Lad, God's grace is infinite. There are also good people in the world, and miracles."
The next day, Javert brought Valjean and Marius to Les Madelonnettes to pay Guillaume a visit. The meeting went fairly well, and the following day Marius brought Cosette to visit. Once the lad realised who Marius was, he broke into an accurate imitation of M. Gillenormand, and while Cosette was a little taken aback, Marius laughed out loud. Javert had to admit the impressions were fairly amusing; the lad had quite a gift.
Javert also made various representations to the superintendent for him to permit a rare visit by one prisoner to another. When Magnon and Guillaume were in sight of each other for the first time in a year and a half, both these proud and hardened persons broke down and cried bitterly.
Guillaume sobbed, "You trusted me and I failed you, I lost the paper with the address. Then I lost the little one."
"Not your fault, but mine," Magnon told him, wiping away both her tears and his. "If I'm given another chance, I'll do right by you."
Javert rather thought she might get that chance. Her appeal was in April, and she could be released then if Duchamp was successful.
Marius told Javert that it would take some weeks before the paperwork for Guillaume's own release to be processed, even with Marius working on this to the exclusion of his other cases. The authorities would be unlikely to let Magnon adopt the boy without a clean record or a secure employment, and she might not be of age, but Marius said that either he would persuade his grandfather to allow his aunt to apply for adoption, or else it would be possible to consider less formal options such as guardianship.
Javert rather suspected the old man might delight in sheltering a young son under his roof to show off his virility, even if he did not in fact really believe he had fathered the son in question. He was not quite sure of the propriety of Magnon returning to the Gillenormand household if there was any risk of unwanted attention from the old man – but then again, did Magnon suggest she might actually welcome such attentions? Although surely a man so old ... Well. Javert had far less experience with these matters than even Marius, so it would not do for him to speculate further.
In any case, it would appear that finally there had been the kind of fortunate accident that novels were made of, and happiness for at least one of the Thénardier boys was within their grasp.
Nouvel's trial date was scheduled for the next week, the first week of March. The morning itself dawned bright and dry. Javert had planned to finish his paperwork in the morning and then head into the assizes in the afternoon, after the lunch break, when he had been told Nouvel's case would commence.
"May I join you for lunch?" Valjean asked, when Javert announced this at breakfast. "And, if it would not distract you, perhaps I will attend the trial proceedings as well."
"It would not distract me," Javert said, "but are you truly sure you wish to attend the trial? I fear the proceedings might remind you unpleasantly of Arras."
With the thin March sunlight haloing his white head, Valjean looked like an icon of himself, sad and resolute. "I have nothing now to fear from reminders of Arras," he said, simply, "unlike the fear of my salvation had I not done the right thing by Champmathieu."
Javert felt emotion well up within his breast. He put out his hand and clasped his friend's. "You surpass me, Jean. No one would ever have had the strength to do what you did."
Valjean smiled, a smile of a mortal man like any other, or so he kept telling Javert, albeit one who had ben rescued and sanctified by God. "Hardly," he said. "When the moment comes, Javert, God will show you the right thing to do, and give you the strength you need."
Javert's chest tightened; he drew Valjean close to him and kissed him roundly. Valjean put his big arms around Javert's waist, under Javert's waistcoat, and soon Javert found himself very much delayed for work for the first time in his life.
He also found he did not care overmuch. M. le Directeur liked to come in early, but did not seem to mind when others strolled in at an hour or two after the designated time. Javert had initially frowned on this lack of discipline, but now he was amused to find himself an unwitting beneficiary of the same.
He eventually put his waistcoat back on, re-tied the cravat which had come loose from their embraces, and then leaned in to give Valjean one last kiss.
The sun was already high in the morning sky as he crossed the Pont au Change to the Île de la Cité. Javert put his hands in the pockets of his greatcoat and did not hurry his pace, humming a snatch of song to the rhythm of his boot-heels on the cobblestones.
He could even laugh at his own expense when he caught himself in mid-verse. If anyone had told him that the dour, humourless Inspector Javert would one day be an hour or more late for work and would still be strolling along the streets without urgency, devoid of his usual cudgel and weapons and humming a pleasant tune, he would have replied that this would only occur when Hell itself froze over.
And yet, despite the distinct lack of a frigid hellish dominion on this March morning, here he was: tardy, relaxed, weaponless, and in love as a much younger man could be.
The heavy outer doors at No. 10 Place Desaix off the Quai de l'Horloge were open; Javert pushed open the ornate inner ones. He frowned to see that Marcel was not at his usual position at the reception desk, but perhaps the lad had stepped away for a moment; he was after all doggedly diligent at his duties, for all that he was not particularly bright. M le Directeur had a soft spot for the diligent.
Javert walked down the short wood-panelled passage and opened the door into the main offices. He was in the process of taking off his hat and pulling off his coat when he became aware of the unusual stillness around him. At that hour of mid-morning, the young investigators would be at their desks, calling out to one another as they attended to their cases. Clerks would be traversing the open spaces, bringing correspondence from the Court and new files from the registry and depositing them on the investigators' desks, and in turn removing old files and outgoing correspondence for onward transmission to the necessary recipients.
The young lawyers would be characteristically doing no work and chattering in their own offices, arguing amongst themselves about whether it was time for their mid-morning tea break. Javert had half expected friendly teasing about his own lateness from them, indeed from all corners of the office.
But that morning the Bureau was silent.
Javert felt the hackles at the back of his neck rise very slowly. He took off his hat and put it on someone's nearby desk; he took into his hand that person's letter opener. For the first time since his plunge into the Seine he cursed his weaponless state.
He continued slowly and carefully through the Bureau until he reached M. le Directeur's office at the end of the building.
The door to M. le Directeur's outer chamber was open, as was the one to his inner office. There Javert discovered the eighteen men who worked in the Bureau, all huddled together on the floor of the antechamber in their shirtsleeves.
In the doorway of M. le Directeur's office was M. le Directeur himself and, towering over him, pistol to his head, stood Jacques Nouvel.
Extracts from Notre-Dame de Paris are from Book XI, Ch.s 1 and 2.
As regards the Magnon plot, per groucha, following Napoleon's decret of January, 19, 1811, street orphans first placed with the Hospice des Enfants-Trouvés would be placed under the care of an artisan in Paris, or sent to the countryside so they would learn to work the land, still another kind of apprenticeship.
Also, re: Marius’ plans to file adoption papers: under Art. 343 of the French Civil Code, adoption was not permitted to persons of either sex younger than fifty, who had at the period of adoption had neither children nor legitimate descendants, and for whom, during minority, and for a period of at least six years, the party shall have employed uninterrupted care, or saved the life of the party adopting. For friendly guardianship falling short of adoption, see articles 361, 363 and 364.
Chapter 12: The Trap
Chapter by jehane18
Javert and Nouvel discuss the nature of sin, illness, and the Law.
I’ve run out of superlatives, so let me just thank betas for their diligence with language, plot holes and inconsistencies, and rigorous assistance with Île de la Cité locations and Nouvel’s escape route.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Javert must have made an involuntary noise, because the men looked up. Lavalle gave a small cry which he quickly stifled; young Marcel, who looked like he had been weeping, let out a sob of, "Oh, Monsieur —!"
M. le Directeur said, "How good of you to join us." His voice was shaking, and Javert could see why: he was sporting a rapidly blackening eye, and there was an open wound on his temple that was oozing blood into his cravat.
Nouvel stood behind M. le Directeur, towering over him, one hand fisted in the collar of his frock coat. The young prisoner looked in far worse condition than he had on the last occasion Javert had seen him at La Force. His hair was tangled and to his shoulders, his great growth of beard was matted, his massive body that had reminded Javert so much of Valjean was rail-thin. His hand on the pistol was however rock-steady, and his face was contorted in anger and despair.
"Good morning," Javert said calmly, although his heart had started to thud urgently in his chest. "My apologies for my lateness today. M. le Directeur, are you quite well?"
"The better for seeing you, although I would that you were not also now trapped here with us," M. le Directeur said, trying to smile. It wasn't quite succeeding: the Director was doubtless not lacking in courage, but civil servants were, in Javert's experience, manifestly unsuited to violence of any kind.
"Better me than anyone else," Javert assured him. He then addressed Nouvel in the same cheerful, steady voice. "We meet again, Jacques. What brings you here today?"
Nouvel focused on Javert with some effort. His eyes were a bright and feverish brown in his weathered, dirty face.
"You," he said to Javert. "You came to see me at La Force. You said you'd help. Why di'n't you?"
Javert said, "I did, or at least I tried to. You were assigned a lawyer, weren't you?"
Nouvel bared his teeth; he went frighteningly red in the face. "He kept talking down to me," he said. "Kept talking down to me, even today, outside court! until I couldna stand it and I hit him so’s he’d stop talking." He gripped M. le Directeur fiercely by the collar and shook him like a rat.
Someone cried out in fear. For an instant, Nouvel looked as if he might truly turn violent enough to try to shoot his hostage.
Javert was about to throw himself across the room to try to stop Nouvel’s pistol arm when the prisoner managed to get himself under control again. Breathing heavily, Nouvel muttered, "Made that lawyer shut up, at least."
M. le Directeur had gone bone-white; Marcel started to weep once more. Javert held his hands out placatingly.
"Well, that can be addressed. We'll find you another lawyer. It's what we do here, after all."
"I know," Nouvel said hotly. "M not stupid, not like everyone says. 'Membered the 'Super at La Force told me: them boys at the legal aid bureau, are at No. 10. Ran in here, looked for the boss, like you do."
He shook M. le Directeur again. The Bureau's superior had closed his eyes; Javert wanted to close his eyes, too. He did not need to observe the guilty looks his co-workers exchanged or the wet-eyed shame of Marcel. The Bureau had no guards, armed or otherwise, and clearly Marcel and the others had not noticed that this particular man rushing into the Bureau had been wearing a jacket that was much too small for him over his prison garb and would have followed him without realising he was an actual threat. Perhaps M. le Directeur had recognised him, but by then it would have been too late.
"Where did you get the gun from, Jacques?"
Nouvel brandished the pistol, still red around the face. "From the gendarme with me... Di'nt mean to hurt him, neither." He scowled and tightened his grip on the gun. "Weren't anything left but to run."
Javert could picture the scene: the gendarme who had allowed the lawyer to take his client out of the courtroom against protocol, whom Nouvel could easily have overpowered. Then the desperate escape. A prisoner would not have tried to run through the Prefecture or to the main entrance to the Place du Palais du Justice – far easier for him to instead take the route through the Cour Harlay and to exit the rear of the building into Rue de Harlay. From there it would have been a simple matter to cut into the Place Desaix, where the Bureau was.
He said, trying to calm the young man, "That was fast thinking. Why didn't you head over the bridge?"
Nouvel shrugged, puffing up himself somewhat. "What, down that main road? Were guards at both ends, weren’t there? I ducked in here 'cause I thought there'd be a clear way through them buildings to the quay. There wasn't, then I 'membered the Bureau was in here. Not stupid, like I said."
He paused, then said, "Cops be here soon. Need your help. You can talk to them when they come for me. An accident, what happened with Bernier. Get done for murder, I'll be inside till I die."
Javert felt stricken. Bernier might have been a poor excuse for a lawyer, but nobody deserved to be killed by his client. He mentally cursed the stupidity of the Director of La Conciergerie or whoever was responsible for not having deployed more than one gendarme to control this very strong, dangerous remand prisoner. He also cursed himself: for having tried so hard to save Nouvel when that violent young man had no qualms about harming others, when he cared nothing about his own salvation.
Then Javert squared his shoulders. He must not make the same mistake he made when he first rejected Nouvel's claim. Underneath the bluster and rage, there was the sheer, helpless terror of a human who had been cast aside by society and was deserving of compassion — a soul precious to God. Despite the blackness of the man's sin, it would not be right for Javert to turn his back on Jacques Nouvel.
When the moment comes, God will show you the right thing to do.
"I will help you, Jacques," he said calmly. He put the letter-opener on the desk of the Director's secretary to demonstrate his good faith; he showed Nouvel his empty hands. "But that is provided you do one thing for me. Let the Director go, and you can take me in his place."
It warred with everything Javert was, to submit himself weaponless and defenceless into another's power. The inspector that he had been would rather have flung himself at the criminal in an attempt to subdue him and taken his chances as to whether the man would be able to shoot.
Yet it was unquestionably the right thing to do — to protect the young co-workers who depended on him, to safeguard his superior, who had taken a prickly, difficult former policeman into his fledgling offices and let him find a meaningful new career there.
And in an entirely unexpected way, Javert's new life with Jean Valjean had readied him to submit humbly to the frightened anger of Jacques Nouvel. For if Javert had not cast himself without weapons or defences at Valjean's mercy that first night when he had confessed his feelings to Valjean, had not taken that terrifying leap of faith into the dark, trusting God to preserve him, he would not have known the safe harbour of Valjean's house or the miracle of their days together. He would just have to trust that God would preserve him now in the same way.
He turned from thoughts of Valjean and of their home. These would just make him vulnerable at a time when he needed all his strength and sharpness to deal with Jacques Nouvel.
Javert seated himself in M. le Directeur's chair. He let Nouvel take hold of his coat and point the gun to his back. M. le Directeur was permitted to retain his frock-coat and to sit on the floor of the antechamber with the other men — he leaned against Duchamp, who pressed a handkerchief to his face to staunch the bleeding.
At first they stayed there in silence. Nouvel cleared his throat nervously and shifted his weight from side to side, as if he expected the gendarmes of the assizes to burst into the Bureau at any moment. Truth be told, Javert was rather expecting the same: either the gendarmes were even more incompetent than he imagined, or Nouvel had been better at evading their trail than anyone expected.
Minutes ticked by without any sign of the gendarmes or guards and lengthened to an hour, and then more. Nouvel began to fidget dangerously, thumbing at the hammer on the pistol. Even more worrying was the condition of M. le Directeur, who had become very pale, leaning listlessly against Duchamp as if he was near to fainting, the handkerchief at his head sodden with blood.
Javert needed to take action, and he took the bull by the horns. He ventured, "Jacques, it may be that you've managed to throw the gendarmes off the scent. If they were really following you closely, they'd be here by now."
Nouvel looked pleased. "Really? Maybe you're right, this worked better'n I thought it would. Not stupid, y'know."
Javert said, slowly, "Well. People said I was stupid when I was a boy, also. But I showed them."
"You a lawyer?" Nouvel asked curiously.
"Didn't have enough learning for that. Or any money, either; my father was a convict. I became a copper, worked my way up." Javert shrugged. He found he still experienced the fierce pride in overcoming his beginnings; what was new for him was sharing it with this young man in order to try to connect with him. "This is my retirement job. Someone has to keep the lawyers in line."
Nouvel laughed, and Javert seized the small moment of connection.
"I know you don't mean harm to the lawyers who work here. They're not like Bernier, they're good people. They help poor men get their money back or fend off claims from dishonest bourgeois, and nobody pays them much."
"They seem all right. Di’n't talk down to me, anyway. They're a bit wet, though," Nouvel said. Javert smiled despite himself.
"Lawyers aren't like us, they cry easily. They're also not strong — I'm sure you think you didn't hit my supervisor very hard, but he's still bleeding."
Nouvel looked out into the anteroom at M. le Directeur and back again. "Didn't mean to hurt ’m, just needed to shut 'm up. He a good ‘Super?"
"Yes, he's a good man, and I'm afraid he might be badly hurt." Nouvel looked somewhat chastened. Javert floated his suggestion. "Let us do this: if you have really thrown the gendarmes off the scent, you don't need hostages. It's best for you to try to get off the island. Plenty of places to hide in Montparnasse, especially if you have friends there."
"No friends of mine, don't know why people said they were," Nouvel said emphatically. "This one chap, Leon, from La Villette — said these guys needed a bit of muscle and they'd pay. How'd I know they'd hold up a store'n leave me to take the fall?"
Nouvel paused and narrowed his eyes. "Hey. I do as you say, how'd I make sure this lot don't get loose ‘n make trouble?"
Javert tried to keep the note of eagerness out of his voice, forced himself to speak casually. "You could always lock us in. The post comes again just before lunch-time, which will give you enough time to get away, and then the Director can get some medical attention."
Nouvel chewed his lower lip. "All right. Try it your way. Just you do one thing for me — you come along too."
Nouvel had wanted to bind the lawyers to their chairs, but Javert persuaded him instead to lock the door of the antechamber and leave the key on a nearby desk. Javert hoped the post would not be tardy that day; he did not know how long M. le Directeur could go without medical treatment.
When they emerged from the Bureau, the midday sun was high overhead, casting its faint halo through the clouds. Nouvel had put on Duchamp's fine camel wool greatcoat and hat, and kept a hold of Javert as they exited the double doors and stepped onto the cobblestones of the Place du Pont-Neuf.
At this hour of the day, the square was usually crowded: amidst the civil servants and lawyers with business at the Palais de Justice and the Prefecture of Police, there would be the usual traders and buyers, street vendors and beggars, carters and messengers and citizens coming and going to work. But this morning the square was far less busy than usual, the stragglers looking concerned and moving hurriedly along.
As Javert and Nouvel approached Pont Neuf at an angle it was apparent why that was so — there were gendarmes and guards stationed at the bridge, who looked as if they were interrogating passers-by as they left and crossed over to the Île de la Cité.
Nouvel bit out a curse. "Shit. They on the look-out for us!"
"Looks like," Javert said. "I don't think they’ve seen us, though. Let's try further along, near the Pont au Change."
They reversed their steps, Nouvel trying to stay as close to the buildings to keep as much out of sight as possible, although with two uncommonly tall men this was not an easy task. Javert was aware of the dark waters of the Seine beyond the parapet, as deep and treacherous as they had been when he had chosen to end his life. He just needed to trust that God would be as merciful to him this day as He had been that pitch-black night.
He wondered whether this would be an appropriate time to try to pounce on Nouvel and wrestle the gun away. It would have been too risky to try this in the Bureau, where a pistol could do damage at close quarters. In the open like this, the chances were better, particularly when their path led them in front of La Conciergerie, where hopefully a gendarme who by now would have had Nouvel’s description would recognise and stop them.
But Nouvel kept close hold of him, and Javert could feel from his grip how physically powerful he was. He recalled what Christiane had said about her brother, who to all accounts might have been almost as strong as Valjean in his prime. Javert himself was no longer young, and the cunning in Nouvel’s eyes and the febrile strength in his big hands made clear that this was an option of only last resort.
Unfortunately, Nouvel’s disguise held intact and they were not spotted or stopped in the crowd. When they reached Pont au Change, they saw plainly a group of soldiers standing there, conversing with policemen. A crowd of curious onlookers seemed to have assembled on the Quai de la Mégisserie, on the mainland, as indeed any prospect of spectacle or anything out of the ordinary would attract a sizable number of the good citizens of Paris.
It became apparent that this was the same story at Pont Notre-Dame. There were soldiers on the bridge and the riverbank, and what looked like municipal guards on horseback patrolling along the Quai de Napoleon. There was even a guard stationed at the steps from the walled quay leading down to the river. Clearly the word had gone out for soldiers to patrol the points of exit from the island and keep a look-out for an escaped prisoner trying to leave.
Javert knew the post would arrive at the Bureau shortly, and rescue would be on hand for his colleagues and M. le Directeur. He was not as confident of his own rescue, but that was the bargain he had made to secure their safety.
He did not want to think of Valjean, who by now might have arrived at the Pont Notre-Dame expecting to cross into the Île de la Cité to meet him for lunch, and who would have not expected to encounter so many gendarmes on patrol.
"What'd we do now?" Nouvel asked angrily. "Shit, this was such a stupid idea. Shouldn't have tried to get hold’a you; shoulda taken my chances when I could. Now how’d we get away?"
Javert tried to give this serious consideration; it was surprisingly difficult to maintain his stoic calm. Would it be better to suggest that Nouvel pay off some barely-legal brothel owner in Rue des Marmousets into giving him a room and a bed in which to lie low for the day? But then such a plan of concealment might actually succeed; Nouvel would likely insist on Javert remaining with him and this would curtail opportunities for rescue or escape. Better to try to keep to public places, and surely at some point they would be intercepted by the authorities.
"We wait them out," he said, at last. "We keep a low profile and when it gets dark it will be easier to give them the slip from the riverbank, or else they'll call off the patrols."
Nouvel glared at him. "Not stupid," he said, "don't try any of your tricks, M. Javert. Know anywhere to lie low then?"
Javert could not very well suggest remaining out in the open as such, but it would appear that the Cathédrale Notre-Dame was open to all comers, and there was a quiet pew in one of the small niches adjacent to the main sanctuary that was entirely isolated.
Javert sagged into the wooden pew, the stresses of the morning and the lack of lunch taking their toll. Nouvel seemed to relax somewhat, also, although his pistol hand did not waver, and he kept a tight hold on Javert’s arm.
They sat in silence for a length of time. Javert remembered the Cathédrale Notre-Dame as almost a character in the novel, so beloved of the bell-ringer, sheltering him in her mighty arms; he felt the sense of the ancient stone giving refuge to them now. Above them, the magnificent stained glass windows of the great cathedral lifted their colours to the heavens.
Lit with reds and greens and rare sapphire from the windows, Nouvel looked innocent once more, despite his haggard appearance: a handsome boy with his life ahead of him, and infinitely precious to God.
It made Javert, that penitent seeking his own remission for his sins, cast around for a safe topic of conversation, wanting to build a bridge across roiling waters to reach this poor soul in mortal danger.
Finally he decided to attempt this: "I went to see your sister, Christiane, in Montfermeil."
Nouvel stared at him. "Why would y'do that?"
"I needed to see if she could afford to help you. If she couldn't, that would assist our offer of legal aid."
Nouvel mulled this over for quite a while. "How is she?" he asked finally.
"Well," Javert said. It was not untrue. "The children are also well."
Nouvel rubbed his free hand across his nose, and then he nodded. "'S good. She deserves a good life. She's a good person, always was."
Javert said, conversationally, "You know, she told me you used to get into huge rages when you were little."
Nouvel laughed harshly. "Our ma thought it were from the devil! I was made to pray'n pray until my knees bled. God never answered, though, n' I figured God hated me."
The self-loathing in Nouvel's voice was clear as a bell. Javert sat up straighter, and took the deliberate gamble of baring his own soul to the young man.
"I thought God hated me too. A year and a half ago I stood on the parapet on the Quai des Gesvres between Pont au Change and Pont Notre-Dame, and threw myself into the river to try to kill myself."
Nouvel's eyes were as wide as saucers. "You're lying. Tried to kill yourself? Why?"
"I'm not lying. You can see the place, clear as day, right in front of the big water pump at Pont Notre-Dame. Want to take a look? We can also see if some of the gendarmes have stolen off to have their luncheon and the guard might have thinned out on the Quai Desaix."
It was a calculated risk. Javert hoped that Nouvel might be more easily distracted out in the street, and Nouvel likely knew this as well. Still, there was the possibility the police presence there might have diminished, and, besides, Nouvel was genuinely curious about Javert’s story.
Nouvel shook his head and muttered, "Lies!", then; "No funny business, mind!", but after a while he agreed to follow Javert’s lead out of the church.
Time had passed while they had sheltered in Notre-Dame's embrace, the morning having given way to the afternoon. The pathways were still only sparsely populated, but the Rue de la Juiverie seemed unimpeded by uniformed guards, and Javert found a place at the angle of the Rue de la Pelleterie where they could both flatten themselves unobtrusively, concealed from casual observation. From this vantage point they could see across the Seine the parapet where Javert had stood on that dark night.
"You see?" Javert gestured with his finger, and Nouvel followed the line of his arm to that lonely spot, fixed exactly between the Palais de Justice and Cathédrale Notre-Dame. "I stood right there, and threw myself into the river. There's a wicked current at that point, and it catches even expert swimmers and drowns them mercilessly."
Nouvel shuddered, and so did Javert, despite himself gripped with the bitter memory of cold, of his lungs sucking in water, of the spiralling undertow dragging him down.
"Shit. Why d'you do it?"
Javert closed his eyes. He rested against the solid stone of the building, which anchored him against the memory of the river. "I told you I was a copper. There was a man who had broken his parole, a man badly treated by society, much like you. I pursued him for seventeen years, even though he'd paid his debt to society and he'd turned over a new leaf – the copper, the man I was, didn't care about those things."
Javert swallowed. "Then the night of the June insurgency, the rebels caught me and would have killed me. That man was there. Instead of taking revenge and finishing me off, he chose to show mercy and helped me escape. I realised he was a good man, that my years of chasing him were a waste of my life, that the one thing I could do for him, to atone for those years, was kill myself." He opened his eyes to the afternoon sky; he shivered, felt the greedy currents of the Seine seize him as if it were yesterday. "I felt I had nothing else to live for anyway — my life was a joke, what I thought was a service to my country and to God was a sin."
Nouvel was silent for a space, digesting this. "How'd you survive?" he asked, eventually.
Javert said slowly, "God saved me from the river. He told me He had other plans for me. Maybe it was so I could come to this place to share my story with you."
Nouvel snorted. "Get away. Why'd God care what happens t' me now? All my life He's turned His back on me."
"God loves all of us," Javert said. He could barely believe he was saying this: that he, the questioning, condemned sinner, would be trying to take up the mantle of confessor, of saviour. For a moment he had the dizzying sense of the Bishop who had talked to another angry, terrified man about God's love and managed to change that man's life.
He continued, "I don't think He turned His back on you, Jacques. From what I had heard from Christiane, I suspect you might be suffering from a mental disorder that stops you from being able to focus or control your anger."
"What, saying I’m crazy?" Nouvel said, scowling, and Javert feared for an instant that Nouvel was going to fly into a rage again at the suggestion. Then his brow cleared, and he said slowly, "Christiane knew. All my life, there's been this anger. I'd even fight with my ma and Christiane and be sorry later. 'Fore I came to Paris I got so angry, nearly killed my best friend in Montfermeil. Don't know why I did it, he wouldn't hurt a fly. You reckon it might be a disease?"
"I'm not a doctor, but if you really have a mental disorder then there is a new law that would allow for this to be taken into account in sentencing." Javert paused. "And I'm not a lawyer, either, but if you really did not know about the robbery in advance, you might have a right of defence."
Again, the bitter laugh of despair. "Didn't know. ‘F someone told me earlier, I might've made something of my life."
Javert had to pause for a moment, feeling emotion stab him sharply between the ribs. Somehow, in the course of this conversation he had stopped considering the different ways to take action, stopped calculating the odds of trying to get the gun away from Nouvel, and had started approaching their discussion as a dialogue between lost souls seeking redemption.
"You still have your life ahead of you, Jacques," he said at last.
Unexpected tears filled Nouvel's eyes, as if he was still the inexplicably angry boy in Montfermeuil, who had attacked the family who loved him and almost killed his best friend, and not known why. "It's too late for me, Monsieur. Didn't mean to try to escape, didn't mean to hit that lawyer that hard, but I just got so angry! And then he fell n’ lay there broken-like, I think I did really kill him. Then after that there weren't nothing but to run."
Javert said, with awkward pity, "It's never too late, Jacques. It wasn't too late for me, even after I jumped into the river."
Nouvel bowed his head, and for many long minutes Javert allowed himself to hope that he had managed to reach his captor at last.
And then, the relative silence of the afternoon was broken by a ringing voice which Javert recognised.
Inspector (2nd class) Desmarais shouted: "Step away from the gentleman and you won't be hurt!"
Thanks to groucha’s extensive research, this is the following procedure for the day of the trial: one or two days before the trial, prisoners would be taken in a cart from la Force to La Conciergerie, the lock-up in the Prefecture. The prisoner entered the Conciergierie in carts called “Panier à salade”, guarded by a brigadier of the gendarmerie and a jailer, who sat inside the cart along with the prisoners, but were kept apart from them, and protected by a wooden panel. These carts were followed by a gendarme or two on horseback, depending on the cases.
Upon arrival at la Conciergerie, Nouvel would go to the guichet (counter) and meet the Directeur of La Conciergerie. Then, they would make him take off his clothes and Nouvel would be searched. Later, he would go to the Souricière, the cells, to await his trial.
When the time for their trial arrived, there would be one gendarme for each prisoner, taking his arm, to convey him from the lock-up to the courtroom. There was a system of internal corridors through which judges travelled and through which prisoners were conveyed.
The location of the court of assizes seems undetermined as of 1834, because it changed its location many times along the years; it was part of the Cour Royale, which was divided in several rooms, and there were two courtrooms (one on the ground level and the other one on the first floor), which sat every working day from 9 a.m. It was likely located at the left hand side of the Cour Harlay, adjacent to the Cour de la Prefecture du Police marked on the map.
On this particular morning clearly, the one gendarme would not be sufficient to restrain Nouvel, who gets so angry when Bernier needles him outside court that he breaks away and smashes in the lawyer’s head. When the gendarme goes to Bernier’s rescue, Nouvel clobbers him as well and steals a gun. Then he runs downstairs, across the Cour Harlay through the back exit. Because of the cops at the end of Rue de Harlay, he runs into the Place Desaix where the Bureau is.
Map of the Palais de Justice circa 1836 appended here! It shows the house numbers and the general layout of the courts.
There was initial uncertainty over whether Place Desaix had acquired its new name by 1834; previously (and then later) it was known as Place Dauphine (painting here). But there is agreement that even if it had not been formally renamed in 1834, it was likely that the new name, from the Fontaine Desaix that stood in the square, would have already passed into the common vernacular.
Chapter 13: The Last Square
Javert and Nouvel make their final submissions, and take their last stand.
As always, my thanks to betas Miss M, Firestorm717 and groucha. Warnings for violence, period-typical police enforcement action, guns, and [spoiler] character demise.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Javert snatched himself upright. At twenty, maybe thirty paces away were two groups of policemen, slowly advancing up both ends of the Quai Desaix on their position — policemen from the commissary at Rue de la Barillerie, led by Desmarais, his old friend and that of the Huberts.
"You keep away," Nouvel shouted, and dragged Javert into the street so that everyone could see the half-cocked pistol he held against Javert's head.
"Steady," Javert said, holding himself entirely still. Nouvel shouted, "Get back or I'll shoot!" and Javert watched the policemen halt and then retreat ten paces or so backwards.
One man did not retreat. He was not wearing a uniform, and his white hair shone in the afternoon sun. Javert's heart leaped in his chest, but he ought not have been surprised — no mere police patrol or locked door would have been a match for the strength and cleverness of Jean Valjean.
"Javert?” Valjean called out. “Tell me you are well, in God's name!"
Javert's blood was loud in his ears. He raised his hands to where Nouvel could see them, made sure the young man had not fully thumbed the hammer of the pistol, and only then did he respond. "I am. Do not fear for me."
Javert racked his brains as to whether it was safe to call him Jean in the open street as he so desperately wanted to. Javert's colleagues knew Valjean as M. Fauchelevent, but Javert could not now remember if he had ever mentioned Valjean's false first name, or any first name at all. It was stupid to be concerned about names at a time like this, but Javert was suddenly seized with fear that he might die without addressing his friend by that beloved real name one more time.
He put the emotion firmly to one side. He knew he could not risk the small intimacy. One eye on Nouvel, he addressed his friend, "Have you had your lunch meal?"
Valjean shook his head. "As you know, I came to lunch with you! And I had to get past this patrol, and break into your office, and your M. le Directeur needed to be taken to the hospital, and your young colleague said you'd been taken hostage ... !" He made a frustrated, helpless gesture; in his fervour, he took several steps toward Javert and Nouvel.
Javert said, simply, lifting his hands to warn Valjean away, "I offered myself up. It seemed like the right thing to do. And God gave me the strength to do it, as you said He would."
Valjean took another step towards them, into a patch of sunlight. Javert could see his cheeks were wet, although his voice was very steady. "You see?" said his friend. "What a good man you are!"
"I said keep back, or I'll shoot!" Nouvel cried, and Valjean halted abruptly.
Javert's heart wrenched in his chest with suffocating urgency. He wanted nothing more than to break free of Nouvel and to not look behind him until he had reached the safety of Valjean's arms.
He withheld, though. It would be foolish to gamble with his own safety and Valjean's happiness with such a rash act. Besides, Nouvel needed him, even if that man did not yet himself realise it.
"Please step back behind the police line, Monsieur," Desmarais said firmly to Valjean. Javert watched the frustration grow on his friend's face, as if Valjean was also considering taking action.
Javert raised his hands placatingly to try to forestall any further steps on Valjean's part. "There is no need, I'm here of my free will, I swear it. I will continue to try to do the right thing as long as I am able."
Valjean frowned, then he nodded slowly. "Then be very careful of yourself, my dear friend. I could not bear it if you came to any harm."
Javert felt his throat tighten at this confession, at the open tenderness in Valjean's eyes. "Trust me," he said, thickly, for the first time in his life.
"I do," Valjean said. A miracle, but Javert knew he meant it whole-heartedly.
Valjean withdrew, and the policemen of the commissary slowly ringed Nouvel and his hostage, staying a safe distance away.
Javert felt mortally tired, as if the strength had drained out of him with the retreat of Valjean's familiar, comforting presence.
The light began to wane as the spring afternoon wore on, the grey clouds overhead beginning to block out the sun. He knew he needed to conserve his stamina. He took a step toward the stone wall that stood between the quay and the riverbank; when Nouvel did not object he seated himself upon it and closed his eyes. He murmured a short, fervent prayer for strength, for protection, and felt an answering peace descend upon him. Despite the Seine below him, perhaps he even managed to doze off for a while.
Javert was brought back to himself by a desperate murmur from Nouvel. He looked distraught, almost feverish; he clearly had not rested at all.
"M. Javert, if I don't make it out of here, please tell Christiane 'm sorry."
Javert rubbed his hand across his eyes. The sun was now low in the sky. "Tell her yourself, Jacques. We can still get out of this all right."
"How can we do that?" Nouvel's face was white. Under the dirt he looked his age, lost and helpless in a desperate situation not all of his own making.
Javert said very calmly, very steadily: "We can do this — we can surrender. I will try to get you the best lawyer this time. Duchamp, the young man who was helping the Director back at the Bureau, he is very good, and my friend's son is a barrister. We can still make that ending, that good ending, and nobody else will be hurt, not you or me or anyone else."
Nouvel's eyes filled with tears again. "Wish we could do that," he said. "Wish I never fought with my friend, nor come to Paris, nor set eyes on Leon. Wish I was dead, M. Javert, 'n no mistake."
Javert struggled for words that could give comfort to the young prisoner. "Don't despair, man. All is not lost." Words that had given him comfort, a year and a half ago, when he thought himself lost forever: "Despite all that has happened, God still believes in you, will still forgive you."
Bright, disregarded tears stood on Nouvel's cheeks. "How can God believe? How can God forgive what I've done? After I killed that poor man?"
Javert's heart ached with an emotion he had learned to recognise as compassion. "He can, make no mistake. God forgives those who truly repent, even those who have committed grave sins."
"I'm very sorry," Nouvel whispered. "But how can that be enough? 'S not just the lawyer. I've done so many bad things, can't hardly remember them all."
"So have I," Javert said slowly. He looked out over at the darkness of the river below them. "Sometimes I hardly believe God would forgive me, too. Suicide is a mortal sin, I would have condemned myself to hell if I had succeeded. I failed to show mercy to so many; I even drove a woman to her death. I failed to help you that first time."
Javert closed his eyes: it would seem he would never make full reparation for all his sins. "Last year when I took on your case and met you at La Force. I should have investigated more deeply, I should have realised that you were suffering from some impairment. But I didn't, and this is the result."
"You mean you could've helped me? You could've, but you didn't?" There was a frantic edge to Nouvel's voice, a note of panic that made Javert's eyes fly open.
Nouvel had gone very red in the face. The veins stood out in his forehead, a tremor shook his body like a high wind. He took a step back; he levelled the pistol at Javert, but his hand shook wildly and he was not succeeding in thumbing the cocking mechanism.
Javert raised his own hands, showing the empty palms and willing himself to speak calmly, as if to a terrified, cornered animal.
"I could have, that's true. I sinned against you, Jacques. I am very sorry. Will you forgive me?"
"I – you — " Nouvel's face was wracked in a terrible grimace, as if he was trying desperately to get to grips with his rage. Javert could not tell if the young man was failing or succeeding in that battle, and he tasted the bitter iron of his own mortality.
Forgive me, he addressed Valjean in his mind, as he readied himself to leap to his feet, to finally fight or to flee for his life.
Too late he saw movement in the periphery of his vision — navy uniforms approaching at speed in a flanking motion, a voice shouting, "Attention, attention!", and Valjean crying out his name.
Javert put his hands out as if flesh and blood could stop a bullet.
"No! Damn it, don't shoot!" he roared, but it was too late — there were several sharp explosions, the smell of gunpowder, and Nouvel was falling.
Javert flung himself forward and somehow managed to catch the young man before he toppled to the cobblestones of the quay.
Nouvel was a massive weight in Javert's arms. Javert could barely hold him, as he would have never been able to bear the caryatid of Puget in Toulon.
There was a faint ringing in Javert's ears. Around them there was frantic movement, the sound of boot-heels, of shouting, but they seemed to come from far away. The wind rose around them and the sun began to set, pooling them in red.
There was blood on the stones, as if a man had been pushed and had fallen from great height from the cathedral, like in Notre-Dame de Paris. The pistol had clattered from Nouvel's limp hand; Javert could not tell if it had been fully cocked.
Nouvel's eyes were open, cloudy, fixed not this world but the one beyond them. His skin was clammy to the touch. He coughed faintly, and then the pale lips moved. "'S all right," he said. "Know you di'nt mean it. You couldn't've known, ‘bout how I am."
"I'm sorry," Javert whispered. The police marksmanship had been unerring: this amount of blood could mean only one thing.
Nouvel's eyes focused with some difficulty on Javert's face. Javert had to grapple with that dead weight and to lean even closer to hear his next words: "Not your fault, this. 'm sorry, too. For everything."
His eyes began to glaze over, as if his mortal soul was leaving his body, headed to its final rest or to eternal fire.
"You need to petition God," said Javert, desperately. "For all your sins, and God in His mercy will help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit." His arms trembling with effort, he reached back to the words of the prayer of contrition that he spoke every evening and every Sunday, when he sought forgiveness for sins venial and mortal, seeking now desperately to comfort this dying sinner. "May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up."
Nouvel nodded, then started coughing once more; this time it brought up blood. He closed his eyes and did not open them again.
Javert closed his eyes too against the helplessness that threatened to overwhelm him. Dimly, he heard someone howl in frustration, and only moments later realised it was he who had made that almost inhuman noise.
Blessedly, there was another sound — the most welcome voice in the world. "Javert," Valjean said, "my friend, my dear," and strong arms took his burden from him and laid it down.
Valjean continued, in tones of infinite compassion and authority: "Thus are you commended, Jacques Nouvel, into the arms of our Lord of earth, our Lord Jesus Christ, Preserver of all mercy and reality, and the Father Creator. We give Him glory as we give you into His arms in everlasting peace, to be prepared to return into the reality of God, the Father Creator of All. Amen, amen, amen."
Amen, Javert said. He could not stop trembling. Had he condemned Nouvel again, the final condemnation this time, so that poor wretch was destroyed body and soul before he could be assured of God's redeeming love? How could he, Javert, ever make reparation for his failure to save Nouvel now?
"M. Javert, are you all right? Dear God, I did not think we would be in time," Desmarais said. He bent over them now, hesitantly, outlined against the setting sun. He had holstered his pistol but was himself still pale and shaking. It was likely the young inspector had never shot anyone before, and he had been compelled to do so today for Javert's sake.
Javert found he could not speak. He would never be able to come to the end of his responsibility for the harm that had been caused this day.
Valjean responded for him. "Inspector, I believe Javert has not seen injury. The blood on his coat is that of M. Nouvel, God rest his soul at last."
"Thank God," Desmarais said, echoing Valjean. He waved an arm helplessly. "That poor wretch! – M. Javert, I was compelled to take action. He was going to shoot you…!"
The light from the sunset was blinding; Javert had to close his eyes. In his mind the sheer drop from the parapet at the Pont au Change yawned before him, the sense of failure threatening to close over him like the accusing waters of the Seine.
"You did what you could, Inspector," Valjean said, steadily, forestalling further conversation. "If you will excuse us, I will see M. Javert reaches home safely."
When Javert could not seem to get his legs to function, Valjean lifted Javert bodily into his arms and carried him away from the bloody riverside.
The focal point of this chapter is the pistol Nouvel procured from the gendarme at La Conciergerie in Chapter 11. Although I’m perfectly happy to be proved wrong, it may have been this 1816 version of the Year 9 Gendarmerie Pistol, with a 5" octagon to round barrel in .62 caliber. The lock plate measured 4" x 7/8" and the throw of the cock is 1 3/16". Another example is here: apparently this is the favoured weapon of the French Imperial police force. Quake in fear of the .60 fist of the law!
Readers might remember Desmarais, Insp. (2nd Class) from Chapter 3, when Javert persuades him to show some mercy to the Hubert widow and children. He’s got it pretty bad for Javert. We saw the Hubert boys and Desmarais again in Chapter 5, when Javert tracks down Thenardier with Marius and Valjean.
Chapter 14: Supreme Sorrow ...
Javert attributes blame to the usual suspects.
(am indebted, as always, to betas for indulging me in the tropey h/c and washing in this chapter ;))
Valjean summoned a fiacre from along the Quai de Gesvres and lifted Javert into it. The driver exclaimed about the blood on Javert's clothes and the likely stains on the Utrecht velvet of his carriage and Valjean promised there would be additional napoleons for the man's trouble.
Javert had the distinct sense of being transported back in time to the terrible night of the insurgency. Once more there were the bloody clothes, the fiacre, the sense of the foundations of his world being pulled down brick by brick and he being unable to stop it.
He kept revisiting the events of the day in his mind. What could he have done differently? Should he in fact have taken the risk of trying to get the gun away from Nouvel when they first left the Bureau? Or ought he to have suggested they go into deep hiding, as he had at first considered before deciding to take Nouvel to the Notre-Dame, paying for a covert room in some unlicensed establishment, so that he could have taken the time to persuade the young prisoner to give himself up? Had Javert’s eagerness to remain in the public sphere, his impatience for his own rescue, his own mis-step regarding Nouvel’s propensity to sudden rages, all worked together to condemn Nouvel irretrievably?
Nouvel's death had unmoored something within him — he felt helpless, cast adrift in the open sea. If he, Javert, could not put right this mortal error, could not save one lost soul, how could he see himself redeemed from everything he had done?
He might have left the banks of the Seine behind, but its unquiet currents had not left him.
"Can you walk?" Valjean asked gently when they reached Rue de l’Homme-Armé. The answer to this was yes, of course, although Valjean nevertheless was required to support most of his weight as Javert's cramped muscles buckled under the strain of the long day.
Toussaint had left soup for them, but Javert could barely look at the food, even though he had not had a proper meal since the morning. Valjean too had other priorities. "Let us get you clean," he said, helping Javert over to the couch.
Valjean set about lighting the fire, then he brought the large basin of water and washcloths and a nightshirt from Javert's room and set them by the hearthside. He unclasped and removed Javert's greatcoat. Nouvel's blood had soaked through to the waistcoat and trousers underneath. Gently but efficiently, he drew off Javert's boots and outer garments; they discovered that Javert's shirt and small clothes were also marked with blood now so dark it was almost black.
"Permit me," Valjean said, and in his exhaustion Javert allowed his friend to draw off the rest of his clothing until he was naked before the fire.
It transpired that the blood had soaked through the fabric of Javert's clothes to mark his skin. There were streaks of blood on Javert's forearms, on his knees where he had fallen to the cobblestones, on his thighs and hands where he had cradled the dying man in his lap and prayed in vain that he might live.
Valjean knelt beside the basin, immersed a washcloth in the water and began to cleanse the blood from Javert's flesh. His touch was gentle, almost reverent. Despite himself Javert had the blasphemous thought of Christ on his knees washing the disciples' feet, although he could not imagine Christ might look thus, all brawny masculinity and strength. After all, his friend was a mortal man, not some image of saintly perfection.
Valjean had loosened his collar and folded his shirt-sleeves heedlessly up his arms, the secrets of his past displayed on his broad body for anyone with eyes to see them. The firelight made his skin ruddy, the corded muscles working as he washed the crusted blood away in long, soothing strokes. Again Javert could not help but be moved by the sight of this powerful man, built for brutality and violence, instead tending to him with infinite care.
Valjean sponged the skin and the thick hair on the backs of Javert's forearms and his hands until the blood was gone. Javert had somehow managed to bruise his knee and gash the palms of his hands on the cobblestones, and Valjean swabbed the hurts clean and fetched a salve and bandage for the worst scrapes.
After he had done this, he cupped Javert’s face in his hands, mapping the bones very gently with his fingers. His thumb brushed across a place on Javert’s brow that made him flinch, and another along his cheekbone.
“Do these hurt?”
“Barely,” Javert said, between his teeth.
Without further comment, Valjean took up another clean washcloth and pressed it to the bruises; he applied a small amount of salve, and then carefully wiped the rest of Javert’s brow and whiskers until Javert’s face was clean.
When he was done, with another washcloth he began to cleanse the rest of the sweat and grime from Javert's body. It took some time: Valjean was thorough as well as tender, washing Javert's back, the nape of his neck, his arms and chest and belly, his legs, with the customary care he adopted in all things.
When it came to the place between Javert's thighs, Valjean hesitated. It could not be the first time he was looking at another man's unclothed genitals, not after nineteen years in Toulon, but the mixture of awkwardness and awe in his sidelong gaze made it seem that he had never set eyes on Javert's before, at least not since everything had changed between them.
Javert felt his heartbeat begin to speed up. Slowly, despite his turmoil of spirit, under Valjean's shy regard, his flesh began to rouse after all.
"Is this all right?" Valjean asked, tentatively.
"Yes, if it is all right with you," Javert said. The old fears seemed suddenly far away, compared with the very real terrors this day had brought.
Valjean wiped carefully between Javert's thighs, the thick organ and the unruly mat of hair, neither avoiding or lingering, and that was indeed all right, more than all right, even. Valjean's willingness to touch Javert's bare body, his acceptance of Javert's arousal, was unaccountably moving. Javert closed his eyes, leaned back against the couch, and committed himself into Valjean's hands.
"Lift your feet," Valjean said. He placed Javert's feet into the basin and scooped water onto Javert's sore toes.
Javert looked down; the water in the basin had turned the colour of blood. He barely suppressed a shudder.
"Are you cold?" Valjean asked, frowning, towelling off Javert's feet. "Let us put your nightshirt on."
"I am not cold," Javert said, as Valjean pulled the cotton over his head. "Just ... I did not realise how much blood there would be."
"There was a lot of blood," Valjean agreed. He smoothed the nightshirt across Javert’s collarbones, and then looked up into Javert's eyes. "I was at first so afraid some of it was yours."
Javert cupped his hand around Valjean's wrist, unable to hold Valjean's gaze nor to speak for a long moment.
"I was afraid too," he confessed finally. "I was careless, Nouvel flew into one of his rages, and I feared for my own life. And because of it the man is dead."
"You are not to blame yourself," Valjean whispered. "It is a terrible thing that poor boy was killed. But you did everything you could today, for the colleagues whom he endangered, and for him."
"That is the point," Javert said. He was filled with self-loathing as turbulent as the Seine at night. "It was I who condemned Nouvel in the first place, I who endangered those colleagues. And even though I tried to make amends for it, though I tried to convince him of his worth and of God's love, I condemned him yet again. If I could not put right this wrong, how can I expect a remission from God for the rest of my sins?"
Valjean put the bloodied basin to one side; he rose from his knees and seated himself on the couch beside Javert.
"You have been living for God's higher purposes since He saved you from the river," he told Javert. "You have kept the sacraments, you have made contrition and confession, you have tried to walk in mercy. God and his priests will not stint from extending an indulgence for your sins."
"You see," Javert said, bitterly, "I do not know what might be sufficient contrition. If I truly walked in mercy, as you say, I ought to have been able to save Nouvel."
He struggled for composure. "That angry boy was as you might have been, Jean, had you not encountered the Bishop. I thought... I thought if I could show him the same love and compassion as you were shown, I might have been able to help him change his life as you changed yours." He swallowed roughly. "Instead, I failed. It may be that I am always doomed to fail, to require punishment rather than deserve forgiveness."
"You did not fail," Valjean said. "You saved your colleagues by sacrificing yourself. And I saw how Nouvel forgave you, how he sought forgiveness at the last."
Javert shook his head, gripped by his sense of distress and failure. "He died!" he said furiously."He died because I was afraid, because I was stupid and thought only of myself, because I could not show him enough love. He died because I did not help him months ago, because I could not save him today. I could not save him, Jean! How can I myself deserve salvation?"
His bandaged hands had formed themselves into fists; trembling with effort, he made himself unclench them.
"My dear." Valjean took Javert’s hands in his, running his thumbs over the bony ridges of knuckle, the rough gauze, the paper-thin skin. "Jacques Nouvel may have been doomed to die, and neither you nor anyone else could have saved his life. But you may have saved his immortal soul from condemnation, as the Bishop saved mine, and beyond question you are redeemed from what you think you failed to do for me, as well."
Javert wrestled with this for a long moment. "Would that that were true," he murmured finally. "Is there so much mercy in the world, that I could be granted a remission for all this sin?"
"God's mercy is all around us," Valjean said steadily. "It is here, in this house where He has drawn us both together after so many years of fear. This life we have made would only have been possible by God's grace, by His infinite mercy."
Javert felt himself swayed by the force of Valjean's words, the simple comfort of his friend's broad shoulder. A wave of dizziness swept over him, exhaustion and hurt from his injuries settling into his bones and finally overtaking him.
"You do really believe God would forgive my cowardice?" he ventured.
"You are one of the bravest men I know," Valjean told him. He kissed Javert gently on the mouth. "Come, you need to get to bed before you fall over."
Javert struggled to his feet. The spiralling currents of the Seine reached for him, beckoning and fatal. Sleep would have seemed a terrifying prospect were it not for Valjean's presence at his side, a steady anchor against which he could ride out the storm.
Catching himself by surprise, he asked his friend, "Will you stay with me tonight?"
"Gladly," Valjean said, and took his hand.
Chapter 15: ...Supreme Dawn.
Javert struggles with the long dark night of the soul. Fortunately, he's not alone.
...and here we are, finally. My thanks to betas for their patience, and to those readers long-sufferingly waiting for them to get to this point!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Once again, Javert woke from the same dream as he had had in the autumn, in his old apartment in Rue des Vertus: the dark waters of the Seine, the knot of whirlpools, the desperate struggle with his soul at the quay which he proved unequal to, and then the choking, the terrible cold, the taste of water in his lungs. This time, the water was red with Nouvel's spilled blood.
He woke to the same darkness, too; a window with curtains parted, stars outside, and within him the river trying to reclaim its prey, the gathered shadows threatening to suffocate him with the overwhelming sense of shame and sin. His body ached in the same way as it had that dark morning, bruises and exhaustion standing in for fever, and it was nothing compared to the same anguish within his heart.
This time, however, Jean Valjean was lying in his bed.
His friend was asleep, head pillowed on his curled arm, still dressed in yesterday's clothes, stretched out beside Javert on top of the covers. Even though Javert lay tucked under the sheets, he could feel the warmth of his friend's broad body through the layers of wool and cotton. From the light of the stars outside, he could see how Valjean's white hair stood on end; there were wrinkles around his cheeks, his mouth had fallen open, he was snoring a little.
Javert gazed at that beloved face for what seemed like an eternity. So too might the saints have gazed forever with perfect contentment and ecstasy upon the shining visage of the Deity. But Valjean looked nothing like the perfect icon of the Holy Christ, or the apparition of lusty temptation previously conjured by Javert's fevered mind, or the image of saintly innocence which Javert had held before him for so long. He was entirely human, a man of sixty winters and no longer young, and he was the most beautiful thing Javert had seen in this life.
Javert clung to this image of his friend as a ballast against the terrifying images of the river, the stifling sense of his own sin. Valjean had told him he had been redeemed by God, that he had not failed Nouvel, that he did not deserve punishment for wrongs done to Valjean himself.
He could not wholly believe it – it could not be this easy to obtain the necessary absolution from God for his sins and failures. But Valjean believed in Javert's redemption wholeheartedly, and Javert did not have it in him to gainsay his beloved friend, whose goodness he manifestly did not deserve.
Javert must have either let loose a small sigh or made a movement under the covers, because Valjean's face twitched and his broad body stirred. All his years in Toulon and then on the run had clearly given him the wary instincts of a fitful sleeper.
His voice muffled with slumber, Valjean asked, "It is still early?"
"Yes. Not yet dawn."
Valjean rubbed his eyes. "How are you feeling?"
"Better. And yet..." Javert swallowed. He did not know how to convey the anguish he felt over his turbulent dreams of making his ending at the river, the image of Nouvel's spilled blood haunting him even now. "I know you would not have me blame myself for what happened, Jean, but I cannot help myself. I cannot but think that God may have truly turned His back on Nouvel as Nouvel feared, and if God could not show that poor man any mercy, He could hardly be expected to show mercy to me."
Valjean came fully awake; he frowned and rolled on to his side so he could look Javert in the eye. "Then I would seek to convince you otherwise," he said slowly. "God's ways are mysterious, and His mercy is unknowable. Perhaps it was kinder to allow Nouvel a quick death and spare him a lengthy trial and sentencing process? I understand the boy killed his lawyer, and even if it were an accident I cannot imagine the prosecution would not seek to condemn him for it to the death."
Javert said, anguished, "But for him to be killed before his last confession? How can that be mercy?"
Valjean put a tentative hand on Javert's waist. "I can only believe your intervention helped save the boy's immortal soul from Purgatory. I believe God would have shown mercy on Nouvel's soul, as He shows mercy on yours, now and always."
Javert could not accept this gentleness. He shrugged off Valjean's hand and turned onto his back so he was no longer face to face with his friend. "Are you so sure God is showing me mercy? Is it mercy that binds me to the man I have wronged and for whose sake I deserve to be punished?"
Valjean retrieved his hand. A small smile crossed his face. Hesitantly, he said, "I thought you had moved beyond seeing your devotion to me as punishment? Although I do admit some might consider sharing my interests in municipal services in that light..."
Javert snorted at his friend's attempt at a joke. "You know I appreciate your commitment to municipal betterment. No, my devotion to you is the source of my greatest happiness."
He paused, surprised that the words were emerging from him at last, words which he had harboured within him throughout the months of struggle and self-denial under Valjean's roof. And yet ... and yet, he had never shared more about his thoughts and hopes and feelings in his life than he had with Valjean, first his confessor and then his first and only friend.
This realisation gave him the strength to go on to further make this confession: "But the fact that I have desires for more than your friendship, desires to engage in unworthy physical sin, shows that I am an ungrateful sinner undeserving of God’s grace, and deserving instead of punishment."
Valjean was silent, and Javert tried to better explain himself. "You told me when I first woke in your house that you were still afraid of me, that I had all the power, that you had had to make yourself do the right thing. I never forgot it." He cursed himself for his inexperience at communicating his feelings, for being this monumentally bad at expressing himself, especially now, when it was so important that Valjean comprehend him. "I have spent so much of my life putting you in fear, of abusing my power over you — I never want that again. I want to do the right thing by you, Jean, I will not have my sin disgust you or shame us both."
"But you do not disgust me, Javert. I too wish there to be more between us," Valjean said slowly. "There was a man of passion here, before I had to lock him away years ago, and your devotion has finally awakened him."
He flushed a little in the darkness, and Javert felt an answering heat slowly suffuse his own face as well when he finally understood what Valjean was trying to tell him. All those nights, reading together, touching, kissing: they had not failed to rouse his friend as well.
Valjean continued awkwardly, "That is not to say that I did not have my doubts... It is true that I have been running for so long, hiding for so long, that I was at first unsure if I could trust what I felt. I did myself fear perhaps I might be drawn to you simply because you were the first person who knew the whole truth about me?" He cleared his throat and pressed on. "But living with you for these months, seeing you unfailing in what you felt was your duty to me, has taught me to trust you."
He spread his big hands on his thighs in a helpless gesture. Javert knew that Valjean, too, had very little experience with conveying his thoughts to and sharing his feelings with another.
Valjean went on, with some difficulty, "And yesterday, seeing you in danger ... I know I should have trusted God to guard your body and if not then your soul. But I was so afraid I would lose you before I could tell you how much I loved and desired you."
His broad face closed on itself with grief; he could not continue.
"Jean," Javert said. He felt sick to his stomach, he stood upon the precipice overlooking the quay, the roiling waters at his feet. He took Valjean's face in his hands. "I was afraid as well. Terrified. Not just because I had no wish to die, but because I was not ready to leave you."
Valjean struggled visibly; his eyes when they finally met Javert's were red-rimmed. "It is God's mercy that you are alive," he whispered. "It is a selfish thing, but I am so grateful that He has spared you, that you have come back to me."
"Not selfish," Javert said. He found himself trembling in every limb, breathing harshly. "Do not think me ungrateful, either. That I am alive at all, that you rescued me from the river two years ago, that you came for me yesterday? Could only have been the work of God."
Valjean swallowed thickly, collecting himself. He placed his big hand at the back of Javert's neck. "It seems that after having faced the fear of losing you, I am no longer afraid of anything. Perhaps it is time for us to set aside our fears."
"How is that possible? It has been so long, and I am still so afraid." Javert leaned into the immense, perilous comfort of Valjean's touch. He swayed upon the vertiginous edge of the sheer drop, unable to catch his breath, the fall into terrifying darkness at his feet, the words of the man he once believed to be his enemy ringing in his head.
"I have been running for nineteen years, running from you for nineteen years," Valjean said.
He put aside the covers and took hold of the front of Javert’s nightshirt in one big hand. "It is time to stop running."
He leaned in, his eyes hot and urgent, and Javert was overcome – this was more temptation than he could withstand. He was wretched, he was a sinner, he could not be equal to this in either this world or the next. He leapt off the parapet into the raging river, he pulled his enemy into his arms, he kissed his friend on the mouth as if he were drowning.
And he was, he was drowning. He could not breathe in the waters of the Seine, his lungs burned, the fire that filled him as excruciating as the cold he remembered.
But as he had been in the river, Valjean was there with him in his bed, strong arms around him, shielding Javert from the currents that pulled them both down into the vast abyss. Javert clung to his friend's broad body, he clawed at Valjean’s clothes, he took breath from Valjean’s lips, until they breached the surface of the Seine and together drew in the air in this new world.
This new world: dark, like the old one had been, but filled with merciful stars, and in the sky, the suggestion of dawn across the firmament. Javert felt his old heart reborn, his time-worn body awakened to burgeoning life. His nightshirt had raked up and his dignity was displayed, yet he had never felt this unrestrained from self-consciousness.
Lying in his bed, under his hands, Valjean was supple, pliant, granite made flesh. He let Javert press feverish kisses against his brow, his lips; he did not turn from Javert’s nakedness, he returned Javert’s caresses with his own. When Javert put a hand to the front of Valjean’s trousers, he let out a small noise, as if surprised at his own body’s ardent response, but he did not pull away. Javert felt his friend's heart leap and his own heart raced to meet it.
“Merciful God, this is truly what you wish, how is it that this is possible --”
“I have you, you need not be afraid. You need not be afraid of me,” Valjean said, as he might have said to Javert that night when he had dragged him half-dead from the river.
He pulled Javert toward him now, alive and fervent, let Javert press between his thighs and thrust himself against Valjean's hard length as a much younger man might. In the first sliver of the dawn, their breath coming in fast gasps and then faster, Javert’s fumbling hands were that of a much younger man, the thickness of his arousal that of much younger, potent flesh, and as sunlight broke over the horizon they surged together and the remains of the world broke apart under them and was made into bright day.
“How is it that you are not afraid of me,” Javert said, at last, when they had subsided to calmer waters, holding onto each other in the storm-tossed wreck of Javert’s bed. He felt young again, strong enough to face any castigation, foolish enough to test himself once more against the Seine if it meant Valjean would be there as well, to save him from himself.
“Perfect love casts out fear,” said Valjean: blessed scripture had never sounded more holy in any man's mouth.
When the heart is dry, the eye is dry; Javert had been dry-eyed at Pont au Change. Now, it seemed that was no longer the case. With his full heart, he pressed his lips to Valjean's, and his friend kissed away the wetness on his face.
“Can mercy extend so far?” he asked. He did not dare to hope that it were so.
“God’s grace is limitless,” Valjean answered.
Valjean quotes from 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
"When the heart is dry, the eye is dry" is the penultimate sentence to LM Vol II.2.vii; it describes Valjean on leaving Toulon, but equally it would have applied to pre-Seine Javert.
Chapter 16: The First Gropings of Flight
Javert deals with the aftermath of the hostage situation on the Île de la Cité.
(No one is more surprised than me that this story is continuing, at some length, post last chapter's consummation! I hope you will stay with me as I attempt to slowly wrap up all the plot-lines in the known universe.)
Thanks to Miss M, Groucha and Firestorm for continuing to beta for me despite the triple threat of thesis, computer troubles and work travels! You ladies are the best.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Javert woke in a flood of sunlight, to a day bright as Spring itself. The shape of their room was the same; the smell of coffee in the corridor, the colours and sounds of the street outside were all familiar, but everything was different. It was as if the world itself had been remade.
Or maybe it was he who was different, he who had been reborn.
In his arms was Jean Valjean, former enemy and benefactor and beloved friend, who had rescued him from the river, from the scraps of his old life, and remade him into whole cloth, piece by uncertain piece. In his arms, in his bed — a miracle unlooked for, entirely undeserved, and in which he could still barely believe.
This benefactor, the man who had become his lover, looked as if he had been awake for a while, fondly watching Javert sleep.
"I believe that Toussaint has breakfast ready," Valjean said, when he saw Javert had awakened also. "You ate nothing yesterday; you must be very hungry."
"I am," Javert said, and realised he was staring. The sunlight slid over Valjean's unclothed body, the ropes of muscle in his shoulders and arms and chest, the thick mat of hair upon his breast and belly and curling between his powerful thighs to where the sheet covered him. The scars which he had harboured and hidden from Javert for so many years, silver and faded like a forgotten map of long-conquered territory — the whole man, brawny and beautiful, finally exposed and open for Javert to look his fill.
After the events of the morning, it seemed monstrous greed to be able to gaze at his friend in this way, an embarrassment of riches so great it was almost unendurable. In that moment, Javert felt as unworthy as a thief in the night, as an uninvited guest presented with a table overflowing with meat and fruit and chafing dishes, as a sinner in the holy presence of the Divine.
Of course, to the best of Javert's knowledge, one did not usually become aroused in the holy presence of the Divine, but here he was, a man in his fifth decade and as hard as a rail.
"For breakfast, and also for more than breakfast," Javert found himself saying, as if he had entirely taken leave of his senses and his former self. He felt weak with gratitude and the sense of his own sheer gluttony.
Valjean's flush started from his pectorals and spread across his body, but he did not look away. "You are staring," he said. "It is as if you have never set eyes on me before!"
"It is indeed as if I had not," Javert agreed. "Otherwise I would have realised before this how pleasant it is to look upon you." He watched Valjean's flush deepen; fascinated, he added, the words coming from the air itself, "I could almost forego breaking my fast, forego meat and drink and sleep itself, in order to keep looking on you, Jean."
Valjean put his hand on Javert's arm, rubbing it awkwardly; the simple touch went straight to Javert's groin. He looked as if he was at a loss for words. Finally he said, shyly, "It is very pleasant to look on you also, and to touch you. Being with you earlier was a miracle, I can hardly believe it."
Javert felt the same sense of disbelief acutely — that he could so freely gaze upon Valjean's nakedness, to be able to satiate his hunger openly after so many long months of self-abnegation. He was aware of the old sense of guilt, the doubts and lingering fear of punishment casting shadows over this bright sun, but now lying by his friend's side, with no further barriers or defences between them, he had eyes for nothing else and no one else.
Other matters crowded upon his senses, flashes of memory from the early morning mingling with the present: the taste of Valjean's mouth, the urgent sound of his voice, the luxurious sensation of skin against skin. Javert breathed in deeply, suddenly overwhelmed.
He said, slowly, "Forgive me. I have wanted you for so long, denied this for so long, you will excuse my own disbelief." He reached out and slid a tentative hand onto Valjean's bare hip, just above the sheet.
Valjean made an awkward, involuntary movement that was not-precisely a flinch, and Javert's heart froze for an excruciating second. Then Valjean gave him a hesitant smile and drew closer, so his thigh slid between Javert's under the sheet and made no secret of exactly how he felt.
"I did not believe that you would ever permit yourself this," he said.
So this was what it was like to have the press of a lover's body against one, offering up its abundant treasures to be feasted upon and drunk from, by this sinner, this thief, this unworthy, uninvited guest. "Let me show you what I would now permit myself," Javert said helplessly, and pulled his friend even closer to taste him anew.
After a very belated breakfast, Javert shaved and got dressed for work. His cheekbone had turned an angry purple, and he had to permit Valjean to re-bandage the gash on his left palm. Toussaint had exclaimed over his blood-soaked clothes and despaired of getting the stains out of his greatcoat; in the end he had to borrow an old coat and boots that even Valjean had discarded as being overly threadbare.
"Let me buy you a new one," Valjean offered, fastening the coat's worn buttons over Javert's clean jacket and trousers.
Javert smiled. "Not a chance. Will you visit me during the luncheon break?"
Valjean said, diffidently, taking his own coat from the coat-hook, "I thought I might come in with you this morning."
"I'm perfectly well, Jean!"
"I know you are. Please humour me, for I cannot bear to let you out of my sight today," Valjean said, and kissed him.
Javert was not sure if anyone would decide to report for work at the Bureau that day, given that the unprecedented events of the previous one might reasonably be seen as a temporary remission from duty.
But surprisingly, No. 10 was in full complement of its staff strength, and when Javert pushed through the double doors with Valjean in tow, first the clerks and then the investigators and all the lawyers got to their feet and started to applaud. Duchamp clapped him on the back, Lavalle exclaimed over his minor injuries, and everyone seemed to wish to take their turn at shaking his hand.
"You are a hero, M. Javert," Duchamp said warmly, over the sound of clapping. "I do not know what would have happened to us if you had not been there."
"M. le Directeur owes his life to you, as do we all," Marcel said. The lad looked grim and worn under his freckles, as if he had aged a decade overnight. Javert supposed proximity to death would achieve that.
Javert felt his face contort in what no doubt was a rictus of embarrassment. "Please stop this. I'm not a hero, I'm no better than any other man. You are embarrassing me, as well as M. Fauchelevent."
"I am not embarrassed," Valjean remarked from across the room, where he had leaned his broad shoulders against the wall beside Javert's desk as unobtrusively as possible. "I must agree that you were admirably selfless, Javert."
Javert snorted. Duchamp elbowed Lavalle and said in what he believed was an aside: "How considerate they are of each other!", and it was all Javert could do to ignore them.
More usefully, Duchamp reported that M. le Directeur had been conveyed to the hospital at the Hôtel-Dieu, in the Cité, and that he was recuperating well. Perhaps he would be ready to receive visitors to-morrow. Javert made a mental note to stop by.
"M. Javert, would we be permitted to leave the Bureau slightly earlier this evening?" asked François, one of the junior investigators. "There are some of us still a little shaken from yesterday's events."
Javert considered this. "Those of you who are unwell should not be here today," he remarked. "I would advise you to see a physician and remain home until you have recovered. Those of you well enough to carry on your duties should remain until the designated hour." He considered matters even further and amended this to, "However, provided that M. le Directeur is well enough to receive visitors to-morrow, I would have thought those who wish to pay him a visit at the hospital could legitimately do so in the course of the work day, and that the ordinary working hours might not strictly apply."
"That seems fair," François said; the other lawyers and investigators nodded as well. Out of the corner of his eye, Javert noticed that Valjean was smiling. He had no idea why that would be so, but anything that coaxed his friend into rare humour or pleasure was something that pleased him too.
After a quick lunch, Javert went to pay the needful visit to the station-house at the angle of Rue de la Barillerie. Valjean said he would take a slow stroll around the buildings; nineteen years on the run was too long for him to be truly comfortable in police stations.
The policemen there recognised Javert instantly. They elbowed each other and whispered, and without his needing to ask one of them ushered him into Desmarais’ office.
Desmarais was looking somewhat the worse for wear, as if he had not slept at all. His uniform was rumpled, his leather stock improperly fastened, his boyish cheeks blue with stubble. Here was someone else who had struggled with his soul overnight, who had perhaps not had the comfort of a friend to share his bed and to embrace as a ballast against the night's terrors, and to make promises to in the bright morning.
Desmarais got to his feet when Javert entered the room. "It is good to see you, M. Javert," he said. "My apologies for my attire. I fear I have been up half the night and all of this morning, completing the paperwork for what happened yesterday."
Javert held his hand out to the young inspector. Again he felt the unfamiliar wave of emotion that he recognised as compassion.
"How has the news been taken?" he asked. He had never been well versed in the politics at the Prefecture, but he could imagine that the Prefect and the heads of department would have been informed of the colossal security blunder involving an escaped prisoner, a dead lawyer and a hostage situation on the Quai de l'Horloge. "Has the Prefect had anything to say about what occurred?"
Desmarais shook Javert's hand tightly. "I am not sure," he said. "I had heard various parties are disclaiming responsibility. I understand the bâtonnier and the criminal bar are very upset that only one gendarme was assigned to guard Nouvel, who was apparently known to be uncommonly strong when in a rage, and that they had not chosen to use manacles on him but the usual poucettes. But it seemed on this particular morning Bernier actually asked to see his client outside the courtroom, which he ought not have done. According to the gendarme in question, who is also in the hospital, Bernier started to insult Nouvel, which was when Nouvel managed to break away from the gendarme and smashed Bernier's head in."
"That was indeed a lapse," Javert said, frowning. He became aware that Desmarais had not loosed his hand, and instead had taken Javert's other hand, the one that was bandaged.
"M. Javert, I should have realised that you had been injured yesterday."
"This is nothing, just a scratch," Javert said. He became aware of a pressing sense of obligation, and awkwardly, he squeezed Desmarais' fingers with his unbandaged hand. "I am grateful that you came to my rescue. I am not sure if Nouvel was planning to take me with him when he fled the Île de la Cité, but thanks to you I did not have to find out."
Desmarais grimaced; it did not look as if Javert's words had given him any pleasure. "Do not thank me," he said. He released Javert's hands and went to sit heavily on the edge of his desk. "The commissaire did say he would give me a commendation, but I keep wondering if I had acted too hastily. I could not see if Nouvel had cocked the gun or not, if he was really going to shoot you. I know you were trying to talk him into giving himself up. Perhaps I should have waited ... but I felt I could not take the chance."
He paused, then continued with even more difficulty. "This morning I had to speak to the bâtonnier when he came with Bernier's parents to view the lawyer's body. He told me you had been insisting Nouvel was mentally ill. And I could not help but wonder if I had given the order to shoot a sick man, rather than a criminal."
Javert saw the young inspector was facing his own crisis of the soul. He wondered what he could say that would help him deal with his doubts and demons.
"Do not blame yourself," he told Desmarais at last. "Only God is infallible. To my own mind there was nothing you could have done differently, and what you did likely saved my life."
Desmarais stared at him, and then started to blink; abruptly, he swung away. Javert belatedly recognised the sudden signs of emotion and took a step back to give the young man a moment to compose himself.
“Thank you for saying that, M. Javert. I confess I have been wrestling with this.” Desmarais gave a weary laugh. “What a concept, is it not? — Should a policeman not be expected to dispense the weight of the Law without asking himself if he did the right thing, the moral thing? That young man broke the law and was a danger to others; should I not congratulate myself for acting without hesitation or mercy, as indeed M. le Commissaire has so congratulated me?”
Javert found himself taking a step forward and putting his uninjured hand on Desmarais’ shoulder. He found himself saying, also, in a voice that was for once less than rock-steady, "Your doubts do you credit, Inspector. Your thoughts do not make you less of a policeman; in fact, I would suggest that they make you more of one. But do not doubt that you did the right thing in the end, even if you do not feel that deserves congratulations.”
Desmarais put his hand over Javert’s and held on for a moment. Then he said, stiffly, “Thank you. I will not forget our conversation.”
Javert reclaimed his hand. Desmarais stood up again briskly, shedding all appearances of doubt. “M. Javert, did you wish to sight Nouvel’s body?”
Javert nodded. There was a tightness in his throat. He was suddenly very glad Valjean had decided to accompany him on his rounds today, and that his friend would be at his side later.
In his former life, Javert had been no stranger to the Paris Morgue, located on the Quai du Marché-Neuf, a stone’s throw away from the commissary. The building seemed even more run down than he remembered it, and could have done with repair, or decommissioning.
The focal point of the building was the large room for the bodies found without identification on the sides of the roads or fished from the Seine. The corpses were laid out on slanted tables, naked save for a strip of leather across their genitals, with the clothes they were found in hung on pegs behind them, before a glass panel which allowed people who were missing relatives to identify and claim the bodies. This provided a spectacle for the more macabre thrill-seekers of Paris. The bodies of the drowning victims were livid from being in the river and in various stages of putrefaction, some partially eaten by fish, some dismembered. To retard decomposition, cold water was dripped over the bodies in taps, but the atmosphere was always thick with the stench of decay.
As he passed the glass panels and the crowds, Javert was seized with sickness. If Valjean had not rescued him from the Seine that June night, his own naked body might have lain here on a slab like this, under the drip of water, to be gawked at by strangers and with no one to lay claim to it.
Valjean clutched Javert’s arm. Javert did not need to look at his friend to know that he was experiencing the same fear, of a future only barely averted by God’s grace.
Desmarais led them past the crowds and into a side corridor. "We have put him here, the poor devil," he said, indicating a cordoned-off section in one corner of the room, away from the glass panel and the crowd's prying eyes.
Nouvel's large body lay on a slab, covered haphazardly from waist down by rude cloth. There was no difficulty with identifying him; his prison garb hung from the hook above his head. His bearded face was expressionless, his eyes closed, skin white and mottled with death's characteristic pallor. The massive barrel chest bore at least five ugly wounds, and the inevitable rigidity had set in in his big limbs.
Valjean made a sound of dismay. Javert's throat seemed to have closed itself entirely. The smell filled his lungs; he could not catch his breath. Pity and regret made his knees weak, and he had to catch himself against Valjean's arm.
Desmarais said soberly, "The file mentioned a sister, and we have sent word to her in Montfermeil.”
This was the part that Javert had been dreading even more than the sighting of Nouvel’s body. “Christiane? Did she say that she would come to Paris?”
“Word has not yet returned from Montfermeil,” Desmarais said. “I will let you know when we hear from her.”
“I may pay her a visit if she does not come.” Javert was not sure if the weary washerwoman would be able to travel from Montfermeil with the small children who would never know their uncle. "In any case, Inspector, allow me to assist with the funeral arrangements."
Desmarais nodded. "I will make a note of it." As they both knew, if Christiane could not afford the pauper's grave and casket, the state would eventually conduct a perfunctory burial in the common pit at the Cemetery of Vaugirard unless someone else were to step in.
Javert had to lean against Valjean's broad shoulder. He was acutely aware that were it not for Valjean, his legs might not be steady enough to bear his own weight. This was the fate he had been saved from, and unlike even Nouvel, he would not then have left anyone behind to mourn him, not even the man who now held him up.
"We will send word to the Bureau when we hear from Christiane," Desmarais promised. "Although I cannot imagine you would wish to be at the office this week."
Javert had to struggle for his customary gruffness. It was remarkably difficult to keep his composure, even with Valjean's arm through his. "I will be there. M. le Directeur is in the hospital and someone has to keep the place in order," he said grimly.
Desmarais nodded, and ushered them from the Morgue without further conversation.
The afternoon sky was an untroubled blue. It was beyond relief to be out in the open air. Javert let Valjean lead him through the crowded streets of the Île de la Cité and across the Pont Saint-Michel, until they reached the blessed, familiar courtyard of the Église Saint-Sulpice.
They found a quiet pew in the sanctuary on their usual side, under the stained glass and the statue of Christ on the cross. Without saying a word Valjean gathered him into his big arms, and Javert closed his eyes and held on.
That night in bed, Javert could not stop shivering.
"You are alive," Valjean said softly; he kissed Javert's sore cheekbone, kissed his mouth, kissed the tears he did not shed.
Javert held on to Valjean's wrist as if he did not know how to let it go. He was alive, Nouvel was dead, the world was upside down, God's motives had never been more opaque.
He was alive: he slid his mouth over Valjean's with increasing desperation, clutched him with frenzied hands. "Do I deserve to be alive?" he muttered. "I ought to be dead, I should have died that June night. Maybe I should have died yesterday too."
"God meant to rescue you from the river," Valjean said between kisses. "He has a higher plan for you. He kept you alive to do His work, and you do it every day." He cupped Javert's cheek with fierce tenderness.
"Kept me alive for you?" Javert asked. Despite everything, he found himself hardening under his nightshirt, his body frantic to prove it was indeed living, breathing, alive to love. He pressed his tongue into his friend's mouth, slid his shaking hands under Valjean's shirt. "Kept me alive to love you?"
"He kept you alive twice: in June and yesterday," Valjean murmured; his breath hitched as Javert clasped hold of the thickness between his legs. "Please, Javert, believe that you are meant to be here, that you were meant to live —"
"I do," Javert whispered. He wrapped his hand around both of them, started to stroke them clumsily together. It was awkward, so different from how he had handled himself these lonely months, and more pleasurable than he had ever thought it could be. "As long as you are here, I can believe anything."
"I will always be here," Valjean gasped. He put his forehead against Javert's in the darkness. "I am not running away any longer, remember?"
"I am not running, either," Javert muttered. His heart was pounding, his blood was loud in his veins, his body trembling with his own need and Valjean's. Alive, alive, alive.
This chapter references more details on Nouvel’s escape, initially referred to in Chapter 13. Bernier really ought not have sought to take a last swipe at Nouvel outside Court (and ought to have met him in the “parlour” for defendants as per the usual practice). As to the method of restraining prisoners brought to their trial, it seems Balzac did not reference chains or manacles; inside the carts while being transferred from La Force and when they walked through the Palais to reach the Courts, the prisoners wore “poucettes”, which were made of ropes or metal used to attach the thumbs of prisoners together – clearly insufficient to hold a man of Nouvel’s strength. See also Hugo’s Actes et Paroles (in French).
The Paris Morgue was located on the Quai du Marché-Neuf, in a building that had previously been home to the largest butcher’s shop. It became a morgue by government ordonnance in 1804, but was so run-down by 1836 that the entire building had to be renovated. The exposition of the unknown bodies, particularly those dredged from the Seine, for claiming and identification purposes was apparently a huge tourist attraction (see further GOZLAN, Léon (1803-1866): La Morgue (1831), in French.) Identified bodies, like Nouvel’s (and Bernier’s), were kept in a separate chamber.
Paupers were buried at state expense at the Cemetery of Vaugirard. The cemetery was closed in 1824, but the Morgue retained the “privilege” of use of a common pit for burials.
Chapter 17: The Grass Covers and the Rain Effaces
A hospital room, a new office, a graveside, a bed.
My deepest thanks to the dedication of betas Miss M, Firestorm and Groucha, who continue to beta between airports, days of coding, and computer woes. I'm sorry this hasn't yet wrapped up; we have still a couple of miles to go before journey's end. You know I couldn't make this journey without you ♥
(A shout-out to Verabird and Firestorm, and our hours of discussion of the corruption issues surrounding Henri Gisquet... and his other proclivities.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Hôtel-Dieu was located along the cobbled streets along the Place du Parvis Notre-Dame. Javert did not think it would be appropriate for Valjean to accompany him to visit M. le Directeur, although he did permit Toussaint to pack a small basket with some breakfast rolls that he was unsure the patient would be able to eat.
M. le Directeur looked pale but in reasonably good spirits, already able to sit up in bed. A neat white bandage circled his head.
He was not alone in the hospital room. A well-dressed balding man sat in a folding chair beside the bed, a man whom Javert had never met but whom everyone who worked for the Ministry of Justice would recognise in an instant.
"Chief Investigator Javert, may I present you to Minister Jean-Charles Barthe. M. le Ministre, this is the Bureau's best investigator, and my benefactor in this week's hostage crisis."
"M. le Ministre," Javert said, and the Minister got to his feet and held out his hand.
"M. Javert, I have heard a great deal about you. The courage you displayed at the Bureau, in sacrificing yourself for Director Barthe, was admirable. The Ministry is grateful, and so am I on behalf of the Director's family."
Javert managed to conceal his surprise. He knew M. le Directeur was well-connected – no person this young rose to the head of a government agency without family lineage – but he had not realised his superior was related to the Minister for Justice, who had been Louis-Philippe I's general counsel and the architect of the April 1832 mental capacity amendments to the Penal Code.
"I merely did my duty," Javert said. "I was a police inspector before I joined the Bureau, and I was best equipped to deal with that young man out of everyone there."
“Indeed,” the Minister said. He addressed the Director, "I should permit you get some rest, Claude, and let you catch up with M. Javert. But before he leaves I would like a private word with the Chief Investigator."
After the Minister left the room, M. le Directeur said, "Don't look so worried, M. Javert. It seems I lost some blood and have a bad concussion, but I will mend. The doctors have said I should stay away from the office for a month to recuperate but that I will make a full recovery." He held his hand out to Javert. "I would like you to serve as Acting Director of Bureau until I am well enough to resume my duties."
Javert could not hide his surprise as he shook the Director's hand. "I will do my best," he said.
"You know how everything works, even better than I do," M. le Directeur said with a wan smile. "I have no doubt the others will be pleased to follow your lead."
He leaned back against the pillows; Javert said, awkwardly, "I should also let you rest. I am afraid I told the others they could have the time off in order to visit you, so be warned about an impending invasion."
"I cannot wait," M. le Directeur said. "Thank you for the rolls, the hospital food here is appalling. Now it seems my uncle wishes to speak with you, so you should see what he wants."
The Minister was waiting for Javert in the hospital corridor, leaning his bulk against a white-painted wall. "M. Javert, I meant what I said about my gratitude. If there is anything my family can do for you, you need only ask."
Javert bent his head to the Minister, very proper and correct. "I repeat, M. le Ministre, I only desire to do my duty."
"I will not forget, regardless," the Minister said. "Your former patron, M. Chabouillet, speaks very well of you. He says you were the most incorruptible man in the Prefecture, and that is high praise, given the current state of corruption in the government."
Javert had not kept abreast of the corruption allegations, though he had learned of Chabouillet's retirement last year from the Prefecture. "How is M. Chabouillet?"
"Well. Enjoying his retirement. I am trying to lure him back into public service. The King requires every able-bodied man, and André's years of experience are most valuable." The Minister paused. "As are yours, Chief Investigator. Do think on what I said. I know Director Barthe has asked you to fill in for him at the Bureau, and if you distinguish yourself I would wish you to be promoted within the Ministry."
"You give me too much credit," Javert said slowly. A germ of an idea was growing at the back of his mind, but at the moment he dared not bring it out into the light.
Word came to the Bureau the next afternoon that Christiane Nouvel could not leave her duties and children in Montfermeil to see her brother buried. According to the note which a clerk from the commissary brought to Javert, she apologised for the trouble her brother had caused, and said she hoped the state would make an ending in any way it saw fit.
As Acting Director, Javert had commandeered M. le Directeur's room and desk with its old paintings and the new blood stains on the carpet. He showed the note to Valjean, who had just arrived with their lunch, and told the clerk, "Seeing as that is the case, please let Inspector Desmarais know that I will take care of the arrangements personally, as I said yesterday."
"Let me speak with Fr. Michel-Marie," Valjean said to Javert, after the clerk had taken his leave. He put his hand on Javert's shoulder. "You should focus on the Bureau's paperwork. Leave me to take charge of the funeral arrangements; I have the most experience with them, in any case."
"Thank you," Javert said. He knew Valjean was trying to spare him further pain and guilt, and he appreciated it more than he could say. He clasped Valjean's hand to let him know; he thought if they had been in private, he would have picked Valjean's hand up and kissed it.
Then he shrugged mentally and clasped and kissed it anyway.
The following afternoon Marius stopped by the Bureau to look for Javert and his father-in-law. "Guillaume has been released!" he said triumphantly. "My aunt agreed to stand as his guardian, and my grandfather is extremely pleased."
"That is indeed good news," Valjean said. "Let me come with you to Les Madelonnettes to fetch him home."
Javert ended up taking the time out of his busy schedule to accompany the expedition to bring the Little Fox to his new abode.
The boy was uncharacteristically solemn. "When will Maman Magnon be released as well?" he asked in the carriage, on the way to Filles-du-Calvaire.
"Her hearing will be in two weeks' time, and after that, we shall see," Marius said. "In the meantime, M. and Aunt Gillenormand will look after you, as well as Cosette and meI. You've been in the house before, and now there'll be a room for you! It'll be a lot of fun. You will go to school with boys of your own age and learn new and important things that will make you useful to our country when you grow up."
The lad said, diffidently, "Thank you. I promise I will behave."
"See that you do, Little Fox," Javert said mildly. "Miracles don't happen every day."
"Are we going to keep looking for Anatole?" the boy asked.
Javert met Valjean's eyes across the darkened carriage. "Yes," he said. "Yes, we will do that."
It rained on the day of the funeral. Dark clouds, silver drops, the angels wept over the poorest quarter of the city, where the paupers and the dispossessed sought a final reprieve from their lives of misery. Javert supposed the weather was fitting.
Desmarais and the lads from the Bureau were in attendance in the unobtrusive corner of the Père-Lachaise cemetery. Marius was also there, holding an umbrella for Valjean. Javert stood in the rain, believing his hat and coat would be sufficient to keep the wetness from his skin. The city wept: he felt as if he could not.
Fr. Michel-Marie read the blessing:
"Almighty God, you created the earth and shaped the vault of heaven; you fixed the stars in their places. When we were caught in the snares of death you set us free through baptism; in obedience to your will our Lord Jesus Christ broke the fetters of hell and rose to life, bringing deliverance and resurrection to those who are his by faith. In your mercy look upon this grave, so that your servant may sleep here in peace; and on the day of judgment raise him up to dwell with your saints in paradise."
The modest coffin was lowered into the ground as the priest spoke the words of the committal:
"Because God has chosen to call our brother Jacques Nouvel from this life to Himself, we commit his body to the earth, for we are dust and unto dust we shall return. But the Lord Jesus Christ will change our mortal bodies to be like his in glory, for he is risen, the firstborn from the dead. So let us commend our brother to the Lord, that the Lord may embrace him in peace and raise up his body on the last day. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Amen."
"Amen," Javert said. Valjean held out his hand, and Javert allowed himself to be drawn into the shelter of his friend's arms.
After the service was over, Fr Michel-Marie said, hesitantly, "M. Javert, it was good of you and M. Fauchelevent to make these arrangements. A sign of Christian forgiveness, for a man who had committed crimes and wronged you woefully."
"It is the other way around entirely, Father," Javert said. "I was blind to his need, and it was my doing that he found himself in the straits he did.”
Rain dripped from the archway above them, into the silence. Javert still could not bring himself to consider the state of Nouvel’s soul. He realised he did not even know if Nouvel had been baptised; no doubt Valjean would have skirted over these issues in order to persuade Fr. Michel-Marie to perform the Catholic funeral rites this afternoon, but God was clearly aware of the true position. Perhaps Nouvel had loosed the miserable bonds of earth only to now experience the fires of Hell.
The priest reached out as if to squeeze his arm, looked at his face and settled for patting his shoulder once, lightly. "And how are you, my s— I mean, M. Javert? It seems to me that you have not stopped by for confession for a while."
Javert scowled, for here was another moral concern. He was well aware that he had not managed to make a confession of his lack of chastity to the Church; he had not even brought himself to confess the same on his knees to his God.
He did know that sharing a bed with his friend was not a contravention of the Code Pénale. However, from his perusal of the Scriptures, it would seem carnal knowledge of a person other than one's spouse was against God's laws, and to his knowledge no Catholic church had ever married one man to another.
Then again, Valjean was the best man he knew, no doubt closer to God's heart and the spirit of God's laws than any priest or bishop. He had prayed at Valjean's side every night before sharing his bed, and he did not believe Valjean had been praying secretly for God's forgiveness for permitting Javert to touch him carnally, for responding with caresses of his own.
Javert attempted to smile casually; he realised it hadn't worked when Fr. Michel-Marie leaned involuntarily away from him. It would seem he needed to work harder at appearing non-threatening.
"I realise I have been remiss," he said. "I will make the effort to come to confession, Father. Perhaps this Sunday.”
Fr. Michel-Marie pulled out a square of cotton and mopped his forehead, which was wet from the rain. "That's all God asks of us, Monsieur. I know M. Fauchelevent does regularly keep the sacrament of confession, and he holds you in the highest regard. I know you would not wish to disappoint him."
"As I hold him," Javert said, "and indeed I have no wish to disappoint him." He did in fact whole-heartedly hope Valjean was not disappointed.
They had dinner at the Gillenormand house that night. It was a rowdy affair, with Little Fox running up and down the long corridors of the house and telling jokes and making even M. Gillenormand and the aunt laugh. Marius and Cosette held hands at the dinner table, and when he thought no one was watching Marius picked up his wife's white hand and kissed her on the wrist. It made Javert smile uncharacteristically — then he looked over and caught Valjean smiling, too.
"They are enjoying their marriage, I think," Valjean said, in the fiacre on the way home.
"That they are," Javert said, "as well as having the boy in the house. I think that helping Guillaume will be beneficial for the Gillenormand family."
"And possibly for us, also," Valjean said.
Javert found his friend's hand in the darkness of the carriage. "Do you think so? What makes you say that?"
"God has a mysterious way of working. You brought this boy home, you and Marius and I, and we can see how truly he belongs there. What other good could arise from this act of mercy?"
Javert did wonder; he also felt Fr. Michel-Marie's words weigh upon him as he got to his knees beside Valjean that evening. When they had recited the evening prayers, he said, awkwardly, "Jean, I believe we should speak about our sleeping arrangements."
Valjean got to his feet and sat down on Javert's wide bed — which had been theirs since that dark night of Nouvel's death and the bright morning thereafter.
"I wondered when you would send me back to my lonely room," he said solemnly, but Javert thought he detected a hint of amusement in his voice.
”I am serious," Javert protested. "I looked up several verses of Scripture to be sure of it. There were multiple injunctions against fornication, which is described as unchaste carnal love outside the marriage bond. For the record, there are two verses that state that sodomy is an abomination, although there are many other things listed as abominations such as eating peace offerings, which does cast some aspersions on this list. Also three or more instances which mention the less specific term of men abusing themselves with other men."
Valjean considered this. "Come up here, please," he said. Javert rose from his knees and settled tentatively on the bed beside him. "We have spoken at some length before about God's laws and God's mercy," he said. "In my view, Scripture does advise that many acts are abominations and sins, such as the sin of pride, and bearing false witness against an innocent, but also wearing the clothing of the opposite sex and eating shellfish. Not all these sins are equal, and in these modern times some of them are not sins at all."
"Surely it cannot be for us to select which of God's laws to follow and which to ignore," Javert protested.
Valjean answered, "You know I believe we are guided in all matters by God's mercy and our God-given conscience." He put a gentle arm around Javert's shoulders. "And guided by love, above all things."
Javert looked at his friend, his breath coming faster despite himself. Valjean's beloved face was very close to his, the generous mouth temptingly near. Were he to reach across, to wind his fingers in the thick white hair and kiss those lips, he would once more lose himself in Valjean's arms and shut out the rest of the world. He knew that those traitorous thoughts had already roused his body with the same restless energy of a much younger man.
He said, helplessly, "But this is precisely why the Church teaches that unholy attachment to creature is a sin! You see how it is with me: how in your arms I was not able to adhere to God's chastity." He swallowed, his throat suddenly unaccountably dry; despite his spiritual turmoil his flesh was as an ardent flame. "I am still unable — here I sit beside you in our bed in this way and I want to taste still more things, unspeakable things, that Scripture says is an abomination."
Valjean dropped his arm from Javert's shoulder in surprise, and Javert continued, miserably, "And so doing, I fear I would condemn you to Purgatory as well. I am a sinner, my risk is to myself, but I would not risk your soul alongside mine. I would rather destroy myself than have you come to harm."
Valjean leaned over, took hold of Javert's shoulders and rubbed his arms, biceps and forearms and wrists, slow and soothing strokes until Javert was finally compelled to relax. He looked as certain as the stars outside the window, his hair like a halo of white fire, a light to the darkness within. "My friend, my dear, there is no reason for you to be afraid that such desire would necessarily be sinful or an abomination. God does not command that our love for each other must always be chaste or unconsummated."
Javert glared at him in confusion, and Valjean continued steadily, "This was uncovered to me some time after my own child fell in love. And, like you, I have been praying on this matter, attending to confession, reading the Bible. The truth of the matter is that Holy Scripture itself describes the physical devotion that lovers share which is in fact sanctified by God, a covenant bond which would be set as a seal upon one's heart and one's arm."
He put his hand on the front of Javert’s nightshirt, above Javert's heart.
“I will hear no more talk about you destroying yourself. The God we worship would not punish us for loving each other and coming together in desire, and you should not fear that our devotion will condemn our immortal souls.”
He fixed Javert with a look which required no words to interpret. "You say you are devoted to me? Then give me your heart, give me your arm, make me yours."
"I will try," Javert said, wonderingly, unable to believe that there could even be as much mercy for this, and reached over to kiss his beloved friend on the mouth.
My Minister Jean-Charles Barthe is a mash-up of two gentlemen: Félix Barthe became Minister of Justice in the new cabinet of Casimir Perier in 1831 and made important, pro-defendant changes to the penal law promulgated in April 1832 – as previously noted, this allowed greater flexibility in sentencing and taking into consideration a defendant’s mental incapacity. Barthe remained Minister of Justice until 4 April 1834, when Jean-Charles Persil, former general counsel of Louis-Philippe I’s court, was appointed by the King.
Minister Barthe references the scandals in the government, which at the time would have included rumours and concerns relating to Henri Gisquet. There is much more about Gisquet's various scandals, but those are beyond the scope of one A/N.
Owing to the urgency of treatment and the extent of his injuries, after the hostage situation with Nouvel, Director Barthe was conveyed to the nearest hospital: the Hôtel-Dieu, a teaching hospital in the Cité which received the injured. Once M. le Directeur’s condition stabilised, he would have retired home for treatment and recuperation under the care of his family doctor, as was the more usual situation for an injured person or invalid of means.
The Père-Lachaise cemetery, in use as at 1804, was where Victor Hugo’s family was buried. Hugo wished to be buried there, in a pauper’s casket in 1885, but his wishes were not adhered to by the government of the new Republic; instead he was buried in the Panthéon, in 1885.
Valjean references Song of Solomon, 8:6-7
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.
Its fires of desire are as ardent flames, a most intense flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
Chapter 18: The Effect of the Spring
Javert and Valjean make a journey.
My thanks to Miss M and Firestorm, who are making journeys, too, and Groucha, who worked tirelessly on my journey despite the wide world of the internet breaking down on her. You are the best.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Javert had to admit that Duchamp was a more-than-competent young lawyer. Javert was in court to watch his argument on Magnon’s appeal, and when the young man had completed his closing arguments the gallery burst into spontaneous applause.
“Order,” the presiding judge called, crossly.
Magnon smiled prettily at the bar table. Either she had through her own efforts procured a comb and bath and a relatively clean set of clothes or Duchamp had procured it for her; either way, she had clearly attended at length to her toilette and before the court today she appeared entirely presentable. On the converse, the respondent Flores looked as disreputable as Duchamp had attempted to paint him in submissions: just the sort of scoundrel landlord that would take advantage of a poor woman trying to make her way in the world with her two boys the best she could.
There was further applause when the judge pronounced that Magnon’s appeal was allowed, and that she was free to go. Magnon thanked her counsel, waved to the gallery, and when she saw Javert in the front row she bent her head to him.
Javert caught her by the elbow when it looked as if she might bend her knees to him, too. "There is no need to thank me, Madame. I merely did my duty, and Duchamp did most of the work." He paused. "But if you have not truly decided to stay on the straight and narrow, if you in any way bring harm on that house and its inhabitants, including Madame Pontmercy, I will make it my business to hunt you down and bring you to justice myself."
Magnon smirked, but her eyes were serious. "Never fear, M. Javert. Know this's the only second chance I'll get; won't throw it away. Honest work, no funny business, I'll just have t'stay away from the old man."
“Well done,” M. Barthe was saying to Duchamp. He had just returned to the Bureau, and there had been much exclaiming over the new complaints docketing system which Javert had implemented. He patted Duchamp on the shoulder, and the young lawyer blushed.
“Thank you, M. le Directeur! I must also thank M. Javert, who kindly worked with me on the case and took charge of the client instruction.”
“Then I must also congratulate M. Javert. We will make a lawyer of you yet.” M. le Directeur patted Javert on the shoulder as well.
Of course Javert did not blush so easily, or at all, although he did feel somewhat awkward at receiving such a casual, friendly gesture from a superior. He felt this was an opportune time to raise the matter which he had been planning for the last week or so.
“M. Barthe, now that you have returned to duty, I would like to put in a formal request for a temporary leave of absence from the Bureau.”
M. Barthe raised an eyebrow. “Your very first leave request in almost two years! How could I possibly refuse? How long do you intend to be away for?”
Javert said, “No more than two weeks. I want to visit Nouvel’s sister in Montfermeil, to pay my last respects. And then there is some family business I would like to attend to, in Brie and then in l’Yonne.”
“Of course. Please take all the time you need,” M. Barthe said, and squeezed his shoulder again.
Duchamp saw to the processing of Magnon’s release papers, and Javert took charge of conveying her to the Gillenormand household.
In the fiacre on the way to Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, Magnon said hesitantly, “The family business, it concerns Anatole?”
“Yes,” said Javert. "We have managed to narrow down the search based on what Guillaume told us regarding when Anatole was taken in and how old he was at the time." Valjean had spent the last weeks taking Guillaume to visit potential craftsmen and artisans based in Paris, and they were able to confirm that the boys they had fostered were not the missing one in question. "There remain three or four likely candidates who were sent into the countryside, to Meaux in Brie and l'Yonne and la Nievre, and I had thought to travel there to make enquiries."
Magnon considered this. "I could also come," she said. "After all, you would not recognise the lad by yourself."
"Madame, I am not sure how seemly it would be for a man to travel with an unmarried lady," Javert said stiffly.
Magnon snickered. "Pish, M. Javert, there's no harm in it. I'd bring Guillaume or one of the other maids so there would be no gossip? And perhaps you could travel with M. Fauchelevent or M. Pontmercy so as to preserve your reputation from me."
Javert's ears felt hot. "We will discuss this later," he said firmly. It was however true that he had no reliable way of identifying Anatole, and he could not very well travel with Guillaume by himself; he had no idea how to take care of a child, even one as self-sufficient as Little Fox seemed to be.
And the idea of travelling with Valjean through the countryside in spring, of sleeping together in the same room at small country inns, was in fact so justifiable that he wondered why he had not considered it earlier.
He proposed this to Valjean that night, after Magnon had settled into the Gillenormand household. "It could be pleasant," he said, with some hesitation. "I am told there are carriage-inns along the route and some of them are said to be quite satisfactory."
Valjean had paused in the act of levering himself into their bed to listen to Javert's most uncharacteristic suggestion; now he got in beside Javert and tucked the blanket around their legs. "It does sound pleasant," he said. "We could see if Gillenormand would lend us his carriage and coachman. It would be nice to travel north in the spring."
A wistful look had stolen over Valjean's face. Valjean did not speak much about his childhood, neither of them did, but Javert remembered that Valjean was originally from the north: where the winters were harsh and unforgiving but the springs and summers were full of soft promise.
"A change of scene might be also quite satisfactory," Javert observed. His ears felt hot again, for some reason.
Valjean looked at him and then turned red himself. "Ah. Yes. It might, at that." Diffidently, he said, "Do you think that people might consider it old-fashioned, or unseemly, for two good friends to seek to share a room on a long journey? After all, carriage-inns are humble places with limited capacity, and we would not want to deprive another traveller of a night's rest."
"Not old-fashioned or unseemly at all," Javert said. "Or at least not unless what I intend to do to you in that room was somehow made known to the other guests at the inn." He clasped Valjean around the waist and kissed him meaningfully.
Valjean smiled against his mouth. "In that case, I would suggest you withhold from your usual enthusiasm," he said mildly.
"You told me the other day you found my enthusiasm enjoyable," Javert said, pretending a grimness he did not feel. He slid his hand across Valjean's hip to grasp the sign of such enjoyment between Valjean's thighs.
Valjean parted his legs to make room for him, sighing with pleasure. "Javert, I may be an old fool in love for the first time in his life, but I find everything we do enjoyable."
Javert would never have his fill of this humble, self-denying man being so unguarded with him, willing despite everything to let Javert give him satisfaction. "Everything?" he enquired, beginning to stroke, hearing Valjean's quick intake of breath. "My hand? My mouth? My prick, perhaps, in the way we have recently been attempting?"
"Even so," Valjean managed, his cheeks flushing the exact same colour as his ruddy shaft, which Javert's manipulations had brought to full hardness.
Javert mused, "We had better bring the salve, then. Less effective than the linseed oil, but easier for long journeys."
"Perhaps we should bring both items," Valjean suggested, but what further opinions he might have vouchsafed on the matter were stopped by Javert's fervent kiss.
The day was fine, spring already shading into summer. The Gillenormand carriage rattled along the path, placid horses and trained coachman driving it down the well-worn road to Montfermeil. Within, Guillaume sat beside Magnon and gestured out of the window, keeping up a running commentary about birds and trees, passing carts and carriages.
On the seat beside Javert, Valjean closed his eyes, the brim of his hat dipping low over his face. Javert relished the warm press of his friend's body against his side; he kept what would no doubt have been a foolish smile from his face only with some effort.
They reached Montfermeil in time for a late lunch at the Hôtel du Vin. It was a modest but respectable establishment, a far cry from Valjean’s description of the inn that had previously been maintained by the Thénardiers on the outskirts of this same town, more than a decade ago.
This serious, bespectacled innkeeper had no reason to look askance when Javert made the arrangements and handed over advance payment for two rooms: after all, such rooming arrangements were entirely appropriate for a surrogate mother and her boy, and that boy's elderly surrogate grandfather and his dignified male friend.
The previous day, Javert had received word from Christiane that she would leave her shift early that afternoon and would be pleased to receive him at her home.
That novice penitent and companion had suffered an entire work day of indecision over whether to subject Guillaume and Magnon to the Nouvel household, before he sought to consult the man he lived with, who was infinitely wiser than Javert himself.
"You could just ask them what they would prefer," Valjean had suggested. "Although certainly I will also accompany you, Javert."
Javert had started to protest that there was no need for this, before he did in fact stop to consider how it would be for him to face the sister of the young man he had failed to save without Valjean at his side. He had found himself saying, "Thank you, Jean. I would like that very much."
And it had been undoubtedly the correct decision. Under Magnon's watchful eye and the oldest daughter's, Guillaume disported himself amongst Christiane's younger children in the dusty streets adjacent to the laundry where she worked.
Javert and Valjean stepped over the threshold into Christiane's painfully modest living room. She wore a presentable dress, her hair tended and eyes deliberately blank. She thanked Valjean in a neutral voice for the large basket of dried food and fruit which he had brought from Paris; Javert did not know if she would be proud enough to return the money when she discovered it in the envelope tucked discreetly between the flour and the sugar.
They seated themselves on chairs, and she poured weak tea for them from a badly chipped pot.
Javert had no idea how to address her, having rehearsed and then discarded various speeches in the carriage. Finally, he told her, with supreme awkwardness, "Madame, I must tell you how sorry I am for your loss."
"'s what the police said too, in their letter," she said, tiredly. "No need to say it again, Monsieur. You, the police, just doing your job, eh? Jacques killed someone, took hostages, sure the police'd have to shoot him, no two ways about it."
Javert breathed in, and steeled himself to say what he had come here to say. "It was an accident. I was trying to get Jacques to surrender, and he was on the brink of doing so ... and I stupidly made him angry. I should have known better. Then the police took alarm and decided to shoot."
Her eyes widened, with surprise or hurt, or both. She looked at him searchingly, and he compelled himself to hold her gaze. He had told himself he was ready for any blame she could ascribe, for it would not have equalled the culpability he had himself shouldered for Nouvel's death.
"An accident," she said, after a long and excruciating silence. "Sounds like no one's fault, then."
Javert examined her tired face for signs of comprehension. He could not believe she would so readily withhold from blame of him. "We should have done better. I should have done better, Madame."
She searched his eyes for a moment more, and then dropped her gaze. "Sounds like you tried to help him," she said, shrugging wearily. "’S more'n anyone ever did for him. Don’t be too hard on yourself, Monsieur."
For a moment, Javert found he could say nothing. He felt Valjean put a gentle hand on his forearm, and this steadied him against the wave of emotion that stopped his throat.
When it receded, he was able to tell her, "I brought you this."
According to Desmarais, the small cardboard box held the few belongings Nouvel had had in his possession when he was first arrested and remanded to La Force. It was usually touch and go as to whether such belongings would be properly retained by the authorities, let alone returned to the prisoners upon their release, but Desmarais had taken it upon himself to locate and retrieve Nouvel's things and had handed them to Javert to return to Nouvel's next-of-kin. Javert had not looked inside the box that he now handed to Christiane.
With steady hands Christiane accepted the box. She lifted from it a wooden rosary, a roughly carved child's toy, a small comb. She looked on these modest items for a second, and then she had to press her hand to her mouth.
"Didn't know he took these with him! This toy was our little Anne's, this's our late ma's comb. Maybe he did think he'd miss us. Maybe he did miss us, at that."
Her eyes glistened. In the face of her tears, Javert found the words after all, from the well of emotion within him.
"Your brother wasn't a bad man, Christiane. He just fell into bad company, and the law didn't help him. If we had done all we could, perhaps he need not have died."
"Too late now,” she whispered. “At least he took the rosary with him. T'was his, from his confirmation."
Javert asked, unsteadily, "He was baptised?"
"Our ma had us both baptised, and all the littles. He knew all his prayers too, I 'member. When he lived with us he’d go with us to church, regular-like."
They sat in a silence that took hold where words were no longer sufficient. Javert could not look at Valjean or Christiane, lest they glimpse the sudden, burgeoning hope that stole over him and made the breath stop in his body.
Valjean understood, though; he did not need to look at Javert to appreciate the import of Christiane’s words or their effect on his companion. And here he spoke for Javert, in his name, where Javert himself found he could not.
"Then it was not too late, Madame.” Valjean, the good man, the instrument of God, who unlike Javert actually had real experience of comforting people, reached for the woman’s hand and held it in his own. “God may have showed mercy on your poor brother at the last. Fr. Michel-Marie, the priest at Église Saint-Sulpice, consented to a Catholic burial, and Jacques was committed to the ground in God’s name."
"Thank you," Christiane said. She finally allowed herself to weep quietly, and, holding her worn hands in his own, Valjean joined her in the tears that he, Javert, still could not bring himself to shed for Jacques Nouvel.
"Do you really believe that?" Javert asked, after they had all returned to the inn, had their dinner, and retired to their designated rooms. "Do you believe God would have taken pity on Jacques’ soul and showed him mercy?"
In the room’s unfamiliar darkness, under starlight, Valjean’s eyes were luminous. "The God we worship is infinitely merciful. Miracles happen, Javert, and I truly believe this may have occurred – a blessing that may have come from the misery of Jacques’ untimely death."
Javert drew Valjean’s hand to his lips, kissed the callouses and scars as he had done that first night in his rooms at Rue des Vertus. His heart trembled; he felt himself stretched thin with a feeling of hope and gratitude that he did not deserve.
"This is mine. That you are mine. A miracle."
It was certainly blasphemy, but in this place Javert could not withhold from using his mouth to perform a different sort of worship: one which caused his companion to sigh, to shiver, and to take the name of the Lord in vain.
The start of a couple of road trip chapters!
In Chapter 11, we saw how orphans under 10 years old who had fallen into the custody of the Seine department were either placed with potential craftsmen and artisans based in Paris or sent to the countryside to be placed with families in L'Allier, Côte d'Or, Îlle et Vilaine, Les Loire et Cher, la Nievre, Saone-et-Loire, la Sathre, la Saone, l'Yonne, and even Pas de Calais: link in French. I'm taking some liberties with Meaux, for reasons that will become apparent in the next chapter.
The State would pay a stipend to the families until the children turned 12, after which they would work to earn their keep.
Chapter 19: The Seventh Circle and the Eighth Heaven
Valjean makes a discovery.
(Apologies for the lateness of the posting! I was on a journey, and so was Miss M. Back now, but do expect intermittent delays to the posting schedule as we head into the final stretch of this story and I attempt to Fix Everything.
My thanks as always to betas for betaing at a cracking rate: you ladies are the absolute best.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They set off for Meaux the following day after they broke their fast. The horses were well rested, the morning was mild, and Guillaume seemed in particularly good spirits.
Javert kept to his own counsel, because it was preferable to bland conversation about the weather and the countryside when all he wanted to do was spend time with his thoughts of punishment and redemption in silence. It was up to Valjean to converse lightly with Magnon and the boy, to call a halt when it was time for luncheon, and to point out that they had reached the designated carriage-inn to break their journey that night.
Javert knew he was not making the most pleasant of travelling companions. Then again, he knew Valjean was used to his dour silences, would not judge him or think poorly of him because of his inability to suffer frivolous chatter. After all, Valjean had seen him at his worst for years; had suffered weeks of ranting and ingratitude and then months of awkward longing. Valjean would understand, and it was an incredibly comforting sensation.
"I am sorry," he told Valjean, awkwardly, after they had all retired for the night. This small room had two separate beds, each barely large enough to hold a man of average height, a dresser separating the two, and Javert thought it would be too incautious to move all the furniture around so the beds could be pushed together.
Valjean did not say, "Whatever for?" Instead, he reached out in the moonlight. His arm was long, and Javert's was longer: the beds were close enough that their hands could clasp. That was incredibly comforting, too.
"We will find him," Valjean whispered into the dark. He squeezed Javert's fingers. "With God's help, we'll find Anatole and bring him home."
They reached the town of Meaux in the middle of the second day. They had decided to spend the night in an inn on the outskirts of the old city, inside the old defensive walls, but they had made good time on their journey, and decided to travel on first to the farm at which a young boy of Anatole's age had been fostered.
The coach followed the meander of the Marne river, past rolling expanses of well-tended farmland. Herds of the characteristic brown and white cows which made the region's famous cheeses grazed placidly on wide green pastures; the rows of white farmhouses and fences spoke of the area's relative prosperity.
Out in the countryside addresses were less precise than the registers in Paris would otherwise suggest. The coachman had to stop twice and enquire after the Berger Farm before they finally arrived at the correct spot: an undistinguished house of medium size with whitewashed walls, barn and fences. Two farmhands were in the yard as the coach pulled up the dirt road leading to the front of the house. A boy and a dog ran across the path, and Guillaume hung his head out of the carriage window and called to him.
The boy looked up from under a flat cap and a brace of freckles: too old to be Anatole.
"Pray give M. Berger our regards and let him know he has visitors from Paris who wish to call on him," Javert said, firmly, over Guillame's head.
Berger was a no-nonsense type typical of the North, a large, broad man accustomed to physical labour. His house was spick and span, the clear mark of diligence of his steel-eyed lady in her neat skirts and apron. When the visitors from the Bureau of Assistance Judiciaire in Paris arrived and requested the courtesy of a word, Mme. Berger received them; she'd summoned her husband from the fields and made him wash his hands. They'd fetched cool water from the well for everyone to drink, and they both stayed to hear what Javert had to say.
"We're looking for a boy, Anatole, the brother of this one here. We understand you fostered a boy from the Hospice des Enfants-Trouvés in Paris last year. We want to know if your child might be our missing boy."
"Surely," Berger said. "We'll ask Denis to come at once." He opened the kitchen window with one big arm and spoke sharply to someone outside.
Mme. Berger stared at Javert steadily. "Don't mind my asking," she said, "but what business d'you have with Denis? Was it a mistake, that they placed him with us? You have authority to take him away?"
Magnon bristled at her words, but these were of course all entirely valid questions. Javert answered them as best he could. "We're just here to see if Denis is in fact the missing Anatole. This lady is his foster mother, this boy is his brother. There was some mistake and the police took Anatole away. If your boy is Anatole... it will depend on what is best for the boy, of course, and we will discuss that with you, Madame. We have no present authority to remove him from your custody unless there is a pressing need."
Mme. Berger considered this, and then she nodded tightly. "Monsieur, the authorities, they trusted us with this child. Others take in children, treat them like slaves, but not us, not folks round here, it's not what we do. We would've taken him in even without the stipend, no mistake."
Beside him, Valjean was frowning, perhaps recollecting another unscrupulous foster parent in Monfermeil, but Javert's instincts told him the woman was telling the truth, and this was confirmed when Denis came running through the front door, carrying a pail. He stopped short when he saw strangers, and sidled over to put his arms around Mme. Berger's apron-clad waist. His red hair shone in the afternoon sunlight.
Javert did not need Guillaume to tell him that this was not Anatole.
"Very sorry to have troubled you, Madame," he said.
"No trouble," Mme. Berger said, as the little boy clung to her apron. "We're simple folks. Maybe not smart like you have in Paris, but we try to give kids good homes. It's an honest life out here, we take care of each other."
Berger put his arm around his wife. "It's really true," he said earnestly. "God's been good to us. We managed to make ends meet these last five years, our cousins came to live with us to help on the farm, and now we have Denis. We've had enough to share."
"That's indeed good fortune, Monsieur," Javert said.
Berger and his wife exchanged a look, and Berger said, "Can we help with your search? Many families around here have taken in children from the Seine department."
"We have the records from Paris," Javert began, but Berger had already started to rummage around for something to make a list.
It seemed Mme. Berger was the one with the penmanship skills; Javert was not surprised. He allowed himself to sit gingerly on one of the kitchen stools and drank from the cup. Denis had gotten over his shyness and taken Guillaume and Magnon outside to look at the farm animals. Valjean and Berger stood over the table, conversing knowledgeably about milking methods and a possible factory to mechanise the cheese-making process that was presently under discussion between the members of the local co-operative.
There was a break in the conversation, and Javert looked up, sensing a change, some undefinable quality about the afternoon that was somehow different. The tableau was as before: the children outside, the farmer's wife seated at the table, the men standing around.
Save that Valjean's face had gone bone-white under its normal tan.
Javert did not think he had moved particularly precipitously, but he found himself at his friend's elbow in another instant without quite recalling how he had arrived there. "Jean," he said, and Valjean clung to his arm as if he was going to fall over.
He took in the paper from Valjean's hand. The Fourniers at the corner of the Rue de la Cordonnerie , Mme. Berger had written; Jean-Loup Gunot at the second farm on the main road to Barcy. The de Val Farm in Forfry…
"My brother-in-law was called that," Valjean said, in a voice that Javert had never heard him use before. "Jeanne used to joke that it ought to have been ‘de Valjean’... It is a common enough name. I was told they had left Faverolles after my arrest, and then Paris, and after so long I could only fear that she had died. But this is not many days' journeying from Faverolles."
Berger frowned over Javert's shoulder, sounding the words with some difficulty. "The de Vals? Big farm. Fostered young Xavier two years ago. Three families, lots of help, and the old grandmother still alive."
Javert had never seen Valjean look quite this stricken, not when he had been confronted with imprisonment for a second time at a dying woman's bedside, nor the day on which he’d told Cosette the truth about his past. He could feel his friend trembling in every limb; he put an arm through Valjean's to hold him up.
It was his turn to speak for Valjean. "How do we reach Forfry from here?"
It took them almost two hours. The sun was low in the sky when the carriage reached a sprawling farmhouse, well-tended meadows stretching around them in an expanse of green. Javert could see the outline of farmhands against the horizon, beginning to turn in after a day with the cattle in the fields.
An old woman was seated on the wide brick stoop of the house. Her thick white hair shone in the sun. As the carriage drew to a halt, she got to her feet, still strong and straight despite her advanced age. One hand shaded her face so she could look at the strangers who descended from the carriage.
She stared, and stared some more, and very slowly she sank back down onto her stoop.
"Jeanne," Valjean said. He had gone to his knees in the road. He spoke in Briard, the dialect of their shared, starving youth. "Thank God we've lived to see this day."
My veriest thanks to Groucha for letting me borrow the De Vals, from her and fengxiaoj’s epic The Convict and The Guard, and for finding the perfect location for the De Val farm in Forfry, in the district of Meaux. Forfry was 3 lieus or 12 km from Meaux; pop: ~190 at the time, and conveniently located on the road from Faverolles to Paris:
It was a mainly agricultural region where cereals and sugar beets were grown. There were no large farms in the region, but family farms existed, plus the famous cows which make the famous regional cheese!
In the 19th century, cheesemaking was artisanal; here we postulate that the cheese producers in the Meaux regions, similar to those in the Jura, formed themselves into various co-operatives in order to share cheese-making facilities (which included expensive utensils and large cheese cellars to store the cheese during the maturation process) and pool supplies of milk (making one round of cheese required 25 litres of milk). The cheese factory Valjean and Berger discuss in this chapter is, in reality, many years into the future. Photos from cheese museum here, containing generally more about cheese than anyone but history fans would want to know.
Chapter 20: What is Met With on the Way
In which Javert discovers a degree of mercy was shown to Valjean's family.
The last of the road trip chapters, and the penultimate one. I am so indebted to Miss M and Groucha for their continued help with this. This far into the home stretch, I'm afraid I'll need to take a short break on this story in order to get the last chapter(s) into shape -- please bear with me, and we'll return to our regular programming very soon.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The farm seemed as haphazard as the Bergers' was neat; kindling and pails piled up in corners of the farmhouse, garments thrown across the plain but well-made furniture, the front and back doors swinging open to admit all manner of workers in overalls and children with hay in their hair.
Little Jeanne was the only one with any memories of her uncle. A tall woman with iron-streaked dark hair, some years younger than Javert, she'd come to the stoop when her mother called, a young girl holding her apron-strings. She had clasped Valjean's hand, then she had urgently summoned her brothers and sister from their duties: to behold the white-haired man from Paris who had come back to them from the dead, and to help their mother indoors as she cried and cried.
"Grandmama never weeps," the girl noted in a small voice. "Is she sick, maybe?"
"She is just very glad to see Uncle Jean, that's all," her mother said. "It has been almost forty years! He went away when I was no bigger than you. It was when we lived in Faverolles, further in the North, before we moved to this farm."
Javert was at a complete loss; what had transpired felt so momentous, and he was completely unequal to it. In the same way he was unequal in the face of his friend's tears, on his knees in front of his sister in her chair in the living room, holding her hand. Jeanne pressed her hands to her brother's weathered face, his cheeks, his jaw, disregarded tears on her own cheekbones.
When they started to speak again, it was Briard, which Javert himself could only follow with some difficulty.
"We thought you were dead," he thought Jeanne said to her brother. "When I was in Paris with Étienne, I was told they'd kept you, and later that you had drowned."
Valjean's accents were easier to understand, or perhaps it was that Valjean himself was easier for Javert to understand.
He said, "I heard you were in Paris. I looked for you then, I never stopped looking for you."
“We returned to Forfry when Little Jeanne was married,” Jeanne said. She looked at her daughter, trying to gauge the exact year. “1815? Earlier, maybe? After Pierre and Antoine died, we quit Faverolles, and then I left Jeanne with the two boys and Sybille here in Meaux. The curé took pity on my small ones, his brother-in-law had no children, and this farm to run, and he needed someone to help Mother Elizabeth in the kitchen.”
Valjean got awkwardly to his feet, taking the hand of the other woman standing at Jeanne’s elbow. “And this is Sybille? I remember you were so small and blue-eyed, and now look at how beautiful you are. Are you married? You must tell me everything about all of you, and your families. ”
Sybille was not married, and neither was the youngest, Étienne, although Javert took note of the older, sandy-haired farmhand who stood somewhat closer to Étienne than was merely friendly. The two daughters-in-law made their curtseys to Valjean, corralled and presented to him their sons of a variety of ages, from the eldest, Jean-François, older than Cosette and already married, to the five-year-old Pierrot still clinging to his mother's hip.
“You will all stay tonight,” Little Jeanne said. Her rounded regional accent was easier for Javert to understand than the Briard dialect. “Please ask the coachman to join us as well; there is more than enough space in the loft for everyone.”
There was no question, of course, that they would comply. Wild horses would not tear Valjean from his sister or the miracle of this family, recovered like a bolt from the blue after four decades. The boys set the long table with crockery; Sybille and the sisters-in-law brought in the bread and cheese and stew, Little Jeanne said grace, an unorthodox gesture that showed her authority within the family, and the de Val household fell to their dinner, sweeping Guillaume up in their midst.
Javert found himself in the place of honour by the eldest boy, Jean-Pierre, who was seated at the head of the table. Jean-Pierre was a big man in his early forties, with the same strong set of shoulders and jawline as his uncle. He ate with his hands and a rough grace that was characteristic of a farmer.
The family ate rapidly, and were soon done; Jean-Pierre put aside his bowl when Javert addressed him.
“Don’t remember much about Faverolles, or my father or Uncle Jean,” he told Javert. “Remember Pierre getting sick, and then Antoine. He was older’n me. When he died Maman said I had to be the man of the family.”
“Do you remember how you got to Forfry?”
Jean-Pierre shrugged. “Not really. Moved around a lot after we left Faverolles. Jeanne said we once stayed with an innkeeper who beat us. Then Maman went to try to find work in Paris and Curé Frédéric took us in. This was his sister and brother-in-law’s farm. Maman sent money from Paris every month. After Jeanne got married to her first husband, Maman moved back here.”
In or around 1815, Javert remembered: the year Valjean had finally been released from prison, broken his parole, and journeyed to Montreuil-sur-Mer under an assumed identity. He remembered how Valjean had made enquiries at Faverolles while at Montreuil, would have kept looking for Jeanne there and in Paris; he wouldn’t have thought that God would have been as merciful as to have preserved her and her surviving children in this farming community, under the protection of its kindly curé.
“And now you own the farm and its lands?”
Jean-Pierre nodded. “Yes, Father Alphonse left the farm to me in his will. He married Maman after Mother Elizabeth’s death, treated us all like his flesh’n blood. We’ve his share in the cheese co-operative, too, Étienne helps out there when he’s not needed here.” He nodded to the proliferation of children at the far end of the table. “It's why we now take in enfants-trouvés from the church and the ones the State started sending from Paris. God preserved us when we were kids, it’s our way of giving thanks.”
Javert felt unaccountably moved. He felt, too, the sense of God’s purpose, alighting on his shoulder: in the same way that Valjean had showed mercy to a woman in need and had taken her daughter as his own, here another man of God and his family had opened their doors to the surviving nephews and nieces whom Valjean had been condemned for trying to protect.
For all the evil that had been done in this life to Jean Valjean, there had also been mercy — and in their turn these rescued children had grown up and sought to show mercy to other children in need of help.
“Javert,” Valjean called from the other side of the table, speaking to him for the first time since their arrival at the de Val farm. By rights, Valjean should be sitting beside his nephew in the place of honour, but it did not seem as if the de Vals were a particularly conventional household, and this was certainly a most unconventional night.
His companion’s eyes were more red-rimmed than Javert liked, but his face was serene in a way that Javert had never seen before, as if a hitherto unknown burden had been lifted from his shoulders.
In his sister’s presence, somehow Valjean looked younger, shy, almost as if he were the boy he’d been the last time he had seen her. He held out his hand to Javert, and Javert took it, sliding onto the bench beside him.
“Jeanne, this is my dear friend from Paris,” Valjean said, switching to the national dialect, and Javert realised he had been waiting for Valjean to make the introduction. “Javert, this is the beloved sister I thought was lost.”
Jeanne gripped Javert’s free hand. She must be a decade or more older than her brother, but her grasp was surprisingly strong. It was a strength that had preserved as many of her children as she could, that had seen her through decades of poverty, of back-breaking work and loss, to the years of prosperity and now this unlooked-for blessing of having her little brother returned to her.
“Madame,” Javert said. “I am pleased to meet you.”
Jeanne said, “This must be quite a surprise for you. I do not suppose Jean has ever mentioned us!” She smiled, a small smile that conveyed more pleasure than grief.
“He has not,” Javert said, truthfully, “save in passing, but I know that he thought about you often, and the children he had to leave behind when he was sent away.”
He pressed Valjean’s hand, and Valjean clasped back. He knew, also, without Valjean needing to tell him, that these lives had weighed heavily with his friend, and that when Valjean said the prayers of penitence for lost souls it was these eight which he prayed for, together with Fantine and the revolutionaries who had perished on the barricades.
“I am sorry,” Valjean said to her. His voice choked, a tremor ran through his broad body. “I should have been there. I should not have tried to run; I should have looked harder for you in Faverolles and then Paris. If I hadn't tried to rob the baker, maybe Pierre and Antoine might still be alive.”
Javert turned to glare at his friend. It was characteristic of Valjean to blame himself for not having done enough, but even so it was not to be tolerated.
Jeanne seemed to be of the same mind, fortunately enough. She loosed Javert’s hand to grasp both of her brother’s; she drew him forward until their foreheads touched each other’s.
“Don’t be foolish, Jean,” she muttered. “There’s nothing more that you could’ve done. I might’s well ask you for forgiveness. God preserved us, God preserved you, He brought us back together today. Don’t question His ways when you see everything He’s done for us.”
Valjean said, steadily, as if there were no tears in his eyes, “I don’t. How can I? You are alive, the children are alive; this is a blessing I had never thought was possible.”
The siblings sat up talking all night. Around them the adults cleared the tables and ensured the children and animals were bedded down for the night; of course a working farm settled early and then rose with the dawn. But this was not applicable to the visitors, and Valjean and Jeanne had forty years of separation to make up, with a pot of tea and a candle and the stove for warmth.
Of course Javert would rather have cut off his own arm than leave Valjean's side. It had been a while since he'd slept in a chair, but he had passed far less comfortable nights in his previous line of work, and it was no hardship to rest his head against his hand at Jeanne de Val's kitchen table, an arm's length away from his friend.
As the night progressed Javert's comprehension of the Briard dialect seemed to degenerate. He thought he heard Valjean tell Jeanne about his long years in disguise, his encounter with Bishop Myriel, about Fantine and Cosette, and then Cosette and Marius; in her turn Jeanne recounted the hard, lean years spent apart from her children in Paris, and happier stories of marriages and babies and her own second chance at love.
"You never married," Jeanne said slowly.
Valjean said, "Too many years on the run. It was too dangerous; I could never trust anyone, particularly after I took Cosette into my care."
"It sounds so lonely."
"No more lonely than you were," Valjean said, "and for the same reason, the sake of the child, the children."
A different note entered Jeanne's voice, and Javert found himself focusing on her words. "I found companionship in the end, with Alphonse, and it seems as you have done the same as well, for all your years of running."
A beat, and then he heard the rare sound of Valjean's laughter; he felt his friend rest a large hand over his, Javert's, knuckles. "Yes, I suppose you could say that. He knows everything about my past and has kept my secret. He even sacrificed his career in the police to keep me safe. He is a good man, he is very dear to me."
"Anyone can see how he esteems you. He is mostly asleep and yet he cannot bear to leave your side."
"Ah —!" Valjean made an abrupt sound of guilt. "I have been keeping him awake, as well as you. Jeanne, forgive me —"
Jeanne said, "Tush, I'm an old woman and these days don't need much sleep. But maybe you should get your policeman to his bed."
"Am fine," Javert tried to say, and the Valjean siblings laughed together in a similarly-pitched rumble. Valjean put his hand on Javert’s shoulder, rubbing comfortingly, and Javert subsided sleepily into that familiar touch.
"I cannot bear to leave your side either, my sister," he heard Valjean say to Jeanne, soberly. Javert felt a slow chill creep over him despite the warmth of the room and of his own drowsiness. "Not after I have found you again.”
"Jean, of course you can stay with us for as long as you want. But your home's in Paris, surely, with your girl just married, and your man still too young to retire."
Valjean said, "We're still going to have to find Anatole, of course. But after that... it may be easier for me out here in the North country, I could be Mother Jeanne's relative whom no one will ask too many questions about. I still have some years ahead of me; I may be able to do some real good. I ran a factory in Montreuil, employed hundreds of workers, I might be able to do the same here. I also wish to establish a proper orphanage to help children in need, the same way as the curé here helped my family."
"How about Cosette? And Javert?"
"I will of course consult my daughter," Valjean said steadily. "And we are only days from Paris. As for Javert, he will naturally continue to pursue his new career and do God's work in his position at the Bureau. But we will still visit each other, and I am certain we can find a way to be together, if I indeed decide to do this.”
Jeanne said, "Don't make decisions too quickly on too much tea and too little sleep. Now, really, there are only a few hours till daybreak and the whole house wakes up."
"Very well, then, my dearest sister. Come, Javert, up you get —" Valjean switched to Parisian French, and Javert felt the brawny strength he knew so well clasp hold of him and lift him to his feet.
Someone had laid out a pallet for them in the inner room with the single men, and, as it appeared, Etienne and his fair-haired friend, who lay in each other’s embrace in a corner under the eaves of the roof. The pallet was barely large enough for both Valjean and Javert. They lay down in their clothes, too worn out from the day's events to wash or change, and Valjean folded Javert in his arms under the rough blankets.
Despite everything, Javert felt comforted by the sound of Valjean's familiar breathing, of the beating heart that was his home. He hoped Valjean would reconsider this proposed move, because he had learned to treasure his employment at the Bureau and to respect the colleagues with whom he worked. But he knew he would not wish to live his life apart from Valjean, nor wish to come home to Rue de l'Homme-Armé without Valjean there.
"...cut off my arm first," he muttered, and then he was asleep.
Per Groucha, the traditional layout of the traditional historical farms of around approximately 20 people is as described here (link in French), as well as the forested area and stream near Forfry where Javert and Valjean spend time with each other.
Even more exciting is the fact that the Forfry church, built in the 16th c., was called Église de Sainte-Madeleine ;) Valjean and Javert would have done a double take when they attended it that Sunday!
Chapter 21: He Also Bears His Cross
Javert tries his hand at farming.
Don't mind me, just doing some chapter restructuring before posting a new chapter. We've seen this one before - same betas, same research, same gratitude ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They stayed at the de Val farm for three days, enough for Javert to reluctantly conclude he was not cut out for the farming life. He recalled, more than a decade ago, informing Mayor Madeleine that he had arms and would till the soil if dismissed from his post as inspector of Montreuil-sur-Mer; he now realised from the depths of the ache in his biceps and shoulders that, despite that vain boast, he had very little ability for that task.
Not in the same way as Valjean, at any rate. He seemed born to tend the land, in the same way as he seemed preternaturally skilled at any activity that he put his hand to. Javert marvelled at the grace and power of his friend’s broad body as it hewed wood and hoed the earth and filled buckets of milk and water, dressed in rude shirtsleeves and dirty boots, entirely at home under this wide sky and in these open fields as he had not been behind the mayor’s desk or in hiding beneath M. Fauchelevent’s modest clothing and formal cravat.
Watching Valjean in his element made Javert’s blood run hot despite his body’s aches and pains.
On the second afternoon he decided that he had had enough of sharing a pallet with Valjean in a room with four other people. He informed Valjean that they needed to discuss something important, took him around to the thickly forested area beside the stream, selected a secluded spot far from prying eyes, and sought to demonstrate precisely what Valjean would miss if he chose to re-locate to the countryside and leave Javert behind in Paris.
After Javert was done with him, Valjean took a moment to compose himself and then got to his knees on the grass to open Javert’s trousers. Javert did not usually permit him to perform this service and had never been intimate with Valjean out of doors before this, but for some reason this afternoon Valjean was not so easily resisted. The sight of his beloved companion taking charge of him, looking up at him with hooded eyes, the almost-unbearable pleasure of Valjean’s mouth upon him, brought Javert very quickly to shuddering completion, fist pressed against his own mouth so as to stifle his cries lest they be discovered.
Quickly spent, he leaned against the rough bark of the tree trunk to catch his breath. The afternoon sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves overhead.
Valjean climbed to his feet, looking rather satisfied with his handiwork. It seemed unfair that the man would be as naturally skilled at this as he was with all his other physical pursuits, but having just enjoyed the aforesaid gifts first-hand Javert considered it might be churlish to complain.
Valjean leaned in to press his lips to Javert’s. "Was this important discussion to your liking?" he asked mildly.
"You know it was," Javert growled. "You drive me out of my mind, Jean. I will never have my fill of you."
Valjean made a soothing, amused sound and let Javert put his face into the join of his neck and shoulder. Javert inhaled the earthy smell of Valjean's sweat and skin, and had to close his eyes.
Do not leave me, he wished to tell his friend, but he knew how unfair it would be to ask Valjean to stay with him.
It seemed as if Jeanne was having some difficulties letting her brother go, also, but she finally sent him on his way after they had all attended service at the Église de Sainte-Madeleine, with promises to stop by again before the next month was out to help with the crop harvest.
"You could come with us," Valjean said, kissing his sister tenderly on her front stoop. "Come live with us in Paris, meet my daughter and her husband. We will move back to Rue Plumet so there will be a garden for you and you can see how beautiful the city can be."
Jeanne said, "I've seen the city, and it isn't beautiful, not for those you are trying to help. My place is here. Bring Cosette and her husband here next month instead. The waters out here put a spring under our young men that the city breeds out of them, and I'll warrant you'll soon have a grandchild of your own to keep you occupied."
Valjean turned red and muttered something; hiding his grin, Javert handed his friend into the carriage.
The road to the south-east was gentle and winding. Regardless, Guillaume complained he felt out of sorts but what he really meant was that he missed his playmates at the farm. Magnon seemed to be pleased they were finally underway; she professed to be a woman whose affinity was for the city, and Javert understood something of how she felt.
Valjean stared out of the window. Javert knew his friend was suffering from the loss of Jeanne and the children so keenly it almost broke his heart.
They passed the night at a small tavern in Melun. The room they were assigned was again installed with two single beds, the same configuration as in the room at the small inn at which they had stopped on the way from Montfermeil. This time, though, Javert insisted on moving the beds together, heedless of how incautious it was, and pulled his friend into his embrace.
The wheat farm at Saint-Aubin-sur-Yonne drew a blank, but the Mordante family whose farm was at the angle of the southern Paris-Lyon road towards la Nièvre, a stone's throw from the church, had adopted two boys from the Seine region. As soon as he set eyes on the younger of them, Guillaume burst into loud, unexpected tears, and Javert understood that this must be Anatole.
He watched the brothers cling to each other as Magnon gathered boys in her arms, himself amazed at God’s providence.
The Mordantes seemed gratified as well; Mme. Mordante remarked that the stipend by the Seine regional authorities would be a loss, but the loss of Anatole to his family would be greater.
Valjean suggested that an advance payment of an amount equivalent to the stipend might be paid in this instance, but Mordante refused to accept his money.
“Don’t need payment,” the farmer said gruffly. “If the boy wants to rejoin his kin, who’re we to stand in the way?”
As he had told the Bergers, Javert had planned to leave Anatole with his host family while they returned to Paris to resolve the paperwork with the Commission Administrative of the Hospice des enfants-trouvés du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. But Anatole wound his little arms around Magnon’s neck and refused to be parted from her and his brother. It would have taken a heart of stone to have insisted on leaving him behind, and Javert did not seem to possess one any longer.
They stayed at the Mordantes that evening: another night spent on a cramped pallet in a loft full of other men, which was rapidly becoming Javert’s least favourite part of country life.
In the morning, they attended mass at the nearby church. Despite the ache in his back from the floor of the loft, Javert experienced an intense sense of gratitude: for the blessing of Valjean at his side, for the healing that had finally been wrought in Valjean’s life, for the retrieval of the littlest Thénardier boy and the family reunion — for all that God had provided them with on this journey.
He just had to trust that God would continue to show His mercy and grace to him and to the companion of his later days. That God would lead him to make the decision that was in Valjean's best interest, irrespective of how difficult it might be.
On the way back to Paris, they stopped at the same tavern at Melun. The innkeeper recognised them and addressed Javert by name. They were allocated the same room, and this time the single beds had already been pushed together.
Valjean flushed when he entered the room and beheld the unexpected courtesy, but Javert did not blink an eyelid.
That night they made use of the salve they had brought from Paris. Javert opened his friend up slowly and gently and then overtook him with a desperation that left both of them gasping, making Javert almost forget his own name as he spent himself in a fierce blaze of white, with Valjean following shortly after.
Afterwards, Javert held his companion in his arms and knew he could not shut out the dull ache within him any longer.
"I know what you are planning," Javert said. Valjean flinched, and he cursed himself for his ineptitude. "I apologise, that was badly done. Let me try this again. I spent so many months hiding from myself and from you, not speaking out, and it was both stupid and cowardly. I would be remiss now if I did not tell you how I felt. I do not wish you to move to Meaux, nor do I wish to be without you."
Valjean was silent for a moment. Then he said, hesitantly, "You are right, of course. We do need to discuss these matters. I do not wish to leave Paris, or to be without you, either. However ..."
His voice trailed off, and he put his head against Javert's shoulder in silence.
"I know you feel you cannot do God's work in Paris if you are still in hiding, always looking over your shoulder," Javert said. "But that is not true. You must know of all the poor and needy you have helped there, the alms and donations that you make every week."
Valjean said, "Even so, I still feel there is good to be done in my life, and in Meaux they are making real progress in the field of mechanisation, I feel I can assist with that. I also wish to start an orphanage, which requires municipal approval at multiple levels, and it would be too much of a risk to do so in Paris. And Jeanne is no longer young." He paused, then continued, "I am yours, Javert, make no mistake, and I do not wish to be so far away from Cosette, but I am wondering if leaving Paris may make the most sense in the circumstances."
Javert said, grimly, "Then you had best prepare yourself to be accompanied by the least qualified farm labourer in all of France."
"I could not ask you to give up your life in Paris or your work at the Bureau," Valjean protested. "You joke about your qualifications, but you would clearly be unhappy in Meaux."
"I would be unhappy in Paris without you. My life has nothing without you in it, Jean."
Valjean shifted restlessly in Javert's arms. "Do not say that. God has seen and rewarded all the work you have done. The Bureau would not function as well without you. Whereas I ... I have been too afraid to be of as much value as I could."
Javert did not know what more he could say. He pulled Valjean towards him, kissed his mouth, stroked his shoulders and his hair in an attempt to provide Valjean with comfort that he did not himself feel.
You are valued, he tried to say, with his lips and his hands and his body. You do not need to hide or to still be afraid. You told Jeanne I had kept you safe, and I will continue do so, with all means at my disposal.
It was a long way back to Paris. Travel with two young boys was exhausting, and their party was quite worn out upon their arrival at Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, including Javert himself, even though the bulk of the care had been extended by Magnon and Valjean himself. For all his avowals, the protestations of his body made it clear to him that he was no longer young.
Still, his duty to God and to man did not let him rest. The very next day after his return to Rue de l’Homme-Armé, Javert took himself to the Bureau.
He presented his greetings to M. le Directeur, caught up on his paperwork, and in the afternoon he asked to make an appointment with Minister Barthe at the Ministry of Justice.
As regards Anatole, Groucha found for me Saint-Aubin-sur-Yonne, which was a small farming community, located very near the route upon which our heroes are travelling, and it had a church. Following the main road Paris-Lyon to the south, one will reach the Departément of la Nièvre.
A day's journey from and back to Forfry would be the town of Melun -- large enough so no one would be too scandalised when two men sharing a room pushed the single beds together ;)
Anatole's paperwork would have been resolved by the Commission Administrative of the Hospice des enfants-trouvés du Faubourg Saint-Antoine; as we saw in the Décret of 1811, it was each Hospice that took care of the children: for meals, clothes, education, apprenticeship, placements in foster homes. (It seems, from this link, that the umbrella body, the Conséil Général des Hospices de Paris, only cared about money, politics and statistics and not the individual kids ;))
Chapter 22: The Horizon Which One Beholds
What a difference two years made.
And we're back, with more chapters and hopefully a return to your regularly scheduled programming! As ever, my gratitude to betas Miss M and Groucha.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Once again, it was high summer in Paris. But this summer was very different from the ones before.
Two years ago the city had been a tinder-box of discontent and fear — the miasma of sickness had dogged its most impoverished streets and had caused the downfall of dashing premier Casimir Périer; the city’s powers had seen dangers in every shadow; the revolutionary flame that had seized its brightest boys had burned them to the ground and the Rue de Villette with them.
That summer Javert himself had been unmanned by the convict whom he had pursued for seventeen years, had seen his world pulled from its hinges and sought to end his own journey on the banks of the Seine. He had spent long weeks taking his first steps on the new and difficult road which his new superior had laid down before him, the summer’s heat making those steps heavy, weighed down by the yoke of sins that he had only just come to understand.
A year ago the city’s discontent had gone to ground — the sickness and poverty had sunk into the cobblestones and sewers and filled them with more even insidious poisons. The summer gardens had seemed filled with foolish youth who were blind to their own mortal sin, the dissolute nature of their desires. And Javert himself, once so proud and infallible, had been brought almost to his knees by misplaced duty and denial of the lusts of the flesh. That summer had seen him struggling along the untravelled new road, bearing this cross of desiring his benefactor as punishment for the sins from which he felt he could not otherwise be absolved.
What a difference two years made. This summer the city seemed reborn, as indeed seemed Javert himself. Hope filled its gardens with colour and blossoming life; good men and women sought to relieve poverty and spread charity amongst the dispossessed; lovers walked the streets hand in hand in an unstained world of their own.
This morning, Javert took measured steps on his daily walk toward the Île de la Cité, knowing that by God’s grace and with Jean Valjean at his side, he had managed to remake his world after all, and to live in it with rectitude and meaning. As he approached his duties at the Bureau of Judicial Assistance, he felt the reassuring weight of his familiar burdens, the pledge of Valjean’s devoted companionship, and the assurance of God’s infinite mercy for his sins.
When he arrived at the Bureau, Marcel said to him, “Do not take your coat off, M. le Directeur. A summons has arrived for you; you are wanted at the Ministry of Justice.”
Javert’s heart leaped rather unwisely; it was likely more routine work. “By whom?” he asked, holding out his hand for the communique.
“M. Barthe. I mean, of course, not M. le Ministre, but our former Director,” Marcel said, awkwardly.
It was an awkwardness which Javert had become accustomed to. After all, it had been only two months since Javert’s promotion, and M. Barthe’s own, and some of the lads were still unused to the new hierarchy at the Bureau. Javert could not say that he had become entirely comfortable with it himself.
The note said, in M. Barthe’s hand: Come at once. There is good news.
“Thank you,” Javert said, to Marcel, and to his Great Superior. He seized his hat and his burgeoning hope, and headed for Place Vendôme .
The solid, imposing halls of the Préfecture had been familiar to Javert from his former life as a policeman: halls in which the former Inspector Javert had allowed himself to feel satisfied by the small part he played in the implacable machinery of the Law.
Less familiar to him were the even more imposing heights of the Ministry of Justice at Place Vendôme, now a hallmark of his new life as civil servant and as the new Director of the Bureau of Judicial Assistance. Restored after the fire of 1793, the grand fluted ceiling, the marble columns and austere sandstone overlooking quiet gardens, spoke of an authority that he had now become a part of.
Javert could now see that that same authority, Justice, served side by side with Mercy, the authority which crowned the grand Cathédrale Notre-Dame, and that both of these bent the knee to Almighty God, that ultimate superior.
It humbled Javert beyond measure to know that, after he had fallen so far short, he had been retrieved despite himself and had been permitted to serve.
Javert walked the polished floors of the Ministry with his customary certainty and rectitude. It would not do for the officials and functionaries to see how unconvinced its Director was in his new position, or how he still felt unworthy of his office. In any case, the new Director might feel himself unworthy, but better men than he had felt he was suited to the role, and Javert would not disappoint them.
He mounted the marble stairs, crossed the main corridor, and, following the route he had taken only once before, when M. Barthe had been first elevated to his new position, entered the antechamber of M. le Procureur-Général of the Court of Assizes of the Seine Department.
M. Barthe had installed engravings of his family and a painting of his uncle in said antechamber, but these paled in comparison to the tall man who was seated in the ornate vintage armchair opposite the clerk's desk. Javert would have known that correct posture, that aristocratic carriage of head and decorated uniform, anywhere in the world.
"Monsieur Chabouillet, what an unexpected pleasure."
"Javert," said his former patron, rising to his full height. They shook hands, Chabouillet's clasp as warm and authoritative as ever.
Javert said, "It is good to see you. M. le Ministre said he had managed to persuade you out of retirement after all."
M. Chabouillet nodded. "Indeed. He suggested that, despite the new direction charted by M. Gisquet, there might be some position in executive government in which an old hand such as myself might be of some use. And indeed I disagreed with the Prefect on many matters, including his deployment of police spies amongst civilians for political means rather than law-and-order purposes. I always regretted that you were a part of that effort, Javert, and I believe M. Gisquet was subsequently persuaded to that view as well."
Chabouillet's hair was more silver than it had been two years ago, when he had represented the Law for Javert. Javert was not surprised to find the familiar pull of authority and knew he always would — in the same way as his lifetime of service would always be seen as of a value which, despite himself, he had at last come to terms with.
And yet here was the new conscience, the new authority, the new path which he had spent the last two years struggling to serve, and for all that it had involved challenges at every turn — death and grief and difficult moral choices, and some of which had not been his to make — it seemed he had not regretted setting foot on this path after all.
"I did not regret it," Javert said, "but neither do I regret leaving. I owe you a debt of gratitude, Monsieur, for giving me this first opportunity to serve in the Bureau."
"I always had an eye for the right man in the right place," Chabouillet said, with a small smile. "And I similarly allowed M. le Ministre to persuade me I would be the right man in this instance, and this place the right place."
Javert said, "M. Barthe mentioned you might have been persuaded to look into the present concerns with the prisons in our capital."
"I have only agreed to undertake that role for the Seine district, which includes the Conciergerie." M. Chabouillet leaned forward. "In fact, it was your report on Jacques Nouvel that piqued my interest. What happened to that boy — it should not have been permitted, Javert: that long remand, the assigned lawyer, the aspects which allowed for his escape. Let it be said that your concerns have been heard, and I will try to make sure they are indeed addressed, in my new position... It seems as if M. le Préfet will allow me full leeway in this. He does owe me one, after all, for you."
Chabouillet's blue gaze held Javert's; he felt manifestly unworthy. "Thank you," was the only response he could manage. "I am gratified you would personally intervene."
"I wish to see justice done, as well as the efficient administration of that justice," Chabouillet said. He paused, tilting his head. "There is another matter that requires my intervention, in the name of justice: that which you and the younger M. Barthe have been discussing over these last months."
Javert felt ill at ease, for it was not his secret matter, or rather, a secret that was not just his. "It is something M. Barthe has himself raised with you, Monsieur?"
"Indeed," Chabouillet said. "I oversee the Conciergerie, after all, and what you are both planning includes a necessary visit to my new domain. But do not be concerned, Javert: I agree that your proposed course of action is the most appropriate one, and one which would serve our great civilisation. Please be assured that I will do what must be done."
Javert could not speak for a moment. Chabouillet reached out and took his hand once more, as if Javert was still his protégé, and at the start of his career.
"Claude Barthe wishes to see the both of us," Chabouillet said. "It would not do to keep the new Procureur-Général waiting, would it, M. le Directeur?"
"No," said Javert. "I do not know what I have done to deserve your support, M. Chabouillet, but please believe that I will spend my life in your service."
"No need," said the new Inspecteur-Général des Services des Prisons. "You have already served, and been found worthy, and now there is for you a true pension."
Hopefully, the new roles for Javert, for Claude Barthe (the former M. le Directeur), and our good friend M. Chabouillet are made clear in this chapter.
Javert has been promoted, of course, and the former M. le Directeur has been elevated to the Procureur-Général of the Court of Assizes of the Seine Department, in charge of prosecutions of crimes before the assize courts in the Seine (along the lines of a chief prosecutor, or attorney-general). The list of procurers-general is here.
M. Chabouillet has returned to service as the Inspecteur-Général des Services des Prisons, a powerful and independent post that is connected with the Prefecture de Police, First Division, Third Bureau, which was the bureau overseeing the prisons of the Seine (see H.S. Sanford on Administrative Changes in France since 1848, as well as the 1833 Almanach at pp 759-760).
Here is a link to the Ministry of Justice building at Place Vendome.
Chapter 23: The Divine Right
Javert finally seeks an ending.
...and this story, also, is finding its way toward an ending! My eternal gratitude to Miss M and Groucha for their diligence, and to all of you still reading ♥
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The path from the Île de la Cité to the Église Saint-Sulpice had never felt longer. Javert compelled himself to walk at his usual pace. He now knew that God would meet him on the other side, regardless of how quickly or how slowly he travelled.
He was acutely aware, also, that this was a journey that he had been deliberately putting off. At its heart, it was because he had not wished to mislead a man of God under God’s own roof. He knew he was also reluctant to confront what might in fact be a clear denunciation from the Church: a sentence of judgment for wrongs he could now no longer put right, or would not wish to put right.
And on some fundamental level, he felt that it was not proper to seek a plenary indulgence and to be truly shriven from his past sins, until he had done all he could to put right the one mortal wrong of his life — the wrong he had done to Jean Valjean.
It was afternoon when Javert reached the church. He knew Fr. Michel-Marie would be in his small office at that time, and he was fortunate to arrive as a parishioner was just leaving.
"Monsieur, of course I will take your confession," the young priest said, and ushered him into the room.
Javert remembered first encountering Fr. Michel-Marie at the seminary two years ago. At the time he, Javert, had been a fledgling penitent, whose world of law and authority had been knocked off its hinges by Jean Valjean — and he had been attempting, tooth and claw, to find his way in his new world and come to understand his new superior. This good man had done his level best to deal with Javert’s notebook of doctrinal concerns and to answer questions on Scripture of a manner better suited for the interrogation of criminals. It had been Fr. Michel-Marie who had first told him of the remission of sins that he needed to obtain from God in order to safeguard his immortal soul.
It seemed fitting that Javert was here again two years later, having remade his world anew with God at its centre and God’s instrument at its bright heart, and now seeking that remission on his knees at last.
"Bless me, Father. I am an inveterate sinner. I have not made confession in thirteen weeks, and the confessions I have made to you over the months have been incomplete. I had failed to explain in full how my past life was characterised by instances of cruelty and failures of mercy.”
Fr. Michel-Marie did not look particularly surprised, and Javert continued grimly: “I was consumed with pride in myself. I participated in acts of cruelty, first to prisoners under my charge and then to persons who had committed crimes under extenuating circumstances. This included a sick woman whom I pursued and then condemned to death. There is also a man which I pursued for as many as seventeen years, and I would also have condemned him to death had he not been protected by God.”
He looked down — he had never spoken of this next matter before, not since Valjean had rescued him from the river and put him into his bed.
“Also, when my sins and my pride were finally revealed to me, and it seemed as if the world as I knew it had been destroyed, I also sought to destroy myself. God Himself rescued me from that sin, and I have not shown sufficient gratitude to Him and to all His instruments. "
Fr. Michel-Marie said, thoughtfully, "Those are indeed sins, my s— Monsieur. Have you sought to make restitution for them?”
“Yes,” Javert said. “I belatedly placed a formal complaint regarding the injustices at the prisons. I also left my former employment; I believe you know of my work at the Bureau of Judicial Assistance. I have confessed my sins to the daughter of the woman I wronged, as well as the man I wronged. It has taken some time to realise what I needed to do to make restitution, but I have since sought to do what I could to do right by him.”
He swallowed: this last matter was, finally, true. Now he had done all he could for Valjean, he did feel as if he might at last truly receive absolution for the multitude of wrongs he had inflicted on that good man.
“As for my mortal sin at the river … I regret that heartily, and have sought to use the new lease on life provided to me by God for His purposes and for that of the man who saved me.”
Fr. Michel-Marie leaned forward. “Well, then, it would appear that you are truly contrite, and have since sought to mend your ways and make reparation as best you could. As such you may approach the throne of God's grace to seek forgiveness and absolution."
"There is more," Javert said, with difficulty. "We spoke of Jacques Nouvel. I failed to help him and condemned him to his life of crime and imprisonment. He said he forgave me at the end, but I do not know whether he meant it. He died without making his last confession, and I am afraid his soul may be lost."
Fr Michel-Marie was silent. "You are certain he died whilst unconfessed?" he asked finally, hesitantly.
Javert felt sick to his stomach. "Yes. I tried to pray with him, and to have him repent in the ordinary way, but I am no priest, nor is my friend who was also with him at the last."
Fr. Michel-Marie said, a look of growing concern on his face, “Was he in fact Catholic? I did not actually ask M. Fauchelevent, I just assumed... ”
Javert said, “I am told by his sister that he was baptised, and that he attended church regularly. And we prayed together at the end, M. Fauchelevent prayed, just before he passed.”
Fr Michel-Marie's furled brow cleared rapidly, and he clasped Javert's hand. "Then all is well, my s— I mean, Monsieur. Of course it would be preferable were a priest to have taken the man's last confession. But if a priest cannot be present, as, for instance on a battlefield, Holy Mother Church lovingly grants such persons who are rightly disposed a plenary indulgence to be obtained in articulo mortis, at the approach of death, provided they did confess and pray regularly in some way during their lifetime. It has been so since the time of Pius V — at the hour of death an indulgence may be obtained by any contrite member of the church who confesses and invokes the holy name of Jesus with his heart if he cannot with his lips."
Fr. Michel-Marie looked at Javert's face and added, nervously, "In case you would like to look this up, this indulgence is referenced inter alia in Pope Pius V's Papal bull Consueverunt Romani Pontifices in the 16th century."
It was a great deal to digest. Valjean had told him God's grace was infinite, but he had not dared to believe it until this moment, when he heard a priest tell him that Nouvel's immortal soul may have been saved after all.
"Father, you cannot believe how much of a comfort it is to me to hear that," Javert said. "Thank you."
He paused. The remaining issue of his lack of chastity stood before him, the last stumbling block to confession and full remission before God. He was certain that the strict dictates of the Church would not encompass the interpretation ascribed to the issue by Jean Valjean. Still, there was nothing else for Javert than to now cast himself into the abyss and trust that God would preserve him.
"Father, I feel, also, that I should strictly be required to confess to you various instances of unchasteness with my companion."
Fr. Michel-Marie looked truly uncomfortable. "Ah, chastity...! It is a human failing which inflicts many men. The Church understands this suffering, and, seeing as you are truly penitent, God will forgive. Of course, you may wish to consider the covenant bond of wedlock — for a cord of three strands, that is two bound together in love with God as the centre of that bond, is not easily broken."
Javert must have looked even more askance at this reference to entering into a state of matrimony, because Fr. Michel-Marie paused for a long moment, looking down.
He then added with even more difficulty, "After the Council of Trent, the doctrine of Mother Church is that believers must be wedded by a priest, of course, but it was not always so. Indeed before that time, medieval church law did not require that the exchange of consent to marry be made in the presence of a priest or witnesses. And now the Revolution has brought us the civil marriage contracted by the modern state, and… well. It is not a straight-forward thing, what it means to be wedded in the eyes of God.”
The young priest fidgeted with his robe and did not meet Javert’s eyes. “Tell me, my son, do you both have love?"
"Yes, I believe that we do," Javert said, wonderingly.
"Well, then." Fr. Michel-Marie held out his hand; Javert knelt and murmured the words of contrition.
"Will you attend our Holy Communion service later?"
"I do believe that you have made sufficient restitution, my son, and may receive a remission for your sins: for your past sins, for your attempted sin against God, and for your part in the death of that poor man." Fr. Michel-Marie hesitated, as if he ought not perhaps give voice to a view that was not entirely orthodox. "But you may not need to receive forgiveness for love, which is the greatest of God's gifts. …Et ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti."
"Amen," Javert said, his heart full.
(1) ON CANON LAW:
Per the Code of Canon Law (can. 992) and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1471): "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints".
2. In general, the gaining of indulgences requires certain prescribed conditions (below, nn. 3, 4), and the performance of certain prescribed works (nn. 8, 9, 10 indicate those specific to the Holy Year).
3. To gain indulgences, whether plenary or partial, it is necessary that the faithful be in the state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed.”
Fr. Michel-Marie dismisses Javert with the traditional Latin absolution, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit:
Deus, Pater misericordiarum, qui per mortem et resurrectionem Fílii sui mundum sibi reconciliavit et Spiritum Sanctum effudit in remissionem peccatorum, per ministerium Ecclesiae indulgentiam tibi tribuat et pacem... Et ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
(2) ON INDULGENCES AT THE HOUR OF DEATH:
For the position in the early 19C, see Jean Baptiste Bouvier, A Dogmatic and Practical Treatise on Indulgences, 1839, at 154-155, citing Pius V:
At the hour of death an indulgence may be obtained by any member (of the church) who will confess and receive the viaticum or if he is unable to do so is truly contrite and shall invoke the holy name of Jesus with his heart if he cannot with his lips.
But if a priest cannot be present, Holy Mother Church lovingly grants such persons who are rightly disposed a plenary indulgence to be obtained in articulo mortis, at the approach of death, provided they regularly prayed in some way during their lifetime. The use of a crucifix or cross is recommended in obtaining this plenary indulgence.
In such a situation the three usual conditions (state of grace, detachment from sins, confession) required in order to gain a plenary indulgence are substituted for by the condition “provided they prayed regularly in some way.”
The Christian faithful can obtain the plenary indulgence mentioned here as death approaches (in articulo mortis) even if they had already obtained another plenary indulgence that same day.
This grant number 28 is taken from the apostolic constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina, norm 18.
(3) ON CHURCH DIVORCE AND CIVIL MARRIAGES: On September 20, 1792, the French National Assembly passed a decree regulating divorce and made marriage a civil contract that could be broken by mutual consent. The Catholic Church reluctantly acceded.
The preponderance of evidence suggests that prior to the decree on matrimony pronounced by the 24th session of the Council of Trent in 1563, medieval church law did not require that the exchange of consent to marry be made in the presence of a priest, although the Church, of course, considered this desirable; witnesses were also not sacramentally necessary to validly create the marriage bond, although the exchange of consent could not be legally proven without them, as explained here.
Chapter 24: The Night Behind Which There is Day
...and there is also a beginning.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The path to their home in Rue Plumet felt even longer than that to Saint-Sulpice, and this time Javert could not help but hasten his steps. He would not pretend any longer that he was not eager to see his companion, or that the news that he had repressed for long hours today was not now seeking to burst from his breast.
The summer sun was shading the trees, green and gold as the Jardins de Luxembourg had been the day he had been struck by the thunderclap of love. Javert pushed open the wrought-iron gate and shut it behind him, and stepped into the quiet of the garden.
The garden at Rue Plumet had fallen into further disrepair since Valjean had given up its tenancy the previous year. Valjean had resumed his residency there after their return from their travels in the country, and since that time, he had been hard at work, clearing the weeds, pruning branches and bushes and wild grass, restoring the flowerbeds and planting the strawberries which he had also cultivated in the well-tended gardens of Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire. The Rue Plumet gardens now bore the hallmarks of Valjean's patient care, showing green shoots and shy flowers and an abundance of returned life. Javert recalled that the garden had been overgrown when Valjean had first lived there, with Cosette, in hiding; perhaps this present tending was a sign of some sort of renewal on Valjean’s part as well.
The man himself appeared from behind a hedge, his broad frame dressed in a worn shirt and work trousers. He was hatless, and his white hair shone in the last of the afternoon sun. At the sight of Javert, his face broke into a smile.
“I heard the sound of the gate. God is good to have returned you so early today.”
“The gate’s hinges need oiling, then,” Javert could not stop himself from saying, as Valjean pulled off his work gloves and took Javert's hands in his. “Is it so early? I had not realised; I had meetings out of the office this morning and then I went to see Fr. Michel-Marie at Saint-Sulpice.”
“It is only five and a half hours in the afternoon; Toussaint and Cosette have just left.” Valjean’s familiar hands were rough and marked with the dirt from his labours in this garden and in God’s.
Javert said, as Valjean clasped his knuckles, “Did Cosette wish to bring you more of her strawberry cake? If so, I hope you did not turn it away.”
“I did not, I know that you are quite fond of it.” Valjean looked up at him, sudden hesitation crossing his face. “Also… I have some news for you.”
Javert was acutely aware of his own news, which burned like an ember within his breast. “As do I,” he said with some difficulty.
Valjean looked more closely into his eyes; what he saw there gave him reason to take a slow step backwards.
“Please, then, by all means, you should speak first,” he said. There was nervousness in his regard, born of a lifetime of need and then of fear.
Javert paused. It appeared that the road to his new life under God had led him here — the months and years of struggle with the yoke of his sin and his self-doubt, his journey towards making peace with the world he had lived in and the man he had been, had all inexorably led to this place, and the restitution he was finally able to make to the man whom he had so wronged and to whom he owed every good thing in this life.
He took a long breath to steady himself, and then, holding firmly onto Valjean’s hands, he said: “I did not tell you… but after the incident with Nouvel, M. Barthe and his uncle the Minister for Justice have been helping to work on obtaining a pardon for you. We wrote the letters when we returned from l’Yonne, and M. le Ministre went to speak with the King before his sequester at Château de Neuilly.”
He freed his right hand, pulled from his coat pocket the heavy embossed envelope with its royal seal, and thrust it at Valjean.
“As I understand it, there are two separate matters: a pardon for your escape from Toulon, and another for the remainder of your sentence there. The first postulates that you were inadvertently freed in an accident that occurred when you were saving a sailor on board the Orion. Further, you spent your freedom as an upstanding citizen and being of benefit to society. It seems the King has acceded to such a request for a pardon, on the basis that you will come forward of your own volition to put matters right with the state. Here, I have it in writing, and now so do you.”
Valjean made no attempt to open the envelope. He held it at arms’ length as if it were a viper.
Javert went on, awkwardly, “As for the second… M. Barthe procured your record from the Court of the Assizes du Var. I do not know why you made an admission before the jury that you were part of a gang of highway robbers, because I know beyond doubt that is untrue.”
Javert felt his throat constrict. He well knew that Valjean had capitulated more than ten years ago to the false accusations and the criminal justice system of the time because he had been rightly aware he would not have received a fair trial.
He went on: “In any event, the King’s pardon also would extend to the remainder of your sentence. You have served 19 years in the bagne, and in 1823 as a prisoner you saved the life of another. M. Barthe as the new Procureur-Général has said that what is required is for you to surrender to custody for a day. Once there, I can have Duchamp and Marius file your papers and move your new trial before the Court of Assizes of the Seine so that you can formally receive your pardon. M. Barthe promises that it can be done swiftly.”
Javert had to pause at the wrenching thought of Valjean once again behind bars — but after that, Valjean would be free for ever. “You may spend the night at the Dépôt de la Préfecture or in the lock-up of the Commissariat at the Rue de la Barillerie, and for that I am sorry. But my old patron, M. Chabouillet, will watch over you, and then the next day you will be a pardoned man. The papers have been drafted; we can do this whenever you are ready.”
Valjean could say nothing. Very slowly, the colour drained from his face.
Javert caught him by the shoulders when he staggered. They sank together to their knees in the dirt of the garden path.
“How did you know to do this?” Valjean whispered. His face was bone-white.
Javert clasped his companion in his arms and spoke fiercely into Valjean’s ear. “Jean, I did not know, but I had to try. I knew I could not give you back the nineteen years you spent in Toulon, the nineteen more years in hiding, in what you feared had become a waste of your life… But I could try to give you a future without fear, without hiding, without any more waste.”
Valjean made a shaken, sobbing sound and clung to Javert’s coat, his massive strength seeming to have run dry. His body shuddered like a tree seized by a high wind.
“You told me that there would be no more running from me,” Javert said. He found that he was trembling as well, his body racked by Valjean’s bitter tears. “And so, it would seem there would be no longer a need to run from anyone any longer. After nineteen years, you will really be free at last.”
Eventually, Valjean stopped shivering. The sun had begun to set, and Javert helped him indoors. He settled his friend on the couch which they had brought from Rue de l’Homme-Armé, on which they had spent so many nights reading from Notre-Dame de Paris and one writer’s heart of darkness. He made some tea; he was not sure that Valjean was ready for either the stew or the strawberry cake.
“Thank you,” Valjean said, as Javert handed him the steaming mug and slid onto the couch beside him. He drank deeply. Then he looked up at Javert with a ghost of a smile on his lips.
“And I should also thank you for what you have done. All this work — for this conditional release from the King, and a pardon for my crimes! I cannot believe you would do this for me. Surely there cannot be as much mercy in the world.”
Javert passed his arm around his friend’s shoulders. “I meant what I said that it was something I needed to do,” he said hesitantly. “I realised on our voyage that if I was truly to seek a true remission for my sins, I had first to redress this one wrong that I had done to you. You have told me I was not to blame, but I knew better, and so did God.”
Valjean turned to look into Javert’s eyes, the corner of his mouth quirking.
“I think you might find God is a more forgiving taskmaster than Director Javert,” he said, and pressed Javert’s hand. “Is that why you went to Saint-Sulpice today — you wished to ask Fr. Michel-Marie for the absolution that you finally permitted yourself to seek?”
Javert scowled. “Yes, that is why,” he said. “I do not think I have been unforgiving. It is God who has been more generous than I deserve… Fr. Michel-Marie assured me that if Nouvel had been an observant Catholic at his death, his soul would not find condemnation in Hell.”
He quickly outlined Fr. Michel-Marie’s pronouncement, and Valjean nodded.
"That is a good, merciful decree, and a loving position for Mother Church to adopt. But as I have mentioned, my dear, even if for her own reasons the Church were to have taken a different stand, that does not mean that God would have seen the matter in the same way.”
Valjean’s eyes shone as if he were proof against heresy unto himself. Javert had never felt more devoted to him.
Valjean said, “The God we worship is infinitely loving, infinitely merciful, and God's laws are not the same as the laws of the Church, which were made by men.” He glanced at Javert, a ghost of a smile on his lips. “I know that is not the orthodox position, but we are after all not particularly orthodox men, and our experience of our great God is certainly unorthodox.”
"Actually, Fr. Michel-Marie might not necessarily disagree with you,” Javert said, shrugging. “For instance, he said that what it meant to be wedded in the eyes of God was not a straightforward matter, and that we may not need to receive forgiveness for the love that we share."
Valjean’s eyebrows lifted almost to his hairline. “…Because, of course, you also went to him to specifically seek out any necessary absolution for the love that we share?”
“Of course I did not ask him specifically,” Javert protested. “I just, I wished to make full confession of any lack of chastity which I might have committed. And Fr. Michel-Marie said that there might be no unchasteness, nor sin, if we were in fact wedded by covenant together in love, in the eyes of God.”
Valjean was silent for a long moment, and Javert had occasion to contemplate the difference between men’s justice and God’s mercy: between rigid conformity to strictures and rules, and the space which ought to be made between them for love.
Then Valjean wound his fingers together with Javert’s, and said, very slowly, “In the eyes of God, I believe we are bound to each other, as we were from the moment when we knew that we loved each other, as much as any two covenanted together under the witness of Mother Church.”
The light in Valjean’s eyes was almost too bright to bear and yet he could not look away. He felt the same light within him, as well.
He found himself saying, with extreme awkwardness:
“In the days before the Council of Trent, it seems as if the Church did not require that a valid exchange of consent to marry be made in the presence of a priest or of witnesses. And it seems there was in those olden times some ceremony whereby two men might exchange covenant vows of wedded brotherhood in the eyes of God… I do not know whether you would desire to enter into such a covenant, Jean, and it would be symbolic in any case under today's laws, but it strikes me that, after the pardon has been finally secured, we might wish to consider the same, in order that we might live in a sinless fashion under God.”
Valjean’s eyebrows lifted again, and his hands tightened around Javert’s almost painfully. “Are you truly asking me …” His voice caught around the words, and he could not continue.
“I am only asking that we consider it,” Javert said, slowly, stunned by his own daring. “It is not something entered into lightly. Perhaps I should not have raised this immediately after the news about the pardon… I know that you are still considering whether to leave Paris, and this might have a bearing on what you would prefer.”
Valjean cleared his throat. “Ah, yes, about that. I did mention I also had news, did I not? Mine is this — Cosette has told me she is expecting, and I believe she may wish for me to remain here in Paris, at least for a while.”
Javert was not sure why Cosette’s expecting anything would have a bearing on Valjean’s plans to leave Paris … and then with a rush, comprehension flooded through him, and with it, an outpouring sense of joy at what this meant for Valjean.
Valjean continued with his musing out loud. “Perhaps Jeanne will consent to live with us, for some part of the year, in any case? This house has room enough. And if truly I have received this remission from the King, and am to obtain this pardon, why, then, I may proceed with my desired plans for an orphanage without further fear of discovery.”
“I believe that M. le Ministre may indeed have promised the King that you would do such a thing were you to receive this pardon,” Javert said, “so I am afraid the orphanage would be expected of you. Although, truly, if you wish to open one in Meaux as well, together with all the cheese factories in France, I am sure you would receive his blessing.”
Javert could barely believe it, but it would seem that all his journeying had come to this: the quiet path under the summer stars, the home he had made with this former enemy and his dearest friend, in the winter of both of their lives, the redemption and mercy that he might have finally obtained, after all, for the both of them.
“And do not think I do not desire it,” Valjean said. "I mean, the covenant that you seek — I do not need to consider matters further. It would be my joy to be joined to you in the eyes of God.”
His eyes were very bright. Javert saw the face of God behind them, as if Valjean's love had rendered him, the whole man, transparent.
Javert felt his own eyes sting, fallible and mortal, unworthy in the eternal presence of God. “Even now I find it difficult to believe you would accept me, that you would endure living with me,” he said. “It must truly be the gift of God and nothing else.”
“Love believes all things and bears all things; the greatest of all God's gifts is love."
Valjean leaned in to kiss him, and Javert experienced a joy so keen it was almost painful, as sharp as the blade that had freed him at the barricades two years ago, and from his old life.
As he gave himself over to Valjean’s embraces, he knew the unparalleled gladness of this day would pass, simply and of itself, as night came when the day was gone. But after the night, there would be once again the morning, and the dawning of the new world they had made under God.
I've run out of words of gratitude for betas Groucha and Miss M, for their incredible diligence and generosity and assistance. There would be no story without them, nor without Firestorm.
And, not without all of you, as well -- thank you so much for reading and coming on this journey with me ♥
Chapter 25: Final Notes
One door closes, another one opens...
This last chapter contains the final author's notes, because last chapter's research couldn't fit all into 24 ;)
(1) On pardons:
Under the 1818 Ordinance of 6 February 1818, a prisoner could receive a pardon for the remainder of his sentence by making an application via his attorney to the Procureur-Général of the jurisdiction in which he resided, listing the place of remand. The Procureur-Général would then remit the application to the Minister of Justice, who would then petition the King: as here.
Legal historians would appreciate that this was the application that was required to be filed.
The Procureur-Général of the Assize courts of the Seine Department was in charge of criminal prosecutions in the Seine Department. (As such, in-story, it would be Claude Barthe, the former M. le Directeur, remitting Valjean’s application for pardon to his uncle, the Minister of Justice.)
Once the pardon was obtained, a hearing would need to be reconvened before the Assize courts, for the purposes of the entérinement des lettres de grâce, i.e. to ratify the pardon; the lettres de grâce would be given to the prisoner. Then the President of the Cour d’Assises would set officially the prisoner free and confirm his status as a free man.
The foregoing procedure mirrors that taken by the infamous Eugene Vidocq. According to his Memoirs, Vidocq was convicted of forging a document and incarcerated in Douai when he asked for his first pardon (in 1805); there was no word on his application and he decided to escape; thereafter, he began working for the Sûreté. In 1817, Vidocq filed another application for a pardon (presumably to cover the 1805 escape from Douai). He went to a prison in Paris and allowed himself to be taken as prisoner, which is a procedural requirement for an application for a pardon to be made. Comte Jules Anglès, the then prefect of the Paris police, responded to the petition and and requested an official pardon, which he received on 26 March 1817 from King Louis XVIII (Vidocq had a powerful patron in the then-Minister for Justice, M. Pasquier, who was the "Garde des Sceaux”).
See Vidocq's memoires for more info.
Technically, one would need to be in custody before the application could be made, but it sounds as if Vidocq and Pasquier had the pardon in the bag already when Vidocq turned himself in, and my handwave postulates that M. le Ministre was able to persuade Louis-Philippe I to provide a conditional pardon in advance of said application. After all, Louis-Philippe I was prone to be merciful, and bestowed numerous commutations of penalties (including capital punishments) on both political and compassionate grounds: see here; giving 1,055 full pardons in 1834 alone (see this helpful summary.)
(2) On jurisdiction:
There are two legal difficulties with the approach promulgated in this chapter. First: a pardoned prisoner would require the reconvened trial to be conducted in the district of his original charge and sentence. Vidocq, for instance, was required to return to the Douai to receive his pardon for the remainder of his 1805 sentence.
Here, Javert and Chabouillet and Procureur-Général Barthe have decided to proceed under the Seine jurisdiction, but in order to follow the letter of the law, Valjean would need to surrender to custody in the Var and then await his court date with the Court of Assizes of the Var.
There is a further legal complication. The punishment for fugitives from the galleys, particularly galley-slaves, is technically within the jurisdiction not of the Minister for Justice, but the Ministry of the Marine, and it is the Tribunal Maritime and not the Assizes court that has jurisdiction. This jurisdiction also included the guards and before the position was changed in 1817, even civilian workers who committed crimes inside the facilities of the Marine, were judged by this tribunal: as here.
The complication didn’t seem to stop Vidocq, though it does open up an avenue for our Remission characters. And, so, it may be that another story must begin ...
(3) On medieval-era same-sex marriage and the practice of wed-brotherhood:
(4) On motivation and next steps:
It was hard work writing this redemption story for the irrepressible Inspector Javert, but it was impossible to not want to rescue him from the pass he saw for himself:
A whole new world was dawning on his soul: kindness accepted and repaid, devotion, mercy, indulgence, violences committed by pity on austerity, respect for persons, no more definitive condemnation, no more conviction, the possibility of a tear in the eye of the law, no one knows what justice according to God, running in inverse sense to justice according to men. He perceived amid the shadows the terrible rising of an unknown moral sun; it horrified and dazzled him... He was forced to acknowledge that goodness did exist.
And this the choice he made:
The flood in the river, divined rather than perceived, the tragic whispering of the waves, the melancholy vastness of the arches of the bridge, the imaginable fall into that gloomy void, into all that shadow was full of horror. Javert remained motionless for several minutes, gazing at this opening of shadow; he considered the invisible with a fixity that resembled attention. The water roared... a dull splash followed; and the shadow alone was in the secret of the convulsions of that obscure form which had disappeared beneath the water.
In this story I sought to redeem that struggling, infinitely tragic, obscure form, and restore to him the world of kindness accepted and repaid, devotion, mercy, indulgence,... respect for persons, no more definitive condemnation, no more conviction, including no condemnation for himself: a world in which Jean Valjean was less the new, terrible moral sun, or the convict with the green cap and halo at its apex which Javert had irretrievably wronged, and more a fallible human man whose devotion and kindness he could finally live with.
That's it for this story, although I am mulling over a sequel/out-take featuring the Var trial and road trip for my longsuffering beta, Groucha.
Speaking of betas, I had the best on this journey! Firestorm717 helped build the foundations and structures of this story: she was responsible for Jacques Nouvel and my OCs and Notre-Dame de Paris and the rising and falling cycle of my plot, together with the build of the sex ;) Groucha painstakingly carved each caryatid that holds and adorns the story: she researched every fact and citation, from the intricacies of 1830s French bureaucracy and legal petitions to cheesemaking in the North (and Esteven furnished 1830s maps of Paris and the Cite, and pictures of the Place Desaix). And Miss M parsed each line of wallpaper and each seam of curtain and furnishing and the hinges in doors and the frames of the windows -- every word and sentence and paragraph in this story was read and reviewed and made better by her. I am so grateful for them, and for everyone reading.
Thank you for staying with me on this final leg of the journey. Stay tuned for more potential legal history shenanigans!