Nearly half an hour passed. Thenardier seemed lost in his own dark thoughts. The prisoner did not move. Finally, there was the sound of horses in the street outside and, moments later, the door to the room was thrown open.
‘It’s a false address,’ Mme Thenardier cried. ‘There’s no Urbain Fabre. The old man’s been lying to us!’
Thenardier sat on the corner of the table in silence for some moments, swinging his leg and gazing with a fierce satisfaction at the fire. Then he turned to the prisoner and said in a slow, threatening voice, ‘What did you hope to gain by giving me a false name and address?’
‘Time!’ cried the prisoner in a loud voice, jumping from the bed, having secretly cut the ropes that tied him. Before the others in the room could react, M. Leblanc was standing by the fire, holding a metal bar above his head.
‘I’m not afraid of you,’ he said. ‘But neither should you fear me.’
With those words he threw the metal bar out of the window into the street below.
‘Get him!’ Thenardier shouted. ‘He’s defenceless.’
Two men grabbed him by the shoulders.
‘Now cut his throat!’ Thenardier called.
Marius stared, frozen with fear as Thenardier, knife in hand, stood hesitating a few steps away from the prisoner. The brave man was in terrible danger, but Marius still could not fire the gun. Then, in the moonlight, he saw the solution to his problem. On top of the cupboard, by his feet, he noticed the piece of paper that the elder daughter had written on: Be careful! The police are coming!
He immediately saw what he had to do. He took a piece of brick from the wall, wrapped the piece of paper around it and threw it through the hole into the middle of Thenardier’s room.
He was just in time. Thenardier was advancing towards his prisoner, knife in hand, when his wife cried, ‘Something fell!’
She picked up the piece of paper and handed it to her husband, who read it quickly.
‘It’s Eponine’s handwriting!’ he cried a moment later. ‘Quick! Get the ladder. The police are coming and we’ve got to go!’
They threw the rope ladder from the open window but, before they could escape, the door opened and Inspector Javert walked in.
‘Relax,’ he smiled. ‘You can’t escape through the window. There are five of you, and fifteen of us. You have no chance. Why not come quietly?’
The men put down their weapons and surrendered without a fight. When everybody had been arrested and taken from the room, Javert noticed the prisoner, who was standing, head bowed, by the window. He turned to speak to another policeman but, when he looked back, he saw that the prisoner had gone. Javert rushed to the open window and looked down. The rope ladder was swinging gently above the empty street.
‘He must have been the cleverest of them all, ‘Javert murmured angrily to himself.