‘The police headquarters in Paris told me that Jean Valjean was arrested last autumn for stealing apples,’ Javert explained. He’d changed his name to Champmathieu and had lived for several years in the village of Ailly-le-Haut-Cloche. Two ex-prisoners from Toulon recognized him as Jean Valjean. I visited the man in Arras prison, and I saw for myself that he is indeed Jean Valjean. Of course, he denies everything, but that’s not surprising. If he’s found guilty of stealing from the bishop — who, as you know, died a couple of years ago — and of robbing the small boy, he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison.’
M. Madeleine looked down at his papers.
‘This matter is of no interest to me, Javert,’ he said casually. ‘I’m sure you have other work to do.’
‘I was going to the man’s trial in Arras tomorrow, ‘Javert said. ‘But after this conversation, you must dismiss me.’
M. Madeleine rose to his feet.
‘Javert,’ he said, ‘you’re an honourable man. You made one small mistake, that’s all. I want you to continue your excellent work as inspector of police.’
He offered Javert his hand, but the inspector refused to take it. Instead, he said, ‘I’ve behaved unjustly towards an innocent man. I cannot shake his hand.’
With those words he bowed and left the office, leaving M. Madeleine to stare at the papers on his desk with an empty, puzzled look in his eyes.
That afternoon, M. Madeleine visited Fantine. She had a high fever, and was coughing badly, but she still had only one thing on her mind.
‘Cosette?’ she asked him.
‘Very soon,’ he assured her.
He sat by her bed for an hour and then, having told the nurses to look after her, he returned to his home. He stayed awake all night, thinking of Javert’s story about Champmathieu. The reader has probably already realized that M. Madeleine was really Jean Valjean, and M. Madeleine — as we shall continue to call him for this part of the story — knew that he could not let Champmathieu go to prison for crimes he had not committed. He knew — although he was not happy to admit this — that he would have to go to Arras and tell the truth. He would lose everything that he had worked so hard to achieve. He would also have to break his promise to Fantine about bringing Cosette from Montfermeil. But what choice did he have? The truth was more important than anything else.
The next morning, M. Madeleine set off on the long journey to Arras. It took him more than twelve hours, and when he arrived, he discovered that Champmathieu’s trial had already started. The courtroom was full but, because he was such an important man, M. Madeleine was allowed to sit behind the judge’s chair. He watched as several witnesses swore on the Bible that the man standing before the judge was Jean Valjean. Champmathieu, a large, simple-minded man, denied everything when his chance came to speak, but the crowd thought he was trying to be funny. The courtroom filled with laughter and Champmathieu began to laugh himself, which did him no good at all.
Finally, having heard all the evidence, the judge called for silence. He was preparing to announce his decision when M. Madeleine, pale and trembling, stood up and said:
‘That man is not Jean Valjean.’
An excited whisper went around the courtroom as everybody recognized M. Madeleine.
M. Madeleine waited for the whispers to stop before announcing in a loud, clear voice that he was Jean Valjean. At first, no one believed him, but he managed to persuade the court by skilfully questioning each of the witnesses, revealing personal information that only the real Jean Valjean could have known. When he had persuaded the court of the truth of his confession, he was faced with a shocked but respectful silence.
‘I must leave now,’ M. Madeleine finally said. ‘I have important business to attend to. You know where to find me, and I shall not try to escape.’
Everybody stood to one side to let him pass as he made his way towards the door. When he had gone, the judge immediately allowed Champmathieu to leave the court a free man. Champmathieu went home in a state of total confusion, thinking all men mad and understanding nothing of what had happened.
At dawn the next day, M. Madeleine entered Fantine’s room.
‘How is she?’ he asked the nurse, who was watching her as she slept.
‘She seems better. She’s looking forward to seeing her child.’
‘I haven’t brought the child with me,’ M. Madeleine said.
‘Then what can we say to her when she wakes up?’ The nurse looked suddenly worried. ‘It will destroy her if she doesn’t see her child now, after you promised to bring her.’
‘God will guide me,’ M. Madeleine sighed.
For some time M. Madeleine sat by the bedside and watched Fantine while she slept. She was breathing with great difficulty, but her face looked peaceful and calm. Suddenly, she opened her eyes and saw M. Madeleine.
‘Cosette?’ she asked, with a soft smile.