‘Later,’ M. Madeleine said gently, taking her hand. ‘You’re too weak to see her at the moment. First you must get well.’

Fantine smiled, and began to talk dreamily about her future life with her daughter, and how happy they would be together. But suddenly her face froze, and she stared with horror at the door. M. Madeleine, who was holding her hand, turned and saw Inspector Javert. Fantine, thinking that the inspector had come for her, gripped M. Madeleine’s hand tightly and begged him to protect her.

‘Don’t be afraid.’ M. Madeleine tried to calm her. ‘He hasn’t come for you.’ Then, gently rising from his chair, he moved towards Javert. ‘I know what you’ve come for,’ he said quietly so that Fantine wouldn’t hear. ‘But give me three days, please. That’s all I ask. Three days to fetch this unfortunate woman’s child. I’ll pay anything you like.’

‘Do you think I’m stupid?’ Javert gave an unpleasant laugh. ‘Three days to escape, you mean.’

Fantine, who had heard what M. Madeleine said, despite his efforts to speak quietly, began to tremble.

‘To fetch my child?’ she cried. ‘Isn’t she here? Nurse, answer me… where’s my little Cosette? I want to see her. M. Madeleine

‘Be quiet, you dirty prostitute,’ Javert interrupted her angrily. ‘There is no Monsieur Madeleine. This man’s name is Jean Valjean, and he’s a criminal no better than you are. And you can forget all that nonsense about your child.

Fantine suddenly sat up. She stared wildly at the two men, then turned to the nurse. She looked as if she was going to speak, but no words came from her lips. Instead, with a small sigh, she fell back against her pillow and lay completely still.

Jean Valjean (as we must now call him) shook Javert’s hand from his collar and ran to the bed. He gazed into Fantine’s eyes and knew immediately that she was dead.

‘You’ve killed her!’ he cried angrily, turning to Javert with a fierce look in his eyes.

‘I didn’t come here to argue,’ Javert said, stepping back nervously, afraid that Valjean was going to attack him. ‘If you don’t come with me now, I’ll have to call my men.’

Valjean looked around the room, thinking for a second of making his escape. But the idea did not last for long. He turned again to Fantine and looked for one last time at her sad, pale face and empty, blue eyes. Bending down, he closed her eyes and pressed his lips against her forehead. Then he rose and turned back to Javert.

‘I’m ready now,’ he said.

News of M. Madeleine’s arrest spread quickly around the town. Most people pretended not to be surprised. ‘We always knew there was something strange about him,’ they said. Two days after his arrest, Jean Valjean escaped from prison. The bars of his window had been broken during the night. Again, most people pretended not to be surprised. ‘It takes more than a small town prison to hold a man as strong as that,’ they all agreed.


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