"Fantine," Book Eight: Chapter IV
Authority Reasserts Its Rights
Fantine had not seen Javert since the day on which the mayor had torn her from the man. Her ailing brain comprehended nothing, but the only thing which she did not doubt was that he had come to get her. She could not endure that terrible face; she felt her life quitting her; she hid her face in both hands, and shrieked in her anguish:—
"Monsieur Madeleine, save me!"
Jean Valjean—we shall henceforth not speak of him otherwise—had risen. He said to Fantine in the gentlest and calmest of voices:—
"Be at ease; it is not for you that he is come."
Then he addressed Javert, and said:—
"I know what you want."
"Be quick about it!"
There lay in the inflection of voice which accompanied these words something indescribably fierce and frenzied. Javert did not say, "Be quick about it!" he said "Bequiabouit."
No orthography can do justice to the accent with which it was uttered: it was no longer a human word: it was a roar.
He did not proceed according to his custom, he did not enter into the matter, he exhibited no warrant of arrest. In his eyes, Jean Valjean was a sort of mysterious combatant, who was not to be laid hands upon, a wrestler in the dark whom he had had in his grasp for the last five years, without being able to throw him. This arrest was not a beginning, but an end. He confined himself to saying, "Be quick about it!"
As he spoke thus, he did not advance a single step; he hurled at Jean Valjean a glance which he threw out like a grappling-hook, and with which he was accustomed to draw wretches violently to him.
It was this glance which Fantine had felt penetrating to the very marrow of her bones two months previously.
At Javert's exclamation, Fantine opened her eyes once more. But the mayor was there; what had she to fear?
Javert advanced to the middle of the room, and cried:—
"See here now! Art thou coming?"
The unhappy woman glanced about her. No one was present excepting the nun and the mayor. To whom could that abject use of "thou" be addressed? To her only. She shuddered.
Then she beheld a most unprecedented thing, a thing so unprecedented that nothing equal to it had appeared to her even in the blackest deliriums of fever.
She beheld Javert, the police spy, seize the mayor by the collar; she saw the mayor bow his head. It seemed to her that the world was coming to an end.
Javert had, in fact, grasped Jean Valjean by the collar.
"Monsieur le Maire!" shrieked Fantine.
Javert burst out laughing with that frightful laugh which displayed all his gums.
"There is no longer any Monsieur le Maire here!"
Jean Valjean made no attempt to disengage the hand which grasped the collar of his coat. He said:—
Javert interrupted him: "Call me Mr. Inspector."
"Monsieur," said Jean Valjean, "I should like to say a word to you in private."
"Aloud! Say it aloud!" replied Javert; "people are in the habit of talking aloud to me."
Jean Valjean went on in a lower tone:—
"I have a request to make of you—"
"I tell you to speak loud."
"But you alone should hear it—"
"What difference does that make to me? I shall not listen."
Jean Valjean turned towards him and said very rapidly and in a very low voice:—
"Grant me three days' grace! three days in which to go and fetch the child of this unhappy woman. I will pay whatever is necessary. You shall accompany me if you choose."
"You are making sport of me!" cried Javert. "Come now, I did not think you such a fool! You ask me to give you three days in which to run away! You say that it is for the purpose of fetching that creature's child! Ah! Ah! That's good! That's really capital!"
Fantine was seized with a fit of trembling.
"My child!" she cried, "to go and fetch my child! She is not here, then! Answer me, sister; where is Cosette? I want my child! Monsieur Madeleine! Monsieur le Maire!"
Javert stamped his foot.
"And now there's the other one! Will you hold your tongue, you hussy? It's a pretty sort of a place where convicts are magistrates, and where women of the town are cared for like countesses! Ah! But we are going to change all that; it is high time!"
He stared intently at Fantine, and added, once more taking into his grasp Jean Valjean's cravat, shirt and collar:—
"I tell you that there is no Monsieur Madeleine and that there is no Monsieur le Maire. There is a thief, a brigand, a convict named Jean Valjean! And I have him in my grasp! That's what there is!"
Fantine raised herself in bed with a bound, supporting herself on her stiffened arms and on both hands: she gazed at Jean Valjean, she gazed at Javert, she gazed at the nun, she opened her mouth as though to speak; a rattle proceeded from the depths of her throat, her teeth chattered; she stretched out her arms in her agony, opening her hands convulsively, and fumbling about her like a drowning person; then suddenly fell back on her pillow.
Her head struck the head-board of the bed and fell forwards on her breast, with gaping mouth and staring, sightless eyes.
She was dead.
Jean Valjean laid his hand upon the detaining hand of Javert, and opened it as he would have opened the hand of a baby; then he said to Javert:—
"You have murdered that woman."
"Let's have an end of this!" shouted Javert, in a fury; "I am not here to listen to argument. Let us economize all that; the guard is below; march on instantly, or you'll get the thumb-screws!"
In the corner of the room stood an old iron bedstead, which was in a decidedly decrepit state, and which served the sisters as a camp-bed when they were watching with the sick. Jean Valjean stepped up to this bed, in a twinkling wrenched off the head-piece, which was already in a dilapidated condition, an easy matter to muscles like his, grasped the principal rod like a bludgeon, and glanced at Javert. Javert retreated towards the door. Jean Valjean, armed with his bar of iron, walked slowly up to Fantine's couch. When he arrived there he turned and said to Javert, in a voice that was barely audible:—
"I advise you not to disturb me at this moment."
One thing is certain, and that is, that Javert trembled.
It did occur to him to summon the guard, but Jean Valjean might avail himself of that moment to effect his escape; so he remained, grasped his cane by the small end, and leaned against the door-post, without removing his eyes from Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean rested his elbow on the knob at the head of the bed, and his brow on his hand, and began to contemplate the motionless body of Fantine, which lay extended there. He remained thus, mute, absorbed, evidently with no further thought of anything connected with this life. Upon his face and in his attitude there was nothing but inexpressible pity. After a few moments of this meditation he bent towards Fantine, and spoke to her in a low voice.
What did he say to her? What could this man, who was reproved, say to that woman, who was dead? What words were those? No one on earth heard them. Did the dead woman hear them? There are some touching illusions which are, perhaps, sublime realities. The point as to which there exists no doubt is, that Sister Simplice, the sole witness of the incident, often said that at the moment that Jean Valjean whispered in Fantine's ear, she distinctly beheld an ineffable smile dawn on those pale lips, and in those dim eyes, filled with the amazement of the tomb.
Jean Valjean took Fantine's head in both his hands, and arranged it on the pillow as a mother might have done for her child; then he tied the string of her chemise, and smoothed her hair back under her cap. That done, he closed her eyes.
Fantine's face seemed strangely illuminated at that moment.
Death, that signifies entrance into the great light.
Fantine's hand was hanging over the side of the bed. Jean Valjean knelt down before that hand, lifted it gently, and kissed it.
Then he rose, and turned to Javert.
"Now," said he, "I am at your disposal."