by Michelle Mercy
AMontreuil-sur-mer story, slashy,
M.MadeleineandJavertplaycat-and-mousewith each other. But whois the cat?
The guysbelong toHugo butnot to each other yet.
The place:Montreuil-sur-mer, Time: 1822, at some pointbetween theFaucheleventincidentandFantine's arrest.
Thedialoguesused from the book are taken fromthe English translationby Julie Rose.
"Merde," said M. Madeleine loudly, which earned him a bemused look from his foreman. Never before had anyone heard the mayor curse. Yet this occasion was good reason for cursing.
The foreman had discovered the mess a few minutes ago, and then called in his mayor and employer. In the back of a cellar, one very little used, were stacked barrels; some were sherry from Spain, others from Scotland with Scotch. A factory which produced jet had little use for such volumes of alcoholic beverages from other countries. If the foreman had not by chance been doing inventory in the cellar and happened upon them, the barrels would have remained undetected for some time.
"Please tell me that you see a customs seal somewhere," Madeleine pleaded almost desperately, but the foreman regretfully shook his head.
Madeleine stared silently for a while at the casks. He had two choices. He could do nothing, hoping that the foreman kept his mouth shut and ignored what he had seen, and risk being discovered; then there would be an unpleasant investigation, and perhaps someone would decide to shed light on his illegitimate past. Or he could alert the police as was his duty.
Madeleine sighed softly. "Please go and fetch Inspector Javert here."
The foreman nodded and went on his way.
Madeleine looked at the barrels without really seeing. As always, when his duties brought him into contact with Javert, he focused on being entirely the factory owner and mayor, suppressing everything else about himself with particular care. Ever since that incident with Fauchelevent and the cart he felt that Javert watched him more closely. Eventually he would come the realization that they had met before, and above all where, and then it was over with "Monsieur le Maire".
Madeleine had winced when the new police chief had been presented to him, certain he would be quickly recaptured, but he had found that Javert did not remember him. Only now it was as if the memories were coming back...
"You wanted to talk to me, M. le Maire?" Inspector Javert's deep voice interrupted the mayor's thoughts.
"Ah, Javert, it's good that you are here," Madeleine greeted him, and was wholly the man who maintained Montreuil-sur-Mer. "Look at this mess."
Javert took a look at the barrels. "Quite clearly contraband. How long have you known of it?"
Madeleine raised his eyebrows, reached into his coat pocket with deliberate slowness, pulled out his watch, opened it and said, "For about fifteen minutes."
The look that Javert threw him was not precisely rude.
"My foreman only just discovered it," Madeleine continued, somewhat more conciliatory. "You can imagine I am not very enthusiastic about the idea of someone using my factory as a smuggler's cache."
"Hhm," said Javert. "Do you have any idea who put this stuff here?"
"I wish I knew. I wracked my brains about it for fifteen minutes. I am also tormented by the question of why anyone would choose to store contraband here. We're too far from the sea for it to make sense."
"Forgive me if I disagree with you, M. le Maire, but storing the goods here is a very cunning idea. Every day, your wagons depart with deliveries for customers all over France. Here, one barrel more, there, two barrels more; who would notice?"
"My God, Javert, you think just like a real criminal."
"Those who hunt criminals must know how they think," Javert replied stiffly.
"I'd better have my foreman harness a cart, so you can take away the barrels." Madeleine sounded as if he wanted to put the troublesome issue behind him.
"Quite the contrary, M. le Maire, these casks should remain here."
"You do not want them confiscated?"
"I want to expose the smuggler. And I want to know whence the goods come. But that cannot happen if he knows that we are aware of this cache."
"And what exactly must you do?"
"I will keep watch on the cellar to see who comes to pick up the barrels, and then observe him to find out from where he gets his goods."
Great, thought Madeleine, that's all I need, having the police in the place for days! "This is a brilliant plan," he said aloud, "why didn't I think of it myself?"
"No one can expect a man like you to understand the mind of a criminal."
"I can rely on you to keep me informed of your investigation?" Madeleine had not even flinched.
"Certainly, M. le Maire."
With deep displeasure Javert looked down at the sleeping mayor. A few minutes ago, someone had been seen at the barrels: a factory worker named Albert Micoud. It was now necessary to have him watched, and this was important enough to inform Madeleine immediately; after all, he was not only the mayor but also the owner of the factory, and should know what his laborers were up to.
So Javert had gone over to the little house that Madeleine used. The concierge was not there, she was visiting her very pregnant daughter in Arras. In order not to disturb the adjacent hospital or alarm Micoud by knocking, Javert had just walked in, but he had not expected that the private rooms of the mayor were so modest that he would suddenly be in the bedroom.
Now he looked down on him and knew that he needed to deliver the news, but something stopped him. For once, he could consider Madeleine in peace. He was still not completely sure he wasn't wrong. Fauchelevent and his cart, the knowledge that Javert had found the mayor's face familiar from the first moment, and then even that name, Madeleine, like Mary Magdalene, the repentant sinner...
At that moment, Madeleine opened his eyes, beheld Javert, and opened his mouth to cry out, but somehow suppressed the cry and made only an undefinable sound. This was a nightmare, this had to be a nightmare! Javert standing by his bed in the middle of the night, that could only mean one thing. Nevertheless, Madeleine managed to pull himself together. "My goodness, Javert, you just scared me to death," he managed. "Please never do that again. It would be very unfortunate if I mistook you for a burglar."
Javert had been attentively watching the mayor's awakening, yet there was no hint that Madeleine was not what he pretended to be, beyond what he already found suspicious. "I did not mean to scare you, M. le Maire."
"And what else brings you here?"
"I now know who stored the barrels."
"Then I'm excited." Madeleine sat up a little. "Which of my workers will I need to dismiss?"
"The man is Albert Micoud, and I'd rather you not dismiss him until he leads me to his backers."
"How do you want to go about it?"
"Observation, pursuit, arrest," Javert replied curtly.
Before Madeleine knew what he was saying, it was out. "I would like to accompany you."
"What for?" Javert asked suspiciously.
"It concerns my factory and my responsibilities for this town if Montreuil is in the process of becoming a smuggler's nest."
"As you wish, M. le Maire," said Javert. "As soon as something turns up, I will inform you. I wish you a pleasant night."
He left the house, and Madeleine was relieved. For a long moment he had been really afraid that everything was over. For what absurd reason had he asked to accompany Javert? It would be anything but easy to adjust to such cooperation, and his position did not require it. On the other hand, it never hurt to better know your enemy...
M. Madeleine had just begun a letter to his suppliers in Norway when Javert walked into the office. "Our man is just leaving town," he reported." I have two horses saddled outside, if you truly want to accompany me, M. le Maire..."
"I'm coming," said Madeleine, and threw on his coat. The idea of riding caused him some apprehension, however. It was certain that he had not ridden a horse in twenty-five years, and even then she was just an old, very good-natured mare belonging to his employer, with whom he had dragged severed tree branches from orchards.
The two horses that were standing outside the door were, however, a different caliber than the old mare Molly, namely, two fairly young police horses pawing nervously with their hooves.
Great, Madeleine thought for the umpteenth time, this on top of everything! With more strength than skill, he mounted, glancing not without envy at the ease with which Javert sat in the saddle, hoping that his horse would have mercy on him.
"Micoud has set out toward the coast with a horse and some donkeys." With his heel, Javert gave his horse to understand that it should start moving.
Madeleine imitated the motion, whereupon his animal lunged forward, but then obediently trotted behind the other horse. "I've not been on a horse in a long time," Madeleine said apologetically.
"Is that so," said Javert, and thought to himself that the mayor rode like a peasant. "We will trail as far away as possible and follow him. We can use this to keep him in sight." He lifted a small telescope, which swung from his saddle.
"Then I hope that the visibility will not become too poor," said Madeleine, pointing to a few dark clouds showing themselves on the horizon. "Bad weather is coming from the sea."
"I'm surprised that a man like you takes such clouds as threatening." Javert was again conspicuously vigilant.
You would too if you grew up as a farmer and were then exposed to nineteen years of wind and weather, thought Madeleine, and said aloud: "Clouds from the sea rarely mean good weather by the Atlantic."
For a long time they followed Micoud at a safe distance in silence. The sky continued to lower. They could already smell the sea as Micoud made a stop and rested with his horse and the donkeys a little off the road behind some bushes.
"Why does he stop here?" said Madeleine.
"Likely this is the meeting place." Javert jumped off his horse. "What is this?" he muttered to herself, "Why here, of all places?"
Madeleine carefully climbed down from his horse. "Maybe there's a goat path that meets the road."
"So we wait." Javert stood and stared motionlessly through his telescope. Since Madeleine had no idea how he would be able to help, he sat down on a stone. Prolonged standing was more of a strain for him than walking or running, and he did not want Javert to see it. His scheme of getting to know his enemy better had not been crowned with success, thanks to this silence...
"Something is stirring," said Javert, after a while.
Madeleine rose and tried in vain to detect anything with the naked eye. Without a word, Javert handed him the telescope. Through this could be seen a group of people approaching Micoud from a small group of trees. Each had a barrel or a bundle on his back. "Now comes the part with the arrest?" Madeleine asked curiously.
Javert's face looked as if the Mayor had just uttered something very stupid. "No, then we would have only Micoud and his porters from the coast. Now we will let Micoud return to Montreuil, follow where his smuggler friends go, probably to some fishing village, and then track the deliveries of the good from your cellar."
"You are pleasantly thorough, Javert."
"It is not my procedure to arrest anyone before I know all the facts."
"I am delighted to hear that."
The look that Javert threw the mayor was extremely searching, but he said nothing.
It took a few more minutes before the kegs and bundles were loaded on Micoud's donkeys and concealed by fabric panels, then Micoud and the animals were in motion. Javert and Madeleine retreated a little further back from the road and watched the train. Once he was past them, they carefully followed the persons who had delivered the goods. They disappeared, as Javert had said, into the huts of a small fishing village. "I wonder why they take the risk of operating in broad daylight."
"The weather," said Madeleine, to Javert's surprise, as he had not expected a reply.
"I told you, there's something unpleasant moving in from the sea. When it breaks, and I think it can be expected to do so before nightfall, it will not be possible to make a handover. But it could be just as dangerous to have to keep the wares in their huts for days."
"How is it that you understand so much about smuggling, M. le Maire?" There was something suddenly lurking in Javert's words, which Madeleine definitely registered.
"You want to know if I have experience with it?" Madeleine laughed softly and didn't have to hide the truth this time. "No, I can deny that in good conscience. But I understand a bit about the weather and the people here."
"I did not want to imply that you have experience in smuggling, M. le Maire," Javert replied stiffly.
"I would not have assumed you did." Madeleine cast a glance upward. "If we do not want to be caught up in this storm, however, I suggest we return home."
Without a word, they turned their horses and rode back toward Montreuil. Both were deep in thought; Madeleine pondered how much, based on his remarks, Javert actually surmised, and Javert brooded on whether, and especially how, his suspicions could at some point be substantiated.
In this silence, the first lightning flashed, followed immediately by a deafening thunderclap. Madeleine's horse shied at once, rearing, and the mayor, without any experience with a startled horse, let himself be thrown. As quickly as possible, Madeleine attempted to move out from under the hooves of the horse, which was lost to instinct after a second flash, but he was not fast enough. The animal caught him in the shoulder with its hind legs.
Javert had now jumped from his own horse, and grabbed the reins of the other horse and brought it to rest. Then he looked down at Madeleine, who was on the ground with his hands protecting his head and whose shoulder must hurt like hell. Only now did it occur to Javert that the entire time not a sound had come from the lips of the other man, neither one of alarm, nor yet of pain. "Are you all right, M. le Maire?"
"I think so." Madeleine sat up. "Of course, aside from my wounded pride."
"And the shoulder?"
"Sore. But it could be much worse."
At that moment the sky opened its floodgates. The rain fell thickly, in heavy drops, and the wind became even more violent.
"Did I really just say, 'It could be worse?'" asked Madeleine, and tried to get to his feet, which was not that easy in the instantly sodden ground and with an injured shoulder.
"I would propose that we switch horses, M. le Maire. Mine does not seem to fear lightning storms."
Madeleine nodded gratefully. The idea of having to return to the saddle of a horse, any horse was almost too much. "I'm afraid we will not be able to return to Montreuil. Take a look at the road."
Within a few minutes the rain had made an impassable mudhole of the previously fairly comfortable road. Javert sighed. Reluctant as he was to admit defeat in anything, even if it was because of the weather, he had to admit that the mayor was right. They could scarcely manage a mile in this weather, let alone make it to Montreuil. On the other hand, it could also be bad to stop on the road. They were already soaked to the skin. "I remember a barn about five minutes from here."
"What are we waiting for?" Madeleine made the attempt to get into the saddle, and forced himself to ignore the pain while mounting.
Javert was right. There was in fact a small barn on the road, although because of the travelling conditions it took almost ten minutes to get there. They entered, led the horses to a corner and rid themselves of their wet coats.
"Perhaps I should look at your shoulder," said Javert, "in order to make sure that everything is fine."
"No." Madeleine's answer came a little too hastily. "That is not necessary, it is not that bad," he added then. How could he open his shirt far enough for Javert to be able to examine the shoulder, without showing him the telltale numbers on his chest?
"As you say, M. le Maire." Javert's mistrust was aroused again. If his suspicions were correct, then the mayor had every reason not to let him have a look at his shoulder. And when the inspector had such a concrete suspicion, there was almost nothing that would stop him from doing what was necessary to confirm that suspicion. Of course, there was also the theoretical possibility that his suspicions would be dispelled, but for Javert it had never yet happened that the suspicions he formed were unfounded.
Madeleine sat down on a straw bale. This could indeed be a pleasant stay in the barn until the weather improved!
The silence which ruled over the next several minutes hung heavy as lead in the air; at least, Madeleine found it so. Javert knew, however, that nothing was so certain to make another person talk as maintaining a rigorous silence. Patience was the virtue of the hunter, and M. Madeleine would be his prey.
"Since we will surely be stranded here for a while," Madeleine broke the silence, "we should take the opportunity to get to know each other a little better. Tell me, Javert, where do you come from originally?"
Javert reluctantly had to admire the mayor. Humans had communicative natures, they needed to talk to other people. Madeleine did the only thing he could do in this situation in order to neither be too uncomfortable nor to disclose too much about himself; he tried to draw Javert into conversation.
"I was born in Toulon," said Javert, without explaining the exact circumstances, but carefully watching to measure what effect the mention of Toulon would have on Madeleine.
Madeleine had, however, the control to not so much as twitch. "What is Toulon like?" he asked in a completely neutral voice.
"You have never been there?"
"I do not know any details of the city." That was no lie. He had never come to know city itself; he knew the Bagne, and parts of the harbor, but not the city itself. "What brought you from the south to Montreuil?"
"My duty, M. le Maire. What was it that brought you to Montreuil, if you allow the question?"
"Fate," said Madeleine as monosyllabic as Javert earlier.
The latter nodded slowly. Madeleine or Jean Valjean - because Javert was by now almost certain - was clever enough not to be lured into a trap by a few simple tricks. Well, then he would have to bring bigger guns to bear. "They say in the city that the late Bishop of Digne was a relative of yours."
"I knew Monseigneur Myriel, that's right," Madeleine's expression was gentle, "but we were not related. Nevertheless, his death saddened me deeply."
Obviously the mayor did not intend to be lured into dangerous territory. He was steadily friendly and obliging, but he was cautious.
Madeleine tried to find a position on the straw bales that caused no pain in his shoulder, or at least eased it, but that seemed impossible. One careless movement drew an almost inaudible moan from his lips.
Nevertheless, Javert heard it and sensed his chance. He pushed away from the wall he leaned against, and went slowly over to Madeleine. "You really should let me take a look at your shoulder now."
"I told you already that that wasn't necessary." Madeleine got up.
"You will not deter me that way. It is quite obvious you are in pain." Javert came closer, Madeleine stepped back until he felt the wall at his back.
"I am fine, there is no need for you to look at my shoulder."
"Is there something you want to hide from me, M. le Maire?" Every centimeter that he drew nearer to Madeleine made Javert more secure in his suspicions.
Madeleine's mind worked feverishly. Was there another way? How was he to prevent Javert from pushing down his shirt? Further resistance would only arouse even more suspicion. Of course, he could easily strike the inspector down, but after that there would be no going back, he would have to flee again...
And all at once it was there, the idea that might save him: absurd, reckless, and probably the only possibility.
Javert now stood directly in front of him. "I think now we should stop this game, M. le Maire."
"You're right," said Madeleine, and summoned up all his courage, seized Javert by the collar, pulled him close and kissed him.
Javert remained standing stock-still. He made the mistake of half-opening his lips for a sound of alarm and protest, and Madeleine's searching tongue needed no further entrance.
Madeleine closed his eyes. He focused entirely on this kiss, which he had believed he would have to force himself to manage. But to his surprise it was easy for him to kiss Javert, especially when Javert's lips suddenly seemed to yield to him. For an endless moment, it felt good, it felt incredibly right, then Javert tore himself away with a violent movement and stumbled, staggering backward, until the opposite wall stopped him.
With a mixture of horror and grim ferocity he stared across the room to Madeleine, on whose face lay an expression of triumph.
The mayor leaned panting against the wall and looked at Javert. His plan seemed, at least on the surface, to have worked; the inspector seemed totally confused and disturbed. Madeleine had sensed instinctively that there was something that Javert feared more than anything else: and that was emotional closeness. And so Madeleine had done the first thing he could think of to create such closeness.
What he had certainly not expected, however, was that for a brief moment there was something that had nothing to do with the cat-and-mouse game they were both playing. He had managed to elicit a reaction from the cold, ever-disciplined policeman, and in a crazy way it made him infinitely proud.
Despite the chaos that raged within him, Javert did not lower his gaze even for a second. He was confused, and the shock of the fact that the mayor had kissed him gave way only slowly. Never before had someone kissed him, especially not in such a manner. He had no remembrance that his mother had given him kisses at some point, but Madeleine had done it as if it were the most natural thing in the world. But it was not natural. It was sinful. He would have arrested him immediately because of it - except that under the Napoleonic Code it was no longer a criminal offense.
This explained some behavior of Madeleine's; unmarried, no children, no mistress, no visits to prostitutes... He apparently had no interest in women, but did that mean Javert of all people was his goal, his victim? He had managed stop him just in time before his soul could be damaged.
Madeleine observed the internal struggle opposite him and dealt the final blow. "I fear I must beg your pardon, Javert, I seem to have misunderstood something here."
Was this disgrace of a mayor trying to convince him that he had given him reason to believe that he would welcome such an attack? Javert shuddered. The whole incident, while it had also confused him badly, only made him more sure that he was right. He knew exactly what took place between the prisoners in the barracks at Toulon; what should have kept Jean Valjean from doing it too? And quite obviously he had taken a liking to it. The mayor had therefore found a very effective way to keep him at bay, by letting him come too close.
For a moment, Javert considered taking advantage of this to get a look at the chest of the other man, but he just could not bring himself to do it. There had been something between them that frightened him, which he could not expose himself to again. All that was left was to continue to be patient and wait for Madeleine to make a mistake.
Madeleine took a deep breath and let himself slide down the wall, where he tried to relax, but this was not easy due to the pain in his shoulder, which he had almost forgotten in these last minutes. But if he was honest with himself, it was not only because of the shoulder that he could not relax. His desperate attempt at defense had affected him more deeply than he had expected or dared admit to himself.
For the next few hours while the storm battered the barn they exchanged not a single word. They stared at each other, but neither spoke. It was too confusing, and the suspicions that Javert had, and that Madeleine knew he had, weighed on them so much that any word felt out of place.
As the storm abated, Javert rose from the floor, where he had sat in the meanwhile as well, cast a glance outside and spoke the first words for hours. "We should risk starting the trek back to Montreuil."
Madeleine nodded, and as silently as they had spent the last few hours, they returned to town.
In the following days Javert made arrests of the gang of smugglers, first those from the fishing village, then Micoud, and afterward arrests were made throughout France. Javert received a commendation from Paris, about which, however, he could not really be happy, because it always reminded him of what had happened between himself and the mayor.
For months, Javert and Madeleine did not speak to each other at all, not unless their respective obligations required it. But when they did meet, neither dared to let the other out of their sight.
It was not until winter that the tension between the mayor and the inspector of police, which had certainly been noticed by the citizens of Montreuil-sur-Mer, was discharged in a formal explosion. Javert arrested a prostitute who had attacked a citizen, and the mayor ordered him to release the woman.
Javert was seething with anger, even if he did not let anybody see it. Being humiliated by Madeleine for the second time, and this time in full public view, was too much. He denounced Madeleine as a fugitive convict to the police prefecture in Paris, and began to carefully watch and document his every move.
But then Javert took a hard blow. Word arrived from Paris: he must be crazy, because they had arrested Jean Valjean, and he would stand trial. There was only one honorable solution for Javert. He had to report his misconduct to Madeleine and request his dismissal. Quite obviously he had allowed his personal feelings, whatever those might be, exactly, to tempt him into filing false charges against his superior.
But Madeleine, that man with his insufferable kindness, refused to dismiss him. He accepted it and even offered him his hand. Javert recoiled. "Forgive me, Monsieur le Maire, but that is not right," he stammered. He was totally confused. If M. Madeleine was not Jean Valjean, then the incident in the barn had only one explanation, namely, that the mayor had been in earnest. This was absolutely too much for Javert. "A mayor does not give his hand to a snitch. A snitch, yes; the moment I misuse my powers as a policeman, I am nothing more than a snitch. Monsieur le Maire, I will continue to perform my duties until a replacement is found," he gasped, and fled from the room.
As soon as he could, he took himself to Arras, there to make his statements in the case against Champmathieu, alias Valjean, and returned to Montreuil. He spent a sleepless night that way, tossing back and forth in bed and tormented by thoughts of how he should face Madeleine in the future. The idea that the mayor evidently had erotic ambitions concerning him unnerved him deeply.
Javert was glad when it was time to get up. However, when the express courier from Arras handed him the arrest warrant and reported what exactly had happened there right after he had left, Javert again abandoned all sense of insecurity. He was right, Madeleine was Valjean, and thus nothing more than a criminal. Because of that he had no trouble with what to do next, because he had known how to deal with criminals for twenty years.
There were some delays during the arrest, because apparently the streetwalker to whose bedside Madeleine – or rather, Valjean – had gone straightaway, believed Javert had come for her, and died of horror.
Before that, however, Valjean had made an attempt to speak to Javert in private. "Monsieur, I'd like a word with you in private."
"Speak up! Speak so we can hear you! People speak up when they're talking to me!" said Javert. At all costs, he wanted to avoid Valjean mentioning anything about the incident in the barn.
"I have a favor to ask you..."
"Speak up, I tell you." Javert was using the contemptuous tu to address Valjean.
"But it's something only you should hear..."
"I couldn't care less. I won't listen!"
Valjean looked at the inspector then and asked him for three days' delay to fetch Fantine's daughter. Javert was relieved. So, no scene, but rather an absurd request, which could only be refused.
After Valjean had taken leave of the woman's corpse, he said to Javert: "Now I'm all yours."
The ambiguity of this sentence woke discomfort inside Javert. Without another word, he led Valjean out and brought him to the municipal jail of Montreuil-sur-mer. He even personally undertook to bring prisoner to his cell.
"Take the coat off," Javert ordered him there.
"Pardon?" said Valjean, confused.
"Do as I say, or I'll assist you to."
Valjean was alarmed. What exactly did the inspector have in mind? Indeed, his nervousness showed some, for his hands were shaking visibly as he unbuttoned his coat and laid it on the bunk.
Javert walked up to him and looked down at him. Valjean drew in a sharp breath. With a fierce gesture Javert tore away the shirt of the former mayor. There they shone, five numbers branded upon the skin.
Javert nodded grimly. He was relieved that Valjean had only used the kiss in the barn to keep his secret.
Javert turned away in order to leave the cell. Before he closed the door, he turned back to Valjean. "I only have one question left. What would you have actually done if I had accepted what you seemed to intend in the barn?"
Valjean gave him a long look, while with all the dignity he could muster under these circumstances he pulled his shirt back over the numbers. His speech to Javert was still polite. "You could have never done it, M. l'Inspecteur."
With a violent movement Javert shut the cell door. Valjean truly had calculated his reaction from the outset.
And yet, brief as it had been, that had been a moment where anything was possible. A part of him regretted that that moment had passed, because Javert knew he could not expect to ever again be kissed like that...