© Copyright November 1997
- EIGHT -
Paris had changed little in the few short months Javert had been living in the country. His practiced eyes could not stop seeing all those little details his detective perceptions had trained him to seepickpockets, errant children, prostitution, con men at work. He tried to ignore what was going on around him so flagrantly, but it was impossible. Instead, it made him angry and frustrated, and more than ever protective of Jewelle. No one saw him as Inspector Javert now, he was just another citizen.
He had not argued with her over moving back to Paris with Girard. It was their custom, one for which he understood the logic, but one he had not anticipated with much enthusiasm. Now, walking with Jewelle and Stephan to the shoe maker because he refused to let them go out without him, he wished for his former authority. Other than his own physical presence, he felt powerless. He could do nothing about the "cripple" on the corner who was soliciting donations from charitable passers by. He knew the scoundrel, knew he was as intact and healthy as a horse. Javert considered reporting him but decided against it. Why put himself through that shame over something unthreatening? No, he decided, he would only seek the local gendarmes if he or his family were threatened or if he witnessed something blatantly destructive. But it was a hard decision to make.
"You are quiet, my husband," Jewelle said. "You should not have bothered to come. I've been shopping for Stephan all his life."
"You do not see what I see," he said. "You would not be safe."
She shook her head and sighed. "Well, at least let us have some new boots made for you."
"Not necessary." Javert had not amassed so much money by spending it when he didn't need to. His years as inspector had earned him a good salary which he'd spent on little besides necessities.
She sighed again. "You are a stubborn man."
"I am only" He stopped, then smiled, realizing she was teasing. "Yes, I am." He smiled gently down at her. Her answering smile chased away some of his anxiety. "And you are a willful wife. I would have it no other way."
She laughed. "Come, Stephan, we're here."
"I will return for you in half an hour."
"I certainly hope so." He left them at the shop and walked further down the street. The farmers' market was just ahead, and a jeweler he remembered from his years in Paris. He was considering buying Jewelle a gift. He had overheard Claudia saying how thrilled she'd been by the bracelet Gerald had bought her. He knew Jewelle loved him, but he thought if he gave her something unexpected, she would perhaps feel the joy Claudia had seemed to feel. It was an odd feeling to contemplate spending money on something that was neither practical or necessary. But it did not gall him as it once would have. It was for Jewelle. And instead he felt joy himself and anticipation. He had never given a gift beforeit was something else new. He would deny himself new boots and anything else to make up the difference if need be.
His mind was still on it, wondering what to buy when the aroma of fresh bread caught his attention. He looked toward the stall from which it wafted, warm and inviting. The stocky and a little stooped figure of a man in an old coat stepped out, and Javert stopped suddenly, conflicting emotions rising. Valjean, he thought, his heart pounding. Old instincts rose up like bubbles through water, bursting when they reached the surface, leaving him empty and confused.
Without trying to stop himself, Javert walked up to the old man whose hair and beard were as white as his own. "You don't look well, Valjean," he heard himself say, his mouth suddenly dry. Indeed, Valjean looked almost frail, which was a marked contrast to the last time he'd seen him.
The con's eyes rose to meet his, uncomprehending at first until they locked with his own. "You're late, Inspector," he said dryly, clutching a loaf of bread, his look of surprise having faded.
"Call me inspector no longer. I am not with the police any more." How odd it felt to be speaking to this man!
"So you haven't come to arrest me? I'll go, you know, if that's what you want."
"There would be little point." He suddenly didn't know what to say.
"I thought you were dead, Javert."
"Ah, that is what most people believe, yes. The Moniteur did not bother to print a retraction. Actually, I prefer it this way. Life is. . .quieter."
"Yes, it is when you don't have people hounding you."
Javert took the jibe in stride. "Valjean, I did not know I would speak to you, but now that we are here, I think there is something I should say to you."
Valjean just looked at him patiently.
"When you saved my life at the barricade, I did not thank you for it. Indeed, I was furious with you for being something other than a con. You disturbed me a great deal. But now, I believe differently about many things, and I am happy. I thank you for that."
"I told you I was just a man, Javert. A man, then a con, then a man with responsibilities and dependents."
Javert cleared his throat. "Yes, I understand. I've come to see that the world is not quite as simple as I always believed."
"That is good."
"Men can change. As I have." He noticed Valjean glance up at his hair, but he said nothing of it. He cleared his throat again, uncomfortable. "So. . .so that is why I accept that you changed."
Valjean smiled sardonically. "You're saying that my sparing your life had this effect on you?"
"Um, indirectly." Javert had no desire to give this ex-con the details of his life, but he now felt compelled to share one significant part. "I was. . .touched by God, Valjean. I found a way I never knew existed." He had to school himself to keep from fluttering his hands into his hair.
The other man's smile turned gentle then, and Javert found he could no longer hold his gaze. "Then you do understand. What do you think set me on the right path, Javert? I gave my life over to God many years ago, or surely I would have died a miserable, hate-filled wretch."
"I would not have understood that then, or until recently."
"I am glad for you, Javert. I never doubted that you were a moral person. That was one of the reasons I wanted to set you free at the barricade. One less senseless death I could prevent. But I found your obsessive devotion to duty rather confounding at times."
"I'm sure that you did." But he could not apologize for persecuting him. Javert had not been wrong to do his duty. He considered it unfortunate that Valjean may not have deserved it. The laws were too harsh, Javert thought for the first time, but it was not his faulthe had not written them. "You were a worthy opponent." There was a brief silence while Valjean just looked at him. "Tell me something, Valjean, if you will."
"How did you lose me and my men in Paris at the Cul-de-sac Genrot? I have puzzled over that for years." He saw the other man's guarded look. "You needn't worry. It is only to satisfy my curiosity. No other reason, I assure you."
"And you swear that no one will come under police scrutiny if I tell you, Javert? It was no one's doing but my own."
"I do not doubt it. I give my word. And I told you, I am no longer of the police."
"I climbed the high wall into the convent garden. How I did that you may continue to wonder. But I took Cosette, and she was raised in the convent of the Bernadines of the Perpetual Adoration. I became a gardener there. All those years, so close and so hidden, Javert. It was the only time I felt safe from you and the police. But it was for Cosette, you know, not for me that I fled from you."
Javert nodded, understanding at last. He felt that protective of Jewelle. "How is she? And that boy you took from the barricade? Did he survive?"
"Yes, they both are well. They are to be married very soon."
Javert thought he sounded just a little sad. "If it were appropriate I would have you give them my wish for their happiness."
"I won't be seeing them, but I appreciate your thought, Javert."
Javert almost asked him why not, but then he could see the resigned sadness in the other man's face. "If you fear discovery, do not do so on my account."
"It is best this way. I will not have her disgraced should some other ambitious policeman recognize me."
"I understand." Javert realized something then. When he looked at Valjean, he was not seeing the convict any more. Just a sad old man with wise eyes.
"I have a bit of advice for you, Javert, then I would like to go."
"I would not attempt to stop you."
"Your faithI presume you have faith now?" At his nod, Valjean continued. "Keep it strong, Javert, no matter how you are tested. It will save your soul. Trust God. I think He knows what He's doing."
"That is why you turned yourself in to save that man, Champmathieu, isn't it? You could have been free. You lost everything doing that." How different it all seemed now! Valjean's sacrifice had been tremendous. What hadn't he seen it before? What kind of strength did it take to do what Valjean had done? What kind of man could do such a thing?
"No, Javert, I lost nothing God hadn't given me, and I kept my soul. My only regret is that the factory closed and left all the workers without jobs."
Javert felt something very uncomfortable then. In a way he was responsible for that. He felt humbled by Valjean's strength of moral character. God had shown him that Valjean was no ordinary convict, but to feel it down in his soul. . . "But as you said, it was God's will."
"Yes," Valjean nodded. "That is true. And doing His will is what is important." He seemed more than ready to be on his way.
"Merci, Jean Valjean. You are truly a good man."
"Take care of yourself, Javert."
Javert watched him walk away. He felt an unfamiliar sorrow fill him suddenly. What a blind fool I've been, he thought. Lord, please don't let me lose faith. Guide me, Lord. If anyone has ever needed your guidance, it is I.
Jewelle looked up at her husband and held his hand, kissing the back of it gently. "It is beautiful, Javert. Merci." She held the pendant in her other hand and admired the delicate filigreed silver rose, set with a single ruby in its center. The craftsmanship was exquisite. She had never expected such a thing from him, and it touched her deeply.
"I thought it might make you happy."
She put her arms around him, resting her cheek against his chest. "It does, but then, I was already happy. You make me happy just by being with me. You have fulfilled me, Javert. The only gift I need is your presence." She held the beautiful pendant before her eyes. "But I love this." She leaned back from him. "Help me put it on."
He fumbled with the tiny clasp, but eventually managed to close it. She was not the only one to lose some of her near vision. "You are so interesting, Javert."
He smiled slightly. "Indeed? I thought I was a rather simple man."
"No. You are more complex than I realized. I never know what to expect from you except your kindness to me."
"It was your kindness, Jewelle, that showed me the way. I love you. Sometimes I feel like a love-smitten youth. It is peculiar and wonderful to me."
She kissed him on the chin. "God has blessed me. I thank Him every day for you."
"As do I."
Jewelle put her arms around him, thanking God yet again. Guy had never been so overly protective of her, but then he had not been a policeman who dealt with the criminals of society every day. Javert was ever-aware of what was going on around him. He was the most observant man she had ever seen. She could rearrange two books on a shelf of many, and he would notice. Once when she and the housekeeper had moved the dining table, he had noticed that it had not been put back exactly as before, though the difference was little more than an inch. Sometimes, for fun, she would move something just to see if he noticed it. He always did, though he didn't necessarily say anything. But his luminous grey-green eyes always looked everything over when he came in.
She was preparing breakfast for them one morning when she saw Javert's expression change as he read some article in The Moniteur. He looked sad and distant as he crossed himself, muttering, she guessed, a prayer.
She moved around behind him, looked over his shoulder at what he read, but could not tell what might have upset him. "Javert, what is wrong?"
He pointed to an obituary. "This man, Monsieur Fauchelevent, I knew him. He was. . ." He shook his head. "I told you of him. That is not his real name. He was the convict who freed me when he could just as easily have killed me. I'd expected him to kill me." His voice grew soft and distant. "After all those years I hunted him, and he still let me go. I could not believe it." He looked up at her. "But I understand now. Like me, he was touched by God."
"How do you know? Did he tell you that when he let you go?"
"No, and if he had, I would not have understood or believed. But I met him on the street when you were ordering Stephan's shoes. We talked, and he told me then. He was an amazing man. I regret that I was so unrelenting. I thought I was being just. It galled me that a convict was loose and trying to pass himself off as an honest man. In truth, he was as honest as I was, and many things I did not know how to bekind, generous, forgiving. I don't know what you ever saw in me, Jewelle. I know that I am a small man compared to him."
She could hear the pain in his voice, and leaned against his back, putting her arms around him. "You are a good man. You have always been good, Javert."
"You do not know." He shook his head. "I live with so many regrets. I was so blind."
"But you are no longer, and that's all that matters. What you do now is what counts. God knows what's in your heart. He knew all along. Please don't be unhappy, Javert."
"I'm not unhappy. I only hope that I can be forgiven."
"He has already forgiven you." She kissed his white hair and smoothed it with her hand. "That is why you are here now."
"Perhaps." He reached up for one of her hands and brought it to his lips. "You give me such comfort, Jewelle."
"As you do for me." She moved around and knelt beside his chair, resting her cheek on his thigh. "My husband."
He stroked her hair which had been loosely tied back. "My wife, my love."
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