Les MiserablesVictor Hugo / History & Fiction / Young Adult
I could hear Javert and his men running behind us. Suddenly the lane ended with a stone wall! We couldn't go forward and we couldn't go back. And Javert's men were closing in on us! There was only one way to go--up. I had been a strong climber in prison. But Cosette couldn't climb the wall by herself. And I wouldn't make it up the wall with her on my back.
1. The Journey's End
2. Monsieur Madeleine
4. "I Am Jean Valjean"
5. Number 9,430
7. Night Hunt
8. Meeting Marius
10. Escape to Rue Plumet
11. At the Barricade
12. In the Paris Sewer
13. The Day That Follows Night
The Journey's End
Years ago I stole a loaf of bread to feed my hungry family. I was sent to prison and sentenced to hard labor. I traded my name for a number. I was no longer Jean Valjean. For nineteen years, I was known as number 24,601. That was a dark, lonely time for me.
Now I am old and dying. I write this for my daughter, Cosette. When she reads it she will know the truth. I hope she can forgive me. I hope she will understand why I did not tell her everything sooner.
At the time my story begins, I was the breadwinner in my sister's household. Her husband was dead, and she had seven children.
One year the winter was very hard. I didn't have work, and we had no food. I couldn't let the children starve, so I broke the baker's window and stole a loaf of bread. I was twenty-five years old when I lost my freedom.
In October of 1815 I was released from prison. Nineteen years of my life had been spent behind bars.
My first taste of freedom filled me with joy. I was free to walk anywhere!
That first day, I walked many miles. By nightfall my bones ached from the cold, damp air. And I was exhausted.
I stopped at the best inn in the town of Digne. I entered and the innkeeper called, "What can I do for you, monsieur?"
"I want a meal and a bed," I replied. "I have money."
The few francs I had earned in prison were more than enough to pay for food and lodging.
"In that case, you're welcome," said the innkeeper.
I sat down and waited for my dinner. I waited. And waited.
The innkeeper was watching me. He had sent a boy out half an hour ago. At that very moment, the boy was at the police station finding out about me.
"Will dinner be ready soon?" I finally asked. I was faint with hunger.
Just then the boy returned. He handed the innkeeper a scrap of paper. The innkeeper frowned after reading it. He walked over to me.
"I'm sorry, monsieur," he said. "I can't have you here."
"Why?" I asked. "Would you like me to pay in advance? I have money."
"You may have the money," he replied. "But I don't have the room."
"Then put me in the stable," I begged. I needed sleep desperately.
But even the stable was too good for me. The innkeeper had found out that my name was Jean Valjean. He knew that I carried yellow identity papers, the passport of an ex-convict.
Soon everyone in town knew who I was. No one would rent to me. No one would even give me a glass of water.
I sat outside in the dark and shivered. I had no strength left. But God was watching over me that night. A kind woman stopped and told me to knock at the bishop's house. The good bishop opened his door to me.
The bishop of Digne lived with his sister and a housekeeper. He was a small man of about seventy-five. He lived a quiet, simple life. He had very little, for he gave all his money to the poor.
I told the bishop I was a convict and explained why. I showed him my yellow passport.
"See," I said. "It says I am a dangerous man. I was given five years for robbery and fourteen more for trying to escape four times."
I waited for the bishop to tell me to leave. Instead he invited me to sit at his table. The good silver was laid out. Two silver candlesticks graced the table.
"This isn't my house, but Christ's," he told me. "You are hungry and thirsty, so you are welcome. Everything in my house is yours."
I had never known anyone so generous. What kind of man was this? How could he open his home to me so freely? It scared me. Maybe that's why I did what I did.
I tossed and turned that night. I hadn't slept in a bed for years. At two in the morning, I was wide awake. I had one thought on my mind--the bishop's silver.
It took me an hour to decide. But in the end I did it. I took my shoes off, tiptoed to the cupboard and stole the bishop's silver.
It was a foolish thing to do. The police caught me by dawn. They brought me back to the bishop's house. He spoke before I could say a word.
"I'm delighted to see you again!" he said. "You forgot to take the silver candlesticks with you when you left. I wanted you to have them as well. They're worth a good two hundred francs."
I was stunned. This godly man was forgiving my crime. And he was also giving me his only valuable possessions--his precious silver. It was too much for me. I couldn't believe what was happening.
The police left.
The bishop looked at me and said, "I have bought your soul for God. Promise me you will use the money from this silver to become an honest man."
I was confused when I left the bishop. I wandered the countryside in a daze. I didn't know where I was going. Nor did I care.
Memories of my years in prison flooded my mind. Suddenly I was angry. God had given me such a hard life.
A boy came walking toward me on the footpath. He was flipping a coin. The coin dropped in the dirt just as he passed me. I stamped my foot on it.
"Monsieur, my franc! It's under your foot," the boy pleaded.
I screamed at him to get lost. The look of terror in his eyes was like a wild animal's. I yelled again and the boy bolted.
I did all this without thinking. Then suddenly I saw what I had done. I was a monster! I had stolen from a child!
I broke down and wept. I prayed for forgiveness. I tried to find the boy to make things right. But he was gone.
Oddly my anger was also gone. The bishop's love had cast it out. I was a changed man. I was truly free for the first time in my life. I have never committed another crime.
I sold most of the silver to set myself up. But I kept the candlesticks to remind me that I was a new man.
I moved to Montreuil-sur-mer. I arrived the night of the town hall fire. The police chief's two children were in the fire. I rescued them. In the excitement, no one asked to see my identity papers.
I changed my name to Madeleine and began a new life.
In three short years I was rich. It happened like this.
The city of Montreuil had a special craft--making black glass beads. The black beads brought Montreuil most of its money. I invented a cheaper glaze to finish the beads. The beads were even more in demand. The town prospered.
I built a bead factory. There was a workshop for men and one for women. Any person wanting honest work could always get a job at my factory.
I gave beds to the hospital and built an old people's home. It was the first one in France. I built a new school.
At first people didn't trust me. They thought I was doing these things for my own gain. How could they know I gave so much because so much had been given to me?
In time I earned everyone's trust. They even made me their mayor. Only one person didn't trust me. That person was Javert, the police inspector. His eyes were like ice whenever we met.
I lived quietly. I didn't want Javert to learn the truth about me. I was an ex-convict. But worse, I had stolen from a child.
Soon I would find out that Javert was like a hawk when it came to the law. His eyes were sharp, and he never let his prey escape.
One day I was out walking. The ground was soft from rain the day before. I saw a small crowd gathered around a horsecart. They parted when I arrived.
A horse had broken its hind legs and an old man was trapped under the cart. The man was Pere Fauchelevent. He had never liked me. I think he was jealous. Once I had been a day laborer, as he was. Now I owned a factory.
"Is help on the way?" I asked.
The loaded cart pressed heavily on the poor man's chest. If help didn't arrive soon, he would be crushed.
"Yes," replied the man next to me. "Someone has gone to get a jack from the blacksmith. But it will take a quarter of an hour."
"A quarter of an hour!" I cried. "Fauchelevent will be dead in that time. There's still room for a man to crawl under the cart and lift it on his back. I'll give five francs to anyone with the muscle and the heart."
No one spoke. I raised my offer to ten francs. Twenty francs. Still no one came forward. Meanwhile, the cart was sinking deeper into the mud. It was squeezing the life out of Fauchelevent.
"A man would have to be as strong as an ox to lift that load," said Javert.
I had not seen him in the crowd.
"He would risk getting crushed himself," he continued. "I have only known one man who could lift a load like this on his back. I knew him when I was warden in the Toulon prison."
Toulon. How long was it since I'd heard that name spoken? Memories of my years in prison rushed in upon me.
Javert was watching me closely. But I couldn't let Fauchelevent die.
Suddenly the old man cried out, "It's crushing me. My ribs are breaking. For God's sake, do something!"
I stripped off my coat and crawled under the cart. The cart was low in the mud. I was almost flat on my stomach. I slipped again and again, trying to get a foothold.
"Hurry! Come out of there, Monsieur Madeleine!" someone shouted.
Fauchelevent himself cried out, "Go away, Monsieur Madeleine! I'm done for. Let me be, or you'll be killed too."
But I finally had a foothold. I braced the cart's weight on my back and pushed with all my might.
Slowly, the cart rose. At last the mud-caked wheels came into view! Men from the crowd jumped in to help. The cart was soon out of the mud, and Fauchelevent was rescued.
I got to my feet. Sweat poured down my face. I was drained. As I walked away, I could feel the eyes of the hawk upon my back.
Fauchelevent's kneecap was broken. I bought his horse and cart. I found him work as a gardener in a convent in Paris. In this way, the old man became my friend.
One day Javert arrested a young woman for disturbing the peace. He gave her six months in prison. She had been living on the streets in terrible poverty. Her name was Fantine.
A rich young man had accused her of attacking him. But I had seen what happened from across the street. The man had put a handful of snow down the woman's back. And she had lashed out in anger.
I entered Javert's office. Fantine turned and glared at me.
"So you're the mayor, are you?" she said. Then she spat in my face in fury.
She hated Monsieur Madeleine. She believed she had lost her job because of me. But I didn't know her story.
The woman in charge of the workers in my factory learned that Fantine had a child but wasn't married. She fired her.
"Inspector Javert, this woman is to go free," I said.
Javert was stunned.
"This woman has insulted a respectable citizen," he said.
"I saw the whole thing from across the street," I replied. "The respectable citizen is at fault."
"She has insulted you too. You are the mayor of this town!" said Javert.
"That is my affair," I said. "This woman will not serve a single day in prison."
"But that's not right," said Javert.
"Enough!" I ordered. "Kindly leave your post."
For a moment Javert didn't know what to do. Then he bowed low and left the room.
Fantine had followed the argument with interest and surprise. She wasn't angry anymore.
"I will see to it that you have what money you need," I told her. "Your worries are over."
This news was too much for the poor woman. She fainted at my feet. Her head burned with fever.
I took Fantine to the factory's nursing station. Her fever raged all night. But by morning it had broken.
"I'm feeling better," said Fantine when I asked how she was.
"I've slept well. I'm sure it was nothing serious. I only wish my daughter Cosette were here with me."
Cosette lived with a family called Thenardier. They owned a tavern in Montfermeil, a town outside Paris. Fantine sent money each month for her daughter's care.
"I left Paris poor," Fantine told me. "I wasn't married to Cosette's father so I had no help from him. I wanted to return to my hometown, Montreuil. There was a new factory. But what could I do with Cosette? The Thenardiers offered to take her until I was settled.
"They wanted seven francs a month for her upkeep. At first, I was able to pay it. I had work in the factory. I even had money to buy new furniture.
"But then Monsieur Thenardier demanded more. He wanted twelve francs, then fifteen. He always had a good reason. Cosette needed a woolen dress for winter. Cosette was sick. Doctor's bills and medicine put me behind in my payments.
"Things got worse when I lost my job," she continued. "I had to get money any way I could. I sold my beautiful hair. I even sold my two front teeth, as you see.
"I owe Monsieur Thenardier so much money. I'm afraid Cosette may at this moment be living in the street!"
As Fantine finished her story, pain filled her eyes. Her face was thin and as white as the sheets she lay on.
"I will take care of everything," I told her. "You don't have to worry."
Fantine owed Thenardier a hundred and twenty francs. I sent three hundred and told him to use the rest to bring Cosette to me. But Thenardier wrote back asking for more money.
This man was not the kind soul Fantine believed him to be. He was a crook. He thought he had found the goose that laid the golden egg. I had to get Cosette away from him as soon as possible.
Fantine's winter cough turned into pneumonia. One morning the nurse took me aside. "You'd better bring the child," she whispered. "Her mother grows weaker every day."
Fantine opened her eyes and asked for Cosette.
"I will get her myself if I have to," I promised.
I wrote the Thenardiers. Fantine told me what to write. And then she signed it. The letter read:
Please hand Casette Over to the person who brings you this letter. Everythings I awe will be piad.
I send you my regards.
But my trip was not to be. The next day my dead and buried past would rise to haunt me. And my plan to get Cosette would be delayed.
"I Am Jean Valjean"
I was in my office finishing a few things before leaving to get Cosette. Javert was announced.
"Show him in," I said.
When Javert entered, I did not look up. I could not forget how badly he had treated Fantine.
Javert stood there for quite some time. I don't know how he looked. My eyes were on my paper. Finally, I put my pen down.
"Well, Javert, what is it?" I asked.
"Monsieur Mayor," began Javert. "I wish to speak with you of a serious matter. A rule has been broken."
"What rule?" I asked.
"Someone in the lower ranks has shown disrespect for someone in the higher ranks," he replied.
"Who is the person?" I asked.
"Myself," said Javert.
I did not know what Javert was getting at. But I didn't trust him.
"And who has been treated with disrespect?"
"You have, Monsieur Mayor," replied Javert.
Now I was completely baffled. I stood up. Javert's eyes were lowered.
"I have come to ask you to dismiss me," he continued.
My mouth was open. But I couldn't find words. Javert continued.
"You may say I can quit. But that would not be enough. I must be punished. I must be dismissed," said Javert. "I must leave in disgrace."
"What in the world are you talking about?" I asked. "What have you done?"
"I will explain, Monsieur Mayor," he said. "I was so angry with you six weeks ago, over that woman, that I reported you to the chief of police in Paris."
Now I laughed. It was a mistake after all.
"You reported me?" I replied. "As what? As a mayor who stepped on your toes and took a prisoner from you?"
"No," he said. "As an ex-convict."
The words hit me like a punch in the stomach. But Javert was still talking, staring at the floor.
"It came to me some time ago," he said. "You look like a prisoner I knew twenty years ago. You walk with a slight limp, as he did. You have his great physical strength. I saw that when you lifted the cart.
"I suspected you of being a man called Jean Valjean."
I dropped back into my chair. I returned to my work.
"And what did the Paris police have to say?" I asked, pretending not to be very interested.
"They said I was crazy," replied Javert. "They told me the real Jean Valjean has been found."
The sheet of paper fell from my hand. I looked hard into Javert's eyes. "Really?" I said without blinking.
"A man called Champmathieu has been arrested for stealing apples," explained Javert. "When the prisoner was moved to Arras an old inmate recognized him. He said he knew the man to be an ex-convict. He said he knew him in the Toulon prison. In Toulon they found two more convicts who said that this Champmathieu is, in fact, Jean Valjean.
"He is the same age, the same build, and looks like him. I recognized him myself when I went to see him."
"And what does this man say?" I wanted to know.
"Valjean is in a hopeless position," said Javert. "Oddly he doesn't rant and rave as you would expect. He acts as if he doesn't know what's going on. He says over and over: 'My name's Champmathieu, and that is all I have to say.'
"If he is indeed Jean Valjean, it won't go well for him at the trial," continued Javert. "Stealing apples is a boy's prank. But this man is an ex-convict. Then there's the matter of a boy he ro