Section 1 - Fantine
Book Seven - The Champmathieu Affair
That afternoon the Mayor goes to visit Fantine as usual but stays twice as long. The doctor whispers to him that Fantine is sinking fast and the mayor takes Sister Simplice, who has never told a lie, to give Fantine everything she needs to be comfortable. He then goes to a man who keeps horses and arranges for a horse and small tilbury chaise to be waiting for him at half past four the next morning. That evening the janitor of the factory, who also serves as the mayor's only servant, notices that the mayor has extinguished the light in his room earlier than usual and later that evening he hears the sound of pacing and furniture being moved in the mayor's room.
Of course Father Madeleine is really Jean Valjean and the narrator relates that ever since he mistakenly robbed the Savoyard Petit Jarvis he had endeavored to put his virtue before his security. He had struggled to conceal his name and return to God and had so far succeeded but the news of Champmathieu's arrest had stirred his soul and put him in a quandary. He had left orders regarding Fantine and hired the horse and carriage in order to be prepared to travel to Arras and vindicate the innocent man. He recoiled at the thought of returning to prison, however, and spent the whole night trying to convince himself that he did not need to go to Arras. He was most resolute in his decision not to denounce himself when he thought of Cosette and Fantine and reasoned that if he returned to prison no one would reunite them. He opened a compartment in his chimney and removed the two candlesticks the bishop gave him many years before. He thought he might destroy them and completely sever himself from the name Jean Valjean but his conscience reminds him that an innocent man will suffer and his interior deliberations renew. Finally he sleeps and is awakened by his servant who tells him that the horse and chaise have arrived.
Jean Valjean spends the day struggling to get to Arras. On the way out of town his chaise glances the side of a mail coach and later a stable boy tells him that his wheel is damaged and will not go any further. Jean Valjean inquires about every possibility to continue his journey but when he realizes that he will not make it to Arras he is relieved and believes Providence has made the decision for him. At this moment, however, an old woman approaches and offers to sell him an old chaise and he is morally bound to continue his journey. Later, his horse becomes exhausted and he finds that the road is under repair but a peasant tells him where he can hire a second horse and a boy to guide him. When the whiffletree on the harness breaks the boy declares that they will not make it to Arras that night but Jean Valjean fashions one from some string and a branch and they continue. At seven o'clock they are still an hour away and Jean Valjean believes that they are probably too late.
Meanwhile, back in Montreuil-sur-mer, Fantine's illness caused her to become delirious. She waited in vain for the mayor to pay his regular afternoon visit and when he did not come she became morose. The nuns sent for him but soon discovered that he had left town and that he would return the following day. Fantine, overhearing them whisper, asked Sister Simplice (who never lied) what happened to the Mayor and the nun replied that he had gone away. Fantine, believing that he has gone to fetch Cosette, becomes overjoyed and when the doctor looks in on her that evening he confesses that though her disease is terminal and well advanced she looks like she might recover.
Jean Valjean arrives in Arras just before eight o'clock. He is shown the way to the courthouse and is disappointed to find that the trial is still under way. Though the chamber is full he sends a note to the judge that identifies him as the Mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer and as such eligible to sit in one of the chairs reserved for public functionaries next to the judge's bench. The judge readily assents and after a moment of hesitation Jean Valjean enters the courtroom. He notices that the man on trial did resemble him though he appeared older, more haggard and simpler than Jean Valjean. The defense attorney wraps up his case by declaring that there is simply no way to convict the man of stealing the apples and that his refusal to give his real identity is the result of stupidity and confusion. Champmathieu declares that he doesn't know the man his is supposed to be and relates the unhappy details of his life and expresses regret that they cannot find anyone to identify him. In response the prosecuting attorney insists on recalling the three fellow convicts who previously identified the man as Jean Valjean. Because Javert has already departed, the attorney reads his statement that leaves no doubt that he believes the man to be Jean Valjean. The three witnesses each take their turn and reiterate their claim that the man calling himself Champmathieu is really the convict Jean Valjean. Just as the prosecuting attorney is about to sum up the case there is an emotional voice from near the judge's bench that calls for the convicts to look in the speaker's direction. The man known to many as Father Madeleine walks to the center of the hall, trembling slightly, and beseeches the convicts to recognize him. He exclaims that he is the convict Jean Valjean and the accused man should be set free. The prosecuting attorney, believing that Mayor Madeleine has gone mad, calls for a doctor but Jean Valjean insists on his identity and proves it by revealing a thing about each of the convicts that only a previous associate could know. The courtroom is entirely silent as Jean Valjean announces that he has many important things to do and as he has not been arrested he will leave. Before he leaves he declares that he is at the prosecuting attorney's disposal. One hour later the man named Champmathieu is acquitted and leaves believing that all men are crazy.
There is no longer any doubt about Madeleine's true identity. The chapter is devoted to Valjean's inner struggle as to whether he should reveal himself and forsake the town for the sake of one individual.
Hugo, who has previously denounced the penal system, now critizes the judicial system. He indicates how Champmathieu is the victim of circumstantial evidence and is not tried for the crime that he really committed.