Madeleine brings Fantine into the infirmary, and then goes out to make inquiries. When she awakens, he tells her he knows how much she’s suffered. The same night, Javert writes to the Prefect of Police in Paris. Madeleine sends the 120 francs owed to the Thenardiers; he tells them to send the child immediately to M.-sur-M. Thenardier is dazzled: he says that someone rich must have gotten involved. He draws up a bill for over 500 francs, making up various expenses. Madeleine sends the money, and Thenardier exclaims that they shouldn’t give up the child.
Madeleine had put his trust in others, like the work superintendent, but now finds that promoting a moral workforce raises knottier questions than he might have expected. Meanwhile, the Thenardiers continue to serve as a foil to Madeleine’s kindness, concocting ever more elaborate schemes in order to prevent a straightforward path from difficulty to redemption for Fantine.
Initially, the women in the infirmary are loath to take care of Fantine, but her humility and gentleness wins them over. However, she does not seem to be recovering her health. The doctor tells Madeleine that the child will need to come quickly. He sends another letter, signed by Fantine, and vows to get Cosette herself if he has to.
The narrator stresses once again how people can be quick to condemn, but ultimately can also come to understand someone’s character over time. Now Madeleine’s unwitting mistake takes on far more serious proportions.
Chapter 2 One morning Madeleine is in his study preparing for his trip to Montfermeil, when Javert says he wants to speak with him. Upon entering, it’s clear that Javert has just gone through a severe inner struggle. Javert tells the mayor he’s made a grave mistake and failed in his duty, and he should be turned out. After the scene with Fantine, Javert says, he had informed against the mayor at the Prefecture of Police in Paris—due to a number of factors, he had come to believe that Madeleine was Jean Valjean, a captive whom he’d known in the galleys, and who is now wanted for robbing a bishop and a small Savoyard boy. The response Javert received was that he was mad, he says, and now he knows it’s true, since it seems that a man named Champmathieu was just arrested for stealing apples, and an ex-convict named Brevet recognized him as Jean Valjean. They’re the same age, from the same place, and Javert has recognized him too—he is sure. With his previous conviction, it will be the galleys for life. Javert himself will go to trial to give testimony.
Javert, for all his harshness and lack of compassion, believes wholeheartedly in the system of justice decreed by French law. He holds himself to this same standard, which is why he’s willing to hand in his resignation. But this situation, which he believes to be a catastrophe for himself and a boon for Madeleine, will in fact end up being precisely the opposite. We also get an explicit explanation for Javert’s suspicion of Madeleine, as the Bishop and Savoyard boy mentioned create a tidy triangular relationship to what was mentioned in describing Madeleine. Again, it’s difficult if not impossible for characters in the novel to escape their past.
Madeleine says he’s not interested in the details. He asks Javert to take care of several other matters, but Javert says he is leaving for the trial tomorrow; it will last one day only. Madeleine says that he will not dismiss him, and that he’s a man of honor. Javert says he doesn’t want to be treated kindly and generously: such treatment was what he had reproached Madeleine for in his dealings with others. He will continue until he is replaced, Javert says.
Here Madeleine and Javert’s opposing systems of justice clash with each other again. One is based on fairness, punishment, and revenge, and the other is based on compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. As a result, the two men seem to be talking past each other throughout this scene.