Valjean took a step forward. ‘No, you don’t understand,’ he said. ‘I’ve spent five years in prison for violent robbery, another fourteen years for trying to escape four times. I’m a dangerous man.’
‘Mme Magloire,’ the bishop went on, ‘you must put clean sheets on the bed in the spare room.’
Mme Magloire, an obedient servant, left the room without protest.
The bishop turned to the man. ‘Sit down and warm yourself, Monsieur. Supper will soon be ready.’
Jean Valjean’s face, which had been hard and fierce, suddenly softened. ‘You really mean it?’ he asked, his voice trembling with childish excitement. ‘You’ll let me stay? I’m a dangerous criminal, but you called me «Monsieur». I don’t believe it. May I ask your name, sir? Are you an innkeeper?’
‘I’m a priest,’ said the bishop. ‘And this is where I live.’
‘A priest?’ Valjean said, sitting by the fire. ‘So I don’t have to pay?’
‘You can keep your money,’ the bishop replied.
During dinner, Mile Baptistine looked at Valjean kindly while the bishop talked about the local cheese-making industry. Valjean was so hungry that, at first, he paid no attention to anyone. Soon, however, he began to relax, and looked around the room. ‘This is not the house of a rich man,’ he thought. ‘And the travellers in the inn eat better than this.’ But then he looked at the table, and saw the beautiful silver candlesticks, knives and forks.
After dinner, the bishop said goodnight to his sister, picked up one of the two candlesticks and, handing the other to his guest, said, ‘I’ll show you to your room, Monsieur.’
Valjean followed the bishop upstairs into a bedroom. This was the bishop’s bedroom. As he was following the bishop across the room, however, he noticed Mme Magloire putting the silver knives and forks in a cupboard by the bed.
The bishop showed his guest into the spare room.
‘Sleep well,’ he said. ‘Before you leave tomorrow, you must have a bowl of warm milk from our cows.’
Valjean was so tired that he fell asleep, fully-dressed, on top of the sheets, but he didn’t sleep for long. When he woke up, the cathedral clock was striking two, but he had not woken because of this. He had woken because the bed was too comfortable; he had not slept in a proper bed for twenty years. Unable to return to sleep, he gazed into the darkness, thinking about the past twenty years. Life had been unjust to him, and he was angry. In 1795, he had lost his job as a tree-cutter. At that time he was looking after his sister, whose husband had died, and her seven children. Out of work, and with no food in the house, he had been arrested for trying to steal a loaf of bread. Now, at last, he was free, but he felt bitter and angry about his lost years. The world had been unfair to him, and he wanted revenge. Then, remembering the silver on the bishop’s table, he had an idea.
He sat up, swung his feet to the floor and slowly stood up. The house was silent. He moved carefully towards the window and looked out. The night was not very dark; there was a full moon, hidden from time to time by large clouds moving quickly across the sky. After studying the garden, he decided that escape would be easy. He turned back to the room, picked up his bag and took out a short iron bar, sharpened at one end. He then put his shoes into the bag and, grasping the iron bar in his right hand, he moved quietly towards the door of the bishop’s bedroom. It was half-open. The bishop had not closed it.
Valjean stood listening. There was no sound.
He gave the door a gentle push and crept into the bedroom. Just as he reached the side of the bishop’s bed, the moon came out from behind a cloud and filled the room with light. Valjean gazed down at the bishop’s gentle, sleeping face, and felt a kind of terror. He had never before seen such peace, such kindness, such trust.
He suddenly turned away and moved quickly to the cupboard. The first thing he saw when he opened the door was the basket of silver. He grabbed it, hurried back to the spare bedroom, picked up his stick and bag, climbed out of the window, emptied the silver into his bag and threw the basket into the garden. A minute later he climbed the garden wall and disappeared into the trees.
Early the next morning, while the bishop was studying the flowers in his garden, Mme Magloire ran out of the house with a look of alarm on her face.
‘Monseigneur, do you know where the silver-basket is?’
‘Yes,’ said the bishop. ‘I found it in one of the flowerbeds.’
‘But it’s empty!’ she cried. ‘Where’s the silver?’
‘Oh, you’re worried about the silver? I don’t know where that is.’
‘Heaven save us, it’s been stolen!’ she cried. ‘The man who came last night! He’s run off with our silver!’
The bishop, who had been bending sadly over a plant damaged by the basket, looked up and said gently, ‘I think I was wrong to keep the silver for so long. It really belongs to the poor. I should have given it away a long time ago.’