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CHAPTER XI—WHAT HE DOES
Jean Valjean listened. Not a sound.
He gave the door a push.
He pushed it gently with the tip of his finger, lightly, with the furtive
and uneasy gentleness of a cat which is desirous of entering.
The door yielded to this pressure, and made an imperceptible and silent
movement, which enlarged the opening a little.
He waited a moment; then gave the door a second and a bolder push.
It continued to yield in silence. The opening was now large enough to
allow him to pass. But near the door there stood a little table, which
formed an embarrassing angle with it, and barred the entrance.
Jean Valjean recognized the difficulty. It was necessary, at any cost, to
enlarge the aperture still further.
He decided on his course of action, and gave the door a third push, more
energetic than the two preceding. This time a badly oiled hinge suddenly
emitted amid the silence a hoarse and prolonged cry.
Jean Valjean shuddered. The noise of the hinge rang in his ears with
something of the piercing and formidable sound of the trump of the Day of
In the fantastic exaggerations of the first moment he almost imagined that
that hinge had just become animated, and had suddenly assumed a terrible
life, and that it was barking like a dog to arouse every one, and warn and
to wake those who were asleep. He halted, shuddering, bewildered, and fell
back from the tips of his toes upon his heels. He heard the arteries in
his temples beating like two forge hammers, and it seemed to him that his
breath issued from his breast with the roar of the wind issuing from a
cavern. It seemed impossible to him that the horrible clamor of that
irritated hinge should not have disturbed the entire household, like the
shock of an earthquake; the door, pushed by him, had taken the alarm, and
had shouted; the old man would rise at once; the two old women would
shriek out; people would come to their assistance; in less than a quarter
of an hour the town would be in an uproar, and the gendarmerie on hand.
For a moment he thought himself lost.
He remained where he was, petrified like the statue of salt, not daring to
make a movement. Several minutes elapsed. The door had fallen wide open.
He ventured to peep into the next room. Nothing had stirred there. He lent
an ear. Nothing was moving in the house. The noise made by the rusty hinge
had not awakened any one.
This first danger was past; but there still reigned a frightful tumult
within him. Nevertheless, he did not retreat. Even when he had thought
himself lost, he had not drawn back. His only thought now was to finish as
soon as possible. He took a step and entered the room.
This room was in a state of perfect calm. Here and there vague and
confused forms were distinguishable, which in the daylight were papers
scattered on a table, open folios, volumes piled upon a stool, an
arm-chair heaped with clothing, a prie-Dieu, and which at that hour were
only shadowy corners and whitish spots. Jean Valjean advanced with
precaution, taking care not to knock against the furniture. He could hear,
at the extremity of the room, the even and tranquil breathing of the
He suddenly came to a halt. He was near the bed. He had arrived there
sooner than he had thought for.
Nature sometimes mingles her effects and her spectacles with our actions
with sombre and intelligent appropriateness, as though she desired to make
us reflect. For the last half-hour a large cloud had covered the heavens.
At the moment when Jean Valjean paused in front of the bed, this cloud
parted, as though on purpose, and a ray of light, traversing the long
window, suddenly illuminated the Bishop's pale face. He was sleeping
peacefully. He lay in his bed almost completely dressed, on account of the
cold of the Basses-Alps, in a garment of brown wool, which covered his
arms to the wrists. His head was thrown back on the pillow, in the
careless attitude of repose; his hand, adorned with the pastoral ring, and
whence had fallen so many good deeds and so many holy actions, was hanging
over the edge of the bed. His whole face was illumined with a vague
expression of satisfaction, of hope, and of felicity. It was more than a
smile, and almost a radiance. He bore upon his brow the indescribable
reflection of a light which was invisible. The soul of the just
contemplates in sleep a mysterious heaven.
A reflection of that heaven rested on the Bishop.
It was, at the same time, a luminous transparency, for that heaven was
within him. That heaven was his conscience.
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At the moment when the ray of moonlight superposed itself, so to speak,
upon that inward radiance, the sleeping Bishop seemed as in a glory. It
remained, however, gentle and veiled in an ineffable half-light. That moon
in the sky, that slumbering nature, that garden without a quiver, that
house which was so calm, the hour, the moment, the silence, added some
solemn and unspeakable quality to the venerable repose of this man, and
enveloped in a sort of serene and majestic aureole that white hair, those
closed eyes, that face in which all was hope and all was confidence, that
head of an old man, and that slumber of an infant.
There was something almost divine in this man, who was thus august,
without being himself aware of it.
Jean Valjean was in the shadow, and stood motionless, with his iron
candlestick in his hand, frightened by this luminous old man. Never had he
beheld anything like this. This confidence terrified him. The moral world
has no grander spectacle than this: a troubled and uneasy conscience,
which has arrived on the brink of an evil action, contemplating the
slumber of the just.
That slumber in that isolation, and with a neighbor like himself, had
about it something sublime, of which he was vaguely but imperiously
No one could have told what was passing within him, not even himself. In
order to attempt to form an idea of it, it is necessary to think of the
most violent of things in the presence of the most gentle. Even on his
visage it would have been impossible to distinguish anything with
certainty. It was a sort of haggard astonishment. He gazed at it, and that
was all. But what was his thought? It would have been impossible to divine
it. What was evident was, that he was touched and astounded. But what was
the nature of this emotion?
His eye never quitted the old man. The only thing which was clearly to be
inferred from his attitude and his physiognomy was a strange indecision.
One would have said that he was hesitating between the two abysses,—the
one in which one loses one's self and that in which one saves one's self.
He seemed prepared to crush that skull or to kiss that hand.
At the expiration of a few minutes his left arm rose slowly towards his
brow, and he took off his cap; then his arm fell back with the same
deliberation, and Jean Valjean fell to meditating once more, his cap in
his left hand, his club in his right hand, his hair bristling all over his
The Bishop continued to sleep in profound peace beneath that terrifying
The gleam of the moon rendered confusedly visible the crucifix over the
chimney-piece, which seemed to be extending its arms to both of them, with
a benediction for one and pardon for the other.
Suddenly Jean Valjean replaced his cap on his brow; then stepped rapidly
past the bed, without glancing at the Bishop, straight to the cupboard,
which he saw near the head; he raised his iron candlestick as though to
force the lock; the key was there; he opened it; the first thing which
presented itself to him was the basket of silverware; he seized it,
traversed the chamber with long strides, without taking any precautions
and without troubling himself about the noise, gained the door, re-entered
the oratory, opened the window, seized his cudgel, bestrode the
window-sill of the ground-floor, put the silver into his knapsack, threw
away the basket, crossed the garden, leaped over the wall like a tiger,